That’s Me That Is

16th January 2015

At school we have taken advantage of the curriculum overhaul to add a global dimension to our curriculum. This is probably long overdue and many people are finding the resourcing hard work. Where we are moving forward the effects are quite startling.

Children engage more, learn more and try harder when they feel the text, or science, or history or maths relates to them.

Charmaine Kenner’s research
into first language in the classroom is a powerful piece of work. The maths problems given to the children were all culturally contextualized, so they were working out how many fish to buy for a wedding banquet, with impressive outcomes. Where the teachers were not overly familiar  the children were overtly encouraged to provide the context for new problems. When we ask children to make up their own problems, they often stay guarded and write only in school familiar contexts.  However, if we take the steps to open up and show that we are genuinely interested we can reap a rich harvest of engagement.

Our new arrivals may well be the only child from their background in the class, so they will naturally be reticent unless we create a context for sharing ideas. Gordon Ward’s Racing to English stories are all set in countries that are familiar to many of our new arrivals. Ali who is a year 6 boy from Afghanistan, via many other countries, positively shone when he read a story about a school in a tent. He laughed, answered all the questions then proceeded to talk and write about school in Afghanistan. This was the most engaged in literacy he has been all year.

Binh was similarly engaged by a story about snakes in Vietnam, he maintained a twenty minute dialogue, with many extended and joined phrases, about the time he tried to catch a frog in Vietnam.

“Me..him.. this one big..this one small, too many much frog everywhere. Me him catch. Me him run after ..chase. Him run this.. this.. this.”

This was accompanied by a great many gestures and jumping around the room. I think he would have tried to catch a fly had it been the summer, so in role was he. Of course we generated this into a story about frog catching in Vietnam.

So we must seek out resources, books, pictures, contexts that will enable our new arrivals to use their developing language whilst feeling absolutely confident about the content.