Why are language expectations important?
Guest post by Janet Streeter
“Do you know One Direction?” “Have you met Justin Biber?” I was reminded that teenagers are the same the world over. I smiled, said “No, sorry, I’m afraid not” in my best British English and looked hopefully at my colleague who was frantically trying to log into the computer and get the DVD to work. I was in a Dutch school as “guest speaker” for the day – another chance to put my money where my mouth is and practise what I preach.
When a group of teachers attending one of our courses in Carlisle invited me to their school to work with their TTO classes, I jumped at the chance. This was not because I envisaged doing some kind of model lesson for the colleagues (how presumptuous is that?), but simply because it would allow me to implement CLIL strategies and activities and keep my hand in. I was given carte blanche – “do whatever you like, Janet.” So I decided to tackle the old chestnut: getting the students to stay in English when working in pairs and groups.
What do the students say?
In Years 1 & 2 my “content” topic area was school life in the UK and in Year 3 a key passage from “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson.
After observing a few TTO lessons and interviewing some of students on their perception of target language expectations, it was clear that they felt the “speak English rule” in their subject classes was only valid for whole class activities. Or at least that’s what they could get away with. Question: “Do you take notice of the ‘speak English rule’?” Student: “Yes, when a teacher is around. Otherwise it’s Dutch.”
What I did to help them
So I started 4 of my 5 lessons that day with a covered text activity and language scaffolding on each desk, challenging the students to work out and guess in pairs what Mrs Streeter’s English expectations were. That took just 5-10 minutes and was really important to set the scene. It was backed up by a whole combination of other on-going strategies: creating the idea of an English environment in the classroom
- flags (the Dutch one had a cross through it as a reminder that we were not to speak Dutch, so I apologise for defacing your national emblem)
- classroom language posters
- language monitor(s)
- teacher versus class (I was not allowed to speak Dutch either, although with my limited vocabulary, chance would have been a fine thing!)
- team competitions
- quick pace
- a variety of purposeful activities to keep them involved and thinking
- and most importantly, a reward system for use of English.
And it worked!
“Well, yes,” I hear you say – “of course it worked because you were an unknown quantity and a visitor from the UK.”
Well, I expect there was an element of that. But interestingly enough, the one class where some students persisted in using Dutch in group and pair work was the class that did not do the “Mrs Streeter’s English expectations” activity.
That’s because we never did get that computer and data projector* to work…..
*Classroom language tip: “Beamer” is such a good word, but in English it means BMW (!)
About the author:
Janet Streeter has taught in many different educational settings over the past 30 years. Trained as a Modern Languages (German, French & EFL) teacher, she has taught different age groups in the UK and abroad and also holds a research degree in History. Her previous employment was in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cumbria where she worked as International Coordinator and teacher trainer in CLIL and MFL for 13 years. During this time Janet coordinated the TEL2L EU CLIL project and was UK coordinator of MOBIDIC – a Comenius project that produced training materials for CLIL teachers. Janet now runs her own independent organisation: Cumbria CLIL, based in North West England. She works with a group of associates to deliver residential and in-house CLIL training in the UK and abroad.