Reflecting on one’s own learning
I always start my classes by writing a simple list of activities (for the younger pupils) and/or lesson objectives (for the older pupils) on the board to encourage the children to reflect on what they are doing or have done. It is important that the list is always written in the same place, so that the children become accustomed to seeing it and always know what it is. Personally I always write the list in the bottom right-hand corner of the board. Here is an example of how this might look:
- 1 Game
- 2 New words
- 3 Activity book page 16
- 4 Listening
- 5 …
With younger children, it is good to get them used to seeing the list and crossing things off as they are finished, while for older children, they are more able to analyse the activities in terms of learning goals. You may like to focus on one or two of the activity headings when the lesson has finished by asking questions, for example, What did we practise in the game at the beginning? or Where were the two people in the dialogue?, etc. Introducing this kind of analysis as part of the class routine will encourage the habit of reflection and the children will eventually gain confidence in their reflecting skills. You may also like to take this a step further by asking your pupils to compare whether they think one activity helps them to learn something more easily than another. Another strategy for encouraging the children to reflect on what they have learnt is to create some I canflowers. This is very simple to do and very attractive and motivating for the children. It is an idea I have adapted from the plenary talk that Sophie Ioannou-Georgiou gave at the IATEFL conference in Milan in 2009, and I have used it with my classes to make them aware of what they have learnt, which words they know and which words they must try to remember. First of all the children design their own personal circle to make the centre of the flower, using their favourite colour and drawing something personal that shows others things that are special about themselves. These circles have the words I can say and write … written on them. When the children are confident with a certain lexical set, they write or write and draw the words they can say on one of the petals, they can add to this as they learn new words. Each flower can be glued onto a big sheet of card and these cards (one for each pupil) can be stored in a folder where the children can consult and edit them at any time. If you are lucky enough to have a small class the flowers make a very attractive wall display, which has the advantage of being readily available all the time. At the end of the year the children have a record of what they have learnt to take home.
It’s important for the children to organise their own work, whether it be word cards for vocabulary or the notes they make in their notebooks. An example of what the teacher can do to encourage autonomy is to set up a routine to finish each week’s classes by asking the children to write an account of their week’s learning. For example, they write their favourite word of the week, the most difficult word of the week, the most useful word of the week and then a sentence (or two) about themselves or about anything they want to write, using the new language they have learnt in that week. This may look something like this:
Week 2nd – 6th May
My favourite word
The most difficult word
The most useful word/expression
No more, thank you.
Colour coding and drawings can also help the children to memorise new language more efficiently. New structures that the children note down in their notebooks can be colour coded, always writing the same type of word in the same colour, eg Nouns in blue, adjectives in green, pronouns in red, verbs in pink, prepositions in orange and black for anything that does not fall into these categories. I like hot chocolate. They will need a little help to begin with and it is advisable to monitor for mistakes. Once this is established, it is important that the child always follows the same code. Ideally, all of the children use the same colour coding to reinforce the grammatical concepts, while you, the teacher, should also use them to write words on the board or IWB.
Introducing strategies for noticing, remembering and recycling
Another important area inLearning to learn is to encourage the children to practise different ways of remembering and recycling on their own. For example, I encourage my pupils to use mind maps to recycle vocabulary that we have already seen in class, taking a lexical set that we have used in context and for which they have possibly already made word cards. I then ask them to present the vocabulary using a mind map so they are consciously having to think about the meaning of each word in order to categorise it correctly. The mind maps can then be displayed on the wall of the classroom. Personal drawings are another way of reinforcing and allow the children to experience language in a visual way. For example, if we are learning ‘there is/there are’ the children can draw a picture of their bedrooms and perhaps explain it to the teacher or the whole class. The child will remember this much more easily than a substitution table in their notebooks! Another idea I like to use to encourage my pupils to organise their work, particularly vocabulary, is to get my pupils to make word cards, writing the word on one side and drawing/or translating (because not all words are easy to draw) on the other. The cards can be kept in a box, one for each child or joined together on a loop or simply with an elastic band and used to recycle vocabulary. Making these cards helps them think about the words they have learnt and anchors the words in their memories. Constant recycling can be encouraged by using games and strategies, ten minutes each week when the pupils can decide in pairs or in groups which activity they want to do. Look at the article Learning to learn: ideas for using word cards for ideas on how to exploit word cards in class.
Gillian Young is a teacher and teacher trainer.