Graduate Programme of Teaching English to Young Learners
Faculty of Education
University of Warsaw
The essay written by Magdalena Łukasiewicz, the student of the MA programme: Graduate Pogramme of Teaching English to Young Learners in the University of Warsaw. In 2010
I started my BA studies in the field of Primary Teaching an Early English Teaching.
My diploma project I wrote about Difficulties in foreign language vocabulary acquisition in early learning of English. Now I am continuing my field of study at Master’s Degree.
First graders have different backgrounds and experiences nowadays. Some of them have been going to kindergarten and taking part in the English classes and other extra classes. On the other hand, there are students who have stayed at home and did not have any experiences with foreign language. The aim of this essay is to present what difficulties
in learning English may have children due to the lack of English lesson in kindergarten.
The theoretical part of the essay explained the importance of kindergarten in child’s development. What is more, that part presented the characteristics of children in this group age, learning aims and examples how English teachers can fulfill them during English classes. In order to present a full picture, methods and ways of teaching appropriate for kindergarten children were described.
The second part of the essay provide the reader with the authentic data collected in the school. Conducted research presents what difficulties has the student who did not have English classes in the kindergarten.
Key words: kindergarten, first graders, teaching English, difficulties in learning English
The importance of kindergarten
Children’s early learning experiences have a profound effect on their development and brain (Bryant, Colman 1997: 55). These early interactions directly affect the way connections are made in the brain. Early learning experiences are crucial to the future well-being of children, and establish the foundation for the acquisition of knowledge and skills that will later affect learning and behaviour. Before they go to school, children have been learning in a variety of environments – at their homes and in childcare and community settings. According to Żebrowska (1979: 499), children arrive at school with different backgrounds and experiences and at different stages of development. Positive early experiences with school are of paramount importance to young children. Children thrive within classrooms which meet their physical and developmental needs and that provide a secure, respectful, and nurturing environment.
Teachers, early childhood educators, members of the community and families should work together to provide challenging and engaging learning experiences that will build children’s confidence. They should also encourage children to see learning as both enjoyable and useful, and provide a strong foundation for their future intellectual, physical, and social development.
Characterstics of preschool children
This is the most important period of changes and development in all spheres,
the time of development of personality and acquisition of new skills. Preschool phase begins at about 3 years of age and ends at the time when the school starts, which according to the reform of education, takes place at the age of 6 or 7. According to Brzezińska (2005: 265), along with the age of the child and continued physical and intellectual development, possibilities and needs of the child change, attention span increases, curiosity develops, imaginative thinking shapes, manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination develop and the child usually becomes more socialized, independent and controls his/her emotions better. What is more, in the pre-school period the sudden development of language is taking place. However, for the fast development of language a stimulating environment is required (Bee 1998: 229). This is the reason why early English learning is very important. Each child is, of course, a distinct individuality and develops at their own pace but according to Bee (1998: 211), development advanced faster in a stimulating environment. It often happens that in one group there are children with very different emotional and intellectual levels. All cognitive processes at preschool stage are in the phase of intensive development, and basic mental functions are not fully developed and shaped yet. Thinking, speech,
and observations are strongly associated with the action (Czekańska, Lipińska 2007:6).
However, you can observe certain characteristics of children in each year of education (Appel, Zarańska, Piotrowska 2012: 5).
At the age of three, the students are in the first stage of the preschool phase.
At the age of four, the students got this difficult period of adaptation over them. They:
At the age of five, the students are more patient and calm than they were at the age of four. They:
At the age of six, the students begin evince characteristics which are typical for the school period. They:
Taking everything into consideration, preschool children are in the phase of intensive development and they (Czekańska, Lipińska 2007: 6):
At the age of 3 children are under intense learning and they create their own identity. They prefer to play in parallel and in solitude, and if they play with others, it is for
a short time. Between the age of 3 and 4 action team begins to appear, relationships and social contacts with peers develop.
According to the core curriculum (Regulation MEN dated. Aug. 27 2012 r), “aims of preschool education should be implemented in all areas of school education.”
Thus, teaching English in kindergarten should be integrated with school education.
An English teacher is therefore obliged to fulfill the aims of preschool education.
Table 1 shows how a teacher of English can fulfill the aims of preschool education during his/her English lessons:
|The aims of pre-school education
1. Furtherance in developing talents and building intellectual proficiency which preschool children need in everyday situations and in further education;
2. Building a system of values, including upbringing children, so as to have better orientation of what is good and what is bad;
3. Development of children’s emotional resilience necessary to rationally deal with new and difficult situations;
4. Developing children’s social skills that are necessary for good relationships with children and adults;
5. Creating conditions conducive to cooperative and fair play;
6. Taking care of children’s health and their physical fitness to encourage them to participate in games and sports games;
7. Building children’s knowledge of the social, natural and technical world, developing skills to present their thoughts in a manner understandable to others;
8. Introducing children to the world of aesthetic values and skills to let them express themselves through music, small theatrical forms and visual arts;
9. Fostering in children a sense of social belonging (family, peer group and the national community) and patriotic attitudes;
10. Providing children with better educational opportunities by supporting their curiosity, activity and independence, as well as building the knowledge and skills important in education.
|Implementation of the aims during English classes 1. Developing language skills (especially listening and speaking), teaching of vocabulary and functional language, stimulating verbal and nonverbal communication;
2. Teaching how to talk politely with other people, greeting and helping each other, building tolerance towards other cultures, listening to the stories and analysing the characters’ behaviour;
3. Putting children in situations where they must communicate in another language, the use of games with elements of competition;
4. Group work, joint action in order to achieve success;
5. Pair work, problem solving activities, developing mutual respect, encouraging fair competition while playing language games;
6. Teaching health-related content, games and physical activity;
7. Teaching content of natural and social world, awakening sensitivity to their peers from other countries, conducting group discussions, in which each child can express their opinion;
8. Singing songs and saying nursery rhymes, using elements of drama, drawing, colouring, painting, paper cut-outs, etc.;
9. Development of respect for other people and tolerance towards other cultures,
10. Encouraging interest in English language and culture of English-speaking countries, encouraging children to actively participate in activities to stimulate self-reliance in simple art work, using the latest technology in teaching.
Table 1: Implementation of the aims of preschool education during English classes
Teaching English to preschool learners has a certain specificity and it is fundamentally different from teaching at higher levels of education. Teaching English to this age group is characterised by flexibility when it comes to teaching vocabulary and grammatical structures. It is advisable to select words which are connected with learners’ everyday life, e.g. toys, parts of the body. On the basis of the Oxford’s syllabus (Szpotowicz, Szulc-Kurpaska 2009: 17) thematic areas realized in preschool education are connected with the student’s everyday life, for example, numbers 1-10, colours, toys, animals, school supplies, classroom equipment, shapes, parts of the body, birthday, clothes, food, family members, shopping, rooms in the house, sports, days of the week, seasons, musical instruments, transport, daily activities, holidays. As far as grammar is concerned, it also should be connected with learners’ everyday life. Preschool children learn the language very mechanically and memorise entire phrases in specific situations. According to Szpotowicz and Szulc-Kurpaska (2009: 19), structures introduced and assimilated at this age are verb to be, the verb have, modal verb can, imperative, nouns: singular form and plural, numerals
1-10, prepositions (in, on, next, behind).
Flexibility also refers to the choice of activities and to task modifications
as the lesson flows. The dominant types of activities are songs, chants and stories, and the prevailing interaction type is whole-class or individual work (Appel, Zarańska, Piotrowska 2012: 12). In teaching this age group frequent repetition is needed in order to consolidate songs or poems, but also because students like to go back to their favourite plays or fairy tales. Allowing children to choose a song, poem or story, a teacher gives them an opportunity to have an impact on the lessons and, as a result, will encourage them to actively participate in games.
Methods of teaching preschool children
Teaching a foreign language at preschool level requires methods which differ from those used in teaching at higher levels. Methods which require a higher level of abilities and which are too difficult for students should not be implemented. Teachers of English should use various methods but they should remember about their appropriateness to students’ developmental stage.
According to Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching (Richard and Rodgers, 2001: 50), TPR (Total Physical Response) is a language-teaching method developed by James Asher, who claims that ‘language is acquired through listening and responding to it nonverbally’. Learners present the meaning of the word by miming or they guess the meaning from the teacher’s gestures. This method is very useful in teaching students at this age because it develops learners’ listening skills and students move a lot.
The Audiolingual Method is the second very useful method in teaching English
to this age group. It is appropriate for these learners because it assumes that language is a set of habits, i.e. constant repetition to get habits is important here. The students learn songs and chants by heart, which simplifies speaking and teaches correct pronunciation. This method
is useful in order to develop both listening and speaking skills. Choral repetition and singing encourage even those shy students to repeat words or structures.
Ways of teaching
According to Szpotowicz and Szulc–Kurpaska (2009: 26), the main source of foreign language vocabulary at preschool level are songs, rhymes and nursery rhymes, stories, drama, art and craft activities and games.
Songs are used during each lesson, as far as preschool teaching is concerned. Students learn songs very quickly so this is the main way of memorising the language (Czekańska, Lipińska 2007: 18). Children are sensitive to music and most of them like signing songs. This is the reason why a teacher of English should use them in order to teach vocabulary or phrases. Moreover, singing songs is connected with gestures or body movement. What is more, music develops sensitivity to sounds and makes them easier
to remember. Students learn correct pronunciation and understand entire phrases in a foreign language. Music also has a calming effect on children, introduces a relaxing atmosphere
and changes learners’ mood. For this purpose nature sounds or instrumental music can be used.
Rhymes and nursery rhymes are kinds of texts that can be used in teaching English from the first lesson. Pairs of rhyming words are easier to remember and they allow to remember more new words (Appel, Zarańska, Piotrowska 2012: 12). It enables students
to learn useful phrases in normal speech and helps them practise the language in an enjoyable way. What is more, presenting and practicing a nursery rhyme will improve students’ speech and fluency in the target language. The strongest argument for rhyming with children is the fact that the children who do not write and do not read have limited ability to build so-called ‘memory strategies’ and a rhyme is one of the strategies available to them intellectually. What is more, rhymes and nursery rhymes are very often connected with gestures what gives the opportunity to activate the students kinesthetically.
Telling or reading stories by the teacher introduces an atmosphere conducive to focusing. During this activity students sit in a circle on the floor or a carpet.
Students remember a lot of from the context, and stories create ideal settings for associating the language with interesting situations (Czekańska, Lipińska 2007: 19). In the beginning stories develop listening comprehension when the teacher reads or tells a story. With time, children can be encouraged to join in telling the story by making gestures or repeating repetitive phrases or words. Fairy tales and stories can be also used to accustom students
to the written form of language. In case of using books, they should be richly illustrated and pictures should be related to the story.
Drama is another useful method of working with children. It involves learners in acting out a given text and using language which is read, acted from memory or improvised. Drama enables personalization of the text which is expressed by individual pupils with different moods, intonation or pace. Language supported by body language, facial expressions, emotions and thinking stimulates the pupils to interact in a foreign language. According to Szpotowicz and Szulc-Kurpaska (2009: 232), ‘drama provides repetitive language practice, the students get pronunciation and it fosters co-operation and consolidates groups’. Moreover, it engages all the senses and all language skills.
Art and craft activities are used as a powerful technique in supporting children’s linguistic development. It allows for artistic and emotional expression and thus contributes to personalization of learning. Such activities make the material memorable and help children develop their motor skills. What is more, art and craft activities provide relaxation.
Games attract students’ attention and provide fun while practising language content. While playing games children use English spontaneously and with almost no effort.
Playing provides opportunities for repetition in a new context each time it is conducted.
It motivates students and keeps them motivated. Play facilitates thinking skills, but also managing one’s own emotions and co-operating with others (Czekańska, Lipińska 2007: 20).
The theoretical part of the diploma project explained the importance of kindergarten in child’s development. What is more, that part presented the characteristics of children in this group age, learning aims and examples how teachers of English can fulfill them during English classes. In order to present a full picture, methods and ways of teaching appropriate for kindergarten children were described.
In the practical part of this diploma project I would like to scrutinize the following problems:
The general research question is:
It is followed by specific questions:
To answer these questions case study research will be carried out. “Case study refers to the collection and presentation of detailed information about a particular participant or small group, frequently including the accounts of subjects themselves” (http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/page.cfm?pageid=1285). This is a form of qualitative descriptive research and it looks intensely at an individual or small participant pool, drawing conclusions only about that participant or group and only in that specific context.
Case study research conducted in this research project concerns one student who did not attend English classes in kindergarten. Now this student is in one group with two other students who attended English classes in their kindergarten. This arrangement of the group showed some differences between the student who did not have English classes
in kindergarten and the students who had these classes.
The research for the empirical part will be conducted in one of the groups, in one of the Warsaw language schools. It will take place in a group where there are 3 students from the first grade. Two of them had English classes in kindergarten and one of them did not have such classes. Presently, they are learning the material which is new for all of them. These students have English classes twice a week, and each class lasts 60 minutes.
In order to collect sufficient data during the research the instruments adequate for the research were developed.
The first instrument which will provide interesting data is transcription of the recording which will be carried out during chosen activities (Appendix 1). This transcription will show differences between children in the groups in the role of English learners.
The research will also include the questionnaire for students (Appendix 2).
It is destined for learners and it will be filled in by them. Students will answer the questions by using crayons and colouring a circle that corresponds with their feelings and opinions. This task is aimed to check whether the learners feel comfortable during English classes or not. What is more, the questionnaire is created to investigate students’ general attitude towards English. The Smiley Questionnaire provides the author with students’ perspective on the research problem.
The third instrument is the interview with the students who did not attend English classes in kindergarten (Appendix 3). It consists of 4 questions which are formulated in connection to the Smiley Questionnaire for students. The interview will be conducted in order to complete information obtained from the questionnaire. The aim of the interview is to discover the reasons why students who did not have English classes in kindergarten gave such answers to the questions from the questionnaire. The questions are similar to those from the questionnaire.
The English teacher of this group starts each class with the activity called ‘small talk’. During this activity the teacher asks students the questions, for example, ‘What’s your name’, ‘How old are you?’, ‘What are you wearing today?’. The questions depend on the material which was implemented before. The process of ‘small talk’ will be recorded and transcribed (Appendix 1) in order to present the answers of the students who had English classes in kindergarten and the students who did not attend these classes in kindergarten.
For the same purpose the process of teaching the song also will be recorded and transcribed.
The research will also include the questionnaire for students (Appendix 2).
Each student will fill in the questionnaire individually during the lesson. Students will answer the questions by using crayons and colouring a circle that corresponds with their feelings and opinions. This task is aimed to check how the students feel during English classes and what is their general attitude towards this language.
The third instrument which will provide interesting data is the interview with the students who did not have English classes in kindergarten (Appendix 3). It consists of
4 questions which are formulated in connection to the Smiley Questionnaire for the students. The students will be interviewed individually during the break to provide them with
an opportunity to give true answers.
Collected data will be analysed and presented in the results.
The English teacher of this group starts each class with activity called ‘small talk’. During this activity the teacher asks students the questions, for example, ‘What’s your name’, ‘How old are you?’, ‘What are you wearing today?’. The questions depend on the material which was implemented before. The process of ‘small talk’ was recorded and transcribed (Appendix 1) in order to present the answers of the students who had English classes in kindergarten and the students who did not attend these classes in kindergarten. Student B
is the learner who did not participate in English classes in kindergarten and students A and B are the students who had English classes in kindergarten.
The first question formulated by the teacher was ‘What’s your name?’. Transcription shows that none of the students had problems with answering this question.
The second question was ‘How old are you?’. Student A and C did not have any problems with this question, but student B answered it after hearing its translation.
Student B was asked to answer this question after the student A’s answer to give him/her
a chance to hear a good answer.
The third question was ‘What are you wearing today?’. Student C was asked to answer the question as the first one. S/he needed a small prompt but in fact s/he did not have problems with answering this question. Secondly, the student B was asked. S/he answered
‘I do not know English’. The question was changed a little and then this student answered it. Student B was asked again the question ‘What are you wearing today?’, and finally s/he answered it with a prompt. Student C did not have any problems with this question.
The last question was ‘What colour is the…?’. Students A and C did not have any problems with answering these questions but student B answered it with the teacher’s help.
The process of teaching of the ‘What’s the colour?’ song also was recorded and transcribed. Student B needed some encouragement to start the activity based on repeating the lyrics of a song after the teacher. This activity was carried out after the song was taught to all of the students and sung for a few times. However, despite this the student B did not want to take part in this activity. Student B repeated all of the words correctly after s/he repeated it twice.
The research also include the questionnaire for students (Appendix 2). Each student filled in the questionnaire individually during the lesson. The tables below present the results of the questionnaires.
The Smiley Questionnaire for students
Figure 1: Results of the questionnaire for students
The first question in the questionnaire was “How do you feel during English lessons?”. Students A and C marked that they felt good during English lessons. Student B answered that s/he did not feel good at English classes and chose the middle answer.
The second statement was about student’s attitude towards speaking English. Again, students A and C marked answered that they felt good during speaking English, while Student B marked that s/he did not feel good during speaking English. The third statement was
“Before the test at English classes I feel”. It turned out that Student B did not feel bad in this situation and Students A and C feel good. On the basis of the student’s answers for the fourth question it turned out that Students A and C think that they do not have any problems with learning English. While, Student B thinks that s/he has problems with learning this language.
Interview with the student
In this part the results of the interview with the Student B are presented.
The purpose of the interview was to find out about the student’s attitude towards English lessons and learning English. It took place at school before lessons. It was transcribed and it is presented in the appendices. (Appendix 3).
On the basis of the interview with the Student B, it can be said that s/he likes English classes because students play language games and draw. At the same time, Student B thinks that s/he does not know English. This is the reason why s/he is stressed and why other students put his/her down. What is more, it turned out that Student B likes learning English because it is useful, but at the same time s/he thinks that English is difficult and that s/he does not know English. In addition, Student B claims that s/he does not like speaking English because other students think that Student B cannot speak this language. S/he thinks that s/he is worse than other students because s/he did not attend English classes in kindergarten.
This is the reason why Student B is stressed before the test.
The answers to the questions formulated before the research project are listed
and discussed below.
The general research question was:
The conducted research confirmed that a lack of English classes has an impact on the future learning of this language. It turned out that it mainly affects the comfort of the child during English classes. Student who did not learn this language in kindergarten do not feel good during English lessons and during speaking English. What is more, such a student has a low self-esteem, does not want to speak English during lessons and is insecure.
These behaviours deteriorate when other students who attended English classes
in kindergarten put down the student who did not have English lessons before.
On the basis of the conducted research it turned out that the fact of not feeling comfortable during English classes has a significant impact on language production.
In case of this research the student who did not have English classes in kindergarten does not feel comfortable during English lessons at primary school. The lack of comfort influences language production, which is noticeable in the transcription of small talk or in the process of teaching students the song. Student does not want to say anything and if s/he say something s/he does it very quietly. Each utterance starts with the statement ‘I don’t speak English and English is difficult’. It is very difficult to encourage such a student to say something and to be active during English lessons.
On the basis of the transcription of small talk it turned out that the student who did not attend English classes before has problems with answering some questions while the students who had English before do not have any problems. It should be emphasized that
the material was new for all of the students. Student B’s problems may arise from the lack of confidence and from the fact that s/he does not feel comfortable during English classes.
This student needs a lot of teacher’s attention and encouragement. Only under these conditions does this student give good answers.
Implications for the EFL classroom
Teaching a group which is arranged in this way is very difficult. An English teacher has to do everything so that the student is not discouraged to learn the language. This is the reason why the teacher should do their best to integrate the group, and by applying group work, show that the student who only starts his/her journey with English is also a vital part
of the group and s/he can do a lot. Moreover, an English teacher should also individualise
the process of teaching and use a lot of verbal praise in order to increase self-esteem of the students who did not attend English classes before.
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Appendix 1 – Transcription
The teacher has a ball and throws it to each student. The learner who has a ball in their hands is supposed to answer the teacher’s question.
The song: “What’s the colour?”
The teacher asks the student who did not participate in English classes in kindergarten to repeat after her the lyrics of a song. The song was taught and sung before.
Appendix 3 – Interview with the Student B (the student who did not attend English classes in kindergarten)
Lubię te lekcje, bo gramy w fajne gry i rysujemy. Ale ja nie umiem angielskiego i się przez to stresuję… A chłopaki się ze mnie śmieją.
Mama mówi, że angielski trzeba znać, żeby rozumieć ludzi z innych krajów. Dlatego lubię uczyć się angielskiego, chociaż on dla mnie jest trudny… Bo ja nie umiem angielskiego.
Bardzo nie lubię mówić po angielsku, bo chłopaki mówią, że ja nie umiem. Oni mieli angielski w przedszkolu, a ja nie…
Bardzo się denerwuję, bo czasem zapominam różnych słówek, chociaż wcześniej uczę się z mamą.