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Research at ELC

Our Methodology in our Pre-Primary Classes

We were lucky to be the focus of an undergraduate dissertation by Elizabeth Anak Tiwi for a BSc Education (TESL) She focussed on the teaching methodology used by our teachers in our school classes. Here are some edited highlights from Chapter 4 of her thesis:

Teaching English as a Second Language to Pre - School Learners in the English Language Centre Kuching Sarawak.

Teacher A: I provide the kids with lots of drilling because I believe that if I drill more to the children, they'll remember better.

Teacher A said that she stressed drilling the most in her class. The reason behind this was that she believes that the more she drills to the children, the better they remember. The same goes for the word usage (vocabulary) as she believes that the more children hear the words, the more they understand and get the meaning of the words and this results in the children's increase in confidence in using them. Besides that, she also mentioned that it was important for the students to be immediately corrected when there were errors in terms of pronunciation or sentence structure. She believes that immediate error-correction and reinforcement is very important as a way to prevent children from repeating the same mistakes.

Teacher B mentioned that she uses all three theories of language learning learning - behaviourist , innatist and interactionist depending on the lesson of the day and their learning outcomes. Although the three theories are used, she emphasized that she uses a lot of drilling especially with children without English background.

Teacher B: I usually apply all three theories, depending on what I'm going to teach for that particular lesson. Besides, I believe that it is also based on the learning outcomes which have been set in the syllabus. But I stress on drilling a lot especially to the kids who have no English language background at all.

For Teacher B, drilling is essential as a "starting point" for L2 learners to get the basic structure of the language The children in her class are mostly Chinese and they go to Chinese kindergarten. She further explained that English is only used by these children in their English tuition class. This is why she finds that drilling is very important for the first three months of their English lesson in order to make these children remember better. After the three months, these children are assumed to have enough vocabulary and that is when she will start to teach using a variety of teaching techniques.

During the four class observations, the researcher found that both teachers applied what they believe in teaching English to the children. Immediate error-correction was done and a lot of drilling was used (e.g. vocabulary, sentence structure). During the observation as well, the researcher noticed that the children were able to accept their mistakes and learn from them without the fear of being corrected again.

4.2.1 Teaching Techniques in Class

Teacher A: I emphasize on drilling. I focus more on building the children's vocabulary and I normally teach them using pictures. As they proceed to the next level (which we call P1), only then they will be exposed to grammar.

Teacher A prefers to give the children drilling and repetition of words. Although she also used flash cards and pictures to make the lesson more interesting, she still believed that drilling is the best for pre-primary students. She also focused more on building the children's vocabulary as she finds that vocabulary is the first thing that students should acquire before learning the language. In this early stage, most words were taught using pictures. After being exposed to enough vocabulary, only then grammar is introduced to the children as they enter the P1 class.

Teacher B: I use drilling a lot in my lesson. However, interaction is used all the time in class. I want the kids to at least communicate and speak up using the language.

Teacher B, emphasizes on drilling during lessons with the children. For her, drilling is repetition of words and its syllables and sentence structure, which also means imitation of the teacher or the audiotape.In addition , she also views interaction as an important way to learn a new language. Students are encouraged to communicate using the target language and are least able to speak up during class activities. She uses many different ways to make the children talk, such as telling stories, showing them pictures and asking them questions. Sometimes, these children exchange ideas and this results in active interaction in the classroom.

4.2.2 Teacher's Role in Class

Young learners, look up to their teachers and make them their role models. For them, what their teacher teaches or says is always right.

Teacher A: In class, I only do about thirty percent of the talking, and the rest comes from the kids. I guess my role is only as a facilitator and that is why I don't really talk so much.

When asked, Teacher A said that she only does thirty percent of talking in class. She does not talk much during lessons because her role was only to facilitate the children in the classroom by providing them with enough guidance and encouragement to speak up more during her lesson.

Besides that, during the class observation, Teacher A has a sense of authority as she gives a lot of instructions to the children. When it comes to the reading activity, she has to act as a language modeller when she guides the children as some of them still do not know how to read and children have to imitate what she says Hence, Teacher A is viewed as the children's role model in class.

Teacher B: My role in class is perhaps only as the kid's facilitator. My job is to facilitate the children's learning. Well, some students can help to tell what are in the pictures but if I ask them to read, they might not know how to.

Teacher B mentions that her role is to facilitate the children's learning. Her point is that, students may be able to tell what the pictures are about with or without her guidance but when it comes to reading, some may not be able to read at all. This is when the teacher's role as a facilitator takes place, which is to assist them in reading .

4.2.3 Teacher's Way of Dealing with Students Who Have Difficulties in Understanding

Teacher B: Easy. I'll drill them; explain to them repeatedly until they get the meaning of the word. I would not translate them to L1 because if I translate, students may not remember not only the words but also the meaning as well.

Teacher B said that drilling is still the best method to ensure that the students get the meaning of the word. She prefers to use the word repeatedly until a point where she knows that the children eventually understand its meaning and usage. She mentioned that she does not prefer translations of the meanings of words as she points out that students would not remember the words and their meanings. However, there was a case when there was a Malay boy who responded to her question by answering "guli" (the students' L1). Immediately, Teacher B translated the word to English, which means "marble".

Teacher A: Well, I'll try my best to explain in English in any means that I can but if there's really no choice and if they still can't get the meaning, I'll have to translate it. For example, if the student's a Chinese, I normally ask for help from the reading teacher who's a Chinese lady to translate the word.

Firstly, she would try to explain the meaning of the word in English. If the child still does not get it, she would have to translate the word into the child's L1. For example, if a Chinese boy does not understand a particular word no matter how many times Teacher A has explained, she would then ask for the help of the reading teacher, who is a Chinese lady, to translate the word into the child's L1 (Mandarin). In her opinion, this is the best way to solve this kind of problem since there is no other method that can be used. However, the use of this method in classes was very minimal and as much as possible, to be avoided.

During the observations, there was a Chinese boy who did not understand the word 'write'. That was when Teacher A had to translate the word to the boy's L1 (Mandarin), and he understood. In some cases, translation of words from or into the students' L1 was needed because some might still not get the meaning even though the teacher has explained it many times. However, the tuition centre's policy did not encourage translation and the use of GTM except when it was absolutely necessary. The practices of teachers in the chosen tuition centre proved to take the advice given by Schmitt (1997) that translation of new words is not recommended as the child would not bother to figure out the meaning of the new word and also to "store" the new words in his or her mind.

4.2.4 Promoting Parts of Speech in Lesson

Teacher B: When I teach, I don't categorize the words into verbs, adjectives, and nouns. I focus on building the children's words (vocabulary). Students learn based on what they hear. So there is no need to promote sentence structure. They learn through the instructions that their teacher gives and they'll repeat or mimic what they hear. I also let them listen to a lot to radio and cassettes as this will enable them to listen to a more proper way of speaking in English.

Teacher B believes that when teaching children who have just started to acquire a new language, it is best that the words are taught without the need to categorize them into verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc. The most important part is that these children have to be exposed to more new words .She thinks that vocabulary is crucial in order for these kids to proceed with learning other parts of speech in the language as these can come later.

From her many years of pre-primary English teaching experience, she notices that most children learn based on what they hear. This means that listening plays an important part in pre-primary language class. Children learn as they listen. This also means that the language teachers play an important role in class as the children perceive them as their role models in class. Children learn through instructions that the teacher gives, and that is when they start to understand and give response in the lesson.

This finding strengthens Slatterly and Willis' (2001) results which says that children also prefer to repeat and mimic what they hear. In this case, teachers must ensure that their pronunciation and sentence structure are always correct so that these children will not repeat the teacher's mistakes. For Teacher B, she prefers to let the children listen to more recordings from the audiotape. Speakers in the audiotape sounded more like native speakers. Not only these children were able to listen to a different slang of speaking but they were also exposed to the proper English structures.

Teacher A: I like to conduct games which require actions. You give instructions to the students. They understand and teacher's job is just to reinforce. As for English structure, I'd prefer them to copy the sentences on the board and also to read more. If they happen to produce mistakes such as pronunciation, I'd correct them on the spot and make them say it again but in the correct way.

Teacher A prefers to teach verbs to the children using games which involve the students to move around. She believes that children prefer to move instead of sit for long hours on the chair and they need to experience what they learn. So, playing games is the best approach to let the students learn verbs although verbs are taught indirectly.

Similarly , Teacher A also thinks that it is best that children at this level are not exposed yet to the different parts of speech in English (verbs, adjective, etc.). Regarding structure , she prefers that the children copy the sentences from either from the book or whiteboard. Besides copying, she also thinks that children can learn proper sentence structure by reading.

As some of these learners still do not know how to read, again, the role of teachers is very important as they guide the children to read and teachers have to make sure that their pronunciation is always correct. In cases where learners produce mistakes either in pronunciation or structure in their conversation, Teacher A took the initiative to correct them on the spot and make them say it in the correct way. The reason behind this is that she does not want them to repeat the same mistakes again in the future.

4.2.5 Strategies to Attract Children's Attention in the Classroom

Children are very different from adult learners in many ways (Gursoy, 2010). As they are still young and just started to explore things around them, teachers need to explore many creative ways to make them interested and keep focus in their learning. Teachers have to take note of the children's different learning style in order to adapt a suitable methodology of teaching the language.

There are various teaching materials that the teachers can use to teach these young learners. The main material is their course book, "Chatterbox" for beginners, published by Oxford Press. Audio CD is used as a supplementary to this course book and involves a lot of listening activities. There is also a game-based course book by Carol Read. Apart from the different course books, they are also provided with attractive flash cards, toys, storybooks and audio cassettes. Models, Project Work, Storybooks and Games

Teacher A: I love to let my students to play with toys. They love to play with models. For example, I let them play the train when I conduct the train game. They also love to do project work in which they have to draw and colour and sometimes cut out stuffs but we only organize project work monthly due to time constrain. Sometimes, I let the students read storybooks too. But the most important thing is that I conduct games in my class most of the time so that children as they love playing games.

Models and Project Work

One of the strategies used by Teacher A is to give her students toys to play with after playing certain games. She said that the children enjoy playing with models. They prefer to touch them instead of just looking at the pictures. Besides that, she also gives the children project work, and students get to draw and colour. Sometimes, students also get the chance to cut shapes, drawings or anything else using scissors. Most of the time, Teacher A receives positive feedback as these children seem to enjoy doing their project work so much. Due to time constraints, she only does project works monthly with the class. All these activities are based on a game-based English book used during the lesson. English language practice Takes place when the teacher reads out the instructions and explains the steps accordingly, and the learners get to seek for clarification when they do not understand any steps during the activity.

Storybooks and Games

Sometimes, Teacher A distributes story books to the children for them to read. For those who do not know how to read, they can still learn by looking at the pictures and start to ask questions to their teacher. In this case, a learning process also takes place as the students begin to think about what is in the picture, and they feel curious and start to ask questions using the target language.

Besides distributing storybooks, according to the respondent, playing games is also another strategy used to attract the children's attention in class. Most of the time, games are conducted during the lessons in order prevent the learners from being sleepy. There are different types of games: games which require body movements (verbs), and games found in the game-based book. Read (2003) suggest s that one of the optimal conditions for children to learn in a language class is to have an interesting and enjoyable lesson. Teacher A believes that games can catch the children's attention and they also to learn the language at the same time. Playing games requires the children to receive and understand the teacher's instructions. Once they have understood the instructions, then only they know how to play the game. Authentic Items, Stories and Flash Cards

Teacher B: I love to bring authentic items to class like real apples when my lesson is about an apple. Kids, they like touching things. They like to bring things home I also love to tell stories to the students. But we have to make sure that the things we bring and stories we tell are what the students are familiar with. Besides I also use attractive and colourful flashcards and also cassettes and music.

Authentic Items

Teacher B prefers to use authentic items and things that the children are familiar with in her class. She described a situation when she was teaching a lesson which involved an apple. She brought a real apple to class and showed it to the children. At the end of the lesson, the apple was cut and shared among the children. Her reason behind this was that children love to see real items that are taught in class, and if it is possible and affordable for the teachers to show it to them, it is best that the teachers do so. This way, children are not only able to see it but also to touch it. She believes that one of the most effective ways to teach children is to let them touch the items taught as most children are tactile learners. As described by Scott and Ytreberg (1990, cited in Joan, 2006), children understand something which they learn through their hands, eyes and ears and that what matters most is the children's "physical world" as they get to see and touch the real thing that is taught in class.

Flash cards and Stories

Flash cards are also used most of the time in her class. Most of the flash cards are attractive and catchy enough to catch the children's attention. Apart from that, she also likes to tell stories to the children. Storytelling provides a lot of benefits to children in L2 classes (Slatterly & Willis, 2001; Cortazzi, 1994; Cameron, 2001; and Brumfit & Johnson, 1979). Children love to listen to stories and this triggers their curiosity and results to them asking a lot of questions and to speak up using the target language. Children also love to listen to the recordings in the audiotapes and music. They love to imitate what they listen from the audiotape and also sing according to the music.

As mentioned earlier, Teacher B believes that most young learners are tactile learners. They love to touch things as they learn and if possible, bring the things back home. During the fourth observation, which was in Teacher B's class, most of these young learners were attracted to the lesson when Teacher B brought something to the class. The "thing" was used to teach numbers, where the children had the chance to touch and take the "thing" back according to the number that he or she has chosen earlier.

During the observations sessions it was monitored that both teachers prefer to teach verbs involving body gestures. Sometimes, they teach verbs in the form of games. Apart from that, they also loved to include songs at the beginning or during lessons, and used the audiotape for listening activities. Games were also conducted most of the time to prevent the students from being sleepy and to attract their attention. It was also viewed that teachers loved to use pictures in their teaching. This was because they might have already known that their students would be more responsive that way and this could result to a more interactive classroom environment.

4.3 Learning styles used by the learners

In order to find out the learners' learning styles, teachers must take the initiative to try out different teaching methods.

4.3.1 Activities that the Learners Enjoy Doing Most

The last question was to seek answers on the activities that the learners enjoy doing most in class. This question was useful in order to identify the preferred learning styles of the children. Learning experience which involves exploring and experimenting

Teacher B: Kids are active. They especially love activities that involve them such as role play, singing time and citing poems with high and low tones. They like the learning experience which involves exploring and experimenting.

Discovery and experimentation

Teacher B said that her students love activities which require them to take part and be involved in such activities. Examples of activities are role-play, singing and citing poems with various tones. In such activities, they get to learn English in a fun way. In short, most of these children can be categorized as kinaesthetic learners, in which total physical involvement takes place in a learning situation (Dunn, 1983, 1984; Reinert, 1976). Besides, she also mentioned that these children like to explore and experiment with new things. In other words, children learn through discovery and experimentation and this gives them the motivation to learn (Feher, 2005). In addition, it was stressed that when teaching young learners, teachers should try to avoid too much writing. This can lead the children to lose interest as too much writing can make a lesson dull. Playing games and responding to authentic materials

Teacher A: My students love to play games. Not only games that involve physical movements but also games inside the book by Carol Read. For example, they love playing the train-game. It is one of the vocabulary games that the kids enjoy the most. They also love the functional English puppets game which is also in the book. Talking about puppets, these children love to response to authentic materials. They can't wait to play with the puppets at the end of the lesson.

Teacher A notices that her students love to play games. One of the games that they love was the train-game where they will be exposed to more new words (vocabulary). They also enjoy solving the games in the game-based book for beginners by Carol Read. Although the games are educational, they liked to solve them as they find the games interesting. Perhaps through games, children learn to discover something new in a fun way. Besides that, the children also love to respond to authentic items. They especially love to play and respond to the models brought by the teacher to be used during the lesson. Observation on the children's learning styles

From the four observations done, it was seen that the children responded more to body movements for the learning of verbs . Most of the time, body movements are involved when playing games, during which they moved according to the instructions given. It is proved during the observation that these children like to move instead of sitting for long hours. Besides that, students responded positively to pictures. They loved to look at pictures and talk about it. They even bombarded their teacher with questions as those pictures triggered their curiosity. As stated by Feher (2005), children are predominantly visual and kinaesthetic learners as they love lessons which require them to move around and look at images.

There was also once when Teacher B used "authentic item", which was "rubber seeds", to teach numbers. The students gave positive response towards this kind of activity because they wanted to know and touch the rubber seeds which were brought by their teacher. This supports Joan's (2006) statement on tactile learners as she mentioned that learning would be more meaningful for this kind of learner as they can relate what they learn with something that is "real".

Based on the observations made, it is clearly seen that children love a learning environment which is interactive, fun and enjoyable. It can be concluded from these observations that children learn better through physical movements and experimenting, touching authentic materials, and looking at pictures and flashcards.

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