When is a test not a test?

It’s amazing what a difference a word makes. Say the word “test” and people fly into a panic: I don’t know it! I can’t remember it! I hate tests!

This year, instead of doing tests at the end of a unit, we have had quizzes instead. Now children are not stupid, and if you just swap the words “quiz” and “test”, they still know it’s a test. So we had real pub-quiz style quizzes. The children wrote their team name (which had to include their own name) at the top of the paper and then huddled their arms round it to stop anybody else copying, and before we started they had to switch off their invisible phones.

I put the questions into rounds and read them out in my best Quizmaster voice. For a bit of extra authenticity I made one of the rounds a picture round…. In fact the only thing we lacked was the chance to play a joker for double points! And at the end I announced the “winners” who won a round of applause from the rest of the class.

The children loved it. In fact if anybody was off sick on the day of the quiz I had to delay announcing the winners, because next lesson the children who had been absent would beg for the chance to sit in the corner quietly and do the quiz on their own!

Did it make the children who didn’t win feel bad? Well, actually – no. Because it was a bit of fun not a test, there was no pressure and I found that even the children who found the subject more difficult did really well in the quizzes. Sometimes they even won!

During lessons they became more willing to admit if they didn’t understand something, so any uncertainties and misconceptions could be dealt with more quickly. They became more willing to take risks because they knew that making mistakes wasn’t a disaster – it was just a step on the road to the learning – and this helped them to learn even more. And the more they learnt the better they did in the end of unit quiz.

At the end of the year the children voted the quizzes the most fun thing they had done in that topic, and as I looked at the class I knew that every single one of them had made more progress than I had imagined possible.

Would this work with every class? I don’t know. What I do know is that for this particular mix of children, turning those end of unit tests into quizzes made the children happy, relaxed and enthusiastic learners.

M is also for … Mistakes

MEverybody makes mistakes.  I do, your parents do, your teachers do and I’m sure you do, too.  Of course, nobody likes making mistakes and they wish they hadn’t made them, but really they are nothing to be worried about or scared of.  That’s particularly important with mistakes in your school work.  Even if you carry on learning and studying your whole life, you’ll still make some.  What you need to do is understand why you made the mistakes and, most importantly, understand what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.  In other words, you have to learn from them!  So how do you do that?  Let’s take a look at the different kinds of mistakes you might make.

The easiest to understand and fix is a mistake you make because you weren’t concentrating.  That’s when you write the wrong word, spell an easy word wrong, put the wrong answer to a maths question you know the right answer to, or you haven’t read the question carefully.  I think all of us have made mistakes like that!  The way to fix them is simple – make sure you are always concentrating when you’re working.  It’s especially important with homework, because there are so many other things happening and that you could be doing at home.  But if you concentrate, the work is easier, you’ll get it finished faster and you make fewer mistakes.

The second kind of mistake is if you aren’t confident about things you’ve been taught or you haven’t answered that kind of question many times before.  The way to stop making these mistakes is to make sure you take time to learn the things your teacher asks you to (especially spellings and times tables!) and keep practicing what you’ve been doing in lessons.  That way, the information you need will be in your head and you’ll understand how to answer different types of question.

Another kind of mistake is if you wrote or said a wrong answer because you just don’t know the right one.  That’s OK – nobody can be expected to know everything!  Teachers prefer you to have a try than sit there silently or just write nothing.  And they will be able to tell you the right answer – you have to remember it for next time!

You’ve probably noticed that the solutions to all the mistakes so far are things that you need to do yourself.  But for some mistakes you need help.  That’s when you don’t know why you made the mistake, perhaps because you just didn’t understand the question or didn’t know how to find the right answer.  If you want to stop making this kind of mistake, you need to ask your teacher to explain it to you.  Don’t be embarrassed – asking for help means you want to do better and learn more and no teacher will mind you asking.

Mistakes are part of life, especially when you’re young and learning.  The important thing is not to feel bad about yourself but to think about what you can do to avoid making the same mistakes again and again.  Whether you can do it on your own or with help from your teacher, there is always a way to fix it.

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Learning Chinese

As readers of this blog will know, I love learning new things.  Last summer I spotted an advert for a course in Chinese for primary school teachers, and as MFL (modern foreign languages) is my specialist subject, I decided to sign up.  Throwing myself in at the deep end, I promised my new school that I would set up a lunchtime Chinese club, so I had to make sure I really did learn some!

I must confess, I was a bit worried.  I mean – Chinese is really difficult, right?  It’s doesn’t even have an alphabet, just thousands of characters.  But it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I imagined.  Obviously, it takes years to learn to speak a language fluently, so I have only learnt the basics, but this is what I discovered:

–          It’s a subject-verb-object language, so the word order is the same as English.  This already makes it easier than some languages.

–          The verbs don’t conjugate (i.e. there are no different endings depending on who is doing it – like he lives, they live in English, or il habite, ils habitent in French.

–          There are no articles (English has ‘a’ and ‘the’; French has un, une, des, le, la and les; Spanish has un, una, unos, unas, el, la, los and las; Chinese has nothing)

–          There are no tenses.  In Chinese, the verb remains exactly the same and you know whether it’s past, present or future from the context.

This simplicity actually makes it ideal for primary school children to learn.

Like any language, it does have its peculiarities and difficulties, such as the tones (the way your voice goes up or down for certain words) but this is no more challenging than getting children to understand the concept of nouns having genders (Chinese doesn’t have those) or that ‘you are’ might be ‘tu es’ but might be ‘vous êtes’ depending on who and/or how many people you are talking to.

Of course the characters are tricky but the children in my club really enjoy drawing and practising them, and they have the advantage that children are not influenced by how the word is written, so in general their pronunciation is better right from the start.  The fact that the language isn’t written with an English alphabet doesn’t faze them at all.  (In fact, I also run an Ancient Greek club and the children there are also fascinated by the fact that language can be written using different symbols.)  We all enjoy making up little stories to help remember the characters.  On the course I did, we learned a little about how the characters are made up, with radicals giving an indication of meaning and a phonetic element indicating pronunciation.

And there is far more vocabulary in some topic areas.  For example, English has mum, dad, brother, sister, grandma, granddad, while Chinese has different words depending on whether it’s an older or younger brother, a maternal or paternal grandmother etc.  But for the moment the primary aged children I am teaching only need to learn the ones they require for their own family.

The children and I are really enjoying learning together, and although I will never be fluent in Mandarin, you never know – one of the children I am teaching may be inspired to study it further and become fluent in the future.

 

 

The Difference Between Teaching Children and Adults

I was once asked in an interview what I thought the difference was between teaching adults and teaching children.

There is of course the obvious factor that adults are in a classroom because they want to be there and because, for the most part, they have chosen to study the subject you are teaching. Children on the other hand are in the classroom because the law states that they have to be. You would think therefore that the adults would be more motivated.

However, children have learnt to learn, whereas adults have forgotten how. Children come to school each day expecting to learn, and they know that they will be required to put in some effort and take responsibility for their own learning. Adults arrive at their evening class tired after a full day at work and think that sitting in a lesson and just listening is the same as learning. Children are prepared to practise a new skill for a longer period of time because they know they need to. Adults tend to try one or two examples and decide that’s enough, so they don’t complete the embedding process. I’m not criticising. I’m often guilty of this myself.

So much for the difference in learning between adults and children. What about teaching methods? When I first started out I thought that teaching adults and children would be very different. I imagined that teaching adults would be a lot more serious, but this turned out not to be the case. I discovered that the more games I introduced, the more the adults engaged with the lesson and the better they learnt. Songs and video clips proved equally popular. After talking to other teachers of adults I have come to the conclusion that there really is no difference in methods that work.

So, back to the original question: What is the difference between teaching adults and children? I think the main difference is the content and context rather than style. Depending on the subject adults may require content to be more in-depth than children, or they may wish to focus on a smaller area such as handling money and paying household bills. I wouldn’t teach children how to order a beer in a foreign language, whereas this is a favourite for adults! Context for children will focus on their limited life experiences, and relate to school, playground games, holidays. Adults will be less interested in school and playtime, but will relate to the context of work, home and holidays.

What do you think the main differences are?

For language, maths or English tuition in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall area visit www.sjbteaching.com.  For links to other interesting education-related articles, please like my facebook page.

H is also for… Holidays

H is for...Holidays are important for resting, relaxing, having fun and seeing your friends. You need to do that because playing with your friends is just as important as learning.

However, summer holidays are long and you might forget a lot of the things you do in school if you don’t practice them.

Try to set aside a little time each day to do something useful. Maybe you could read, or write a diary of what you have been doing. Perhaps you could get someone to make a cake with you so that you can practise weighing out the ingredients, or you could download one of these pocket-money priced games to practise your times tables.

Whatever you choose to do, you will find that just 20 minutes a day will make all the difference when you go back to school.

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