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How fast is too fast?

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Joined: 14 Nov 2013
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 14, 2013 1:12 pm    Post subject: How fast is too fast? Reply with quote

I'm being asked to design a "proficiency" class for ESL. To me, that means "straightening out" their mispronunciations, since in this country they do know basic English. They just use the wrong sounds for many graphemes.

However, I'm being pressured to teach all 12 units in 15 consecutive 4 hour classes. I really don't think that gives enough time between units for enough practice for the students, and really think going that fast would be frustrating for them (and therefore me), and a waste of time since the knowledge won't "stick."

BTW, I also can't get enough budget to allow them to have the Sound Pages as "take home" materials.

What I would like in response to this thread is some messages I can bring back to the planners that will help me convince them what the correct format of the class should be.

The students are typically 18-35.

My thought is to do two units per week interspersed with other English related learning, such as prepositions, subject/verb agreement, etc. But I don't want to introduce too many sounds so quickly!
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 14, 2013 4:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What a dilemma and what a question!

First of all, taking all the letter/s-sound correspondences of the alphabetic code content into consideration (and there are many - around 180+), and all the core resources throughout the 12 units of work (which are many - there are about 150 'I can read' cumulative texts alone), we are talking about an extensive body of work.

So, let's look at the practicalities in terms of planning:

If the learners already know basic English in terms of speaking (?) and basic reading (?), then perhaps they don't need to start 'at the beginning' with unit 1 (?).

Whilst it is always helpful to plan ahead, it isn't appropriate or possible as you also need to build into the equation the needs of the students, a suitable starting point, sufficient time and opportunity to do the practice and embed the learning (you are right in your comments) - and you need to have a certain amount of flexibility en route - to adjust the speed/content/plans according to ongoing findings.

You have to plan according to your students' needs and what is doable in the time-scale which of course you know.

The planning also depends on whether you are aiming purely to improve decoding (for reading) or whether you are also looking to improve encoding (spelling).

If your main focus is reading and pronunciation for the spoken language (helped by learning more about the alphabetic code and pronunciation alternatives), then that too will make a difference on the kind of activities you do and the pace you could attempt. In other words, if the focus is not on accurate spelling or handwriting, then perhaps you could move forwards with more speed.

Pace through the programme also depends on the levels of language of the students and how much they need to practise to make a difference.

For some students, the mere exposure to the information and quick practice might be sufficient.

For other students, they might need a lot of practice in which case not being able to take home paper-based content is very worrying because how can they revisit the content and gain the extra practice?

Without knowing more details about your students, I am unable to be very specific but it is certainly sounding like practicalities are not being considered highly enough.

Your main resources need to be:

A 'giant' alphabetic code chart in situ to refer to - and every student needs a 'mini' copy of a chart for him or herself. These are truly essential.

See for free downloadable charts of all descriptions.

The 'Say the Sounds Posters' are essential as this will help with recognising graphemes and giving a sound in response - so helping with reading and pronunciation. These are available usually in three versions in every unit. The students really need their own copy of this resource.

The core resources will be the Sounds Book Activity Sheets (as you have mentioned) alternating with the 'I can read' texts which take word level practice to sentences which lead to comprehension and more pronunciation. It will be very disappointing if these cannot be provided per student to work with in sessions and then to practise at home.

If your focus is on reading and sounds, and spoken language, then you could save time by not doing the written activities or these could be done at home if the paper-based resources could be supplied.

[It's the equivalent of having a text book - building it up over the duration of the course.]

Four hour sessions are quite substantial and you are right to build in grammar and other aspects of literacy and literature.

In any one day, however, I don't think it would be wise to cover more than a couple of letter/s-sound correspondences if there are great needs with literacy - but if progress is good and levels are not that weak, they you might find you could work quite quickly through some of the units.

I would be very interested indeed in how you eventually use the PI programme's resources so that we can share your findings with other people using the programme in similar contexts.

Like any good teaching, a basic assessment is always helpful. Have you looked at the assessment package on the Free Resources webpage?

I'm not sure that I'm able to be helpful enough without more information from you - but I can certainly state that to plan in a purely mathematical way to suggest that you spread the whole programme over 15 sessions regardless of needs, scale of content, an insight into possible progress and effectiveness of the sessions - is an impossibility.

I suggest that you have a plan of how you wish to start off using the resources and then literally see what happens when the actual students are following what you have planned. Then adjust accordingly.

A couple of sessions will begin to give you an idea of what's working and what's feasible.

You could focus on a sound at a time and use materials 'across the rows' as you see them on the Alphabetic Code Chart.

Select a colour chart to see which units you would need to select the resources from:

This type (below) might help with your planning -working across the rows with a focus on the sounds. Is it the vowel sounds causing most problems?

This means, instead of thinking of planning your work in a linear way in the order I've introduced the letter/s-sound correspondences in the programme, select the sound you want to focus on and use the resources linked to the spelling alternatives for that sound.

Please do get back to me with any further thoughts or questions.

Good luck with your huge project!
Debbie Hepplewhite
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