One comment we frequently hear from students is that they were delighted to see a question on their favourite theme/character/poem pop up in the paper, but there was a word in the question that they didn’t understand and so they opted for another question. ‘How does the poet’s writing make his thoughts and feelings so vivid for you?’ was a gift of a question for a class I taught a few years back: they knew the poem inside out and back to front, but the word ‘vivid’ caused them to turn away, insecurity rearing its ugly head as they decided not to tackle it.
Topics: Academic vocabulary
Here at Bedrock HQ, we are really excited to announce that we have been shortlisted as finalists for the Bett Awards 2019!
Topics: National Events
Much has changed in education of late, not least for the English departments around the U.K. Last week however, a nation of teachers felt a familiar old feeling: the sense of eager anticipation we all feel, that question on everyone's lips… what were the questions like?! The general consensus around our neck of the woods was an enthusiastic ‘not too bad.’ What did your students think?
Fewer than 50% of NQTs surveyed last year (NCTL) said that they felt well prepared to teach EAL students and with over 1.1 million students learning English as an Additional Language in the UK today, it’s definitely worth addressing.
Topics: Literacy across the curriculum
If helping your students expand their vocabulary is quite far down your list of classroom priorities, then read this...
If you are teaching English in a bilingual or multilingual classroom, how to teach vocabulary is probably one of your biggest conundrums. Whilst it may not be your primary focus each lesson, you will no doubt be aware that every lesson, students will be learning new language incidentally. So it’s worth getting students in to good learning habits. With a few relatively simple steps, you can create an environment that ensures retention of language is long term, understanding is nuanced and students are encouraged to take responsibility for developing their own vocabulary.
In the 1980s, some Italian neuroscientists at the University of Parma were running some tests on an area of some macaques’ brains. They discovered, quite by chance, that when the scientists reached for a peanut to give to the monkeys, the neurons in the monkeys’ brains would fire. Even more surprisingly, they realised that the SAME neurons would start to fire when the monkey itself grasped the peanut. They called their discovery ‘mirror neurons.’ Obviously, the next step was to see whether the same was true of humans. Christian Keysers, a psychologist from the Netherlands investigated just that question. He wanted to explore the emotion of disgust. The brain activity of 14 male participants was monitored as everyone inhaled a noxious odour. Their brains were also imaged as they watched a video of an actor screwing up his face in great disgust. In both cases, ‘a particular segment of an olfactory area of the participants' brains called the anterior insula’ was activated. Whether ‘mirror neurons’ exist in human brains is yet to be proven, but such studies might suggest that empathy is a neurological response.
Firstly, why does it matter? Surely students just pick up new vocab as they move through life? Well, yes, to a certain extent that is true. But think about two students. One who reads extensively, who lives in a language rich household and whose parents or carers talk to them on a regular basis. Now take a second child. This child doesn’t enjoy reading and avoids it at all costs. They don’t live in a household where they are immersed in new language all the time; maybe they don’t live in a household where English is the first language. Consider the disparity between child one and child two. What is your school doing to bridge that language gap? Your response might be ‘we encourage reading through excellent, engaging schemes, we ensure all students benefit from outstanding teaching and learning practices, we model excellent spoken English at all times…’ but how are you tracking the effects of this on their language acquisition? Are you certain that you are narrowing the gap?
The Language and Reading Acquisition (LARA) team from Royal Holloway University are currently undertaking research that aims to clarify the relationship between oral vocabulary and reading attainment in Secondary Schools. Whilst much research has been conducted in to language acquisition in Early Years education and also in Primary education, how students continue to learn language in Secondary Schools remains less well documented. There is such a lot of noise around literacy improvement in schools that this seems a conspicuous absence.