To followers of this blog: A true story to start the year…

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Here is a very special post which tells a story. It starts last September when Laila, who lives and works in Spain, meets her new class. This follows two months after our Pronunciation and Storytelling programme at Bell Teachers Centre, Cambridge, last July.

I find it touching, which is maybe a hallmark of a transformational  event. There is a quality here which you can feel, and is without words, a simple and fully human quality which we can all recognise, and perhaps aspire to in our teaching. Focus not on what I write, but on the experience of Laila the teacher, and Carme the learner, through the words of Laila and her pictures, and at the end through the words of Carme.

4 Sep 2014, Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: I have a new C1 class of 6 students who are really nice. My biggest challenge is my eldest student, 53 years old, her name is Carme 🙂 and she is visually impaired.

No one told me about this before my lesson, so I had prepared lots of eye contact, physical-mingle type of activities which I had to leave out on the spot and come up with other things to do instead.  She has a really positive attitude towards learning and towards life itself , so that makes it much easier for me considering the circumstances.

So this has definitely made me reconsider many of things we take for granted when we plan a lesson and I need to be as creative as possible regarding presentations and prompts. It’s being an interesting thing to work around. It’s probably the best time to give Teaching Unplugged a shot 🙂

Here is a pic of my classroom 🙂 As you can see, the phonemic chart was there to welcome me as I entered for the first time.

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I am happy to say I have used it from day 1, although I had to present it in two slots – first vowels and diphthongs and on the second day consonants. This is because Carme leaves half an hour earlier than the rest and I thought that even though she could have perfectly followed all the physical awareness exercises, as she would’t be able to participate pointing at the chart or seeing where the others were pointing I thought it would be best to do the presentation once she had left.

Any advice on this Adrian? I will also say that I am quite satisfied with the work we’ve done so far with the chart… One my students even confessed to have been practising the position of the vowels while walking on the street 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Today my tutor came to observe my class for the first time and she congratulated me specifically on the way I integrated pron work throughout the lesson. She did suggest though I could include more drilling both choral and individually.

4 Sep 2014 Adrian Underhill wrote: Hi Laila. Thanks for this. Your classroom looks lovely! So glad to hear you have got started straight away with pron, and doing it this way you will learn as you go and get better and better at it!

Take your tutor’s advice and do a bit more drilling, as long as it is attentive Demand High drilling, ie practice without becoming mere repetition. Perhaps I don’t do enough of it myself, but I suggest only do it when a student has made a discovery that is worth practising, and even then keep stopping to check who is doing less than they can, and help them to keep the bar high.

Re Carme, these are my thoughts to push against, test and improve. For the purpose of this advice I will assume she is quite blind, so adapt this for how much she can see:

  1. Tell her what the chart is, describe it, let her feel it or whatever is her way of knowing it.
  2. Describe that there are 44 boxes, and that when you point, a sound is indicated. Have her listen to the class at work using it.
  3. Give her a pointer and have her point at symbols on it (which she can’t see, so it will be random) and you say the sounds. Keep going til she begins to understand that there is a logic, and it becomes less random. Have other students watch and learn as this goes on. Include everyone in all of this.
  4. Maybe have her listen to some of the class working with it even if she cannot see
  5. Ask her how the chart, and the activities using it, could be adapted to work for her. This could be:
  6. a) She has a personal copy of the chart and puts some braille/feeling/touch sensitive things in each box.
  7. b) Could just be a raised number on each box.
  8. c) Or she might like to have the lines of the boxes raised so she can touch them, and she would get to know each box by location.
  9. d) Or whenever you point on the class chart, another student sitting by Carme puts Carme’s finger in the correct location on Carme’s own touch version of the chart.
  10. e) Or she makes her own touch version of the chart, much smaller, raised edges
  11. f) According to how she deals with writing and reading (?) check if she can make use of phonemic symbols. Does she do braille? Do phonemic symbols work in braille??
  12. The rule of thumb is, do all the usual activities, and ask C what adaptation would enable her to enter the activity.
  13. Maybe let her play with the Sound Foundations app (if she does touch screens) and play with the chart on the screen til she learns the layout (without seeing it)

Careful not to patronise by being too kind, over helpful, anxious, making it easy etc.  Assume she can do miraculous things, and be guided always by what she can do. Be with her, not with yourself (this advice is for all of us).

Laila, those are my immediate thoughts. Maybe the situation is different from what I am imagining, but can you adapt this?  Tell me what you think. This is a wonderful opportunity that has been offered to you. Now you can really practise being taught by your student.

6 Sep 2014, Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hi Adrian, Thanks for all the great advice 🙂  As far as I know, she can’t read at all or look at images on paper or screen… but she said she writes emails on the computer. Taking this into account I have made a chart with the raised boxes like you suggested and will try to use it next week with her and the rest of the class.

One of the things my tutor suggested I should work on is building up cooperation in the classroom and educate the rest of the students in verbalising anything they do, which at the same time is good speaking practice.

Some of the ideas you suggested could be integrated into this objective, like have her point and I say the sounds, also others could speak as she does so to help her to make her way through and memorise the locations of the sounds and have someone next to her help her get to the box that is being pointed by whichever student is at the chart.

I’m really enjoying the challenge. Will keep you updated with the progress. Thanks again. Here’s a pic (I am not really crafty so this is quite an achievement. 🙂 )

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7 Sep 2014 Adrian Underhill wrote: Hi Laila. Great! That looks really good. She’ll love it! I agree that you should build up cooperation in the class, so that this becomes of interest and importance and care to everyone. This is a great opportunity for real community building.

Check she’s ok with it, and invite her to talk in class about how they can help her and how they should/not treat her, and ask how she can help them too. With the aim that whenever an activity comes up that assumes some sightedness, the class can pause and sort with her (in public, not 1:1 you and her) how she would like to join in the activity. It’s much better when there is real life to focus on, the whole class can grow up and stop behaving like ‘students’. Tell me how it goes !

9 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hi Adrian, So on Monday I gave Carme her own chart and she was delighted and very grateful. 🙂 Despite that, at the beginning as I guided her hands through it she found it unnecessary to keep moving through it while others spoke because the inner part of each box had nothing on it to her.

It was really a matter of how I presented it to her and how awfully I explained myself ;( because as soon as I said that the intention was kind of like learning the keys on a computer keyboard, by location and so that this way she would be able to participate when we use the chart she was quite engaged.

She confessed to be very interested in working on her pronunciation and found all the discovery exercises (movement of tongue, lips, jaw) very helpful. She asked me to keep the chart so that she wouldn’t forget it at home.

Today she walked in with a grid drawn on a sheet of paper and with some notes (tongue moves back, jaw drops, lips go rounder) and asked me to please go over it to make sure it was correct. Someone had done it for her but she was so happy to have understood the dynamics of the vowels.

We have worked on it very little so far but I try my best to integrate it all I can. I’ll keep you updated.

9 Sep 2014 Adrian Underhill wrote: Hi Laila. Brilliant! Now what about raised phonemic symbols so she could feel them? That would help in knowing each sound ‘box’ on the chart. If they have velcro or magnets on the back she could make words, corresponding to what is written on the board. She would need a velcro board or a magnetic board. Some ordinary white boards are magnetic, so she could come up to it like the others. Sounds like she is delighted to have her needs taken seriously, and equally. Keep going and keep inquiring!

15 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Latest news… I upgraded it and now it’s absolutely tactile! See picture below. I used plasticine and some strong glue 🙂 She loved it!

She blamed me for having spent some time during the weekend training her muscles saying out the vowels while in company of her friends and family!!!

It’s great that she can now fully participate when we use the chart… We just keep verbalising where in the chart we start ( top left / second line/ bottom line 2nd box) and she is finding her way through. She prefers I keep it for now but today she made sure that it’s really FOR her and that when the month is over and I get a different group of student she will be able to take it home. Isn’t that great? Thanks Adrian for the help and support 🙂

I still need to work on my presentation skills when it comes to the chart and refer to it even more throughout the classes. 🙂

25 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hellooooo. Today was my last class with this group and it has been great. They have all thanked me again and again for introducing them to the chart.It’s incredible how well they did on a phonetic dictation game we did :))))) they were arguing about the vowels, the stress, the shwa !!!!! Amazing!

Carme participated in this quiz with her tactile chart and was sooooo engaged in the task she forgot she had to leave early. She took it home today with her and a broad smile on her face:) The chart has added a whole new dimension to my teaching style and experience and it’s been great to see how wonderfully students respond to it.

A great anecdote : one of my students went to a lesson done by one of the TESOL Certificate students which are offered for free .. And at one point she asked the teacher “can you show me in the chart???” And the poor trainee went blank, blushed and couldn’t help her but then my student stood up, went to the chart and showed her which of the two vowel sounds she was debating about and they figured it out together!!!!! I feel so useful 🙂

25 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hi Adrian. I just landed in Madrid and can’t wait to hug my dog :))) Here is the photo of the tactile version with the plasticine. Thanks for all the support through all your emails.

la foto 1 BlogLater Hi Adrian, I arranged a short meeting with Carme to get some feedback from her in retrospect. Interesting points:

  1. Her previous experience with pron was when teachers would focus in a pair of phonemes during a lesson and they would listen-repeat- discriminate. She knew about shwa.
  1. This was her first experience with pronunciation from a propioception physical- awareness approach and it has made all the difference to her.
  1. She carries her chart to class and uses it for reference both in and out of the classroom.
  1. She is happy we put this on your blog and to mention her name.
  1. She is so efficient and excited about this that she even wrote the following letter . (I can’t stop smiling 🙂 )

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