Easy books and minority learners part II

by Eleonora Pannacci

A matter of approach

My pupils in Bulgaria were used to a more traditional form of teaching. I wanted to propose my learning activities through new methodologies, which could motivate and inspire them. That is why the affective-humanistic approach was chosen as the foundation for my way of teaching. These are its keystones:

  • It gives primary importance to meaning rather than decontextualised language form and provides the learners with comprehensible input in the foreign language.
  • It highlights the emotional dimension of learning. All the learners’ cognitive and learning styles and strategies, personal traits, different degrees of motivation are respected and valued.
  • Cooperative learning focuses attention on the social dimension of learning. This means that heterogeneous groups of learners are put together to solve a specific linguistic problem. What cannot be achieved by a single learner could probably be achieved by a group, when it is founded on mutual help and cooperation.
  • Learning is seen from a constructivist point of view, meaning that knowledge is built up by the students, rather than transmitted by the teacher. The teacher takes on the role of a guide, a facilitator of learning.
  • Motivation is of paramount importance. It is an inner drive which pushes all of us to do anything. That is why any learning activity needs to be stimulating and challenging for the learners.
  • Ludic methodology should be implemented in many learning activities. This methodology states that we can learn by having fun, forgetting that we are actually learning something. Games and healthy language competitions are really welcomed if we want to learn effectively.

Finally, Easy Reads are books and therefore they have to be read. This is when the shared reading methodology comes into play. It consists of sharing a book with a class several times; the book is read by the teacher. The reading is always followed by related activities to promote language learning. This is exactly what I tried to do with my minority pupils.

Learning activities

Philip on the ship and A hundred poems are the Easy to Read books I chose for my English classes. The former has an exciting and mysterious plot, while the latter is a collection of haiku poems, a Japanese brief form of poetry of only three lines.

There were three main goals of my activities:

  • Motivating my pupils, igniting their curiosity, let them take the first step towards learning.
  • Let them develop global, holistic reading comprehension skills in the foreign language, focusing on meaning rather than form.
  • Let them acquire some more basic vocabulary in English through the Easy to Read books.

In order to do so, I developed a quite wide range of didactic activities:

  • anticipation activities, such as the exploration of the paratext of the books
  • vocabulary activities made of colourful, inspiring slides and carried out as playful competitions
  • cloze activities to enhance previewing skills
  • matching activities in which the learners were asked to match a picture with the corresponding paragraph or with a word
  • battleship games and flashcards for vocabulary revision
  • jigsaw activities in which they had to rebuild the text
  • an engaging quiz about haiku poems and activities based on code conversion, in which an oral or written linguistic message is transformed into a visual or kinetic code

As a final step, I also tried to put to the test the learners’ productive skills, asking them to speak and write in English.

A matter of methodology

I needed to find the most appropriate methodology for my research. I chose to use the qualitative-interpretive paradigm, which keeps the research open and flexible. I knew that language acquisition and use is significantly influenced by social, cultural and situational factors, which the strict quantitative paradigm could not describe.

As a consequence, in my research the data collected are soft, heterogeneous, inductive, inference-driven and naturalistic. The data I gathered rely on my beliefs, values and subjective interpretations.

Then, I needed some instruments for data collection: I found three which turned out to be effective:

  • I created a teacher diary, a personal account of my teaching experience. It served to record psychological aspects of the teaching process and to identify (in)effective English teaching practices for minority learners.
  • I had the opportunity to observe English classes carried out by the local teachers and I wrote field notes. They could help me understand in which way the learning and teaching process normally takes place for my pupils.
  • Last but not least, interviews. I interviewed the founder of Bokpil and author of the majority of the Easy to Read books. This interview was crucial to deeply understand the features of the books, suitable pedagogical approaches to follow and how to design the learning activities. It was essential to interview also the English teachers for descriptions, explanations and understanding of the specific learning context.

Qualitative data

The data I collected are all qualitative and so is the analysis of them. Qualitative content analysis is done with words and its main goal is to infer the meanings underlying physical messages.

For my analysis, I first read really carefully everything I had collected during my experience. It was a lot of paper. I kept underlining, circling all terms and thoughts, naming groups and using colours to mark my ideas. In the beginning, everything seemed senseless, messy, but slowly a new picture emerged. Thanks to inference-driven and inductive reasoning, I was able to give a meaning to all those words.

Continue reading about my analysis and observations here.