One of my favorite walking routes takes me near the neighborhood elementary school. Last week, as I passed a young girl, I heard her question (in Japanese), “An English person?” I turned and explained that while I spoke English, I was American. Turns out that I was the first foreign person she’d had a chance to talk to “up close and personal.” We chatted for a few more minutes and I continued on my way. While our entire talk had been in Japanese, I got a “thank you!” in English as I moved on.
Do you remember the Indian fable about blind men describing an elephant? Depending on which body part they touched, they described a very different animal.
At times, trying to describe English as a Foreign Language for young learners feels a bit like describing an elephant. There are two things common to young learner EFL classes: they are taught in countries where English is not the dominant language, and students rarely have exposure to English outside of class.
Beyond this, young learner EFL can be a very different beast. Students might be as young as 2 or as old as 17. Teachers may speak English as their first language, or English may be their 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) language. Some teachers work in international schools, some work in private schools, and some work in public schools. Some classrooms have technology tools available. Some classrooms do not. Some teachers use textbooks. Other teachers create their own materials. And still others do a little of both.
This week was about motivation–both mine and my students’. It started with an #edchat conversation on Twitter about the value of homework. Alfie Kohn (a man decidedly against homework!) shared an article from the journal Theory and Research in Education about self-determination theory as regards motivation. While the article was interesting enough, what really got me excited was discovering that ALL of the articles from the “Symposium on self-determination theory” were available for free download. I particularly enjoyed “Virtual worlds and the learner hero: how today’s video games can inform tomorrow’s learning environments.” In terms of motivation (at least from the self-determination point of view), the qualities that cause engagement in games–relatedness, autonomy and competence–can also create engagement in learning.