(Originally posted on my googlesites blog, 11 August 2010)
As summer school draws to a close for another year, it’s time to reflect on my experiences this year.
I teach for Kaplan (formerly IH WELS) at Ardingly College in West Sussex, between London and Brighton. It’s my third summer working at the site. The syllabus includes topic and project work, with the topic changing each day, and the project running for a whole week.
I have taught three different levels for both topic and project: Intermediate, Beginner/Elementary and Pre-Intermediate, in that order, each with their own unique challenges, some of which I have detailed below, along with my solutions.
With the Intermediate students my main challenge was keeping them interested in the topic and keeping their language use high, without having too much writing – something which I found difficult to avoid. I tried to overcome the problem by having mixed-nationality groups, as always in my summer school classes, but also by finding stimulating speaking activities to feed into the written work. One example was during the ‘Imaginary Island’ project. I used this idea about Developing a Nation from www.teachingenglish.org to encourage students to think about the important elements of a country’s infrastructure. One group spent nearly an hour arguing about whether schools or shopping malls were more important!
The Beginner/Elementary class mainly consisted of 9-11 year olds, with one 15-year-old Arabic student who could produce almost nothing in spoken English, and less in written English. There was also a 9-year-old Libyan at a similar level, 2 Koreans who were very shy, but quite good when prompted, and 6 other students whose L1 used Roman characters, and who could communicate quite a few things. The challenge here, then, was dealing with mixed levels. To promote their written skills and avoid them being left behind by the rest of the class I created sheets with dotted text for the Arabic students to trace – although it took a bit longer at the planning stage, it was definitely something they appreciated. Once I got to know the group, I also tried to group the weaker / shyer students with the most supportive of the other students. These two approaches helped a lot, but I would be grateful for other ideas if anyone has any!
The final challenge in the Pre-Intermediate group has been encouraging a mono-lingual class to communicate in English – we only have Chinese students for the final week. I’m working on project this week, and have decided to create travel brochures about China with the students, since in my experience most summer school students are fiercely patriotic and desperate to tell you everything they possibly can about their country – one of the most interesting aspects of summer school as far as I’m concerned! The project has been very motivating and prompted a lot of heated discussion within the groups, but unfortunately largely in Chinese unless I am standing next to the group at the time. Ideally, I would like to reduce the use of L1, but as SS are on task and talking about the project (at least, as far as I can tell), it’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over. However, if you do have any suggestions, please let me know!
So that’s it – only 24 hours left to go and then I have two weeks to catch up on my sleep and enjoy the peace and quiet before I return to the Czech Republic. See you there!
Update – September 2010
Since I wrote this blog post I have found out that this truly was ‘The End of Ardingly’ as Kaplan won’t be at Ardingly next year, due to the decision to only offer summer schools for 12-18 year olds. They will replace it with a central-London location.