Technologically and linguistically adventurous EFL teacher, trainer, writer and manager

This is part of a series of blogposts about my lessons with M, a very enthusiastic nine-year-old girl. She is a pleasure to speak to, and knows a lot of English. She’s also almost completely blind. Each lesson is one hour, one-to-one, at her house.

Today we didn’t even make it into the house before the lesson started! I opened the garden gate to be greeted by M’s 3-year-old sister running towards me and M shouting “She’s found a caterpillar!” For the next 10 minutes or so, we picked up the caterpillar so M could feel it, then tried to rescue it (they were clearing the garden ready for planting), but it kept falling off the leaf. I eventually managed to put it on a bush outside, and we went in to start the lesson proper, with M telling me “I don’t afraid it” [the caterpillar] on the way.

We chatted about brothers and sisters, and I told M my brother is much taller than me. She hugged me and held up her hands to feel how tall I am, then asked me how much I weighed! I mentioned that it’s not normal to ask a woman this, but I didn’t mind telling her this time 🙂 We also discussed the difference between brothers/sisters and cousins, because the Russian words for ‘cousin’ contain ‘brother/sister’, meaning students often say they have siblings when they mean cousins. She asked about names too, and why some people have middle names.

M remembered both of the chants from the previous lesson and told me two more which she learnt at school, one of which, ‘The Spaghetti Song’, she sang in a lovely voice. At the end of the lesson, we listened to the complete first chapter of Alice in Wonderland, and she’ll be able to listen to it again for homework.

Literacy

I found out that M can read and write braille in Russian, and a little in English. She said it’s very difficult to write English braille, and reading is slow. I asked her to show me how she writes, and learnt about the slate and stylus for the first time.

Slate and stylus

Slate and stylus

I didn’t realise that braille is written on the reverse of the paper, from right to left, so that when the paper is the right way up, the reader can move from left to right and feel the raised dots. M demonstrated by taking a piece of my scrap paper and writing the first part of the English alphabet for me. I’d downloaded an html file of the Braille Bug: Deciphering the Code page from the American Foundation for the Blind, so I was able to help M with some of the letters she’d forgotten (e, i, m). It turns out it’s fairly easy (I hope!) to learn the basics of the English braille code (as the symbols are called), and I’ve started using ‘Learn Basic English Braille‘ on memrise this evening so that I can at least recognise the letters. Another ‘language’ to add to the collection 😉

As a result of this conversation, I suggested to M that she have a notebook for our next lesson, and we’ll start writing down the new words and phrases that I teach her. I found a pdf of the English braille code, including many contractions, which I’ll take with me for the next lesson. I’m also going to look into touch-typing, as I think this could be really useful for M.

Good news

I was particularly happy at the end of the lesson, as M (and her dad) asked if we can schedule an extra hour of classes from next week, taking us from two to three hours, and M said “I very like our lessons” 🙂 I must be doing something right then!

It’s hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since our first lesson – I’ve already learnt so much, and I’ve got a lot more to read, thanks to the Kaizen Program in the USA, who have sent me a lot of useful information. From next week, I’ll just publish one post a week about all of our lessons, so as not to overwhelm people too much (!), but I’ll continue the reflective process.

Teaching M has made me really appreciate how I interact with the world, and just how much I rely on the visual, and how many things I’ve learnt or reinforced my knowledge of through my sight. It’s fascinating stuff!

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Comments on: "Rethinking the visual: fifth lesson" (8)

  1. Great lesson and am so glad you have found a way to record words!

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  2. Fantastic, Sandy. I’m so glad I’ve finally manage to find time to read one of the posts about M!
    Sounds like a real challenge. We rely so much on the visual on our classes. I was wondering which techniques you’ve used for helping M memorise new vocabulary and language. Chants? Drills?

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    • At the moment, I’ve only tried chants to correct her mistakes. There hasn’t been much new language. If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.

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      • What about using Cusenaire rods in some way? She’ll be able to feel the difference in length (and make out something of the colour, if I’ve understood correctly) so you can use that to visualise pronunciation (word stress, sentence stress, intonation etc) or sentence structure… You could make a sentence out of them, something you’ve learnt recently, and get her to guess what it is from the shape. You could get her repeat something back and then place a bet (the bigger the rod, more sure she is) to say how confidence she is that she is correct.
        And what about using rhythms in a similar way (for representation/pronunciation)? Hand-clapping and so on.

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        • Thanks for those ideas Lizzie. Someone else suggested (maybe in an article I read?) using adapted Cuisenaire rods with things attached to them so they feel different, for example materials of different textures. I think these ideas could definitely work.
          Pronunciation hasn’t really been an issue at the moment, but I’ll definitely be using rhythms and clapping if it is!

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      • Perhaps using rhyme and inventing poems could work for memorising new language.

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  3. […] Week three: lesson four and lesson five […]

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