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PATHFINDER-RAVENSTONE

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					South Thames College Pathfinder Project

PATHFINDER: RAVENSTONE SCHOOL PROFILE OF LEARNERS
Over the last year I have taught a total of 22 students in this community-based class for Primary School parents. Their abilities have ranged from absolute beginners to entry 2/3. Some have already studied ESOL in the UK, including a few who have studied for more than a year (part time), whereas most have had no formal teaching. Some have studied English in their country of origin. Normally this has been very formal English with an emphasis on copying from a blackboard or text book, rather than learning language within a context or practicing spoken English. I have had some students attend within days of arrival in the UK, whereas others have lived here for up to 12 years. Some have quite good spoken English but have little grasp of grammar. Most struggle to understand native speakers and all have expressed at one time or another that their main concern is to be able to communicate more effectively verbally. At least two of my students have admitted that they never had a single day‟s education at school, whereas others completed their schooling, some going on to college courses. None have been educated at university level. The majority have never worked, although a few have had part-time work and some would eventually like to work in this country, generally when child-care duties allow for this. I have only had two men attend the class. One came once before being rehoused in another Borough, the other came for a term before enrolling at South Thames College to do further ESOL. He has since dropped out due to the need to work and says he is too tired to attend evening classes after a full day‟s work. Other men I have spoken to about the class say that they cannot afford to turn down work or not be available. They rely on low paid casual labour and generally have a whole family to support. When I have had students who have previously done some ESOL study in the UK it has been very helpful as they have more of an idea of what to expect and what to do. Otherwise students tend to wait and simply copy what I write on the board, rather than listening and making their own notes as appropriate . They are also sometimes reluctant to repeat words or phrases after me, so drilling can be hard work. Pair and group work also seem quite difficult concepts for them to grasp. Hopefully my classes will help them, should they choose to go on to further study as they are features of our education system which are less common in other developing countries where they may have experienced much more “old fashioned” educational systems often with very large classes, few resources and an emphasis on “chalk and talk”, rather than classes with much interaction between teacher and students, let alone between students themselves.
Ck/path/report/community/ravenstone/Paul Hine

South Thames College Pathfinder Project

Without any help (e.g. a classroom assistant) in my teaching I have not been able to do as much “fast tracking”as I would have liked, although I do attempt to differentiate and produce extra materials for higher level or quicker learners. These students also tend to be the ones who are more motivated to mix with English speakers outside of lessons. They are more likely to be in a situation where they want to find work or go on to further studies, whereas the majority have no such desire and often show little interest in socialising with English speakers. The majority are aged 25-45 and have 2-6 children. Family commitments, particularly the illness of children tends to be the most common reason given for non-attendance at classes, although a whole host of other reasons are also given. WHAT IS THE MODEL OF DELIVERY? The classes are for two hours on Fridays during school term-time. They are held at a Primary School following the time that children are dropped off at school (ie. 9-11 am). It is a mixed level class, although most are at Entry1 level. Following the class I am available to students for tutorials. This provides an opportunity to discuss matters related to the students‟ study and progression. It also provides further time for going through work individually. It is difficult to cover all of this during the lesson itself, particularly as the more able students tend to do extra work which needs marking and going through, whilst the lower level students often need a lot of supervision and help, even to perform the most simple tasks. There is also a problem of childcare. A volunteer parent from the school looks after the pre-school children, but there is no separate room for them to play in. They are often quite noisy and also often want to go back to their mothers during the lesson. This can be distracting for all of us. Whilst this model of delivery is quite effective in reaching learners who would not normally consider studying English, I think the amount and speed of progress is quite limited. Particularly where the learners have little exposure to English during the rest of the week and have little opportunity to practice, they will often find it hard to remember what they had learnt in previous lessons, particularly where a school holiday or absence from the class means that there may be two or three weeks gap. I may recap some of the main points at the beginning of the next session, but otherwise will move on. Most students do the homework I set, although the feedback can be quite limited for the reasons given above. Irregular attendance and new students joining the group can also hold up progress, which can be frustrating for those who would like to progress faster. Also some of the paperwork involved can take quite a bit of time, particularly as few students can simply be given forms to fill in unaided. Although including enrolement during the classes is helpful in some ways, it can also cause problems. Quite a few parents are ineligible for DFES funding either because they are within their first year in the UK or because their visas do not allow them to receive public funds (e.g. where their partner is working.)

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South Thames College Pathfinder Project

Explaining the forms and the need for relevant documentation can be difficult and embarrassing, especially within a classroom situation. It is often these students who are reluctant to stay behind afterwards and it is sometimes helpful for other students to be there to help translate where they have a common language. It is not always easy to see if students are achieving their goals. Most find it difficult to articulate goals beyond “speaking better English”. Few have expressed career or further study goals or even to develop reading or writing. For this reason I have focussed on speaking, although each lesson does include something of all four language skills.( I will include more on this below when I discuss assessment.) CURRICULUM AND USE OF THE NATIONAL CURRICULUM Although the scheme of work is mapped to the National Curriculum I am not convinced that this has been very helpful. It has increasingly affected my planning. When I started the class I tended to plan the term‟s work and then look up the curriculum document to include the curriculum references. Now I tend to use the document much more at the initial stages of planning, particularly as I aim to have a more „balanced‟ scheme of work over time. This has made planning even more time-consuming and complicated and I am still not convinced of many benefits which will have resulted from this dimension of planning. I can see the value of indicators of a „balanced‟ scheme of work and certainly want to offer and deliver something which is real value to the learners, rather than just what I want to teach or find more convenient to teach. For example, my early schemes of work had more “Sc” references than anything else. Later ones have a greater mix of references. However, as explained above, the teaching was consciously focussed on „speaking to communicate‟ so this imbalance would be expected. The national curriculum indicators are not necessarily very helpful references for what actually is covered within a lesson. For example my students were particularly concerned to learn to use analogue time. They found this difficult and needed quite a lot of input and practice on this, and yet it does not relate very clearly to the national curriculum. Another lesson included some work on a variety of signs used in public places. This had four references to the curriculum. Both were relevant and helpful to the students. Although the curriculum document encourages teachers to adapt to the particular group of learners it still seems to be quite unhelpful in terms of content. There is a page outlining grammar to be taught at a particular level, but this is not referenced, and seems to be included almost as an afterthought along with a slightly more detailed page on formality and informality in English and some ideas for developing strategies for independent learning and communicative functions. These individual pages follow about 50 pages outlining “skills, knowledge and understanding”.

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South Thames College Pathfinder Project

It is quite easy to produce schemes of work in line with these references, but without the other items such as grammar being adequately taught the value of such teaching is still very limited. Also to simply include such items is probably not as relevant as , for example, how well students have mastered a particular tense. I still feel that the kind of outlines found in most ESOL or EIS course books, and the checklists provided for example in our own ESOL department, are much more useful in drawing up schemes of work, planning and evaluating teaching programmes. Having said that, I do feel that the curriculum is appropriate to ESOL learners, even if it is rather unhelpful in its emphasis. I have received several days of training in the use of the national curriculum and its application. I have also received some training in the use of ILPs and tutorials, although not specifically related to community classes. As mentioned above there are specific problems with ILPs and tutorials in these classes as opposed to within a college setting or where students are available for more hours during the week. I would probably have found this easier if I had had some teaching support within the classroom. ASSESSMENT Because of the nature of the class and the student goals the assessment has been fairly informal. The college initial assessment form includes personal data, a free writing exercise and a short interview by the tutor. Some students have not been able to complete their own personal details. Sometimes others have needed to help them or they have needed to ask a family member or friend to write down, for example their address. Sometimes they have then copied this onto the form themselves. With some students I have combined this with other assessment documents which we use at South Thames College. This includes an Initial assessment document for Intro/stage 1 which includes reading and writing numbers and letters reading and writing some high frequency words and reading a very simple text of four sentences. I have used this as a diagnostic test, usually after a few weeks where students are clearly struggling or may have other literacy needs. For higher level students I have used other diagnostic tests ie. a multiple choice grammar test and a sheet where students have to answer various questions using full sentences. These have helped me to prepare extra work for these students based on their level of English and the particular areas where they need extra help or practice. Within each lesson I aim to have some form of assessment to check learning. This will normally be in the form of oral questions and answers and a simple written task which may be a gapfill, matching, ordering type test or in some cases written questions with full sentence answers or free writing where appropriate. For those with literacy problems they may simply copy some text while the other students are completing such exercises. Where possible I will test such

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South Thames College Pathfinder Project

students orally, for example by sitting with them and reading the questions, where they are unable to complete such a written task. I will often give a brief question and answer test at the beginning of a lesson to recap on the previous week‟s lesson, particularly where there is a direct link with the lesson I am starting. Homework sheets can also help reinforce learning and help me to assess their progress. At the end of the term I generally give a review which will include questions and answers to check that they have remembered what we have studied that term. By combining this with a written element I can see areas to develop in the next term or individual needs which can be addressed in ILPs or within differentiated worksheets. I provide students with a folder to keep their work, although some test I have kept for my own reference. I encourage students to look through their work as revision and for reference, but also to help them to see what they have learnt and achieved. There is always a danger with this that work will be lost though. I have not used any national curriculum tests as yet, although as these become more widely available they may be a valuable means of assessment and future placement, once students decide to progress from the class. SCHEMES OF WORK The scheme of work is designed to relate English learning to the context of being a parent at this school. It includes a range of topics and functions directly related to that experience. When the class was first devised and publicised, this was the context and I have tried to keep fairly loosely to that. This will hopefully help motivate the students and also encourage the school to continue to support and promote the class. The scheme of work from Ravenstone has been circulated to other tutors who may have adapted it for their own classes at other schools. EXAMPLES OF GOOD PRACTICE  One or more crèche workers, preferably to take the children away from the class with toys etc to keep them occupied.  Good links need to be in place with relevant staff from the school. Here I meet regularly with one of the EMAGs (Ethnic Minorities Achievement Grant funded workers who work particularly with children whose first language is not English). She initiated the class, following other attempts to work with parents which had not concentrated on language. She „chases up‟ parents who are not attending and updates me on new arrivals, or those who have moved on or are unable to attend for various reasons.  It can be very helpful to keep informed of general developments at the school through school letters etc. These can be read and discussed with the class. Forms can be completed in the class etc.  Refreshments can be helpful, especially during a two hour class where parents will probably have not had anything to eat or drink for some time. The children also tend to need something to eat and drink before

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South Thames College Pathfinder Project

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going back home or shopping after the lesson. A place to make tea/coffee and some biscuits and squash will be appreciated. Equipment can be very basic but at least chairs and a table with some sort of board to write on. At this school the EMAG lets me use two portable whiteboards. I also sometimes bring a portable cassette player for listening exercises (or recording students). This has not always been possible where the children are in the same room as the portable player is not as loud or clear as a college one would be. I have also supplied each student with a card file to keep their papers together. I also make sure that I bring spare paper and pens, as often some students will have forgotten theirs in the busyness of getting their children ready for school. Although I have not used any particular text book, I have found the Oxford and Longman Photodictionaries very helpful. Over half of my students from this group have bought their own copy of one of these and some have bought bilingual dictionaries or grammar books which have helped them to study between lessons. Homework can be adapted according to the abilities of particular students, (although sometimes some will insist on having the same homework as others, even if it is too difficult for them!) I tend not to be too strict on checking homework, as I know that some will find it very difficult to do any studying at home.

Concerns. My main concern is that numbers have dropped off over the year. As I have explained above, many have moved on, either abroad or been rehoused away from the area and most of the others have given good reasons for not being able to attend. Because most have been fairly new to the UK and their lifestyles still rather unsettled I am not really surprised that attendance has been uneven. Others have stopped attending my class because they have started classes at the college. I see this as a “success” and it has always been an aim of the class to introduce students to ESOL learning and encourage them to develop this in a deeper way through college study, where they can be allocated to an appropriate class for their abilities, and where they can study for longer hours each week and work towards an accredited qualification. However it is still disappointing that numbers have declined and I am looking at ways to boost numbers again. Attendance has varied from an average of six when I first started to typically nine in the second term to five in term three and currently I am down to an average of three. Low numbers can benefit learners, who will be able to enjoy more individual attention, but it can also be discouraging. There may also be concerns if students think they may be the only one there, especially as my students tend to be Moslem women who may feel uncomfortable with a male teacher. Some have suggested that Friday morning is not convenient as most students are Moslems and need to go to the mosque or prepare food for family members returning from prayers and entertain visitors etc. Ramadan was a particularly difficult time for some, although this was at a stage where

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South Thames College Pathfinder Project

attendance was better and numbers did not drop off as much as I had anticipated. It may well be that the demand has fallen, or it may be that this kind of class is most effective as a short-term provision. Previously we opened the class to parents from other local schools and the invitation has gone out again to these schools, but the take-up is not likely to be as high as having a class on the school premises where parents are dropping off their children and where they feel familiar. Also they may find it difficult to get to the class on time as they will need to walk from the other school and come through the gate which may be locked by the time they arrive.

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