A Child’s Language Learning Through Performance

A Teacher’s Message to Parents On Their Child’s Learning Through Performance:

       As a parent, what better way to KNOW you are getting results with your child’s learning?

Most children are not too camera-shy. Some are, and I make sure from the start, that they know they don’t have to be in the “spotlight” – or in the range of the camera. Sometimes I omit using a camera all together. In every lesson, however, one thing I always use, that I never forget, is performance. In every part of every lesson there is some performance.  It can last two seconds, or it can last two minutes. Even two hours. By the middle or end of the lessons, we are piecing together the “parts” and making a longer performance. If possible, it is filmed, but not always. The key is that the children show what they learned through some performance. A performance can be a “reporting out” of a city, a four-minute comedy, a story using puppets of Famous People, dinosaurs, their favorite toys, or themselves. A performance can be a dance or a song. Or showing their families how they operate a restaurant, a Jungle Hospital, or a Fortune Telling business.

      Children inherently enjoy make-believe. By extension, children quickly get used to performing and they all love it!

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Above: Czech second graders expressing the future tense in English: “At the Fortune Teller’s“– Only 100 crowns (4 euros) per question! There are all kinds of roles for such a big Fortune Telling business to run successfully! Pre-set questions and answers are provided for children to practice their literacy and inspire them to think of their own questions and answers, which they write and add to the list. 

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Above: commands, in the affirmative (“Do it! Take the money!”) and negative (“Don’t do it! Don’t take the money”) and Opposite Words: “It’s good / It’s bad”, “It’s all right / It’s wrong” and “You’ll be happy / He’ll be sad”, etc.) in our mini-play “Good versus Evil”. Here to the right, the Devil is winning, but it’s not the end yet. There is a morally sound (and happy) ending to this little play and the kids really learn a lot of words – as well as making the right moral choices, and coming up with reasons why – on their own :). 

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Above left: I love when parents attend a workshop and remain throughout the workshop, to see for themselves what kind of fun their child is having. It also adds to the dynamic!  Plus the parents can improve their English by being there, and continue the fun at home.  This is a dress rehearsal but really like a first performance. The scripted lines which the kids use for literacy practice, as well as for the play, were taken away later 😉

Above right: Performance of “Red, Yellow, Green!” (an ESL play for children by Shelly Vernon), which involves a first-time bus driver – who doesn’t know what the colors mean on the traffic lights! The passengers explain it to him.

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Above: First graders draw a picture carefully, thinking about what they are drawing, and why. Then they tell me and each other all about it. Everyone also learns how to ask questions in English about each others’ work. I encourage the children to ask questions to do with nature and science,  world history, art, Famous People, geography … or improvised story-telling questions with words like where, when, how, what happened, etc… A video recording is sent home, and parents can ask the child further questions. They will reinforce the child’s sense of ownership, and make him or her an expert.

As a parent, I would want to know as much as I can about what is going on in my son or daughter’s class time. I would be curious to see and hear what they see and hear, what they play with, and see how they react to their experience in “real time”.

I would love to see my child in the actual process of learning.  I would be curious to know:

  • What they are doing, and how.

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Above: Comic skit – identifying and locating human organs.  The surgeon is new and it’s his first surgery! He got so nervous that he forgot where the organs are on the human body.  The others in the picture “take time off their job” and come to help him :).  Many parents and the classroom teacher are also there to observe the operation.

  • How  kids are able to remember and say so much about the city of Prague and the customs and history of the Czech Republic … in English! They can talk about their native country as well:

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Above:  A wonderful third grader, taking part in a presentation on Prague and the Czech Republic, and who loves my Famous People dolls, asked me if I had one of the Czech President, Miloš Zeman.   When I said no, but to find a doll that looks like him, she delved into my huge collection, and chose the presenter of “the Muppet Show” to represent him.  I must say, she made quite a good choice!  🙂

img_4714  Talented Czech-Dutch and Czech-Syrian and straight-up Czech third graders pose for  photos after giving a wonderful English-language presentation on Prague and the Czech Republic. They are the perfect “home ambassadors”!

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A first grader, half Czech, half Japanese, shows Japan on the map, introduces herself and shares some of her international origins in English.

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A first grader of Indian and Czech descent does the same.

Any parent knows full well how it feels to not be sure what is going on in the classroom of his or her child, and to wonder if the teacher’s word is enough.

Yes, there is parent-teacher communication by phone, email or in person. There are parent-teacher open house afternoons, and there are conferences and consultations. Some parents bring their children to such meetings.

But as a parent, you already know that the teacher’s word – while presumably sincere – will never FULLY reveal to a parent how a child is doing – not in every detail – unless the parent is IN the classroom while the teacher and the child are doing their job.

And even when your own child tells you things, you don’t always understand the full context behind the “wild” and “fantastical” things that he or she shares with you at the dinner table one evening. Wouldn’t you be curious to see what your son or daughter means when he or she tells you that “Queen Elizabeth made R2D2 a knight?”

As as a parent, you know that being present in the classroom on a regular basis is not possible for many reasons.

 All the more reason to see your child on stage or on video, reporting or performing! HAVE THE PROOF in front of you.  

The proof that your child can:

  • Listen and focus –

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Children in character, listening to others performing, and waiting their turn to speak

  • Impersonate others

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Second grader role-playing as Frida Khalo doing a self-portrait.

  • Learn, then SHOW others some scientific concepts, through a true story in American history …

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Above: Benjamin Franklin’s very dangerous experiment with a key, a kite and a storm, proving to George Washington that lightning is made of electricity.  Dramatized by first grade boys.

  • … or explain a possible true story in Earth’s history.

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A second-grader explains, through words and dramatization, how the dinosaurs went extinct.

  • Get a basic understanding of the public transport routes of a foreign city

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Above: Third grader explains the basics of getting around London’s Underground.

  • Do role play with a sense of humor.

operation-human-organs-3rd-grade  operating-monkey

Kids enjoy make-believe even more when you give them some real data and facts to work with.  They love make-believe when they feel what they are doing is authentic:  knowing about hygiene and disinfection, germs, a cold operating theater, etc. … More anatomy practice … the kids must name the organs, say where they are using prepositions (“The stomach is under the lungs, the heart is behind the left lung”.  (Well, it is, using the paper models. )  In particular, children love performing transplant surgery :). 

 Performance: what better way to KNOW in advance that your child’s time – or yours – is NOT being wasted?

That:

  •  he or she is having FUN while learning something useful?

first-graders-and-world-map-puzzle  Playing Geography Professors

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A first grader describes tastes: this one is pomegranate syrup from her home country – which she describes as “sweet, sour and a little bitter”.  Sooner or later, everyone in the class wanted to take a turn, take a risk, try something, and say what it was like, in a kind of “taste survey”. (I kept them away from extremely spicy tastes, however, sticking to mild sweet chili sauces, pomegranate syrup as pictured above, mustard, dark chocolate, soy sauce, sesame seed oil and a few other non-extreme flavors of food.)

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Welcome to the Tasting Festival! Here, first graders can taste a variety of flavors ranging from sweet, sour, salty, bitter, even spicy.  The tasting is optional; no one is forced, and with free choice come many volunteers :).  The children taste from a variety of sauces using tiny amounts on disposable wooden sticks.  We added a telephone to call for an ambulance because their teacher (me) tasted wasabi (I told them it was too spicy for them and if absolutely necessary, to ask their parents if they can taste wasabi at home in their own time.)  They loved watching me pretend that my mouth, ears and nose were on fire, and willingly got into role-play to call the ambulance!

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A Czech third-grader plays doctor at a “holistic clinic” where only natural medicine is allowed and where “patients” are given advice on living a healthy lifestyle, as well as targeting specific health problems with holistic solutions. We discuss the problems (as experienced by the students themselves or vicariously through their families and friends) and we research the solutions together as a class. Extension:  the children get into character (doctor, nurse and patients) and we make a dramatic premise: a group of people stranded in the jungle after a plane crash.  Until help arrives, they must make the most of the natural resources there, including for matters of health.

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First graders playing at paleontologists, museum curators, professors, inspecting and cleaning “mammoth bones” (from a 3D puzzle) or describing other artifacts (I use real fossils such as trilobites, ammonites, petrified wood, animals trapped in amber, and more geologically recent items like lava rocks and giant pine cones from the Sequoia Park area of central California).

The 3D mammoth puzzle comes apart easily, so she had to be very careful with her brushing ;).   It never hurts for us all to practice being careful with things! There is no hurry, just a job done properly :).

Children must look on the other side of the fossils which are documented with their age (in millions of years), and answer my questions (I play student and they play the experts.)

  • he or she is becoming more confident – with English reading, writing and REPORTING OUT  “from” any place in the world? Like LONDON …

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Third grade girls posing proudly after completing a detailed presentation of London.

Second grade boys show off a 3D map of London, a London pop-up book and a Queen’s Guard visiting the Tower of London.  The custodian of the Tower is on the right, the Beefeater teddy bear with the flowers in his hat.

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What is old and what is new? A child shows and explains that “the doll is new”, the person is “very old” (from the past, not living), and that the book is “very old too. Published in 1813!” “What is the name of the book?” “Shakespeare’s Theatre”.

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  • he or she can do a presentation on the famous English Henry the Eighth, or on USA presidents, USA history and geography … and practice ordinal numbers as well as learn the country’s history and culture.

danny-third-grade-with-george-washington-and-the-declaration-of-independence-usa-history  Left: third grader explains the beginnings of US political  history as an independent nation.

Above right and below right: first graders learning ordinal numbers (“the first president, the sixteenth president, the forty-forth president”/ “Henry’s first wife, second wife … last wife”, etc. ) and a bit about US history, before introducing the President dolls and reporting out. first-graders-misa-louisa-and-tania-and-the-usa-famous-people-misa-michael-louisa-and-tania-with-obama-washington-lincoln

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Above left:  second graders complete a 3D puzzle map of the USA.  The final touch = the great Rocky Mountains! First the girls will fit the mountains in the indicated area.  Then we remove them for a moment, to see how many states they include, and which states those are. Later in the lesson, they will report back to me (and everyone else) what they learned and practiced to say.

  • you are making a worthy investment in your child’s multidisciplinary and global education? And in their and social development?

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First graders match text to the planets, practicing literacy, then answer questions out loud.  Finally, they present the planets and their characteristics on their own, sometimes using puppets as the “presenters”. Note: the text strip “I am not a real planet” was moved to the paper strip with the word “Pluto”, but only after the photo was taken.

  • your child is making efforts to learn, without knowing it, because his job is to make his favorite toys “come to life”?

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Above: Third grade boys blend real life 16th century samurai Myamoto Musashi with Star Wars characters, and create a story. I help them with the words but the plot is their creation. Here, Myamoto Musashi, a famous 16th century samurai, goes to the Future and meets both Yoda and Darth Vader. He must choose between the Light and the Dark sides of the Force. We use ideas from reading selected pages of this Star Wars book, or from any book!

Below, a second grader recreates the story of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” with modelling clay, and then tells the story in English, showing the pictures one by one to match them to the words she speaks. I also emphasize connectives – words like “and”, “but” and transitional words like “first”, “then”, “finally”, etc.

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  • and reading (in English and in the home language too) becomes a PLEASURE, if it is part of a script or a “zombie restaurant” menu –

img_4553  Left: a first grade Zombie chef can read out the menu, and help the customers to read it as well, if they need help.  Kids learn how to read very quickly, on average.  Especially if reading (and calling things out loud) produce hilarious results: like getting a roasted monkey for dinner and it comes to life!

  • Perhaps your child loves getting to know the funny Famous People dolls in every English class …

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Second grade girls create a little performance using Carmen, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Mozart, the latter playing his music while the the famous opera character and famous authors dance to his music.

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We’ve been having so much fun! da-vinci-and-his-mona-lisa-nikola-first-gradevan-gogh-doll-painting-picture-margaret-first-grade margaret-first-grade-and-einstein-by-his-name-on-board-famous-people-lesson

Above: Children and adults alike love the Famous People dolls, which include painters Frida Khalo, Monet and Van Gogh, leaders Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I, presidents George Washington and Barack Obama, samurai warrior Myamoto Musashi, composers Beethoven and Mozart, writers Jane Austen and Emily Dickinson, shakers and movers like African-American W.E. Dubois, and scientists Leonardo Da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein.

Indeed …

There is no better way for your child to learn English or anything else – than through performance.   There is no better way for YOU, the parent, to know, to empirically see and hear the RESULTS of your child’s learning, like performance.

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Above:  a successful end to a great performance for parents and loved ones –

Because, when a child acts out the words through play, and prepares for a performance, he or she will never forget those words! Or the concepts behind them. Ever.

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Above:  First graders as Camerawoman, Mozart, Professor of Letters, “Mini-Mozart”, and Film Director for the class production of The Alphabet Song.

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