“English learning workshop” in class 7 and 8

Brigitte Pietschmann

One element in the lesson is to practise reading aloud. How boring is that! It can be different, as the following training shows, in which all the chapters of a book are worked on with variations: 

As a first step I explain new vocabulary from the next chapter on the blackboard in English. The pupils guess its meaning and enter it into their vocabulary books to learn. Then all the pupils sit in a semicircle and listen as I tell the story in my own words. Frequently they focus on something in particular and look out for the details which they learn about a particular person. Then they assemble all the pieces they have collected like a jigsaw puzzle in their small groups. This is followed by various word search tasks to familiarise them with the printed text. The next step is that I read the text aloud and as I am doing that the pupils add in the breathing marks, i.e. they mark units of meaning.

In the following training phase, all the pupils read the text by whispering to themselves and try to pay attention to the breathing marks and pronunciation.

Then, in their set learning groups with four children each, the pupils agree how they want to divide the text for reading aloud among themselves. In each following lesson there are a few minutes in which they can practice in their groups.

Finally, we have the presentation from one group in each lesson. The four pupils have a last practice outside the door at the start of the lesson. Then they sit down in front of their fellow pupils. The listeners agree in their groups which of them will pay attention to speech melody, who will listen for correct pronunciation. All of them have paper in front of them. Reading aloud starts. At the end, the readers are given the applause they actually deserve. The listeners give their feedback and take care to ensure that things which could be improved are only mentioned once.

Pupils who stand out because they hesitate or pronounce words wrongly are told in a clear and matter-of-fact way. Usually they try particularly hard the next time round.

As they divide up the sections they are going to read, the pupils increasingly take care to ensure that the “weaker” readers get a smaller and easier part which they can read really well. They have consideration for the former but also learn to use the resources of “good” readers accordingly.

Tests as learning events

Something I noticed for myself was how my English was consolidated through correcting tests. “The world turned upside down!”, I thought because the pupils were supposed to learn these words. I knew them already. I suggested that from now on we would correct the tests in the learning group. That is how it has been done for years now. Every Monday I have them take a test in which the pupils demonstrate what they know and only that counts. They know the tasks which lie ahead, mostly open ones with a choice, sometimes also restricted like a dictation which the writers do, however, correct before they hand it in. The pupils prepare for the test at home.

I explain how the pupils should do the correcting, where they can look things up, for what they get a tick.

At the end of the test I collect the papers and redistribute them. A quick learner gets a lot of work, that is, the test of a “weaker” pupil and vice versa. Normally a concentrated phase of comparison, correcting and ticking ensues. When the tests are returned there are often remarks such as “Better handwriting, I could hardly read that.” Or: “You have to practise your verbs more.” Such “appeals” from fellow pupils are more productive than if they come from me.

The pupils begin to understand the purpose of correcting. Some quotes from the discussion about  “How can I improve my writing skills through correcting the texts of others?” show that: • We learn the words more intensively. • I imagine the corrected words, i.e. I picture them. • I always look very closely. And consult the list, i.e. the vocabulary book or another guide. • I also learn to correct my own mistakes.

Tests used in this way enable the pupils to learn the subject (vocabulary, grammar) but also to learn socially in a context which they directly understand. They have to enter into the work of another pupil, their interest is not just in their own performance and progress but also in that of their fellow learners.

I sometimes ask questions such as the following in the test: “How did you learn the vocabulary? Explain.”

The pupils become aware of different learning techniques: “I just sat down at home and always memorised three words while I covered the book.” “Played packing a suitcase.” “I wrote them on cards, and learnt first into German and then into English.”

The pupils have an interest in progressing and showing what they can do. They utilise their different abilities and organise themselves. They develop a remarkable amount of initiative in our “learning workshop”.

About the author: Brigitte Pietschmann, English teacher at the Schwäbisch Hall Free Waldorf School and counsellor for school development and conflicts in Waldorf schools and kindergartens. Moderator of further training for teachers and parents.