Teaching English to Young Learners: A Reflection

(An article on reflection on a course, Teaching English to Young Learners, learned in a past semester by a graduate program student; prepared to complete one of the course final tasks; written by an NEB)

The teaching of English to children (TEYL) in Indonesia dates back only a few years ago, for which reason the practice has been more a trial-and-error than it is a professional undertaking. This is proven—among others—by the fact that TEYL has never been part of elementary school teacher education program and that existing textbooks for that purpose have not been written following sound theories regarding how children learn. Colleges preparing teachers are also blamed for not responding quickly to this widespread practice by opening a D3 program to train teachers to teach English at elementary level, for example.

In the midst of this, the provision of such subjects as TEYL—that I learned in the previous semester—and teaching literature to children this term is really a blessing. It opens up my mind as to know more about what children’s learning is like and how teaching English fits into the scheme. Especially for teaching literature to children, it reveals vast information regarding firstly the nature of reading, next literature, and lastly the teaching of literature to children itself.

Concerning reading, I interestingly learned that reading is not anymore believed to be a process of reader’s finding simply facts in whatever he is reading. Reading is now taken to mean reader’s constructing meaning out of what he reads making use of his background knowledge on the subject and interpretation of that all. This is especially so with what is known as aesthetic reading, that is, reading that employs the reader’s feelings, emotions, and experience all exported to the text. This kind of reading is closely associated with literary works. As a result, two persons reading a similar piece of literary work may have different interpretation of the text depending on the background knowledge and experience each has. This is how the difference in interpretation is justifiable and considered to be knowledge-constructing. The efferent reading, on the other hand, i.e., reading to find facts or information that already exist in the text without the reader having to interpret them anymore still stands, of course. This is attached to academic or scientific texts.

As for literature, I learned that literature is not necessarily only literary pieces of work anymore. Any written work targeted at reader’s finding out something either efferently or aesthetically in the text constitutes literature. By definition, a menu makes up a literature the same way a novel does in that both have the reader find something out regardless of the different nature of reading both entail. The former constitutes what is called non-fiction literature, the latter fiction literature. This shift in the way I should now perceive literature affects the way I should teach that to children. I can use both fiction and non-fiction literature in the classroom.

In teaching literature to children, I learned that I can alternate between these three strategies: 1). Exploiting a fiction literature to teach children to experience aesthetic reading; 2). Exploiting a non-fiction literature to teach children content knowledge and academic language; and 3). Adopting free voluntary reading with me not intervening too much in the process, instead letting the children go about reading themselves starting with selecting the text and reading it till finished. In so doing, I should be sensitive towards the children’s level of literacy, interest in reading topics, etc. I have to take all this into consideration if I am to make the learning effective and successful.

The immediate effect of learning about literature and teaching literature to children that way above on me is my choosing a children VCD program called “Magic English” to investigate for my thesis with regards to its adoption or non-adoption of TEYL principles. I come to think that the program is a perfect example of literature in its modern sense. It is an audiovisual that entices a lot of children to learn from it. But I have changed my mind. I have found a more workable and manageable topic for my thesis having something to do with argumentative essay writing that is believed to be able to promote critical thinking. I have therefore offered the above topic to one of my friends and she is most interested in it.

Apart from learning about the subject of teaching literature to children, I learned something else from this class in which I had a guest-lecturer coming from America, the country that has always inspired and fascinated me as far as its English speech is concerned through its cowboys movies, soap operas, movies, English 900, Bill Clinton’s inaugural speech, etc. He taught in a way different from that most of my lecturers adopt. The way I see it, he taught us the American way, that is, where the students have a lot of say in whatever they are learning. With him, it was a very student-centered class. With my friends, I got to discuss things in groups, compared the results with other groups’, reported the findings to the whole class, etc. This was quite a different experience for me especially since that happened almost in every session I had with him. What he did was that he simply he facilitated the activities, not intervening too much in the process of group or class discussion. We were really made to “construct knowledge” by ourselves. He did not spoon-feed us with answers; we were to find the answers through our discussion and deliberation. I think I liked it very much though sometimes I felt that still I wanted him to lecture us once in awhile for a change.

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