In his ‘Introductory Course in Teaching English to Children’ David Paul, author of Teaching English to Children in Asia (Pearson), presented in a truly accessible manner many of the teaching strategies based on the constructivist (student-centered) approach and employed by IB practitioners. In the course of his lecture, I could constantly draw parallels between the language learning method he is utilizing and the IB approach to learning. In addition to that, he also shared some insightful teaching tactics uncovered through years of teaching practice in Japan.
How do children learn deeply?
The keyword here is deeply. Many have expressed their opinion about the way children attend to information, process, and store language knowledge in their short-term memory but few have resolved the riddle of how to make new language knowledge stick amid the constant flow of new information. David believes that children internalize knowledge through the process of recalling it. After assisting children in constructing their own understanding of a linguistic bit of information, the role of the teacher is to go away from the new knowledge and come back after a while thus having the child trying to remember things. He assures that children’s recollection of the information learned helps in the process of internalizing it.
Crucial to the process of internalization of information is beginning with a lack of clarity and letting children discover for themselves the answer to the mystery (with the guidance of the teacher) through a trial and error testing. This process closely resembles the IB inquiry cycle where students’ believes, values, and ideas are challenged in an effort to provoke their exploratory instinct. The teacher starts by setting up an ambiguous challenge (in the form of an object, event, action, person, etc) to igniting students’ curiosity from which the exploration of the subject matter will proceed.
In my personal opinion, creating confusion, as David himself defines this act, must be done with caution. Some kids invest a great deal of effort into seeking the “truth” to construct their reality. The moment something appears and turns this newly built reality upside-down, kids feel frustrated (and even angry inside) because they failed in making an accurate sense of the world. That is why, along with the confusion created in the minds of the kids, the teacher needs to foster their ability to discern inconsistencies in patterns or relationships. As long as children become adept at detecting information/ reasoning/ opinion gaps, this process will endow them with the self-confidence needed for tackling the issue. Teaching in the 21st century unquestionably calls for developing tolerance of ambiguity in children through exposing them and having them get used to to uncertainty. With the rapid social, scientific, and technological changes, what will make some stand out from the crowd is the ability to handle lack of clarity with confidence and in a positive mindset.
One common misconception and wrong practice among teachers is their attempt to deliver new knowledge before letting children engage with it. Rather, teachers must feel confident that in the process of interacting with the new knowledge, children can intuitively (so long as the interactive activity is designed appropriately) comprehend and acquire the new information. We need to look at the child as an explorer – someone who is actively trying to make sense of the world and constructing their own knowledge. The role of the teacher is to support childrens’ exploratory nature by pushing them out of their comfort zone through “Let’s try. Let’s experiment. What do you think would happen if…?”. It is important to allow children to work things through and constantly ask themselves “why?” thus focusing on the process rather than the outcome.