If you’re a language teacher in Asia, you are more likely than not going to be teaching a young learners’ classroom. Young learners are children in kindergarten and primary between 3 and 12 years old. In many ways, learners of this age-group are a pleasure to teach: they are enthusiastic, curious, and they learn language with seeming effortlessness. However, there are a variety of serious challenges facing teachers in the young learners’ classroom. How exactly can we engage children’s natural curiosity to learn, especially in a foreign language? What frameworks are there available to teacher in the classroom to deal with these learners? How can be we best handle management problems when they emerge? If you have these kinds of questions, ‘Children Learning English’ may be a useful addition to your library.
Jayne Moon’s book is written specifically for teachers working with children younger than 12. As she makes clear in her introduction, however, this is not a book of teaching materials or ‘how to’ tricks. Instead, Moon approaches the larger concerns affecting teachers in these rooms. The book unpacks the particular skills and abilities children naturally possess, how these interact with their language learning, and how these can inform a teacher’s practice when working with them. For instance, all children will tend to overgeneralize rules they perceive in language, and therefore make errors such as ‘He goed home already’. By understanding these underlying principles, the teacher of young learners can effectively monitor students’ learning, and adapt classroom practice accordingly.
The book is divided into two parts. In the first three chapters, Moon outlines the general characteristics of child language learners: their abilities (chapter 1), attitudes (chapter 2) and differences between them (chapter 3). These broad stroke generalizations about children and the language acquisition processes form the basis for understanding the methods we need to use to teach successfully, which forms the focus of the second part of the book. Moon looks at issues in managing groups of children (chapter 4), then turns to issues in interaction between teacher and students (chapter 5) and the support children need as they learn a language (chapter 6), the materials and activities children enjoy (chapter 7), and finally putting it all together into a coherent lesson plan (chapter 8). The final four chapters examine broader questions of classroom practice: how language learning can be used across the curriculum (chapter 9), involving children in the material design process (chapter 10), assessing learning (chapter 11), and developing learning strategies (chapter 12). The book, therefore, explores almost every aspect of the language classroom and how teachers can support children’s language learning.
Although dealing with some complex material, Moon’s book is highly readable. There are humorous and relevant case studies of children and teachers to contextualize the problems and solutions proposed, and a variety of short thought experiments the author challenges the reader to try out. These may appear to be distractions for readers who simply want to access to the underlying theory, but they work to make the book feel like a dialogue which is specific to the reader’s own classroom. I particularly found chapter on ‘Children as learners’ helpful in building the foundation for understanding the principles of classroom pedagogy. In this chapter, Moon describes children’s learning as involving ‘Talking their heads off’, a characteristic of children that will be familiar to anyone who has been around groups of young learners. Moon explains how this tendency for children to talk is one of the core aspects of a child’s desire to communicate, and therefore a cornerstone of classroom language teaching practice. With this insight, I felt a lot more tolerant of my children’s random classroom announcements and demands for interaction – they really do talk their heads off when they are learning!
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