Tuesday, February 21, 2017

‘Rockin’ and ‘Talkin’ for Pre-adolescents: Content and Language Integrated Learning - Report on Monica Varsakopoulos's Session

Mrs. Monica Varsakopoulos is a teacher who is most of all passionate about her work.  In her workshop she shared with us the enthusiasm and creativity she brings to her classroom through the presentation of a Science lesson and a History lesson.

Mrs. Varsakopoulos is an experienced teacher. One of her first CLIL experiences was teaching 5th and 6th grade children who were hearing-impaired, in Florida, USA in 1990. Another place where she used CLIL for many years was in her family owned frontistirio in Giannitsa, Greece. For the past 6 years she has been working in Thessaloniki, where she uses CLIL to teach 5th Grade students, ages 10-12.

                                                                                                                          photo by Linda Manney

Throughout her workshop, Mrs.Varsakopoulos stressed the importance of using multisensory activities because they help students remember content.

The first part of the presentation was a Science lesson about rocks and tectonic plates. Mrs.Varsakopoulos started her lesson with a song and a video, “The rock cycle,” which she played on the projector. She encouraged her audience to participate in singing along. Taking into consideration that the song was presented to 5th graders, one should think that the vocabulary (i.e., pressure, chemical, clastic, igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic) was complex and difficult. Yet, because the music was familiar and there was a repetitive chorus, students could follow more easily. Mrs.Varsakopoulos clarified that she always tries to bring the language to the level of her 11-year-old students.

After playing the song, Mrs. Varsakopoulos explained that she addressed the subject of her science lesson in three ways: she focused on the needs of her students who are auditory learners, those who are tactile-kinesthetic learners and those who are visual learners. She also noted that authentic material is very beneficial.

In addressing the need for hands-on material and integrated activities, Mrs. Varsakopoulos showed her students samples of various kinds of rocks. She asked students to touch them and lift them. All children participated, even the shy ones.  Next, they used jelly beans to simulate sedimentary rocks, and they built volcanoes and activated them.  In the process, language “erupted” all around them. Children got involved in research and used various language forms to describe the rocks. 

For the students to learn how tectonic plates work, Mrs.Varsakopoulos showed them slides which explained the mechanism of tectonic plates. The slides also showed the geographical areas where they are present. Children became interested to find where their home countries were in relation to the plates.

Mrs Varsakopoulos believes that when the teacher uses content in language learning and children have tangible products, they understand better. 
Accordingly, she gave each student a bar of chocolate with filling and then told them to pretend that it was the Earth. Then, she asked them to press the chocolate bar in the middle, pull the chocolate apart from the two ends and push them against each other. In this way she taught them how the boundaries of the tectonic plates spread, collide or slide. The students also recorded what happened during each step of the experiment in their notebooks.

                                                                                                                     photo by Linda Manney

At the end of the unit, the students sang again the song “The rock cycle.” Since they had analyzed every stanza of the song and they had experimented with the concepts, singing the complex language was very easy for them this time.

The second part of the presentation was a History lesson about “The burial of the Dead” in Catal Huyuk, Turkey. In order to integrate the content of the lesson, the teacher used pictures, maps, a clay project and a reading activity followed by a short play. This reading activity, called “Adventure in Catal Huyuk,” related to the content of the unit and acting it out, at the end, was a lot of fun for the students.

Coming to the end of her presentation, Mrs.Varsakopoulos noted that beyond fun, in planning her activities, she thinks of the enduring knowledge the students can take along with them, the essential questions they can answer and the skills they will be able to use.  She stressed the fact that multisensory activities help students learn. For this reason, she uses anchor charts, graphic organizers, lots of literature, and Software sources, for example, A-Z Learning, the History Channel, Google apps, brainpop, etc.

All in all, Mrs. Varsakopoulos reminded us that in a CLIL approach, the teacher should:
- Keep students focused but let them have fun, too.
- Use authentic multisensory material and activities. 
- Activate the multiple intelligences by breaking up the routine.
- Get out of the book.
- Let kids explore, analyze, experiment, observe and explain.

Report by Evie Kota

No comments:

Post a Comment