Thanks to those who commented on my first blog. I was amazed when I checked - most exciting that one of you might be a new teacher. We need since two teachers left us at the end of 2009, and our 2010 registration numbers are alarming high. Though we have new volunteers none are experienced or TEFL-trained. One of our founder members, Waheeda, who was DOS at Durban IH, is about to run a basic introduction course to TEFL, to prepare new volunteers to teach with us. Kumar, to answer your question about adjusting new learners with those already in groups:
- When new students can speak some English, we send them straight to the appropriate group. As lessons are designed to be one-off, drop-in it is possible for students to slot in and benefit. We used to keep all newcomers in a group for 2 or 3 weeks to orientate them and give them basic words and phrases. It didn't work well with the mix of abilities. However this year we have a beginners group of over 30 which is too large to give individual attention. So we're about to try a new strategy to prevent new beginner students from being swallowed up and give them more lift-off. Many are actually false beginners and need TLC and confidence-building. So we'll still send those who speak some English to their appropriate group, but plan to keep the new beginners separate for 4 lessons, teach phonics, basic vocab and language for simple situations. We will repeat the loop of 4 lessons again and again as new students join throughout the year.
- Also the structure of Saturday mornings helps new students to integrate. We start with a warmer - a whole group activity that students join as they arrive. It's usually fun and often silly. Then we have a short lesson in pronunciation for all students in one large combined group. After that we split to smaller groups - then come back together at the end for a song, chant or feel good activity - so students leave with a smile on their faces.
- Because of the nature of our organisation, the curriculum is less formal than most. Lessons focus on listening and fluent speaking, and developing usable communication for functions and situations. Role play and dialogue are key. Because of different literacy levels we do not dwell on accuracy with the written word, though some of our students want and need that.
We're considering various strategies to deal with escalating numbers. One is to not accept more new students - which we are reluctant to do. Another is to charge a small registration fee - also reluctant to do. A third is to try to involve more teachers so large groups can be split. This raises the issue of administration - it's an regular, ongoing chore to make sure everything is in place, including teachers, on Saturday mornings. Large numbers are pushing us to raise funds to pay an administrator to do this. Some of our teachers work for other NGOs through Talk English, and we want to develop this. We want to provide courses for those students who need more than the Saturday lessons - often university students or professionals such as doctors, nurses or engineers, who need more formal language skills. We have written a proposal to pilot 7 x 40 hr ESP courses and will try to find funding. This we hope will also take pressure from Saturday mornings - though a growing group of South African students are joining us. This creates a really nice dynamic of SA isiZulu speakers and refugees learning together - but puts pressure on numbers - though it is our Talk English contribution to combat the scourge of Xenophobia! Hints and advice from anyone will be really helpful. Sometimes it feels as though we have a tiger by the tail that may turn round and bite us! Warm regards to all who might read this, Julie