Teaching 21st century young learners supported by the GSE

Teaching in the modern era, which is diverse and digital, demands constant improvement and updating of the curricula we use. We, the teachers, need to closely monitor our learners and be ready to act according to their needs.

At our institution we became aware of the discrepancy between what we had taught, and what our learners’ educational needs were. It is a fact that children are exposed to written words in the English language at a much younger age, so we needed to update our courses. We realised there were a number of young learners heavily exposed to the written word while using digital gadgets and were therefore reading English on a daily basis. However, on the other hand, all the children in Serbia were being taught the Cyrillic alphabet from the get-go, when starting formal education at the age of 7. In our annual plans, the reading skill used to be introduced at the age of 9 and we could clearly see the obstacle we stumbled upon. We were wondering how to bridge this gap when we remembered the comprehensive Global Scale of English which we had already been using for adult learners.

This free online tool is carefully designed with self-explanatory navigation, it is user-friendly and once you are there, the solution is at the tip of your fingers! First we chose the type of learner – young learners, next we set the level – pre A1 to A2, then we selected the skill – reading and we were shown the learning objectives we needed. Another great feature of the GSE is that the results are listed starting from the lowest number of points (in our case, 10) and going up to the highest (29). That was our starting point.

By closely examining the results of our search, we understood we needed to start teaching letters at the age of 6, so the first curriculum we updated was Ea. Luckily, the coursebook we used for this level, Backpack Starter, was in line with the improved plan and it became a basis to work on. In Serbia, level A1 for young learners has three sub-levels: A1c, A1b and A1a. As the scale has points assigned for A1 level ranging from 22 to 29 it made adapting the next three curricula even simpler. Once children are familiar with the alphabet, the next phase is to teach them ‘topic vocabulary’. That is why we included the topic vocabulary for each of the units and the desired outcomes for reading into our annual plans and gradually implemented them into our teaching. By doing so we were able to cater for the diverse young learners: those who were familiar with reading became student-teachers and provided significant support to weaker students while at the same time learning a valuable lesson of helping others, whereas the other group of those who were reluctant to read by saying they couldn’t read English, became more motivated, realised they actually could read and their attitude shifted from “I can’t read” to “Let’s read”. The very process of updating curricula was neither time-consuming nor demanding, but quite the opposite: it was motivating, engaging and invited us to dig deeper and work on the other curricula that we use.

Once we finished redesigning the plans, we proceeded to create additional materials and find adequate activities online. A tremendous support we found in the ActiveTeach editions which supplement our coursebooks. For example, the interactive cards have pictures on one side and words on the other side, therefore, the children were able to practise memorising and matching the graphic presentations to the topic words. Traditional games we use in our everyday teaching were also adapted to lead to the new desired learning outcomes. For example: with preschoolers we included creating letters using cuisenaire rods, the first graders used letter magnets to ‘write’ words and the second graders learned a new way for using fly swatters. First more proficient students wrote topic words on the board, then, in pairs, they took turns to read the written words and be the first to tap the pronounced ones.

By the end of the first term, we measured our students’ progress, again using the GSE, and compared it to last year’s results. It was evident that what we once thought was chasing rainbows, that is; teaching reading to learners younger than 9, turned out to be completely viable and once more we understood the standard behind the Global Scale of English. Another important value it offers, is showing measurable progress. Teachers can clearly see where their learners are at the beginning of the course, monitor their progress and see the final results at the end of the learning cycle.

The very process of updating our curricula was a great experience for the whole team, as we gained a much deeper insight into what our students should do with the language we teach to them; our students’ outcomes improved and testing was made easier. The active use of the GSE has empowered us to plan more carefully and improve the relevance of our teaching methods. So, next time you encounter a challenge in teaching, do check out the GSE as a solution – it’s free to access anytime anywhere.

Marija Pejatovic 

Marija Pejatovic is a teacher and teacher trainer. She is the coordinator of the National English Language Teachers’ Association and the president of the YALS, National Association of Language Schools of Serbia. She is the author and presenter of several workshops for teachers, state school principals and private school owners. She believes in life-long learning and tries to be a role model for her students. In her free time she likes reading thrillers and travelling.

Marija Pejatovic