In this series we talk to inspiring teachers who use stories and storytelling to set up reading programmes and creative projects, and use the arts and literature to develop their students’ language and literacy skills.
We share real examples from real teachers to show how small ideas can make powerful learning activities. When teachers share their techniques and experiences, with us, the first thing we notice is that no matter how diverse our world is, our students are interested in similar issues and enjoy doing similar creative tasks.
Reading competition in Germany
Our fifth teacher interview takes us to Germany where our colleagues organized the first Helbling Germany Reading Competition for school grades 5-10. The winning class was Class 6d from Dientzenhofer-Gymnasium in Bamberg with a project on a passage from the Helbling reader The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. We speak to their teacher Gertrud Merz.
Details of the competition
The competition was for grades 5-10 students with different sections for grades 5-7 and 8-10. The task was to create an audio recording or a radio play based on a passage or a dialogue from a Helbling Reader (Red and Blue series). This type of project offers an excellent opportunity for group work, reading aloud, dramatization and experimenting with digital literacy skills. The recordings were then evaluated by a team based on previously set criteria:
- reading quality (voice, stress, rhythm)
- timing (4 minutes for grades 5-7 and 6 minutes for grades 8-10)
- additional criterion for grades 8-10: creativity/interpretation/originality
Different types of reading aloud
Reading aloud is powerful strategy in the language classroom, although it is often mistakenly thought of as a monotonous and dull activity. If you have bad memories of reading aloud, it might be because you were asked to read a text line by line, jumping from student to student, not really paying attention to what is being read. However, if you think about your best childhood memories, it will most likely involve someone reading to you or you reading with someone. In the classroom we can build on such positive experiences and build language practice activities on them. With young learners you can share a Big Book experience and read to your students. With teens and adults you can focus on intonation and pronunciation, allowing your students to become familiar with their own voices. You can also focus on chunks of language within a passage, reflecting on your own reading. Reading like this is an entertaining way of carrying out a syntactic analysis as well as indepth work on word groups. Such close reading of a passage can help the students' understanding of a text and boost their confidence.
Reading aloud with a twist
The main focus of the reading competition in Germany was reading aloud with the extra benefits of dramatization and group work. Not only did the students work together on a meaningful project, they also recorded their own voices, selected music and reflected on the narrative. Such a project builds on basic reading skills, technical skills, helps with text interpretation, and encourages a playful creativity that comes from text awareness. Every student can find something interesting to do, and even if you have children who are shy about being recorded, they can have other tasks such as selecting music or helping with audio editing or direction.
Now let's get some first-hand experience and tips from Gertrud Merz. We hope her thoughts will inspire you to do something similar!
Interview with Gertrud Merz
Helbling Readers Blog (HRB): How long have you worked as a teacher? What do you like most about this job?
I work at a secondary school. My pupils are 10 to 18 years old, and we prepare them for their ″Abitur″, which is the school leaving exam. Unfortunately, our curriculum is extremely tight, and the number of lessons is continually reduced. But I enjoy doing smaller projects with my English and geography classes which are motivated and eager to learn. Due to the above-mentioned circumstances we have to do projects in the pupils’ and my spare time.
HRB: How do you integrate reading longer texts in your teaching?
The pupils read some chapters in class, some at home and if we have to speed up a literature project, we listen to the CD, which comes along with the Helbling Readers.
HRB: How long did it take you to prepare the radio play? How many students took part in this project? What steps did you follow?
The project took us about four weeks and almost everybody had to read a bit. That’s why Dorothy’s voice is not always the same. We proceeded like this: First, we listened to the CD, then we read the chapter, afterwards we practised reading in order to get the pronunciation right and finally we did the recording.
HRB: How did you manage the recording? Do you need to be media-savvy to manage this project?
I used the ″Garage Band″ app which is on my iPad. Teachers who are more media-savvy would have managed to do the recording more quickly, but even I learnt it (the hard way). I spent many hours on sound effects, volume, the elimination of unnecessary breaks or disturbing background noise, etc. to get a passable result. In hindsight, it was not too difficult, though. Only sometimes did I slightly feel inclined to scream out loud, for example when I had deleted the correct version instead of the wrong one.
HRB: How did the students react to the idea of the project?
They love being recorded and they even suggested repeating one scene four or five times because they had made a mistake. They were even angry with themselves when they got into a muddle. Surprise, surprise, they wanted the recording to be as good as possible. Strangely enough, they never grumbled when I told them to improve on this or that and they followed my advice willingly. When they have to read in class or in their textbooks they do not come up with such a degree of motivation. So there must be something magic about an iPad, and after years of teaching one still can experience miracles. (Nevertheless, I have to admit that I hated being recorded when I was their age and I still run for miles when I have to listen to my own voice.)
HRB: What are the main benefits of such a project?
It’s highly motivating for a class as well as the teacher and pupils. The students learn phrases as they have to do one recording again and again. As we had to do the project in our spare time, we also got to know each other a little bit better, which is a positive side effect that cannot be underestimated in the always hectic daily routine of our school day.
Can you give some tips to other teachers who might be considering doing something similar?
If you do not have loads of time on your hand, don’t do it. It is a time-consuming activity, but I think well worth it.
HRB: We think that reading aloud is an excellent way to develop language skills. How often do you use this technique?
I use it very often. When I was a trainee teacher an experienced English teacher, who was about to retire, told me: ″Our kids can learn thousands and thousands of words after they have left school, but what they definitely have to learn at school is pronunciation. This is very hard to correct once it is wrong.″ I totally agree with him, although thanks to the internet and electronic dictionaries it has become much easier to learn proper pronunciation.
HRB: Are you planning another project this year?
Time will see, the problem is the increasing amount of bureaucracy.
Many thanks for the interview!