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Children Learning English

Jayne Moon
Macmillan Heinemann ELT, 2000
pp. viii +184

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From A to Z
There has got to be at least 26 reasons to love this book, but we can't cover all of them here. Suffice it to say that Jayne Moon has written what will surely be recognized as a classic inservice/self-study training book for both teachers new to children's classes, and experienced children's teachers new to teaching English. It is also an excellent tool for review and reflection by more experienced teachers of foreign languages to young learners.

Not just for "kids teachers"
Most teachers, at one time or another, have taught or will teach younger learners of English. While few agree precisely what constitutes "young learners," Moon describes them here as 6-12 year olds. She also includes materials and examples of young teen learners of English. We could well imagine adjustments in materials and processes for toddlers and pre-school children as well -- though not so common in other lands, definitely big business in Northeast Asia!

The book is also helpful to those who teach adults (young and old): its reflective patterns stimulate thoughts of "I could do that in my high school/university/adult classes, with a few adjustments."

This is a ____. This is not a ____.
Moon states clearly "this is not a book of teaching tips" and "not a book for beginning teachers." No, this is a book for professional development through reflection and practice. This is a book to help teachers examine their own teaching and beliefs about teaching. This is a collection of insights about children characteristics, abilities, and attitudes. This is an enjoyable read of ideas and frameworks for teaching English. This is about awareness as a teacher. Not survival skills.

Connecting the dots
Perhaps it is new age passé to claim that Moon is right to talk about learning rather than teaching. These are not just words in a title, however. The book builds from basic issues in developmental psychology and related themes in a very approachable and accessible manner. Chapter subtitles are illustrative: Chapter 1, Children as language learners; Chapter 2, Pupils attitudes to learning English; Chapter 3, Children come in all types.... Later chapters focus on supporting children's learning, planning for their learning, and assessment. The book also has a brief index and glossary at the back, as well as references at the end of each chapter. What is especially useful, particularly for those who choose not to read through the full book cover to cover, are cross-references within the text. These are really helpful, and I wonder why more teacher training and desktop reference materials don't employ them.

Fun Learning
This is one of those rare training books that are actually enjoyable to read. Non-native speakers of English should have little difficulty with the text. Playful cartoons keep us in the spirit of a young learners' classroom; there are a broad variety of tasks that may be done, commentary on how things might be done, and quotes and short stories from practicing teachers and teacher trainees from throughout the globe. Moon's experience teaching in Asia, and her trainees from Asian lands, keeps this book relevant to our own situation. On the other hand, it is noticeable that many of her examples focus on issues of reading, which is not a core teaching area for most of us teaching young learners in Northeast Asia.

Talking in English
There are 15 wonderful pages addressing the general issues and specific actions for positive use of Teacher Talking Time (in English) and Teaching English Through English. While not replacing the excellent full texts on these topics, teachers of learners of any age can benefit from the concise treatment here.

More, More, More
Creating materials for students is always an issue. Moon not only discusses the issues, but also provides a full section on having children help in the creation process!

The section on planning includes the observation that not only does the planning help in classroom issues, but also helps teachers think about both what and how they are teaching -- it is not only a plan, but a launching pad for reflection.

What do we do next?
With children, we always need a "Plan B" for when things don't quite go right, and an "Activity Z" for those who finish early. Professional development is a never-ending process, and some of the activities presented in Children Learning English are consistent with that. I particularly like the simple little self-assessment framework, based on our own role model teachers (both good and bad). Moon also invites teachers to ask children what kind of teacher they want.

The book is filled with ideas, some of which individual teachers won't agree with. I wonder if I can negotiate classroom rules with young learners who can hardly speak English, when I don't speak their language well enough. But putting ideas forward is the point of the book.

The final bell
I can't imagine anyone not liking the book. Every school should have a copy in the teacher's room. It's not a reference book, but experienced teachers could benefit by going back to this every other year or so for a "refresher course".

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