Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Children's literature in ELT? Why not?

Although throughout most of my TEFL career I have been working with teenage and adult learners, I now have two "young learners" of my own back home, so I'm learning the ropes through experience. One might think that language teaching is language teaching, irrespective of the age group, but that's not quite true - and this goes beyond the obvious differences in attention spans, activity type preferences, or cognitive maturity... teaching kids turns out to be a different ball game altogether. 
One thing I quite like about young learners is that it is much less result-oriented, and a lot more focused on the learning process itself. Children don't usually question why we're doing something. As long as it's fun, in the sense that it becomes another game for them to play, they're happy to play along. As their teacher (parent, au pair, tutor... whatever), you may set goals and forge plans (which you simply must be prepared to abandon if necessary, as with young children things, as a rule, never go according to plan), but the children don't need to be aware of these. I suppose it's important for them to sense that there is a point to an activity, and sometimes they may even ask what that is - but this is a lot less vital than the actual activity itself.
Another nice thing about young learners is that teaching them is not coursebook-bound. Anything can, and will, become a tool for learning. (A brief aside: but should that not be true for a learner of any age? Why exactly then do we get bogged down in "covering the coursebook" a lot of the time...?) Their favourite toys, furniture, natural objects, people, and obviously, books, too.
I think reading is fun. I also think reading SHOULD BE fun. But how about turning the joy of literature to our advantage in teaching the language? How about setting those goals and forging those plans - while allowing the kids to immerse themselves in a world of imagination, knowledge and inspiration? 
I've only just found out about a new publication called CLELE journal, which focuses exactly on that theme: children's literature in language teaching. Find our more here: http://clelejournal.org/. I'll definitely be following it from now.

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