Thursday, 29 March 2018

Words and Pictures?

When I was preparing my presentation about writing for Language World, I re-read Patterns and procedures: focus on phonics and grammar by Heather Rendall.  Those who attended the presentation will remember that I quoted Heather a couple of times.

Heather says that learners will store an image of what a new L2 word looks like as soon as they hear it, and, especially if they are beginner learners, they are likely to use their pre-learned system of English phonics to do so.  It is likely that English will interfere with learners storing an accurate image of this new word.  

Heather goes on to say that:
"Every word has three attributes: a meaning, a sound and a spelling.  Target language nouns will also have a gender.  All four attributes should be presented immediately and simultaneously and repeatedly."

I trained as a teacher in the mid-1990s, when the communicative method was all the rage.  The thinking at the time was that you should introduce learners to the spoken word first, and to the written word considerably later.  Seeing the written word too soon apparently confused the learner.  In addition, phonics was something they apparently absorbed by some kind of osmosis.  This proved to be largely impractical and unsuccessful, and at the turn of the century I was part of a local working group who looked at the systematic teaching of phonics and much more focussed attention on the written word.

As a primary practitioner, I always present new language using a visual focus, which enables me to present the new language without the need for English until we spend a little time checking understanding.  This image shows one of the A5 flashcards that I use:
The picture indicates the meaning of the word, learners will hear the sound of the word when I say it, and the pink stripe at the bottom of the card indicates its gender.  Of Heather Rendall's four attributes, it is therefore missing the spelling.  This flashcard is for una plaza - a word with a phoneme/grapheme that is specific to Spanish.  It's likely that, despite some extensive work on phonics over three years, the Year 6 learners who hear this word will store the image platha in their heads.

An alternative is to keep the image but add the written word:
The fourth attribute is now present at the expense of the gender, which could, I think go somewhere else on the card as a coloured dot.  I wouldn't want to colour-code the words as that would make them less visible from the back of the room.  The image has to be smaller if the text is present and ideally I would like the text to be bigger too.  If I presented the words via PowerPoint slides then the words and images would both be bigger, but I really prefer the versatility and immediacy of low-tech flashcards.  So the exact design of a flashcard with all four attributes leaves me in a quandry - what to include and how?  It's possible that I would want two sets of flashcards - one with text to present the new words and a second with picture only to aid recall.

Do you introduce the written word at the same time as the sound and meaning?  What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. Yes I present both an image and the word! Many of the flash cards have the word on the back of the image, some underneath. I’m a very visual learner myself and the hardest part of learning the language for me was the listening! Used to find those activities in the language booths so hard at school ! Seeing and hearing the word at the same time! I think it helps them to remember! I use action lots too! VAK approach! You could underline the gender in red or blue! We are focusing on few phonics each week and we will highlight them too as they crop up! Hope this helps?