The PYP Learner Profile runs through every classroom and is part of the core of an IB education. I love the focus they bring to the whole child and kids, in my experience, often start to live up to what the Learner Profile asks of them. However the words themselves are long and it takes some time for those words to stick. For EAL students they can simply be a mystery.
On Friday, I started training teachers new to the IB and one of the questions I head from the new 6-7 year olds teacher was, “How do I make the Learner Profile engaging and child friendly?” I’d love any comments you want to add but here is what I suggested.
It does not have to be pre-made posters that you put up.
- Use literature– When I taught 5-6 year olds we went through the literature we were using as read-alouds and tried to find characters that were demonstrating Learner Profile traits. We then made signs and the kids drew pictures of these characters to remind them. (i.e Sam from Green Eggs and Ham was a risk-taker, the Berenstain Bears were caring, Franklin the turtle was a thinker…)
- This was probably the best for young EALs as they could at least use the picture to help define what we were talking about.
- Let them define it– one year I simply wrote each of the Learner Profile traits on a piece of paper and as we focused on each one of them the kids brainstormed ideas of what each one would look like in action. They wrote or drew what they thought it looked like.For EALs Google Translate is your friend. We would often talk to parents and use Google Translate to determine the right word in the students’ home language for each word. They would then do the same activity.
- Let it grow– I’ve seen several colleagues have sentence strips with each Learner Profile trait written on one. As students saw another person in their class exhibiting a Learner Profile trait they would add a sticker to the sentence strip. I’ve also seen this with scoops of sand into a jar and puzzle pieces that go onto a tree. The bottom line is give the kids the power to reward each other and it can take on wings from there.
- Charades – Whenever we had five minutes to fill, we used to play Learner Profile Charades. Put the traits in a jar and let one child come up and draw a trait. They act it out while the rest of the class guesses which Learner Profile they are demonstrating. This was a favorite activity!
- Make your own posters. The kids started telling us when to take photos and what Learner Profile Trait they were displaying. I would basically do something like this and quote them. We would display in the hallway and in the classroom. Parents loved this one!
Update: Here is my personal poster for the Teacher modeled Learner Profile Board. The kids think it is hilarious.
“I just wish everyone in the world spoke Danish; it would be easier.” Insert any language there and you can sympathize with the frustration my daughter felt in learning another language. The frustration is part of language learning and if you put your kids in an environment where there are surrounded by the target language for hours a day, they will pick it up faster, but you have to be prepared to give them a few things.
1) Make your home a haven for their native language. Let them watch TV in their native language and read to them in their native language. They often need a chance to mentally rest and know that they will be understood. They also need a STRONG first language. I’ve met many kids who speak three or more languages but are not actually fluent in any of them. Help them gain vocabulary, grammar and sentence fluency naturally in their native language. This knowledge will be the base that they use for all other languages.
2) Their personality in the new language will be different, at least in the beginning. They might be significantly quieter, angrier, more frustrated, or more playful. One child I taught abandoned all language when she entered the English language environment. She just used physical signs and made up sounds to speak to the other students. Soon the other kids would respond with made up words as well. We had to actively encourage the class to use English with her so she could keep hearing the sounds of the language. This from a student who was very vocal and expressive in their native language!
3) Keep talking to them about how they feel and listen to their frustrations. Little people usually let us know when they need a break from a language or activity. We just have to be ready to respond to them. Kids learn the best when they think something is fun and necessary; if it has become a chore you will be fighting an uphill battle to make learning happen. In the times that they don’t want to speak a target language, ask them why. There are quite often big things that they want to talk about. Listen and act accordingly, you may need to take a week off of language learning but they will come back much more willing to learn. My own kiddos have proven this one many times.
4) Encourage them to feel free to be silly in the new language. Many kids (and adults) do not want to use their new language until they are fluent because they know they will make mistakes. This is a hurdle that has to be overcome. They have to use the language and the more they do, the quicker it will come. In my home and classroom, we pretend the whole family or class are robots/aliens/pirates and then no one is worried if they can’t make a full sentence or their sentence is missing words…. because robots/aliens/pirates always make mistakes. If a child is uncomfortable using a language, making a safe play environment can do wonders in helping them become a language risk-taker.
5) Let them know some of the feelings they will probably feel before they start. Full language immersion is always hard. It is hard as an adult and it is hard as a kid. Whoever is encountering the language has to brace themselves to not be understood, to have trouble expressing their needs, and in a global way not be able to do the same things that they can in their native language. It is much easier to deal with this if you know it is coming and that it won’t last forever. When my own bonus-kids go to Grandma and Grandpa’s they know that they will be in a full immersion environemnt so they prep themselves by thinking of how they use can body language, what toys or games they can teach Grandma and Grandpa and what English words or phrases they really want to know. This way if they get frustrated in the situation, they have tools to use to express themselves another way.
We started this at home and I then tried it in the classroom. It has worked like magic in both places. Basically, you need to give kids something to do for just long enough to calm down a wee bit. We played off the idea that trees can turn carbon dioxide into oxygen, as well as, Shel Silverstein’s tried and true, The Giving Tree.
I invented a story with their names in the place of ‘the child’. Feel free to change the story to fit your kiddos.
A long time ago in Denmark, there were certain magic trees that had very large hearts. Not every tree mind you but, the magic ones that you could find if you looked hard enough. These trees could take anger and bad feelings and change them into happier feelings. All because their hearts were so big and so powerful. These trees used to be easily found but people began to cut them down to build houses and to make fires. So the magic trees hid themselves deep in the forest.
This meant that there were fewer trees to help change bad feelings into good feelings. People began to become easily angered at each other and would sometimes even shout and hit. A small child decided that it was time to find the King of Trees and to ask if hte trees could come back to Denmark. After a long journey through hills, brambles, and bogs the child finally found the King of the Trees. The child bravely asked the King if there was a way to have some of these big-hearted trees closer to where humans lived.
The King thought about this idea and decided that humans can not always be trusted to take good care of trees. The child was distraut. Seeing this, the King decided to use his magic and create a small paper forest of big-hearted trees. He gave the paper to the child and told them to hang it somplace that they could find when they were angry, hurt, or simply feeling bad. The trees’ magic would start to work to to help the feelings go away and eventually change them completely. We can still find these trees today and their magic still works thanks to the King of Trees.
I then pulled out the the tree design I had made and attached it to a string. We let my class place the tree in a spot determined by the students.
And … they … used … it. It did help cut down on the little hits and mean words that can occur. I will admit it was unnerving at first to see them run across the room and blow at a tree, but it worked at home and in the classroom. Click the link below to get a copy of the tree we used, as well as, a shortened story.