There are currently many women living in Britain who have a wealth of pre-existing skills and resources to offer, but do not have the required English language level to do so. These are the women that Heart & Parcel aims to support.
What is ESOL and why is it in trouble?
The government offers ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) provision which is free English classes for migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers who come to Britain and need help learning the language. Due to media sensationalist coverage on ‘migrants’ and a highly politicized discourse, the general public have been ill-informed about who comes to this country, for what reasons and the amount of provision or hand-outs they receive. This misinformation perpetuates a negative view surrounding those who require these classes. A combination of all these factors lead to funding for ESOL being insecure and unstable (Hamilton & Hiller, 2009).
As a result, waiting lists for ESOL classes are long, colleges and teaching staff feel the strain with lack of resources. Recent studies into the effects of funding cuts in this area have documented a ‘culture of fear’ and dis-empowerment amongst staff at FE colleges (O’Leary & Smith, 2012). Furthermore, current funding is gagged by strict conditions from the home office and government policies as to who can benefit from these classes.
We agree with Mel Cooke, a teaching fellow in ESOL who comments that there needs to be a stronger focus of research in ESOL as well as a major restructuring of the system to make it better equipped and more efficient for its original aims (Cooke, 2006). We set up Heart & Parcel to counter the current restricted and negative ESOL environment, and to start again from the base, to connect with those ‘original aims’. We support those who may not be eligible for ESOL classes and who want to learn English for their own motivations in a relaxed informal environment. Our facilitation of the sessions reflect this ethos: To give women the choice to decide what they feel they need, rather than what the government or authorities think these women need.
Since we started Heart & Parcel we have spoken to numerous people who are interested in what we do and the same question crops up time and time again:
‘…..but how do making dumplings help people learn English?’
We understand that these two activities are not usually combined. For our first session in November we started with a relaxed and informal atmosphere where women could come and fold dumplings whilst making friends and sharing stories along the way. We continue to hold this belief as the backbone and the ethos of our sessions, but have noticed that quite a lot of women still want to have the English learning aspect whilst they are cooking.
This post is for two reasons: First to show how we have implemented this preference for English learning into our sessions. Secondly, in addition to our participant’s views and needs, we are also keen to use extensive research to inform our decisions and we aim to keep strong professionalism at the heart of what we do. Thus this post is also to document the methodology and planning that goes into each session, and how the participants develop their English skills as a result.
Who is this post for?
SO. This post is for people who like the idea of Heart & Parcel, but are not entirely sure how we are helping women to practice English through making dumplings! This post is also for facilitators and ESOL tutors who would like some new ideas for their classes. Finally it is for those who have contributed to the project through attending our supper clubs, making donations or giving their time. We want you to see how we are using our resources and our time with these communities.
We take the four main skills of language: speaking, listening, writing and reading. We combine all of these, structured by four crucial stages. Starting first with a warmer:
Stage One – Warmer
The warmer, for any kind of learning environment is crucial for setting the atmosphere for the rest of the lesson. This should be an activity that is light, easy, and communicative. We usually get different women coming to our sessions because it is drop-in so this 5-10 minute activity allows participants to warm up their English language and to ‘break the ice’ with others they may not know.
A previous warmer we have used is where we write on the board ‘Who’ ‘What’ ‘Where’ When’ ‘Why’. The women then have to call out the rest of the sentence to form a question:
‘Who are you?’ ‘Where do you live?’ ‘What is your favourite food?’ ‘Why are you learning English?’
After these suggested questions have been written out in full on the board, the women get into groups of 2-3 to practice asking and answering each other to find out details. We then feedback to hear more information about who we will be cooking with.
After our warmer we move onto our recipe and ingredients list. This helps to develop reading, writing and pronunciation. We carry out the process of cooking at the same time as going through the recipe worksheet.
Stage Two – Recipe and preparation (controlled practice)
We decided that a visual show, combined with a running commentary of the English vocabulary was the most effective way to immerse the women in English. This section of the lesson is what we call in language teaching ‘controlled practice’. In other words, the target vocabulary is being taught and practised but in a controlled environment. This means a lot of guidance and error correction from the tutor. Karolina and a volunteer from the group of women will carry out the process of preparing the filling and dough, whilst Clare documents the vocabulary on the board:
At this point, we use realia to accelerate learning. Realia is a term in Language teaching used for vocabulary. By showing the actual object you are trying to define grouped with the English word, learners can quickly and efficiently make a connection between the two.
We ask questions throughout the process to keep all learners engaged. They are simple questions used to check comprehension. Such examples include:
‘What is this again?’ ‘What are we doing now?’ ‘How do you say this [pointing to ingredient] again?’ ‘ What does it feel like?’ ‘What does it smell like?’ ‘Do you have a similar [method/ingredient] in your culture/country?’
This is also when we check the pronunciation of the key words being used. Verbs are also being practised here, as the method calls for the imperative form of verbs (with no pronoun or subject before the verb) usually used in instructions:
‘mix this’ ‘combine egg and flour’ ‘add the onions’ ‘crack the egg’ ‘knead the dough’
Finally, we go through the measurements and quantities, embedding numeracy and maths into the session. Numeracy is fascinating; it varies from country to country and is like another language within itself.
The participants during this part are mostly watching, but we have different types of learners. Some women like to join in with the filling preparation, touching, smelling the ingredients and chatting with each other to try and decipher the herbs and spices.
Others like to answer our questions that we offer to practice their speaking and listening. Some like write down the recipe to practice their writing skills.
As mentioned throughout our literature on this project, these sessions are really for the women. We don’t dictate what they come here to do. In a way we learn from our participants; we see what they like and what they don’t like, adjusting our sessions each time. The interactive part comes next.
Participation and teamwork (free practice)
We then split the women up into groups where, depending on what dumpling we are making, they decide the different roles that need to be filled. This could be the rolling out the dough, cutting the circles for the dumpling wrappers, pinching and closing the dumplings, or folding them into their shape. There is a job for everybody! This stage is called ‘free practice’. This is where the learners take the vocabulary that they were exposed to in their ‘controlled practice’ and start to use it on their own, personalising the vocabulary for their own situation.
We really like this bit as we can circulate and mingle, chatting with the women and asking them questions about their lives. We and our volunteers have heard many stories shared during this time, much dirty laundry aired, and problems mulled over. Friendships have been made and contacts created. We use this time not only to give women a chance to practise their English, but to extend our support (Welfare advice, translation and English language teaching) to the women should they require it.
This part is mostly in English, but we do allow other languages into the classroom. We firmly believe and advocate for a plural linguistic approach to teaching and community work (for a whole other blog post..!) as we believe it creates an equal, relaxed and low pressure environment.
Stage Three – Review and consolidation
When the folding process is completed and the dumplings cooking in the kitchen, we use this opportunity to recap over the vocabulary covered in the lesson and to do an informal test of the key language points taught. This is really important for every lesson as it wraps things up nicely. When the women can recall the information in this section, we find it brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction and this in turn promotes well-being; participants go away feeling as if they have learnt something.
We vary this activity each session as we have had some women return for all three sessions, but an example would be a gap-fill exercise. The women get given a sheet with the list of ingredients used, but the quantities are missing. They have to read each word and try to remember how much of each ingredient was used. This can get quite competitive but is a really effective way to consolidate the vocabulary and internalise the language.
Stage Four – Warm down and relaxation
The women get to try their dumplings, relax and chat with their new friends. We enjoy them with a side salad and also hand out the recipe card at this time so that participants can try them again at home.
This final stage takes on an evaluative atmosphere where we use the feedback to plan for our next session. We ask the women what they liked, what they didn’t like and if anyone would like to cook their food at the next session. We also ask them about further provision they would like to see in order for them to ‘get to the next step’ of their English language learning journey. We have had suggestions of computer classes, English grammar classes, CV writing workshops and sewing workshops!
After we are all cleaned up and the women have left, we have a reflective meeting with our volunteers to discuss what went well and what didn’t, combining the women’s feedback with our own. This is really important for us to keep meeting the women’s needs and not our own desires for the project. We then are left with a starter base for our next session and possible extra classes to run.
Cooke, M. (2010) “When I wake up I dream of electricity”: The lives, aspirations and ‘needs’ of Adult ESOL learners. Linguistics and Education 17 (2006) 56–73
Hamilton, M. & Hillier, Y. (2009) ESOL policy and change. Language Issues, vol 20, no. 1, pp. 4-18. Harvard
O’Leary, M. & Smith, R. (2012) Earthquakes, cancer and cultures of fear: qualifying as a Skills for Life teacher in an uncertain economic climate, Oxford Review of Education, 38:4, 437-454