Junior English Language Summer School
Summer finally came in May and what a summer! With record heat for the month we were basking in temperatures of over 24ºC on May 5th (28ºC in London) and I remember last year we were scraping frost off the car!! What a crazy place. So that is what this blog title is all about. It’s a very old saying which means that you should not divest yourself of warm clothes until the hawthorn flowers (also called may) appear on the hedgerows. However, plenty of ‘clouts’ were cast early and we thoroughly enjoyed what was a tremendous month weather-wise.
For our Fleetham Lodge students here in May it was a real treat! They saw it at it’s very best and with all the spring flowers still around. One student said on the only day it rained – “Oh, I’ve never seen England in the rain!” I had to laugh as most students would say the opposite.
So this post is a catch-up post – it’s been a while and that mostly because we’ve been busy hosting both our first IELTS Workshop of the year and also our first Teenage English and Golf course – busy times :-).
First up was IELTS at the beginning of May. I love these workshops as there is a chance to really get our teeth into the techniques and material. Each day we studied for around 6 hours and there was homework too (writing and reading). Every part of the test was covered and I was able to focus on exactly the areas that needed to be improved and practised more. Scores slowly improved day by day as students understood the best techniques to achieve high bands. Outside of lessons there is plenty of time to speak (in fact the best thing is that students are speaking English from the moment they wake up until they go to bed – which is fantastic for both fluency and confidence. Listening also improves as English is all around all day long.
Despite the long days of study there was still time to pop out to the local town and do some shopping and spend a few hours in York which is well worth a visit. It’s good to have a break to clear the brain to let everything ‘bed down’ and it would be a great pity to be here and not see anything but the inside of Fleetham Lodge (lovely though it is!).
The time went by quickly and I can’t believe it’s already a month since this course! We worked hard but found time to relax and enjoy each other’s company too and reports back told me that everyone was satisfied and enjoyed the experience and that counts more than anything 🙂
Hot on the heels of this we had our young golfers for golf and English lessons. Boy they had a busy week! English every day, golf lessons and golf games in the afternoons. We are very lucky to have several golf courses very close by (around 15 minutes) this means it is possible to experience different courses even in a short, one week stay. We visited 3 courses with the students. One was fairly new and a favourite, a second they liked less but it had the most activities for juniors and the third, which one student told us was the oldest he had ever seen (founded in 1892 and in its current location since 1904), was very challenging and they really enjoyed this aspect of it. As for the English we covered mostly tenses but read a little Charles Dickens Great Expectations each day (in graphic novel form) and they really got into the story – watching the film version at the end of the course was a treat and a chance to compare the book and film versions.
We also managed to drop in a visit to York and went to the Yorvik Viking Museum which they
considered ‘cool’ and had afternoon tea at the famous Betty’s tea shop . A visit later in the week took in Richmond castle on the way to a lesson with the golf pro.
On the very last day we had arranged a trip to the cinema to see the new Star Wars film followed by a golf game with a group of local teenage golfers (the same age as our students). They had met them earlier in the week and were looking forward to a re-match. Sadly, the weather was not kind and it rained. However, all was not abandoned and the golf club had a golf simulator room so this was a great treat and a coup de grace at the end of the course. Our young students returned home happy and a little tired – just the way we hoped they would be .
Most students would prefer not to have speakers of the same language in their class or group and this is perfectly understandable. This is even more key for many teen groups (although a lot do travel en-masse) and parents often rank this at the top of their list of priorities when seeking a course for their offspring. Although we try very hard to avoid having students of the same mother tongue in the same class – sometimes it just cannot be avoided. We therefore have to create a ‘culture’ around the course which will enable students to use English exclusively or at the very least keep their mother-tongue utterances to a minimum.
As our courses are for very small groups (4/5 maximum) the students are mostly with native English speakers for the best part of the day and so there is a need to speak English constantly in order that everyone is included. We find generally that as English is dominant then most of the time everyone uses it and this cuts down dramatically on the use of mother-tongue. This is also the case with bigger groups we once had a group of 8 people from the Netherlands and although they did use Dutch at times generally English predominated during the day.
The second important point is the willingness of the students to use English and improve their language skills. Again here most students are highly motivated to better their English and understand the opportunity available to do this if they jump in and leave their native language for conversations with home in the evenings. One French teenager was so determined to speak English completely that she even refused to speak to her family for fear of ‘contaminating’ her learning! English is all around, on the radio, on the TV, everywhere in the house and of course during the lessons and activity time. There is, frankly, very little time when it is possible to use another language.
The emergence of social media and smartphones has made it even harder to keep students away from their native language and although we used to switch off the modem at night, the emergence of 4G means that even this can be by-passed. It’s a new challenge but one that we need to embrace as social media and smartphones are not going to go away any time soon!
I can boast, hand on heart, that for 99.9% of our students – even when they have a sibling or friend here on the course with them – their English fluency increases 10 fold. It is a fact of the way we operate and the level of immersion we provide. Engagement, providing an atmosphere where they feel their confidence growing and making sure that they are involved in their English in an interesting and ‘fun’ way, means that they always want to use their English and relish the chance to use it every day.
When I began teaching English eons ago it was the norm to include things like British culture and English literature at certain levels. Indeed both the Cambridge FCE and CPE exams included set texts in the writing paper which students could opt for and many did. In the university and colleges I taught at we had an introduction to English literature for ESOL students which they could take once they reached FCE level. Today it seems that these aspects of English language courses feature less yet many parents of Teenage students who send them on our Teenage Immersion courses want their children to have some exposure to literature and while in the UK it is an interesting thing to do.
Bearing in mind that one of the important tenets of our courses is that we want then to be different from ‘school’, it poses an important question – how to expose our students to literature in a fun and interesting way.
Having had four of our own children, we have a good range of books for younger readers available in the house and so for the younger students we usually get them to choose something they like and ask them to read just one chapter each night. The first exercise in the lesson is for them to tell us what is happening in the story. We have found them all to be very enthusiastic about doing this and everybody gets involved in the unfolding tale and ask questions. If they don’t like the book they choose then they are free to find another but generally with a little advice up-front about the content, they choose something that will engage them as well as be accessible to them. One of the best recently was Charlotte’s Web which the group really got into and couldn’t wait each morning for more news about how the story was progressing!
A few years ago I discovered graphic novels and have a small selection which have proved invaluable for getting older teens (14/15) to read. The favourites are Frankenstein and Great Expectations. We usually end the lessons each day with a chapter. I have recordings of the stories which are well-done and bring them to life so we listen, read and discuss a little. We will also watch the movie of these books and one of the delights for me is how the students discuss what is missing from the film and how it compares with the book. Overall the feelings have been that the books were better and the films miss out some of the more interesting elements. These discussions are of course brilliant from a language point of view but also help the students to develop critical thinking and literary analysis.
As a spin-off from these activities there are several fun things to do around the reading sessions such as designing film posters, writing blurbs or reviews for either the books or the films. Actually acting out and recording scenes from the books is also an interesting activity which would extend the theme and get students to engage even more with the stories.
And the stories themselves – there are hundreds of great stories to introduce so if the students are not captivated – I choose another. They are here to improve their English and whatever we read will get that result so it makes sense that they enjoy what they do and can benefit from it.
I have 4 daughters and know what it feels like that first time your children go away from home on a school visit, to stay with friends or a course overseas. My eldest travelled alone to New York aged 16 and my youngest went to Australia with a fellow student aged 15. In both cases, although everything was arranged well, I was waiting for that message to say they had arrived before I could relax completely. Naturally they themselves were full of excitement and adventure and had no qualms at all about the visits.
Having your child go away for the first time (or at any time) can be a big decision and I think it is important that parents are reassured by everyone involved in making the arrangements.
Here at Fleetham Lodge our groups are very small just 4 or 5 children so we are privileged to be able to have personal contact with the parents of most students who come here – indeed some of our parents have actually delivered their children personally. This contact allows us and the parents to find out everything we can to make sure that the students when they arrive, will not only hit the ground running in terms of language but also give us more information about their interests and that all important area – food!
So, to illustrate for any parents thinking about a possible course at Fleetham Lodge and also to show how we manage parents expectations as well as those of our young charges, here is a blow-by-blow of the contact points between the parents of prospective students and ourselves from finding us, to booking, to arrival, departure, post course and all points in-between!
Points of Contact
Usually requests will come via email and email is the first action. However we always offer a phone or Skype call to discuss further. With some of our overseas partners and agents we may also set up a Skype call so we can discuss things with the parents (and sometimes the students themselves) with our partner to translate if necessary and we can give a quick tour of the facilities via iPad. This helps people see what is on offer and speak to us and we have a chance to find out more and explain how things work. At this stage everything is exploratory.
Once things are settled then there is a lot to find out – approximate language level, dietary requirements, hobbies and interests, travel arrangements etc. This all requires more emails or phone calls and the excitement starts to build 🙂
After our students have arrived at Fleetham Lodge, and we always collect all our students personally, we get them to telephone (or nowadays perhaps text or whatsapp!) their parents to let them know that they have arrived safely. I know how it feels to be waiting for this information – it’s important although the students themselves don’t always appreciate this!
During the Course
As we go along through the course we try to touch base with parents two or three times just to give them an update on what is going on and how their children are doing. It is simply a courtesy to reassure them and also give them an insight into what we are doing and where we are going. I have found that parents really appreciate these short emails.
Arrangements may need to be confirmed and it is also important to let parents know that everything was fine with the boarding and that the children are now safely on their way home.
It is our custom to send a short report to the parents after the students have left. This is a summary of what we did in the lessons and how they progressed. We usually include some suggestions for where they can continue to practise and improve with some online links or book suggestions. In the past parents have passed these on to their teachers at school, used them to support school applications or just read them for their own interest. We are serious about the progress of each student and want to share their success with parents and their teachers too.
Keeping in touch gives peace of mind to parents and I believe it also signals our determination to do the very best we can for the students we welcome here at Fleetham Lodge. Phone calls and emails are kept short and simply provide, in the first instance a connection, after all we will be responsible for these children for the time they are here and in the second instance a snapshot of what the children are doing here. From my perspective as a parent of children who have been away from home it is both welcome and heartening.