TVS has long run study camps for primary school learners from Tyume Valley schools. Over a week two groups of children plus their teachers stay at Hobbiton Outdoor Activity Centre in nearby Hogsback for two and a half days each, enabling us to involve up to 100 children. The study camps focus on developing learners’ skills and confidence in spoken English, interspersed with the usual exciting Hobbiton outdoor activities.
The camps are always hugely enjoyed by the children, and by the UK volunteers who help. However they have not been well-integrated with TVS’ other activities, particularly our developing English language programme. So this February (2019), we integrated the study camp into our pioneering Techlearn programme; the children were all on the Techlearn programme and training for their teachers was integral.
Each group of learners was accompanied by 5 local teachers or support staff, giving a high adult/learner ratio. In total, 95 learners took part.
Much of the teacher training sessions focused on improving general teaching skills, including the importance of setting aims for each lesson and reinforcing these at the beginning and end of each lesson. Given their own widely-varying fluency in English, the teachers particularly appreciated demonstrations of the practical application of grammatical principles. An unexpected outcome was that two of the teachers accompanying the study camp children were subsequently recruited onto the Techlearn programme.
Each group of learners had four 90-minute English language sessions. Learners often lacked confidence and, like their teachers, found role play activities challenging. The teaching sessions demonstrated that the on-going Techlearn programme needs to spend more time helping learners understand the principles of sentence construction. The teachers carried out simple assessments of their learners’ abilities; at the beginning and end of their time at Hobbiton each learner was given Scrabble tiles and asked to create as many, and as long, words as possible within a given time frame.
Two thirds of learners increased their scores over the two and a half days.
As well as the formal teaching, we were delighted that staff from the local Police Station visited for informal discussions with learners about personal safety.
The experience of building the study camp into the Techlearn programme has provided plenty of valuable lessons for TVS. It confirmed the importance of careful advance planning and preparation, and of investing time and energy into working with local teachers to improve their general teaching skills, including group work and assessment, as well as their strategies for teaching English to groups of learners with widely varying abilities.
For the learners, it was an undoubted success – certainly according to one school principal whose children had attended the camp:
Wow!! I have no words to express the joy, enthusiasm, fun my learners had during the camp, it was written all over their faces on Monday….. I’m really full of appreciation, keep up the good work!