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Building the Blocks of English
Steven Donahue puts E-Blocks® to the test in the ESL classroom
Sometimes, we language teachers, forget the obvious:
if we teach in step-by-step blocks that students can follow; the magical quantum leaps in acquisition will happen from that very comprehensible input. And so, E-Blocks is a product which literally uses blocks that students place on an interactive panel in order to learn at their own pace. The attractive blocks, connected by a cable, are placed on a panel and displayed on a computer. For instance, the word H-A-T may be scrambled as T-H-A, with a cartoon pilot flying the words on a banner over a mountain peak. In using the blocks, the students place them, based on context clues from the computer, until they unscramble the words. Cartoon like rewards for correct answers are instantly displayed — usually to joyous cheers - as the blocks are amenable to group learning, almost by default. E-Blocks, with their plethora of activities make it easier for students of all skill levels to interact with engaging multimedia software — without dependence on a laborious keyboard. The attractive, palm-sized blocks labeled with letters and symbols are easily placed in the panel’s pockets. Children rapidly identify letters, spell words, and build sentences by placing these blocks. All the while, they are engrossed in watching for hints from the simultaneous display on the computer screen.
Another Florida ESOL teacher said: “The students’ attention spans have dramatically increased. Perhaps more importantly, they can work as a team to solve learning problems that are typical of second language students. However, what I liked best was the ability to track the progress of all the students all the time because the program keeps a record of what the kids did well or where they went wrong. So it is an extremely useful tool inside the class.”
The teachers’ intimations are also buttressed by solid research. In a 2004 study, learners from the two groups were exposed to 30 vocabulary flash cards from the Cambridge Young Learners curriculum. Comparing the two groups, the learners in the first group (the EBlocks group) recognized around 40 percent more words than the learners from the second group. Similar comparisons have shown that E-Blocks groups have increased phonemic awareness, vocabulary acquisition, and retention of the English alphabet.
In summary, E-Blocks are an innovative method for teaching English as a Second Language and ideal for initial literacy exposure. The blocks are based on the well-known premise that children learn by doing — and doing cooperative learning. And certainly, the EBlocks approach provides unlimited hands-on interaction between children (ages 5 to 10) and the subject matter — English. It is rare, and delightful, to find a product such as E-Blocks which addresses all of the following features in a single product. It is a funfilled learning tool that children demonstrably love to interact with, which also assists with: ■ Phonemic awareness ■ Constructivist activities ■ Associations between hearing, reading and doing ■ Social and Emotional development ■ Multiple sensory learning
Real Teachers; Real Feedback
One Florida kindergarten teacher who teaches mainly ELL students reported: “E-Blocks, are just great! I started using the E-blocks in my class and the kids love them. Moreover, they are very excited and motivated to use them. I have been trying the 0 level with my ESOL students, and I can tell they just love the system. The colorful blocks, interactive graphics, relevant motion on the computer screen helps them to quickly learn phonics, alphabet, blends, and vocabulary.“ And all teachers who have used them seem to agree that EBlocks enable children to experience language learning through a multitude senses: listening, kinesthetic, discussions among students, motor skills. But the learning is serious; it is reinforced through instantaneous feedback in a fun and relaxed way. The blocks provide a wide variety of content too, which encourages gradual, contextbased learning.
Steven Donahue is features editor for Language Magazine.