Every now and then on the ELT calendar here in Korea, something genuinely special rolls along. I was lucky enough to be in Seoul last Wednesday to see Carolyn Graham present about songs, chants (and more) in relation to her picture dictionary series published with Pearson Longman. I count it as one of those "genuinely special" experiences.
Carolyn is 78 years old (I believe). Based on that I (respectfully) expected to be treated to some fascinating knowledge and experience from a figure who was already a veteran teacher in this industry before I was even born.
Well, I did get that, but a whole lot more. Here was a lady who could make a simple picture dictionary page truly come alive for younger learners.
With her examples of short jazz chant sequences and rhymes, she made the words turn into something really special. At times she would just break out into chants and songs as she was presenting, and it was infectious. I have to admit that Koreans are generally speaking a very musical bunch, but they're also often quite conservative and shy.
Not with Carolyn in the house! She had 300+ of these teachers spontaneously joining in chants and songs, and the effect left you wondering whether you were in a commercial ELT presentation or some sort of choir. But then again, you won't see a choir grooving away on stage like Carolyn does. And when she got a dozen or so Korean teachers up there to join her, the effect was - well - amazing.
Carolyn did show how easy it was to work with sets of words based on syllable counts, rhyme and lexical sets (including the role of apposition). But I think the most powerful impressions I was left with were (1) just how much can be done with simple picture dictionaries and younger learners, (2) how natural - even intrinsic - the role of music is with teaching children, and (3) how easy it is to incorporate chants and songs into your teaching - even if you don't consider yourself a "musical" teacher.
With a 31-month old child and a very "musical" wife, I found myself really wishing they could be there to see Carolyn in action. She was absolutely amazing. The day after the event I went straight to my local Kidari and purchased Carolyn's Young Children's Picture Dictionary for us to use and enjoy in my own family. Okay, it's not like seeing or hearing Carolyn in person, but it's the next best thing and I think we now have an essential resource for Jamie's English development. It's a great package, with the lovely layout of the pages, the very high-interest vocabulary selection sorted into themes little kids love, and the audio CD that comes with it.
And, just in case you're like me and think that your ability to sing and chant is rather similar to the effect of watching birds drop from the sky in despair and surrounding insects trying to cover non-existant ears, Carolyn's final message at the event was probably the most important.
A Korean teacher asked her "what if you can't sing well? how can we do this?" and Carolyn answered with utter conviction "the first thing is that you should never, NEVER think that... Never let anyone lead you to believe you can't sing. Singing basically comes from the heart. If you have a heart, you can sing." Well, words pretty much to that effect, anyway.
Personally, I think I cannot sing to save myself. But when I sing to or along with my child, he loves it. I'm inclined to think Carolyn could be absolutely right.