January 25

Fortnightly Focus #10 – assessing writing

Although it is Wednesday and two weeks’ after my previous fortnightly focus post, there is definitely a large amount of procrastination going on as I write it!  We’re in exam week at Active Language and as well as a pile of marking to do, I also have three sets of reports to write…so I’ll try to make this brief and then undoubtedly look for something else to do, like the dusting!

Here are my thoughts of three different approaches we can take to marking learners’ writing and some advantages and disadvantages of each.  These are very general comments, as in each case the response of the learners to the different style of assessment will depend on many factors, such as their level, age, interest in learning English and motivation to improve.

Old-school – learner hands in text, teacher grabs a pen and marks it

Advantages

  • You can do it anywhere – on your commute, in the staffroom, on the sofa
  • It’s a quick and effective way to highlight either errors (to encourage self-correction) or language used well
  • As you will probably give it back in a subsequent class, learners can immediately ask for clarification if corrections or comments are unclear
  • It’s a tangible record of progress and learners can easily refer back to previous work to improve the next time round

Disadvantages

  • It could be a lot of work for the teacher depending on how many classes you have and how often you set written tasks
  • Less motivated learners need to be trained in appreciating the work which goes into marking – perhaps some sort of follow-up activity when the corrected text is received?

Totally techy – Learner emails word document to teacher, who replies with feedback in the form of a jing video plus returns a corrected or annotated version of the text

Advantages

  • Paper-free…gotta love those trees 🙂
  • In Word, it’s easy to annotate the text using the track changes option
  • Responding using jing allows the teacher to comment on the text and point out strong or weak points whilst speaking

Disadvantages

  • How aware will learners be of the corrections made?
  • It is perhaps less likely that they will refer to this text when working on a subsequent one

Peer assessment – learners are given a guided task to correct a classmate’s text

Advantages

  • If learners are well prepared for this task, it means less marking for the teacher
  • It makes learners more aware of how texts are marked and, especially important for exam preparation classes, allows them to get inside the mind of the marker and gain a deeper understanding of what he is looking for in a good text
  • It makes learners aware of more language – a teacher would be unlikely to rephrase a correct sentence in  learner’s text but through peer assessment they will read the language their peers are using

Disadvantages

  • The learners may still want the teacher to look at their texts as the ‘voice of authority’ on corrections
  • Learners need to be trained to be critically constructive – they may feel less comfortable receiving a low mark from a classmate
  • It needs to be seen as a valuable task for learners to take time to do it well

I’m going to leave it there for now as I would like to get some reports written before #ELTchat tonight!  So, a bit of a repeat for this fortnight’s focus as I’m going back to basics with classroom management with my tricky 10-year-olds – baby steps in each activity, with copious amounts of points…let’s see how it goes!  There are only ten of them in the class, but the range in level, motivation to participate and ability to control themselves is incredible.

 

 

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January 20

Interviewing Trump

OK, I couldn’t resist a lesson about Donald Trump – he does have a way of making reported speech great again 😉

With my FCE group, we were doing a review of reported speech, reporting questions and reporting verbs.  Having elicited in the previous lesson the changes which take place when using indirect speech, the first activity of the lesson looked at reporting verbs – namely categorising them into their patterns, such as RV+object+infinitive, and so on.  As I said, this was a review session and learners had already seen reporting verbs previously and done more controlled practice exercises with them.  After feedback on the reporting verbs, I told the learners that we’d come back to them later and put a wordle on the board:

To be honest, they didn’t really even need time to confer with a partner as the lexis was familiar and it was fairly obvious who the words related to!  I then set up a listening task using Sean Banville’s famouspeoplelessons.com and gave the learners the following numbers to listen out for: 1946, 45th, 324th, 70/7/6.  After listening they had a couple of minutes to share with a partner what they had understood the numbers related to – again, not too tricky, though it did throw out the word ‘wealthiest’ which they were unfamiliar with, but understood in the context.

I could have done more with the listening – and indeed, Sean prepares a wide variety of tasks to do for each of the biographies he presents – but I got the sense that nobody was particularly interested in learning more about the 45th President of the United States…there were some stony faces around the classroom just at the mention of his name!

So, we moved onto the next stage and I asked the learners to write three questions they would like to ask Donald Trump, any three questions.  They were quite creative and I was surprised that some of them were using more emphatic language in their questions, like:

“Does your wife actually love you?”

“Do you really think the USA can survive without immigrants?”

Whilst they were writing their questions, I’d written up a quick review on reporting questions on the board, with a couple of examples which we went through together.  I then put them in different pairs and set up the freer practice activity.  I explained that they were journalists who had interviewed Trump and were going to report back on how the interview had gone.  They had to work together to re-phrase their questions into indirect speech and then write Trump’s answers, including at least three of the reporting verbs we’d seen at the start of the class.  Although this is an activity they could have done individually, I found that they were able to support each other more working together – correcting each other as necessary when writing indirect questions and chatting about what his answers would be.

All in all, that took about 60 minutes and a similar activity could be done for any famous person – I found that using someone who the learners were less keen on meant that they wrote more creative questions, but the plan could work equally well with another celebrity.  You could also adapt the plan for lower levels by just focussing on reporting questions and indirect speech (He said…) rather than using reporting verbs.

January 15

#ELTChat summary – making reading more engaging

For the first #ELTChat of 2017, we discussed the topic: “How to deal with reading tasks in an active and entertaining way”.

Some ideas:

fionaljp suggested doing webquests and shared the link to one stop English’s page which has topic-based webquests for teens including Shakespeare, Chinese New Year and La Tomatina.  MConca16 added that Macmillan’s Inspiration site also has some.  You could also design our own webquest which could be catered to your learners’ interests. Marisa_C shared a link to her wequest on using twitter and teachingright shared one on the solar system.

bellinguist mentioned that now we can do jigsaw readings making use of learners’ devices, giving them a QR code so they could navigate quickly and easily to their text.

Marisa_C said that she enjoys giving learners different parts of the text which they have to summarise and share, working together as a group to put the text into the correct order.  This idea of ordering the text is also useful for getting learners to think about linking and reference words.  Also, give learners more information ‘hot off the press’ – they decide where they would insert the information so the text is still coherent.  And, if you want to really challenge learners working with a short text, she suggested cutting up all the text into individual words for them to order 🙂 seburnt also suggested making a wordle from the text and showing it to learners as a pre-reading activity to predict content.

To add in a competitive element, you could do a reading race or ‘grass skirt’ activity.  Another option to get learners out of their seats and moving around is to do a running dictation with the comprehension questions.

SueAnnan suggested getting learners to write the next paragraph, which you could then compare with the original text.

jorgeguillen talked about doing information gap activities in which learners then use the information they have to complete a task. MConca16 suggested this could be reading about festivals in the UK, then roleplaying the parts of a tourist and tour guide.

DamiBeneyto and Marisa_C are both fans of giving learners the same news article taken from different sources so learners can compare how the information is given.  Newspaper quizzes were also mentioned – give learners copies of free newspapers and ask them to write questions for another team.  sophie_cy added that developing quizzes and other activities for classmates is fun and engaging and GioLic1976 said that he does the same as then learners, rather than the teacher, choose what to focus on.  Another idea for using newspapers and magazines from GemmaELT was to match headlines to articles.  And when working with headlines, fionaljp said we can elicit content, keywords and work on prediction too.

teachingright mentioned as well using appropriate strategies when working on reading tasks and Marisa_C as well talked about working with microskills to support our learners when reading.

Marisa_C suggested an activity for narrative texts – before reading, find two images which learners compare, finding the differences and then read the text and identify which picture matches with it.  Here’s a link to Marisa_C’s blog with some other ideas for working with images.  naomishema uses video as an introduction to reading and you can read her series of blogposts on her experiment here.  SueAnnan also mentioned the idea of combining reading with a video/audio task in which learners first work with the video/audio, then fact check through the reading.

We talked as well about a strong lead-in to the text will make it more engaging for learners and naomishema reminded us about Penny Ur saying how the choice of topic is less important than what you do with it.  ITLegge said that whilst learners are reading, they can add emojis to the text and share with a partner after reading how the text made them feel.  And I added as well that a post-reading discussion of the content will also make learners value the text as more than just another reading activity. tesolmatthew said that he finds himself doing increasingly more pre-reading activities, working on prediction amongst other things – this means learners have much more of an impetus to read the text when asked to do so.  He shared a link to cecilianobreelt‘s lesson on Humans of New York.

GemmaELT talked about the struggles of getting learners to do the reading task well – she was specifically talking about during online courses, but I think this can be a challenge which we face with any learners who aren’t engaged in the text or interested in doing the task well.  Marisa_C suggested working with short texts and focussing on one sub-skill to ease them into reading.

A couple of people also shared links to SeanBanville‘s pages: freeeslmaterials and famouspeoplelessons.  There are some ideas as well on this British Council page which MConc16 shared.  ETProfessional shared this link to Cristina Cabal’s blog with ideas on bringing reading texts to life. Also, here’s a link to SueAnnan’s summary from an #ELTChat back in 2013 on the topic of exploting reading texts which has more ideas.  Gemma ELT shared the image on the right from Alex_Corbitt.

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January 11

Fortnightly Focus #9 – reflecting and resoluting (?)

While I thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas break, towards the end of the holiday I had one of those awful “I haven’t done anything I had planned to do in preparation for the next term” moments.  Thankfully, a trip to the gym sorted that out, although part of me still feels a little guilty for doing so-very-nearly absolutely nothing over the two weeks.

Anywho, to reflect on the first term:

There were many positives to it – I thoroughly enjoy teaching my two adult groups and I feel that we’re making good progress in terms of linguistic content and skills-based work.  I think this is perhaps more true in the ISE II group as despite having had very few lessons with them, I get the impression that they’re now feeling more comfortable with the exam – at least in terms of what’s expected from them, if not with the linguistic level too.

I’m also really enjoying the teen groups I have this year.  I have one academy class who are preparing for PET and they are wonderfully engaged, chatty and amusing.  It’s a pleasure to prepare lessons for them 🙂 I’ve struck lucky with my conversation groups in the local school too – although there is a range of ability and attitudes towards English in each group of 8 learners, we generally have a good laugh together and I feel that by working with smaller groups, I can build more of a connection with each individual, even though I only see them for half an hour once a fortnight.

Whilst I enjoy working with larger groups of learners in the bilingual programme, I know that there are still a few whose names I struggle to remember – check out one of my resolutions below!  Having said that though, many of them still call me Carmen, as she was their secondary teacher last year.  Another issue I have with these classes is that I find my presence a little unnecessary – their mainstream teachers are more (than) capable of teaching the content in the bilingual classes without any external support.

I was also going to reflect a little on the ideas I had of areas I’d like to work on this year – however, I wrote the list at the start of the year before I knew what my timetable would be and some of them feel irrelevant, whilst others, somewhat depressingly, I feel I haven’t made much of 🙁

So, moving on to think about my resolutions:

One of them, fairly key in my mind at the moment, is to take a more balanced approach when reflecting on my teaching.  If you’ve been following my Fortnightly Focuses (Focii?!), you’ll see that I’ve been struggling with a couple of groups this year, which had really been getting me down and making me question my career choices.  However, when I think about the group which it feels I’m making the least progress with, it accounts for 8% of my weekly contact hours.  Elly Setterfield blogged about having SMART objectives which make you SMILE (check out her post to see what the acronyms stand for) and gave an excellent example of how you could put them into practice, aptly with a problem class of 7-10 year olds! I have a feeling that this resolution will be a tricky one to achieve though…

I also loved Lizzie Pinard’s post from yesterday on setting effective goals and reading about her own resolutions – being specific when wording objectives is key to helping you achieve them.  So, relating to the point above about working with larger class, my goal is to be able to name all learners correctly(!) by the end of February.

A third edu-based resolution is to continue doing something which I started to think about last year after reading Sandy Millin’s post on lesson-planning. Seeing the detail that went into her plan, I adapted my own lesson plan template and included a couple of tips for myself to think about when prepping lessons.  For my VYL classes, this included the question, “Am I doing anything NEW with them?”  Whilst (V)YLs thrive on routine, they also need to be kept on their toes as they can easily become bored with the same activities / songs / stories, so I’m going to continue including a new element to our classes each week.  This week, it’s the song Can an elephant jump?  Linked to this idea though, is also a more critical approach to activities in the YL classroom – what’s the benefit?  Is it just for fun, or are the learners getting more from it?

Finally, I have a couple of non-teaching resolutions which I’ll include now (always good to remember we have lives outside the classroom!).  One is to finish any crochet projects I start – I currently have two on the go – a baby blanket which is a (now belated) Christmas gift and a bag made with ringpulls.  A culinary resolution is to not waste pulses – here in Spain you can buy jars of cooked pulses, but generally my partner and I only use half a jar in a recipe, so the jar sits in the fridge until it starts to fizz a little…

Wowsers, quite a long post for this Fortnightly Focus!  Fortnightly Focus #10 is on assessing writing with adults.  One of my start-of-the-year goals was to use Jing to correct written work with adults – something which I started doing in December.  In the academy, we’re also starting to work with B1 and B2 learners on peer-correcting writing, so in the next week, I’ll be introducing them to the system and trying it out.  In a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll reflect on the three approaches (traditional, teacher-marked vs. jing feedback and a corrected version in Word vs peer assessment).

December 14

Fortnightly Focus #8 – Proactive Pron

Great timing as today in our bi-weekly PDM we reviewed the previous session which had been all about getting to grips with phonology and reflected on what we had been doing in our classes since then.  I’m happy to say I have been slightly more proactive with pron (pron there rather than phonology because I like the alliteration of ‘proactive pron’) – for example, the 9-year-olds the other day looked at -ed endings and we did an awareness-raising activity to see if they could hear the difference between sentences said in the present and the past, e.g I watch TV vs I watched TV. (FYI: They were generally good at noticing the difference, but aren’t yet fully comfortable producing the regular past, so there’s still a lot of Spanishified play-ed and watch-ed.)

This also came off the back of a chat I was having with some colleagues about my 5-year-olds who are really struggling to produce ‘s’ at the end of words despite heavy drilling and I also felt as though they weren’t aware of the sound when I said the sentence either, so we’re working on that and doing some back-chaining as I found that with the sentence, “He’s got long legs” the ‘s’ sounds got lost at one point or the other!  This also gives us a chance to work on producing a more clipped ‘t’ at the end of got – so we’re steadily moving away from /hi: gɒ lɒnx lex/ with the final /x/ sounding like a true Scotsman pronuncing the ‘ch’ in loch.

It’s interesting to do a variety of group and individual drilling in the class as it really does give you the opportunity to think about the individual learners.  Some of my VYLS can parrot back wonderful sentences with clear sounds and the correct intonation, whereas others struggle both with individual phonemes and those supra-segmental features such as word or sentence stress.  I wonder how it correlates to their speech development in their own language (as Russ Mayne commented the other day on Twitter):

I would still like to do more proactive pron with my teen and adult groups but as we had two wonderful national holidays last week, we didn’t have class so I wasn’t as phonologically active as I may have otherwise been.  However, in our end-of-term tutorial yesterday, one of the adult learners said she’d like to do more work on the phonemic alphabet to become more familiar with the different phonemes and work on tricky sounds at a more basic level – minimal pairs, ahoy!

Going to have a Fortnightly Focus break over the Christmas holidays, which will give me some time to reflect on the year so far and start thinking about how to make the next term better.  How happy are you with your start to the year?  Any teaching-related new year resolutions?