March 15

Fortnightly Focus #13 – #ELTwhiteboard

Ooops, my Fortnightly Focus skipped a week there!   My plan had been to get involved in #ELTwhiteboard on twitter which is (more than) a hashtag originally started by Matthew Noble (@tesolmatthew).  For more information on what it is, I really recommend checking out Matthew’s blogpost following on from a talk he presented on #ELTwhiteboard – he shares his slides from the session which are full of #ELTwhiteboard images to get you thinking about how you use and could use your board.

And that’s what I’ve done in the end.  I haven’t actually taken any photos of my whiteboard over the past three weeks as I had originally intended, but even just thinking about taking photos has made me reflect on my use of the whiteboard.

For example, I know I predominantly use the black pen in my teen and adult classes: green for me is always phonology and I find it weird to use it for anything else, blue is trickier to rub off for some reason and so I tend to use it sparingly to save my arm a workout and red is a bit fierce to over-use.  Incredibly though, there are other colours available!  I gave a session at a school a couple of weeks ago and there was a yellow pen and then last week on our part-time CertTESOL course, one of the trainees had a purple pen – and because I was so amazed by it (little things and all), he gave it to me!!!  Quick aside, does anyone else get so incredibly excited by board pens or should I get checked out?!

I’m generally happy with my board organisation – the left-hand side tends to be kept free for emergent language and the right-hand side for me to write up discussion questions…that’s purely because I think that the learners can more easily see things written on that side of the board and so can start chatting about the first question whilst I’m writing up the others.  And, going back to phonology, I’m quite happy writing up words phonetically, but I think maybe I need to change the way I mark stress – I’ve got into the habit of doing it as a dictionary does, but I think it might be more effective to use circles as I’ve seen others do as that not only shows more clearly which syllable is stressed, but also the number of syllables which will be useful for my Spanish learners who often add in extra syllables (for example in comfortable).  Also, I think I use the board more for emergent language with my adults than my teens as they are all so keen to write new language down.  However, I feel I should write up more emergent language with my teen group too as I know a couple of them would write it down and make an effort to use it.

Interestingly, the topic of how we use the whiteboard came up during the CertTESOL observations last week and we talked about when it’s necessary to write on the board as I noticed a couple of trainees were unnecessarily writing on the board – for example, writing up the answers to an exercise which they shouldn’t need to do if oral feedback was clear.  I rarely use the board to write up answers, unless I think that learners may have made mistakes – perhaps because they may mishear an answer due to features of connected speech or they may misspell a difficult word or a tricky cognate.  With my very younger learners, I tend to use it more to model the task rather than post-task but I think this can be due to the way which VYLs are used to being corrected as well.

One thing which I think could be useful is a laser pointer!  Do you ever have moments when you’re monitoring and a learner asks a query and you’re trying to point out where the answer is on the board without walking all the way to the board?  That makes me think that sometimes my boardwork needs to be a little clearer for my weaker YL group – although it doesn’t help that one of them seems to be as blind as a bat even with his glasses on and sitting directly in front of the board (audible sigh of exasperation).  But as well quite a few members of that group struggle to link the written and spoken word, so being able to point things out would save a lot of frustration…oooh, quick to trip to amazon!

 

We’ve got peer observations coming up this month and so I’d like to think again about routines for my Fortnightly Focus – it’s getting to that point in the year where the learners are bored of the same games, songs and activities so I’d like to mix up my repetoire a little.  Watching a colleague and being watched by another will give me some fresh ideas.

February 11

Fortnightly Focus #11 – that group again

Busy week here, so my Wednesday post has turned into a Saturday post!

I’ve been trying a new behaviourial (points) system with this group which is having a positive effect on a number of them.  I found I was constantly juggling giving points for participation with rewarding the weaker learners when they did something well and trying not to unfair to the strong learners who would be streaks ahead in points at the end of the lesson.  Each time I needed to award points, my focus was away from the learners and I was feeling a lack of control.  Now, everyone starts the lesson on maximum points and the idea is not to lose any points during the lesson – they’re divided into sections for things so that as well I can see why people are losing points – not sitting properly, annoying classmates, chatting in Spanish and so on.  As I say, this means it’s now clearer for the class why an individual is losing points, although it does mean there’s perhaps less incentive to participate as points aren’t awarded for taking part or getting answers correct.

The fabulous Jill also re-introduced me to a fun activity which she does with YLs to keep them engaged and listening – each day there’s a magic word and if the teacher says the word, the learners have to stand up, turn around and sit down.  I’ve tried it a few times and I’ve found it works well with high-frequency, easy-to-spot content words.

I used “what” the other day which was highly amusing as I was asking lots of questions during the lesson…which leads me on nicely to my next Fortnightly Focus – I’m going to be thinking about questions: questions I ask my learners, questions I ask myself, questions learners ask me…

November 16

Fortnightly Focus #6 – Struggling with a weaker group

I definitely have a lot of ‘works in progress’ this year!  I’m still finding my feet with this group of 10-year-olds who are are much weaker compared to groups of the same age I’ve previously taught, but I feel as though the last couple of lessons have been more productive and that I’ve supported their learning more.

A new activity I’ve introduced focuses on questions each week as I found that they could easily produce “What’s your favourite…?” but struggled to produce questions with other structures and needed more support in understanding the meaning of different question words (‘who’ causes particular problems).

I’m also trying to slot in an activity each week to review much more basic language – so this week we played Bingo with numbers 1-20.  I’m also going to review prepositions of place as this can be problematic for Spanish learners anyway (in/on is generally en in Spanish and in front of sounds like en frente but it’s a bit of a false friend).

Also, fortunately, I’m being observed with this group tomorrow so I’m sure in the post-observation chat my colleague will give me some constructive advice, helpful tips and an outsider’s opinion of the group.

My next Fortnightly Focus is going to be on bringing more tech into the classroom as I’m eager to build up some more resources with Quizlet, Kahoot and Triptico. And, speaking of Quizlet, Sandy Millin shared an excellent blogpost she’d written all about the site which goes into incredible detail about the resources available and give links to sets which she’s produced linked to the CEFR scale – incredibly useful!

October 19

Fortnightly Focus #4 – Dealing with energy levels in YLs

To be honest, this is still very much an ongoing focus, as I try to deal with a tricky group of six-year-olds.  But I’ll share some thoughts now and no doubt come back to it again at another point.

Steps I’m taking to resolve some of the issues within the classroom:

  • I had a points system in place, but it was very limited (maximum of three smiley faces).  A colleague suggested flooding the class with points as this would give more space to take away points when needed.  This is having more of an effect, as I can often move closer to the points charts when I can see some learners becoming a little antsy and, in fact, it’s had quite a positive effect on one of the learners who’s very responsive to the new system
  • Spending more time around the table seems to make the lesson start in a better way.  I think previously, when they were in the smaller space at the front of the class, they became a little touchy-feely towards each other, whereas now they have more personal space
  • Turning off the air conditioning unit which unfortunately makes the classroom hotter, which probably in some ways makes the learners more antsy, but it means that I’m not constantly asking them to move away from it – to be honest, I was genuinely concerned that they would get ill sitting directly in front of it, I’m sure a blast of cold air right across your head/neck can’t be healthy.  However, temperatures are dropping slowly here in the south of Spain, though I can see my classroom being one of the warmest year-round
  • Working on making my routines more varied and dynamic – I’m trying to introduce a new song each week so that we have plenty to sing about as songs and chants can be great moments to refocus them.  Also, I know there are certain activities which they do enjoy so I’m trying to include them without relying too much on them (partly because they need more varied input and also they might then get bored of their favourites!)

Tough as the class is, I’m glad that it’s the first lesson of the afternoon as I do have the feeling of “getting it out the way first” and while it is draining to be faced with a difficult group, I’m trying to stay positive about it – there’s nothing worse than having the sinking feeling in October that you’ll be working with a group for the next nine months and it feels like it’s reached the point of no-return already.  So I’ll keep trying new things and getting advice from colleagues on what’s worked for them in the past 🙂

My focus for the next two weeks will be working on listening skills in the classroom as I’m giving a talk on the topic at ACEIA next month and want to try out some of my ideas before the session.

April 15

Nomination Cards

On a couple of occasions this year, I’ve found myself talking to colleagues about using a random name generator in their classes.  This has often been in response to queries over how to deal with more dominant learners and ensure that our attention is given equally to all learners when nominating.

There are a number of ways for random nomination to work in the classroom.  You can use an online name generator, such as the one on Barry Fun English, though you need to set up an account in order to edit the class list and pay for full access.  Alternatively, good old slips of paper with names on in a hat are a free, non-tech option!

However, one of the problems with randomly picking a learner is exactly that – it’s random.  As teachers, we can identify the stronger and weaker learners in our classes and can nominate suitably, allowing weaker learners the chance to answer when we feel more confident that they have the correct answer (and with effective monitoring, we’ll know for sure if they have the right answer!).  Similarly, we might ask a quieter learner to answer when the required response is longer.

It is very easy though for our classes and our attention to be focussed more on dominant learners when nominating as they often clearly have their hand up (and may even be straining out of their seats in their eagerness to answer) or make a vocal demonstration of their desire to respond.  This is where nomination cards can come in handy.

You may choose to use a very basic technique – simply give every learner three coloured pieces of card and each time they respond during the lesson, take one card away.  This will restrict stronger learners, allowing weaker learners the opportunity to be more involved.  However, what happens when your stronger learners have used up their three cards and the quieter or weaker learners are left with theirs?  Similarly to a random name generator, this could put pressure on those learners if they feel they are being forced to respond, or cause conflict if a dominant learner then challenges them on their ability to respond.

Tekhnologic posted this idea on using nomination cards which give learners more autonomy when discussing topics in groups.  The idea behind the cards is that teachers can often become too involved in discussions as they try to involve all learners and so by passing the impetus of maintaining the conversation onto the learners and with the help of the prompts on the cards, the teacher can take a secondary position and feel confident that all group members will speak.

I think you could easily adapt these cards to be used as nomination cards during whole group activities in the classroom, both when conducting feedback on an activity and in other situations.  You could combine the basic idea of having some cards which allow the holder to answer, but then also add in extra cards similar to those tekhnologic created, thereby allowing learners the opportunity to nominate another learner if they feel unable to answer.