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.

June 24

The teacher-centred classroom

A focus for next year is how I can make my classes less teacher-centred.  It’s something I’ve been thinking about this year, especially around the adult GESE group which I had as I found that they were perfectly capable of extended, interactive exchanges in pairs, but that they were less likely to interact as naturally when conversing with me (irrespective of it being in a one-on-one situation or in a whole-group setting).

I like this quote from an article in The Guardian with a tip for Demanding High:

The teacher gets students to listen and comment on each other’s answers, rather than designating any as correct or incorrect herself, at least until it is useful to do so.

It speaks to me on a number of levels: the idea of moving away from a teacher-centred classroom and passing more responsibility to learners for response and extension, the effect of over-affect or perhaps the advantage of distancing myself from the conversation and finally, the importance of focused, appropriate error correction.

March 6

Dealing with difficult classes

Most of us have had a difficult class at some point in our careers.  And by class, I really do mean class, rather than a tough learner within a class.  I’ve had a couple of difficult classes over the past few years, most of which were comprised of wonderful individuals who just didn’t work well when in the room together at the same time.

Last year, I took on a group which had been difficult the previous year and had actually reduced one of their teachers to tears.  This year, they’re with a teacher who is new to our academy and it made me think about how we decide who teaches those difficult groups.

At the same time, I’ve recently discovered a new brainstorming site, which allows you to collaborate in an online brainstorm.  So, feel free to add your ideas below…

October 9

Thoughts on BIG classes

This year we’re working even more closely with a local state school, which is absolutely marvellous – a great way to forge friendships, learn from peers and get an insight into different ways of approaching education.  For me, it’s the first time I’ve been faced with such a large group of students and I won’t lie, it’s not something I feel particularly comfortable with!  We are very fortunate to have their mainstream teacher in the room with us and it’s a bonuc for a number of reasons – obviously discipline issues are dealt with by the teacher with more authority, but also it makes the work of monitoring large numbers much simpler.

Some initial thoughts on teaching large groups…

1. People get lost much more easily – both I think through sheer volume of voices in the class but also, and this may be a weakness on my part, because when you see someone is noticeably weaker, you feel even worse putting them on the spot to be listened to by 29 other people.

2. It’s incredibly difficult to remember people’s names.  Fortunately I’ve been teaching in the school for a number of years, so I’m quite familiar with a lot of the faces in the sea before me…and perhaps that’s why I feel worse when I don’t remember someone’s name.

3. It’s not impossible to hear from everyone during the lesson – the nature of WGFB changes as you no longer want to hear from each individual after each activity, but there are enough moments of WGFB during the lesson that you can nominate everybody (even those souls mentioned in point 1, once we’re all a bit more comfortable!).

4. Everything takes longer.  I don’t know whether this is because we’re working at an average lower level than we normally would in academy classes, or whether it takes longer because of the time it takes to monitor each group…hmmm, one to think about.

5. It’s difficult to keep/get everyone’s attention.  There are always distractions – someone’s pencil falling on the floor, a whispered comment…and it takes much longer to snap the class back to the focus.

6. It’s really noisy! Oh, the joy of a communicative class where students are merrily conversing in English – it’s happening (with snitches of Spanish when they think you’re not listening), but it’s very loud 🙂  And it makes me think about which activities I’ll need to adapt to make them more “big-class-friendly” – running dictations for example are a possibility, but with one person dictating to the group, rather than students working in pairs.  Shouting dictations are a definite no-no!

7. It’s really good fun! 🙂