February 11

Fortnightly Focus #11 – that group again

Busy week here, so my Wednesday posy 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…

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 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?

November 30

Fortnightly Focus #7 – Kahoot and Quizlet

There’s been a lot of discussion in the British educational press recently about the benefits of gamification – I particularly enjoyed this blogpost from The Behaviour Guru, Tom Bennett.  That said, in my last fortnightly focus, I decided I wanted to create more interactive resources for my teen and adult learners.

My adolescent B1 group really enjoy both Kahoot and Quizlet – with Kahoot, they use their own devices, generally in pairs and like the competitive nature of the game.  I’ve created a couple of Kahoots with them – one focussed on question formation, whilst the other mimicked a PET writing part 1 task in which candidates have to paraphrase a sentence.  They were engaged, focussed and everyone participated – though in all fairness, they’re a wonderful group and a pleasure to teach and generally appear outwardly content whatever the task!

They also enjoy playing the Match game on Quizlet in teams – we divide the class into two teams and write up the score of the first team to see if the second group can beat it.  This is an effective activity if you have sets with quite a lot of language in them – too few words/phrases and the same words crop up in both games, putting the second team at an advantage.

So far, with the teen groups, we’ve only used the sites during class time and one of the problems which I have with many edutainment/eduresource sites is that they require learners to create an account.  Even if this is free, I dislike asking people to create accounts because I know that even if your information isn’t sold to a third party, you’re still likely to receive the odd annoying message from the site itself.  So, for my adult B2 groups, I’ve created a dummy account for Quizlet, meaning that they can go in and use the sets I’ve prepared, without needing to worry about receiving spam messages or remembering yet another log-in/password combination.  My adults seem quite taken with Quizlet – I explained that I felt it would be more engaging than me simply giving them a list of topic vocabulary and we looked in class together at how they can use the sets.

However, I’m as yet unconvinced of the educational value of Kahoot for my adults – though this could be because I’ve only used it once, it took a while for everyone to log in (which felt like wasted class time) and, again, with a very motivated and engaged group it felt a little unnecessary – yes, it was a fun activity, but it took as long (possibly even longer) than it would have done had it been done on paper and, at the end of the task, they didn’t immediately have any tangible result of it.  Though we then went through the language which had been included (collocations relating to money), I noticed that they seemed less able to recall the correct answers – probably because they had played the game at speed and so hadn’t had the time to assimilate the collocations.

I’ll give it another shot though – I think the last time I was probably a little more focussed on the edutainment factor and had created the Kahoot without really thinking about how and when I would use it in class – staging is essential when we consider any material and I lost sight of that in my eagerness to use something shiny and new.

OK, my next fortnightly focus is on phonology – I need to be more proactive in my teaching of it as I’m very able to work reactively – correcting mispronunciations and writing up the correct transcription on the board, working on intonation with my VYLs – but I know I need to become more aware of it in the planning stage.  Also, have you seen the recent lesson plan posts by Sandy Millin and Elly Setterfield?  Sandy’s image of her plan for a single lesson has shamed me into rethinking my own planning style…there might be a blogpost in there somewhere in the future!