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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March 5

Character Builds #3

In a previous post, I talked about how to set up a character build in the class and how they can be used to practise specific grammar points.  With my KET group, we recently looked at the present perfect with for, since, just, already, etc.

We did a character build in class and then the learners completed the following worksheet:

Character Build

It appealed to the more creative learners, both artistically and linguistically  and I allowed the learners freedom to answer the questions how they saw fit.  Our character, a lovely Swedish lady who lived in Madrid, had just stolen something from IKEA according to one learner!

November 20

An alien encounter

A few years ago at TESOL-SPAIN, I saw a great talk by Catherine Morley about using dictation in the class.  She demonstrated a number of activities and one which has always stayed with me is “A 2 Day in 5“.

I created my own version for a group today as we were doing a reading activity related to aliens.  Here goes…

1. colour

2. animal

3. personality adjective

4. body part

5. friend’s name

6. city

7. question

8. place

9. different colour

10. number

11. adjective

12. another friend

13. action with -ing

One day (12) was walking in (6) when s/he saw something very strange.  It looked like a (3) person, but it had (1) skin and (10) (4).  (12) went closer and asked “(7)”  “I don’t know,” replied the alien. “But I’m hungry and I want to eat a (11) (9) (2).  (12) thought this was very odd, so s/he called (5) and together they took the alien to the (8) and started (13).

September 21

Make no Mistake

I watched an OUP webinar by Robin Walker a while ago on errors and as I’ve been sorting through last year’s bits and bobs I came across my notes.

He divided the talk into three sections – Cause, Class and Classroom.

CAUSE

He identified six main causes of error: carelessness, L1 interference, teaching materials or method, overgeneralization, general order of difficulty and risk-taking and creativity.  Interestingly, during this section he also suggested that items which are similar and easily confused (such as past simple and present perfect) should be taught separately with a significant space between them and then compared at a later date.

CLASS

One of the key points I picked up from this section was classifying the errors as local or global: a local error is confined to an individual word or is an error which doesn’t impede understanding, whereas a global error makes the meaning unclear.  There’s quite a good flowchart on prioritising errors on the presentation which accompanied the talk.

CLASSROOM

In the final section, Robin suggested some easy activities which we can use in class to work on errors – a couple of my favourites are the 4-colour dictation and flavour of the month.

In the 4-colour dictation, they do the dictation first in one colour, then are allowed to check their work (using dictionaries or other resources) in a second colour.  Then their partner checks their work in a third colour and finally the teacher corects in a fourth colour.

In Flavour of the Month, you choose a specific error which you want everyone to pay special attention to that month.

January 30

Ough!

I have a wonderful C1 group this year who aren’t currently interested in the CAE exam or GESE but simply want to keep up their level of English.  The classes are largely communicative, with discussions on various themes and slightly Dogme-esque*, but they’re also looking to revise grammatical points, increase their vocabulary and focus on aspects of pronunciation.

It was with this last point in mind that I was searching on the Internet last week and I came across a gem from lescouleurs on BusyTeacher.org – a story incorporating the various pronunciations of “ough”.  Inspired, I set about writing my own story.  Here’s a lesson outline and the material used:

Ough!

1. Give learners a copy of the story and ask them to underline all the incidences of “ough” without worrying about understanding the story or vocabulary.

2. Read the text to the learners, then show them the different pronunications of “ough”.  They then work in pairs to categorise the words according to the pronunciation – it often helps to read the story a couple more times whilst they’re doing this.

3. Feedback and drill the pronunciation.  Then check any vocabulary queries.

4. Give learners time to practise reading the text alone, then to a partner and as a whole group.

5. Follow on with some creative writing: learners write the next sentence of the story, then swap papers.  Do this perhaps four or five times until the last person writes the ending to the story.

6. Quickly underline any mistakes in their texts and give the stories back to pairs to error-correct – this also works well if done a number of times; so one pair checks a story and puts it back in the middle of the table, w second pair reads through their corrections, etc.

7. As a final stage, I asked learners to read out the stories and then discuss which they thought was the most realistic, the most romantic, which had the best ending, etc.

*I say Dogme-esque because the thought of going into a class with nothing scares me witless, so I always have a starting point in mind (and generally a handout!)