Baptism of fire

So the new term finally began this week, meaning that Project unplugged is underway. So I thought that there was no better way to spend my Saturday night than to blog about the project’s baptism of fire.

I can’t say I wasn’t nervous before going into the classroom on Tuesday night. Every class so far in the new term had gone fairly smoothly compared to the chaos of my first lessons exactly one year ago to the day. Even in my first two days back I could see that my teaching was a little bit different. I was more confident, relaxed and willing to go with the flow. But this class was going to be different. I was effectively going into the unknown and, as previously mentioned in earlier posts, there were a lot of doubts and negative thoughts floating about. Pushing these feelings to the back of my mind, I took a big and very important leap of faith.

The class consists of ten B1 intermediate level students. Some high level B1, others somewhere in the middle and others at a lower limit. They all had varying experience with learning English and a few were returning students while the majority were new to the school.

I began the class by delivering the idea of teaching unplugged in very basic terms, talking about teaching without the course book and how they the students would, in effect, be in charge of what happened in the lesson, what topics we discussed and what materials we used. Everyone seemed happy, although this may be due to the fact they don’t have to fork out for a course book just yet. I continued by breaking the students into pairs, to write down why they were learning English and what they hoped to achieve by the end of the year. Next they joined another pair and compared notes and to finish we did whole class feedback. We did the same thing again this time discussing things they enjoyed about learning English and things they disliked/found difficult. We discussed the results and I boarded the main points.

I next introduced the class to the idea of ‘Can do’ statements and explained that this was a guide for what the student’s could or couldn’t do at that level.  I gave each pair a large copy and asked them to work together to fill out the descriptors, a simple matter of ticking or crossing two boxes. I monitored and helped out with some of the trickier language and gave examples where necessary. The pairs joined up again to compare and discuss their choices. I then produced another copy of the B1 descriptors and three highlighter pens. As a class we were going to produce a final draft using the colours to highlight three things –

Pink = I know this. I have studied it and feel happy using it.

Blue = I have seen this before but don’t feel confident using it. I need to practice this.

Green = I don’t know this and haven’t studied it before.

Once we were finished I put the copy up on the wall and explained that this was for the students to refer to at anytime during the course to effectively chart what they had or hadn’t covered, serving as a large, and very colourful, checklist. Useful for both student and teacher, it will be referred to throughout the course.

With time running out I quickly asked the students to think of three topics they would like to be discussed in class. The topics could be funny or serious but more importantly relevant to their lives. I handed out post it notes and when they had written their ideas down I put all of them onto a board and mentioned that the topic board could be added to throughout the course.

To finish I talked about learner diaries and that I would like each student to try to record their thoughts and feelings about the course as often as possible. I gave them the option to write in Spanish if it would help them to express their thoughts more clearly and also that the diaries would be seen by me and me only.

Before I knew it the class had come to an end and the students started filing out. I felt exhausted at the end but I think the students had understood the idea of what we were going to be doing in the project and that was a start.

Personal reflections

Unfortunately the class was dominated more by my voice than that of the students, although I think it was important that the students got a good understanding of what was going to happen in the class. A necessary evil perhaps in this opening class.

The B1 level ‘can do’ statement colour coding seemed to work well and I think it was a good group exercise. At the end the students seemed to appreciate having inside knowledge of what they were likely to be learning or even should be learning. A far more student centred way than just sitting back and being fed what the teacher/ course book writers felt was necessary and not having a say in their learning experience. As a side note other teachers in my school have used this idea and received favourable comments from their students, so I must be doing something right. Thanks must go to Phil of alternativeEFLguru fame (http://alternativeeflgurus.tumblr.com/)  for his post on Anthony Gaughn’s blog, who allowed me to use his ideas. Much appreciated.

The learner diaries were a late edition to my lesson notes. I found a great article that Nic Peachy  had written for the British council (http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/articles/learner-diaries) that convinced me spending 10 euros of my own money to buy some cheap notebooks from the Chinese shop round the corner was a good idea. I’m looking forward to seeing how these diaries develop and really hope the students take to the idea. I think it will be a very useful insight into the students thoughts as well as giving them a voice and more personalised tool in which to give feedback.

So to summarize, the class was quiet and slightly teacher dominated, but the idea has been planted and now it’s just a matter of nurturing, feeding and allowing it the room to grow and hopefully blossom into something new and exciting.

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2 thoughts on “Baptism of fire

  1. Hi Adam,

    Wow! It’s great to see the post-it note idea up and running. I hope it works out and keep us all posted.

    I had my own baptism of fire during my first TP in London but mine was more due to what I was told at the time were ‘special needs’ and ‘violent’ students. But now I think it was more about the way they were taught.

    Phil

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