Black hole sun

With the relative success of the previous lesson I wanted to try to continue with the same topic of family and introduce the other two skills we hadn’t really concentrated on, listening and writing.

The start of the lesson was based around discussing the relationships with our families, whether they had a big family or not and would they like to have a family in the future. Not much came up in the discussion and it proved to be hard work to get the students to open up. I moved on and told the class that I was going to tell them about my own family and I wanted them to answer some questions after I had finished. I did the live listening with an initial gist question and then repeated it again with the same information, but this time with four questions looking for specific information. This all went smoothly enough and the students asked me some questions about my family and home town.

Next I explained that I wanted the students to give their own short presentation about their family. Before doing this, I split the class into three groups and asked them to brainstorm as much vocabulary related to families. I monitored the groups. At first it was simply names for different members of the family, so I talked with the groups about how they could describe people in their family. A list of adjectives started to grow but apart from that nothing else seemed to come up. Noticing that the groups were struggling I talked about how I had staged the listening. First some general background information to set the scene, a chronological order of how the family was formed. (where and when my mum and dad met, the years my brother and I were born etc) Some specific information about similar characteristics and family traits and then a general summary to finish. The students looked a little lost at this point. I boarded the different stages and asked them to start making notes for their presentation.

The atmosphere of the lesson seemed to take a massive dive at this point. I tried my hardest to circulate between the students and offer some support. I had to reiterate several times that they were writing notes and not a script to read from. There were some blank faces, and empty pages. One of the students started to speak in Spanish across the room, then another then another. The lesson was becoming something of a ‘black hole’ as my D.O.S kindly put it. I could feel the black cloud of doubt drifting in. The class came to an end and I was thankful, yet disappointed and left pondering where and why it had gone wrong.

I had a long chat with my D.O.S the next day about what had happened. The feedback was immensely helpful and helped me to really analyse the lesson. Below is my post-mortem.

I think the main problem was the topic. The previous lesson about family had gone well, but only after some pushing from me and a lucky break. In reality I should have moved onto something else and moved in another direction. There had been a general reluctance to discuss any off the open class questions at the beginning of the lesson and I should have noted this and taken it on board.

Secondly, I wasn’t comfortable about doing the live listening. I don’t quite know why, I’ve done it before, I just think I could have found an authentic recording or video to use. I would have liked to have a written record of it to give to the students to help with the structuring of their own presentation. Something to refer back to and to also see the staging clearly.

The group brainstorming partially worked. Some new vocabulary came up but I think it could have been far more useful and interactive. I could have created a class mind map on the board, a culmination of the groups and really built upon what they already knew, eliciting and probing for new words and language. Opportunity missed.

Finally asking the students to take notes in class really should have been done for homework. What better place to get information about your family than in your family home. Stupid really. If I had done that we could have perhaps moved onto some vocabulary recycling activities and perhaps picked up the tempo of the lesson. Rookie mistake.

A lot didn’t go right and it was by far my most disappointing teaching experience with the project so far. The best thing about the lesson was the feedback the next day and writing this blog. The perfect way to take a step back and really reflect on what happened in the lesson. To late to save the lesson but I have learnt a lot just from this one reflection.

My D.O.S asked me if this experience had discouraged me from carrying on. I instantly replied, no. I was disappointed with the lesson, angry even, that I had let the students down and delivered a below par lesson. But I would say I am more determined than discouraged. I think that at times I am trying to control the lesson too much and over plan. Going against the unplugged principles and taking away the emphasis from the students. I think that knowing I have to try to deliver what is on the course syllabus is dictating how I approach the lesson. Rather than a natural emergence, it’s more like forcing something out that I know needs to be covered.

So for the next lessons I think it’s time to go back to basics. Don’t think, just do. Keep it simple and allow the language to emerge. Build it and they will come!


5 thoughts on “Black hole sun

  1. I’m glad you feel determined to carry on with the project, Adam.
    I remember getting sucked into a black hole of my own during my DELTA where my (non-assessed) reading lesson, that had been so carefully planned, turned into a sucking vortex of vocabulary. My tutor told me it was one of the worst lessons he had ever seen – never something you want to hear! My next (assessed) reading lesson was the best lesson I taught during the entire course. It was so completely different as I had made just about every mistake I could possibly have made so was totally aware of what not to do.
    We all need to make the most of the learning opportunities we are presented with and remember to make the learners’ needs our primary concern.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.

  2. I want to write a very long reply to this comment, about the learners’ needs being our primary concern, but I’m going to save it for a very long post instead. Watch this space.

    Thanks for the thought provoking comments.


  3. Hi Adam,
    Nice. I am sure all of us have had learnt some of the our best lessons from certain “black holes”. As Confucius says. “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” I think the best teachers learn from all three.
    I would say that for Japanese learners as well, family is a sensitive matter. It’s easier for them if it is an imaginary family or a family that everybody knows, perhaps one from a famous soap or cartoon.
    Charge on.

  4. This Confucius fellow sounds like an intelligent man.
    I’m not sure if it was a matter of it being a sensitive matter with my students. At least I don’t think so. They are giving their presentations today, so maybe I can get some feedback from them and see how they really felt about talking about such a personal area in their lives.
    Perhaps it would have been more fun to discuss the family dynamics of the Simpsons, for example, and then draw comparisons to their own families. A lesson idea, maybe?
    Well and truly charging on!

    Thanks for the comment and taking an interest.


    • I read with deep interest your articles and they are really inspiring. Keep it up!
      Best wishes from malaysia (fellow teacher non-native speaker.

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