It’s been awhile, I know. After a long break from writing my last post about the project a lot has happened. I took a break due to conferences and then we had the Easter break, which meant that the lessons I did have with the project group, in-between this period, were a bit all over the place in terms of topic, and also lacking in student attendance.
This week has been the first week where I have had all the students back together, including two new students. With such a big break it was hard to go in with any real ideas of where the class was going to go. But, I did have a lesson about giving and receiving good and bad news prepared, just in case. We started by doing a lot of pair work and reporting back to find out what had happened during the Easter holidays. It was clear that everyone was a bit rusty, so this worked well as a warmer and to ease the students back into the class room. Just at the end of one of the reporting back sessions, one of the students told us that his partner had lost his job and been sacked at the weekend. I asked him how he felt about the events and to give us the reason for the sacking. I then asked the students to tell their partner what the last piece of bad news was that they had received. That lesson was going to come in handy after all. They reported back to the class and I gave feedback and correction where necessary. Next I put the students into groups to talk about how they could make it easier to give someone bad news. we boarded the answers;
- Telling some good news after or before the bad news
- using humour / tell a joke
- don’t tell them the whole truth
- get someone else to do it
- do it face to face
I then distributed a worksheet, about advice on how to give bad news from the prepared lesson, and asked the students to work together to fill in the gaps and to read the full article to compare their answers with that of the worksheet. This was a fairly easy and quick task so I moved on to eliciting the language you could use to tell someone good or bad news. I boarded the suggestions and corrected where necessary.
The next step was to get the students to listen to seven short conversations I had recorded onto my dictaphone and work out if it was god or bad news and what the news was. They also had the task of listening for the language that was used in the recording. The recordings really made the students work hard and we spent some time on repeating the different conversations and working out from context and using certain lexical clues to work out what was happening. After some feedback I asked the students to try to remember some of the language that was used in the listening to give good or bad news. I added the ones they had written down to the previous ones on the board.
With the lesson I had prepared there was a set of phrases for both giving good and bad news as well as phrases that could be used for both, depending on the tone of voice and additional information. I placed these on the centre table, all mixed together, and asked the students to separate them into the relevant groups, good, bad or both. After some discussion and a little debate about the ‘both’ group we settled on the final answers and then I went through some drilling exercises. Pointing out the rise and fall in intonation depending on whether it was good or bad news. I repeated the exercise for phrases that we use to respond to good or bad news and also got the students to come up with their own.
The final part of the lesson was to work together and create a dialogue with the situations we had talked about in the earlier part of the lesson, using the language and phrases from the class. The lesson ended here and the idea was to finish and perform the dialogues in the next class.
The next class
So, before hearing the dialogues I went around the class and helped with some rephrasing and structuring in the dialogues. We drilled the language and then the students performed them. They clearly had the hang of where the particular phrases needed to go and there were some quite theatrical performances with interesting use of intonation.
That very morning I had received some bad news myself, my parents were due to visit me for the first time in nearly two years, but there car had broken down on the way to the airport and they ended up missing their flights. From this very unfortunate event, I created a newspaper headline and prepared it before the class and mocked it up into a pretend newspaper. I showed the students the headline and told them it was about something that happened to me and they had to ask questions to gain information and find out what happened. This was where the problems began. The process was quite long and drawn out and the formation of the questions themselves was particularly difficult, and for me worrying, as the students were finding it really hard to get their question word order correct. We eventually got the full story. I checked the students understanding of headlines and why it was so short and why newspapers contract the information in that way.
The next stage was to get the students to write their own headlines about something that had happened to them recently. I worked my way around the room helping them to construct the headlines and to try to keep them short and to the point. This is what they came up with;
- Gijon are returning to hell (football related)
- All roads lead to Milan (recent holiday)
- Lack of sleep can be dangerous
- Racing are close to going down to hell (football related)
- Rainy days lead to boredom
The next part was simple, the students would go around the room, ask questions to each other, make notes and then write a report on their favourite story. This very quickly went out of the window. The forming of questions was all over the place, confusing both speaker and listener. This lead to mis-information and a lot of back and forth before actually getting any facts about the story. The amount of errors coming out of the activity was just too much. I didn’t know what to focus on at first and then simply stuck to the questions that were being asked. After 5 minutes I stopped the activity. We were getting nowhere fast and I could see the frustration building. I boarded some of the questions and did group error correction. I then elicited the W question words and what information they were used to elicit. Instead of going back to the milling exercise, I turned it into an interview exercise one person at the front with everyone else asking questions allowing me and the students to concentrate on one question at the time. Again, the process was slow and painful and the students were really struggling, each question needed restructuring and at times was broken down into one word at a time slowly building it back up. Toward the end it got a little better so I moved it back into the milling exercise. Mistake. I was swamped with more errors, too many errors, a tidal wave of errors and the questions spluttered, stuttered and blurted out in all sorts of ways. I allowed the activity to continue to allow myself time to try to work out exactly how I was going to fix this and exactly what I needed to fix. I couldn’t think of anything. I was lost in a sea of errors, confusion and inexperience, my inexperience.
The lesson finished and to be honest I was grateful, and I think the students were too. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had taught them, I wasn’t sure if the lesson was of any use at all. I had no way or idea of dealing with the problems that were coming up. I needed more structure, I needed more support and more importantly so did the students. For me, this highlights certain drawbacks of Dogme for an inexperienced teacher. The ability to deal with emergent language and language problems on the spot is really difficult and there is a lot of pressure to get it right. I feel as though I perhaps did more damage than good in that lesson and it has dented my confidence a little. God only knows what it did to the students. Secondly, what sometimes appears to be a lack of structure and clear aims to the students, in a Dogme classroom, can lead to a class with no clear end results which can be frustrating for the learner who then doesn’t have anything to show for the hard work and time they have put in. This again leads me to another question I have asked myself recently, Who exactly is benefiting from this project, the students or me?
The one positive from the lesson is that I know what I need to work on in the coming lessons. To do this I’m going to go back to the coursebook and really structure the next lessons. I will allow for flexibility and space to react to things that will come up, but my main aim is to restore confidence in both students and myself, resolve the problem of question formation and to get some learning done. I’m stepping away from Dogme and looking to the coursebook, with a critical eye, to provide the support and structure, we as a class, need.