Learner Diaries; A summary

As the academic year draws to a close, its time to summarise the two projects that I was running this year, at IH Santander.

If you’re new to the blog and Learner diaries, please read through the posts entitled Learner diaries 1,2 and 3 for the lowdown and extracts from the learner’s diaries themselves. If you have been following these posts from the beginning, thank you and I hope that you have gained something from these posts and maybe even been spurred on to try it yourself.

So, what exactly did I get from this project? Well, I think it is more important to focus on what the students got from this experience. After all, they were the main reason for starting this and without them participating I wouldn’t be writing this now.

Due to various reasons, I was unable to get specific feedback on the diaries themselves which is something I regret. So I have read back through the diary extracts and will be basing my summary around these. Firstly, I like to think that the diaries empowered the learners and was in keep with the theme of the unplugged project from which this off-shoot project formed. By giving them an outlet to express their feelings about the class and what happened in it, I effectively had an ongoing needs analysis that was honest and true and was prompted by questions the students were asking themselves, rather than a two page formal needs analysis that they are required to answer at the beginning of the course, which is normally rushed and completed with the same old answers. Anthony Gaughan recently mentioned the need for more frequent needs analysis in his talk about what makes a lesson great. http://teachertrainingunplugged.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/what-makes-a-lesson-great-pt-2/

Well, needs change, and – if complexity theory really has any relevance to language acquisition – they do so unpredictably, so how often can/should needs be reassessed? Every month? Every week? Every lesson? Before or after the lesson? During it? (Anthony Gaughan, 2012)

I think that learner diaries can go some way to combat this and provide the teacher and learner with valuable feedback in which to proceed with further lessons.

This nicely links into the next point. By responding to what is written in the diaries and building lessons around these needs, the learners can see that what they are writing is important and that you the teacher are listening to what they have to say. The knock on effect is to create a greater rapport with the learners, encouraging them to write more and strengthen the cycle of feedback/needs analysis.

The diaries are also a valuable resource for lesson ideas. What’s great about the diaries is that the learners are constantly producing work. From this the teacher can use what has been written for a writing skills based class, maybe pick up on a topic that a learner has mentioned in one of their entries, something they like/dislike, what they did at the weekend and so on. The teacher can also prompt different responses and probe for more information with the responses they leave in the learner diaries, be it in the form of a direct question or perhaps a personal response to something the learner has written. Again, it pushes the learner to write more, further strengthens the rapport and provides the class with a wealth of material.

The learner diaries were also trialed with various other classes within the school and I was fortunate enough to share the project with Noreen Lam (@Noreen_Lam), a teacher at IH Santander, and we also presented our project at TESOL Spain, Bilbao. Recently, Noreen presented the same talk as part of the International house on-line conference and you can see the recording here; http://ihtoc50.posterous.com/pages/learner-diaries

Here is what Noreen has to say about the project;

Looking back at a year of learner diaries, I think that what I have felt most satisfied with is the insight that the journals have given into the lives of students.  Sure, it’s true that with the young learners, there isn’t much meat in the responses, and it’s often limited to “I like games and I hate homework/tests” etc, but once in a while, you get something that surprises you.  The students see it as a way to speak to you when maybe they aren’t able to do so during class time, and you can come up with something like “I hate be (sic) alone and get angry” which isn’t perhaps relevant to English class, but does tug at a more personal response and willingness to express feelings.
With the adults, it has been the same, but on a more complex level, which is what we were aiming for from the start.  I was lucky in that my adults are very enthusiastic and intrinsically motivated individuals, and they really poured their hearts out and were completely honest.  Entries began with a mixture of uncertainty, worry and lack of self-confidence, and towards the end of the year, became more and more positive with noticeable pride in their accomplishments.  They recognise their strengths and weaknesses and have taken it upon themselves to work hard.  It has been very rewarding reading their entries, especially when they share their secrets like how one “play[s] a game” where she mentally translates conversations she has with colleagues into English, thereby creating an internal dialogue in L2 and reinforcing the importance of it in her life!  Something like that just makes you go “wow!” and think, all that hard work throughout the year has paid off, and maybe I have done my bit as a teacher.

I think Noreen has summed up the experience very nicely and I can only echo her feelings. The chance to see into the lives of the learner is not only a privilege but also a very rare chance to get such personal feedback. To be able to allow the learners to do this is what teaching is all about. Empowering the learner.

Despite all the positives, not everything was plain sailing with the project. Initially, the learners took to the idea of the diaries enthusiastically and the responses offered lots of material to work with. As time went by and other things took priority, exams, holidays etc, the entries became fewer and fewer. The fact that we had the diaries spread across six or seven different classes also meant it was difficult to keep up with the responses and to put in the required time in order to get the most out of them. Some learners simply didn’t want to give up their time to fill out the diaries and for some ages it is more difficult to implement than others. I tried to deliver the diaries electronically with a group of teenagers after the initial paper based way failed and even that proved to be futile.

In conclusion, the project has been extremely enjoyable, thought-provoking and useful for both the learner and the teacher. Both Noreen and I plan to continue the learner diaries next year and another teacher at IH Santander is also looking to start the diaries with a class. I would encourage any teacher to give learner diaries a go and it would be great to hear from anyone that has tried or is even thinking of trying this kind of project with their learners to share experiences and thoughts. If anyone has any further questions about the project or the diaries, please feel free to comment here or contact me or Noreen via twitter. (@bealer81 and @Noreen_Lam)

Many thanks to Noreen Lam, Emily Bell and the students of IH Santander for supporting, participating and genuinely being cool people.


We need to talk about Dogme.

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.

Been listening

So, two weeks into the new trimester and all is well.

On the last proper teaching day of the project, before the Christmas madness kicked in, I carried out a feedback lesson with the students. A few useful and entertaining activities to gauge how much they think they have improved since the start of the course and what they would like to work on in the new year. I also managed to video all of the class talking about how they think the course is going and their feelings on the unplugged approach to teaching. All positive stuff.

The three main things to come out of the feedback session were these;

  • More listening
  • More grammar (explicit focus on grammar)
  • More videos

No surprise with the grammar or the video one. Although, I was a little surprised with the listening one. A lot of the students had mentioned how they disliked listening activities and that they really liked listening to the teacher (me) as it was natural and I spoke slowly and clearly for them. Anyway, this was what they wanted, so this is what they got.

After a very quiet and poorly attended first lesson, which focused mostly on what had happened during the holidays, we had a near full house for the second lesson. The lesson was based around some old videos I had made while travelling in New Zealand. I started the lesson by bringing in some of my hiking equipment and getting the students to ask me questions about them and what they were used for. Then I briefly mentioned why I loved hiking and because of this I travelled to New Zealand to hike as much as possible. Cue the videos. I had prepared some listening for detail questions, which when I looked back on them straight after the lesson, were simply too hard..

The students were trying really hard during the exercises but I could see that it was just too difficult. What I should have really concentrated on was things such as connected speech and probably more general questions such as how I was feeling or how they thought I would be feeling at that particular time and so on. Lesson learnt. The lesson went well, but I think that the listening had perhaps taught all of us that it’s an area that needs a lot of work and specifically for me, careful consideration of material selection.

Below are the videos I used. I’ve never really shown anyone these, so please don’t laugh. I would be really interested to hear how you would use these particular videos and what exercises you think might be worth trying out with them.

To follow-up the above lesson I decided to do another listening. This time I used my Dictaphone to record the staff in the school talking about the thing they enjoy doing the most. The only rule was, they couldn’t actually mention what it was they were talking about.

After reviewing the last lesson and getting some feedback about the listening exercise, I introduced the Dictaphone and announced we would be doing another listening. I was expecting some moans and groans, but I was surprised when what I actually got was some enthusiastic nodding and people drawing their chairs closer to the Dictaphone itself. The exercise was simple. The students would listen to each extract and have to work out what that person was talking about. They were free to write down anything they heard. During the first listening everyone was listening with great determination and not writing anything down. Some good guesses, but still struggling. Next I asked them to work with their partner and to make sure they write something down as it will help them when discussing it, after listening. I asked them to concentrate on the content words only. During the second listening there was a lot more writing. They discussed in pairs. We reviewed the vocabulary they had written down in open class feedback. I pointed out that if we put these key words together we might be able to find a common topic to help us work out the answer. Words like chords, playing, practising song and strings came up. Suddenly the answer came. “Guitar! They like playing the guitar.” We continued doing the same for the next three recordings. Working on picking out the key words and working out the answer from these. It worked well and we managed to get the rest of the answers and the students seemed a lot happier after this listening than the previous one.

So that’s the listening practice they wanted. There will be more where that came from. Now onto finding some interesting videos to build lessons around and ways of feeding in the grammar they so eagerly want to learn.

A little less conversation….?

After the disappointment of my last lesson with the class. I really wanted to prove to myself and the class that we could have a class based entirely around conversation, that is student centered and with minimum input from myself.

Recently, I have been following the #eltbites minimum materials challenge . http://eltbites.wordpress.com/ The idea is in the title, but click the link to find out more, a great challenge from Richard Gresswell. (@inglishteacher)

Jason Renshaw, a.k.a @englishraven, posted a very simple but intriguing idea about handing the board pen over to the students and allowing them to, in effect, dictate the class proceedings. Along with this, I had received a comment from @jemjemgardner regarding my last post, in which she suggests that simply writing something on the board and using gestures to get the students talking, without actually talking yourself, is a great way of making things more student centered. I had nothing to lose!

The class was half-full as I entered. I didn’t say anything. I simply picked up the I.W.B pen and handed it to the nearest student. I smiled and gestured to the board. I sat down and began filling out the register, making sure not to look as though I was going to assist in any way. There were a lot of strange looks, shoulder shrugging and general confusion. The first student wrote hello on the board, it was a start, he then clicked on and started to ask the class how their weekend was. After they had finished, I motioned for someone else to take over, and instead of writing on the board they asked another question for the group, “what are you doing for the holiday, next week?” Some more people came in to the classroom and the others told them what was happening. The speaker changed, and this time the question immediately caught my attention, “what do you want to talk about today?” I quickly noted down the answers:

  • The passive (I know, I couldn’t believe it either)
  • Everything and nothing.
  • Can we watch a film?
  • Grammar
  • Can we do some listening and just talk?
I stood up and asked for the pen back. The class looked a little bit relieved that I had decided to join in. I was pleased that they had taken the initiative and got the ball rolling, now it was time to keep it going. I paired up the students. I gave them all something to talk about, two students were on the same course at university so I asked them to talk about their course and what they had learned so far that week. The other group contained the student who asked to watch a film. I told him to tell the group about the last film he watched, the other student had to talk about why he wasn’t in the last lesson and the third had to talk about a conversation he and I had before the class started. The final pair, included the student who wanted to talk about grammar. I asked her to tell her partner why she wanted to do that and then I noticed that her partner had come straight from the gym, so I asked her to talk about what she did at the gym. The class room was full of conversation. I sat in the corner of the room listening in to the various conversations, writing down some notes and errors.
When the conversation naturally died down, I got each pair to report back. From this I would decide the next topic for conversation, depending on how the other students reacted to what they heard. Sometimes I got the groups to report back to other groups, I swapped the pairs around, if I heard a group reverting back to Spanish, I got them to tell me what had been said and found another question from that to get them started again. The board started to fill up, vocab, phrases, words marked for pronunciation at the end of class. I started to write down errors on post-it notes and hand them to the students, who would immediately repeat the sentence but this time with the correction. These were the topics we talked about:
  • Reasons we go to the gym and what exercise we enjoy
  • Reasons why we don’t have time to go to the gym
  • What we would do if we weren’t all so busy
  • When was the last time you had a bad nights sleep and why?
  • When you can’t sleep, what do you do to get to sleep?
I barely had to do anything, bar deciding what the next topic would be, and that was generated by the students themselves. I finished the lesson by reviewing what had come up in the class. Vocabulary, phrases, ‘used to’ and why we use it, drilling of some particularly difficult words and finishing with some praise relating to the way some of the students were responding correctly and accurately to some 2nd conditional questions.
In the end we had talked about everything and nothing, just like one of the students had wanted, they listened and talked a lot, just like another had asked to do, we had dealt with some grammar, although not the passive, as another student had suggested. The students left the class happy and content. I should have been feeling the same. I was happy with the amount of talking we had done and the fact that it was all student centered and generated, yet what had they really learned from this lesson, and what had I actually taught them.
For me the class was nothing more than a glorified conversation class. At least I achieved my aim, but what about the emerging language? This is something I have struggled to deal with and identify from day one. Trying to listen to 4 different conversations at once, writing errors, good language use and also trying to figure out what the learners need to work on or what language they are lacking is extremely difficult. Especially for someone who is lacking in experience, such as myself. While I understand that from teaching in an unplugged/dogme style a lot of the planning comes after the lesson, via reflection and what emerged in the lesson, should I not be seizing on these teachable moments there and then?  Are my students missing out on something, that perhaps a more experienced teacher could give them? My process of post planning has been extremely useful. It has allowed me to reflect on my lessons with my D.o.S and then plan for the next lesson. Yet, this planning has become more about teaching a particular language point in the next lesson and planning a range of activities that will achieve that aim. Taking away the control of the lesson from the student and becoming a teacher centered lesson. Although, very useful for the student, it isn’t really teaching in the true dogme sense. Also, it is much more comfortable for someone of my experience to feel as though I have slightly more control of the lesson and that I am actually teaching them something. A lot to ponder over the winter break.
The project will be changing slightly after the Christmas holidays. A large amount of students want to take the Cambridge PET exam, so the dogme teaching will be week on week off with exam prep classes taking place in-between. It will be interesting to see if this has any effect on how I teach my future dogme classes and also how the students react in the classes, especially after going back to a more structured exam class.
Happy Christmas. See you in the new year.

Building steam with a grain of salt

From listening to records                                                                                                         I just knew what to do I mainly taught myself                                                                     And you know I did pretty well                                                                                               Except there were a few mistakes                                                                                     But um that I made uh                                                                                                       That I’ve just recently cleared up                                                                                               And I’d like to just continue                                                                                                   To be able to express myself                                                                                                 As best as I can with this instrument                                                                                     And I feel like I have a lot of work to do                                                                                     Still I’m a student of the drums                                                                                                And I’m also a teacher of the drums too

I came across this sentence last weekend and instantly knew I wanted to base a lesson around it, or even use it as a warmer/conversation starter;

If you had 2 minutes to talk to the whole world, what would you say?

I tried out a few formats with my early morning classes. They were a bit rough around the edges but produced some interesting results. One class produced a mini speech about what they would talk about if they had those two minutes, and the other class became a simple discussion class, after I changed the structure various times to allow the students to produce different answers and therefore different discussion points.

I decided to use it for my project to introduce, revise and work with the 2nd conditional.

I told the class I had found a really interesting question, but I couldn’t remember all of it. I wrote this on the board;

What would you say if you had 2 minutes……….

I passed out some slips of paper and asked the students to complete the question with whatever ending they wanted, and then they should swap the question with their partner and answer each others question. Immediately the class was alive with discussion and questions. I walked around helping with the construction of the sentences and vocabulary. I listened in to the answers and helped with pronunciation and corrected where necessary.

‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes with Obama?’

‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes to talk about your whole life?’

‘What would you say if you had 2 minutes to talk in front of Spain’s prime time TV audience?’

Once the discussion had died down, I changed the initial question and asked the students to do the same as before;

What would you do if you had 2 minutes………

The class erupted into even more noise, they seemed to really be enjoying this activity. The questions became more inventive and random, yet produced even more talking and language.

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to spend 10,000 euros?’

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to eat 3 pizzas?’

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes to tell the woman of your life you loved her and you saw her in the street?’

‘What would you do if you had 2 minutes before some really important to you died?’

I went to the board and discussed all the points that had come up. I asked if they knew what grammar we were using in the lesson. Instantly the 2nd conditional was shouted out. We put the construction on the board, talked about swapping the clauses around, the position of the comma and why we use the 2nd conditional.

By now 30 minutes had gone by. It was surprising and satisfying that one simple sentence had produced so much already. I told the class we were going to read a text about a BBC programme, and put the title on the board;

People watchers

I asked them to discuss in their pairs what they thought the programme would be about and what they thought people watchers did. After some feedback and the mixing together of several ideas, we eventually came up with a suggestion. I asked the class to read the article to find out if they were right. They weren’t far off. Next I asked them to complete the five comprehension questions for the text. We did feedback and boarded the answers. We talked about unknown vocabulary and I asked them to pick out the 2nd conditionals. We were running out of time.

I told the class we were going to watch two clips from the BBC programme. Their attention immediately picked up. I wrote the question below, on the board. I asked the class to discuss it in pairs.

If you could steal something from a shop without paying for it, would you? 

We did a quick show of hands to see who would and who wouldn’t. Some people were very honest. I asked them to watch a clip of the show to see what the outcome of an experiment was that investigated this question. They had to simply tell me how many people paid for a paper. (4.50mins for the first question and 7mins for the second question)

We did the same for another question;

If a stranger came up to you in the street and asked to use your mobile phone, would you let them?

They watched the related clip and had to tell me whether the man or the woman was successful in getting people to lend them a mobile.

The end of the class was upon us. I asked them to write three 2nd conditional questions for homework and I intend to use them as a review and warm up in the next lesson.

I really enjoyed this lesson. Planning it, teaching it and being able to watch the students enjoy it too. I think this was by far the best lesson we have had together. The amount of talking and language that came out was unbelievable. And it was clear from the students faces that they were having a good time and engaging with the material. I had taken the text from the coursebook that we should be using from the class and also used the same comprehension questions included in the book. The actual planning of the lesson didn’t take long at all, and seemed to come together naturally. The question is, was it Dogme at all? I had planned the lesson and had a clear language point I wanted to cover. I was more than prepared to go off in another direction if necessary. The first half an hour was great, I anticipated maybe 10mins or, at the most, 15 mins for this, but allowed it to flow and continue as the students continued to discuss the questions. The rest of the lesson was straightforward and controlled by me, the teacher, yet highly productive and enjoyable. I could agonize over this, but I’m not going to. The students enjoyed the lesson, participated fully and left the class happy. At the end of the day, Dogme or not, this is what counts.

From watching other teachers                                                                                                 I just knew what to do I mainly taught myself                                                                     And you know I did pretty well                                                                                               Except there were a few mistakes                                                                                     But um that I made uh                                                                                                       That I’ve just recently cleared up                                                                                               And I’d like to just continue                                                                                                   To be able to express myself                                                                                                 As best as I can with teaching                                                                                              And I feel like I have a lot of work to do                                                                                     Still I’m a student of English                                                                                                And I’m also a teacher of English too

With tired eyes, tired minds, tired souls, we slept.

With the relative success of the last lesson, I wanted to continue with reported speech and concentrate on some written production.

It just so happened that half of the class were in the previous lesson and the other half had missed it. I paired everyone up so they could inform their partner about exactly what happened in the last class. After a couple of minutes I asked the partner who hadn’t been here in the previous lesson to report back to me on what they had been told. Their accuracy was surprising, despite not being in the class. After telling me the general outline of the lesson, I told them I had written a report about the lesson, for my DOS, and that we should check with that to be sure. I showed them the report on the IWB;

‘In the last lesson, we talked about reported speech. The students completed some speaking activities, and afterwards Adam suggested that when the students reported back to him about what their partner had said, they should use – he/she said or he/she told me. Luis said that after ‘said’ and ‘told’ we could use the word ‘that’. Adam replied that Luis was correct and wrote it on the board. Adam advised the students to use reported speech in the next activity. During the activity, Marcos asked Adam about reporting the present simple. Adam told him that if the information he had been told was still true it should stay in the present. After hearing Marco’s example, Adam recommended that he should change the tense.’

I asked if this is what happened in the lesson, and everyone agreed. I then asked them to highlight all the uses of reported speech, in particular the verbs that were used. They highlighted everyone except the very first one in the first sentence ‘ we talked about‘. I highlighted it and I talked about how we can use this to report general topics and not specific details.

We sat back down and I split the class into three groups. I then handed out a stack of small pieces of paper to each paper. I asked the groups to look through the sentences that had been written on the paper and to make corrections where necessary. The pieces of paper were from the twitter lesson we had done a couple of weeks previously. The students recognised them and set about correcting any errors. This part of the lesson went on a bit longer than I had hoped, but I think it was useful for the students. Spelling, tenses, word order and punctuation all came out of the ensuing conversations.

Once we were happy with the corrections I asked the students to convert the sentences into reported speech, once this was done I wanted to link them together to create a similar report to the one I had created on the board. With only forty-five minutes of the lesson left, I knew that we might be pushing it to get finished. And I was right! The conversion process threw up all sorts of questions and became somewhat of a discovery process for both the students and myself. With every rule that they discovered, I wrote it on the board so that everyone was aware. I spent a lot of time going from group to group, checking, correcting, suggesting. At one point I became involved in a discussion about a  sentence that contained a passive, and the student wanted to know why it didn’t change in this particular case. I was stumped and couldn’t explain why. But I did highlight the passive structure on the board for the rest of the class, discussed what it was used for and how it was constructed. I checked my watch and realised we had nearly finished. I was tired, the students were tired and the whole experience had been pretty full on. I did a quick review of what we had covered in the lesson and then it was time to go.

I was happy with the amount of work that we had done in the class. Everyone had worked hard, including myself and we had all learnt a lot. Unfortunately, I think the class was a bit static and the last activity too long. I should have cut down the number of sentences in order to limit the time spent on the conversion process. Allowing for time to either write the report or even to make it a speaking activity between groups, so as to break up the monotony of writing. Nonetheless, lessons were learnt, both during and after the lesson. I enjoyed being able to re-use the sentences from a previous lesson. I think this made it easier for the students to engage with the whole lesson as they were working with material they had produced and not with some de-contextualized sentences from a course book.

I cannot find the comfort in this (Dogme) world.

“I cannot stop the thought, running in the dark, coming up a which way sign, all good ‘teachers‘ must decide” (E.Vedder)

I don’t normally write about my lessons until Sunday night, when I have had the weekend to wind down and put my reflection/blogging head on. But tonight I feel the need to blog here and now. There are too many thoughts running around my little brain to sleep. So here goes.

I felt confident about tonight’s lesson. After a weekend of reflection and some positive comments on the blog, I felt ready to go back into class with a new determined vigor and energy. Going back to basics I think was how I put it in the last post.

I opened up with a simple activity. In pairs, I asked the students to talk to each other about their weekends and tell their partner about the best and the worst thing about their weekend. We were off. Some nice conversations started, they were enjoying it, some vocabulary came and went up on the board. A good 5 minutes passed. I asked each student to report back what their partner had said. We listened, I asked a few questions, probed a little deeper. We had a little conversation about sleep, lying in on a Sunday, and then a student revealed that he didn’t like sleeping. He only slept for 5 hours a night because he liked to be active and was simply too busy for it. ‘Teachable moment’ flashed before my eyes, yet I resisted the urge. Very unlike me.

We wrapped up the activity and talked briefly about the last lesson. I checked that everyone had prepared their ‘family’ presentation and gave them a couple of minutes to check their notes. I split them into two groups and asked them to give their presentations. While they were talking, I wanted the other students to think of questions to ask them at the end. Simple enough and off they went. The presentations were actually quite good. Despite my reservations about the last lesson, the majority of them had taken on board the idea of the presentation having a simple structure and also some of the vocabulary from the last lesson came up too. I sat and listened, making notes to talk about at the end. One group was doing well, asking questions and continuing the conversation. Meanwhile the other group seemed to be struggling with follow-up questions. I resisted the temptation to throw in my own questions, then suddenly one of them blurted out a perfectly well constructed question. Excellent I thought, “anymore questions” I asked. Blank faces and the shaking of heads followed. The next person started to give their presentation, this was followed by another silent period and no questions and then again for the following presentation. One of the students had said she shared the same temper as her father and got angry occasionally. I decided to ask her about it to encourage the students to join in. ( it went something like this)

 ” So you get angry like your father then?” (me)

” angry?” (student)

” yes, you said you have a temper like your father” (me)

” I don’t understand” (student)

” A temper? You said your father gets angry sometimes. What does he do when he gets angry?” ( Me. By this time I have really slowed down my speaking voice and I’m now making gestures to signify anger)

“uhhhh…………..” (student)

“Does he shout, or sometimes bang things loudly?” (Me, know gesturing wildly)

A period of about 30 seconds passed. I was determined to get her to talk about this. 

“Go on you can do it, take your time” (Me. At this point I was doing a gesture as though I was coaxing a cat out of a tree)

She looked left and right, shrugged her shoulders and laughed out loud.

“I don’t know” (student)

I gripped the side of the chair and closed my eyes. A big breath and then I launched into the feedback, highlighting certain things on the board.

  • Struggling with saying dates, such as 1994 etc
  • I have 18 yrs instead of I was/am 18yrs
  • Questions to ask about how long or often things happened in the past
  • The pronunciation of words ending in -ed
  • The excellent use of the word ‘rebellious’ one of the students used to describe his brother.

I moved onto the next activity. I had brought a newspaper and cut out pairs of photos that had a common theme. Unemployment, celebration, work, weather, disaster. I asked the students to walk around in their pairs and choose the pictures they would most like to talk about. Once they had done this I asked them to discuss what they thought the pictures had in common and to write one word on the paper next to the pictures to describe this. Celebration came up straight away,  and with some encouragement so did work and unemployment. Next I asked the students to describe to each other what they could see in the picture. Lots of vocab again. I then supplied the groups with one question about each set of pictures that they had to discuss and give an opinion about. Before doing so I elicited different language we could use to give our opinion.  We had a good list;

  • I think….
  • I believe…..
  • In my opinion…..
  • From my point of view……..
  • As far as I’m concerned……..
  • My view is….

Okay we were off. It started well, some of the expressions were used. A little forced but nonetheless being used. I walked around listening and if the conversation dropped I wrote another question down to try to re-ignite it. It was hard going, to say the least. I encouraged them to talk about the question and discuss why, instead of just giving a short and extremely brief answer. We swapped pictures, the same thing happened, we swapped again. Well you get the picture. Blood out of a stone, springs to mind. The class dwindled to an end.

I asked the class to bring in their own picture for the next lesson. I think we need to try again with this one and maybe their own images will prompt some better discussion.

I felt very low at the end of this lesson, the lowest yet. Tonight was difficult, it taxed my patience and even made me a little angry. (see conversation) I’m becoming a little frustrated and perhaps even a little stressed. Feeling the pressure somewhat, I guess. I have never felt comfortable with this class and never feel relaxed enough to simply enjoy the lesson without worrying about what’s happening next. The complete opposite of what I knew Dogme/ teaching unplugged to be before I started this project. Before, in the unplugged lessons I had done previously, things were much more laid back and easy-going. Because of this the lessons were far more productive, I had more energy and excitement and the students fed of this positiveness. Now I feel as though I am only transmitting negativity and this is perhaps affecting the students. I mentioned earlier about the possible ‘teachable moment’ that came up at the beginning of the lesson. Normally I would have dived head first into it, instead I was more worried about what I had planned. I worry about covering what’s on the ‘can do list’ and student generated syllabus or what the book should be covering at this stage. I know that my DOS, who has been incredibly supportive and encouraging, is watching me closely and will be the first to tell me that it’s just not working and perhaps it’s time to call it a day.

Am I expecting to much, planning too hard, pushing too hard or simply not good enough?

“I wish I was a neutron bomb, for once I could go off!” (E.Vedder)