In my previous post I mentioned that there is no magic bullet. This is true, and as a learning teacher we develop different methods that work with different sets of students.
Most recently, I have been pleasantly surprised with how my higher level third year middle school students have responded when I gave them the space, time, and opportunity to be creative.
This IS hard. It is quite possibly one of the hardest things young teachers need to learn. After those first months/year of chaos, after we learn how to wrestle control of a class, we hold onto that control like grim death! I know, I have been there. I would assume that most teachers have been there! But, it does not create the atmosphere of trust and openness that language students (of any age) need to feel confident and comfortable in using a new language within a group context.
Setting broad, but clear and achievable (this is key, and is the most important reason [in my eyes] behind the need to build relationships with our students) goals allows students to maximize their potential which in turn builds their confidence and, hence, their willingness to contribute, work, and participate.
GIVE IT UP!
Give up some responsibility. After setting broad, but clear and achievable goals, it is time to give the students the responsibility to do the learning. Students just might surprise you with their enthusiasm and readiness to learn if presented with the opportunity to do so in ways they choose for themselves. Our job is to guide that learning. To accomplish this one encourages, aids, supports and generally helps maintain focus.
WHO”S THE EXPERT NOW!!!
Students have immense personal experience and knowledge that can be mined and utilized to great effect if focused in the right way. The challenge is finding ways to implement that experience within the constraints of a coursebook (which most of us are shackled with). This is where teacher creativity and enthusiasm come to the fore! As noted previously, there is no one method, activity, or idea that will work with each class. It is up to us to know our students and create the space and opportunity for them to utilize their experience to produce language.
After attending the recent KOTESOL Annual National Conference I was inspired by the idea of ‘making students the expert’. I have reblogged a video from the conference showing the presentation of Mr. Alex Grevett (@breathyvowel) (http://breathyvowel.wordpress.com).
I chose to experiment with my high level third year middle school students. Last week I walked into class and had the students form groups of 4/5. I told them that the following week they would teach me something. They could choose anything they wanted to teach me. I gave them some examples (ie. Korean History, Korean/Chinese Language, K-Pop, Science, etc). They had the 40 minutes in class to choose a topic and prepare a 4 minute presentation (which they would give the following week). The only rule was that each student in the group must speak (at least a little).
Today came the moment of truth. I made up grading rubrics with group names and the topics they had decided to teach. I handed these to all the students in the class. In the next 40 minutes I learned about the science of air pressure, Korean Baseball, The Korean War, Who Owns Dokdo, K-Pop, and ancient history. Some groups had in depth, interesting PPT’s. Other groups drew on the board and acted things out. All the groups had a plethora of information to share. All the groups split speaking time fairly evenly between group members. All the groups, save for one, had to be cut off at the 4 minute mark! The week prior they all expressed concern over the difficulty of the assignment (namely how can WE SPEAK for 4 minutes teacher!!!!), by Friday they had come through with aplomb.
I gave no grade to the students (with the structure of my school I have no choice over any grades). I had little with which to threaten in terms of consequences, but every group did a reasonable job. Most were excellent. The only incentive I had was that the top rated group (students and teacher ratings averaged) would get to choose what we did in our class following finals.
I am happy. I knew they had the potential. I had faith they WOULD do it, and I was very relieved that they did it as well and thoroughly as I had thought they would.
This activity would have failed miserably had I attempted it with a lower level. I know this because I know my students. However, I have found a whole different way to give lower level students the responsibility, and they too have come through with flying colors (more on that some other time).
WRAP IT UP JOHN!
It’s not easy being a young teacher. Doubly so when ones students have a different L1. There are all kinds of problems that CAN happen, and IF we focus on THOSE they will be the only things we ever see. I’ve a different suggestion. Let’s focus on what can go well, and focus on how to create the right conditions for those things to happen.
First and foremost, allowing students to talk about what interests them, what they are good at, what they know well (and sometimes probably better than us) will not only breed the production of language we desire, but also bring the enthusiasm we crave.