The first stage of dissecting an experience is to describe it. In my first post of this series I described my current classes as best I could, while keeping to a reasonable word limit.
In this post I will share 14 of the questions that have come to mind as I have been thinking about these classes over the past few days. I will answer them as best I can.
***This post is quite lengthy at 1804 words. Feel free to read as much or as little as you like.***
1) What can account for the differing dynamics of the two classes?
The thing that comes to mind first is the age level of the classes. The LI class is far more mixed. In Korean society age matter a lot and I have seen many younger students deferentially sitting silently as older students dominate conversations. This is something I have addressed but only been partly successful at mitigating.
Secondly, I pushed the HB students to mingle from day one much more than the LI students. I have had them in class more often and have developed personal relationships with each of them. The LI students are more divided because of their age, and the preexisting friendships between different sets of students. As far as I can tell, everyone in HB was a stranger until the first day of class.
2) Why have students attended the HB class with more frequency?
In making SMART goals on day one, I was far more restrictive with the HB class. I pushed them to refine and define their goals until they became very clear and achievable. I failed to push the LI class as hard and was far more lenient of what they produced. I am not sure why I was more lenient and as I was discussing the goals with each student I was thinking that this fact could become an issue later on.
I think that this occurred partly because I knew some of the students from prior sessions. In addition, it was clear that while some students were of an LI level, there were plenty who were not. This fact may also play into the classes segregated nature.
I was aware that pushing some of the LI students in front of others on the first day might make them freeze up and shut down before I ever had a chance to get going with them. Indeed, pushing at any time can cause the same detrimental affects.
As these classes are open to the public and students are expected to self assess, I should’ve been prepared for the far greater difference in levels considering it was an 11AM class and the only beginner classes started at 9AM. This is factor can have great affect on a class, and perhaps is something that could be brought up to the administration.
3) How might the added frequency of attendance affect the overall class progress towards class and individual goals?
The added frequency of classes as well as attendance has been an important factor in forging a closer bond between students and between student and teacher. As the teacher I can easily see how much effect the extra time and more consistent attendance has on the class as a whole.
Attendance is not something I can regulate. However, I could have better handled the disjointed nature of the LI class better by recognizing that the fewer amount of LI meetings required me to spend time on class goals and building relationships longer into the course than was necessary for the HB class. Understanding this requirement also should have affected the expectation level I had when entering the class.
4) What is keeping the LI students from retaining as much as the HB class?
I have given LI students far more freedom than HB students. I have consistently “bitten off more than we can chew” when creating lesson goals. This fact has led to somewhat scattered lessons, lack of time for a focus on accuracy, and generally low retention rates.
In addition, following my HB class I always write some quick notes RE material covered, student strengths and weaknesses and possible avenues of language to cover in the following class.
The LI class is my last of the day. I typically write down my notes the following morning. Because class is W-F that leaves some notes waiting all weekend to be written.
5) Are the LI students retaining less or is that my perception? How can I tell one way or the other?
The LI students are retaining less. They have also been exposed to less because of the shorter class time as compared to the HB class. I have failed in scaffolding effectively with the LI class.
6) Why do the HB students seem to be better listeners? What makes me think the LI students aren’t listening well?
This one took me some contemplating. Thinking about the most egregious offenders in my LI class, I realized that there is one offender in my HB class as well. In the HB class he speaks with the greatest ease of all the others. He is also the one to make the same mistakes repeatedly and not notice his errors.
I believe this stems from the internalization of errors prior to entering class. The lower level students still struggle to produce most everything they say, and so take more time and focus more acutely on what is being asked of them and how they should respond.
The slightly higher level students have probably spent a good deal of time expressing themselves incorrectly, and so have internalized the errors. Without anyone around to correct them they have become neglectful of the fact that they are even making errors. Again, with greater awareness from me they would have been better served throughout the session so far.
7) Why is the HB class seemingly more engaged in class activities that the LI class?
The answer to this comes down to class dynamic and the greater structure and care I give to explaining to the lower level students. Because the tasks assigned in the HB class are well structured and properly built up to, student buy in is high and general retention is good.
In my LI class I have again made the mistake of equating greater ease of speaking with greater understanding in listening. In addition, the freedom and vague outline of tasks leaves students confused. I tend to back track, start over and revise with far greater frequency in the LI class than the HB.
8) What is keeping the LI students from expanding their comfort zone?
Class dynamic, student attendance, teacher leadership, student desire
9) What am I doing differently in the two classes?
As mentioned, I think the biggest problem is that I have expected far too much from my LI class. Their ability and knowledge is near identical to the HB class but I demand far more and spend far too little time scaffolding for them.
10) What about those differences affects the language taught?
These differences have limited the new vocabulary and natural language that has emerged in class. They have also restricted student ability to retain what is covered in class. The disjointed nature of my teaching, aims and goals hurts as well. I could be doing much more to help connect student learning from one class to another.
11) Has the added frequency of HB classes help the HB students better cope with the dogme method of teaching?
Yes, I believe it has. However, it is not the sole, nor the most important reason for HB’s success throughout the session.
12) What have I done differently during free time? What affect do the repeat students have on the free time dynamic in LI?
During free time in HB I consistently made sure to connect with each pair/group of students. I also consistently seek to remember and bring up previous discussion topics to demonstrate to students that I am listening to what they say and am interested in what they have to tell me.
In my LI class I have allowed students I have had in previous classes to dominate my time. They feel far more free to talk to me and at times it is difficult to get them talking with each other rather than me alone. The greater frequency of absences, fewer classes and my weakness in handling this issue has been cause for exacerbation.
13) What has hindered the LI students understanding of class goals and my methods for alerting them to mistakes/errors?
I have spent far too little time on building the class dynamic, focusing on goals and assisting with error correction in my LI class. The first week in HB was spent reminding students what the class goals are and the need for them to examine their production when my hand is raised. I neglected to account for the reduction in teaching time with the LI class. Thanks to this fact, I walked into the LI class feeling like they should be at the same level of understanding as the HB class, even though they had spent far less time with me.
In LI I have tried to do too much and so have been pressed for time too often. My response has been (instead of slowing down) to quickly verbally correct the students and move on. This too has only led to less noticing from students and a greater reliance on me to tell them what to do.The exact opposite of what I am trying to accomplish. This is a major issue and need addressing as soon as possible.
14) What affect has a completely free hand RE the curriculum had on the classes and what do I need to do to improve it.
It has been liberating as well as daunting. I find that the freedom has given scope to really dive into different tasks and move as fast as the students are ready.
It could certainly be structured much better while still retaining this freedom of action. Curriculum development is one of my top goals to accomplish in doing my MA. I know I am lacking and I know it affects my class.
Those are the pertinent questions that have come to mind. Of course there are many many more. I have skipped a lot of the ones that have no immediate solution (ie. administration demands).
If you have any in mind feel free to pose them in the comments section and I will attempt to answer to the best of my ability.
Next up is phase 3– Action Plan