This is part 2 in a series of unknown number finishing in June, when my General English class finishes. Because what’s happening is so cool, this is written in the “Cool things” format that has been circulating lately, making this part 2 of my contribution to that series, too.
Is it cool not to plan much or does it depend on the context? CLIL and CBI approaches would seem to need extensive planning, and I do. The needs of a General English course, which I’ve started to enjoy again after several years not so much, would seem to discourage it. A bit of an outline to stray from, and a few pics and materials to fall back on, sure, but I can’t plan the next class until I see where the rest of my ‘community’ is at the end of this one…
I still don’t know everyone’s names, and figured I could get them to help me while finishing our unit on ‘describing people’, which is one of the topics they will need for their final standardized test. One of the students even tweeted me that she had a problem with the blog, but I don’t know which student it is… Anyway – the class would somehow, miraculously, prepare them to post a pic and 2 paragraph description of a partner for homework. I went in with a model text I thought I might use for a describe and draw, and knew I probably wanted to warm them up by letting them descibe me, but that was about the extent of my planning.
1. Happy and risky self-correction Cool!
In the warm-up, such utterly conversational talk, with loads of comfortable laughter, code switching, /l/ & /r/ practicing with hands for fingers and tongues led to one student self-correcting pronunciation without so much as a eyebrow from me.
2.Tons of volunteers Cool!
Entirely voluntarily (well, I urged one student to offer something because she clearly had something she wanted to say, but looked like she was waiting for my permission to speak) the freshwomen described me. No one dominated. All but two of the seventeen offered up a phrase, sentence, or word in the opening ten minutes, which we all then built together into longer, more complex strings in the present progressive. And all had a self-generated vocab list. Damn, it felt like an honest-to-goodness community!
3. Minimal “teaching” Cool!
Several things have changed from the last time I taught this course, not least of which is that the students now come from various majors and were judged to fall within the same novice (of 3) proficiency bands. I think most of them not knowing each other helps them relax about making mistakes and taking risks– no need to save face among co-majors who don’t take classes together all week. But the maximal use of tools they are comfortable with (smartphones, cameras, dictionaries) and minimal use of those they aren’t (textbooks) is clearly making this easier, too.
Tell once, and elicit the rest of the time, using gestures or a look to queue. I realize this topic is not terribly meaningful or useful as communication or creation (“imagine what your mother is doing right now? What is she wearing?” might score more points in that area), but it seemed like just the right warmer conversation to get this topic/task going and made use of lots of realia to make new vocab more memorable.
4. Negotiation of rules/learning styles Cool!
When I told them to describe each other, they couldn’t wait, but they went straight for their phones. I asked them to wait five minutes to hit their dictionaries, try their knowledge first, and then use their phone dictionaries — no problem there either. Lots and lots of English, a bunch of (fairly well-worded) questions to me that I deflected to others.
5. Code-switching (not translation) Cool!
Modeled describe and draw with a photo and 2-paragraph post on the class blog. They didn’t know their homework would be to write something like this. Showed them the pic at the end – lots of enthusiasm. Very natural code-switching, very little real translating. “Warship” came up, and I rephrased with boat-water-North Korea-South Korea-boom (hands coming together) -war, and that seemed to do the trick.
6. Enthusiasm! Cool!
Was gonna get them to each describe pics I had chosen to each other, but they couldn’t wait to do it in pairs using their pics from their phones, and right they were! I had the two obviously weaker students in a group of three, and both of them managed to draw fairly accurately, based on the third’s description, and one of them, after some hemming and hawing, managed a few descriptive words about her picture before we finished.
6a. Bravery! Cool!
The aforementioned tweeter with the problem took a deep breath here, identified herself, and asked for help. We solved the problem. More REAL talk.
7. Ownership of HW Cool!
Homework instructions on blog now very easy to understand. It took four minutes for them to photograph each other, and we learned how to upload and caption the pics.
8. Community Cool!
As I moved around in the final few minutes, several of the students decided they had everything under control, and politely but collegialy asked me a few questions, showed me pics from their phones (Oasis, Korean celebrities), one took a pic with me. This great communication happened BECAUSE they had taken pics of each other, described my old jeans and button-downed shirt and each other’s hoodies, didn’t fear a long pause or a bit of mother tongue, and undoubtedly raised their English game.
9. Minimal assessment Super Cool!
So far, the class has done a ton of blog posting and tweeting, and neither they nor I expect me to “correct” any of it. I’ve only insisted on English tweets, and asked for a couple of rewrites when machine translators had obviously been used. Other than that, if the product is comprehensible, it stays, and I’ve used the short class on Wednesdays to review common errors that it’s useful to make them aware of, such as object and possessive pronouns, plurals, and 3rd-person S.
How are your cool things and experiments coming?