jueves, 29 de marzo de 2012

What We've Done Today...

No, this ISN'T us going to bed...
Small children need to go to bed even when they don't want to. One of the things that calms Jamie down is having a walk with Pappy; I pick him up and we stroll round his darkened room 'chatting' about things till he falls asleep. One thing that has caught his imagination recently is me retelling an episode of Shaun the Sheep.

He isn't asking to be carried through to the living room to see it again: He wants to hear my version of the story. And he doesn't even want the whole episode - he specifies he wants to hear 'the beginning.'

Other times he likes to recap bits of our domestic mythology - the time he helped Pappy drill a hole in the wall, the Brown Dog and the Quiet Cat that live along the street, and so on.

Recapping seems to work a lot with kids - The popular BBC childrens' series Balamory always has the main character Miss Hoolie recapping the whole episode. And Derek Jacobi retells each episode at the end of In The Night Garden, as key moments are played back in the form of cartoon stills.

This is something I hardly ever do with my students. We usually start off with a summary of the previous lesson, but maybe it's worth doing more same-lesson recapitulation.

So I'm going to come back from my Easter break with a Resolution - I will set aside three minutes at the end of every lesson for recapping, and we'll see if it makes a difference.

If you do this already, or something analogous, please let me know below.

As always, thanks for reading!


In this post, I've mentioned the idea of recapping the content of lessons ;)

martes, 20 de marzo de 2012

Can We Afford it?

I'm just back from tesol-Spain in Bilbao with my head full of ideas.

One of the sessions I attended was Nick Robinson's Dogme presentation, where we got a succinct outline/brainstorm of how dogme teaching might work. Among the various terms mentioned, the one that most of us were a bit fuzzy about was affordances.

So with that in mind, here is my take on exploiting affordances from student-generated text, from a recent class of four pre-intermediate adults.

We started with an exercise called the Magnificent Seven, which I've blogged about elsewhere. The exercise finishes with pairs of students writing a mini-story from a list of words. Here are the two stories in their original form:

While I drove to the beach my car broken down its wheel. I stopped and saw a whale so I put on my jacket of wool and down to the sea for taking a photo. When I return at home I will hang it on my wall. I feel well when look to the picture.

While we went to see the whales, we had an accident, we crashed into a wall and the wheels were broken. Finally we got well and tomorrow we will go shopping and we will buy wool clothes for going to a birthday.

What affordances are there for scaffolding?

Well first off, the two pairs swopped stories and peer-corrected with a little help from me. That cleared up a lot of careless errors in tense and collocation.

It also affords an insight into learners' correction strategies. What kind of errors do they pick up on, and what kind are harder to catch? I think self-correnction is a vital skill, and one that learners can develop with experience and feedback. Do you make a habit of peer-reading and correcting in class? Does it work for your learners?

Then we had 20 minutes left: I focussed on what seem to me like two frequent structures:

Affordance I

We down to the sea.

...ignoring for the moment the final prepositional phrase 'to the beach.'

Verbs with adverbials  [VP went [AVP down]]  often express how (the verb)  + where (the adverbial).

My students had correctly put in the big idea first, down - the where, but forgotten that it's not itself a verb, so we needed to add one to express how the movement happened. Which one? Well, choose whichever is appropriate. How did you get down to the beach? Did you walk down, skip down, sprint down, drive down or what? We generated a few common versions.

For Romance L1 speakers, this structure is totally alien. In Spanish you might say:

bajamos corriendo [we descended running]

...where the verb says where and the -ing form says how. I took the chance to spell out explicitly how the words deliver the ideas, and we drilled and generated a few more.

Affordance II

we will buy wool clothes for going to a birthday.

or,  how we express the reason for doing something. In English we have three common alternatives:

I went to get batteries.
[VP went to get batteries]

I went for batteries.
[VP went [PP for batteries]]

I went because I needed batteries.
[CON because [S I needed batteries]]

I had noticed they had been a bit wooly about this. So again we discusses and generated.

In what way is this dogme? Is it not just grammar teaching? Is it not just the same as me bringing in the corresponding exercise from Murphy or Swan at the start of the lesson, and saying "Today we're going to look at two features of predicates"?

I think there's one vital difference - the stories are theirs. At least I hope it's a vital, rather than trivial experience. No individual teacher can hope to test this kind of thing objectively.

jueves, 1 de marzo de 2012

March of the Gladiators

Imagine a huddle of men in the shadows inside a great stone building. Outside a huge crowd stamps and bays. The men are clutching swords, spears, shields, and they are murmuring to themselves, or to their gods - for minutes from now, many of them will have died, brutally and publicly. A distant voice shouts an order, and the crowd roars again in anticipation. As the fanfare starts, they march out into the dazzling, roaring Colosseum:

March of the Gladiators, Julius Fučík (1872-1916)

Legend has it that the Czech Republic's army still marches to this.


Now that you're in the right mood, here's the question I wanted to ask you:

What is the daftest classroom idea in your teacher's repertoire?

Not a one-off crazy thing that just happened: Something you use regularly.

Please send your own exhibit - in a secure cage - to the Freak Show.