Not Asinine Beginners

This week I take over a beginner class, which, being beginners, are not going to be doing any kind of accredited assessment. Which means RARPA, and my very favourite subject ILP targets.   Having just spent a soul destroying hour looking through endless variations of learners filling in forms, copying alphabets, putting full stops on the end of asinine sentences, writing asinine sentences about themselves and seeing where these match up to asinine targets set on ILPs. And so I find myself trawling through my scheme, realising that due to a number of factors, like the class being covered by a number of different teachers in recent months, my rough scheme outline is in fact pretty redundant, and so it’s back to the drawing board with the depressing realisation I need to find a bunch of evidence for some pretty dull stuff.

This is not me in a happy place. One of my favourite whinges about ESOL is the fact that the stuff we get learners to do is usually so safe and so very very worthy. Developing good citizens and useful members of society (i.e. wage earners). Providing them with skills they can apply in the real world. But hell’s teeth is it dull. The “Mrs Khan goes to the doctor” school of ELT. Deeply functional, worthy and honourable, but boring.

And they’ve done the worthy stuff already. I’ve been looking through their files, and they’ve done the getting a job stuff, the going to the shops, buying food, all that crap.

And I mean no disrespect to the previous teacher – they did (and do) need to practise filling forms, using upper case letters, asking questions, etc etc. There is nothing basically wrong with this – but, aside from anything else, they’ve done it.

So a quick look through their work tells me a few things: they are largely capable of some basic writing. They need to work on (or at least review) the “obvious” beginner stuff: capital letters, full stops, asking and answering questions about themselves. They are nice. They are dedicated. Some are probably in the wrong class. But also, being at the front end of the last term, they appear to be largely on the cusp of Entry 1 (with a couple of exceptions).

And this got me thinking, and reawakened some old project based teaching ideas, with a sprinkle of TBL.

So here’s the plan.

Tomorrow, I go in, we do some stuff, I talk to them, they talk to me, we find out a little about one another. They learn some stuff about can/can’t for ability linking in to their last lesson on the Olympics by another (cover) teacher. I suspect a “find someone who” will happen at some point. (My plan is a touch more complex than that. Just.)

And we cook up a project. I don’t know what yet, exactly. I have some rough ideas. I’m going to plumb their interests (so some “likes & dislikes” work tomorrow) and see what they are interested in. But among my first thoughts are:

  • some sort of prepared presentation about themselves which we can film and share (should mean most writing targets will be hit by preparing, lots of speaking targets hit by giving)
  • a class newsletter / magazine / poster / blog (planning and drafting texts about each other in pairs for example, would involved asking for and giving information orally as well as recording it in writing)
  • some sort of survey summarising a lot of the work done so far in the year about work, food, shopping, routines, likes & dislikes, then putting the results into a simple poster they can share with their class.
  • “Days in the Life” posters based on people, photos, words, experiences, things they like or have noticed

I’d love to do some sort of story writing but it would be hard to swing that into the last five weeks of a beginner group!

The joy of all this being that regardless of the work done so far, by producing this sort of work, along with the final assessment we use for beginners, it should show demonstration of progress since they started (mostly thanks, I should add, to the teachers who taught the group for most of the year).

I should add that none of this is exactly ground breaking, nor is it much by way of ramping up the excitement. But it’s not another endless round of “filling in forms”. I suspect I will still have to trudge through the folders once or twice, to show “interim” progress, or some such, but doing this will hopefully produce something good and concrete and which the learners can take away and be pleased with. Not to mention save my sanity.

I’ll let you know how we get on.




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