Playing it Straight

The bits that worked:

I changed the plan very slightly, and raised the profile “page” bit at the end. This was a good decision as it set the scene nicely for next week’s session, and provided a nice link through to the end of the course. Also by then the learners were mainly “tuned in” and more receptive to the ideas. But otherwise it went more or less according to plan, which suggests there was wriggle room in the plan, and that the plan was pretty decent, if somewhat safe.

The actual writing bits went very well, including the weakest learner, through a language experience approach type of activity, and the vocab “presentation” has developed into a bunch of shortish paragraphs about daily routines: in fact highly successful in that respect. We’re all ready to start our pretend social networking profile pages next week, developing some simple ideas for texts and what they are going to do with them. They were also pleased by the idea of going online next week.

I did like my warmer: I’m on a mini mission to get them into dictionaries, and I popped a few words from the previous week’s lesson onto the board and simply asked them to find the page number. There were a couple of little lightbulb moments regarding the “word list” (we were using the Longman Photo Dictionaries), as learners found the page, checked the word and then reported back. Fun times.

A particularly successful activity was a learner led substitution drill:  organised along the lines of speed dating, where I lined the learners up in two lines facing each other, then they asked each other “what time do you…” questions: arguably the most successful section of the lesson because, and this is important, very important, a number of the learners moved from simple drill-type interactions (“what time do you wake up?” “I wake up at 7.00”) to a more full blown, natural interaction, using the same structure to express disbelief, and the beginnings of some really effective intonation and turn taking: “I get up at six o’clock. What time do YOU get up?” and “I get up at 5 o’clock.” “WHAT time do you get up? Really?”  And it’s worth remembering that that’s a tough call. I have met level 2 learners who struggle to achieve anything other than a depressed monotone.

The bits that didn’t work.

There was a saggy bit in the middle, around points 6 and 7, – the differentiation didn’t go as planned which led to the rest of the lesson going slightly askew. However, it wasn’t a major hiatus, and I probably could have just had a comfort break there to revive things as well. There are still issues around stretch for some of the stronger learners – making sure they have something to do, but having met them properly this was way better than last week, and should improve next week.

My personal experiment here was around learning outcomes, the value of “sharing” them I have always wondered about. And I have to be honest and say that for this lesson  I might as well have just whistled the learning outcomes at the beginning, for all it meant to the learners. I won’t comment much on how integrating the ILPs went: it didn’t work BUT this is a group who have had a number of teachers and no real work on those since March. So that was almost certainly bound to fail, due to the learners being unfamiliar – something like that would need a proper long stretch of practice for it to start to become valid. But worth a bash, I guess. But the whole learning outcomes thing, really, not impressed. For this group it just didn’t make sense. I’m going to try it again next week, without muddling the ILP stuff in, see if that makes a difference, but also the “outcomes” are going to be even less SMART. in fact, probably RT, or even just T. But I want to emphasise that it was just one lesson: and in the spirit of research and experimentation, I am going to persist and see how we get on

This probably isn’t the group to do this with, but a plan for next year would be a little action research project into sharing learning outcomes and linking these to ILP targets: with a higher level group, get them involved in evaluating the lessons, and the activities, and the extent to which this helped their development.

But it has got me thinking in a lot more detail about the position of ESOL in an FE environment, and indeed on the most problematic area of all, which is, ironically, the very thing ESOL is there to teach. But that is another post for another day.

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