The lesson started with a warmer I was really pleased with – it was unplanned and pulled from the contributions of two learners who had missed the previous week’s session and gave
their reasons as “I go to Manchester” and “I am poorly”. This led to a short error correction / discussion and I managed to elicit “I was poorly” from the class although “I went to Manchester” was rather less good.
Quite why “going to Manchester” was considered an appropriate excuse for non-attendance I unfortunately forgot to address!
I started showing the pictures, and the language began to flow, although I ended up giving prompts “He is / She is…” and “She has / He has…” to get thball rolling in a more productive vein. It was a touch too hard for some of the group, and it on the whole took a little longer than I had hoped. However, we did generate an awful lot of language, here’s a picture of the
board to give you an idea.
So in that regard it was a fairly successful session and this later enabled the learners to create a lot of their own ideas.
The activity needed to be a lot tighter: I ended up placing limits on how many sentences to say about each picture rather than leaving it open, and this seemed to free up the group a lot more.
I then moved the group around to write sentences about a partner and for me this was where I would also like to “invoke” the Criticial Incident as well: I moved the very low level beginner learner away from her classmate who often helps her, and this made for a less smooth flow to the lesson, although in many ways she did get the opportunity to try on her own. I used a sort of language experience approach – elicited her sentences, scribed them and then allowed her to copy them.
The second incident also occurred around now. I observed, apropos of nothing, that “now there are 3 people on each table.” to which one learner replied. “No, two people, and one woman”. Which was interesting. Let’s bear in mind this is a beginner group. So “In British culture it is inappropriate to refer to women in such a way” type comments would have fallen flat. I went for “In English, people means men and women” which gave him the benefit of the doubt that this was a linguistic mistake.
The Fellow Professional Lens*
So this was one of the points I explored with my Fellow Professional (hereafter FP) – to what extent was this acceptable? we agreed that given the level it would have been inappropriate and unclear to the learner had I chosen to explain it in the usual linguistically complex manner, this would have been meaningless to the learner. FP also pointed out that I was also looking pretty disapproving as I gave the feedback.
It was really useful to get feedback on some areas I had already identified – pace of the first activity but also a space to discuss ideas around how to improve that. One of my issues as a teacher trainer has been around the sharing and assessing of learning outcomes, and I was glad that FP also agreed that it would have been of little benefit to have gone into them with that group.
The other thing was around my language use: adjectives like beautiful & handsome, for example, where I used the example that only men are handsome, but women, cars, trees, etc. are described as beautiful (not strictly true, but true enough). The discussion with FP highlighted the somewhat sexist nature of my example (cars for example) but which for me then also highlighted the sexist nature of that particular pair of adjectives where women are lumped in with inanimate objects.
FP & I also discussed my questioning – I have always been pretty good at questioning (is that big headed?) – but in this lesson I nominated learners to answer but largely allowed other ss to answer unchallenged.
FP picked up on the links to previous learning – I’ve been working on that to an extent, and was very clearly highlighting where ss should have known and in some cases already did!
It was good to have some feedback on the very beginner learner: I had to admit that I have allowed her to be carried, and for me this highlighted that I relied on her using a colleague as a translator for a lot of things. Given that the rest of the group are probably looking at E1 next year, and one or two should have been transferred before I even took the group over.
So this is where the reflection on the weaker learners and how they may be feeling at this stage: in a group with one clear beginner, to what extent is she really not sure about what is going on? I think this is one of those issues which will remain with this group and indeed a running issue for a lot of beginner / E1 classes until the funding exists for very small group / one to one support for beginners.**
I think there were slow sections towards the end where the learners were working on the PCs but who were waiting for their partner to finish their typing (although “reading” the picture dictionaries, so not just timewasting), where I had been hoping / cajoling them to support and peer check.
But I did do a very simplistic learner self assessment of the lesson: a simple circle on the pieve of paper and if they liked the lesson, to draw a smiley face, if they didn’t like the lesson then a frowny face, or whatever. Here are the results:
So, positive then!
If I had to sum the theory of the lesson up, I would say I was drawing on two main influences: the NRDC Effective Practice Project results which led to the statement “Talk is work in the ESOL classroom” – which was definitely true here. I think teaching beginners and being very reflective of that process has been a really good reminder of what I really already sort of knew: that language is the key to communication, and that communication is key to teaching and without language, even the “procedural” elements are a massive challenge for the group. But then there is the real sense of achievement when the very beginner manages to produce her own piece of language, or when in just three weeks you can see a learner develop much higher levels of confidence, all very clear in front of your eyes. But I think this sometimes just happens without realising it for the teacher and so this whole process to date has been really positive.
The other big influence (and from the same overall mindset) is the unplugged / dogme school of thought: I have never consciously subscribed to a particular approach or methodology and would still not describe myself in those terms. However, for ESOL and ESOL learners the dogme maxims of language coming from the learners is absolutely what we should be striving for, and which in this lesson I was fairly successful.
I think that the looser plan was also a big help for me: in previous weeks the tighter plans I have been putting into place have led to me feeling more constricted by the plan, and less able to move away from that. Which again, ties in with aspects of the EPP and the whole unplugged movement. I only have to ask myself this: would it have been as successful had I been a novice teacher?
Reflection on Reflection
It has been interesting to try and put my usual ramblings into a structure, but I think one thing about this is that I would have liked for this lesson to have explored the critical incident analysis as this would have worked well for looking at the things which concerned me about this lesson more so than this model. But I have liked this and would definitely use it again.
And look, only one cynical comment, and that as a footnote. See, I can do it!
*I know that this usually comes third, but this seems to be a logical and more stylistically comfortable sequence.
**It’s called dreaming…