Tonight was, as they say, a game of two halves. The first half was in a classroom. 16 Level 1 learners around four tables. There was a very good interactive whiteboard, I had access to 20 new netbooks, three desktop PCs plus a couple of regular whiteboards.
I had the learners reviewing their writing diagnostics, individually and collaboratively identifying areas for development, and then drafting targets for ILPs. It’s not the best way to do this, and I’m fully expecting to get pulled up on “not SMART enough targets” but if you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll probably guess that this isn’t something I’m about to lose sleep over. But experience tells me that one to one tutorials with a group of 20 (on the register) students is a long hard process whereby the class get to do self study or similar for two or three sessions. On an evening course of 72 sessions, that’s a fair chunk, especially if repeated a couple of times, and sometimes hard to justify to students. So this process is a bit of a rough compromise, and anyway, I’ll be adding some SMARTer targets as time goes on.
The second half of the lesson was carried out in what functions for most of the day as a wide corridor with a couple of break out areas marked with sofas and four round tables.
This half of the lesson was a very straight reading lesson. It was based on a Guardian article of an ESOL student describing his life and his studies. I first got the learners into two groups, making use of the space available, by getting them to line up in order of how long they had been in the UK, then splitting them down the middle, so to speak. I then ran the reading tasks (gist – match the headings to the paragraph, detail – read the text and find facts) as two separate “classes”, answering individually at first, then sharing with a partner, then discussing and agreeing with their group. The space was wide enough segregate the two “classes” without them overhearing each other.
I then got the whole class back on their feet and told them to find a partner from the other group and compare answers, before finishing with a neat paired discussion of some the themes in the text.
It was a very straight, CELTA approved reading lesson, but the inclusion of the space made all the difference. The ILP half of the lesson was in a well equipped but hot and stuffy room, and I had even considered doing the reading as an online task. I’m glad I didn’t because the change of space and of pace lifted the entire class in terms of engagement and enthusiasm – learners were sitting comfortably round tables, arguing quite passionately and without prompting about the right and wrong answer. And sometimes the weight of all that technology can be somewhat overbearing: the stuff is in the room, fans humming, there’s a part of you feeling almost guilty for denying the students the Wonders of Elearning, and the pressure becomes almost tangible. There was also a feeling, although possibly just me, of somehow being freed up from the pressure of reflection and self analysis of the first two weeks of the course and just exploring some language and some text for a bit. I think that for learners as well the constant barrage of reflective questions can be a bit of a drain: “why do you want to do the course?” “What are you good at in English?” “When do you need English?” “What are you not so good at, what do you need to work on?” I do wonder if we overdo it sometimes.
In short we went from monkish well-meaning self analysis in a hot room to a physically active and engaging task in a cool, airy space, so it’s hard to remain unbiased. Indeed I wonder if the impact of the space was so great that it would have perhaps alleviated some of the pressure of self-reflection.
Either way, as the lesson panned out, the final hour was by far the better of the two, because learners were reading, talking, sharing and collaborating. And getting a lot from it: learning.