Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The First Day

The First Day!!

Conversation Circles in Classroom

The first day in an open class like the one I teach is always excitingly chaotic.  I never know who is going to show up, what sorts of skills they will have, or what needs they have.  It makes for a fun challenge in both the planning and teaching.

Of course, after a few years of doing this, I can make a number of assumptions (all will be native Spanish speakers, most know social language, and they all know more than I think - or even them - as Caleb Gattegno said.  Yet still, the question is always:  how do I get them to show me what they know in an effective and efficient manner?

So, I set up a lesson that looked like this:

The First Class

  1. Warm Up - get them mingling and using the language
  2. Assessment - this 30 minute look at where they are in terms of the four skills
  3. Classroom Language - start them off with some key phrases like:  have a seat, take a piece of paper and pass it on, etc
  4. Small Group Q and A - a semi free activity where they ask and answer basic questions that keep building until they are coming up with their own questions.
  5. Categories - a stations activity where they write down as many words they can think of in any given category (home, community, etc).  Once done, they report back to the group 5 interesting things.
  6. Idiom of the Day - This is such a cool thing to do to not increase interest but also to provide students with language chunks that will become more and more useful as the course progresses.
  7. Verbs - Done the same way in stations, but it's not random and I have the stations leveled so ss choose where they need to go and what level of freedom they want.  It's actually a cool little technique that can be modified for everything.
  8. Putting the verbs into action - After seeing where they are, I provide them with the chance to use the language in a meaningful way and at their level.
  9. Closure - what did you learn today? I learned.....  Ss do this at their tables and then in random groups around the room, reporting out at the end.
While I could go on about each one of these steps and the ones that aren't listed (pronunciation work, added classroom language, comp checks, etc), I prefer to focus in on one main points:  how do I get all students to show me what they know?

How do we get students to show us what they know?  

Though this is a key component of every teaching moment, it's particularly important the first day of class.  The first day is the first time we get to really get a sense the direction of the course will take.  I decided to work on both summative and formative ways, as any effective lesson should have a balance of both.

As the summative assessments are pretty well tackled in any class.  Things like the written levels evaluation is certainly the most summative of all.  In language class, skills such as speaking may take on a different summative form:  having students use the terms they associated with a category in a meaningful way, using the verbs in a communicative way, and the final role-play.  None of these tasks carried a 'grade', but they all were instrumental in determining the level of each student.

All of these stages gave me a good idea of how well the students were able to express themselves in speaking and in writing, and they also gave me valuable information about the comprehension skills in reading and in listening.  While I had been given a pretty good idea of which students would be level I and which would be in level II, the other type of assessment, formative, gave me even more information.

The formative assessments were going on throughout the entire class.  I began by greeting and speaking on in English.  It gave me a good sense not only of who could say 'what' but also who the reserved students were and who the extroverts were as well.  I began quickly with a warm up that was designed to help them get to know one another and to help me see who the 'leaders' were and the type of language being spoken.  Here are some things that I heard:

Exchange #1:  'What's your name?'  'Fine and you?'
Exchange #2:  'What's your name?'  'My name is Juan.'
Exchange #3:  'I'm Jose; what's your name?'  'Carla.  How are you today?'

Of course mistakes can be made, so I try and register where the mistakes are being made and by whom.  A person who makes the same mistake repeatedly has different needs than someone who makes the mistake on occasion.  This next technique gives me the chance to recycle language and go back to someone who may have been struggling.

The other little thing I do is called, 'stepping out'.  What I mean by that is the teacher steps out of the way and gets the students actively participate in their learning.  Here are some brief examples of each as they occurred in the lesson:

1.Step Out & Do - Students pass out papers and materials (understanding directions); students write down words and phrases (as opposed to the teacher); students create own practice materials (rather than the teacher creating them).

2.Step Out & ExplainStudents explain what a word means; students give an example of how it's used; students express the difference between A and B; etc.

3.Step Out & Say - Students fill in the gaps as the teacher pauses, students give classroom instructions ('have a seat', 'move to the right'), students count off out loud, etc.

4.Step Out & Model  Students give an example of word, model the pronunciation, show how to do an activity, model an exchange with another student.

5.Step Out & Correct  Students correct one another's mistakes; students monitor one another's speech and students provide the correction.

So, throughout the lesson, I’m paying attention how students are interacting with the content, the language and with one another (that's another Gattegno-ism).  This is what I uncovered (I’m sure this won’t surprise you):

When asked to give themselves a level (I, II, III), most put themselves in the appropriate spot.  There were some students who put themselves in level I, but they are really better off in level II.  There were some students who put themselves in level II, but would probably do better in level I.  No student chose level III.

While that always seems to be the way things go, this whole process taught me a number of things:
  • I know the personality types of most students in terms of interacting with others, including the teacher.
  • I know who the friends/family members/ couples are and which is the stronger and which is the weaker.
  • I know which students are going to be in which level; and I know who needs to be counseled to another level.
  • I have a sense of who is drawn to reading/writing and who is drawn to speaking/listening.
  • I have a sense of what their needs are (with the material we covered).
I know that I don't know any of my students 'deeply' but I do have a much better feel for where we should go and how we should proceed!

I started the class with 23 students.  My guess is there will be 10 more next class.  After that, I’m going to break them up into two groups for the rest of the term.

I know I didn’t mention anything about multi-level teaching in this post.  It’s such a cool topic and there were tons of MLT stuff going on...but I'm going to save that for another post.  I also think this first day reaffirmed my belief that a little fun, goes a long way!!

Who says you can't have fun practicing?
John Kongsvik

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