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Getting there


Thursday, May 06, 2004

Coming home after class and peeping through the discussion worksheets I feel so blessed to be a part of the students' learning process and privy to their efforts.

Today I met a colleague teaching the marketing section of Economics, found out he's using the same textbook I chose for the second semester, so the students will be getting double exposure, which is a good thing.

In class fifteen minutes early a couple of students had beaten me to it. At the back near the door I set up the tests and the two prints, optional reading with a peer sample vocab sheet and the discussion sheet for after thebreak. Remembered to ask for help this time.

Spoke to one of the students about Golden Week, and then his concern with not having known about the Japanese on the vocab sheet, and he thanked me for the e-mail and said he had felt reassured. The class didn't really start officially as it were, I wrote up on the board to change partners this time and students got down to business, testing each other. I again went round, encouraging them to use the English phrases on the sheet to test, and timed a couple of pairs to see how long it actually took to do. Testing a student using English and checking the sheet takes about five minutes, so when it was time to start the lesson I called in the papers and wrote on the board that next time we would convene at 9:30, seven and a half minutes each to check the vocab, rather than the ten minutes each that Murphey suggested.

I spent a couple of minutes pointing out the importance of section 3 on the vocab sheet for agreeing with someone, which previews the exercise in the group discussion, using English with a Japanese rerun to ensure they get the point. I also said (again) that section 4 is best done using a real up-to-date sample sentence that they can use to express an opinion, not something like We make profit. (Forgot to IRF and what, are the goals of the course???Yes, that's right, to use Economic Vocabulary to express spoken ideas and opinions- i.e. missed a chance to state the goal of the course explicitly again...)

Then I said we would be doing group activities, four to a group, with one mark for all, and that some students who wanted to try doing it only in English should sit on the left side of the room, and the others who wanted to try but would mix in Japanese if necessary should move to the right side of the room, and them make groups of four and take a poster roll of sheaves of paper I had ready on my desk, and try out the group discussion with the scaffolding group leader sheets to help them. I said they should change group leader for each question.

Only one group moved to the left of the room, apparently they all knew each other from the English speaking society. No wonder they've turned in one of the best papers....
One group ended up with five members, at the back, and I began to circulate, making sure they separated the group leader roles and each leader had their prompt sheet. They were giggling a bit, embarrassed at saying 'ok, let's get going' and things. By the time I got round to one group near the window, there was only five minutes left, and to my horror they hadn't even unrolled the assignment papers, but were staring miserably at the after the break worksheet....not only had they not understood me, they simply didn't think to ask anyone for help, to say nothing of me....I missed a chance to ask them what to do in a situation where they don't understand, but asked them sarcastically why I would bother handing out a roll of assignments if they weren't supposed to look at them, and then blipped one of them lightly on the head with the roll saying use your brain, mate...Oh boy, total failure on my part to be reassuring and supportive here, failed to encourage them to brainstorm strategies about what to do when they feel lost, and I could hear the group next door pricking up their ears at all this and sniggering....talk about promoting a warm friendly atmosphere......doing the parent on the warpath thing, most demeaning.

My ranking of agreements in a grid looking at strengths of agreement and exploring the use of verbs from is to seem to be through may be took a bit of explaining, as I wandered round..some students seem to have difficulty with the wording of my discussion sheet, what was a verb, emmm, and some group leaders didn't always follow through with the prompt sheet which was designed to help...kind of started and then abandoned it.... One group was not as friendly to all members as one would hope, like in my previous class where the group fell apart into solitary workers for efficiency, the fiver group split into a twosome and another twosome and a sleeper(with his eyes open). I didn't want to accuse him of sleeping....I guess I should have asked him if he was participating, but that was really the group leader's job, to call the names and lead the discussion....I guess I just need to let them get on with the learning process, and that includes failing to do it and drawing conclusions from that about how to succeed better next time...(???)

Overall the groups were much slower than my Tuesday lot, so I called a break at 10:00 and at 10:05 asked them to do only five of the seven discussion questions on the second worksheet, this time with no promptsheet but changing group leaders in turn. Again I circulated, trying to help, sometimes explaining too much. The students want to know the 'right' answer. I said, there is no right answer, group leadered a couple of Qs and then as the answers came through said right, that's it, write it down. Only they're not used to note-taking, so the writer forgets, and can't note it all down without the whole group stopping. So I suggested, ok, you write, you three are free so discuss the next Q, he'll catch up. Can it be that they've never never never done groupwork before? I must ask, I need feedback on this...note-taking skills, hmmmmm. But I'll have to somehow link it to Economics and feed two birds with one cookie, or they'll feel like they're not learning a 'real' Economics course.

I'm going to have to write up a filled in sample sheet and do a teacher focused follow-up next week, in the pre-break session, so they hear what everyone else wrote and have a copy. There were some good ideas in there overall, just not consistently on every question, so it will be hard to mark: my weekend task....along with devising the TBL session of how to talk about graphs: is there not something out there I can use as a crutch? I need a break, but I still think the textbook is the most thorough, only it's not set up communicatively and it looks like the density of the material is way too hard for them to cope with...I think I'll just do a straight old-fashioned translate inbetween somewhere, for the learners who like a bit of head down and wade through the stuff in class.

The trouble with the communicative approach is, if you haven't been thinking and preparing, when you notice you can't say things in class it's too late, and it seems an enormous task, possibly embarrassing, and then you just go home and think, oh well, it's over, so why worry? And neglect to do the follow-up study, so you end up in a failure spiral, permanently overawed by students who are working and sound fluent.

But if i spend hours on learner strategies, I'm slowing down the achievers, who really can cope with the beginnings of serious discussion on issues and negotiate and learn from the worksheets...I think I'm up a dead-end here, must be tired after work, will take a break and reread this later, after all, how to motivate (how I motivate) is what this is all about.

One group are always last out of the classroom, so I asked how they like the class and if the prompt sheet was helpful, they said it was very helpful and that three questions in forty-five minutes rather than five would be better: I see they have only answered three questions overall, which makes sense.