Wednesday, 18 July 2012

If what you are doing isn't working, do something else.

At the beginning of each lesson Marie asks us how we feel about learning - so far we've answered using fingers as a scale from 1 to 10, and with thumbs up/down. It's a good way of identifying what state the group is in, even if it's a large class - it focuses them on their own state of mind and can open up some important issues, the class and the teacher need to deal with before doing what's planned for the day.

Yesterday morning, each person in the group was given a piece of paper with a word they had to memorize. We gave the papers back to Marie and then we were given the task: Each person has a word, together you can form a sentence - try to do it. We had fun doing it and were actually really happy when we did it, even though it's a very simple and, only at the surface, boring grammar/syntax exercise. But then we got to analyzing it and here's what came up:

  • Not only did we do grammar, we also had to negotiate and share ideas, sometimes assert ourselves - which are all good strategies to practice. However, in a classroom full of students speaking the same language, their mother tongue would probably be used mostly. That takes away the foreign language practice dimension, but they still practice inter-personal skills. Not bad, is it?
  • You can give the students any sentence you want to give them. Group them in which ever way you want. This is an exercise for all ages and all contexts.
  • In order to succeed we HAD to LISTEN to each other. I don't know if I've mentioned a lack of empathy among my students, but they really need to learn how to listen to other people, for which this exercise is great. 
  • Right at the beginning of the exercise, one of my colleagues said: "Can we write it down?" and another said "I don't think that's allowed." The interesting thing about the question was that I was thinking the same thing and suddenly I realized how much seeing the word means to me. I guess I'm more of a visual learner than I thought. And now when I think of it - with all the writing I do all the time, and all the notes I take... Of course I am. The interesting thing about the answer is that nobody contested it - We made the rule ourselves and stuck to it. Nobody banned writing, Marie just didn't tell us to write, because she wanted us all to speak and by not having the words written down, each of us HAD to SAY at least one word - a good strategy for getting the really quiet ones speak.
  • Praise them. Name the interpersonal skills they showed well. Tell them - "You helped. You organized. You showed understanding." 
  • At the beginning of the activity we were all faced with a little bit of uncertainty and frustration - not knowing what comes next caused it. Later on we were able to analyze how we reacted to it, what role in the group we took on, etc. We concluded that most of us stayed calm because we trusted others in the classroom and the trainer, but also our own ability to deal with the task. Kids who lack trust in any of those respects, do not stay calm. That's why too much uncertainty can lead to disruption in the classroom due to some kids feeling helpless and giving up. So, if you see your students get stuck with this task, provide them with a clue. BUT! Do not over-manage- a little frustration leads to growth.
  • And if you get stuck, do what's written in the title. 
All my love,

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