Subtitle: The Wrath of the Math.
“Your points are 2 for taking a taxi, plus 1 if you told the driver where exactly to let you out. Then roll the D4. Add courage points to the D4. Divide them by 5.”
I should have seen this coming. How often do you see any English for arithmetic in EFL materials? Never. How many of these ladies at Ladies’ College of Suburban Tokyo (LCST) have played RPGs before? None, so the D4 terminology from the first lesson went in one ear and out the other of some students.
Next time I will provide a little bit of Focus on Form on the arithmetic terms and hope that our dining role plays go well, because other than the maths, it was a good lesson.
With last week’s descent into the ‘dungeon’ being somewhat gung-ho, this week was a wake-up call. The group at University Outside Tokyo (UOT) changed. Our one woman was absent along with two other male players. Perhaps this is what led to one player stepping over the line or testing the boundaries of what is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom.
Our game at UOT is based on interacting with a non-player character (NPC) who is a foreign exchange student. This week we took him sightseeing (with our female player absent only our male NPC was in play). Unfortunately three of the players decided that a good place would be a massage parlour.
There was part of me that was close to ranting and raving. However, I didn’t. Instead, I appealed to the group’s lack of impropriety and asked if this was acceptable to them. It wasn’t. We finished the game, and after the transcription stage I called bullshit. I pulled rank as both ‘Dungeon Master’ and classroom teacher. Yes, I played my ‘Don’t be a dick!’ and ‘I grade your work’ cards. Do I feel slightly uncomfortable setting boundaries with adults? Yes, actually. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely.
There is a public transport-themed game stage next lesson with this group. I don’t think this will provide opportunities for lewd outbursts.
During the last few months and to an extent the last year or so there have been a few bits and bobs about diversity in ELT. Two examples off the top of my head are:
The queering (or actually not) OF ELT materials by Angelos Bollas (talked about at Innovate ELT 2016 and this year’s IATEFL).
Emily Hird’s post on diversity in ELT materials (by big publishers).
All of this leads me to believe that one OF the best tools we have at our disposal as teachers is Dogme, going materials light. This gives greater opportunity to go to places prompted by the learners and teachers rather than hem in conversation by implicitly suggesting a norm in a textbook.
A case in point would be the usual heteronormative, racially homogeneous family tree. One might get into hot water from bosses in very conservative institutions. If the work is learner centred, the basis of learners’ families is the basis of discussion. The way other families are portrayed on TV and in movies often come up in questions. How many learners have divorced parents? Step-siblings? Half-siblings? LGBTQ relatives that are married or living together? Heck, even straight people merely living together is risqué on coursebook land. That’s just an example of what could come up when talking about one topic.
If you have a diversity problem in your materials, are you sure they aren’t overly simplistic? If they are overly simplistic in diversity, as well as language that learners may require to meet their communication needs, why are we pussyfooting around the deficiencies of expensive dead trees and not instead boldly using our learners’ lives to teach real life.
First day back at A University Outside Tokyo today. All new courses as I decided to rewrite the one course that was the same.
Anyway, I have a course for repeating students. I requested this for the challenge and thought it would give me a chance to try new things to up motivation.
15-week role-playing game based roughly on a Dungeons & Dragons-type game mechanic? Based on welcoming an exchange student? Let’s enter the dungeon.
It’s very much a Role Playing course, with a minor game put in. It’s sort of a hybrid of Daniel Brown’s EFL RPGs and James York’s Kotoba Rollers framework. The students have (electronic) portfolios to submit, which should include audio recordings of role plays, transcriptions of part of that audio, vocabulary and grammar notes.
It’s just the first week but the students seem relatively enthusiastic, especially with the 20-sided, 10-sided and 4-sided dice.
The non-player characters (exchange students, parents, etc.) are not played by a Dungeon Master (teacher) but by the students and decided by values of dice rolls. There is a bit of task planning, task recording and task reflection, as well as focus on form reactively.
I still need to work in more about the strength, courage, observation and stamina points more clearly in my mind but at least it wasn’t rejected point blank.
“What do you need to do?” the teacher asks.
“Um, speak English,” the most outgoing student says.
“In what kinds of situations do you use English?”
So, not the most illuminating of exchanges to help plan a curriculum. There have been loads of times that this has happened to me, and to others. There’s a lovely post by Laura at Grown Up English about negotiating a task-based syllabus. You might also want a look at #TBLTChat 7 on syllabus design. Here, I’m going a bit hybrid.
With this group of learners I’m going to talk about, I asked their goals and what they usually use English for at work. I got that they want to work on fluency in speaking and listening, on the phone and face to face. There were no concrete situations, though.
Due to this, I get to use my imagination and have a bit of a daydream about other people’s work. Maybe this is due to too much Quantum Leap (“Oh, boy!”) as a boy. Not having the luxury of shadowing the students to find out about a typical day, I can only rely on what they tell me or what I can anticipate.
This board was based on my guesses what the students in this group might need based on knowledge that they work for a logistics services provider. I had the students in the group, of mixed level, rank the things that I chose according to how important they are.
It was interesting to find that answering complaints was not seen as important. I’ll leave this open for the rest of the course. It was also interesting to find that I don’t need to prioritise simple scheduling very highly. This means I’ll conflate the scheduling and queries lessons, with a bit of wriggle room by adding other things and renegotiating the syllabus again.
I leave one slot at the end for review or covering what crops up and then this is our syllabus for the rest of our 10-hour course. If you have any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.
This whiteboard was for the second lesson of a course I am teaching based on Business Result Pre-Intermediate. The learners are six men at a logistics company.
Check homework from the Practice File (gap fills for vocabulary review).
First up was a game at the end of the chapter based on questions and answers. It gave me a chance to check question formation and adjacency pairs (speech acts that go together).
I was going to move on to ‘eavesdrop’ upon the listening on the previous page and transcribe the conversation with half the class transcribing the man and half transcribing the woman. I thought that the game went on too long to do the textbook listening so I moved on to the speaking activity.
The speaking activity was the task at the top of the board:Introduce yourself; Targets: 80% native speed of response, 70% accurate vocabulary and grammar. They had to introduce their company, too. Matthew asked why I chose these targets. I figure that an introduction is really easy but an introduction with parameters close to what would be acceptable on business, generally, would be closer to the ‘real world’ and encourage more involvement than a task with no parameters.
Kamila asked how I measure the speed. Basically, I wait till the preceding utterance finishes, mentally answer and count two beats from my point of answering. It sounds harder than it is.
How I set it up was in threes, too talk one transcribes the first speaker only. This was to build accuracy in the first speaker. I read about it in this article by Skehan and Foster. In the article, learners transcribed themselves but in this risk they transcribed each other. Conversations carried on for around seven minutes. I followed up with a focus on form. These were mainly about vocabulary or body language and a little bit on question formation with final prepositions. Advice was given based on the transcription and then the task was repeated. I then followed with pairs repeating a similar task but with a 2 min 30 sec time limit. The companies they chose to talk about were all fictionalised, hence ‘adult entertainment’. Homework set was a gap fill with ‘you’ or ‘I’ in questions.
It went well, particularly with the weaker students in the class. Some things I wish I’d done were getting the students to record each other in pairs then transcribe themselves. This ended up being the end of the next lesson (make a podcast section to give an introduction to your company) and homework (transcribe yourself, noting mistakes or things you would change if you did it again). Overall the lesson was quite good but I still am not totally satisfied. Maybe this is because I am still trying to figure out my rapport and how we gel. Maybe I feel it was a bit repetitive, though it was kind of a fun time.
I’ve been experimenting with board games in the classroom, sometimes in a bit of an impromptu way.
“Seriously, Marc? Aren’t you anti-game?“
No, I’m not; I’m anti time wasting. I’m going to write a bit about things I’ve done with them below. Both, coincidentally, are by Oink Games. They are pocket sized, due to the boards being made up of chips. Both games require collaboration as well as competition, with shifts between both states.
This is a game of guessing card values and ‘betting’ on the value in order to gain treasure. It’s simple and addictive. The game works by guessing the value of a Troll card only one player has seen and as a group being lower (or not being the individual or one of a couple of individuals that takes the total over the Troll card value) in order to win gems.
I’ve played with children in small groups and in a big university class using teams, and this has tended to work well to encourage English use by penalising unnecessary Japanese use with a one-gem penalty. There’s a tendency to play risky but that’s the fun of the game. There’s negotiation among groups, as well as explanations of betting strategies.
Deep Sea Adventure
This is Troll with movement and is difficult to win points from without a bit of restraint and cooperation.
You go around the board as a diver collecting treasure but there’s an air ration, you only know the approximate value of the treasure and carrying it reduces your own movement and also reduces the air for everyone. Because of the game complexity, there is inbuilt need for communication, like “You can’t move five. You need to go back two because of your treasure.” or “you forgot to move the air meter.” My favourite utterances were a very ladylike “Oh, shit!” and “Are you seriously going to do that?”
Never mind a deep sea adventure, it’s a deep adventure into stuff students never say to one another.
Rose Bard’s blog posts tagged with game-based learning.
Japan Game Lab