Fin de siecle
At the University of Outside Tokyo my English repeaters have just finished their first RPG. It has, at times, been immensely frustrating due to my own idealism. Surely everyone would love to attend an English course for university if it were structured as a Role-Playing Game! It does not quite work like that, and despite a large improvement in attendance, it appears that I am likely to have students who fail due to lack of work through non-attendance.
I am assessing the course based on participation and quality interaction in the lessons, as well as through a reflective portfolio where students analyse the problems in their roleplays and identify root causes and potential solutions.
However, those that came showed great positivity despite not feeling fond of communicating using English. This is my reward, after dreaming up scenarios, some richer than others, for my students to roleplay through and cast D20s upon.
I am assessing the course based on participation and quality interaction in the lessons, as well as through a reflective portfolio where students analyse the problems in their roleplays and identify root causes and potential solutions. This is done by using recordings to assist in recall. It is essentially cribbed and adapted from James York’s Kotoba Rollers framework. Mostly the portfolios are OK with flashes of brilliant insight. The last class today as used as a portfolio workshop for my students to complete their portfolios. As they worked, the appearance and reappearance of eureka expressions on their faces were my reward. And it is these eureka moments that I hope the students remember, rather than brightly-colored, odd-shaped dice.
Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
Working as a teacher gives you opportunities to have interesting conversations with people and have fun with language. Sometimes, though, you just feel stuck in a rut and want to change things. This could be the start of something beautiful.
You can look at what you might make better instead of having a moan. Are your materials crap? Make some. Turn yourself into a cottage industry within a larger industry. You might learn a bit about what makes good materials. If you do decide to make your own materials, I recommend Powerpoint as opposed to Word, because you can get your layout aligned more easily. Test your materials and refine them (Eric Ries lays out this process in The Lean Startup as Minimum Viable Product [and you don’t have to sell your products for money. Kudos is currency sometimes]).
You might also do a bit of action research. There is a lot of high-faluting imagery about this but what it comes down to is this:
- Have a think about something you want to change or want to understand the effect of.
- Think of one thing to change in your practice so you can observe it.
- Record it.
- Keep doing it for a bit so you know if you are fluking it or whatnot.
- Maybe have another go.
This might lead you to new ways of working that are better for you. I would think so. Otherwise you might have other like-minded souls join you. However, some see things like this as too much work, rocking the boat or otherwise undesirable. Do it for yourself, not for gratification from others, else you will never see it through.
If you have a blog, why not show your work?
Stuff I’m working on at the moment is a beefed-up version of my TBLT board, and simple materials that can be used easily and widely for useful tasks. This will be coming up soon. But not very soon, so don’t hold your breath. I’m talking at least Summer.
I don’t know whether many teachers are really concerned about what goes on in other teachers’ classrooms. I am, but then I’m nosy. I want to know what their cool ideas are. I want to steal!
That said, I’m not indiscriminate. I want to steal good stuff that I think will work with my learners. In that case, why do I have people in my personal learning network (PLN) based in across the world, when I’ve said before that learning can’t be generalised?
Because I want to get ideas about flow. Because an idea that won’t work for me makes me think about why it won’t work and what I need to do in order to make it work. It’s part of the reason I set up the Tokyo Lesson Jam, which is way overdue another meeting (December, when I finish my DipTESOL?), so that I could steal other people’s cool stuff.
For those of us who never get to do peer observations, reading lesson plans on blogs is like a glimpse into another teacher’s classroom. You get to say ‘I wouldn’t do that, I’d do this‘ (in a nice way, not a smart-arsed way). You might even say it in the comments of the blog. You might also see how somebody else solved a problem that you’re working on, or tried unsuccessfully to solve it. The internet is the easiest way to join a community of practice and people are welcoming. People will still say that your stupid ideas are stupid, but they will often say so nicely. They will then give you a better idea. If an idea or method should be rejected, you’ll be told why, and if anything usable can be salvaged from the wreck.
So, yes, even if my stupid lessons wouldn’t work for your learners, it can still be useful provided you give the reasons why it wouldn’t.
I took my second idea from the LinoIt TBL ELT Board, a lesson planned especially for this class and using a listening task as the presentation of language (Task 1).
I was banking on three students attending but in the end only one student came and he was 20 minutes late.
We used the entire task sequence but I looked at listening to reduced forms in connected speech by using a prepared gapped transcript (my just-in-case activity).
Was it the best lesson ever? No. It was with a student who is often late and has erratic attendance so I just don’t know his needs as well as those of the rest of the class. Did it go OK? Yes. I think I need to look at conditionals briefly for a bit of consolidation but really do more with reporting speech naturally.
You can’t teach without reflecting. Apparently.
You sit in a staff room an listening to people moaning about “them” being idiots/dummies/dehumanized amorphous masses; about “them” not being capable of independent thought; about “them” not giving a monkey’s.
You chirp, “It’s because the students are not used to dealing with communicative classrooms and they don’t want to make mistakes. Why not try group work and reporting group opinions if they’re shy or unresponsive.”
You mean ‘I wouldn’t talk to you either if you carried that attitude about me. I’m putting in my two-pence worth because it’s frustrating listening to you.’
“Well, I’ll give it a try but…”
At the same institution you have had students enjoy TOEIC lessons by drawing the focus away from the book and on the thought processes behind the questions set. Students work together to produce their own TOEIC-style materials. You’ve had students give group carousel poster sessions about language study and motivation. You’ve had students survey their classmates and then reflect on whether their survey design was flawed or not. Only one of these was your own idea. Mostly everyone has been on task. Either you have remarkable classes or your students are just in a better mood for studying.
You are exploring your practice. You share ideas. You can advise what works for you and something that might be good to try. In a class full of “them”.
You can’t expect everyone to be enthusiastic all the time. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.