Learner Autonomy ought to be Awesome not Anomie

Ooh, Marc. Your classes always look like you give your students loads of freedom. 

Yes, it does look that way but sometimes I still feel like I’m spoonfeeding. So today, I ditched my plan and tried an experiment. 

To prepare for a discussion on health. I set stations that the learners would practice at.

  • Vocabulary brainstorming at the board.
  • I suspected that the learners would just pick out single words. I later elicited collocations. 

  • Discussion planning.
  • Or functional language planning. What can you say to open a discussion, control a discussion, agree, disagree politely, change the subject and end the discussion. Not amazing. 

  • Fluency practice.
  • Teacher led choral, response drills, function drills. Popular with the learners but not my bag. Useful to an extent. 

  • Reading.
  • Read the handout then discuss it. Response task on the back. Reading has a gloss and few if any ‘hard’ words. 

  • Mini-discussion practice.
  • Set a task (actually part of the exit task). The post-task was to report to me three best balances of nutrition and taste for the discussion. 

How did it go?

 

Well, I’d be lying if I said everything was amazing. The vocabulary was very successful with my morning classes, and OK with the afternoon class. The reading was basically spot on and the mini discussions went well. The discussion planning kind of sucked a bit. Some learners took over and derailed the activity and it took a while to get back on track. 

All in all, not bad, though. I’ll probably try something similar again but I definitely want to tweak the language planning, perhaps with a handout. But that takes the autonomy away. 

Travel Problems – a Dogme-ish lesson

 

In this post I’ll go over a bit of a Dogme-ish (and I say Dogme-ish because it’s kind of Task Based due to the syllabus that I knocked up based on the absolute lack of any definite needs for my university students other than ‘learn some English’). With that, I designed a bit of a travel-based task cycle, of which every lesson stands alone or links. This is the final one in the cycle and perhaps my favourite. This is a role-play lesson with a bit of a difference.

  1. Give out slips of paper. Tell students to each write one different foreign travel problem on the slips. They don’t need to worry about spelling very much because it’s not the point of the lesson. Take all slips in.
  2. Put students into groups of 4 or 5 (I’d say groups of 3 might be too much work for one person – you’ll be assigning rotating roles to the students). The rotating roles are speakers who role play each travel problem and two or three listeners who listen to all or some of the following:
    • Grammatical accuracy;
    • Lexical appropriacy;
    • Pragmatic competence;
    • Pronunciation;
    • Communication strategies;
    • Fluency;
    • What they would do the same or do differently.
  3. Give the slips out, ensuring groups have as few duplicates as possible. Set the students to plan one role play (not script writing – focus on speech acts and reactivity) as a group for students 1 & 2 in the group to perform for 6 minutes. Then have students 1 & 2 perform the role play while 3 & 4 listen and then give feedback. Teacher monitors and takes notes.
  4. Focus on Form. Probably a good idea to cover things you noticed but the student listeners didn’t.
  5. All students planning again – 4 minutes this time.  Students 2 & 3 perform, 1 & 4 listen then give feedback.
  6. Focus on Form.
  7. As previous planning and roleplaying but with 2 minutes planning. 3 & 4 perform, 1 & 2 listen.
  8. Focus on Form again.
  9. No planning. 1 & 4 perform, 2 & 3 listen and give feedback.
  10. Student groups pick the most successful role play. Teacher randomly  (or not) selects pairs from each group to perform, gives feedback.

Here Be (Dungeons and) Dragons: 7

Back to the Campaign

I’m not satisfied with the RPG courses at the moment but I can see what it is that I want. I want to be able to just put everything in place like I have five years experience of RPGs rather than feeling my way blind. 

So what would I do with all my unearned experience? Well, I think I would like to delegate some of the Dungeon Master responsibilities to the students. Learner Autonomy is a good thing. The only problem is only about a handful are capable of putting together a scenario and scoring. Because Japan is a groupist culture, this means I would run the risk of putting noses out of joint. 

Another thing that I hadn’t thought through properly is item functions. The class at UOT has won some items but LCST has had no items in the game, yet. I was considering using these items to fiddle the game and let conscientious learners get high scores but in all honesty all the students are conscientious enough to keep me happy. Still, a few things could make it more interesting. 

So what I am going to do is add items in the next few stages and have clear benefits to them. 

I will ask of anyone wants Dungeon Master homework. I might even make a tutorial video about using Google Slides, too. 

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 123456

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 6: Interlude


Interlude, or stopping the game and assessing.

Who’s assessing?

Well, funny you should say that. At Ladies College of Suburban Tokyo (LCST) I went around two classes of twenty odd, checking portfolios in progress while the students planned repeat tasks. I assigned them to re-record the most difficult task of the last 4 weeks, listen to the new one, listen to the previous one and judge which is better and how or why? Also, it gives a chance to see what still needs to be done. These students are a bit more savvy with academic skills as well as IT, and I don’t have access to a CALL room so I didn’t run a lesson on PowerPoint and OneNote or Google Apps to collate work.

The students’ work outside class has been a good mix of practice with elllo.org and dreamreader.net but also a lot of indiscriminate grammar drills from high-school textbooks, despite my urge to study grammar from graded readers, listening or something with a lot of context or cotext.

At University Outside Tokyo (UOT), I had more students than usual after a prompt of “come to class or face failing again”. Some students were savvy, others not so. I showed how to use PowerPoint to gather pictures and annotate them for vocabulary and how to drag and drop multimedia files. I was hoping this would take about 50 minutes but young people in Japan, while mobile literate are sometimes not very computer literate. They’ll redo tasks at the start of the next lesson.

At least I know now what the demands are, how much time it takes me to get around everyone to give feedback and the students know to make better use of grammar drills and such.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Reading Gallery Lesson – quick prep activity

night-of-the-living-dead-group.jpg

Image from Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero 1968 – no copyright.

This is an activity similar to one I did before from this TBLT Task Ideas Linoit Board where you can get students to choose one thing from a set of limited options. For this lesson I chose eight films from the top 50 list on imdb.com and copied and pasted the story synopsis into text files. You could get your students to choose. I didn’t because I was a bit short of time for various reasons. I then set my students in groups of four to choose one film to watch together.

I ran the text files through TagAnt to tag them for parts of speech in AntConc corpus concordancer. You’ll want the TagAnt tag list handy to check grammar in AntConc.

Open the tagged files in AntConc. Check the clusters, N-grams and word frequencies (including tags). In my mini corpus I found that the most key grammar was present simple passives and also there were a lot more proper nouns than expected. I kept this in mind for Focus on Form and actually did need to focus on form on passives.

Print the untagged text files after changing fonts and tidying them in your favourite word processor. Print, cut, and pin/stick to the wall.

I had my students in groups of four take rotating turns to read for: new vocabulary, storyline, setting, and characters. For odd numbers – groups of five with two assigned to new vocab or groups of three with setting and characters both assigned to one student. Dictionary checking halfway through the task and again at the end. They then read and choose which film to watch (or which trailer to watch as homework and write about in their learning journals).

A lot of my students chose a film because ‘it was the only film we understood and liked’, which is fine, in my opinion. I told them that I don’t choose to watch films that I don’t understand the story synopses of. I also had borne in mind the number of proper nouns counted in the corpus so remembered to tell students who looked a bit stuck that if the difficult word was capitalised in the the middle of a sentence it was probably a place or a person.

It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t as good as I expected. Even with short texts. the lesson was a bit hard. Some pictures of the films probably would have been useful. Anyway, you live and learn, don’t you?

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 5

The crap lesson

This week at LCST the task was to ask which metro station a sightseeing spot is near. Unfortunately the lesson wasn’t very good. The first steps of the task were very poor. It wasn’t helped by assuming students would be able to just ask where a foreign place is. The complexity of the task needed to be thought about first.

I suppose this needs to be key in task design. Perhaps a task design process should be considered. A preliminary idea is:

Task Design Process

  • Idea

  • What language functions are necessary?

  • What different skills are needed?

  • What is likely to occur?

  • What can be done to scaffold to enable best-case scenarios?

  • Review

  • Check what could go wrong at each step.

So, anyway, after a focus on form on questions and longer answers, I’d say the task was finally done well, but I’ll check over everything so far in next week’s review lesson.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons previous ‘chapters’: 1, 2, 3, 4

Read the future chapters 6

Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons 1

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.

Read Here be (Dungeons and) Dragons future’chapters’: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6