Tutorials reports 1

Tutorials : Low-Intermediate Adults

Having reached the half-way point in the course, we had one-to-one , teacher – student tutorials this evening.

In the previous lesson I had given students a list of questions to respond to and bring with them to the tutorial. The questions focussed around the class, the teacher, the activities, vocabulary notebooks, skills work, grammar, coffee classes and error correction.

I personally got a lot more out of the session than I was expecting. Some students were surprisingly insightful and offered zeitgeist ideas for moving forward as a class.

The main points to take forward are below.

Error correction

Public display of errors with the chance to correct each other.

More immediate, on-the-spot correction of speaking errors: grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary.

How can I improve this?

Board more errors, but not only errors. Why don’t you board decent examples of English use and ask students to improve them for style, appropriacy. You could board utterances, mark the tone units or intonation the speaker displayed and again, ask the class to improve the pronunciation of this utterance.

Toward a Flipped Classroom

This one really surprised and impressed me. Two female students – one very strong, one weak – proposed we invert the learning process. I engaged the strong student in discussion about speaking activities in class. She lamented the fact that there is too much silence and wasted time waiting for people to speak. If students were prepared they would have something to say, she argued. I had thought my use of pictures to stimulate and clear Qs should provoke discussion. But it’s true that often these tactics failed miserably and I couldn’t understand why.

She proposed the following procedure:

  • Teacher / Students decide on a topic for the next class.
  • Teacher directs students to research this area before that class. Teacher can provide guided tasks, e.g. find a text, find a listening text, brainstorm useful vocabulary related to the topic, write 5 discussion qs to talk about on this topic, write a response to the topic, record yourself saying something about the topic (the possibilities all just came to me, they are endless).
  • Whatever material or tasks students do related to the topic they bring with them to class and these form the basis for the lesson.

Pretty remarkable that she is describing a flipped, Dogme lesson. The height of contemporary ELT! Needless to say I was captivated and compelled to try this out.

Things to consider

Obviously, the Dogme nature of the lesson requires certain teaching skills which are still quite foreign to me. However I think a lot can be predicted based on the topic that the students / teacher decides on.

There is a risk that students won’t do it, or that only a couple will. As long as one student does something, we can use that material and take it as far as we can.

Thinking time

Following on from the points above is another issue raised in the same thread of conversation, and something I have been considering recently. Students need thinking time before they speak. Even simple speaking tasks, like some simple discussion qs based on pictures will make some students uncomfortable. It is all well and good in thinking that students need real-life conditions in the classroom to make the class relevant or realistic. However, this is a classroom. It is a place for experiment and confidence building. So give them a minute to brainstorm some notes to help them in the discussion. If you show them some pictures and want them to discuss, then allow them a moment to write down ten things they can see in the pictures + one word to summarise each picture.

Then ask them to discuss and see the difference between then and now.

Speaking

Conversation skills. Small talk skills.

Speaking situations with long turns, as well as, short turn conversation. So think about doing mini presentations. Or planning a for/against paragraph orally, with topic, reason, evidence.

Role plays and role cards for debates.

Topic-based and flipped, thereby giving students more to talk about.

More coffee classes

Most requested one or two per month. So give them that. But make sure they have something to discuss in the coffee shop. Either a task, like plan a holiday together, or some topics. Topics we have already studied would make a great way to revise and, because they will have studied these topics before, they should have lots to say.

One student made me think about the idea of a negotiated schedule. I could give them the empty course schedule and they have to, as a class, decide when we will have coffee class. A task based negotiated schedule! Fucking awesome.

Things to consider

Now, I just need to gather together a set of truly interesting topics for students. Where to find these?

Vocabulary notebooks

You need to be firmer with the use of these. Check everyone has one at the start of each lesson. Encourage them to look back through their books. Direct them explicitly in how to record vocabulary – you can give them more autonomy with this when they are trained.

Vietnamese learners have it engrained that the only way to record vocabulary is through rote writing of words in a list. So they are sceptical of vocab books because it conjures up these horrible memories. They need to be won over.

How? Show them good examples of vocab notebooks. Or at least, pages from notebooks. You could make these. They could even be Vietnamese.

Tell them to trust you on this. Tell them you have been researching vocab learning and a good notebook is so important. Make them proud of their notebook.

One student did say that he doesn’t like or want to make a vocab notebook. He prefers to read stories or listen to stories that contain target vocabulary. So you need to be wary of changing up the methods of vocab review. The same student delivered the only thing I quoted in my notes:

“If you want to use grammar, you have to know the vocabulary first.”

Grammar

Don’t forget to recycle grammar points. This could be in class, or a simple worksheet for homework. Don’t neglect grammar review.

 

Topics

Current events, heritage sites in Vietnam, sales and business, caves, environmental issues, lifestyle choices

Writing

Few expressed interest in writing. One guy will need IELTS writing soon and the strongest student needs email English help.

Intensive reading and writing

These came up with Giang. She wanted to know how and why they were useful.

Creativity

Making, building, designing activities have gone down well.

Creating a manifesto, designing an advert.

My thoughts

I had been trying to have as much speaking in this class as possible. But was often let down at the lack of student engagement in very simple speaking activities. So the points above are certainly food for thought and I will try to incorporate into future classes. Love the dogme flipped idea.

It is true that there is wasted time in class while I painstakingly wait and encourage them to say something about some pictures, pictures that seem to me to be easy to talk about. Provocative pictures. But I was wrong about these students, they need more support. So give them that thinking time and give them the chance to prepare at home for the topics in class.

This time wastage led to me not being able to get to the productive speaking tasks in time. So the steps above could alleviate that problem too. Don’t forget Duncan Foord article on lesson planning Straight From the Heart (ETP Issue 93, July 2014).

All in all, this was the most personally informative tutorial yet. Ironically, I gave students the time to prepare by giving them the questions on Tuesday. And they did indeed come to the tutorial with ideas and things to discuss.

Enlightening, encouraging and impressive set of tutorials.

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