Friday, 29 May 2009

Lesson Observation Nº1: We All Teach What We Are!

After observing a lesson at a Secondary School (Buenos Aires City, Argentina) I tried to take a deep look into the organism that is given birth through the interaction of a teacher with her students.
Since the classroom is like an organism, there are many different factors that play an essential role in its functioning.
But, what are those factors and what is their contribution to the lesson?
The following document is the report I wrote after observing the lesson in which I analysed some of them.
Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed being in that classroom!

1st Report / Alejandra de Antoni / Classroom Observation Methods2 2009 1st Report / Alejandra de Antoni / Classroom Observation Methods2 2009 alez_avrill This is a report of a 40-minute lesson I observed at a secondary school in Argentina. It was a class of 12 and 13 year-olds. They are learning English as a Foreign Language and their level is somewhere between elementary and pre-intermediate.
The analysis carried out in this lesson is global since it's not focused on particular details but on the lesson as a whole (there is, for instance, an overall analysis of behaviour, attittude and talking time both from the students' and the teacher's point of view)

Monday, 25 May 2009

Pair and Group Work: Two Powerful Allies to Promote the Communicative Classroom

Discussion taken from "Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom." (Tricia Hedge, Ch. 2)

Aim: to analyse and discuss two main reasons for using pairwork and groupwork in the communicative classroom.

Guiding questions:
  • Do you agree with them?
  • Would you add any from your experience?
  • What do you think are the disadvantages of pairwork and work in small groups?
  • Would you place any conditions on their successful use in the classroom?
Reasons for using pairwork and groupwork:
  • It enables students to take risks with the language and to see if they can negotiate meaning.
  • It gives students the opportunity to monitor how well they understand and are understood.
First of all, I have to say that I do agree with both reasons. I think that giving students the opportunity to take part in student-student interactions (in contrast with student-teacher interactions in which the "communicative" relevance of the message is most of the times blurred by a feeling of being tested -a feeling that, of course, can be washed away through fostering natural interaction with our students.-) is a not only a great way of helping them build their communicative skills but also a must if we want our classroom to be a communicative one. This idea of student-student interaction is what allows our students to take risks (it is always more relaxing to make a mistake while talking to a partner than when talking to the teacher no matter how communicative we may be) and to see if they can negotiate meaning. However, there is one problem that may arise and it's what makes a connection between making mistakes and negotiation of meaning. When it comes to mistakes, they can always be overcome by students if they do not hinder communication. If students understand what they say regardless of its language accuracy, they will probably not care about the accurate version of the message simply because that is not their concern. So, if our aim as teachers is to foster fluency and communication, how and when are we going to focus on the accuracy of the messages our students are sending? When students are carrying out the activity, they will certainly find a way of making themselves clear even if they have to resort to their mother tongue. Therefore, if they were to be in such a situation but in a real context with native speakers, how can we be certain that they will understand and be understood?

The answer, I guess, must be balance. As it is generally the case, extremes are not good. Of course we do teach communication (if not, what would we be teaching a language for?) but, whether we like it or not, we need to, somehow, find a balance between fluency and accuracy. It's true that when it comes to pairwork and groupwork activities, students do not generally have the time to sit down and analyse not only what they are going to say what how they are going to say it due to time constraints. That is why paraphrasing, monitoring and process writing and speaking are so important! Gradual and process writing and speaking are a perfect opportunity for preparing not only the content of the message but also its form in a guided way. Monitoring is also of key importance since the teacher needs to be there with the students, ready to help them but, of course, without invading them: suggest! Do not impose! That is why, from my personal experience, I really think that they work wonderfully when they feel they are free enough to explore and self-discover answers but when, at the same time, they know you are there to help them. Finally, it is essential for us to teach them how to monitor themselves. We should let them know that monitoring does not mean that they have to self-correct every word they produce but that they have to be ready to spot any unclear message or idea so as to find a way of making it understandable for others. Accuracy is not the perfection of isolated grammatical structures but the appropriateness of a certain language form for putting across a certain message in a certain context. Accuracy is not a weapon to kill fluency but an excellent tool to enhance it.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

1st Discussion Topic: "Learners & Learning, Classroom & Contexts."

Discussion taken from "Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom." (Tricia Hedge, Ch. 1)

Context: at the beginning of teaching a course with a new group of adolescent or adult students.
Objective: create activities (a) to find out their reasons for learning English and (b) to motivate them towards their language learning task.

(a) I would ask them to create a chart called: "My Top Five Reasons for Learning English." If the students are beginners or pre-intermediates this will be carried out in their mother tongue (keeping the English title, of course) because I want them to feel free and be able to write whatever they want.
When it's finished, I would ask them to carry out a survey to find out which are the Top Five Reasons in the class and, finally, I would encourage a short debate about why they think those are the most "popular" reasons in their group.

(b) I would ask them to read the Seven Rules of Motivation (taken from and encourage them to discuss if they think they may be useful for improving or helping their learning:

Seven Rules of Motivation

  • Set a major goal, but follow a path. The path has mini goals that go in many directions. When you learn to succeed at mini goals, you will be motivated to challenge grand goals.
  • Finish what you start. A half finished project is of no use to anyone. Quitting is a habit. Develop the habit of finishing self-motivated projects.
  • Socialize with others of similar interest. Mutual support is motivating. To be a cowboy we must associate with cowboys.
  • Learn how to learn. When we learn the art of self-education we will find, if not create, opportunity to find success beyond our wildest dreams. Ask your instructors to provide you with tools to enhace your learning.
  • Harmonize natural talent with interest that motivates. Natural talent creates motivation, motivation creates persistence and persistence gets the job done.
  • Increase knowledge of subjects that inspires. The more we know about a subject, the more we want to learn about it. A self-propelled upward spiral develops.
  • Take risk. Failure and bouncing back are elements of motivation. Failure is a learning tool. No one has ever succeeded at anything worthwhile without a string of failures.

Seven Rules of Motivation - Copyright

I deeply believe that encouraging students to talk about motivation (especially with adolescents and adults who are ready to analyse their objectives and goals in language learning) is an excellent way of showing them that, without their really wanting to do it, without any motivation, attending an English lesson will inevitably become pointless.