And welcome to the Jalt Shizuoka Conference Report Special. I'd intended to write about the wonderful presentations I saw at last week's conference - only I didn't see any. I was so busy making a mess of my own that I had no time. It was the shortest, longest conference I've ever been to. So this issue I'm going to examine the nature of my own presentations. At least that way I can learn something and I hope it will be of interest for you too. The attached files are the handouts that I gave. On with the introspection.
A long time ago I read a story by Brian Aldis (as I remember) about using time travel to hunt dinosaurs. Scientists would locate some dinosaur that was going to die, perhaps by falling into a tar pit or something and then tourists could go back in time and shoot it in the safe knowledge that their actions wouldn't change the future. It was supposed to be the ultimate thrill. In the story an election was taking place (I'm not making this up). The tourists go back in time and have an accident. The central character steps on a butterfly. When they return to the future they find that the result of the election has been changed. The repressive, extreme candidate that no-one likes has got in. Stepping on the butterfly changed the world.
In my case it was running out of printer ink. I intended to print out my presentation handouts the evening before and copy them. I wanted to get an early train before 8 am. But suddenly my printer stopped printing. I had to wait until 10 am the next day for the shops to open. I arrived six hours late and carried on from there.
Of course, you may be wondering what possessed me to leave it so late to print out my handouts. Well, I kept trying to make them better. Of course there's only so much we can do and there comes a time when planning and researching becomes a handicap. I feel that in a lesson (or presentation for that matter) leaving some time unaccounted for is important. I'm not talking about spare time to give flexibility to planned activities. I mean time completely unaccounted for.
It's a question of attitude, a paradigm shift. When we over plan, we become rigid in our thinking. There's a tendency to force the pace to keep to the plan. We face the danger of working to the plan rather than working with the students. But when we know there is some time still to fill we are encouraged to become more observant. Not only can we vary the pace to suit the students we can pay more attention to the interests of the students on that day. We can listen to them and synchronise ourselves to them. This process goes hand in hand with giving the students more choice. I'm sure choice is one of the roots of motivation.
Structure, Choice And Chance
In Norse mythology three sisters, the Norns, determined the length of each man's life. I feel structure, choice and chance determine the life of a lesson, or as I like to call them, a session.
Room layout is the basic structure. If your room looks like a classroom then you will get classroom responses from your students. If you are serious about having student centred lessons or sessions then think about the room layout. If all the desks focus on the front making you the centre of attention then the structure of the room is supporting a teacher fronted, top down lesson. If you are like me then you may even question the value of desks at all. In the past I've used low folding tables with children. The tables could easily be moved out of the way to create space for movement activities and games. With high school students a friend and I rearranged the tables to create a working area of desks at the back of the room with an open space in front of the whiteboard. Students could move their chairs from the tables to create a half circle facing the board. This made a natural performance area.
If you have the space then presenting different kinds of activities in different locations of the room is useful. This can be tied into the idea of workstations.
For me learning is never interesting when I feel I have to do it. Communication is the essence of language. How and why will I feel like learning to communicate if I don't have any control over what I am learning to say? In Communicate David Paul stresses that students should be given the chance to personalise what they are saying. By this means being able to make sentences that involve them personally and emotionally. In the forward to Second Language Learning through Cooperative Learning by Julie High, Spencer Kagan defines willingness to speak in this formula:
WILLINGNESS = ATTRACTION - FEAR
He points out correctly that group size is a major factor in reducing fear. Students are more likely to feel comfortable talking in pairs and small groups than in front of the whole class.
I feel that students will commit themselves to the risk of speaking in a foreign language when they have some control. By this I mean choice over what they are supposed to be saying and also choice over the situation as a whole.
During my presentations participants came and went. They took it for granted that they had the right to arrive late and leave at any point. I feel lessons for students should function the same way. Why should students be trapped in a lesson? This freedom of movement should be the first choice.
If we are not going to allow students to come and go then we can at least allow them to influence the content and execution of the lesson. At the very least we can write our lesson plan on the board and allow students to decide which elements of it they want to do first.
Bill Brooks who runs a school for children in Chiba took the lesson plan idea and experimented with it. He doesn't use it with his new classes as he feels there's a basic foundation he wants his students to learn. Also he uses the same warm-up activity every week. Students choose a page number of the textbook to review. He gives the students free choice over the page they choose. Some classes often chose the pages most recently covered, as they are the most familiar. One class chooses the same page every week. Bill uses the pages as a springboard. He doesn't 'do' the page but rather uses the page as a lead into English.
When I told the students to take out their text book they used to groan. They wanted to play a game. They knew there was a game somewhere. Now different classes have different strategies. Some do the game first. Some like to do the workbook first. If there's anything left over at the end of the class I make it a rule that we have to do that first the next week. So everything I want to do gets covered
Bill is now experimenting with individual study time and worksheets. Ultimately he intends to phase out the text book altogether. I feel that students should be spoilt for choice rather than having to choose the lesser of several evils.
Life would be pretty boring if it were completely predictable. The same goes for lessons and learning too. By introducing chance we can create interest and possibly even get the students to pay more attention. For example I began a new adult class last week. There were six in the class. I began by going around the students one at a time, in turn. Each student was to say three things to introduce herself. I then chose a student at random to reformulate what the previous student had just said. As luck would have it I happened to choose one student to reformulate who knew her turn to say three things was next. She was totally unable to reformulate because as she said she hadn't been listening! She'd been thinking too much about what she was going to say. If I'd made both processes random, ie the order in which they spoke and the possibility of reformulating, possibly she'd have been paying more attention.
In this case two kinds of chance could operate. I could have the names of the students on a slip of paper and draw them one at time to create a speaking order. So each student would get a turn to speak once. But with the reformulation each time all students would be included. So any student might have to reformulate more than once. This would mean that in an individual lesson one student may speak more but over a series of lessons chance would even out.
It's possible to apply chance to the lesson as a whole. I've placed activities on cards and run the lesson by drawing cards randomly from a hat. I include cards which give the students free choice and cards which give me free choice. If one activity is dependent upon another they can be included on the same card. Alternatively make the initial activity part of the process of learning the secondary activity.
Presentation Report: Do It Yourself - Games from the 100 yen shop
I saw you do a great presentation last year. This one wasn't bad but it seemed a bit scattered. Focus seemed to be a little ill defined but I did enjoy it. But I liked last year's better.
Full of creative ideas. You modelled the way children need to get involved in English learning." "It was fun but I didn't really come away with many new ideas that could really be done. Need more structure. Some of your actual ideas. And ask others to share their best idea for items bought from 100 yen stores.
Looking forward to checking out your web-site! Really enjoyed doing something completely different." "It was quite fun. My surprise is I could make my original game from only one 100-yen shop item. Thank you.
You seem to be a great instructor, but I think the lesson could have been much better if you were more organised and have things written down. Stay calm!
My own feeling about this presentation was that I focused too much upon materials and not enough on the structure of the presentation. My planning wasn't flexible and when double the number of people I'd expected turned up I found it difficult to avoid panic. As a result I forgot to step back and see the presentation as a whole. I was inside the event rather than outside observing it. I usually find that when I am disassociated I am more able to both respond to and initiate action.
If anyone uses the game generator from the handout I'd be interested to know how you get on. D6 is old gamers' slang for a six-sided dice. The table serves to generate ideas. Don't follow the results slavishly use them creatively. Here's an example:
From the Game Generator I generated the following:
|100 Yen Resource:||1||Stationery|
|Meta Function:||5||Global Awareness|
|Language Focus:||1||Reading and Writing|
|Game Action:||1||Sequential turns|
I did this completely randomly. Accepting all the results makes little sense. But after a little thought I came up with two ideas. Both involve split sentences.
HIDDEN SPLIT SENTENCES
Split some statements into two parts. Write each part on the inside of a tent card. Make a tent card by folding some paper in half. Students can be given one tent card each folded so the student can't see the half sentence inside.
Students aim to find their partner with the matching half of the sentence. But they are not allowed to read either their own or their partner's sentence! Instead they team up and reveal their sentences to one or more bystanders by lifting the flap of their tent cards. Bystanders give feedback. Rather than reading the sentences bystanders should try to explain what doesn't make sense. Sentence order can easily be commented upon. Then perhaps why the sentence is logically wrong.
Students that pair up can help other students to pair up. When all students have found partners you can get students to read the sentences they have made. How many are real? Alternatively you can go around the class and read sentences. As pairs make correct sentences you can give them a copy of a master list with all the sentences on and they can check the ideas of the remaining students.
Here are some sentences you might like to try. Note that it's possible to construct grammatically correct answers with various sentences. Since the theme was 'world' and the meta function 'global awareness' they are written accordingly:
- Russia now has the world's greatest inequality, SPLIT with the richest 20% having 11 times the income of the bottom 20%.
- The poorest 20 percent of Americans are making less today in real terms (adjusting for inflation) SPLIT than they were in 1977.
- An estimated 1.3 billion people SPLIT live on incomes of less than $1 a day.
- In developing countries nearly 1.3 billion people SPLIT do not have access to clean water.
- More than 80 countries still have per capita incomes lower SPLIT than they were a decade or more ago
- In industrialised countries one person in eight SPLIT suffers from either long-term unemployment, illiteracy, a life expectancy of less than 60 years, or an income below the national poverty line.
- In October, 1998, The Forbes Magazine reported that Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Paul Allen SPLIT had combined assets of $110 billion.
on July 17, 1999, the New York Times reported that Bill Gates SPLIT was worth more than $140 billion.
- A 1% tax on the wealth of the richest 200 people in the world SPLIT could fund primary education for all the world's children who lack access to schooling.
- The income gap between the richest fifth of the world’s people and the poorest fifth, measured by average national income per head, SPLIT increased from 30 to one in 1960 to 74 to one in 1997.
- Tanzania’s debt service payments are SPLIT nine times what it spends on primary health care and four times what it spends on primary education.
- The 200 richest people in the world SPLIT more than doubled their net worth in the four years to 1998, to $1 trillion.
For less advanced students how about flags and capital cities:
- The Japanese flag is SPLIT white with a red circle.
- The capital of Japan is SPLIT Tokyo.
- The United States Flag is SPLIT red, white and blue and has stars.
- The capital of the United States is SPLIT Washington.
- The French flag is SPLIT red, white and blue.
- The capital of France is SPLIT Paris.
- The Canadian Flag is SPLIT red and white with a red leaf.
- The capital of Canada is SPLIT Ottawa.
- The Austrian flag is SPLIT red and white.
- The capital of Austria is SPLIT Vienna.
- The Chinese flag is SPLIT red with five yellow stars.
- The capital of China is SPLIT Beijing.
And for those of you who think I'm short changing basic students by not giving them information of real importance please feel free to write to me with a more ambitious list.
SPLIT SENTENCE ISLANDS
You'll need a large class to try this one. Students divide into teams of either two or four. Each team should be given its own separate table. Each team is given one complete sentence and the separate parts of sentences belonging to the other teams. It will probably help if you use different coloured paper for different teams.
Each team attempts to unscramble the sentences. When they have done so they can check if they have done so correctly. The point of the game, however, is that they are not allowed to leave their own table. Players should remain seated at all times. Instead they can communicate with the different teams by writing messages. Messages can be turned into paper planes and flown across the room or 'snowballs' and thrown across the room. If a message gets 'lost at sea' due to a bad throw or poor aim the students will need to make a fresh message. Use a time limit. Can all the teams make all the sentences?
Notice how both games use a different kind of disability. In the first game players can see what other people have but not what they have. They are free to move around. In the second game they are only allowed to communicate by writing and are not allowed to move around. Both games can use the same actual language content.
Presentation Report: Lemons & Gorillas
It was fun but unfortunately I have only limited time for the activity. Also I want them to memorise bigger words like extend, abolish, acquainted with. So with younger, lower level students I could use your ideas.
It seemed like a "stream of consciousness" thing at times and I found it difficult to follow but I suppose this is exactly how I seem to my students! Thanks?
A welcome change from lectures
Meaningful, truthful situations! Very actively engaged.
I want to visit your class (school?) someday to see how it goes. It was really good.
I don't get/agree with the use of Japanese. You said the objective was communication but the exercise seemed to be the study (practise) of a word or pattern (not communication). Besides they communicate heaps - the main objective is learning English, no?
I like the start tips: listen to silence; moving in circle; mistakes on purpose; give choices
This last comment was perhaps directed at Dance into English, one of the events in What's Next Volume One. Here students move around the room to music passing from the English zone, to a mime zone and a Japanese (native language) zone. Students follow a prompt given by the teacher. So if the teacher shows a flashcard of a monkey, players will mime being a monkey in the mime zone, say "monkey" in the English zone and "saru" in the Japanese zone.
This clearly is more like an exercise than communication. For me the point of the activity is to create a balance between different forms of communication. When I first began teaching I thought there was no room at all for students to use their native tongue. With most of them having just one hour a week it seemed crazy for me to waste any moment speaking anything but English. Perhaps I'm older and wiser now. Certainly I know about Vygotsky's scaffolding idea. If learning a language is like constructing a building then support is required. As the building takes shape so the support can be removed. Native language can be a very effective support. But I question the culture of translation. I feel that translation helps make learning a left brain activity when the right brain should be engaged as well. A recent Japanese TV program made a similar point. Brain scans of Japanese learners showed that fluent bilingual speakers used a different part of their brain to listen to the two different languages. Students that struggled to understand English were found to be using the same part of the brain that used to function with in Japanese.
I think that while students are building up fluency it is important to help them to screen out translation. This doesn't mean abandoning native tongue it means using it in more constructive and imaginative ways.
Lemons and Gorillas was about building up curiosity. Part of the presentation involved the use of trivia questions. See the handout. My idea was that each player would choose just four questions to focus on marking them in the first column of boxes. The players would use the second column for themselves deciding whether they thought the answer to be true or false. Then the players would circulate and ask different partners in turn what they thought. Players could use the third column to check other people's answers. Then during the presentation we'd play an ongoing game to discover the truth.
I put a 6x6 grid on the board. After an activity we'd roll a dice and move around the grid, left, right, up or down from the previous position. If we landed on the number of a trivia question the answer was revealed. I'd made two racing teams, the lemons and the gorillas. The gorillas got to move when an answer was true. The lemons got to move when an answer was false. We only had 16 trivia questions. That left 20 wild spaces. Wild spaces would offer surprises.
A race sounds competitive. I destroyed the notional competition by allowing players to change sides as they felt like it. Players could choose to be lemons or gorillas, as they desired.
I don't know if the players worked it out or not but the game was rigged. All the trivia questions were true and so moved the gorilla. Most of the wild spaces moved the lemon. We used a toy lemon and a toy gorilla and raced them across the floor. I'd made markers to race on the whiteboard, but three-dimensional ones were more fun.
I think the structure of the game worked well. I made it a rule that if we landed on the same space twice on the grid the lemon team got to move. Under an ordinary competitive situation this would have seemed grossly unfair.
I think the idea of nesting games: placing a series of games into a larger one has potential. More on this as the idea unfolds.
Just in case you'd like to check out the 'facts'
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getfile:Lemons & Gorillas Handout
PDF File B5,2 pages, 46 KB
For the record:
Unfortunately the handout for the Do it Yourself presentation is lost. As for the comment about all the trivia statements in the Lemons & Gorillas presentation being true this is false! One of the statements ascertains that Paul McCartney held the copyright to Happy Birthday To You. According to Snopes.com this is an urban legend.