Monday, September 1, 2014

The Evolution of an Organized Whiteboard

If you use a standard board (not electronic), you probably take pictures before you erase?  I do. It's interesting that this habit has turned into a feedback loop that is causing me to improve my boardwork in general. At first, I just snapped pictures of parts of the board that I specifically wanted to remember (usually incidental vocabulary).  That resulted in my cordoning vocabulary off  on the right in its own little section. And I have always written the date on the board (twice: once using a complete sentence and no abbreviations, then again using the abbreviation for the weekday and the American-style abbreviated date format).  It eventually occurred to me that including the date in my photos was helpful in organizing, so I adjusted slightly for that too.

I missed it, but this would have been my entry to this contest!

That was the extent of my improvement for a while, because it's hard to predict what will come up in an unplugged lesson and I didn't know how to organize "I don't know what" ahead of time!

But one day last month, a learner asked if she could have the pictures from a lesson that she missed.  I created a class livebinder and posted there so that anyone could copy them if they wanted to. (Actually, I'm not going to let that become a habit ... I would rather create a learner-driven livebinder and let them ask each other to post pictures if they miss class.  They could even post pictures of their notes, if they want to. More on livebinder coming soon, I hope.) Anyway, the request made me realize that even if I can't predict what I'm going to write ahead of time,  I need to come up with more of a method for how I write on the board so that someone who wasn't in class can follow along.

I surfed around for ideas, and then I made some small changes to my board organization.  After I write the date at the top, I also write the name of the class.  I then draw a line across the board below that with a little space above it.  That area is not to be erased and will include reminders to myself, notices to the class, etc.  In the remaining space below, I draw a vertical line reserving the right 1/3 of the board for vocabulary.  The other 2/3 is for whatever comes up in class.  It can be erased (but only after a picture is taken!).  I explained what I was doing to the group and I could tell they liked the idea.

The new organization.

I've also made a couple of behavioral changes.  First, I tell myself to slow down.  There's no reason the class can't wait a few seconds for a board that's more neatly written.  Second, I'm trying to write smaller.  The room is small and all of the learners are relatively young with good eyes!

Of course, there is much more improvement to consider.  Here's a board from last December at my previous assignment.  I was using a lesson idea from 52:A Year of Subversive Activity for the ELT Classroom (Clandfield, Meddings).

The PARSNIP activity was first, the dialog-writing was second, and the common phrases emerged from discussion after both activities. (Incidental language, to the right, is not in the picture). I think the activities should have been recorded in the order they happened. It would also be helpful to have included a summary of the instructions for the PARSNIP activity and to have written more detailed instructions for the dialog. (Partners will write ..., then rehearse and perform.) Note that I erased the date and I failed to include the labeling at the left in the photo! I wonder: wouldn't it be OK to take a moment to tidy up spontaneous board work -- even rewrite it neatly -- before taking a picture (and before stepping aside to let learners copy it into their notebooks)?

I also want to think about conventions for mapping out grammar forms and jotting down vocabulary words.   I have a few, but I don't use them consistently.  I also love to use colors but, again, it's not well thought-out. I want to come up with some ideas to try on my new group when we begin at the end of this month.

A request: do you have specific, organized conventions and abbreviations that you use for representing language points and vocabulary?  If yes, please comment or tweet or something?

If I can come up with a plan,  I'd like to propose the whole shebang to the group and ask them to discuss with each other, then offer feedback and suggestions. When we all agree, it would be reasonable to ask them to follow our mutually agreed-upon format in their notebooks too.  Then it will be easier to share with each other (see above)!

A final note:  In looking through the pictures I took, I concluded that they didn't look so bad, actually.  Then I realized that I don't even bother to take pictures of my most hideous boards!  If they're not worth taking pictures of, maybe they're not so useful to the learners either?

Here are a few of the links that I browsed for ideas:

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Unplugged Homework

Now that my intermediate summer intensive course is finishing, I'm ready for some reflection!

I wish I were faster at getting a new class into "unplugged" mode.  The summer session went by so quickly and, although we "uncovered" a lot of material, I feel as if we have just hit cruising speed!  I usually devote at least a week solely to building community and that goes a long way.  It was also nice that the group was just seven learners and they all started on the same date (no walk-ins).

On the other hand, I didn't have full attendance each time, and learners did not do much in the way of homework. If someone is missing when the rest of us hash out a language concept, then he or she has really missed a lot! Even if I take that as an opportunity for review and ask the others to share what they remember, it's not the same as the original discovery experience. And I love to use learners' homework as the base for reinforcement activities, etc.  (Since this course focuses on speaking and listening, it's also a way to sneak some writing practice in without using up class time.)  I didn't ask for much because I know they're busy adults and we met three times a week.  But few put in the work.  I can definitely do more to encourage homework next time.

Since our lessons were largely unplugged, homework was often given on the fly.  I would create an assignment and write it on the board, but I don't think that's enough.  I think I should have a generic "homework" worksheet.  In the last 5-10 minutes of class, hand it out and ask the learners to copy the instructions onto the sheet.  Also, elicit some starting material and walk through one example (which they should also copy onto their sheet). For example, we studied the passive voice, including some of the situations where it is typically used (news stories involving damage or injury, historical facts, describing cultural traditions). I could ask learners to choose one situation (news story) then elicit some recent true examples (earthquake in California, fighting in Israel, a local car accident, etc.).  Choosing one of these, elicit or create an example sentence: Hundreds of homes were damaged and several were destroyed [by the California earthquake].  Learners now have a clear understanding of what's expected, they have worked out an example, they've had a chance to ask questions, and they have seeds for their own work in the elicited material we didn't use.  When, in the next lesson, I get to use their writing as a base for later activities (or even quizzes), I hope that will further reinforce that their homework is an important part of our lessons.

I just had an unplugged thought: after everyone gets used to the worksheet routine, I could  break the class into two groups and have them prepare a homework assignment for the people in the other group.  They would have to walk their group through the assignment as above, of course!  But let's get Part 1 going first, heh, heh!

My cat ate my homework!  (credit: Mystic-Cat-Goddess)

I'm not big on compliance, so I'm still thinking about how to encourage the best attendance possible without casting a punitive aura.  (You must attend at least 75% of lessons in order to get your certificate.  Ecchhh!)  I know that when the unplugged atmosphere is in full swing, learners will bend over backwards to get to class because they see it as a social event not to be missed.  (Not to mention the fact that you might miss some valuable insights on language that "you had to be there" to really appreciate!)  The learners who missed some classes this time around are trying to carve out time from jobs, studies and family, so I think I just need to be patient and think of other ways to get the unplugged experience going quickly.

Next: improving my boardwork (a work that is very much still in progress!) ...