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!) ...

Bye Summer!

This week sees the end of the summer intensive course with my intermediate learners.  I've approached this course with a mostly unplugged attitude, using occasional excerpts from a textbook only to introduce learner-selected topics and/or as a springboard to reinforcement activities.  Today, learners will help me decide how they should be evaluated and we'll do that on Friday (plus snacks and socializing to celebrate the completion of the course).

I was very happy to see the bulk of these adult learners pick up on their freedom to help drive the class.  One (a former teacher) never really got into it.  Another seemed willing, but on the fence.  But the others started coming in with language questions they had observed outside of the lesson, and stopping our discussions to ask about specific turns of phrase, etc.  Toward the end, they began to really sense that they could also press toward whatever discussion topics they wanted.  I hope some of them continue into the fall so that we can take this and run with it!

Some quick notes on my own performance (before I ask the learners next time):  I worked on improving my boardwork and plan to post on that soon.  I don't have the right sense of pacing for a 90-minute class yet (after teaching three hour classes for five years!).  Generally, I plan for too much in one session.  I did well (IMO) in getting learners to ask "What about this situation?  Would I say it like this? [example sentence]" and then writing their sentence on the board verbatim for the class to analyze, propose solutions, and debate.



I hope to post some reflections on the course over the next few weeks, because I should have more time!