Thursday, December 1, 2011

Unplugged Superhero?

In my last post, I talked about the book I'm close to finishing:

Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms (Cambridge Language Education) by Jack C. Richards and Charles Lockhart

I was posting between classes (as I'm doing now!), so I kept it brief.  At the end of the post, I mentioned that I was all geared up on the idea of the action research project as a way to move from reflection to, well, action.  The notion is exciting to me because:

a) I've tried to do such a thing before, though I didn't know it was called "action research project" and mine was maybe not the most methodically-organized effort.  It was a success, though!  Quickly summarized: I'm in a rolling enrollment situation and had a lot of students churning through my classes.  I hardly knew who was in and who was out and I never knew who was going to show up.  (When you're stuck on photocopies, this can be a problem ... do I make way too many, or risk not enough??).  I wanted to see if there was some way I could settle things down a bit.  I read around, tried several different things in my classes (some were a success, some were not so good).  The bottom line is: I regularly get students inquiring about joining, but in general, my classes are stable groups of students who try to come on time and stay the whole class. 

b) I've been mulling over a number of issues and I think each is ripe for "action research" (it really does sound like it should be capitalized ... Action Research: a job for Super-Teacher!).  The book has clarified the process enough that I feel I can get started immediately. (I realize that there are more formal versions of action research; I'm talking about small, short projects a reflective teacher can do informally.)

One issue is that my beginning level students seem to use more L1 with each other than they did when they first came to class.  I think they started off with good "try to use English" intentions but have begun to lapse ... perhaps due to frustration?

For the last couple of weeks, I've tried to note when they did this and what they were saying (when it wasn't obvious, I inquired).  It seems that much of the time, students were giving each other comprehension help.  Obviously, I need to check and tweak my presentation skills!

But I also asked myself, "We get along OK in class, so why don't they just speak up and tell me what they need?"  The next lesson, I noticed how a student struggled to ask me how to pronounce a word.  Suddenly, my Action Research Superpowers kicked in and I had an insight: I never actually gave them much in the way of "I need help speaking and understanding" language in English.  (What's that called, metalanguage?) I didn't feel much like Super-Teacher at this realization.

So, two days ago I walked into class without any copies or texts (oh, Dogme be with me now!) but just some colored markers and a pad of easel paper.  Since my next class starts in a little while and I want to rearrange the room ... I will leave you, my imaginary reader, in suspense.  More to come later!

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