Wednesday, 16 November 2016 16:19

Phoenix Academy E-Learning Project Final Thoughts

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Incorporating Flipping the Classroom, Dogme, Demand High Teaching and Learning and fighting the Intermediate Plateau.

 This blog discussed the early days of a project I was engaged in with my colleague Eveline Masco. Here's how it turned out.

 Final Report

 1.      How will students respond to being in a class not governed by a course book?

 At different times I polled the students on this question. Each time, the students said they enjoyed not following a course book all the time, it was ‘cool to get emails with our homework’. As students stayed on in the class, some made mention of the lack of solid focus on grammar and writing and they were aware that coverage would be more consistent in a textbook driven course. My current class largely came down on the side of using a course book some days and authentic materials on others, a balanced approach.

 We involved the students in the planning of the class by asking them to discuss topics they were interested in and this gave us the inspiration to go out and find material relevant to students’ interests. What authentic materials allowed us to do was present a course that was up to the minute, local and relevant. I think students gained more than just English tuition, they gained life experience as well.

 2.      Will a course based on dealing with emerging need and language have sufficient rigour to satisfy our students?

 Certainly dealing with authentic texts was challenging for students as they were ‘unvarnished’ and therefore students developed their ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ in reading past what they did not know to achieve the task.

 Where there was not sufficient rigour according to student feedback, was in the grammar sections of the program as they were supposed to emerge from tasks the students were doing and thus were unpredictable and not as neatly linear as a grammar syllabus set out in a course book. I tried to counter this by having regular grammar ‘breakouts’ in which a language point was covered in depth.

 One area we ensured was included in the course was a weekly review test. Students were very keen on this and actively measured their progress. The tests were based on vocabulary, grammar and topics covered during the previous week and consisted normally of a vocabulary, grammar and writing section.

 Present

In deciding in module 3 of the  academic year to move on from the authentic materials approach and use the coursebook, I had a long discussion with my class about how they liked the class to run.

The students said they enjoyed using the eBoard and discussing topics and reading articles but they wanted to make sure they had sufficient coverage of grammar. They felt a balance between coursebook and authentic material would be best. One student openly stated that using coursebook all the time “would be boring”.

 Students are very serious in general about their purpose for being at a language academy and they have definite goals in terms of wishing to improve. They also have certain expectations on how they think a language class should run. In the end, we exist to serve their needs and to provide a balanced and enriching learning program.

 Since returning to more use of the coursebook, I have noticed, perhaps, counterintuitively that I am much freer to work with things that emerge in the classroom. This is because we have started the lesson from a solid basis and have identified more universal needs that the whole class can relate to. I have been integrating coursebook use with authentic material, active use of the eboard and requiring more from the students in answering and dealing with materials to meet Demand High aspirations.

 3/4 How can the students in this class be encouraged to contribute more to look deeper and to extend their search for meaning and understanding?

 How can the students be extended/extend their learning themselves?

 We did look to set a range of activities for students to do at home. We would often email students tasks and they could respond to us in turn. Students are serious about homework and want a good amount of it, if it is relevant to what they have been doing in class. Students want then the opportunity to discuss the homework in class with their teacher. This is a good thing because the individualised feedback the students get is both motivating and validating for their study.

 5        What material is most useful to use in the class and which outside?

This question is difficult to quantify. The best way to think about it is that anything is possible if it is purposeful and it is not overdone. It is easiest to do a lot of reading using newspaper articles in class, but these can also be done outside. Writing is a very good thing to in class because students benefit from having immediate access for guidance from the teacher.

The benefit of a textbook outside the classroom is that it becomes a reference for the students – they can go over tasks done in the classroom and check the language explanations and vocabulary lists. Replicating this in our course was done by directing students to websites such as Englishpage.com and BBC learningenglish.org in addition to giving specific worksheets related to the language or vocabulary points that had been covered.

In some ways there should be no difference in the material used inside and outside the classroom. I believe strongly a major purpose of being in the classroom is for students to learn how they can learn themselves, therefore, it is useful to spend time in class on activities and resources that the students can use in their own time. This is definitely a benefit of having an eBoard available as students can easily be shown and work with useful websites and tools.

 Notes on the methodologies covered by the program

Dogme – Overall useful in short bursts and invigorating and liberating as a teacher when you see the opportunity and go for it. Not sustainable as a base methodology as students miss the ‘golden thread’, and teachers can end up desperately chasing their tails. A balanced approach is probably advisable.

 Demand High – Confident that this is a good way to go. When I presented the professional development session for staff on this, we discussed it and could note many areas where we push the students beyond their comfort zones. Demand High like dogme is a mindset and can operate to extend the learning of students in coursebook dominated and coursebook ‘lite’ programs.

 Flipping the Classroom – I do not think I had either the time or the expertise to explore this approach in sufficient depth. As mentioned, I feel I am upskilling now and can see more possibilities for areas such as Google Docs.

 References

Arnsten blog.tesol.org/the-flipped-classroom January 2013

Richards, JC Moving Beyond the Plateau Cambridge University Press 2008

Jim Scrivener, J and Underhill, A

(https://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/preparing-to-demand-high/

 

Thornbury, S Dogme: Dancing in the dark?” Pilgrims 2000

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