[This post was initially written in two parts. Part two, which talks about using stories for teacher observations, can now be found here. ]
I recently started a course with a class of intermediate, adult students. One of the things I wanted to do from the very beginning was create some kind of channel of communication outside the classroom as a host, and to provide motivation where necessary, for students to explore and experiment with different learning experiences beyond the classroom.
In the first class we discussed social media, and the kind of technology the students were using outside class and what for. I discovered that none of the students had smartphones, and that some favoured facebook, while others prefer tuenti (a Spanish social networking service). And they all had emails. That seemed to be the obvious first point of contact. So, as part of the lesson, we collected the email addresses, and I promised to send them all an email after the class.
Nothing new in that. The new twist, for me, came in the story telling …
I hadn’t really planned beforehand what I was going to include in the email, but as I sat down to write it, a kind of narrative, story-telling structure emerged. The lesson, which had been very much student led, had been all about story telling, the students getting to know each other, telling each other stories about their families and their lives. Telling me stories about the town and the area. So I decided to tell the story of the lesson.
Here’s a snippet (I’ve removed references to individual students):
1 NAMES We learnt each other’s names and talked about them a bit. We talked about names that run in the family (= are used a lot in the same family) and patron saints and great grandparents (both paternal and maternal). We talked about the origin of surnames and parents and families, and noticed quite a strong link between Cádiz and the North of Spain, and of fathers moving south, falling in love and staying 😉
At the end of the discussion we looked at the pronunciation of the vowels in uncle, cousin and aunt (can you remember them?)
My main focus was on sharing what I’d found interesting about the discussion and the class, on their stories and what they had to say. But I also embedded some of the lexis we’d focused on in the description (underlined) and extended it (in blue). A secondary aim was to encourage review and note-taking. (In the next class I saw that one of the students had printed off the message and had a copy in his notebook and was using it to bring a new student up to speed on what we’d done).
All the students wrote back. Most within 24 hours. I had never had such a good response before. I had suggested some possible extra extension tasks, but by far the most time, effort and energy was put into writing back to me with their comments and thoughts about the class.
After the second class, I left one of the “scenes” in the story blank and asked the students to fill it in for me. Some did, some decided that was one of the tasks they were going to ignore! But everyone wrote back, and with longer and more complex replies than the first time. In some cases we exchanged three or four emails, extending a theme, asking for or adding clarification. The experiment seems to be working 🙂
The next step for me is to try and hand it over to the students, to involve them more and more in the story-telling, so that they too become the story tellers .