You’ve got mail

The email experiment continues ….

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been experimenting with emails and extending  my classes beyond the classroom.

In the first post I wrote about the experiment,  Every lesson tells a story,  I described how I was using lesson summaries to embed and highlight new language that emerged during the class.   In The story continues,  I showed an example of how the tasks, and feedback on the tasks, evolve into an ongoing dialogue.

In this post I’d like to take a closer look at the use of footnotes in replying to the students’ emails. And how they open up a dialogue where we negotiate meaning and comment on form, and continue to communicate about the topics we discussed face to face in class.

Here is an extract from an email from one of the students.  I’m going to break it up into sections. The first section shows an extract from M’s initial response to one of the email tasks. The numbers in green relate to notes I added to the text when I first replied.

On the First day (7) was very tired. I chose the wrong shoes to walk!!! Apart to (8) leaving cv’s I was in the city center the second day at night. I met other friend there. I was 2 months I didn’t see him (9).  We were in a few typical bars having “cañas” before going to a vegetarian restaurant to dinner. In those bars we had cañas at the bar but, we had  dinner sitting down at the restaurant.

When we had a rest we sit (sat)  on a bench and looked at the people on the streets. They went and back (10) very quickly!! Simply…It’s Madrid!! I love it!!

Friday…because of (11) on Friday afternoon the companies are closed, we were on the sofa! We were at home watching on the TV a learning English channel “Aprende Inglés TV” (Vaugham Method) It’s fantastic!! I advice everypeople to watch it or to listen to the radio channel. It’s other (5) way to improve your English in your free time.

I usually watch it when I’m doing my houseworks (12)….lol…

This was my initial response:

Sounds like you had a good weekend, even if it was hard (and sometimes depressing?) work taking your CV all around town!  I know Vaughan Systems too. The radio programme is amazing. It’s a very different way to study English – and great to do when you’re doing the ironing or the washing up!

Here are a few short notes – see the numbers in green above.  Let me know if there’s anything that needs explaining.

The extract you see below shows the to-ing and fro-ing of three separate emails with the comments growing each time in colour-coded splendour.  My initial notes are in green, M’s answers, which came back to me in a subsequent email (the third in the series) are in red. My answers,  which I sent in a fourth email, are in blue.

(7)  I was very tired?  or Friday was very tiring? I almost wrote “tiring”!!! I thought about it too much!!! I wanted to talk about the Friday… ah, thinking can be very dangerous 😉

(8)  apart from Ok!

(9)  this is a difficult sentence to put together in English!  I hadn’t seen him for 2 months. It’s been a typing mistake…Could be also it said “It was 2 months ago I didn’t see him”.too? No, I’m afraid not. This is one of those ideas that’s expressed very differently in English compared to Spanish. But you could say: The last time I saw him was 2 months ago

(10) They were coming and going … ? It sounded  very bad “went and back” but I didn’t find other one better… but I understood exactly what you wanted to say – experimenting is good, that’s how we learn 🙂

(11) you don’t need of here – we use because of + noun / because + clause. I would like you clear me up this question next day, please… no problem, I’ll make a note of it now so I remember!

(12) housework is uncountable which means it’s always singular – no final “s” This “S” has slipped up??? LOL -sounds like it slipped in to me 😉

There are a few things that stand out to me about this email dialogue. One is that it’s a kind of slow motion, asynchronous reflection of the kind of dialogue that often goes on in class when dealing with emergent language.  But so much easier to capture and analyse in this form.  Another is that, even though it isn’t in real time, it’s actually quite intense, and there’s a very strong sense of individual attention being given, received and appreciated. But at the same time, this dialogue is being played out in public  as the students have volunteered to share their tasks and the corrections after a short initial “private period”.  I really think this aspect of the course has helped the group bond much more quickly and more strongly than they would have otherwise.

By the way …

In response to footnote #11 we spent the first half of the next lesson looking at the use of because and because of, kicking off with examples from M’s story, looking at form and meaning and then setting up situations to talk about the other students’ weekend experiences as well. (We brainstormed adjectives to describe their weekends, wrote them on the board, and each student talked about why they’d chosen that adjective. Plenty of examples of because and because of came up, along with a host of new language to explore.)

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10 Responses to You’ve got mail

  1. Hi Ceri,
    After reading your initial post about how you and your students are communicating by email, I decided to do the same with a new group of adults. They are mostly high ele/pre int level and after every lesson I send them a short email mentioning what we did in class. Just over half usually reply, and I then highlight their most important mistakes (I don’t like showing all their mistakes at this level as they might get disheartened!). Sometimes, I reply using some of the language they have used wrongly in the right way.
    It’s working well at the moment. With my teens I have set up a tuenti page where I send them links, although unfortunately they don’t reply or send their own links – they are so used to the Spanish spoon-feeding system that it’s hard to get them involved!

  2. Ceri says:

    Hi Michelle!
    Thanks for your comment 🙂 Glad it’s working for you too!
    The email thing is growing slowly but surely with this particular group. Initially they were very shy about sharing their homework tasks, because they didn’t want the rest of the group to see their mistakes, or learn from them. But now they’ve all “gone public” and there’s a lot of sharing going on.
    Dan, who works at Active as well, has just started doing the same thing with a group of teenagers (I think they’re a PET prep group, but I’m not sure). I haven’t heard about how that’s going recently, but he was really enthusiastic about it last time we spoke. Maye I can persuade him to leave a comment too and see how he’s faring with the spoonfed teenagers. Talking of which, have you seen BCN Paul 1’s journal on teaching teenagers unplugged? He talks about the problem of motivating spoon-fed teens too.

  3. Thanks for that link, Ceri. I had read the previous post but not the latest one. I think Paul is very brave for trying this out but I really hope he is successful. I wish I had the guts (and confidence) to try to change things like he is doing!

  4. Dan says:

    Hi Ceri (and Michelle),

    I’m following Ceri’s lead with 2 classes, a 12-ish KET class and a 14-ish PET class. I’ve had a much more enthusiastic response from the younger ones – the PETs are being crap as usual about homework! I wonder if there’s a cultural difference with teenagers: “What you using email for, grandad!?” Also, it’s a habit thing, checking emails. Just because I check mine every 12 minutes doesn’t mean they do! There’s a variety of factors, not least of which is parental restrictions on internet use.

    The possibility of bribes is always tempting for teachers of teens -I know a couple that frequently shower their students with sweets. But I’m more in favour of experiential gifts, and embedded links in emails are a great way to do this. It’s early days, but I’m hoping that the more reluctant emailers will want to do the ‘homework’ when they hear about the cool YouTube clips and funnies that I send in response to their efforts. We’ll see…

    Anyway, I’m really impressed with the depth of analysis that students are showing in their corrections with Ceri, and I hope that my students will learn as much with me.

    • Ceri says:

      Hi Dan,
      Thanks for calling by! It’s interesting that it’s the younger kids who are responding best. I think there is that element of, oy, get out of my world, but it’ll be interesting to see if the “experiential treats” work. I think it can be a pretty powerful motivational tool.

  5. Hi Dan,
    I think it’s a great idea. I tried it last year with an FCE group but it didn’t really catch on so this year I’ve created a tuenti page to see if they actually look at that occasionally!
    I was quite surprised to hear that the 12 year olds had email accounts – I don’t think my class do, but I’m going to ask them about it – maybe they use their parents’ accounts.
    I like the idea of sending links to videos they might like as a reward – maybe you could send them links to online games too (not specific English language games, just the typical ones you find on Yahoo or similar).

  6. Anette says:

    I tried this a few years ago with one of my company classes, it started off quite well, but then they lost interest. Probably I should try it again.
    By the way, I think that using ‘slow’ e-mails are quite an advantage sometimes, as people think more about what they are writing then when chatting for example.

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Anette, thanks for calling by!

      Yes, I tried it a couple of years back as well and got enthusiastic responses from one or two students for a couple of weeks and then it fizzled out. At the time (five years ago in Madrid) not everyone in the class actually had an email address so we couldn’t build a group dynamic at all. We’ve only been using it for about 5 weeks so far, but it seems to be gaining momentum rather than losing it. I think it might be because we’re using a data projector and an IWB in class and I send out copies of the boardwork and links to images, clips, photo galleries and blogs we’ve been looking at or discussing in class. It all seems a bit more closely connected. The students send me links and photos and powerpoint presentations as well, and we often use these as the core of our lesson.

      I totally agree with your point about asynchronous “slow” emails. Chat rooms can put quite a lot of pressure on students to produce, whereas the kind of dialogue we’re having by email slows things down a lot, allows for a lot of processing and thinking time.

  7. Pingback: Questions, questions, questions | close up

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