In my last post I talked about a new class I’m teaching and some of the thoughts coming out of the first lesson. In this post I’m moving on to lesson two …
Of course, no lesson is an island, and the seeds for the second lesson were sown in the first. But I think I’m moving on too fast. Before I could move on to the second lesson I needed to look back at the first. One of the drawbacks of not following a set coursebook or course materials is that the students have no formal record of their work. This has to be built up lesson by lesson. Of course, in the long run (and even in the relatively short term) this can be an advantage as the students take on the responsibility of recording and in some way “writing” their own course but initially (and throughout the course in one way or another) the onus is on the teacher to initiate and shape the recording process. Or at least that’s how it feels to me at the moment.
So, lesson one was all about testing the waters, getting to know each other, finding out about the students’ past experience, passive knowledge, confidence, learning personalities. Obviously that’s a lot of getting to know and we could do no more than scrape the surface, but after an hour and a half I knew a whole lot more than I did before the classes started. And it was enough of a basis to make some tentative decisions about shapes and directions. So the first thing I did was go back and make notes on the actual language that had come out of the lesson. I wrote this up as a very simple summary:
I looked at the language and thought about how much had come from the students and how much had come from me. Obviously one of the first things with beginners is to grasp just how “beginner” they are. In point 1 all the language had come from them, in the second the first three exchanges, the rest had been modelled and was new to all of them – at least in part. In part 3 almost all the language had come from me, but passive knowledge and use of cognates meant that it was all pretty easy. Part 4 was the hardest. And the language here was all passive, coming out of my short description of a photo on my phone. Based on this I made two decisions about the next lesson: one, that I would shelve the family vocabulary for the time being and focus on more basics – numbers, the alphabet, more personal information questions; two, that I would give the students the notes as I’d written them above as a summary and starting point. Then I looked again at the language and tried to second guess what might be causing them the most problems. I decided to focus on the introductions template in section 2 and wrote a short dialogue which I cut into strips to be re-ordered if necessary. I embedded new variations to expand on the “pleased to meet you” chunk and slipped in an “excuse me” for good measure.
So that was that, I went into the second lesson with the summary, the strips of paper and a personal agenda to sound them out on numbers and the alphabet.
In the classroom it worked a bit like this. I handed out the summaries as the students came in, a few minutes before the class started. I explained what it was in English first and then in Spanish. One of the students brought out her own “script” and said she’d written one too. That was a nice moment! She compared hers and mine, I asked them all to read through the notes and see if there were any questions they wanted to ask me. (Here I reverted back to English only). They asked about “you too” and “and you” and we looked at how they could be interchangeable in the contexts we’d created and how the use changed when we add a ?. Then one of the students said she was confused about how and when to use them and how they fitted into an introduction scenario. I was so pleased that I’d second guessed that question and after a quick check of the rest of the summary we looked at the jumbled up exchange. They re-ordered it, they picked up on good/nice to meet you, they didn’t even question “excuse me”, and then we played out the situation in pairs, first with, then without the slips of paper. The student who had been confused smiled and said she’d got it straight. There was a mutual feeling of satisfaction!
Then we moved on. They knew the numbers 1 to 10 more or less, though some stumbled over eight and nine. I decided to stop at ten. We took the base question “what’s your name?” and worked on asking for phone numbers. We played a simplified version of Bingo (nine squares in a grid drawn by the students, numbers from 0-10 added in at random by the students, a row of three wins). Bingo plays a special part in the local culture. Apologies to those of you who may have heard this before! In summer groups of (mainly) older women set up a circle of deck-chairs and sunshades on the local beaches and play open air bingo for hours on end. The voices shouting out the numbers is part of the soundtrack of summer. They’re like swallows. We know summer has come when they first appear, and that it’s finished when they leave. So the idea of playing bingo, and the fact that I’d brought in a dedicated bingo bag, was met with a lot of enthusiasm!
Next up was the alphabet. Again I was feeling my way. Of course they already knew a lot, but tripped up on the expected: E, I, J. H, Y, Z were new to them. W they found interesting (it’s a double V in Spanish). We isolated the difficult ones and worked on the sounds using phonetic symbols. I added these in red (I like to keep red exclusively for annotating pronunciation features) but didn’t explain them. There was no questioning or resistance. I generall like using this gradual approach to using the symbols as and when necessary, introducing a few at a time, not really drawing attention to them but just letting them blend in to the general “furniture” of the class. We moved on to spelling names and surnames and then embedded that in a hotel reception scenario where the receptionist is filling in an online form. We worked with the students own names only at this point, working on the premise that this is what they’re most likely to have to know how to spell in any real life situation. I know I still avoid spelling things like my middle name (Rhiannon) and my place of birth (Aberystwyth) in Spanish where possible, preferring to offer to write it myself, though I guess I’m probably far more fluent in spelling those out aloud than anything else. But maybe in a future lesson we should look at expressions like “Can I write it for you?” “It’s easier if I write it for you. It’s a difficult name.”
To round off we looked back at our board, looked at the things we’d done in the class and I explained that I’d write a summary for them for the next lesson, but that it’d be great if they too wrote a summary to compare with mine. We switched to Spanish and discussed time frames. I suggested that it was best if they could look back over the lesson within 24 hours if possible, especially as in this case they’d have to wait five days to get my summary. I wanted to avoid their reliance on my summaries meaning that they didn’t write their own notes (though I didn’t say as much). I set some simple homework – to write out the hotel reception conversation they’d rehearsed in the classroom and I pointed them to the esolcourses online resources (thanks Sue!) for practising numbers and the alphabet. I showed them the site on my tablet and the students said they’d look it up on their ipads. That was another important first step. I want to start introducing some online resources and offering opportunities to learn beyond the classroom, but as with everything else at the moment, I’m taking it slowly and gently, one step at a time.
In lesson 3 I’ll be revisiting our board and exploring the balance between student input and my teaching agenda as well as looking a little bit closer at the use of L1 in the classes.