Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Six Weeks is NOT a Long Time for Sts to Learn...BUT it IS time enough for us

This week's post concerns the skill of close reading and the students' ability to think more for their own understanding. In fact, it boils down to an Understanding-to-Understand concept that is something we as adults probably take for granted, since we now most probably do understand most things that affect us both positively and negatively (well at least if you have been around for almost a half-century!). It reminds of UP and how the old man takes for granted his own knowledge, until he is shown there are other ways to look at the world.
I believe that today saw my colleague and I have a moment of clarity that took the inability of our students to fully grasp concepts for reading that seem like second-nature to us as teachers and adults.
The StudentsWe teach students who have managed, over the period of eight years or, in most cases, less to reach good levels of pass grades in subjects other than English. Hence the reason that they have to complete one full year of English education covering the language itself, maths and science. It means they are in the fortunate position of expanding their lexical and grammatical base to high proficiency levels before they enter high school, where all the education is taught in English. It thereby goes that we have a really diverse demographic, which causes a strong dynamic, thus making the job very interesting, and, dare I say it, exciting!?!
One of the areas that we need and like to focus on is that of close-reading skills. It is imperative that our students reach a reasonably proficient level of reading in L2 if they are to have any hope of success in high school. So, after the initial three weeks of general English lessons (60 periods) we start on the focusing of skills in reading. For this we use L2 readers. Now, before I start my exposition, I don't want to open up the debate of reader v original novel at this time. Just for those out there who may think we may not have authenticity in our skills program in terms of literature, they can be rest assured that in the second semester we move into authentic L1 teenager novels, so that the students are, indeed, ready for the rigors of high school English-Lit. The reason for this, we firmly believe, is the accessibility of the texts at this age and level, which should allow the students to at least feel they are having the opportunity to read prose in English. We have chosen stories especially written for L2, and not abridged readers; so there is still some semblance of authenticity, in actual fact.
The Reader The book we started with is "David and the Great Detective".
A simply written narrative of 53 small pages in length, interspersed with pictures in comic-book style exposition. It tells the story of a down-trodden and bullied boy who lives his life in a dream world as the great detective in the title, in order to escape his troubled life at school. He is a loner and is often teased and bullied as a result. These themes are excellent for young teenagers to address and respond to with the simple level of their language skills. The protagonist is called upon to show his brave and empathetic side in order to save his soon-to-be former antagonist from a gang of bicycle thieves. Just to add some spice and colour to the piece, David's female class peers also come to the rescue and help David to save the day. The resultant climax is for David to realise that he is a hero and that his peers respect him for his bravery, resilience and detective skills used to overcome the bad guys.
The Methodology The idea for reading was to scaffold the text by splitting the 53 pages into three reading sections. These sections would be read in silence by the students for the initial comprehension. This was then followed by an activity where the students were put into groups of four and they had to prepare questions that the other two groups would attempt to answer. However, we never accepted any surface level or simple comprehension questions. Instead, they were encouraged to think outside the box, and to try and consider primarily "WHY" questions. This would hopefully mean more quality Q/A sessions post reading discussion-activity. Lo and Behold we got results. Each of the three sessions appeared to be highly successful, and we thought how great it would be to consolidate the title in its conclusion today by having the students complete the following activities:
The students were to work in groups to Brainstorm for the 12 most important events in the story. REMEMBER they had already done this over the past two weeks in class with yes/no, right/wrong responses as groups and individuals. Both my colleague and thought we were set for a quality lesson. HOWEVER, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN!!!
First of all, the students seemed to have forgotten what a brainstorm session was. After I cleared that up they got going. Next I saw that they were writing long sentences and asking if the grammar was right?!. I explained again that simple notes were fine for now. I wanted them to be thinking of the events and cross-themes in the story. After fifteen minutes I asked them to tell the class what their individual and group findings were. I was expecting really good returns for this activity. I mean we had previously done Blooms-styled questions; used UbD teaching expectations and objectives; given them plenty of scaffolding and encouragement to take risks with their questions and answers; we had allowed them silent reading time in class; we had prepared worksheets that required them to think as well as show their comprehension of the content, themes and events.
THAT DID NOT HAPPEN!! In fact I was left with my jaw dropping on the floor as to what they were thinking in terms of important points; ie rising action events leading to a climax (as seen in the plot triangle- the follow-up activity that we never got round to) After this moment of madness, but not yet clarity, I asked for them to consider the climax for the story. They thought for a few minutes, and then I asked for their suggested answers...
not one of the eleven students could come up with, or anywhere close to the climax.
is of David's realization that he was a hero, people accepted him and that he was indeed a normal person: ACCEPTANCE & BRAVERY being the themes
It was extraordinary how they all seemed so confused, lost and incapable of rational thought. I met with my colleague for lunch and we came to the following conclusion.
Conclusion and Follow up Action This was only the second example of the Plot Pyramid and Timeline concept that they have been a part of; In their previous schools, they have very rarely been asked anything other than surface level comprehension questions before for English lessons; They have probably never really been brought to task about their inability to explain what it is they actually know (or don't know) from any text- even if they had even read English readers at all; and more frightening is the realization, or possibility, on our part, that they have never been expected to do anything other than write down the teacher's answers to any questions, and then do cramming two hours before the exam.
We have decided to do the activity again, and continue in the same train of thought. We realise that they are having so much English learning going on that something has had to give; namely, in this case, the ability to consider deeper, critical thought. We must be aware as teachers that we have only been together for only six weeks. They have been stuck in other ways and bad habits for over eight years! Our job is to try and break those bad habits. Habits like only waiting for others to take the risk, and then accept that they couldn't do it and give up. In practical terms we will also add an additional while-they-read log of whats happening in the timeline of the story. With this in place, just as with many SSR type expectation activities, our students should hopefully make them become more reflective and aware of what is actually going on in the story, and why.
Jerry Springer Moment
I feel it was a great learning-how-to-teach-it-better-the-next-time-moment, as did my colleague. Although I have over a decade more teaching experience, and nearly 20 years in age difference on him, I felt today that we were on a totally even keel for learning-thru-teaching in the trenches. What could we have done differently? we both asked each other. Well, we might have done more scaffoldng and had lower expectations. But as my young mate said to me at lunch, "it is something that will come with experience, right, David?" I can only say that with more than fifteen years in doing ELT, it just goes to show that we are all on a huge learning curve, and we should never forget that or become complacent about our practices. Finally, I want to share how much have enjoyed this day primarily for the reason that I do not know everything about teaching ESL, not even remotely. It is a wonderful feeling, through reflection, discussion and pro-active sharing with a colleague that I can continue to learn more each day about this challenging, yet worthwhile, profession and hopefully transfer better lessons to the students who are able, without even thinking about it, to make a difference to us as their teachers.

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