The final week of any semester is typically a difficult time for teachers. We are pushed for time to get all of our exams graded in time to put the scores on report cards, in addition to running around school signing forms and duty rosters that have been neglected for months. On top of that, our classrooms are full of students who really don't want to be there. Now that their grades are done for the semester, they are no longer motivated to give their best effort. They sit there simply daydreaming of the upcoming holiday. Moreover, some students even leave for holiday early.
Therefore, the question that remains is, what can we do in class that is still effective and engaging? Since the students aren't in the right frame of mind, or even at school for that matter, it is not really a great idea to start teaching a new topic. That knowledge would quickly be forgotten over the holiday period. You could do some more creative and fun projects to put up on the walls of the classrooms, but again, many students won't be there, so it's not really fair for them. You could perhaps reward the students by playing games or watching films, but that is not really enjoyable nor productive for us in terms of teaching. It is quite the conundrum.
When my colleague and I were building our curriculum two years ago, we also found ourselves in this predicament. Still having the same amount of lessons during the last week of the semester, we wanted to come up with activities that are meaningful, yet engaging. We decided on several ICT- driven projects where the students had to reflect on what they have learned so far this year, as well as their own academic progress and performance over the past four months. This post will explain one of these activities, which was a reflective piece of writing, and more importantly, what we learned from our students about our program and teaching methodologies from doing it.
Reflective Penzu Writing
The first activity that we asked our students to do during this final week of the semester was to write a journal response on Penzu Classroom, a brilliant journal writing website that we have mentioned regularly on this blog. The journal response was on how the students felt, overall, about our program after one semester. The basic instructions were that they could write about a number of topics including the academic skills that they have learned, their favorite ICT tools, our teaching styles, in addition to their own feelings and progress in English. We asked for 300 words to be written over a class period and finished at home that night. Simply put, we couldn't believe the returns we got. Several students wrote more than 500 words, and more importantly, the content of the responses was truly honest and heartfelt. It was one of those few moments during a school year when a teacher gets genuine praise from students, which made us extremely happy. Furthermore, the students are aware of what they need to do to improve in the second semester, and they gave us real insight to several components of our curriculum that they feel are greatly beneficial to them. We would like to share some of the responses with you, so that you can get a brief look at just how successful this activity was for us.
This first part of a student response came from Emin who wrote about how much he enjoys using technology in and out of the classroom, and how much it has helped him improve his English. I couldn't believe how he even added our slogan, 'It is a tool, not a solution', into his journal response! We constantly remind our students that using ICT in ELT is not going to make you learn English any better or faster, but that it is a tool that makes learning much more interesting and engaging.
The second response comes from an extremely hard-working student called Gülsümnaz. She focused much of her writing on the 'Can Do' statements and interviews that we do with the students at the end of each month. In brief, we have the students assess their own academic progress in English by reading 'Can Do' statements based on the Common European Framework (CEFr) and giving themselves a grade from 0 to 5. Afterwards, we set aside 5-10 minutes to speak with each student individually about their progress and whether or not we agree with their assessment of themselves. We then provide them with reasons for changing their scores, if indeed they have been changed, and reasonable goals for them to focus on for the upcoming month. Her response showed us that many of our students find this system extremely beneficial for their learning.
Another student, Mısra, wrote commented on how much she benefits from our formative grading system, whereby we give our students many graded short quizzes and projects over a six-week period instead of having only one written exam. This gives students more opportunities to show what they have learned, in addition to taking away some of the stress commonly associated with exams.
Finally, as a way to finish this post on a comical note, our student, Ceylan, wrote about how much she enjoys learning and using English idioms in her speaking and writing. We introduce our students to 4 new idioms each week, and after school they must come up with their own sentences using each new idioms for homework. As you can see above, she loves that her father, who speaks English very well, doesn't even know some of them, and she has the chance to teach him.