Classroom ideas

Ending on a high

The end of a school year always makes me look back on what’s happened since September, and reflect on what I learned about myself and my job, and what I learned from other people. I thought my learners could benefit from something similar, so I used my class of B2 teenagers as guinea pigs. I asked my teenage learners to complete a self-reflection form to look back on how far they’d come since September. I encouraged them to flick through their coursebooks, workbooks and notebooks tor refresh their memories.

Why should learners reflect on what they’ve learnt?

How often have you heard learners at B2 First level say, “Listening is really difficult”? Probably a lot. How often have you heard learners at the same level say, “Listening Part 3 is the most difficult because there are lots of possibilities and if I don’t understand the words on the page it’s much harder”? I’d guess a lot less. But if you encourage learners to think about what specifically makes something difficult, they can usually point out at least one feature that makes them more aware of their own weaknesses. This is invaluable to you as a teacher, as it provides you with a golden opportunity to give suggestions to help them improve. What I’m trying to say is, I think that learners need to be made aware of how they learn, and the active role that they take in doing so. All too often we see learners who expect to accumulate knowledge by osmosis without actually realising that this won’t work.

What do they do after they’ve completed the forms?

I had a look at them first, then returned them to the students. I put them in small groups to compare notes. The most interesting part of this was that they were giving each other advice on how to tackle areas of difficulty without my asking them to do so! They added to their forms, made further suggestions, then asked me for my advice. I would highly recommend doing this in class because it can create a sense of solidarity (“Reporting verbs… those are horrible, right?”) and camaraderie (“That was the class when Eli had the hiccups, remember?”). I think these are important qualities to foster in our learners because I strongly believe it makes them better at learning. Will this automatically make them better as Transformations? Or writing an essay? The short answer is no. Of course there’s more work to do beyond “just” knowing what they need. But if they realise that they can take control of their learning outside the classroom, you’re doing them a huge favour, because you can advise them on how to tackle specific problems. It’s empowering for them and can inform your teaching. A win-win!

Here’s a selection from my class. Some of the handwriting is a bit tricky to decipher, but I’m sure you’ll get the general idea!

Here’s a template for you to download and use with your own classes. Adapt it as you see fit!

And finally, here’s my self-reflection for the academic year 2020-2021:

Most challenging group and why

A YL group of 10-11 year-olds at A2 level: 1 hybrid student and 9 face-to-face students with very varied abilities. One student struggles with anything related to reading and writing, not just in English, but also in Spanish and Basque. The online learner had very few opportunities to interact with another learner in a proper conversation, because by the time headphones were disinfected for a learner to use, and you’d set up the activity for the rest of the class, monitoring was extremely hard.

Most enjoyable group and why:

Probably the B2 teens group who completed the self-reflection forms I mentioned at the beginning of this post. 5 students (3 girls and 2 boys), aged 14-15 years old, curious, hard-working and keen to improve. All in all, a dream class! Whoever gets them next year is in for a treat.

We decided that at the end of each unit, we would have a “free” lesson that wouldn’t be linked to the book. They sometimes helped me choose the topics, but mostly I used a mixture of lessons I had made previously that would suit their level and interests, and a couple of them were designed specially for them. Their favourite lesson came from a request for “a food lesson but not countable and uncountable nouns”, and was based on the Titanic episode of Heston’s Feasts, which was on British TV between 2009 and 2010. I’ll upload the lesson plan to the blog soon! Those were the lessons where I really gained insight into what made these particular 5 students tick. And because their response to the end-of-unit lessons was always so positive, I didn’t mind spending longer than I normally would on a lesson plan, because I knew they would get a lot out of it. These are plans that I will hold onto (and will share on here very soon!) and will probably keep adding to and tweaking as I try them out with other groups. But it’s always nice to remember who inspired the lesson.

Things I struggled with back in September and why:

Adapting to paperless lessons. A lesson without handouts seemed virtually impossible. How could I do things like information gaps or games without handouts or cards? A co-worker and I were discussing this the other day, and we came to the conclusion that for us, using less paper actually made our lessons more efficient. This may not be the case for everybody, and I don’t deny that I miss having pleasing sets of cards ready to play a game of dominoes or a pelmanism, but certainly from a planning/time management perspective, I have saved a lot of time by not chopping worksheets and cards.

If I could give September-2020-Me some advice, it would be:

  1. to cut myself some slack! There are days where learners just aren’t feeling it for a whole variety of reasons, which are exacerbated by COVID-19. It could be anything from being sick of wearing a mask all day to having an argument with a friend at school. No matter how hard you try, there are times where you simply can’t make those problems go away!
  2. to think of paper-free ways to do freer activities. Not only is this a more envionmentally-friendly approach, but it also prevents the inevitable moments where someone’s folder falls onto the floor and all your carefully-prepared handouts are scattered, dog-eared and probably forgotten about. Instead, embrace technology if you can! Check out my earlier post to see how WordWall can help you do just that, and stay tuned for future posts on how I created digital versions of some of my favourite classroom games.

What would you say your biggest challenges this academic year were? What can you do better now than you could at the start of the school year? Let me know in the comments!

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