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Monday, June 21, 2010

Curriculum Design: Part 3

Needs Analysis

One of the first things I need to do at the beginning of the planning stage of the course is to conduct a needs analysis. This should be a comprehensive analysis of what the students need, want and lack. It should include information about present knowledge and any gaps in this, general and specific language students will need in the future, skills, types of activity, topics, as well as taking into comsideration the environmental factors outlined in Part 2. The analysis should be partly done by and with the students, but should also take into account research and past experience of similar groups and courses.

The following are some of the aspects I will need to consider:

  • What will learners need to learn in order to be able to reach the goals of the course?
  • What language will students need in order to communicate at a higher level than present?
  • Which skill areas do students need to work on?
  • What types of activity or task would best help students in these areas?
  • Is fluency work more important than accuracy or vice versa?

  • What is the students' proficiency in each skill?
  • What language needs to be revised in order to fill in gaps in their knowledge?
  • What do students think they need to work on?

  • What would the students like to work on?
  • What kind of task do students prefer?
  • How much time would they be prepared to spend on each aspect of the language?
  • Will they spend time out of class improving their English?
  • Do students prefer individual, pair, group or whole-class work?

How will I find this information? I will design a questionaire and interview form to use with the students in order to find out as much as possible from their point of view. I will also analyse the work covered this year. I may give students a diagnostic test in order to discover their main weaknesses. When I have all the results, I shall combine them to find the most important areas to include in the course. For example, if an item appears on the "lacks", "needs" and "wants" lists, it is something to spend more time on during the course.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Have I gatecrashed the party?

Maybe it's just me being silly, but I sometimes get the feeling that I have joined an CPE class when I am only a Pre-Int student in the world of blogging and social networking and that I do not belong here. After all, I am but a simple teacher in a private language school in the South of Spain, doing my job on a day to day basis to earn a living. I have been doing the exact same for the past eight years: preparing lessons based on the course book, spending fairly little time on planning, because I had lots of experiences of spending hours preparing lessons only to be greeted with bored faces asking me to do something else. I felt that it wasn't worth the effort.

However, over the last school year something has changed. Something has changed inside me and it all started when I started to read other blogs and use Twitter. Enthusiasm is infectious, just like a laugh or yawn can be and every day I read comments from professionals that are just oozing in enthusiasm towards their teaching. I have had such zeal relatively few times in my career, but recently I have a new-found passion for my job. Perhaps passion is the wrong word: I do not consider teaching the be all and end all of my life, but I can say that I am much happier about going to work than I used to be. I have plenty of new ideas, thanks to my PLN (a term that I feel uneasy about using, and that I will come to shortly) and I think my students are benefitting from this. I have decided to start giving some in-house teacher development sessions to share what I am learning.

Nevertheless, I can't help feeling that I don't fit in with these professionals that I sometimes communicate with on Twitter. I get the feeling that I am pretending to be a professional and that someone soon will catch me out for being a fraud. As for Personal Learning Networks, I believe this supposed to be a two-way affair. I learn so much from the people whose blogs I read and links I open. But do they learn anything from me? They are teacher trainers, course book writers, directors of studies, whereas I am just a teacher. I can't help thinking that I am taking much more than I am giving back.

I felt even more like a fraud when a well-known magazine agreed to publish an article I wrote. Why would anyone want to read what I have to say? I am not well read on methodology. What I write is really just common sense. I feel slightly embarrassed to see myself on people's educator lists on Twitter - I am not an educator, just a teacher! Now I have always been a quite an insecure person and find it difficult to believe in myself, probably the opposite to a lot of  Tweeters and bloggers out there, and so it really does make a difference to me when I get comments on my blog, or people retweet my tweets. I guess I just need a bit of encouragement occasionally!

Does anyone else get these feelings from time to time? Is it normal? How do you deal with it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Curriculum Design: Part 2

One of the first things to think about when designing a course is the kinds of situational or environmental constraints that may exist. These constraints are factors that have the potential to impede the success of the course, and must be taken into account during the planning stage. They could be related to the students, the teacher, the resources available and the general situation.

In my case, the biggest constraints are time, resources, students' needs and students' level of proficiency. Let's look at these a little more closely.

One of the most common problems that teachers find it hard to accept is that of time. Most teachers in the private sector only see their students for around three hours per week. In the context of adult learners, the majority of these will also have very little time to spend on language study or practice outside the classroom. Adults have lots of commitments such as work or studies and families as well as all the basic daily activities they have to make time for. This means that trying to get them to do anything in their free time is very difficult, and at best they will find half an hour once or twice a week. The challenge for us is to make sure they progress quickly in order to maintain high motivation, but it is very difficult to do, especially if some of the learners are sporadic attenders. How can we find the time to recycle language enough that the learners really internalise and acquire it without them feeling that they are repeating something they have already learnt. How can we make the students feel that they are making good progress? One possible solution is to do several tasks over several lessons that use the language in question, including warmer and filler games or activities. As for the lack of homework, maybe trying to incorporate the use of technology could be a solution. If we can get students using a social network in English, they can chat to each other, send messages, and share links to English language materials on the web. This will not seem like homework and it is a way of encouraging students to use the language out of the classroom.

In this particular case the problem is finding interesting and thought-provoking materials that challenge and motivate the learners. This group of adults enjoy talking about things they have been doing and about current affairs, especially local politics! However, we can't talk about politics all the time, and this means that the majority of these discussions are based around something they have read or heard in their own language, or a newspaper article I have brought in. The traditional topics that are found in course books are not suitable for this class, as many of them have been learning English for several years, and are tired of the typical course book material. Their syllabus should be based around topics that are up to date and stimulating. This means that choosing texts and listening tasks before the course starts may be detrimental, as they will be out of date by the time they are used. I will need to design a flexible syllabus whose topics can change according to what goes on in the world. However, I can choose the topics beforehand - in most years there will be a natural disaster, a general election in some part of the world, an important sports event, a change in government policy and so on. It will be the choice of lesson material that will have to wait until each specific lesson is planned.

Students' needs and levels
 Although the group is small (usually around 6 students), each student has different needs and wants. Some have excellent speaking skills but have big gaps in their grammar, others find reading and writing fairly easy but have problems listening and speaking, some want conversation and others want grammar practice. I need to accommodate all these needs into the syllabus in order to keep everyone happy and motivated. Looking at common wants, the course should be based around improving speaking and listening skills whilst widening students' vocabulary and revising grammar. However, most of the learners do not enjoy doing the typical controlled grammar exercise, and will therefore need a different way in which to practise language.

These are the most important environmental factors that I need to consider for this class. Other factors to consider are lack of lesson planning time for the teacher and whether it is worth spending so much time designing a course that is only suitable for this specific group. Will the course be suitable for other groups? If not, it may not be practical to develop a whole new course but to adapt an existing syllabus or published course book.

Curriculum Design: Part 1

I have just started reading a book about curriculum design and I thought that writing down what I understand from the book may be a good way of processing and reflecting on what I am learning. I have decided then, to do so here on my blog, so I apologise if my next few posts are really boring and complicated - I'm writing them for myself rather than for my (very small) audience. Just ignore my posts that begin with Curriculum Design!

I am going to be thinking about a specific group of students whom I have been teaching for the past two years, and will possibly continue with next year. These students have not had a book because they wanted conversational type lessons in order to maintain their level of English and increase their comprehension and fluency. I have had lot of help with lesson planning from this year! The group are middle-aged students who do not need English for their job, but really see their lessons as a hobby. This is the class I will be analysing for the purposes of the tasks in the book.

Before planning a course, it is important to think about the following subjects, and to ask yourself a few questions:

What are the levels of the learners and how I am I going to deal with variation in proficiency?
How am I going to encourage autonomy through the course?
How am I going to deal with students' lack of time outside of class to study English?

What do students want to achieve during the course? Long term and short term goals.
Which aspects of ELL do students want to work on most?

Which methodologies would best suit this group?
How can I introduce different methodologies into the lessons?

What are the main aims of the course?
How can I choose the goals from students' needs and wants?

Should the syllabus be lexical/functional/grammatical/skills based?
How will I decide the order of language items to be presented?
How often will I recycle language?

How can I effectively assess progress without the use of tests?

Evaluation (during and after the course) - Is the course successful?
Does it meet its aims?
Are students and teachers happy?

I need to consider these aspects in order to design a suitable curriculum for my learners. As I have not found a suitable course book for this group, I am going to design my own course, based on their needs. I am hoping this book will help me do so in a systematic way.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Teacher, can I write on the board?

This morning I bought a small whiteboard with washable marker from the local chinese bazaar. As I was standing in the queue I was thinking about what I would use it for. Here are some of my ideas, sometimes requiring more than one board, but you can buy them very cheaply and they will last for a long time.

1) Secret Word - I write a word on the board and tell students what category it is e.g. clothes and they take turns at guessing the word. The student that guesses correctly then writes a word.

2) Pictionary - Instead of whispering the word or sentence to the drawer, I write it on the board.

3) Pictionary - Students draw on the whiteboard and play pictionary in small groups (several boards needed).

4) Sentence completion - I write a sentences with a missing word on the main board. Students in teams write on their board the missing word. (Suitable for PET and FCE exam prep)

5) Writing letters - Very Young Learners practise letter formation on small boards.

6) Picture Dictation - In pairs or small groups students draw a picture and describe for their companions to draw.

7) Giving praise - When a student does something very well, I draw a smiley face or a big tick on the board and show it to the individual.

8) Sentence writing - In a chain, students each write a word to form a sentence. If done in two teams, give points for the number of words.

9) Silent Way - Instead of speaking, write everything on the board, encouraging students to respond orally. This includes saying hello, showing your feelings e.g. big smiley face, a question mark if you don't understand.

10) Writing vocabulary - For young learners who find it hard to locate a specific word on the main board, write the word they want to use on the board.

11) Pass the board - Like pass the parcel but with vocabulary. Give a topic e.g animals and play music. Students pass the board around and when the music stops, the person who has the board writes a word.

12) Prompts - Ask students questions and prompt their answers using the board.

13) Instructions - Write an instruction on the board, show it to one student who does that action, then the others say what the instruction was. (Practice for Starters speaking exam)

14) Menu - For a café or restaurant roleplay, write the menu on the board and display.

15) Shopping List - For a shopping roleplay write the shopping list of items students need to buy.

16) Physical Sentences - With several boards, write a word on each that can form a sentence. Then give one to each student who have to stand in a line in to make a correct sentence.

If I think of any more I will add them to the list. I'm sure Alex Case would come up with a hundred! The possibilities are really quite endless. Most of these activties can be done on paper, but just think that this way you will be saving a tree or two! Please feel free to add any suggestions in the comments section.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting the Buggers to Speak English!

I have often though about trying out different teaching approaches in my lessons, and to some extent I have done so, but some approaches such as Task Based Learning do not work as well as I would like. The main reason for this is the difficulty (impossibility?) of getting my learners to use English during the task. This problem usually occurs with Young Learners. I'm not really thinking about children here, as they do not have enough language to be able to discuss things in English, but teenage learners, for example, a PET or FCE group. At these levels, the students should have enough language to be able to talk about problems and do simple tasks without L2 interference. However, even if they start to do the task in English, they will always end up speaking in Spanish.

So, I'm thinking of doing an experiment to try to make them aware of how much Spanish they actually use in class, as I'm sure they don't realise how little English they use when left to their own devices. What I plan to do is:

a) Give them a task based activity to do in small groups and write down the number of utterances I hear in both English and Spanish on a piece of paper (using a simple five-bar gate method) and later transfering this to the blackboard. I think that if I did this directly on the board, they would ask me what I was doing rather than concentrate on the task. So I will have two columns on the page; one labelled English and the other labelled Spanish. Each time I hear a word or sentences in either of the two languages, I will mark it in the right column. This of course would not work with a large class. Seeing this on the board will give them a visual image of the amount of Spanish they use. We could even transfer the numbers into a bar or pie chart.

b) Record a lesson, either audio or video. For this I will need a good quality microphone that the students can't see in order to pick up the speech whilst drowning out the background noise. It is probably not feasible to record the whole lesson, but just a short part of it should be enough. I have actually done this before with a very small class and a tape recorder. I will then play the recording.

c) I also thought it might be nice to make it more fun. I could bring in two large jars or boxes and a big bag of sweets and a bag of chickpeas or dried beans. Everytime I hear an English sentence, a sweet will go into one jar, and every time I hear Spanish, a chickpea will go into the other. At the end, the jar with the most items will be given to the students.

I don't think the last idea is right for the experiment as I don't want to bribe them into speaking English, but to do a realistic experiment in order to show them the real results. My hopes are that the students will become more responsible and try to speak English as much as they can, without having to be reminded constantly.

What do you think of these ideas? Do you think they could work? Do you have any better ideas?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Competition Winner!!!

This month I have won the lesson share competition on Onestopenglish and I was so happy when I found out that I felt like a little girl again! It is a strange phenomenon, that whatever the competition, you never really expect to win, or at least that's how I view them. I tend to think of all competitions as a prize draw, where thousands of people enter and only one name is drawn out of a hat, therefore making it virtually impossible for me to win. This is why I have refrained from entering any competition for many years. I suppose however that you can compare the idea of competitions to the phrase: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Is is better to enter a competition and to lose than to not enter? If you don't enter, you can't win (which is what my partner says every week when he buys several lottery tickets!)

Anyway, that first time I won a competition was when I was about 7 years old, and I remember clearly that it was for drawing a picture of dangers in the home and the prize was a book token. Now I have won the second competition in my life (how sad does that sound?) and my lesson plan about the World Cup which practises First Conditional sentences is here

Thank you, Onestop,  for choosing my entry as the winner!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Snozzcumbers and Never Ending Gobstoppers

I was having a bit of a tidy up last week at work, clearing off the stacks of unused photocopies to put in my scrap paper pile and sorting out my books, when I found my beloved copy of The Roald Dahl Treasury. Just the title of this book makes me love it - a treasury sounds like something very important, that you care for and would hate to lose. I know that Mr Dahl passed away years before this collection was published, but it sounds like a title he would have found acceptable, mainly because the word "treasury" appeals to children.

As a child, I never read many books by Roald Dahl, I suppose this was because these books aren't really aimed at young children anyway, and I was more into Enid Blyton. However, as an adult I can really appreciate the talent and efforts of this writer which enabled him to penetrate into the world of a child and write stories that children would want to read. The way Dahl portrays adults from the point of view of a young boy is exceptional. I would recommend that anyone who has children gets hold of some of his creations, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda or The Witches.

The most fascinating talent of Dahl for me, though, is his use of language. I have a copy of Revolting Rhymes, which is a collection of well-known fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White told in a rather different way to what you usually expect. The stories are written in rhyme and are therefore ideal for reading aloud. I have used these rhymes many times with my students (generally Intermediate and above) as a reading activity, listening activity, for pronunciation practice (sentence stress), as a cloze exercise, and to inspire creative writing. The rhymes are fun for students of all ages, including adults, who will often try to come up with their own unusual fairy tales. I had a student who recently suggested that they write their own revolting rhyme - actually in rhyme!

Dahl uses a lot of words he has made up himself, and this can be a useful way of getting learners to think about the meanings and usage of words, giving them practice in guessing meaning through context. It can be great fun for them to make up their own words too! With a story like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you can give students the names of sweets that appear and ask them to describe what they are like - what they look like, what they taste like, what is so special about them, which one they like the sound of, and so on. With The Witches, you can ask students to draw a picture of one of the witches that is described in the book, and then for them to imagine a witch of their own.

Have you used Roald Dahl stories in class, and if so, how did you use them?
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