And so, we have arrived as (planned) at a parting of the ways

So, what’s been happening in my little experiment? I have a few less than ideal things to tell about my own experience learning along with my students, but I’ll save that news for later. And besides, I think I have that all worked out.

Without going into the details of each lesson, here has been the structure overall

Week 1: Everyone did the same work, exercises, activities.

A mix of getting to know you, orientation, etc.

Week 2: Everyone did the same work, exercises, activities.

A bunch of stuff happened.

Week 3: I dropped the bomb
Everyone started with a common discussion and other work, then I started releasing them to more independent work. I set up short orientation readings and prep work for two entirely different tasks. The whole class read both sets of instructions and materials.

1. Half the class did an online Nation Vocabulary size test and then a free vocabulary size test from V-Check. Gotta know your baseline if you are going to set some goals, right?

2. The other half of the class did an online Extensive Reading placement test.

The vocabulary test takes longer so once Group 1 were all set and working away, Group 2 had found their levels. So, I left the room.

Well, not by myself.

I took the ER group upstairs to select books. Possible with a group of 12 or 14, but just barely, but not a whole class. And, I just left the Vocabulary test students to do their work. I said, “Hey. We’ll be back soon, just keep going.” A few looks like, “Whut?” But by the time we got back they had all completed and logged (Google Forms) at least one test and some had completed both.

Wrapped up by pairing them off and having the ER group show off their new books, and the Vocabulary people groan about the tests.

Homework: Flip. So, the Vocabulary people had a slow class but easy homework. And, the ER group had a more “fun” class, but homework that was work. Life isn’t always fair but it all comes out in the wash eventually.

What was the point of this?

  • I needed to manage resources–space in the self-access center.
  • I wanted to introduce the idea early that I wouldn’t always be around to help.
  • The whole class didn’t do the same thing or study the same way. We did two different things. And, some of them did them on their own.

My sinister plot was beginning to take shape…

Week 4: Three, three choices!

Sesame Street's Count von Count holds up three fingers in his new "Number of the Day" segment, in the show's 33rd season. [PNG Merlin Archive]
You see where I’m going with this. In Weeks 1 and 2 everyone got used to Google Sites and Forms, and Quizlet, and  some brief self-assessment. And, we got to know each other a bit, too. And we got everyone started with tools like Quizlet. In Week 3, we gathered some self-assessment data about vocabulary and started ER. So, we had tools for reading, vocabulary, and monitoring.

Week 4 was listening skills. I set up three different online listening choices: more fluency and expression centered at a higher level, content and vocabulary focussed news, and something very easy and basic.

Hey everybody. Pick one. Use it. We’re in computer room with decent headphones. And, while you do, your teacher will watch and see how everyone goes about it. Who really engages with the tasks, and who still needs a little more coaching. Then, come back do the obvious, “What did you listen to?” But, also some ratings about ease and interest. Try to get everyone on something they like. Get some recommendations, and try again.

I asked for feedback (as we do every week) and specifically asked for them to comment on this “everybody do their own thing” mode of learning. How did this go over? Just swimmingly, of course. They are first-year students right out of high school. Everything new in university is new. Shiny! Isn’t it great! (Actually, they seem like a pretty nice bunch of students who are interested and interesting.)

Feedback questions like “How do you like this new thing?” pretty much deliver positive feedback. We’ll get to some requests for specifically negative comments in a later class, but for now. Here is about the worst I got.

“I think today’s class is not easy.
I am not good at English, so I need help!”

Some of this is false-beginner and very common language anxiety. But, she does need help. I do some very brief pre- and post- class “How are you doing?” (Not so much how was class?) And, this learner needs help. That’s OK. She knows and I know. And, I hope she will know that I know.

Now here is why I asked for comment in any language.

“それぞれ違うことをやっているので、わからないところを相談しあえないのが難しいところだと思いました。
でも自力で考えなくてはいけないので、考える力が働くと思いました。”

Pardon my translation, but something like:

“We did different things, so I didn’t have anyone to turn to to ask when I didn’t understand and I think that was hard. But, you I had to think on my own, so I guess I was forced to think.”

OK. I cherry picked the best semi-negative comment. But, there it is. That’s the goal.

Week 5 (tomorrow): Everyone picks what they are going to study and how (within reason, and with some guidance, and after some appropriate warm up and shared discussion.)

But, we’re on our way. In a few weeks, I hope to have a group of learners who are comfortable in a class where they make many decisions about their own learning. Then, comes the real challenge–making better decisions, harder decisions, and trying to keep track of it all.

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