Diary of an intermediate language learner (Part 3)

Diary of an intermediate language learner comes to an end with… 

PART 3

(You can also read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

Day 4 – Thursday 26th February 2015

I turned up bright and early (despite no sleep to speak of the night before, worse luck), with all my homework done (yay!), and a plate of brownies to share with my classmates. They were a little goodbye from me, this being my last day, and on a more personal note a celebration of the summer job offer I had from Sheffield University yesterday! It was brought to my attention that I had perhaps been too dominant in the first three days of the course, so I took it very quietly today.

Today, there was no recounting what we did yesterday. I have, however, had an idea of how we could have done it: I was thinking it would have been nice to return to the chunks for recounting that we met on Day 1. The task could have been to use these to recount what we did yesterday, however mundane. The challenge would be to recount these potentially mundane things using the chunks to pretend like it was exciting, and as listener to respond as though it were super exciting. E.g. (Loosely converting the Italian chunks we used into English…) “You’ll never guess what happened [yesterday]! “Do tell..” “Well, first of all, I actually woke up!!” “Really?! Wow!” “Yes, and then, get this, I had breakfast!” “No!!!” etc. I think it could be fun! As well as some nice language-recycling. 🙂

Storyonics!

Storyonics! To be combined with lovely Italian chunks…? 🙂

In the event, we started instead by checking our gap-fill homework in pairs, while C wrote the solutions up on the board and then we checked against those and had the opportunity to ask any questions. This was quite a time-efficient way of dealing with the homework check, though inevitably a fair bit of discussion arose. Of course, as with previous days, it was useful. Next up was yesterday’s recipe which we had rewritten for homework, and we went through this open class with C nominating us in turn to read sections of it.

We continued with the theme of recipes: the first task of the day was to work in groups and create a recipe. However, this time the recipe wasn’t for food but for love. Nevertheless, though, imperatives and pronouns were of course required! One group had to write a recipe for winning a girl over, the other (my group) had to write a recipe for achieving the opposite effect. So here was the opinion gap opportunity I was wishing for yesterday! I mostly listened rather than spoke, and it was clear that everyone found it a fun, engaging activity. C did lots of monitoring and helping us fill in gaps in our language and pronoun usage, which was useful. Once we had finished, we paired up with someone from the opposite group and shared our recipes. Finally, C boarded each recipe in turn, using the opportunity to do some pronunciation drilling.

IMG_20150226_114925

Our recipes!

After break and brownies, the theme continued but the focus shifted to a song by Marco Ferrandini : Teorema. The gist question was to listen for whether Marco’s theory was for winning a girl or getting rid of her. It seemed to be the former, but there turned out to be a twist, which we discovered on listening to the second part. Conveniently enough, the song was full of imperatives and pronouns, which C exploited by getting us to try and complete the gapped text with these; first from memory and then listening to check. This was followed by a similar activity based on the second part of the song, but this time focusing on prepositions.

So this was a task-based lesson, with the main task being production of a recipe and the work with the song being post-task focus on form activities. The non-linguistic outcome was, of course, the recipe. The language focus was imperatives and pronouns, which C encouraged us to use in our recipe production, so it was an overt language focus. I suppose, therefore, purists might argue that because we were guided towards use of a particular form (i.e. imperatives and pronouns), which we had been studying, that it was more a language practice activity than a task. However, there was definitely a non-linguistic outcome, with an opinion gap which required collaboration and negotiation in order to complete the task. Or, perhaps it might be that the recipe activity wasn’t the main task; it was a pre-task activity, with the main task being the work with the song. In which case you could perhaps argue that the completed song was the non-linguistic outcome?

I was thinking an alternative approach could be:

  • to start with a brief discussion about what makes relationships successful or unsuccessful
  • use that as a springboard to elicit/brainstorm/board relevant vocabulary, useful verbs and nouns (pre-task activity)
  • then do the recipe activity as the main task, but with no overt form-focus (interestingly, to me anyway, in this case, as we had done the recipe activity the previous day, that would have acted as a facilitating activity [I remember Willis and Willis in Doing Task-based teaching saying that pre-task preparation can carry over from a previous lesson], which would hopefully mean that what we produced in the main task would be less ‘impoverished’ [common criticism of TBL output] than it might have been otherwise!)
  • and then input the song, keeping the gist stage that we had, whereby we discovered the twist in it, then treat the first verse as a dictogloss, so that we would try to reconstruct it from key words noted down
  • and then compare our reconstruction with the transcript, with relevant focus on form emerging at this stage
  • and finally go back to our main-task recipes and upgrade them based on what we had gleaned from the song (enter, at this point, hopefully, all the wonderful form focus work that emerged from this activity when we did it with C!)

I love that there are so many different ways of using a given set of materials (in this case, a song text) and I think the way C used it was very creative. I especially liked how the recipe theme carried over from the previous lesson, giving the lessons a non-grammatical link/flow. And thinking that brings to mind another can of worms: planning over a series of lessons, as well as within individual lessons! There is so much to think about as a teacher…

Teacher Take-away

Here is the customary subjective summary of what I learnt…

  • Tasks with a non-linguistic outcome are a Good Thing. From a student point of view it doesn’t matter whether or not they strictly speaking fit the criteria of a task according to purists.
  • Focusing on language that emerges from a task is a Good Thing. (E.g. in this case the imperatives and pronouns emerging from the recipe-writing) …Especially with a teacher who does it well. 🙂
  • Continuity of theme/topic, not only of grammar structure, is a Good Thing.
  • It’s fun doing songs in class! (This is something I should do more of…a challenge?!)
  • There are countless ways of using the same materials. As a T, this week has made me think more about alternative ways. Good to get out of a rut?
  • Prepositions are a bitch! 😉 (But it is motivating when you are the only one to figure out what the correct preposition is before listening! Of course I have now forgotten both the verb and preposition in question…)
  • Sometimes things happen outside a lesson that affect how you participate in that lesson. That’s life. Learner life doesn’t cease to exist when inside the classroom.
  • I’m now a fan of TBL from student point of view as well as from teacher point of view!

Final reflections

Some might think I’ve been overly critical of C’s teaching in this reflective journal and that therefore I didn’t find the course good, but it’s not true:

Firstly, I feel a lot more secure in my understanding and use of pronouns. Not just in terms of form, but also pronunciation. (I won’t forget ‘glielo’ and yellow!)  I’ve also picked up a fair bit of new vocabulary, both words and chunks. (I want to try out the story recounting chunks, I might try it with my storyonics cards! And maybe also if/when I start private lessons again, [still to be confirmed…]). So as a linguistic exercise, it has been recognisably very valuable. Am very jealous of the students who get to spend a month in this class! 😉

Secondly, I’ve experienced a wide range of activity types and teaching techniques from a learner’s point of view, which for me has been very interesting. Of course my reaction to any given activity or technique is very subjective. But experiencing my reactions to activities and techniques, to things that arise in the classroom, to lessons as a whole, will hopefully make me that bit more empathic and responsive to the reactions that I notice in my learners when I teach.

Finally, not only is C clearly a born teacher, but she has a lot more teaching experience than I have, and so from this point of view I’ve found participating in the lessons a very valuable learning experience – lots of activities to ‘steal’ and techniques to try out, but also, in attempting to evaluate my experience of the lessons, trying to think critically about my experience, I’ve enabled myself to ‘steal’ not only things that actually happened but also additional possibilities. For me, teaching is about endless possibilities, puzzle pieces that can be put together in different ways and bring out different pictures, depending on who is in the classroom at the time. I now look forward to experimenting (further!) with my own puzzle pieces, based on all the new possibilities that have opened up in my mind as a consequence of joining this Italian class for a week. Lucky me! 🙂

Thank you, C, for letting me into your class for a week: it was great!! And thank you IHPA giving me the opportunity to flog myself with being a full-time language learner AND teacher all at the same time. Utterly exhausting but oh so worth it and something I would highly recommend to any teacher who has the opportunity to do so. Spending some time in a classroom as a learner, you learn ever such a lot about teaching, as well as of the target language itself, in the process: it really is time well-spent.

All of us ss and t together: Happy language learners, lucky to have such a good teacher! :)

All of us ss and t together: Happy language learners, lucky to have such a good teacher! 🙂

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