Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spotlight (reflection)

Today, I began teaching our new textbook, "Spotlight 5" to my advanced 6th grade classes.  It's an interesting setup because I'll be teaching this book to both the advanced and intermediate leveled 6th grade classes and the difference will be in my pace and approach.

We warmed up with an exercise in which I wrote three words on the board (inject, alligator, love) and gave each team 30 seconds to create a sentence using all three words.  I wrote their sentences on the board and we analyzed them as a group for grammatical errors and unnatural constructs.  We ended up with some interesting sentences.. one from a group of girls being, "I love the alligator so much that I injected it with my blood.".. yikes!  We laughed, we cried.. it was a good warm up.

Since the text makes use of some difficult vocabulary, I took today to introduce how to use context clues to find words' meanings.  I also chose 31 words from unit 1 to include on a vocabulary list which they received today.  The list includes all of the definitions, but none of the actual words, the idea being that they look for these words as we read and discuss the text.  So, we read the first page of text and I wrote the 6 vocab words from that page on the board.  They were then given 4 minutes to work with their teams, using the text and the definitions page, to infer the meanings of those words(two classes readily worked as teams, but the last class was reluctant to do so and did not communicate as much as I had hoped they would during this phase of the class).  They then offered their ideas for the definitions of these words and I asked them how they had come to their conclusions.  Right or wrong, student contributions which were well-explained were rewarded with jewels, and we learned the meanings of the words in this way.  There were only 2 or 3 incorrect inferences made today and each student was able to explain how he or she had decided upon an answer.  We then re-read the page with greater understanding, and I asked them to confirm their understanding by offering examples of some things.  For example, the book stated "weather affects our moods", so I asked how a rainy day affected one student's mood.  Having gotten that answer, I asked other students if they disagreed, which inevitably one or two would.  I kept this going for 5-7 mins per class, trying to let them do all the substantive talking over two or three questions.

While class was productive today, I think I may have an issue with pace.  Though it was a dense page, we only covered one today.  The book is over 200 pages long.. so I'll have to make some adjustments.

One way to speed the classes along would be to assign the discovery of vocab definitions for homework... but this would negate the use of context clues and they might not remember the words so well..  I won't meet with this class again until next Wed, so I've got a few days to think on it..

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happiness (reflection)

I took two days to cover a few pages on strategies for being happy with my sixth grade classes yesterday and today. Since these classes have not yet been divided into their ability levels, I adopted a conversational-focus and use some of the concepts we've been reading about for class.  There were a total of 10 ideas about how to be happy, explained in in a sentence or two in their books.  Each one also included two examples of how to put the idea into practice.  

I wanted the students to first read and understand their given ideas and examples and then react to them.  I outlined the steps of this process on the board and we did the first topic as a group to get them warmed up.  I made sure to disagree with one of the examples so that they could get comfortable with the idea of the book not always being right.

So while the first topic included a lot of teacher talking time, the rest of the class showcased the students and their ideas.  There was some advanced vocabulary which I wouldn't have personally chosen for a mixed-level group and which required some explanation, but the kids got pretty involved in giving me their opinions about the readings' ideas.  I use a team and point system to add incentive to classroom contributions, the points being pretty pretty plastic jewels, and was sure to encourage student reactions to their peers' opinions.  

It went well, but we didn't completely finish the lesson and move on to the reading comprehension questions.. but I felt that this wasn't such a loss, considering the mixed-level makeup of the class.

To improve upon this method, I think it would have been beneficial for me to have picked out the more difficult vocabulary words and defined them in the beginning of class.  I felt that, since I have been careful to make each group a mixture of high and low level students, that the high level students would be able to help the low level students learn these words.. but there were 4 or 5 words which even the high level students didn't know or generally misinterpreted.

Still, I got long and thoughtful answers out of each student in each class, some more than others, and think that things went pretty well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The one (class reflection)

Today, we covered the use of ".. the one who .." and ".. the one that .." in my fifth grade classes.  I felt that our textbook introduced this bit of grammar improperly as its cameo in a page and a half of the book and lack of explanation would lead students to infer that they could use "the one" in inappropriate situations.  They began this lesson with a Korean English teacher last week, so I rolled them back to an already-completed exercise and tried to show them how native speakers use and think about these kinds of sentences.

My goal was to have them thinking about the contextual implications of using "the one" when describing an object.  For example, when considering the sentence, "Jimmy is the one who is shy," I wanted them to think about two things.  1) What group or category is Jimmy part of?  2) What does this sentence imply about the others in that group or category?

Since we have not yet divided the students according to the levels of ability, I am teaching a mixed group.  This was only going to make a tricky concept more difficult to convey, so I began the class with story time.  I told them a short story about my weekend and a few of them were allowed to share their stories with the class.  This got them laughing and warmed them up, so I felt like they were ready to jump into the meat of the lesson.

I wrote "the one" on the board and asked them to think about its meaning as we read a few sentences from the exercise they completed on Friday.  Hiroko's the one who likes to take pictures.  Gilberto's the one who studies a lot.  Lili's the one who is wearing a red dress today.  The class agreed that "the one" meant people, and I had them narrow it down to people in their book.  I expressed to them that "the one" implies that the subject should be thought about as part of a group or category.  So, I wrote a few examples on the board for them to consider in which "the one" was not a person in their book or not a person at all.  The tiger is the one that has stripes.  I then asked them to identify the possible group or category in which "the one" could be considered.  This was difficult for them, at first, as I found that the higher-level students were able to provide examples quite readily while the lower level students, possibly not able to understand my explanation due to its speed or my use of vocabulary, needed some extra examples.  For the example, Kevin is the one who is silly, they identified "the one"'s  possible category as: a student, a student in our class, a boy, a boy in the world, a person, a dog (I allowed this one because I wanted to demonstrate that we might not even be talking about our Kevin).

I pointed out that using "the one who/that" is not very specific and you have to be careful to make sure the other person knows what you are talking about.

After a few examples like this, I demonstrated how we can write the sentences without using "the one" by plugging in the examples they had given me and which I had written on the board.  They then made a few of their own sentences independently and identified each others' categories.  Since they represent a wide variety of levels of ability, I allowed the high level learners who finished early and correctly to help their friends with ideas and look for errors.. NICELY look for errors!

Finally, I wrote two component sentences on the board and asked them to use them to make a "the one who/that" sentence.  For example: Peter Parker is in our class.  Peter Parker is Spiderman. --> Peter Parker is the one who is Spiderman & Spiderman is the one who is in our class.  This was a little more difficult because it is possible to make several sentences with the given information, and the implied categories of "the one" changes.

If I could teach the class again, I would be sure to place more emphasis on the exclusionary property of using "the one who/that" as it implies that other objects in that category do not share the discussed quality or property, or if they do, it is to a lesser extent.  While this property was implied in my examples, I don't think I clearly demonstrated it for them.  Unfortunately, the lesson took quite a bit of time, but I'm going to revisit the topic briefly tomorrow and will be encouraging them to use these kinds of sentences when they tell stories.  I may even delay the next page of the book and move on to "one of the ones who".. but I'll decide on that a little later when I have some more time to consider it.

There were some explanatory bits of this lesson which were heavily teacher-dominated.  I feel like that's a bad thing, but it is necessary when explaining difficult concepts.  I was careful to make sure that they were doing most of the reading and speaking of examples for me and employed a lot of board/peer correction to keep them engaged.  By the end of the class, I felt like every level of student had a pretty good understanding of these sentences' meanings, but I'm pretty sure they'll need more practice before they can produce this kind of sentence on their own.  So practice we will :)  

I find that story time is one of the best moments of class because they are given the opportunity to use English creatively and they often make use of the material we are studying.  If they struggle, it's easy to suggest ways in which they can express themselves or make use of something we've learned, provided I'm able to understand their general topic.  I generally cut it off at about 5-7 mins in order to start the lesson, and there's always a few kids disappointed that they haven't been able to tell a story that day.. but this is a good thing because they'll be even more eager to share it the next day.  I have a student I'll name Han-bin who was very disappointed about not being able to share his story this morning, but I'll definitely choose him tomorrow and there's a good possibility he thought some more about how to express his story today while he waited, or perhaps he will do so between now and the time he speaks tomorrow.

So we had a good class today, and I think it was an effective one.  I'll find out for sure tomorrow morning when we review!

Friday, March 9, 2012

First day.. hooray! (Class Reflection)

I really enjoy the first day of class, though it was not so in the past.  Even though I find it necessary to have a more rigidly planned lesson on the first day, as there's plenty of things to get out of the way and less room and/or need for improvisation, the really enjoyable part is getting to know a new batch of students.  In introducing myself, going over class rules, and jumping into the first activity, they're getting a taste of my teaching style and I'm ever watchful to see how they react to it.  Right after class, while the new faces and names are still fresh in my memory, I scribble down their names into their initial groups and note things about their personalities if it seems necessary.  The first day is also a time to set precedents, so while I try to be fun and free to a certain extent, it also has to be clear that I'm to be obeyed and the first day is never without a reprimand or two.

I teach at a private elementary school, which differs from public schools in some positive ways.  For the purpose of English education, each homeroom class is broken into 3 groups of 12 students, grouped by ability.  This is an effective system which allows foreign teachers to focus on individual students and get full participation from the whole group.  I'm at a loss as to how public school teachers who don't speak Korean are expected to get anything done with 30+ students of mixed English levels.. I would never put myself in that position.  Anyhow, the first two weeks of the school year are a bit different because the students have not yet taken their English aptitude tests and are not broken up by ability.  

As a fifth and sixth grade teacher, I was happy to see some familiar faces in this year's sixth grade classes.  There was, however, an issue to which I saw no clear solution at the time, but I believe it worked out constructively.  

In this particular sixth grade class, there is a student I'll name Johnny.  I taught Johnny last year when he was a fifth grader in the lowest-level English class.  His class was smaller than the others, all boys, and all generally averse to learning or participating without considerable encouragement.  Their apathy and reluctance to learn struck me as premature for fifth graders, but it was what it was and I did the best I could to teach them.  I quickly discovered that the class dynamic was largely created by Johnny and that the other students' behavior improved significantly when he was not among them, be it because he was absent or because I had removed him from his peers.  I don't want to imply that I don't like the kid, because the opposite is true.  He's funny and I enjoy seeing outside of class, but IN class.. well we've probably all had a student or two like him.  Anyhow, the important thing about this class was that I had to adopt a much looser teaching style in order to keep them motivated enough to do anything at all; if I had enforced rules in my usual way, I think I would have become the students' enemy and they probably wouldn't have contributed voluntarily for anything.

Monday's class went very well and I had enthusiastic participation from almost everyone.  We played an introductory game called "Murder" which I like to play with the oldest kids and which they seem to enjoy immensely.  I give each student a sheet with about five personal questions ie: what's your favorite color?  what animal scares you the most?  what kind of animal would you like to try eating which you have never eaten before? (Zebra!) .. for some, that last question requires explanation.  While they answer, I give each student a little piece of paper with a 'secret number' on it.  They are then given five minutes to go around the room learning their peers' answers.  During the game, one student will ask another student a question about a third student, eg: "Jason, what is Tanya's favorite color?"  If the question is answered correctly, then the answering student has an opportunity to "murder" another student by guessing his/her secret number.  (Being 'murdered' simply consists of the kid sitting on the floor and becoming a "zombie".. who can still participate in the game and take revenge!;) I'll also write the names and numbers of 'attacked' students on the board, so the game becomes easier as time and guesses go by.

My problem with Johnny arose during the period in which the students had to walk around the room, learning each other's answers.  A minute or so into this phase of the game, I noticed he was sitting at his desk instead of walking around to memorize answers.  He was speaking in Korean with the other student from his class last year.  I told them to use English, if they could, and to participate in the activity, which they readily did.  A minute later, however, I noticed Johnny was back in his chair when he yelled something in Korean to a student across the room.  Not wanting to be too strict and ruin the positive atmosphere in which the other students were operating, I gave him a second warning.  This time, he began to stand up and immediately sat back down, in dismissal of what I had just said to him.  

So I faced a problem.  Should I reprimand him and risk changing the atmosphere of the class on the very first day?  Or should I ignore his behavior since it did not seem to be affecting the other students, who were participating enthusiastically?

While some breaches of classroom etiquette can and should be overlooked, I felt there was no alternative but to be strict since Johnny was given very direct instructions and a teacher must be obeyed.  So I calmly and sternly removed him from the activity and had him spend the rest of class (15-20 mins) as an observer.  The other students noticed this, but they seemed more concerned with the game and we had a great time playing it for the rest of class.

The next day, I was worried that Johnny may have held a grudge against me for how I treated him, as he often feels that others treat him unfairly.  In his defense, the way I was running this class was not how I ran his class last semester, but he would have been reprimanded for that kind of behavior last semester, as well.  So I wasn't feeling guilty so much as concerned.  

To my surprise and delight, he was a gem that day:)  He participated in all the activities, refrained from using Korean as per my rule, and contributed to an even more positive class than on the first day.  So, I suppose I handled this situation well.

Wow, this is a pretty long post, so I'll end it here.