Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jigsaw Reading part 2 - pics

Here are some pics of the worksheets I used the the advanced-level classes.




1 - I whipped up a worksheet this morning to review some of the language and concepts we learned yesterday.  The first part was fairly straightforward, but included a couple new words (relics, solar) which threw them at first, but I told them to do the words they knew first.  When we checked answers, they were able to infer those words' meanings as I hoped they would.  Beyond exposing the kids to yesterday's targeted language content again, one of my objectives in this section was to present some of that TLC in differing contexts from those in which it was presented yesterday, hoping this would cause them to reorder the content in their minds and increase the likelihood of acquisition.

I designed the second part for open discourse.  They developed their ideas as groups and we discussed them as a class. (I noticed the typo in short-answer question 1 too late... should've used 'many' instead of 'much'... didn't catch that when I read over  :/ )

2 - This is the worksheet from yesterday which I provided with the group readings.  It includes two or three questions directly related to each teams' own reading section, one or two which they might've been able to infer the answers to, and a few others for which the answer could only be obtained by interacting with other groups.

3 - Here's the section of text I gave to group 1 in each class.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Jigsaw Reading

My sixth grade classes have a textbook which is impossibly long and simply cannot be finished in one school year.  While I think the material is leveled correctly for my advanced classes, it is quite difficult for the intermediate-level classes to get through the readings due to the amount of new input they are confronted with.  The real problem, though, is that the lessons in the book are designed for 2-hours of daily lessons whereas I only see my students twice a week for 40 minute sessions.  So, it's been a painful necessity to skip massive amounts of material to 'finish the book' as my school would like me to do.

I've wanted to try jigsawing the readings in order to explore the possibility of covering more of the material in less time, but I just haven't had enough time to set up this kind of lesson.  However, since we started a new unit this week, I worked with the time I had this morning in implementing a jigsawed reading activity to varying degrees of success and failure.

The activity I envisioned involved working with my standard arrangement: three teams of four students per class. I wanted to divide a lengthy passage located in the beginning of the new unit into three sections, giving a different section to each team, and have the teams answer worksheet comprehension questions relating to the information in their own section of the passage.  Each team would then have to interact with the other teams to obtain the answers to the worksheet questions which related to information not present in their own bit of text.  I liked this idea because I hoped it would elicit a lot of student-student discourse and would help us move through the material quickly while still absorbing the targeted content.

We are starting a unit on wonders of the world in which a lengthy passage about Stonehenge is presented as an opener.  I typed up the passage and divided it into roughly equal sections for each group to grapple with; the intermediate-class groups received one long paragraph each while the advanced-class groups received three to four.  The worksheet I typed up had nine short-answer questions, of which each group had three specifically tailored to their own passage with another one or two they might be able to answer as well.  

In both the intermediate and advanced classes, I warmed up by having the students look at the unit's opening page which said "Wonders of the World" and contained pictures of Victoria Falls, The Great Wall of China, and Stonehenge.  We discussed what a world wonder actually was and I elicited that they had three important qualities: they can be natural or man-made, they often have cultural importance, and they're impressive.  We then read a short introduction to the Stonehenge reading which related the weight of a stone at Stonehenge to the weight of a bus, so we read it quickly and I asked them to make a plan, with their groups, about how they might move a wheel-less bus from our parking lot to the street without using machines.

I did this activity with the intermediate classes on Wednesday and with the advanced classes today, but I think they went much smoother with the advanced classes.  On Wednesday, the warm-up activity took a bit longer than today due to both the students' lower proficiency levels and a relatively high goof-factor, but I think it got the students in both levels of classes in the right state-of-mind to do the Stonehenge reading.  

Unfortunately, the intermediate classes struggled a bit more than I thought they would with the questions directed towards their own group's passage and we didn't have time for them to complete the activity by interacting with each other and finishing the worksheet.  Part of their difficulty stemmed from the unexpectedly long warm-up while another part arose from the fact that the questions on the worksheet were all mixed together and it was not readily apparent which questions each group was expected to answer.  I had hoped that they would recognize the questions they could answer on their own, but in hindsight, I could have labeled them to make the task easier.  So I scaffolded as best I could as I monitored the activity.  Very unfortunately, because of the holiday on Monday, I won't be able to finish the activity with them until next week.

However, the advanced classes did very well with this activity.  I learned from my warm-up mistakes yesterday and moved the classes along more quickly today.  However, I did not label or relate the questions on the worksheet to their respective sections of text, hoping that the extra time I allotted for the activity would make up for that added difficulty.  I was also sure to be more clear, when I gave directions, about wanting them to address only the questions they could answer with their own slice of the passage.  

After about six or seven minutes into the activity, I got their attention again and told each group to self-select two "diplomats" to travel to other teams and look for answers to those teams' questions.  I also told them that a team's papers could never leave that team's group of desks, so the diplomats would have to really learn the answers and communicate with other teams in order to clear up ambiguities.  The kids got really into this part of the task and there was a lot of discourse going on.  

In two of the classes, I had enough time to begin checking the answers they came up with and I was very pleasantly surprised by the results.  Groups had acquired answers from other teams accurately and were able to demonstrate a functional understanding of those answers, as I found out by asking probing follow-up questions.  Still, I'll need to finish checking their answers with them tomorrow and follow up with a production task using some of the targeted language and concepts... I simply haven't had time to plan out how I'll do that yet.

Looking back on this activity, it strikes me that I could have made it more communicative very easily by simply requiring that the diplomats not be given access to other teams' worksheets, requiring instead that they converse to acquire answers.  This may have necessitated a few extra minutes for that phase of the activity, but that would have been well worth it since I think a lot more meaningful discourse would have been generated.  That being said, I still observed lively and on-topic conversation occurring around the room and it seemed like everyone, including the wallflowers, was getting into it.  To encourage teamwork and team discourse in the initial phase, and then clarification requests in the team-team interaction phase, I wandered the class with my bucket of jewels, giving them out to students who were being communicative and staying on-task.

This is definitely an activity I'll come back to in the future as we were able to cover quite a bit of ground today.  I'm not confident that the kids have taken the targeted material into long-term memory yet, but that will be for tomorrow.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More Vocabulary Instruction

When I'm able to anticipate new/difficult vocabulary in a lesson, one thing I like to do is make a powerpoint slide to aid acquisition.  Here are a few from last week's classes:



These two slides were for my lowest-level second graders.  To be fair, my goal in this exercise was more about phonics than vocabulary, but I ended up exposing them to new vocabulary as well.  Their textbook had a chunked-pronunciation practice activity in which the kids had to listen to an audio clip and repeat the words.  The clip would pronounce the phonemes of a word in chunks before producing the word as a whole like this: B - all - Ball.  The TLC concerned the 'all' and 'aw' sounds in words like 'Ball' and 'Paw' and was accompanied with pictures.

This exercise was followed by another in which they were to look at simple sentences, like 'Jamie is playing with a soccer ball' and underline the 'all' and 'aw' bits.  This was all well and good, but it didn't require much negotiation of meaning or production or effort on their parts to complete.  So I supplemented the book's activities by presenting a slide portraying an 'all' or 'aw' word and produced the word for them a few times.  It was then their job to, with their groups, decide upon the spelling.

The first picture was of a tennis ball and required no explanation on my part; as soon as the picture went up the kids were yelling 'ball!' 'tennis ball!', so I just affirmed their utterances and proceeded.  However, the next two slides were the ones above.  When I showed the first slide, kids were yelling things like 'beach!' 'sunset!' 'sun!'.  So, to get them on the same page, I said, 'It's the early morning'.  In one of the classes, I said that in Korean since their level is quite low and I wanted to make sure we were all sharing the same meaning.  Then I said, 'Dawn' several times and asked them to work as teams to guess the spelling.  I went to each group and repeated the word to give them a little extra exposure.  

After maybe thirty seconds of team discussion, I drew a rectangle on the board and chose a student to write his/her team's answer in it.  If they were correct, I gave them a jewel and showed them the labeled slide, but I also gave them a jewel if they were incorrect and tried to praise them for the bits of the word they got right.  The words included 'ball'(recycled TLC) 'dawn' 'fawn' and 'mall'.  Most of the time, they were able to guess the spelling correctly and I think the way they engaged with the pictures and their teammates probably helped them acquire the words while they became more familiar with these phonemes.  Unfortunately, I won't see them again until the 25th, so they'll probably forget the vocabulary! :/ I think Bill would have liked this activity since the group work bumped their ZPDs up the interlanguage ladder a bit (hopefully :)

If I wanted to focus on vocabulary acquisition over phoneme recognition and production, I could have included a quick productive activity using these words.. but I thought words like 'dawn' and 'fawn' were too low-frequency to necessitate that kind of focus at their level and I think the activity targeted both considerations to some extent.




I used these slides for my sixth grade intermediate and advanced classes.  We came across these words while reading a passage about storm chasers, so I decided to have them infer the words' meanings while providing some additional contextual usage.  In picture 1, I ended up telling them that 'anxious' was a feeling to make the task a bit easier, so they focused on what the feeling might be. I also asked them to explain how they arrived at their answer so they could get jewels for explanations if their guesses were incorrect.  In general, a kid would give me half the feeling by saying it meant 'scared' or 'nervous', so I kept it going by asking things like 'Are they only scared?  How else do they feel?'  in order to elicit that anxiety can be a mix of both nervousness and excitement.  

Picture 2 was fairly straightforward and most of the kids were able to guess that it meant to 'get ready' as the passage in the book was something like, 'I have to brace myself for the wildly blowing wind'.  I made sure to ask 'why' in order to elicit that 'brace yourself' means preparing for something bad, like a wildly blowing wind or a ball to the face.  In a few classes I jokingly used 'brace yourself' in unacceptable ways to get them to laugh and understand the proper usage of brace yourself... I think I said, 'Brace yourself, here comes a puppy!' and acted like there was a dangerous animal in the room for one of the classes... so even though I demonstrated unacceptable usage, I think the correct usage was reinforced.

Picture 3 ended up being quite difficult for them to do on their own.  The book discussed a 'weather phenomenon' while my example was a different kind of phenomenon, so the kids had widely varying ideas about what 'phenomenon' might mean.  I rewarded them for incorrect answers if they explained why they came to their conclusion; a popular wrong answer was that 'phenomenon' means 'a lot of things move' because the book's weather phenomenon example was a moving tornado and they were able to identify that the butterflies were all moving together.  In general, their guesses were far more detailed than the meaning I wanted to convey and I was sure to tell them that 'phenomenon' was 'a big word for a simple idea'.  Eventually, someone in each class made use of the word 'special' or inferred that it wasn't normal and I had to just tell them that a phenomenon was simply something that's really special or unusual.  I gave them the further examples of a Korean person with blond hair and blue eyes, or a frog with five legs.  I then gave them a few seconds to think of phenomena in their groups and they demonstrated their understanding by coming up with some interesting and sometimes slightly deviant examples lol.  I think I could have made this task more achievable had I provided one or two more examples of phenomena.  However, I don't think that it was a problem that my example was a different kind of phenomena than the one presented in the book since the fact that there are many kinds of phenomena is pretty central to the word's usage.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vocabulary Instruction

I had intended to record myself teaching vocabulary this week, but I've only just had a chance to finish the Nation and Harmer readings and did not do so in time, so I'll be able to write a fresher and more detailed reflection on this topic on Monday.

After reading the material, I think it's clear that I need to change the way I teach vocabulary!  In particular, Nation's article concerning the ways in which teachers should prioritize and approach vocabulary in a lesson does not line up with what I have been doing, to date.  Specifically, I have been spending too much time explicitly teaching vocabulary and I've been spending far too much time on low-frequency vocabulary.  

I meet each of my sixth grade classes twice a week for forty minutes at a time.  Class-time is precious, and yet I often spend time having the students infer the meanings of low-frequency words from our text.  For example, when my advanced classes read a narrative about the Dust Bowl in Texas on Thursday, I had them using context clues to infer the meanings of a variety of words: most of them were high-mid frequency, but I also included the low-frequency word "thistle".  Looking back, I could have saved time by quickly giving the meaning of some of these words and had enough time to bring the students back into contact with a variety of vocabulary words with another exercise.  This would have been beneficial because the students would have had an extra meeting with the vocabulary words and because I could have presented the words in new or slightly different contexts, strengthening the students' overall understanding of their usages.

One challenge that I face is that, since my classes only meet twice a week, it is difficult to have the students interact with vocabulary enough times that they'll remember it the next week.  Nation writes that students should meet the vocabulary words, ideally, several times within a few days.  Since I am already having to skip masses of textbook content in order to balance the school's desire to "finish" it and the actual time needed for my students to learn, I might as well slice and dice the material such that the second class of the week can repeat more of the first class' material on a regular basis.

I think the most important changes I can make to the way I have been presenting vocabulary are to be more selective in the words I choose to focus on and to ensure that my students encounter those words more frequently, especially in the crucial days after first exposure.

Edit: Looking back on this writing, I actually think teaching a word like 'thistle' is justified at least insofar as it gives the students practice using context clues to discover meaning.  The issue I'm dealing with is an extreme lack of time and my own reluctance to skip huge amounts of textbook content... it just doesn't feel right...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Module 2 Lesson: Making Comparisons

I taught and recorded my sixth grade intermediate-level classes for our module 2 self-reflective research paper today.  We have just finished reading a series of texts about weather and, more recently, about severe weather events.  After teaching the classes, I was aware of some mistakes I had made and some ineffective/inefficient aspects of the lesson had become clear to me.  These were the last three classes of a total seven which I taught today, so I was pretty tired by the end, especially because I was up late doing schoolwork and grading student journals last night.  In the very last class, I had to discipline several students for unproductive behavior and the classroom was heating up, making things quite uncomfortable.  Due to this combination of factors, I had a very negative perception of my performance in teaching this lesson.  However, after watching the video of my second class, I feel a lot better about how things progressed.

The objective for today's lesson was for the students to be able to make comparisons using Venn diagrams where both Venn diagrams and making thorough comparisons were new tasks.  I also wanted to use the weather-related terminology which we've been using for the past few weeks to practice and produce this kind of output.

The warm-up stages of the classes went fairly well.  We did a short greeting/memory activity to get everyone speaking English and played a short game to activate their weather-related schema.  In the game, one student joined me in front of the class and I gave that student a word card.  The student then had to ask questions or give clues to the rest of the class to elicit the word on his/her word card.  The words were related to the weather events we've been learning about.  I think the warm-up phase went quite well as the only difficulty I ran into was that it went a little longer than I wanted it to.  Because I was recording this lesson and I had made such a detailed lesson plan, I think I felt compelled to draw out the greetings into an activity which was unnecessary given the age and communicative competence displayed by the majority of these students.

I ran into some problems when presenting the new material for the day.  I decided to write the word "compare" on the board and have the kids work in their small groups to express what it meant.  This was difficult for them, as I probably should have anticipated, and I had to scaffold quite heavily to arrive at an agreed meaning.  I think a better approach would have been to make a model comparison, citing both a similarity and a difference, of two things before writing the word "compare" on the board and using it in a sentence.  For example, I could have compared ice cream and mud, written "compare" on the board and said, "I compared ice cream and mud".  I think these students would have been able to more easily express that comparing entails looking for similarities and differences had I taken this approach.

Beyond this point, however, things became much easier as it turned out the students had already been exposed to Venn diagrams :o  I had them compare tornadoes and hurricanes in their groups for a few minutes and provided them with paper to record their thoughts.  I then took volunteers and wrote their answers in the Venn diagram.  At this point, I had intended to elicit why I wrote similarities in the circles' intersection and differences outside of the intersection, but I only remembered to do this with the third class of the three.  I think the combination of the students' clear understanding of Venn diagrams and my own mental fatigue caused me to overlook this part of the lesson.  Still, it would have been a valuable isolation activity, if only to have the students produce L2 output to express something they clearly understood on a conceptual level.  In any case, the students came up with a lot of similarities and differences and were able to express them in sentences.  I was careful to make sure they identified both tornadoes and hurricanes as the subject when expressing a similarity and to point out that the use of "but" or "however" was necessary when expressing a difference.  When giving feedback, I tried to use clarification requests in lieu of recasts such that the students' opportunities to manipulate meaning were not negated, but I think slid a few recasts in there as well.  At this point, time was beginning to run short.

I ended the class with a production of new output activity which I used to check their mastery of comparative statements.  I gave each group a printout with a blank Venn diagram and told them to choose two objects and compare them.  After a few minutes, I had a different member from each team verbally tell me about either the objects they compared, the similarities between those objects, or the differences.  Most of the students were able to create accurate sentences and all of them understood the material on a conceptual level.

If I could teach this class again, there are a few things I would have planned differently (Shorter warm-up, more intuitive presentation of "compare"), but I think just as many of the things I would change resulted from my mental state at the time.  This is a challenging class to teach as this hectic schedule repeats every Monday and Tuesday and those are the only meeting times we have.  I think I'll be focusing on how to improve my performance under these conditions in future reflective tasks..