April 12, 2013 by gemmalunn
This week I wanted to change the focus from me to my students. I recorded some students (after getting their permission) during group activities and considered what changes I could make to improve and increase the interactions. However, this week seemed to raise more questions than answers so maybe you can help…..
Students sit in groups of 4 (as you can see from the photos) and these are mixed ability. The range of abilities is as wide as A1 to B2 (on the Common European Framework). The main reason behind seating students in this way is so that lower level students (Ss 3&4) can get help and support from higher level students (Ss 1&2) and higher level students can play the role of mini-teachers; a role which most have embraced.
I regularly use group work and the format of having mixed ability groups works well, however, as you would expect it is usually the two higher level students who dominate. This isn’t always the case but I worry that lower level students sometimes feel left out and struggle to contribute or feel embarrassed or unable to participate. Students’ ability is not the only consideration needed when observing interactions: “because of individual differences in learners’ personalities and their individual cognitive styles, different patterns of interactions can often be observed among learners in any one class” (1)
Students make a dialogue based on a picture using the key expressions from the lesson. With grade 2 the key expressions were for making, accepting and declining suggestions. I showed them a picture (like the one below) and they made a dialogue, for example:
Let’s go fishing.
I’d love to but I can’t, I hate the smell of fish.
Groups write their answers on their white boards then share them with the class, to push the students (demand high!) and encourage creativity I give 3 points if they give a unique answer and only 1 point if it’s the same as another team’s. During activities like this I let students decide who will do the writing.
I recorded 4 groups from the first class. It was really interesting to listen to the recordings and hear how students interact on their own without me peering over their shoulders / tables! It was reassuring to hear higher level students translating for lower level students and also to hear students correcting each other. However, as predicted students 1 and 2 spoke and contributed the most.
I could only think of one small change to make this week and this was to nominate a ‘writer’. I thought this may change the dynamic and increase involvement. So in the second class I nominated one writer (student 3) for the whole of the activity. Some students were a bit worried and I saw a few higher level students getting frustrated when their peers made spelling mistakes or took too long writing. A couple of times I saw the higher level student had taken over the writing and had to remind them who was ‘the writer’. In the recordings I noticed more diverse interactions as the higher level students needed to give ‘the writer’ a lot of input and help with spelling etc. Also, from my observations during the classes I could see the dynamics of some groups had changed with student number 3 obviously playing a central role. However, this still did not solve the problem of involving the lowest level student (number 4) so in the next class I changed the writer on each turn. This is problematic as some number 4 students struggle with writing and needed a lot of help which frustrated their peers and probably caused them to feel stressed. However, I did notice them paying more attention and getting more involved during the activity so maybe the pressure was positive.
I find it hard to strike a balance between encouraging lower level students and forcing them to get involved and thus making them stressed. I do think it’s beneficial for them to listen and learn from the other students but I want them to get involved too. Until now I have encouraged participation of lower level students in various ways: designating specific roles, highlighting the fact that Ss can share ideas in Korean first, using a variety of activities and projects to build good group relationships (see Alex Walsh’s recent post for more info on the benefits of group projects). If you have any other ideas please share them in the comments.
This was the first time I have recorded only students and I found it really beneficial to listen to what happens whist the teacher isn’t present. I would like to try this with other interactions such as pair work and also listen to the recordings with the students to see what their opinions on interactions are. Maybe some more active students do not realize how much more they speak than the more passive ones and vice versa.
This week raised a few questions which I’ve been thinking about and need to look into more deeply; these seemed to have strayed from the topic of interactions but nevermind it’s still useful! I’d love to hear your thoughts and also any similar experiences…
– In a class of 30 mixed ability students is it possible and / or necessary to involve all of the students all of the time? – I don’t think so, if you do then please let me know how!
– Do some students need to contribute and actively be involved in all activities in order to learn or can they learn by watching and listening to their peers? Theories like total physical response emphasize the importance of listening (in the early stages of language learning) and teachers wait until students acquire enough language to speak spontaneously. Different personalities also need to be considered as some people are naturally more active than others.
– Is it is fair to nominate roles and force students to be more active? This causes some students a lot of stress, is this stress necessary to help students learn or will it have the opposite effect and raise their affective filters?
If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.
1 – Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms 1996 Richards, J & Lockhart C.
Next week is my final week of this challenge and teaching at my school. I’m going to end with a big change and try something totally different in my classes…..