April 19, 2013 by gemmalunn
This week was my final week of classes at Dong Pyung Girls’s Middle school so I decided to try something different in terms of classroom layout and lesson format. Last week students had the chance to think of and write any questions they’d like to ask me before I leave. I told them they could: ‘test my knowledge of Korea’ ‘ask a question about England’ ‘ask a question about me’ or ‘ask a question about my experience in Korea’.
We moved all the tables out of the way and made a circle of chairs in the middle of the room. By removing the tables and me sitting with the students I hoped it would create a more informal atmosphere. Students passed the bag of questions around taking it in turns to pick out a piece of paper and ask whatever question was on it. I didn’t record or transcribe the first class as I didn’t think it would help but upon reflection I realized I should do this as I would be able to see how clearly and fully I had answered the questions.
Small change: Rather than pass the bag around I moved seats after every question, choosing the next students randomly.
The result: Students were constantly moving and the uncertainty of who would be next kept them on their toes more. It did mean students didn’t read the questions as loudly so I had to remind them to do this. I feel it was more natural and personal to sit next to students rather than have them shout questions to me across the circle.
Small change: I added the following to the bag of questions to mix up the dynamic of the activity:
Free question / Gemma asks you / Gemma asks the class / Ask Mrs Kim (the Korean co-teacher) a question.
The result: I asked students questions such as ‘what is the best / worst thing about Korea?’ and these sparked further debate and conversation. I found out one co-teacher lies to students and tells them she is married and has an “ugly” daughter when in fact she is single and lives with her parents! (not relevant to this blog post but interesting nonetheless!)
Small change: I asked higher level students to translate more difficult questions so all students could understand them. I also asked my co-teacher to translate more of my answers when students hadn’t fully understood.
The result: Students asked more follow-up questions and lower level students asked the co-teacher to help them translate other questions for them. In short, students were more engaged.
Small change: I transcribed some of my answers to common questions and edited these to make these clearer.
The Result: My answers were better thought out and hopefully clearer.
Small change: I waited longer at the end of the activity when all the questions had been taken to see if students had any more questions.
The result: With the remaining grade 3 classes we spent the whole 45 minute class in this format chatting about a range of topics. It was great to hear students’ views and also give them the opportunity to engage in free speaking.
I was concerned that it would be more difficult to control students and keep them focused due to the new layout but the classes which are normally difficult to control were actually much better behaved than normal and more attentive than other classes! This further justifies to me why making small changes and trying new things in your classroom is so important – because your assumptions about your learners and classes are not always correct and what you think will happen is not always what happens. This week has also demonstrated how having large classes and mixed ability groups does not have to limit which layouts and formats you use in the classroom.
I’m really glad I used this time to get a bit closer to some students and give them this free talking opportunity. We touched on a large range of topics and once the initial ‘how old are you?’ and ‘do you like banana milk?’ type questions were out of the way students asked some more in depth questions regarding culture, dreams, travel and we even discussed homosexuality (apt following last week’s KELTchat on taboos!)
I don’t think the lesson would have gone as well had the room been in the normal layout. I believe the circle created an open and relaxed feel encouraging students to participate more. It’s normal in classrooms that teachers ask most of the questions so it was nice to reverse this norm. This was a really effective and enjoyable rapport building activity that I think I’d try earlier on in a course next time regardless of the size or level of class.
…………..Next week I’ll be writing up some overall reflections of my 6 week challenge.