Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What happens when students don't like your style?

This week I've started student teacher conferences. It's often hard to hear criticism, especially when you're only paid for 80 minutes, and you spend the majority of your day preparing for the class and grading homework. When I ask for students feedback, I keep eye contact with them and then I try to paraphrase their criticism in the most mutually understandable way possible.

For example:

I really enjoy your class and the topics are interesting, BUT (and here it comes) I feel like you let some people talk too much. You have a lot of things planned and you don't get through your lesson plan because you let people talk too much.

I understand. You want me to be more careful with managing time in the classroom, right?

Yes, because I feel that some students talk too much and that its boring for the rest of us.

(I'm trying to be like Bonny-Norton and realize that these students need time to establish identity and investment, but this student is highly fluent, accurate, and she's a bit lazy turning in her assignments, plus my class is Oral Communication. The whole point is allowing interaction and class discussion).

I see what you are saying, but that's a problem because I need to allow other students time to talk.

But you allow them to take up all of the time.

Clearly, the student doesn't think I'm in control of the class. I thank her for her input write down her comments.

The next student comes, and I ask the same question. Do you have any suggestions? This student is a little more frank.

I like your class and its interesting, but the way you teach is a problem for me. I don't think writing in blogs is helping me. This is Oral Communication class, we should be talking.

So you don't think there is a relationship between writing and speaking?

No, because how is it helping me? Last session, in Oral Communication class we were discussing articles, debating, and talking. For me, I don't like writing and I don't think we need to for Oral Communication class.

I swallow the pain and anger down. I try to explain that writing helps us organize our thoughts, practice vocabulary words before we use them, and afterwords, helps us notice how we use phrases. Writing reinforces speaking and speaking reinforces writing. He doesn't buy it, and there is really tense moment. We backtrack, retract, try to see it from different sides, but in the end he leaves with his opinion and I'm left wondering if I'm doing the right thing for my students. Is my class even effective? How come I can't convince my own students that the major skills are all related to each other? I have 20 minutes to prepare for my class, and I'm just a little upset. I wonder if I can keep my cool, can I be professional? Can I manage all of the "perceived" needs of my students?

For today's class we are continuing on with the travel topic, and I've prepared a model of a Photostory 3 presentation to show the students. I also prepared a handout with different questions about destinations around the U.S. The previous day, we worked on pronunciation and practicing noticing work with our homemade podcasts that were posted on the website over the weekend. Also, today I've handed back the grades and feedback for their first timed conversation. I thought to myself that student 1 from above said she really liked my feedback when I handed back her papers. Also, today we are catching up on our news summary assignments where students introduce five words and give a summary of a news article to the class. I'm especially proud of this assignment as it allows students to feel what its like to lead a class and direct their own learning efforts.

I started the class by giving back their timed-conversation work, and talking a little bit about the student feedback. I told the students that I would be trying to adjust to some of their requests, but I wouldn't be changing the format of the class. (Students look disappointed or bored.) I then ask if the students who will be giving their timed conversations are ready to begin. One of the students is missing, one is not prepared, but two others are. I hand it over to the first student. We have 20 minutes of news summaries to do in one class because I ran out of time in the last class and its already 8 minutes in. The topics are interesting, especially the topics on gay marriage laws in Argentina and the U.S. and on Alzheimer disease. By the time we finish, we have burned away most of the class time and I only have 20 minutes left.

I have to radically change my plans and do a on the fly introduction of the task, which I had wanted them to do in class but have now assigned as homework. I handout the worksheet and tell ask them to cover two of the four topics and then introduce Photostory 3. The students are patient as a fumble with the Internet connections. Finally, I show them OWL, an online writing resources by the University of Purdue, which shows students how to provide citations to any information that they may use. I wrap up the class and let the students leave five minutes early.

I want to talk a little bit about speaking and writing because I do believe speaking and writing are related, and it frustrates me that I can't explain it to my students and that I even up doubting myself. First, speaking and writing are productive tasks. Productive tasks are much more difficult to teach, I think, because they 1) require more energy from the students, 2) they can be frustrating because students tend to obsesses about their "mistakes," and 3) they require us to demonstrate our knowledge. It's not easy for us to face criticism when we speak or when we have a paper returned in red ink with obscure remarks and blotted out ideas. Because they are so hard to master, they are worth investing time into practicing. I believe that students who write first can organize their ideas, their vocabulary, phrases, and information so when they are asked to speak, they have resources to draw upon. If you are giving a presentation, you prepare by reading, then you write an outline or a full speech, then you put it aside and see what you can produce. Production, communication, interaction, noticing, speaking, and writing.

How can I better explain to my students the relationship between speaking and writing?
How can I show students how to capitalize on their noticing opportunities with speaking and writing?
Should I just ditch the twice weekly blogs? Is that too much to ask?

I'm exhausted. Time to sleep.

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