Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Everything Doldrums

Well, we finally made it. We are approaching the end of the class, and all we have left to accomplish is the final presentations. The students must also conduct a "exit" interview that place students into classes for the next term or will give them an idea of their level of proficiency in terms of the ACTFL speaking guidelines. As a student, I know that the final days of a class are critical in terms of the level of satisfaction and the quality of information that students retain.

In this class, I hope to create a fun and interesting class by having students do a fun listening and speaking exercise using clips from a movie, and then have them review and discuss presentations through the lens of delivering a speech. We will also look at a TED presentation that has a lot of content that must be squeezed into a small time frame so students can see how information can be organized and condensed. At this point, the big question for me is whether further review of the traits of a good presentation/speech and a critique of a professional presentation help my students revisit and revise their presentations before the present and will it help them give better peer-review feedback?


In the previous class, we focused on using comparative and superlative words in our speaking and in general, when to use "-er" versus "more." Using Cowan (2002) as a guide to developing the focus on form lesson, I structured the lesson so that students could find comparative words in a authentic news article. Students wrote the sentences on the board and then we evaluated the sentences and discussed the different conditions for using "-er" vs. "more." From the discussion, we could found that the length of the syllables in the comparative word influences the whether "-er" or "more" is used. We also discovered that some words ending in "y" could take both: i.e., more friendly vs. friendlier. For the main, productive task students compared cell phone to each other and created a short "advertisement" in which they compared one cell phone over another. I also insisted that students write their advertisement speech down before the presented in order for them to give a focused and accurate speech. I also had to direct on team to do this several times, and although they presented an accurate advertisement, I felt that the students did not understand the purpose for writing down the speech before delivering it. Also, the mood at the end of this class was terrible and the students seemed bored, irritated, and ready be done with my class. The bored and somber attitude from the last class spilled into today's class, creating a terrible atmosphere for both learners and teacher.


At the beginning of class, I decided to rearrange the lesson plan so that the students' news summaries were presented at the beginning rather than at the end. Nuria's news summary was on English instruction in countries at the Elementary level. The students were engaged in the discussion, which lasted for several minutes, but involved only a few students. I then played a TED video that related to the topic of the English and demonstrated a concise and persuasive presentation. The class then discussed the content and structure of the TED video for another five to seven minutes.

Because of time limitations, I decided to skip the warm-up listening and speaking game and to begin the reading jigsaw task in which students read different sections on an academic article discussing how to deliver a speech.

Each group read a section of the handout and then reported on the key parts of the article to the class. The students also compared and contrasted this handout with the "Zen" presentation article given a few classes earlier. We also discussed the difference between a presentation and a speech and concluded that speeches are more formal and may have a specific persuasive purpose, and sometimes lack the visual elements that come with presentations.

After the reading, I handed out a worksheet for the next task. I asked the students to watch the next TED video and use the worksheet to identify the position taken by the presenter, the supporting evidence she gave, and the organizing structure of the presentation.

The students watched the video but some did not take careful notes or were looking at their computers. After watching the video, I asked the students to compare their notes with a partner and prepare to discuss the presentation as a group. When we discussed the structure of the TED presentation, some students focused on the content of the TED presentation rather than on the organization of the video. For example, one student said that she didn't agree with the premise of the presentation but could not identify the position being taken by the presenter.

At the end the class, I asked the student why they thought their motivation for performing tasks, completing assignments, and participating in class had fallen so low. We had run out of class time but one student said we should stay and discuss the class even though I told the students they should go to their next class. One student said he didn't like the structure or content of the class and did not understand why they had to do writing and noticing assignments for an Oral Communication class. Another student said that they needed more time having open discussion.

We then wrapped up the class.


I'm so frustrated that my class ended on such a terrible note. I'm angry that one of my students basically said that he hated the way I ran my class and the content. I'm disappointed that other students didn't have an opportunity to say what they wanted to say about the class and that other students were preventing them from giving their opinions. Mostly, though, I'm disappointed in myself and have serious doubts in the way I organized my class, the content of the class, the way I conducted activities, and basically my existence on the planet. This class was a huge shock and am in the doldrums. Whatever I tried to attempt to teach today was overshadowed by a general dissatisfaction with the class.

Regardless of the mood in the class and my limitations as a teacher, I wanted to ask myself which of the lesson goals were accomplished:

1) SWBT listen to a movie sound track and describe what they hear and try to guess what the title of the movie.

We skipped this lesson goals because I decided to keep the normal format of the lesson by allowing the students to give their news summaries first.

2) SWBT identify, analyze, and apply the principles of rhetoric that might help create a clear, concise, and informative speech.

Students were able to summarize and discuss the traits of an effective speech. In the end though, it will depend upon them to retain this information and incorporate it into their final presentation goals.

3) SWBT talk discuss with their classmates how they will attract the audience’s attention and organize their presentation to get to focus their energy.

Students discussed the different aspects of the video but focused on the content rather then the structure and organization of the presentation even with the guidance of the listening worksheet. I'm wondering if I selected the the correct pre-task to introduce this main task.

4) SWBT summarize information from an article and present five new vocabulary words.
The student was able to deliver an informative summary of the article but paid only minimal attention to introducing the vocabulary words. In the end, I think this task needs to be changed so that there is inherent need to introduce the vocabulary and a purpose for presenting the article for both the presenter and the listeners.

In the end, I can see that only 2, 3, and 4 of the class goals were attempted and it is not clear whether the students could demonstrate their knowledge or skills with of these goals in class. If I were to revise this lesson, I'd make sure that the lessons goals matched the tasks and that each task had a in class assessment opportunity to demonstrate student knowledge and skills. An effective revision would also include a more focused sequence of tasks.

Although it was difficult to face the mood of the students, their criticisms, and the failed structure of the lesson tasks and goals, this lesson provided me with some important pedagogical insight. By focusing on the problems, I hope to overcome weaknesses in my lessons. Here is what I identified for improving the general instructional practices.
  • Focus students peer-review efforts on incorporating feedback into drafts in order to incorporate changes and improve the final product.
  • Allow the students to voice their opinions and knowledge and become the knowledge bearers.
  • Find a way to judicially give students equal opportunity to speak in class and develop their own ideas.
  • Give more time for students to focus on one topic instead of giving different tasks with multiple topics in one class.
  • Incorporate research and theory into the development of specific areas of teaching in order to support or revise teaching practices.
  • Follow through with circular needs analysis and allows students a say in the content and direction of the class.
  • Reflect on how to improve on a lesson and not obsess with what went wrong.
  • Let the students do the work.

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