Saturday, February 09, 2013

Practice Lessons for Pre-service English Teachers

Today was our last day of classes at the university. In my English teaching methodology class I have been experimenting with different ways for students to do practice teaching in the class. It is extremely important for students to experience teaching because that is the only way they can link such theories as learning strategies, communicative competence, etc. to English teaching. However, practice teaching is not easy because I have 43 students in the class. This means that it is not feasible to have one or two students do their practice teaching in class and have the others pretend to be students. If we did this, then maybe each student would teach no more than one 10-minute lesson a semester. Therefore, I have decided to have students do their demonstration lessons in small groups. Here is what I did for our practice teaching day:

First, I chose four activities from the Internet TESL Journal:
Lesson 1: The Bragging Game
Lesson 4:  The Syllable Game

Then I divided the class into 5 groups of 8 students. Each group had 4 teaching pairs.
Lesson 1Lesson 2Lesson 3Lesson 4
Group AKota and AiriMay and YuiHaruka and EmiMiki and Saki
Group BMai and ChikaKotaro and ShoheiHiroki and MakotoHamaya and Matsun
Group CShunsuke and HikaruMasato and TatsukiShunta and SatoruTakumi and Eiki
Group DTakahiro and AiFlowers and MachikoMarin and YurikaYoshi and Ryouhei
Group ESatoshi and WataruAyu and MoeShiho and KanakoYui U and Takayuki

Then, each student was given the following blogging assignment (taken from our class blog):
I would like you to write the lesson plan in your blog specifying the following. Next week, you and your partner will conduct a 10 minute lesson based on your plan.
Activity:  What kind of activity is it? Adjust the activity so that it encourages acquisition, interaction, or focus on form. Your activity can cover more than one of these.
Strategies: What kind of learning strategies does it encourage?
Learning styles: What kind of learning style is most appropriate for your activity?
Communicative competence: What kind of communicative ability does it encourage and why?
Procedures: Write the steps you will take to carry out the activity. At the ending of your activity, there should be some kind of reflection to help students realize the skill/strategy you wanted them to practice. 
See my sample lesson for an example 
Although you will be team-teaching, you should write the lesson plan in your own blog. It is ok to write the same thing as your partner.
The text books we use are the TKT Course and 新しい時代の英語科教育法と実践 . The items that I asked students to specify(Activities, strategies, learning styles and  communicative competence) were concepts that we studied in the textbooks. When we did the actual practice lessons, all groups did Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4 in that order. We were able to finish on time easily. What impressed me was that each pair of students taught their lessons differently depending on their goal. This meant that they were thinking very deeply about their teaching which I think is great. The problem areas were first, with five groups teaching at once it is hard to understand what each group is doing. I had two other teachers come to class that day to help me but I will not always have these kinds of resources. Second, I was not able to look at all the blogs before the class and give feedback on the lesson plans. I was just too busy. I was fortunate in that one of the other teachers volunteered to read the students' blogs. Third, sometimes when you are so busy orchestrating students' group work, keeping time, etc. it is hard to give students good comments on their lessons. Despite the problems, I am going to continue to use this format next semester. Although I need to think of ways that I can follow the students' lessons better, the most important thing is that the students, themselves, learn from this experience and determine themselves how they should improve.  

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Using Vocabulary Notebooks: Tips For Organization

Between April and August, I wrote tons about using vocabulary notebooks (hereafter VNs) and then abruptly stopped. (You can see the posts here). VNs were basically "vocabulary sheets" that could be put into a two-ringed binder (See a sample below).

Although I continued to use them from October (when the second semester for university starts in Japan), I was too busy with other things to devote as much time to experimenting with them. This semester I did not really expand on VN activities, but I did improve in incorporating them more smoothly into the curriculum. This semester, of 22 students, I would say that 20 routinely entered words into their VNs. The key to this success was 1) making VNs an essential part of the class evaluation while trying to encourage independent learning and 2) being more organized.  I will explain both below:

1. Making VNs an essential part of class evaluation but encouraging some independent learning:
We routinely had quizzes about words that students wrote in their VNs and I routinely collected students' vocabulary sheets. Although it would be great if students would autonomously update their own VNs to satisfy their need for learning English words, without any kind of external measures from the teacher, students will not update their VNs.

However, when we had readings outside of the textbook, students would choose the words that they wanted to learn. Also, when we had quizzes, I let students choose which words to write on the quiz. For example, if students wrote 4 vocabulary sheets from a unit, they would choose about 3 words per page. For the quiz, I would give students a blank vocabulary sheet and they would fill it in. Also, they did not have to write the phonetic symbols for each word but they would have to write where the accent was.  Lastly, they would only have to write the "derivations" and "important information" for about two thirds of the words. The reasons for this is that in can be too tedious to write all the lexical information for words you want to learn and for a lot of words receptive knowledge will suffice. Here is an actual quiz:

In addition to the quiz, I would collect students' vocabulary sheets after their quizzes and give them marks of ✓+, ✓1/2, ✓, ✓-, depending on how much effort they put into their sheets. Last semester I realized that students wrote a lot of incorrect information into their sheets and would actually correct this information. This semester, though, I did not do that. However, I believe there was less erroneous information in students' VNs this semester. The reason was, I think, is that they chose the words to write productive information (derivations, "important information," example sentences) for and did not have to write this information for words that they did not intend to learn. Additionally, they had a semester's worth of experience using VNs and they were more used to the practice of finding the word information. Nevertheless, I think that frequently students did write incorrect information. However, I could not spare the time to check the sheets, this is an issue.

At the ending of the semester, students had a self-evaluation sheet which contained their grades for each assignment and quiz. Students had to calculate their numerical grade in the last class and then tell me whether they deserved an A+, A, B, C or D. (At many Japanese universities, they do not use numerical grades). Of course, students' VN marks were also on the evaluation sheet (see below). Actually, I accidentally forgot to record some of the grades for students VN sheets (especially if they turned them in late), so with the self-evaluation sheets students were able to confirm to me that they had filled out their sheet even if there was no mark. A real evaluation sheet is shown below:

2. Organization
One of the things I struggled with last semester was that I had a difficult time keeping track of the number of vocabulary sheets I asked them to write and students were also confused about how many they should have. This semester, on the course vocabulary resource page I recorded each time I asked students to record words in their vocabulary sheet from readings we did, songs we listened to, or discussions that we had. I also recorded when they had a quiz based on a particular sheet or when I collected the sheets to see that they had been writing in the VNs (see below)

Also, students wrote their names and the topic for the words on each vocabulary sheet. I used a new system to have students turn is assignments including VN sheets. Each student at the beginning of class would be given a clear file with their number on the outside (students were given a number from 1 - 23 at the beginning of the semester. They were numbered this way on the class list I received from the university).  When students turned in a VN sheet, they would put it in their clear file. This made it MUCH easier for me to keep track of the sheets. If I had students hand them in with no files and received a big stack of VN sheets, I know that I would have lost many of the sheets.