So it’s a while since I’ve written anything here… you could say things have been busy. I’ve been working on ways to allow students to personalise the pace of their learning in my language classroom – using techniques from the ‘flipped’ approach and combining it with other digital things like cloud storage, QR codes and the like so that students access the materials as they are ready for the next step. Having had students work this way for the past 9 months, I am now at the stage where I’m looking at what the implications have been…
I know from student feedback that for the most part they like working at their own pace – especially the boys. They like that if they need to move slowly through something they’re not holding others back, and that if they already understand something they don’t have to wait for others before moving on. The girls like that they can work with others who are at the same point and that they have had choice in how they practise language and demonstrate their learning.
I also have a group who have done the work but when asked for feedback they’ve been unhappy and they’ve asked “Can’t we just go back to the other way where you tell us what to do and we all do it?!”, complete with a stereotypical 14 year old whine. This one surprised me somewhat as they’d not complained until I asked upfront. But then I looked at the group and the nature of the students falling into it. They were students who in primary school and their first year of high school language lessons had always been the high flyers – the ‘A’ students. Looking back over my time with them last year and this, they were students who last year hadn’t found language difficult and who had generally been on task and completed the work quickly. This year, their marks had fallen (we’ve had less A grades than with our previous version of the course) and they had needed some reminders about what they were supposed to be doing. They were also generally girls. This I found interesting.
Chatting with them further, it became apparent that they weren’t happy with the lower grades and they said it was harder because I wasn’t telling them what to do anymore.
I had made varied resources available, said each lesson that they could ask questions, watch explanations as often as they needed and draft their work before submitting or recording it, and was constantly moving around the room. And this was the difference – I wasn’t spoon feeding anymore and they weren’t as quick to do any of those things as the students who were thriving under the new delivery mode. They found it more difficult to take responsibility for their learning and to do some self-evaluation as part of their learning process. Others checked in with me constantly, checked pronunciation and recognised that not being first finished didn’t mean they weren’t doing well. It meant they were doing properly. On the other hand, a number of times I’d asked the girls whether they wanted to alter and resubmit some work, and each time they made the choice not to.
Due in large part to the structure of senior secondary studies where I am, the majority of students do not continue their language studies after Year 9. When we started heading down this route of personalised pace in their learning, we had aimed to improve student engagement and have students finish their compulsory stint of Language with a positive mindset. I think we’ve done that for most. But our assessment data is showing less ‘A’ grades than before. So have we done the right thing or should we switch back to the old course? Switching back is very tempting – ‘A’s look good for the students and they make us look good as teachers. After all, being successful means getting good grades, and in a language has always been defined as knowing lots of words and using them correctly. And if I saw myself as just a language teacher, I would be switching back tomorrow!
But I believe as a teacher I am responsible for teaching more than language. I can’t define myself soley by the language aspect of my position. I’m a teacher – that means I want my students to be life-long learlners. Which means I want to help them learn how to think, analyse, draft, refine, face challenges – all the things we have to do throughout our lives if we are to keep growing and learning. So while the course we’ve developed this year isn’t perfect, I think it is doing more for the students than our old course when we followed a textbook page by page and I spent a lot of time at the board keeping everyone moving along together all the time. Instead of switching back in the hope of more ‘A’s in the class data, I think it’s time I look at ways to improve the process for those students who find taking responsibility more challenging than I had expected. I’m not here for the ‘A’ count, I’m here for life-long learning.