Tag Archives: language learning

I’m not here for the ‘A’ count

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.

Timely reminders

With the start of the new Australian school year well and truly off and running, I’ve been reminded of a couple of things that I enjoy most about my work. I’ve also realised I need to make a time to blog every week or two, or it is the first thing that will be put on hold!

1. The less I do and tell, the more the students do and learn

I have two great Year 9 classes. Many of the students I taught last year and we had a great time exploring and learning together and it looks set to continue. These students responded with energy and enthusiasm when I told them I wasn’t going to tell them about Japan’s food culture and they weren’t going to read about it in their textbooks. Instead we came up with a list of things they thought they knew and things they wanted to know. I then set them to work finding things that would help them answer their questions. Having the students themselves find snack food advertisements on YouTube taught them far more than me telling them what Japanese kids snack on or me finding the ads for them! They were in the driving seat of their own exploring and learning.

Today we set ourselves up for the new term then onto reviewing what we could remember from last year. To finish the lesson students split into 2 teams ready for a game. I absolutely love that there was an uneven number of students – it meant they could take turns calling out the Hiragana characters the rest had to try to find amongst the cards on the floor in a ‘fruit salad’ style game. I sat back and occassionally reminded them that I did not want to fill in incident report forms and that knocking out their opponents with a hip and shoulder was not ok. But the language and revision was all from the students!

And games brings me to my second reminder…

2. Students are never too old for games!

With the pressure of getting through the curriculum and preparing for the exam, it is all too easy to get bogged down in ‘serious’ work with senior students. I met my Year 12 class today. They are excited and eager, having just returned from the school trip to Japan over New Year. After the usual “this is how the assessment is broken up” spiel I told them we are not having weekly Vocabulary and Kanji tests this year. The assessment board does not want to know about them and the marks are purely formative. They were delighted, then they heard my ‘but’. Every Friday is a competition and there is only 1 prize. The vocabulary list or kanji set will be the focus. They were ecstatic! Learning to do better than their classmates even when the stakes are only as high as a lolly pop is far more motivating to this group than learning for a test that doesn’t count. We then went on to play a game using soft balls, throwing them at the kanji around the room. They left happy and with brains reconnecting old character knowledge. I could have made them write them all out over and over, but how much more motivating for me and them to learn through play!