One of the best things about working for IHWO is their conferences. I have to tell you, be jealous folk, be very jealous, as the IHWO 2014 DOS conference certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s right up there with my favourite conferences of all time. Did I mention Patsy M. Lightbown sat at my lunch table. Twice!! Yes, THE Patsy M. Lightbown! This TEFL geek was in teflygeek heaven, I tell you. Bravo Shaun Wilden and OUP, Bravo!
As promised, (thanks for all your interest), I’ve logged on to the ghost town that is my blog (I promise to make more of an effort in 2014) and here I am, sharing my ‘speed dating’ presentation with you. Enjoy!
What was it?
The title of my mini presentation was ‘Bringing Language to Life’, or as those who’d spent the evening before at the hotel bar called it, ‘Bringing Lasagne to Life’. Either way, I took 3 age groups and 3 problems and presented 3 super easy media projects (so easy that even the biggest of technophobes can manage them, promise!).
Age Group 1
Very Young Learners
This age group struggle a bit with CAE and FCE given they generally can’t read or write. Parents, however, want some kind of evidence that their child is learning and that their money has been well spent. And so was born the ‘end of year performance’ <sigh>. In my experience end year performance teachers fall somewhere on a scale between SDT and OST. Allow me to elaborate….
Behold, Exhibit A: The super-duper-make-the-rest-of-us-feel-bad teacher. AKA as the SDT. The SDT is an amazing teacher who works hard all year long to get the most language and learning they can happening in their fun filled classroom. The SDT’s students are equally amazing, how could they not be? The SDT spends months meticulously planning a spectacular end of year performance with hours and hours of rehearsals, quite possibly with props and costumes.
And at the other end of the end of year performance spectrum we have the debatably more common, Exhibit B: The oh-shit-is-that-today teacher. AKA as the OST. The OST really doesn’t give a hoot about the end of year performance. They followed the coursebook. Most of the time. Kept the kids alive. What more do you want? Besides, their class love singing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. Again. And, if you, their DOS, will be there, what the hell, they may even push out the boat and throw in some actions too.
Many a great YL teacher started an SDT. Slowly though, teyl-land eats away at them and even the most passionate and dedicated will likely have at least one OST experience. Why? Because they know what we all know in the TEYL world: regardless of whether they had an SDT or OST, 90% of the time, (possibly higher) the little darlings stand there staring at the floor. Or, at best, sing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and poo’. Because, let’s face it, that’s hilarious! It’s at that point some of us realise, it wasn’t just for the parents, we could have done with some sort of feedback on our hard work throughout the year too. <insert virtual hugs for all>
A few years back I had a super amazing class of 5 year olds. It was their first year learning English and they were fab. Naturally then, leading up to open door week, I couldn’t wait to see the look of pride on each parent’s face whilst observing their child’s brilliance. I think you can guess where this is going. Did they shine and glow and woo us with their very presence? Of course they didn’t. They mucked about, ignored me, threw things or stood silently and even said loudly and clearly to me in Czech (on more than one occasion throughout the lesson) ‘Nemluvim Anglicky’, I don’t speak English. The parents actually didn’t mind. They gave me a sympathetic look. The kind you might give to Brad Pitt’s character in 12 monkeys. I couldn’t quite believe my 8 little monkeys had let me down. Where did I go wrong?
An end of year film premiere!
For the final month of the school year, I spent one of the two 45-minute weekly lessons working together with the class on our ‘movie project’.
1. They voted for their favourite book. Hungry Caterpillar! (woohoo! My favourite too).
2. We spent every lesson leading up to the premiere on language work. It was both explicit and integrated. We worked on obvious language points from the book (colours, days of the week, food etc), language for project work and language that came up and was requested by the students. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much language they asked for and used because they really wanted to communicate with me and be involved. In my eyes it was a successful project even without the end product.
3. The kids drew and cut out pictures for the story. I gave them all some blue tack and they decided where the pictures would go on a back drop, as I read out the story.
4. The kids took it in turns to take photos of the backdrops with the pictures tacked on. Between you and me, I had to retake quite a lot of the pictures, but they think they took them, and that’s the main thing. They decided, on their own, that they would say the words ‘ready, picture, go!’ just before taking each picture (which was a cue for the other students to move out the way). How super cute is that?
5. I showed them all the pictures on a slide show and informed them we needed sound. I’d found 5 different ‘garden’ sounds on the internet the night before the lesson which I let them listen to and choose which one they liked. They talked to each other in Czech about what they could hear and asked me how to say different things in English e.g. ‘Cricket’ ‘frog’ ‘wind’ (I always pretend I can’t speak any Czech. Not at all difficult given my current…ermm..abilities) .
6. Using an MP3 player I recorded the students telling the story. The first recording was mayhem as the kids fighting over what was ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and who said what better, so in the end, we agreed that each student would take it in turns. I wanted motivation to remain super high, so I didn’t do any correction. Plus, I think it’s cute on the final video when you hear one little girl repeatedly say caterpilly and a little boy in the background explain to another little boy (in Czech) that the caterpillar is very hungry.
7. I put the pictures together into a slideshow using picassa (a free photo editing program). I then added the MP3 file of the kids reading the story and changed the speed of the slide transitions so that they matched the recording. I also chose different kinds of transitions e.g. zooming in and out, so that it looked more movie like. Once I was happy with this I added some subtitles, for the parents. This part of the project was done by me, obviously. Trust me though, it was all very easy. Matching the slide transitions to the voice over was time consuming but easy. Probably even easier for someone who actually knows what they are doing 😀
I really wanted to include the kids as much as possible and feel proud of everything they’d had a hand in, and no movie is complete without credits, so I took the kids to the computer room, showed the draft of our movie/slideshow on a big screen using a data projector, and let them choose the fonts for credits. They LOVED seeing their names on the big screen.
Finally, I added photos of the kids actually doing the project at the end of the ‘movie’. I did this in the computer room with the kids watching on the big screen and we discussed what they were doing and the project in general. I asked them what song they wanted for these final photos and they replied ‘apples’. No idea what they wanted. I had the Andrews Sisters ‘Don’t sit under the apple tree’ on my laptop, so I added that. They liked it because it had the word apple in it. Youtube on the other hand didn’t like that bit So I’m not going to breech copyright and include a link to the video here. You’ll have to use your imagination 😀
8. Now that the kids had seen the draft, they were super excited, so we made event posters, invitations and tickets.
9. On the day of the premiere, we set the computer room up with rows of seats and red carpet and of course a big screen. We had ‘paparazzi’ and I invited everyone who was in the staffroom and offices etc at the time. One by one I invited each child to walk in on the red carpet. The crowd clapped and cheered. The paparazzi snapped. I couldn’t stop smiling watching their little faces beam. During the movie the kids couldn’t keep quiet ‘Mum, I took that photo’ ‘Mum, I drew that egg, I wanted to use an Easter egg by Teacher Kylie told me it should be a caterpillar egg’, ‘Mum, it turns into a caterpillar at the end’, ‘shsssshhh, don’t tell her the end, it’s only hungry now’ etc etc. The room was buzzing and it was the cutest thing ever. The kids were talking to their parents in Czech, but, it was obvious to the parents that in English lessons, a LOT happens in English.
‘What do we use English for?’ They haven’t quite turned ‘sour’ just yet. They are potential teacher pleasers, but they don’t really know why they should bother learning this weird language with funny spelling.
I did what many YL teachers, including myself, have done before: A class comic.
The example I gave at the conference was my favourite of all time titled ‘Magic Planet’. The main characters, Matej the Wizzard and his pet lion Mr Sock aka The Strongest Lion in The World lived together, as best friends, in Bradavice castle (google translate it J) on ‘Magic Planet’. Matej and Mr Sock both love aliens, pizza, trains and dinosaurs, naturally, and so like to pass the time by travelling to earth in their spaceship to see different time periods.
The first part of the project involved creating the characters, adjectives to describe them etc and deciding where they live and what they like to do. Then, after each unit in the coursebook we added a new chapter to our comics. The successfully used past simple to talk about dinosaurs and made interesting predictions about the students of the future. The most interesting chapter was when their assistant, Mrs Kylie, got stuck in a train toilet and had to be rescued by Mr Sock…..you’ll see in a moment where I’m going with this…..
We didn’t use any fancy apps or programmes. Students designed their own costumes which they brought to class with them on project days. We drew up some story boards, then went out into the garden and took photos of the students acting out the scenes. (Yes, I did. Yes, I was). These were then posted into a word document and the students then added speech bubbles to each photo. Students were allowed to ask me for vocab (which they did) and encouraged to use spell check and ask each other for proof reading etc. At the end of the year, chapters were collated into a book, leaving students with not only something to take home and be proud of, but a record of the language points and new vocab they’d covered throughout the year.
Err, where do I start? No, seriously. ‘Bored’ doesn’t even cut it, right? How many times can the present perfect be covered, anyway? Anyone who teaches teens know that they know everything, right? so why are we wasting our time revising all this stuff?
Teens always seem to want to escape whatever it is they think you’ve got planned for them. My teens always wanted to do Aussie slang. It’s flattering the first time they ask, and I think they really do enjoy it (more so than other ‘escaping from the coursebook’ activities anyway), but what for? Will they ever need to know or use the expression ‘Fair dinkum, mate. She’ll be right!’?
An Aussie soap opera. I’ve done this many times and most teens love the idea of learning some Aussie slang and then using it to write an Aussie Soap Opera (I’m looking at you Alf Stewart). What they probably don’t realise is that for me, it’s all about the process. I couldn’t care less what they come up with. I once cried with laughter when an aptly named protagonist , Bruce, told the guy working at the Bottlo to ‘pash my ass ya flaming galah’. For this particular group, I did explain that a ‘pash’ wasn’t quite the same as a kiss, but largely I let them write whatever they want. My objective is always to get them working collaboratively and speaking in English throughout the project. I do this two ways. I have designated ‘English only’ parts of the project, which of course means a little preparatory language work, and we practice a kind of cooperative learning (correct me if it’s called something else). Within each ‘Production Team’, students have specific jobs e.g. the screenwriter, the manager, the PR person etc. Each student is responsible for making sure their part of the project runs smoothly. Managers make sure each person speaks English, screenwriters make sure everything is recorded in written down, PR people feedback to the teacher etc. It’s fabulous for mixed ability classes. Each student can shine as not only a language learner, but as a person. What I often find is that in the end, the teens really don’t care about recording the soap, they just enjoy the process.