Showing posts with label lesson plan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lesson plan. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Finding Motivation by Motivating Students

What do you do when your students fail their tests? Do you blame them or yourself? I used to blame myself, but I’ve learnt that the best alternative, at least for me, was to stop assigning blame and start thinking outside the box.

It’s natural to think that there are predetermined roles in the classroom and that simply by enrolling or being in the classroom, everyone will know what to do. That is exactly how I thought things were: I would go to a specific classroom in a specific time and so would students; I would teach and they would learn. It was only when I was confronted with terrible grades — only 3 out of 10 students had passing grades on their first written test — that I realized I was wasting a great opportunity.

My first reaction was to think I was a terrible teacher. After all, I am an absolute beginner, having only less than two years of experience. I spoke to several senior teachers and asked for advice. The first one I received was to check what exactly the students’ mistakes had been. Had they all made the same mistakes? If yes, I needed to check the way I had been teaching them. If not, I should check the students’  academic records to see if they had had difficulties in the previous levels. After some research, I realized two things: all students, even the ones who had good grades, made the same kinds of mistakes; and none of them had had a history of below average grades.

It’s important to note that students in the lower intermediate level get a really bad reputation. They are said to be the “weakest links”; students who didn’t do well on their replacement tests. I kept hearing that those bad grades were just what I should have expected. I felt extremely uncomfortable to just accept that these students were weak and that there was nothing I could do. In my mind, If I had been a better teacher, they would have done better. Besides, I had looked into their academic records and I could not find the proof that they were just bad students.

Another thing I was told by senior teachers was that there is a large gap between the Teens course and the Lower Intermediate course. In the latter, tests demand a lot more from students’ cognitive abilities. In fact, the one difficulty all students had was with listening and reading comprehension. It wasn’t something I had taught them; I had been too focused on teaching grammar and vocabulary.

My first step, after gathering advice I had received from several senior teachers, was to deliver the news to the students about their low performance and, at the same time, motivate them to do better on their next test. It seemed impossible! But the teachers I spoke to knew me and trusted me. They said I could do it. So I asked students how they had prepared for the test, how they thought they did, and if it had been easy or hard. I spoke to them in Portuguese and they opened up very quickly. I found out a lot from my students that day. They are under a lot of pressure from their parents, their regular schools and themselves. They also thought, same as I did, that teaching and learning were automatic processes, and all they had to do to get a good grade was to “sit down and study”. For them, given how they did on their test, it hadn’t been enough.  I thought they were being too hard on themselves, but then again, I realized I had been too hard on myself too.

I needed to take the focus out of this blame game. I asked the students to trust me and to help me help them. Thinking about it now, I noticed that what I did was to ask them to stop looking for someone to blame and start focusing on learning. I remembered something that my coach had told me on my first semester at CTJ: “We a have to teach students how to learn”. So based on that and also on the things I have been learning at the TDC - Teacher Development Course, I started changing the way I planned the lessons for that specific group.

The first thing was to teach them strategies such as scanning and skimming. I showed them how to look for information, how to look for clues in exercises, patterns in sentences, and in essence, how to develop strategies to solve the exercises. I also turned the wrap up stages of the lessons into mini projects. For example, after a lesson about the differences between past simple and past continuous, I told the students to create a story using only three sentences. They all sat down on the classroom floor to make a poster together, and it was the first time I saw them actually happy to be in class.

Basically, I started focusing on making the students feel independent and in control of their own learning. I stopped simply giving them information and started giving them the tools to get there themselves. I noticed a complete change in behavior. What I had thought was just normal teenage behavior during a class at 2pm had basically been lack of motivation. Before, they were barely present in class, mostly quiet and unresponsive. They didn’t do their homework and they didn’t answer my questions. They also spoke a lot of Portuguese. Now, they try harder to speak English, they use the language being presented, they respond faster to eliciting. And, I’m relieved to say, out of all the students, only one had a below average grade on their second test. It was not a miracle change though, — the lowest passing grade was 76 — but I’m counting my blessings!

This had been the one group I dreaded meeting every week. They made me feel like a real failure. Now that they are motivated, they are the best part of my week. I’m glad I stopped focusing on laying blame and decided to trust the advice of senior teachers: I learned that motivating my students was the best way to motivate myself.

Friday, September 06, 2013

iPad Tip of the Week - Kids Apps

Many teachers report that they fear taking the iPads to use with their kids because they might get wild, ipads might get dirty, might break... In fact, from what I´ve observed, it is quite the opposite. With a good lesson plan and classroom management, iPad classes with kids are a tremendous success with engaged and excited kids.

iPadProject_ (51)
Teacher Fernanda Mello with a group of enthusiastic students using ipads for the first time

When teachers dare and take the iPads to class, they always mention how fun their classes were and how enthusiastic kids became with the mobile devices. Some of the little ones innocently even ask if they can take the iPads home!

 Did you know that we have a Kids folder in all iPads? We have apps to practice colors, the alphabet, shapes, stories, animals, numbers, transportation, food, besides the other ones for students to draw and write.

CTJ iPad Kids Folder 

Some classroom management tricks to work with ipads in a kids´ classroom:

- think of your pedagogical goal for the activity and check the choices of apps you are going to use
- test the app before your class

In class:
- Ask students to sit on the floor
- Give instructions and project on the board the steps to access the app 
- set the rules for good ipad use
- hand in the ipads
- carry out the activity
- consider the kind of follow up activity you will do with the students. It could be just asking questions and practicing with them, or if it is a drawing/project, there could be a show and tell moment. In this case, make sure everybody puts the ipads on the floor and close them as they listen to their peers. 

iPadProject_ iPadProject_ (48)

By taking these steps, your class will be a smashing hit!

So, I´d like to invite all of you to consider including an ipad activity the next time you prepare a class for your Kids, Kids Fun, Top Kids and Junior classes. Remember that the Ed Tech Monitors at your branch are ready to give you a hand to plan for an effective approach to using iPads in the classroom. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

APPtivity of the Day - Using Dictionaries in the Classroom

Sometimes we think that we can only schedule to use the iPads when we feel confident enough, have practiced many times how to open, close, use the features in certain apps. We practice so much that we give up as insecurity increases exponentially when we give a thought about the students we have, the little time we have in our schedules, added to the responsibility of those devices in nervous hands.


Ruben Puentedura´s model for tech incorporation can be a relief for teachers in the sense that it is OK to start with substitution practices that enhance the learning experience towards a more informed and bold move towards transformative uses of tech in the classroom.

So, instead of the distress of considering tech possibilities and never having the fearlessness to try it, start with a fun and very simple activity and then move on to more challenging activities. 

Did you know that in our CTJ iPads we have fantastic dictionaries you can use with your groups?
Here are some:

The first one on the list (LDOCE 5) is an expensive paid app which is worth every penny for the quality of its digital version - Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 5th Edition. 

You can´t imagine how much fun my teen students have had with this app. We searched for some words they were studying, I asked them to check the pronunciation of American x British English and to see if there was any relevant difference. They could see the words in use, including collocations and idiomatic expressions. 
The activity was nothing new, but the teens spent some minutes having fun with the language and exploring the possibilities of use. We then played a game in which I´d say the word, they needed to check the meaning and come up with an example different from the dictionary´s. 
Later in the semester, when they had to write paragraphs, they asked me if they could look up for synonyms in the dictionary! 

Now, if it worked with a rambunctious group of teens, imagine exploring the wonders of the dictionary use with our adult groups! You could explore high frequency words (identified in red in the app); you could have a treasure hunt, pronunciation work, definition game. The world of possibilities using digital dictionaries in class is simply limitless...In addition to making your lessons more engaging, your students will start noticing the possibilities of the devices they use in their daily lives to learn English. 

So, the first part of your tech integration ladder is done: substitution activities using a dictionary app. 
Ready for the challenge?
What kinds of activities with dictionaries do you envision with your groups?
Let us know when you plan a lesson using the dictionary apps and what the outcomes were. 

Tip: is a very good free app that your students can download to their smartphones and tablets.