Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Using Storyboards

I've been trying to encourage my learners to read books in English at home, with their children if possible. This is a daunting task for my learners with low literacy skills. For this reason I have introduced the use of storyboards and I'm amazed by their effectiveness merely as a tool of communication.

With my E1a group yesterday we looked at a story called "My Son is Sick". It's a very simple story yet I was aware that some of my learners still would not be able to read it. We read it through a couple of times - once with me reading it and then once with established reading it aloud in turns. I then took the books away and paired learners into mixed ability pairs. I gave them storyboards with a selection of 9 pictures from the book. It was excellent seeing them using the pictures to re-tell the stories to each other. I avoided correcting too much for accuracy and simply let them describe the pictures to start with. We then built upon this and it worked really well.

I'm using a similar idea tomorrow with my Family Learning group to consider reading with children in preparation for our library visit next week. We are using pictures from "The Gruffalo" which I think will be interesting.

I will be presenting this method at the non-ILT resources training session in a few weeks time and hope to get some good feedback from my colleagues.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A day of contrasts...

Today has felt like the longest day ever...

It started at 9am with the teenagers. They were lively as always but on the whole they were well behaved and very hard working. Throughout this mornings lesson one of the female students (Student A) was sat on a table with one male (Student B) and two other females (Students C and D). Another female student (Student E) was sat on the table next to them. B worked very hard and was well behaved throughout the lesson, C and D worked hard and were quiet throughout.

A was badly behaved throughout. I repeatedly asked her to put her phone/music away and to stop shouting across the room. At one point a student from another group walked into the room and spoke to A but I asked her to leave. A maintained that she did not know who the girl was.

Halfway through the lesson A raised her voice again and I asked her to be quiet. E came to me and said A was picking on her and that she wanted to leave the class. I asked her not to leave and asked her instead to move tables and work with another student on their past tense stories. I also asked A to be quiet and to leave E alone.

At the end I dismissed the class and was with another student at the back of the room when A threw a dictionary across the room at one of the boys. I reprimanded her for this and asked her to leave. A couple of minutes later I was still with the student at the back of the room when I saw the Head of SfL in the doorway reprimanding one of the boys and saying she never wanted to hear that word again (I later found out that one of the boys had called A a bitch but I had not heard this at the time).

Now all students involved have been asked to write a report on what happened. A, along with C and D maintains that the student who called her a bitch had been bullying them but I find this very hard to believe. I believe instead that he was provoked. It has also become clear that A threatened and intimidated E and this is being dealt with as a seperate case.

So what have I learned from the incident?

1. I need to be more aware of what is going on in the room. I had a large number of students who required my time today and I managed to assist them all but I do not feel I had control on what was happening in other areas of the class.
2. I need to ensure I am at the door and vigilant when the class is being dismissed.
3. The class need reminding of the ground rules that were set at the start of the year. There have been clear breaks in these rules.

It was highly stressful and I was pleased to have the support of my mentor and many other members of the department who know what the class are like and have been in similar situations.

The contrast? I had to cover two classes today for a colleague who has taken leave due to bereavement. I took his E2 class straight after my E2 Fastrack teenagers. They were a pleasure to teach, the class was relaxed, hard-working and engaged throughout. Tonight I also covered his E3 class. They were all adults and again a real pleasure to work with. Sometimes it can be awkward to provide cover to a class you have never met however they warmed to me straight away and made my life much easier. Thank you to both classes for reminding me about why I'm doing this job!

Action Learning Set: Differentiation

On Friday 6th March my Action Learning Set met for the first time as part of our Subject Specialist Module. Basically we are in a group of 4 and meet for a discussion for an hour a week. One person acts as presenter and the other 3 act as questioners. The presenter presents there issues on a certain area, the questioners then make the presenter consider the issue in more detail and reflect on it by using appropriate questions. In the beginning it seemed like a pointless chore but as I consdidered it I realised it mirrored some of the work I did in my counselling training. I'm thinking particularly about the writings of Carl Rodgers in Becoming a Person. Basically it's about giding an individual to come up with their own answers and strategies.

So I took the plunge and offered to act as presenter at our first meeting. My topic was differentiation. We had a really productive session and upon reflection I posted the following summary on our own blog:

Date of Meeting: Friday 6th March 2009
Presenter: Leanne Smith
Topic: Difficulties with differentiation

On Friday I presented my difficulties to the action learning set surrounding differentiation. I find it quite simple to set extension tasks for stronger learners but I find it harder to differentiate for weaker learners.

I gave an example from my Level 2 evening class. I have one learner who is much weaker at reading and writing than the rest of the group. I also feel concerned as she is a 17 year old girl in a classroom full of older adults in their 30s and 40s who come straight to class from work and have families at home. In the past I have tended to pair her up with a stronger (dare I say motherly) learner which seems to help and I give her extra support with reading and writing tasks. I now want to think about giving her different examples of texts and easier questions but I am unsure of how to set this up without singling her out.

The questioners helped guide the discussion well and gave me a lot to reflect on and work with. We discussed a message that had been posted on ASSOC that gave the idea of setting tasks that allowed learners to work at their own speed and referring to speed rather than level or weaker/stronger.

I was asked if extra support was available in terms of Learning Support Workers, extra classes etc. This made me decide to speak to my mentor about extra support. We do have some students who are welcomed to attend other classes at the same or lower/higher levels to suit their needs. We also discussed the possibility of setting extra literacy based homework in order to take the issue outside of the classroom and to help give this learner further feedback.
We considered the possibility of using the same texts but using different/easier questions for the weaker learners. I have started to use these ideas in class – I always save the easier of my questions during targeted Q&A for my weaker learners.

Mike drew my attention to an article in The Guardian about differentiation, written by an FE lecturer. This gave me a lot of food for thought and I would recommend everybody took a look at this.Click here for the article

Ruth drew my attention to Tomlinsons report “A Differentiated Classroom” which is on our TPPELS reading list. It can also be found on Google books.

We also discussed the Skills for Life ESOL materials. In the grey teachers book there are lots of ideas for differentiation/extension. I will be looking through this for examples and will reflect further on this.

Action Plan:

As a result of our discussion I have decided to take the following action:

1. Discuss opportunities for further support/tuition with my mentor.
2. Read the article in The Guardian Education supplement and the Tomlinson report.
3. Search on teachers.tv for some differentiation clips.
4. Take a good look through the Skills for Life materials for some useful ideas on how to differentiate.

The Action Learning Set was a great forum in which to discuss issues in a supportive environment. After I posted my summary the rest of the set gave me some feedback. One of the group drew my attention to a great clip on teachers.tv on differentiation. It's about Differentiation in Secondary Schools but provides a useful insight and some interesting ideas.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009


Today I taught Fastrack E2 for the first time on my own to a group of eleven 16-18 year olds. I find it difficult as they are a really lovely bunch of teenagers but they are lively and can be quite hard work. I've had good rapport and a good relationship with them so far and I know they are not purposely trying to annoy me but sometimes they just get carried away. Talking over one another, shouting out and arguing with each other. I find myself either yelling for quiet or standing at the front possibly looking slightly bemused! I should know how to handle them, we covered it in a managing behaviour module last semester but once you're put on the spot it all goes out the window!

The lesson started really well. We were focusing on the past tense and as a warmer I had created a wordsearch of both regular and irregular past tense verbs. I told them they could work together however silence fell upon the room as they all concentrated on finding the words themselves. Perhaps it was the competitive nature of the task? After 15 minutes we came back as a group and they came to the front of the room one-by-one to point the words out on the smartboard.

The next task was to complete four sentences in the past tense about what they had done the night before, last week, last month and last year. They all worked well on this task and again seemed focused. I checked their work constantly and offered plenty of support to all learners, the weaker learners in particular. The issues arose when I asked them to read a sentence each back to the class. They talked over each other, showed a lack of respect for the person reading our their work and didn't seem to respond when I asked for quiet. I found this very frustrating and will be thinking over the next few weeks about strategies to avoid this. As a starting point I will be reading Getting the Buggers Motivated in FE by Susan Wallace as I know there are some good tips in there which I will then try in future classes.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Phase 2 - Curriculums, Professional Practice, Subject Specialist Study. New Territories!!

So Phase 2 is well under way. Dates for observations of my teaching are being confirmed, assignment tasks explained, action learning set topics agreed and the dreaded course engagement tasks completed.

So what's the focus this phase?? Curriculums to start with. I always knew that would be a fun topic! I was asked for my thoughts on the ESOL Core Curriculum. And the honest truth? It's the most dry document I've ever had to deal with! As Philida Schellekens points out, it is a functional curriculum that places little emphasis on vocabulary teaching. And what do ESOL students want more than anything else? Vocabulary! So how do we get around this? The Core Curriculum is our "official" curriculum. On paper it's what we use to build our schemes of work (our actual curriculums?) but in reality we probably focus more on our "hidden" curriculum. Where does that come from? Well diagnostics, ILP's etc are a very good start but lets face it there are influences on our hidden curriculums from every angle - targets, funding, departmental issues - I could go on. I don't mean to be cynical but it seems as though as long as we can tick a box to say our learners can meet the competencies stated in the ESOL CC then that's really all we need to focus on. Can't wait to write my assignment critiquing the curriculum...

After curriculums comes the module entitled Wider Professional Practice. This week we looked at (FE) teaching as a profession. Is it a profession? No it's certainly not considered one. Yes we provide a service, we have to have completed a teaching course and have many policies to adhere to but we have no specialist regulating body (the IFL is funded by the government of course!), we have low pay, low status. But does it matter? And should it matter? One member of the class was disgusted that we did not all consider it a profession but that's not why I chose to enter it. Teaching for me is a vocation, not a job, Why am I doing it? I love it! I love my learners - they are the reason to get out of bed in the morning. Yes I may be cynical about the curriculum, government policies etc but all that is forgotten once I step foot in that classroom.

What else have I got to look forward to in phase 2? Well there is my research project which must be about my Specialist Subject (ESOL) and there is the continuation of the ESOL Theoretical Frameworks module. My Action Learning Set has been agreed. So pleased with the three members of the class I'll be working with. I'm up first in two weeks - I'll be presenting on differentiation and hope that the set gives me plenty of opportunity to reflect and feedback.

Half term is over, time to get on with my lesson plans...

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Back to Uni...

On Friday I returned to Uni after the very long christmas break. It was great to see everybody and made me think about the importance of meeting everyone once a week.

Yes we are there to learn but more importantly we are there to support one another and to learn from each other. We can talk about our good and bad experiences on placement and feel safe in the knowledge that we are in this together. It's the perfect forum and provides a great basis for reflection.

During the day of classes I suddenly realised that my experiences as a learner have changed over time. When I was at school and even during my first degree I used to keep my answers and opinions to myself unless called upon for a response. During my PGCE I've become a lot more confident and I'm no longer afraid to speak up in class - I regularly offer my thoughts and opinions and I'm really enjoying being so much more involved. So this got me thinking:

  1. What is it that has changed?
  2. Why do I now feel safe enough in the classroom to share my views and opinions?
  3. How can I use this experience to help my learners feel safe in the classroom?

Firstly I've realised the importance of laying down some ground rules from the start of a course. This is something that should be agreed by the learners and not just stated by the teacher. Every learner should feel that their opinions and ideas are valued within the classroom environment.

I've also considered the importance of ensuring the classroom environment is as relaxed as possible. Question and Answer is a crucial tool used by ESOL teachers to check their learners understanding. I like to involve all of my learners in Q&A and therefore they need to feel that the rest of the group are supportive. I've noticed through observing other ESOL teachers that humour can be an extremely useful tool. It's not about laughing at learners for their mistakes but using humour for encouragement instead. To help learners to improve it is important to use Positive Reinforcement. No learner should ever be in fear of having a question fired at them. When mistakes are made we must be supportive and involve the rest of the class in correcting the error.

I definitely feel like the learning environment in which I am at the moment is a safe one. This is why I have the confidence to contribute. Over the next few weeks I will try on reflect further on what it is that makes it so safe in order to explore my questions further.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

First post!

Good news! Phase 1 is complete, I've passed all my assignments and observations and been signed off. Time for phase 2 to begin which is also a good starting point for this blog. Looking back on phase 1 I've decided that to help me to develop professionally and to assist with writing my assignments it's important to keep a reflective journal.

Yesterday was a tiring day on placement. I met the two classes I would be working with after half term. I think the Entry 2 class are going to be a challenge, they are quite a lively bunch of teenagers but they also seem like good fun. They were keen to introduce themselves and I was impressed by their levels of spoken English. I'm not sure what I was expecting but having only ever taught Levels 1 and 2 I had no idea what E2 would be like. I did however notice a marked difference in their levels when we were discussing the past tense.

As for the Level 1 afternoon class my main issues here are there seemed to be a lack of motivation in some learners which I will certainly need to take into consideration.

I had a meeting with my mentor at the end of the day. Her feedback was really helpful. My lessons are always well planned with clear aims and objectives and I have a very good rapport and manner with the students. Action points which I want to consider are:

1. Correction strategies - I need to develop these further and use different methods. I always find it difficult to know at which point to interrupt. I'll definitely be turning to my David Riddell book for assistance. He has a great chapter on correction.

2. Differentiation - I need to write more differentiation strategies into my lesson plans for weaker learners (I think this will be a little more easier now I have identified who the weaker learners are) I also need to consider extention activities for my stronger learners.

3. Teaching strategies for vocabulary and pronunciation - I'm looking at different ways to teach key lexis including word match games and the use of dictionaries. For pronunciation I need to take more care to correct this (particularly for the target language).