…and then I gave them all three hours worth of homework

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my own teaching. Regular readers (all three of you) will remember that I recently moved to a private academy. I’ve spent the last 5 weeks settling in and getting used to the challenges of a new position.

The settling in period is far from over and life has been confusing and challenging as well as interesting and rewarding. I will put aside time in another post to try and unravel all the confusing threads. Today I want to talk about a lesson that I’m dissatisfied with.

My boss and I are working together to design a writing curriculum focusing on a combination of genre writing and process writing. We created a syllabus for a two month course, with the aim to teach our middle school students to write within four different genres: informal letters, formal letters, newspaper articles and reviews. Today was the first day of that and it didn’t go so well.

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by @acliltoclimb, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

First of all, today was the first day back after a two week break for the middle school students, who just finished their midterm exams. Thus a 50 minute lesson turned into a 40 minute one while they chatted and got caught up with each other and reestablished the class dynamic. All three classes spent at least 10 minutes getting caught up and settled in.

Then we spent a few minutes free-writing. In the first two classes, I selected the topic and set a time limit. In the third class, I told them my selected topic was optional if they didn’t think of anything they wanted to write about on their own. This seemed to work well. After the time was up, I told them to read their writing again and use their dictionaries to fill in words they didn’t know. A few students also asked about structures they were uncertain of. I got to glance at their notebooks, but since they needed them for their next tasks, I couldn’t take them up. I realised that the students will need notebooks dedicated to writing class.

The next thing we did was look at example letters. I gave the students three example letters to read and told them that I wanted them to compare the letters and figure out the format of an informal letter. We put the results on the board and they wrote down the vocabulary they didn’t know. Then they drew diagrams to show where each part of the letter goes.

And that’s as far as I got, in every class. I had a collaborative vocabulary activity planned that there wasn’t time for. We were meant to complete five units’ worth of “useful expressions” and so I gave them those five units as homework. The first class didn’t buy it. I had failed to explain the purpose of the homework and the target we were reaching towards. The second class bought it because we looked through the topics of each unit and they immediately saw for themselves why it’s so useful. The third class grumbled, but they bought it, too. I had to sell them the usefulness of the vocabulary in those five units, though.

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Ellen de Preter, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

Photo taken from http://flickr.com/eltpics by Ellen de Preter, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial license, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/

In every class, I was left with the impression that it could definitely have gone better. I think what went wrong was my expectations of what could be done in a single class. I forgot that the students would need some time to get used to being in the class again. I forgot that I’d have to sell this new idea of learning genre writing to them. I forgot that many of them had never studied writing before. I forgot that five units of vocabulary can’t possibly be learned in a day. The first class greeted me with blank stares and silence. They’re the lowest level and I was the first teacher who saw them today. I had to threaten motivate them with a test to get them to participate at all.

On Friday, I will teach this lesson again. I still have no idea how to help the students manage the amount of vocabulary they need. I have to find a way to shift the focus away from the vocabulary and onto the writing process, using the vocabulary as a resource instead.

Questions, suggestions, ideas and advice are all quite welcome.

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Comments

  • Matthew Walker  On October 8, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Ahh the joys of course design. Fun to read your through processes here. And at least you have created a framework which is more than what most teachers in Korea have to work with.

    I especially dig on the writing notebooks. I preach journals to the public school teachers here. Some of them buy (to borrow your word) into it. Others see it as a drain on their time. I have yet to work in a training session solely focused on keeping writing notebooks or journals though. I would love to hear more about the successes and failures you have with the writing notebooks here if you find the time to write about. I look forward to including reflective posts such as these on my blog once this semester is over. They are just more enjoyable. Teachers at my school begged for the task-sharing blog concept. Ugh. Anyway, this your space for ranting, not mine. Thanks for sharing!

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