Last summer during the iTDi summer school MOOC, I watched a lot of fantastic presentations. One of the ones that made a big impression on me was from Aysegul Liman Kaban. She introduced the idea of topsy-turvy teaching – doing things a little different from usual. In her view, topsy-turvy teaching made it more about the students and was a way of compassionately connecting with them. Her ‘ten commandments of topsy-turvy teaching’ included 1) build a PLN, 2) use the power of emotions, 3) don’t fear mistakes, 4) talk about mystery, 5) have a question wall, 6) give feedback, 7) surprise them, 8) use brain teasers, 9) use projects, and 10) use social media in class. I already do a lot of this in my own classes, but I decided to shake things up in my own way.
I decided to try something topsy-turvy in my own classes as a way to shake routine and find out how my students want to connect. So I turned my routine on its head for three classes one day.
My students know our normal classroom routine so well that they sometimes write the progression on the board for me before I enter the room. It goes something like this:
- How are you?
- Check homework.
- Student book
- Maybe game
- New homework
- Line up
In the first class (a basic beginner level class of 8 year olds), I started with a game. It was meant to review what they had learned the previous class and it was a hit. Then we tackled newer language in the textbook and practiced it. Then I checked their homework and gave them new homework. Finally the students asked each other how they were doing (the answers were quite similar to their usual answers) and lined up to say goodbye. I don’t know if they noticed that the routine had changed. They didn’t have any comments on it. For my part, I found that my time management was better in that class with the topsy-turvy routine, and the game at the start got them talking sooner than they usually do.
On to the second class. This is one of my challenging classes, so I recorded it. I started their class by putting the topsy-turvy progression on the board. I gave them their new homework first and they immediately started trying to complete it. Badly, since they hadn’t practiced the material yet. I stopped them and got them playing a game. All through the game, a few students interrupted periodically to ask why we haven’t done “how are you?” yet. Later, I kept saying. Look at the board. The interruptions became louder and louder and when the game was finished they took matters into their own hands and started asking each other “how are you?” My topsy-turvy plan turned topsy-turvy on me and I realized it might be because this is the only part of the class that the students feel they have control over and they were afraid it would be taken from them. I have been much gentler about changing routines with that class ever since.
The third class has learners who are a little older and of a higher level. Learning from previous mistakes, I explained to them first what I was planning to do. They were willing to try it, so I wrote the progression on the board. Before I told them the new homework, I asked them to simply write it down and not try it until I was checking their previous homework. They agreed. Then they asked if they could line up and go home first. Smart alecs. They were happy to start class with a game that reviewed the language they worked with the previous class. Then we used the book to work on new language and they practiced diligently with their partners and as a whole class. This time I found that my time management was less good with this topsy-turvy routine and there was barely time to check homework at the end of the class and no time at all to get their feedback on the upside down class.
What I learned:
- Starting the class with a game is a great warm-up.
- Time management is tricky even when I’m paying attention to it.
- Some classes need warning when I’m planning on changing up the routine.
- Learner buy-in is important.
- Leave time for feedback.
Special thanks to my blogging buddy for her excellent suggestion to blog together in my chilly but beautiful seaside town. This post is part of a #livebloggingparty with @annloseva, the famous right-hand typist. We met on the beach in Gangneung to compose our blog posts side by side.