Have you ever wondered if your classroom work is actually impacting the lives of your students? ARe you really making a difference? In my case, I often find myself wondering if my students are actually making progress in learning English as a result of my classes. Is their fluency being improved? Are they a little more fearless when speaking English now than when they first met me?
Sometimes you can easily notice improvement. Confidence is one area that I frequently see improve with many of my students. For many, speaking English is first of all, a great inner battle against the fear. There’s the fear of looking and sounding stupid: "What if I forget what to say, or how to say something?" "What if I speak with a heavy accent?" "What if I use the wrong word?" "What if I speak like Tarzan when I meet my native speaker boss?" Fear, at least in my classes, is often the first place where both myself and my student notice progress. Very often they just come out and tell me that they feel much more confident with their English speaking skills.
But what about the slower skills of say grammar and writing? Once you reach intermediate level language proficiency, progress is much harder to notice, and usually takes a great deal more time to accomplish. Is it possible to craft learning experiences that help students transfer what is taught to their slowly growing skill sets?
Keep it Relevant: Link your content to THEIR reality.
Charles Nelson over at Explorations in Learning, recently posted on this theme here: The Transfer of Expertise. Cool quote to think and ponder on:
Transfer is a problem. Although first-year composition is designed to prepare students for academic writing in other courses and eventually to their careers, the skills they acquire often, even usually, do not transfer in part because the concepts in FYC are not seen as relevant to other contexts. (Nelson, The Transfer of Expertise)
Nelson goes on to say that if teachers want to encourage concept transfer, they must focus heavily on helping students realize subject relevancy for their lives today. He suggests that one way for this to happen is via journaling "…the presence of classroom concepts and practices outside the classroom." (Nelson, The Transfer of Expertise.)
I like that idea, but I also would suggest that the teacher must first of all DELIVER content in meaningful ways. Why ask students to journal something they don’t care about to begin with? Don’t get me wrong: I think journaling or even blogging class work is a great way to encourage connection with the content. But that connection should begin solidly in the classroom with the teacher.
A Possible Application
Prepositions: They suck. They’re boring to try and teach, and even more boring to try and learn. (Prepositions are words like in, at, on, under, around, through, with, etc.) Native speakers throw these monsters around without even thinking about them, but try helping a non-native English speaker figure out how and when to use them. Prepositions are rebels. They rarely follow rules, and there are so many different word/preposition combinations out there that memorizing them is just…well..a depressing idea to contemplate.
A few weeks ago, a student gave me a three page list of word and preposition combinations and asked me to help her learn them. I took it home, and asked her for a few weeks to think about how best I could help. I knew that if I went with the typical drill and memorize routine, we would likely go nowhere, except to frustrationville. Instead, I got a new idea: Flickr+Powerpoint = an interesting and highly visual way to work on prepositions.
So I dove into flickr, and stayed up way to late prepping a series of slides that would help my student visualize word/preposition combinations in meaningful ways. Example: "Angry with" — I got this angry looking Hulk pic here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/throughmyeyes/191432700/ by without you.
Then I plugged it into Power Point as a slide, and wrote "Angry" in nice big bold text. Then I wrote "with" and "at" as hidden text on the slide, and animated them to appear after mouse clicks. I made about ten slides like this, of course with different word/preposition combinations.
This activity was completely engaging for me in that it forced me to think differently about something I use everyday. It made me think: "How can I express this preposition visually in a way that would almost instantly make sense to my student?"
The hard work paid off. Big time. My students LOVED it. Not only were they engaged by the pictures, but they actually had fun trying to figure out what preposition went with the main word on the power point slide. Instead of slogging our way through another drill, we were laughing and actually having fun WHILE working on something that is normally not a fun thing to do.
To make the activity even more relevant, after the student got the right preposition, I got them to create their own sentences using the word/preposition combination.
Did transfer occur? Well, in some cases it’s still too early to tell. But I did notice my students successfully recycling newly met word/preposition combos in conversations held later on after the powerpoint activity was finished. (And without my instigation.) And even more interesting to me: after each preposition presentation, my students have all asked for a copy of it for their own computers so they can practice at home.
What I learned: Connect your content with your student’s reality if you want to see transfer happen.
How are you being relevant to your students? Would you share how you make meaningful links between your content and your student’s lives?
The Transfer of Goods by SyN+H
Linked by HP - LaFilipinaNegra