First Storytelling lesson: so far so good
I have been doing my summer English conversation course on line at WizIQ for five weeks now, and so far it has been an interesting journey with its ups and downs. last week we used a series of sounds to tell a story in class. This was done mostly via the chat box, as only a few students have access to microphones, but some did, and they contributed very enthusiastically to the story. The result was this Storybird:
You may notice that there is no ending to this story, because we couldn’t agree in class which one we liked best. So, everyone said they’d think about for the next lesson and we could finish it off. Now, here’s the crux of the matter… What do you think happened?
Yesterday was the following lesson, so we looked at the Storybird, but 80% of the class had not been in the previous class, nor had they gone to the blog in advance to prepare for the lesson because these lessons are free public classes on WizIQ so a lot of people turn up at the last minute and don’t know that the class blog exists or that they should prepare for class. This is fine as long as there is some continuity provided by a core of students who attend regualrly and know what is going on. I generally have some of these people, who are very conscientious and motivated about preparing, but maybe it’s too hot at the moment, they’re on holiday or who knows, anyway, for some reason, yesterday, there were only two people who had been in the previous class, and they said they were still thinking about an ending. So, of course, I told them not to worry and that they could carry on thinking and post their ideas in comments on the class blog later, if they wanted to. After all, you can lead a horse to water… as we know, but the whole episode left me with a strange feeling of unease. Was I spending too much time preparing engaging materials and activities that nobody was really interested in?
We soldiered on
I went on to my next activity fairly quickly after this, which was a vocabulary quiz and the atmosphere in class changed dramatically. Everyone likes quizzes and I usually include one or two in an hour’s lesson. There was then a discussion phase where some people, who had mics, spoke about the films they like and people in their countries like, whilst other people typed questions to them in the chat box. This too worked well, but once again I was having this nagging doubt. How much were we really communicating? How far were we really sharing our ideas. The final discussion we got involved in was on the future of 3D films at the cinema, and this I finally thought developed into a very natural discussion, so the unease lifted slightly.
Another phase I like to include in these lessons is to introduce learners to at least one new website that they might like. This is because, since they are motivated to come to online classes, they will probably be motivated to go to other online sites as well. This time I showed them the google fight site, where we looked at “watch a movie” or “watch a film”. Google fight does an engaging little battle between the two items to see which is most frequent on the Google search engine. You have to warn learners to be careful what they put in it though, because if you simply do a search between “movie” and “film”, for instance, your results will be skewed as ‘film’ can be a noun or a verb and has various connotations, which is why I recommend the ‘chunk’ approach. So, which do you think won? Which was more popular? Yes, “watch a movie” was the winner. This site was very popular with the students and we then went on to do some more skills work and the lesson ended well. The nagging feeling of unease, however, was still there. I had gone through my routines, done, more or less, what I had set out to do, but still I felt that something, some intangible spark, has been missing.
Is it only a matter of perception?
I was feeling rather stressed yesterday as I had a million things to do, so maybe I wasn’t following my own philosophy of teaching mindfully that I wrote about just a few days ago with such convction. Anyway I had rather an empty feeling about that lesson as I wended my weary way back to the exams organisation I am involved in at the university (list upon list of results are enough to make anyone feel empty, and this is actually a limited exam session with about 600 students taking three exams.) It was only later that I went back to WizIQ with bated breath to have a look at the comments, and I was actually very surprised to see that they were all extremely positive, and that one or two of the new students had actually written emails to me thanking me for the lesson, and bemoaning the fact that next week is the last one. This made me think that it is probably all a matter of perception and that I was projecting my expectations onto the class, whereas the learners’ expectations are not at all the same thing. This is one more lesson for me: a class is the sum of everyone in it and reflects everyone’s expectations and efforts, and just because something I, as a teacher, wanted to do, couldn’t be done (in this case the story) it doesn’t mean that people were not learning from each other in all kinds of ways. This kind of fertile environment is what needs to be fostered.
So, next week is the last lesson and the theme is travel. I’m looking forward to seeing where my students will take me :-)