Thursday, January 14, 2010

And remember kids, every Thursday is Autonomy Day!

Today was my first reading/writing class of 2010. I tried something a little different with regards to the handouts and I think it worked out well. Until now, I would have them come up and collect the different sheets, but today I put them all together in a package and put them on desks and told students to sit where they saw a package. I think this worked much better because students did not have to take time waiting to get the sheets, and sometimes someone might not collect all the sheets etc, so I will continue this next class as well. I also told them that once they were finished they could leave so many students started right away.

For today's writing assignment I had them write about what they did during the winter break. This time they had to start from the beginning and brainstorm ideas before writing unlike before when all they had to do was write the first draft because we had taken an earlier class to brainstorm ideas for the themes that had to write about. I had to explain though that they needed to start with step 1 because I observed several students starting step 2 without brainstorming. However, this does bring up a point - is brainstorming really effective when writing a short paragraph of 5 to 8 lines? Perhaps if I were writing an essay, I might brainstorm beforehand, but for such a short text, is it really necessary?

The grammar activities for today focused on prepositions for time (on, in, at) and the past tense, especially the irregular verbs. The former task was a sentence correction, while the latter was a fill-in-the-blank.

I also gave them another review task for the indefinite and definite articles because students were still making mistakes with them. Honestly, when I was making this task the other day, I started thinking that maybe in the future I might make such an activity a temporary part of the class. What I mean by that is that maybe I will have, say, five review worksheets on the difference between the articles, and over the course of the semester hand them out. In this way students may come to have a better understanding of their usage than if we only did it one time and moved on. This would also be useful for other grammar points that students often have problems with.

The next activity pretty much comes from the above idea - the sentence correction task. This semester especially, I have been giving them a task each week in the hope that they may start to notice certain common mistakes. The tasks are usually based on mistakes I find in their writing samples, but sometimes I make it up myself. Of course, their understanding or noticing of these misktakes really depends on whether or not they actually look at the work when handed back. Perhaps in the future it may be a good idea to take a few minutes to explain or at least ask some students to read the answers so that everyone will have had the chance to take a look at their work again. However, this would be an explicit focus in which case students may not fully take in the information whereas if they noticed on their own, the chances of retaining the knowledge would be greater.

The last activity for the day was another reading task. I won't really explain this as it is pretty much straightforward.

I think overall today's lesson went well, although towards the end some students became a little noisy because many were finishing at the same time. Also, since I asked them to show me their first drafts, they had to wait in line, which easily leads students to talk with those next to them. However, some students stayed despite being finished and talked to their friends, so as not to disrupt other students who were still working, I asked them to leave. Other than that time the students quietly worked away.

This week I have been talking about changing textbooks and this class is no exception, except that I am thinking of using a book again instead of my own materials. I have found one that looks good, but as with all textbooks, you never know what they are really like until you use them in class. I also know that I have been trying to give students as much freedom as possible - although that freedom is really only limited to choice in order of doing the tasks, so one could easily ask whether or not I am really helping students build autonomy - so using a textbook would potentially put control squarely back on me. Of course, I could have students choose the order of the units, but it would be challenging to actually give them choice within each chapter. Furthermore, I have taken two semesters to make my own materials, and although things are not always perfect, going with a textbook would mean not being able to use those materials which I took a lot of time to work on. However, depending on how long it would take to do a chapter, I could easily incorporate some of my materials, especially the reading and sentence correction tasks. I think I will need some more time to consider what to do for this class, but if I do decide to go with a textbook, I will have to order them soon because books tend to take a long time to arrive.

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