Success at ISE prep-course

This year ISE -one of the places where I work-launched a prep-course for candidates to the Teaching Certificate program.

These candidates come with different levels of bilingualism. Ones with a high competence in the language, and some others who can barely pronounce “what’s your name.”

Since there is no way we are going to prevent anyone from having the chance to enter the Teaching Certificate program, we decided to split the group in two. The reason was to avoid the ones with high competence in the language get bored or the ones who were more challenged to get lost.

Two different level classes demanded two teachers then. Professor Meza was assigned to be in charge of the “B” group, as we got to call it, and I was assigned to be in charge of the “A” group, the ones with a higher competence in the English language.

Both professor Meza and I are in charge of improving their listening skills and their oral production. We have been teaching them since March 2010

The success I would like to share about, is due to this idea that we had last Tuesday. We decided to make an experiment. We decided to give our groups the chance to listen to someone else’s accent and expertise. We decided to swap places. We switched groups.

I was amazed at looking at my “B” group students’ faces. Horror! Terror! I thought they had very low self steem in the target language. Maybe they were too shy. But how come the whole group would be that shy?

There are so many things I could ponder about this situation. A social skill problem? what? Professor Meza came to her students and told them I was going to be with them. Some sighed, some were terribly disappointed. What a reaction!

I thought I needed to work their affecting area ASAP. I remembered Ms Mary Meyer and my methodology classes at the ISL. I remembered Douglas Brown’s “Teaching by Principles”. I started praising them for every right answer they gave. I showed them I was interested in their learning. I played the role of a facilitator, who cared and was willing to help whenever necessary. Slowly I created a relaxed atmosphere. Making mistakes was OK.

I was supposed to teach them past tense -as I said, there were people who could barely say their names. I started by using their schema: using what they already knew. I started “revising” with them “Daily Routines”. I elicited as much as I could -and provided the word when necessary-to get a short text that talked about a person’s daily routine. I let them feel that they were constructing the text along with me. Quickly the horror faces disappeared. I had won them over.

I then worked out the structure by writing a question: What time (so that they revise numbers and giving the time) do you (present simple) ____________? I asked them to show me all the verbs in the text, which I put in a box.

I then, in open class, provided examples. I asked some to ask me a question following the structure from the board and adding any of the verbs in boxes they could see on the board.

The first one did it successfully. I named another one, whom I thought was confident. Success. Another one. Success. Now the real test: the ones I knew where very shy, not confident, and had a very poor English. In front of everybody, in open class, I asked a girl to ask me a question… success!! I worked her confidence by succeeding in front of everyone. Hooray!

I said then: “It’s practice time!” and they did their pair work of question and answer while I monitored. I could then work pronunciation of individual people while the others were too busy to pay attention.

Not past tense yet

After a good 8 minutes practice, I asked them to stop -8 minutes is a long time when dealing with oral practice. I used the same daily routine text from the board to do the second presentation stage from the lesson: Introducing the past tense. Since the verbs were already highlighted in a box, I just elicited the past form of those verbs. They provided the past form for me again-I did not teach anything-They told me! We worked a bit concerning connected speech. They read the text to their peer. I listened to and modelled connected speech. We were starting using past tense

I used the same question structure form that I used before. I just changed “do” and elicited the past auxiliary form. I did exactly the same thing. Modelled examples in open class and have them practice in pairs later. I could sense how their lack of confidence was fading. They were actually using the language that they want to speak so much!

I remembered Krashen’s theory of input + 1. I added just little changes to the structure: When did you last…and I elicited for a list of activities. Of course they told me the common ones: listen to music, watch tv, play soccer. I added some more: kiss someone, give someone a present. That made the task more interesting. I then elicited the past tense form of those verbs. They provided them. They provided the /geI/ past tense form of the verb give. I told them to put attention in the pronunciation, and humorously raised awareness of the difference.

While monitoring I noticed that there were some that even expanded the questions to what time, who, or where. Success everywhere. Students with low competence in the English language eagerly talking in English! and I was there blessed to experience that.

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