Friday February 17th
Today’s class was on grammar teaching. Last Monday they had an introductory class from my colleague, Juan, so it was my turn to talk to them about teaching grammar in English classes. Often I start with a pop quiz as a way of making sure the students have internalised the literature which they have to read in preparation of the class – we do this so that we can start at a certain level and already know what the student’s starting point is. However this time I decided to start with their own questions. In preparation of the subject-specific classes the students have to read some pre-set literature, make a brief summary of the main facts and send me any questions they still have. Generally I use the questions to provide the input into my class, but during the start block the questions arrive at 5 pm and my class is the next day at 8.45 am in a building far away from a copier etc. This means that during the start block I simply try to answer the questions individually and post the answers on our ELO. Some questions, however, are so interesting that I don’t answer them and prefer to use them for a discussion in class. That was also the case this week. The questions we discussed at the start of class were (mainly based on the idea of inductive versus deductive grammar teaching):
- How do you test grammar in an integrated but specific manner?
- How can you determine beforehand whether you are pushing something that the students are not ready for?
- Within a class there can be quite large differences in level and ways of learning; some pupils will be able to cope well with the inductive approach, but others will not. How to take care of the last group while still using the inductive approach?
- Wouldn’t the inductive approach which is seen as ‘activating’, ‘task-based’ and ‘meaningful’ (and thus less abstract) make it especially suitable for lower level students?
The discussion meant we had less time left for the other things I had planned – but I generally find the discussion much more useful than me simply dropping information.
For the last half hour of the class the students looked at each other’s lesson preparations in pairs – in the afternoon all of our students (all MFL students) had to give a 15 minute grammar lesson to each other. And what a session that proved to be! Some were terribly nervous, others were relaxed and clearly enjoying themselves, some were amazingly good, others were actually a lot less good! I was very disappointed with Jade (as expected, she had big accent issues) who seemed pretty defensive when her peers gave her feedback (and I found their feedback incredibly positive, especially in comparison to the notes I had made!). I had a chat with her after class and advised her to try and take an extra class to work on our pronunciation – crazy really because in any other country she would be considered amazingly good but in the Netherlands the standards and expectations for English teachers is sky high and only the best will do. Funny thing though – the teachers tend to have an excellent level of English and yet the general standards at schools are dropping…. fewer teaching hours, more independent learning, larger classes, more testing, more use of textbooks…..go figure.
Anyway, I was less than happy with my own lesson and am still trying to figure out what it was precisely that left me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth (not enough practical ideas and examples perhaps? – I usually have more).
Anyway, carnival just burst into the (catholic south of the) country, our villages all have new names for the week (did you know they rename towns in the Netherlands during carnival?) and I can catch up on some sleep and some reading!
How would you answer the questions above that the students posed?