Final Project and Feedback

Final Project (W9)
by Richard Guozhen Li on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 11:48am ·
Building Teaching Skills Through the Interactive Web
Project Report

Name:   Richard G. Li                                                       Country:  Taiwan                 

I. Background 

  • Who are the learners?
There are about thirty eighth graders participating in this class as their extra curricular activity, and they come from different classes with mixed English levels. Before signing up for this class, they are supposed to read the terms of application that they are highly motivated to learn English and have at least an intermediate level of English listening comprehension. This class is conducted only ONCE a week, so they should have plenty of time to prepare for the tasks.

  • What is the setting?
I decide to use English as the medium of instruction because I could not only expose the students to a lot of listening input but also grow professionally in terms of English communicative competence. Every time I speak English in regular classes, I can immediately see their typical facial expressions telling me they have trouble understanding what I said, and eventually I’ve learned not to speak for too long.  In this class, on the contrary, I am totally free to decide how I want to teach English without worrying about the curriculum or the Indicators of Competence. So, I think this is really a great opportunity for me to try something new and see whether it works.

Also, I love watching English-speaking videos on Youtube because they are authentic and fun to watch. In contrast, English textbooks are carefully designed to systematically introduce vocabulary and grammar rules in order to equip students with enough knowledge to get good grades on written tests, and they are usually not interesting enough to arouse students’ interest. As a result, I want to show them that there are many other ways to learn English other than textbooks, and watching these intriguing videos is a very good tip to improve their vocabulary and listening ability.

The following are my teaching procedures:

1. State the theme of the week.
2. Give a simple introduction before watching the video.
3. Present the video.
4. While watching the video, constantly pause and pick up some useful expressions to elaborate.
5. Replay the video and encourage the students to capture the main idea.
6. Get students to talk by asking questions, starting from easy yes/no to wh- questions

  • What are the course goals?
My goals for this class can be divided into three categories. First, I want to create an all English environment where students are exposed to a lot of language input. English teachers in Taiwan don’t need to speak any English to teach, and students mainly rely on the Chinese translation of the learning materials provided by their teachers. All they need to know for tests can be taught in their mother tongue.

Second, I want the students to pick up useful and interesting expressions that they’ll never learn from textbooks. For example, they can pick up some basketball terms by watching Jeremy Lin’s highlights, or they can also learn some useful phrases about make-ups with a real demonstration by a Chinese girl on Youtube.

Third, after several classes, I will begin to ask simple yes/no questions to create a need to speak simple English after watching a video. Then, week by week, they can learn to talk more by participating in group discussions about the videos they just watched. Eventually, at the end of the semester, they are going to introduce one video that they like most in English at a minimum of one and a half minutes.

  • What are the student needs?
First of all, students in this class need to use their listening comprehension to understand the teacher’s introduction and elaboration on the videos that they are about to watch. They are encouraged to guess the meaning from various clues. Then, after watching a video twice or three times, they are required to answer the teacher’s question and participate in the group discussion. The purpose of these questions is to make sure that most of them can get the main idea. Finally, they need to learn to introduce one video in English, which is going to be their final project. This was not included in the original lesson plan, and it was added in the middle of this semester after I read the suggested articles about Project-Based Learning.

To improve their listening and basic speaking skills, students are also required to do several hands-on tasks. For example, they need to finish worksheets that can help them have a better understanding of what a video is about. Also, class participation is important so that they need to answer questions and contribute to group discussions.

  • Describe anything else that is significant or relevant about the course that related to your project
Please note that English is mostly studied in the classroom, not used in real life situations. The rote memorization of vocabulary and grammar rules is a common practice here in Taiwan. Students are usually overwhelmed by loads of tests and homework prescribed by their teachers to ensure that don’t do too poorly on pencil-paper tests. So, after many years of learning, students only acquire a huge amount of language knowledge, not real application of it. What’s worse, most of them are getting less motivated to learn under the circumstances.

Thus, with this class, I think I can get them to know that learning a language is all about being able to communicate with that language, not just getting good grades. In addition, compared with the textbooks or traditional lecturing, I also want to show them there are many other interesting ways of learning English. I strongly believe that students will definitely learn much better and more effectively if they can also feel the joy of learning by completing interesting tasks with what they can actually DO with the language.

II. Issue or problem that started your project
Only after two or three weeks of teaching, I immediately realized that there were two major difficulties that I encountered in this class. First, the lack of motivation for discussion. Though they seemed to quite enjoy watching the videos I presented, they were just so reluctant to answer questions or have any forms of interaction in class. They appeared so used to sitting quietly in class, and I had to wait a long time for a response. Gradually, I found myself answering the questions for them, and sometimes I even just didn’t want to ask any questions.

Second, teaching a large class with mixed abilities is really not easy. Some of them are quite confident in their English listening comprehension because they look forward to my introduction to the video and they feel happy when they can understand the videos totally with their own listening skills. But, there are also quite a few whose English level is too low to engage themselves in this class. Since this class is conducted totally in English, and I guess students will get bored if they can’t comprehend anything at all.

III. Initial solution and expected response
With two specific problems in mind, I decided to do something different with the help of technology. I used to begin the class simply by stating the topic of the week and giving them a simple introduction to what they are about to watch. To foster students motivation and learner autonomy, I let them play some hands-on language games instead, hoping they can feel more relaxed or confident in the upcoming activities. For example, we played action listening games like “Who’s got what?” from http://www.etseverywhere.com/category/action-listening-games. Since then, I tried to conduct similar activities from those online resources to motivate them before I began teaching.

To help those slow learners with their listening ability, I tried to get the whole class to do listening quizzes from http://www.esl-lab.com/, starting from easier level. To reward them, I also added bonus points to their Conduct Card, a popular rewarding system in Taiwan. These quizzes are interesting and authentic so most of the students can perform well and feel confident about themselves.

IV. Response and reflection
After a few weeks, students were used to these new changes before we actually began the class. For those who already have a good English level, they seemed to quite enjoy all the activities and quizzes. But when it came to expressing their ideas in English, most of them were still reluctant to do so. Meanwhile, for those who were falling behind, the listening quizzes seemed not to help a lot, and they even didn’t want to try to listen hard to the audio files at all. 

These changes made many of them more willing to participate in the listening tasks, but they still didn’t want to try to speak some simple English in this class. I tried to challenge higher level students only, but it usually took a very long time before they said anything. Then, to avoid this awkward situation, I had to answer my own questions again.

I didn’t or couldn’t blame them for being so passive at all. Students in Taiwan are so used to staying quiet in class. They always expect their teachers to prepare everything for what they have to learn, and all they have to do is listen and take notes. Besides, this is not a regular English class, so they are under no pressure to make a change at all.

As for getting them to speak, well, it’s also a very difficult change to do. Though they have studied English for at least seven years, they don’t have to anything to work on their spoken English because it’s not on the tests. What’s more, they are too afraid of making mistakes and getting laughed at, and the easiest way for them to get out of this embarrassing situation is to keep remaining silent or just say “I don’t know”. Therefore, I began to wonder if there’s anything I can do to make a change after all these failing attempts.

V. Changes made
Since it’s only a few weeks away from the end of this semester, I plan to divide them into groups and do a show and tell activity for a change. The main idea is that they choose an English-speaking video they like and try to introduce it in English. So, in a “One Computer Classroom”, I told my students that the computer would be used as a presentational tool, and they had to prepare an oral presentation sharing what they like most about the video in English.

Based on the idea of Project-Based Learning, I hope I can arouse their interest by offering them an opportunity to do something they like in English. Then, this Monday, I demonstrated what they really have to do in about two weeks. I chose a topic, Superheroes, and introduced two videos about the Avengers http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPoHPNeU9fc and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0jBF912xYY.

With these two video clips, I told the students about a simple history of Marvel, Stan Lee, etc. Then, I picked up useful words like computer generated, hopelessly outgunned, persuade, volatile, self-possessed and so on. Finally, I shared why I chose this topic and what superpower I would like to have. In the end of the class, most of them were intrigued by my demonstration. So, I asked them to follow my example and start to think about what they want to introduce in two weeks.

I expect them to put their efforts into this project, and most important of all, they can feel what it’s like to be able to do something enjoyable and learn English as well. To achieve this goal, I gave them a brief introduction to PBL and showed them the WebQuest (http://zunal.com/webquest.php?w=150989) I created for this course. Also, before they actually began their work, I showed them how their performances would be assessed based on the rubrics that I created at http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php?screen=ShowRubric&module=Rubistar&rubric_id=2192050&.

Though I won’t be able to see their presentations until next Monday, I can already picture the scene. They may just read their scripts, their voice might not be loud enough or they could get their tongue tied and so on, but I think that’s O.K. As long as they can learn to realize that learning English can also be fun other than textbooks, homework, tests and so on, it will be worth all the effort and heavy workload. In short, hopefully this class can serve as a start or a glimpse for students to feel what it is like to do a presentation in English, and someday they can remember this project and do a bigger project with what they learned from this class.

VI. Conclusion
In regular English classes, my way of teaching is nothing different from most other teachers. I adopt the Grammar-Translation Approach and give authoritarian lectures to students. Through repetitive drills, students learn to master all the necessary grammatical structures required by the Ministry of Education. Thus, the only concern for me is how to help my students get good grades on the English Competence Test in order to have a better chance to go to a better senior high school. Under the circumstances, I felt like what I did everyday was pretty much the same, and job satisfaction is becoming a luxury I no longer have.

So, I won’t hesitate to seize the chance to do something different, and being able to use English as the medium of instruction is already a major change in teaching. By doing so, I hope I can serve as a good model to make the students aware of the importance of speaking competence. Also, students are exposed to a lot of language input from their teacher, which is a chance they normally won’t have in their regular English classes. Most important of all, I am also working hard to improve my English  presentation skills when I have to introduce a variety of topics and figure out how to make them understand at the same time.

Compared with regular classes, I have to do so much more for this special class, like finding suitable videos, creating worksheets, using online resources, conducting interactive activities and so on. Without the constraints of textbooks and midterms, I can just put new things that I learned from workshops or this online course into action in this special class. After all the hard work, most students are still very shy and not very willing to try to participate in the discussion or student interaction, but at least I am sure I really enjoy showing the students that there are still so many interesting ways of learning English other than the memorization of vocabulary and grammar rules.

But, when I read articles about Project-Based Learning a few weeks ago, I began to think about what else I can do to engage the students more. What if I can come up with something interesting enough, something they need to Do with what they have learned? Then, according to PBL, learners will have a much stronger motivation to learn the required knowledge and skills because they feel they have the power to demonstrate their skills by doing a project like this. Though I won’t be able to see their performances until two weeks later, I feel a sense of achievement already.

For those who are interested in this project and also hope to do something similarly, it would be my honor to offer some suggestions. First, when choosing the videos you want to present, decide on one theme first because you don’t want to randomly play disparate videos even though they are interesting. Second, download these videos beforehand because you can’t always trust the Internet connection. Third, give clear and specific instructions about what they have to do in this class, and it’ll be better if the teacher can divide the task into several steps so that students can complete one at a time.

VII. Resources 

l          Articles that helped you come up with this plan, or that support your ideas

l          Resources that you used, such as websites, audio and video recordings, etc.

Final Feedback from Robert
by Richard Guozhen Li on Monday, June 18, 2012 at 10:26am ·
98.2%   P Robert Elliott  email  files
Missing assignments: 0
Richard: Final Grade: Pass

Final: it was truly a pleasure to have you in class. You stood out to me as one of the most enthusiastic and eager participants. You kept trying new tools and finding wonderful applications for them. You were prolific in the discussion boards and in the blogs, always with helpful and supportive thing to say to your peers. You did strong and steady work throughout the term. Your blog posts and design kept getting better throughout the term. Excellent final project. Best of luck to you in your future technology adventures. I will very much miss working with you!