I love it when a classroom experiment works!
For some time now I have been experimenting with using Reading to Learn strategies in my LOTE classroom. As an English and LOTE teacher, I am in the fortunate position of being able to play around with the pedagogy in both languages and expand my own knowledge and that of my students in regards to how languages function. For a while I have been using it to build understanding of vocabulary in context in my middle school classes which tended to lend itself to focusing on participants, but I felt the students needed something more.
As mentioned in my previous posts, I am currently involved in a professional development project through Catholic Education South Australia where my main focus is strategies for improving my students’ understanding of the written language system in Italian and their ability to apply in it to their own communications in the subject, as required by the Australian Curriculum: Languages.
I started by gathering raw data on some of my Year 9 students, getting them to write a letter of introduction to me in Italian. Many of them struggled to write more than five lines about themselves.
In order to address this, I decided to extend what I had already been doing with contextual vocabulary and participants, and trial the same methodology in Italian focusing on processes. My aim was for the students to be able to produce a short biography about their favourite band or musician in the target language. The foundation of this was to be achieved during a double lesson this morning.
1. Detailed reading using a model text about the Arctic Monkeys as a ‘hook’. Students highlighted key verb structures and made notes.
2. Cloze exercise using the same text, with verb groups omitted. Students had to fill them into the correct spaces based on their new knowledge.
3. Word bank table containing useful participants, processes and circumstances. Students had to choose a band or musician and add relevant information.
4. Writing – students used the tables to construct ten sentences in Italian about their band or musician. This will be checked before they produce their final copy.
The lesson went extremely well and students engaged for the majority of the double lesson (anyone who teaches Year 9 would know how rare that can be!).
My observations from the lesson
- Highly scaffolded – increased confidence for many students. Some wanted to go beyond what was taught. This was great, however the point of the lesson was to ensure the sentences were structured correctly before moving on, and some were skipping that step in their rush to pack as much information in as possible.
- The students worked silently for an extended period – not because they were told to be quiet, but they were engaged in and concentrating on their own work rather than being distracted by others
- Students who usually struggle with Italian were able to do the task, whilst high achievers were still extended
- Students started to use their own strategies, highlighting the words relevant to their topic, adding new words and asking if they could use the model for structure – showing initiative!
- Students who usually procrastinate actively asked questions, sought support and wanted more information for their own interest and to take their writing further
- More on-task time and independent work.
- Students are being exposed to and are beginning to recognise the features of the past tense without the confusion of going through the structures at this point (one of our challenges is that we never seem to get beyond the present tense with our middle school LOTE learners).
At this stage I can use anecdotal evidence to demonstrate what I feel were the successes of this lesson. Students were clearly feeling more confident about their work, and their questions were less like “what’s the answer?” and more like “how can I do X?” I have gathered some partially finished work samples, but these will be completed next week. Of course, they are not perfect and nor do I expect them to be, but it will be interesting to see how they use feedback given on this piece of writing to refine their final piece for submission. More to come from this very happy Italian teacher!
I just got an iPad. Hooray! You, dear readers, are reading my first blog post created on a tablet device. I am sure it’s not as much of a highlight for you as it is for me!
And of course that means that my classroom will be instantly revolutionized, right?
I have heard people make the flippant comment that technology is making the job of the teacher null and void. Personally I believe that’s an irresponsible statement to make. Technology is programmed. As much as we are labeling products as ‘smart’ they still can not replace the power and wonder of the human mind that created and programmed them.
Likewise, a computer cannot replace a a teacher’s human face. What it can do -and should do – is enhance the experience of education and learning for all stakeholders, and change the way a teacher does things. It is a pedagogical tool, not a replacement for an educator.
As teachers we are called to help students learn new skills that allow them to learn, create, question and connect through technology. If we are allowing a device or a search engine to do our job for us then we are doing our students a disservice. Nor should computers or tablets be used to simply do things that could be done with paper and pen. It is about how we engage our learners with technology in order for them to learn things they could not necessarily do without it.
And let’s not forget how creative kids can be with a bit of paper, pencils, cardboard, and craft materials. Tactile learning away from the screen is important as well. I was pleasantly surprised this week to watch how enthusiastic my Year 8 Italian classes were about creating presepi, traditional Italian nativity scenes. See some of their creations below.
So, let’s embrace the use of technology as a pedagogical tool, use it to change and enhance the work that we do, but maintain the face-to-face connection and hands-on activity that human beings have an innate need for.