Thursday, 17 February 2011

2011/12 Curriculum changes (Pt.1)

Hi All,
This post describes a change in my current curriculum that will be active as of April 2011.

Why the change?

This change in curriculum came about due to a few key factors.
  • I want students to be more autonomous when it comes to their language learning (emphasis on the their!). 
It's all well me asking students to "complete Exercise 5 on page 12" during class time, or "Write three sentences describing what you did during your summer vacation", but this is hardly motivating for students. Why? Well, one reason is that there is no choice for students. Deci and Ryan's Self-Determination Theory (SDT) basically (click the link for in-depth info) states that the more power a student has in choosing what to do, the more they are going to be motivated to complete it. Thus, by giving students a choice, they tend to be more intrinsically motivated.
Coming back to my curriculum change, I plan to implement a bi-weekly homework topic asking approximately a quarter of the class to browse the Internet for a news article that they find interesting, summarise it, and then tell their group members the following week (more details on the actual homework assignment shortly). Now, I know what you are thinking...
"But York-sensei, you are not giving students a choice in whether they do the homework or not..."
"The goals are still pre-determined by the teacher, therefore the students don't really have a choice do they?"
However, compared to a homework task such as the above "Do Exercise 3 for homework", students are given much more freedom within which to work. This is important because it allows them to choose something that they (and presumably other students in their class) are interested in, and it means that each group will be working autonomously and talking about something different to other groups making it easy to expand the activity to the class level.
  • To increase students exposure to English.
Although there was the odd occasion this year where I gave students homework to do, based on a questionnaire and impersonal interviews, I gathered that for the majority of students, the average time spent studying English each week was low to non-existent. This implies that the only time spent learning English each week was the lesson time, which is just not enough to see any decent gains in proficiency. Even a slight change to students study habits including this once every two weeks homework activity, I plan to gradually increase students study time (without making too much of a fuss about it I hope!).
  • To improve the assessment criteria.
As last year was my first year as a university teacher, I was very willing to go along with the system in-place and assess students as they had been assessed the year before. However I had a bit of an issue when it came to the existing assessment criteria on a number of levels. It appeared to me that the students were assessed mainly based on two tests: mid-term and end-of-term tests. Granted, we were supposed to give 15% of their overall assessment to their attitude in class, but there was nothing solid to base this 15% on, and with 300 students a week, I have to admit that I didn't know everybody's name even at the end of the year.
I am fortunate at my current university in that they allow teachers to decide upon their own assessment criteria (as long as it is consistent),  therefore, I proposed that assessment weighting should be changed to make attitude towards language learning the main component (attitude in class, homework completed, participation etc.). From next year then, and in my class only, I plan to put 30% of their assessment onto completing homework assignments and actively participating in class.

OK, time to introduce this activity:

Student News Reports

This activity was introduced to me by a colleague called Darrell Wilkinson, at the ETJ conference, November 2010.

First of all, students complete a homework assignment (at home of course) before they complete the main activity in class with their group members. Finally, the activity can be expanded upon and done with the whole class.

At home:
  1. One person from each group has to write a summary of a news report.
  2. Highlight important words
  3. Write a summary to read to group mates
  4. Fewer/simpler words
  5. Read sentence, look away and try to re-write it in your own words.
  6. Only main points, no extra information.
  7. Write 3-5 questions on the article.
Sources for news stories: // BBC Learning English site // Yomuiuri English site (for Japanese students)
The Breaking News site gives LOADS of help at the bottom of each article. It even has questions that the students may choose as their own! Highly recommended.

In class (intra-group):
  1. The student that wrote the report checks important words with group members.
  2. They then reads the summary.
  3. Other members take notes.
  4. The student who wrote the report asks questions about the article and the other members answer.
  5. The other members copy down the questions to ask other people in the class (if doing the expansion).

[Optional] In class (inter-group):
  1. Group members split up and go to one of (up to) 6 designated areas.
  2. Each person takes it in turn to tell the others about the story they just heard and ask the questions that they write down about the article.
My next blog post will be regarding another change to my curriculum next year, which involves students completing another homework assignment known as "quick writing".

Until then!

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