My most significant learning experience

My most significant learning experience in English 2 this year was probably Lynell Chvala’s lecture about assessment and SMART targets, which I found very useful. I have followed her example when it comes to giving concrete and relevant feedback many times since.

Giving good feedback has always been something I have tried to improve, and something that has caused me many headaches. What I found most interesting was the use of SMART targets, which is a very good plan to follow in order to give a good feedback. According to this plan, the feedback (or feedforward) should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time related. The setup Chvala used in her example of how a feedback should be was especially interesting. She started out with a positive comment on what the student had achieved or done particularly well. Then she found one or two specific elements related to content where the student should improve, and gave her two or three suggestions on how to achieve this. Finally she focused on one or two elements related to language, and gave her two or three specific suggestions on how to improve. The common denominator for all the suggestions were that they were specific and relevant, they were measurable and they were achievable for the pupil.

The use of SMART targets has made it easier for me to give good and effective feedback that my pupils are able to understand, and that motivates them to read the feedback in order to improve their writing.

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A vocabulary activity and assessment

As an English teacher I constantly try to improve my teaching methods to make the lessons varied and interesting for the pupils, and to help them to improve their proficiency in English. One of the things I have been focusing on since I started teaching English is how to implement better strategies to develop my pupils’ vocabulary, and to help them retain and recycle the words.

When teaching vocabulary it is often easy to resort to the old, not so effective “cramming method”, where the pupils write down the new words in their books at school, for later to practice them at home, using whatever method they find comfortable or beneficial to them. When doing this, you do not have any influence or overview as a teacher, over how much the pupils practice, how they practice or whether the methods they use for themselves actually are appropriate. The pupils are left to themselves to practice at home, and they are often assessed through a vocabulary quiz or test, where the final score has almost no effect on their learning what so ever. The final score is only functioning as a measurement on what the pupils know the actual day they have the test.

Having this in mind, I have tried to do something with the way I teach vocabulary to my pupils, in order to have more control over how and how much they practice, and to make it more motivating for them at the same time. Taking this into account, the activity I will describe here is more like an assessment method in itself than one specific activity. I wanted to measure the pupils’ progression instead of their final score.

A few weeks ago, I gave my pupils a handout called “Vocabulary Homework Menu” which I found here. It consisted of different tips and strategies on how to practice vocabulary at home. I adjusted it a bit to make it more suitable to my 5th graders, and translated the instructions into norwegian to make it easier for them to understand.

vocabulary homework menu Microsoft Word - Vocabulary Homework Menu

I gave a brief explanation of each strategy, and told my pupils that they were to practice different strategies each week, and that they were to choose at least two strategies when they practice at home.

As I mentioned in the introduction, I wanted to measure the pupils’ progression instead of their final result. To be able to do this, I handed out a pre-test with the new words they were to learn the current week. I told them that I did not expect them to get a full score on the pre-test, as they had not practiced the words yet. My intention was to give them the same test again after one week, to see how much they had improved. I told them that the score I was interested in was the difference between the pre-test and the final test, and not the final score. That way I would get a measure of how much the pupils had progressed.

In the following lesson I tried out an activity I thought would be beneficial in order to assist the pupils in recycling the words. I showed them a movie clip on YouTube of the American version of Jeopardy, and I asked them to try to figure out the rules. With some hints and a little help, some of the best pupils were able to see the pattern after a while.

I told them that we were going to play that game in class, and that I would write the answers on the board, and that they were going to figure out the questions together, using this week’s vocabulary. Their task was to write down each question in their books, but not the answer. They were allowed to look at their vocabulary list if they needed to. When they had written down each question, I erased the answers on the board, and I told the pupils to make their own answers to the questions. This was manageable for most of the pupils. However, some of them struggled somewhat to make up their own answers, and needed some guidance.

Some of the answers and questions were like this:

1. Answer: A house where the horse lives.

Question: What is a stable?

2. Answer: The first thing you do in the morning.

Question: What is to wake (up)?

3. Answer: A road you walk on in the forest.

Question: What is a path?

4. Answer: Something that happens very quickly.

Question: What is suddenly?

The next week I gave the vocabulary test again, and corrected it. I gave each pupil a final score, and handed it out together with the corrected pre-test. The pupils were then told to calculate their difference. I experienced that most of the pupils found this very motivating, and that they were proud of themselves when they saw how much they had improved. At the same time, I was able to see which pupils who had struggled with their practicing, so I could talk to them about which methods that would be most beneficial to them when they practice at home.

Another recycling activity that I use from time to time is for instance using flash cards, where the pupils are to guess the word on the card. I don’t think  it is appropriate to make this activity into a competition in the classroom, as it would be unfair to many of the pupils if the class is big. If you have a smaller group it might be motivating though.

I would also like to try out an oral activity that can be useful for recycling vocabulary. The teacher reads a story or a sentence using some of the words. When the pupils hear the words, they write them down in their books. When the teacher is finished reading the story or the sentences, the pupils say which words they have written down.

Another way to do this, as described here, is to “beep” out the words, and the pupils are to guess which words are missing.

Useful links:

http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPageFiles/879/Gr2RMonthlyHW.pdf

http://www.jamesnottingham.co.uk/resources/

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/language-assistant/teaching-tips/recycling-vocabulary