Friday, March 18, 2011

A first class experience?

I had a sense of eager excitement and arrived about half an hour early. It felt important to get off on the right foot and show enthusiasm. Entering a new classroom is quite a daunting experience as a teacher and going in as a student was an occasion where affect was a factor. The room was already filling up by the time I arrived. The 'seatables' were arranged in a horseshoe so I walked in and took a free seat in the middle, right in front of the board. I was sat between S a Polish 22 year old with an American accent and Ali, who was as it turns out from Sheffield. Initially though we sat in silence waiting for our teacher to arrive and tell us what to do, strange that groups of students don't naturally introduce themselves. I thought about saying something but my morning head told me to shut up. It was the two Koreans (one from the North and one from the South) who were getting to know each other unprompted (amybe they knew each other already). In the room were, 2 Koreans, a German, a Czech, 2 Frenchies, 1 Italian, 1 Turk and Z our Syrian teacher.

The group is nice and range in age from 21 to 66. There was clearly a mix of knowledge already evident. Some of us were literate, others not so. Some knew how to count to 100, others (like me) not. For some the grammatical endings seemed familiar, for others it was new ground, and we covered a lot of it.

As a way of getting to know each other we covered the following ground: singular pronouns, 1st (ana min) 2nd (anta / anti) and 3rd person singular (hua / heeya); the word “isme”- my name is, your name is (male anamooka and female annamooki), his name is (annamukkhu), her name is (annamukkha). This was followed by “baduka”: I'm from; you're from (male and female); he's from; she's from. Then we did “medina”: my hometown is; your hometown is (male and female); his hometown is; her hometown is. We finished with saying our ages (omri), which the 66 year old was most displeased with! This was quite a lot for a four hour class conducted 95% in Arabic. I was a bit disappointed that there were no aims given at the start or a menu of the ground to be covered, I find it motivating to know what is coming up. That said, I felt at the end of the class like I had worked hard and I had a sense of completion and accomplishment at a few moments in the class.

There is the cognitive load of the real information, towns, countries, ages, then the added difficulty of saying these words in Arabic, though much was similar (Poland is Bolandia, for example). What struck me most about this was the amount of drilling. There was loads and loads of choral drilling and no variation to this. There was pair work and mills, more on that in a second, but there was a staggering amount of whole class repetition. This behaviourist trend worries me a bit. I hope that the aim behind this is to focus on pronunciation, not to scar these patterns of words onto our brains.

The mills were evident, and it was good to get out of the seat, but the instructions were a bit vague, talk to each other and no time limits were given meaning that often some of our loose, self-constructed groups, didn't get the chance to practice. I think these milling periods could have been extended a bit. I would like to have had a game or competitive slant to this. I would also like to have been organised a little more. Similarly, I sometimes have a certain shyness with regard to telling students what to do at the start of term. I soon loosen up :O). I was pleased there was a variety of interaction and despite a choral, pair, mill routine being established earlier on, there are worse routines in the world.

The teacher took a grammatical slant to this. We were focused on accuracy, both in form and pronunciation early and although everyone has lots to say, and interesting stories to tell, all the extraneous information must be kept at the door. This is perhaps the frustration of adult language beginners in any language, we come with heaps of knowledge and experience but can't verbalise it in the second language yet – dumbing us down. I am reminded of a nice activity I have used with Level one class before which is to give out a piece of paper and ask them to write all the words they know in English. This is usually met with disbelief, we are beginners, we don't have any words but in fact there are many English-loan words: computer and TV are just two of them found in many languages.

Anyhow, I rabbit away. The final part of the class, she introduced some letters, I was back on familiar turf and feeling cocky. Some in the class who may know how to speak, don't know how to read or write. This was pleasing, or more so a time to relax slightly and try to help my neighbours who were plunged in at the deep end.
Then at the end we did ages and numbers. There was no teaching for this and I didn't know how to say my age, or any number for that matter. This was a bit bad for me. I felt like a dummy and realised that those around me have considerable experience of using Arabic already as they unprompted spat out their ages and those around them.

We're off.


  1. Teresa (from Dublin)March 22, 2011 at 11:54 PM

    What's a mill?

    Interesting that you felt disappointed with the teacher not telling you where you were heading. Mmmm... I never do it. Maybe I should?

    But what I always do, like you, is that activity the first day where, in groups, they have to write all the words they know in Spanish (fiesta, siesta, tequila, salsa, mañana... all the sterotypes you could wish for!). And I do it as a competition. I even give some cheesy Cervantes prizes to the winners.

    I love reading about your progress and your lessons from the student point of view. I'm doing Italian again and it has also given me some insights on my teaching...

  2. Teresa (from Dublin)March 22, 2011 at 11:55 PM

    By the way, it's the prizes which are cheesy... not Cervantes! ;)

  3. Are you growing a mullet?

  4. Mirhaban,

    Schukran for the kindness. It's been a bit noisy at night here recently and we have no internet at home.

    Regarding aims / objectives, I asked for these and was given a fairly curt reply. I was given a sheet of A4 but no learning aims / objectives. I like to know where I am going at the start of each class, but that's just me.

    A mill is where students mingle with each other repeating target language for practice. In essence it gets students off their asses and mooching round, speaking to each other.

    T- no mullet, just had a chop.

  5. Teresa (from Dublin)March 29, 2011 at 1:31 AM

    Thanks for explaining what a mill is.

    Today I had my Italian lesson and, thanks to a very simple activity about jobs, we spent 30 minutes speaking non-stop. It was the simplest activity you could think of, and it made me think of all those times when I've thought to myself "umpf, this activity looks boring. I'm not doing it"... Sometimes you don't need fireworks, flashcards and laser sabers when teaching.

    Oh, and by the way, "t" was me and I was just joking about the mullet. Those leaves behind your head look like a mullet!

  6. yes to low resource teaching but sometimes it can look like you haven't prepared. I wonder if / how much my Arabic teacher thinks about the classes, before and after...probably got lots of other things on her mind right now.

  7. Teresa (from Dublin)March 30, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    Well, the point is that the students learn and practise, right?

    Sometimes we tend to demonise materials just because they come from a coursebook in favour of flashcards or games which looked great when you were preparing your lesson but then, in class, don't go so well...

    Sure, it takes me loads of time to prepare my fancy cards and my (nearly Oscar-nominated to Best Special Effects) materials, but I guess the authors of coursebooks devote hours to their books as well...

    Plus, some students with a specific background (ie. Bulgarians) sometimes think that they're not really learning "with all those games"