Friday, May 08, 2015

student-centered teaching in action

Here's a link to a 91-second video of a recent round-robin activity. I've adjusted the sharing settings so that only those with access to the link have access to the video (that means you, Dear Reader—clack dat lank, baby!). The video file itself is almost 200MB in size, so if you're having trouble following the link and watching the video, I won't be able to email it to you, but I might be able to stick it in Dropbox (if you're on Dropbox) for you to claim.

Some of the kids were shy at first, but they were good sports when I asked them whether I could share the video in a limited way. (Many of them objected to a YouTube upload, so I'm not Tubing this.)

Some explanation of the video may be necessary.

What you're seeing is a small slice of my much-ballyhooed round-robin activity. The entire activity goes on for exactly one hour and two minutes. (The extra two minutes are to allow the students time to switch seats between rounds.) The hour is divided into three 20-minute periods, like pro hockey. During each 20-minute round, teams of students teach each other; each team has ten minutes to do so. Each team teaches an assigned chunk of the textbook's chapter: Team 1 = vocab, Team 2 = grammar/expressions, Team 3 = listening, and Team 4 = discussion. In Round 1, Teams 1 and 2 sit together, and Teams 3 and 4 sit together. In Round 2, it's 1/3 and 2/4. In Round 3, it's 1/4 and 2/3. Each team teaches its own material three times and receives new information about the rest of the chapter only once per team that it encounters (as would be true in a more traditional lesson).

The nineteen students chose to arrange themselves into two long columns, but you can mentally divide the class into four sections of 4-5 people each. (Three of the four teams have five members since it's a class of nineteen.) As mentioned above, the teams switch who they sit with every round, hence the descriptor "round robin."

When I watch the video, I feel great pride: the students have taken to the task and are performing it just the way I've asked them to. They're animated, on task, and having fun—more fun than they'd have with me teaching the lesson. And they're doing this for a solid hour, speaking almost no Korean. That's the kicker: it's nothing but English, just like this, for a whole hour. I've done what I can to make the lesson as student-centered as possible.

Many students in many English classes complain that they don't have enough opportunities to speak. I never get that complaint. (Instead, my complaints center on the fact that students have to do lesson prep each week. Oh, boo-hoo. They do it pretty well, and at this point, they're experienced enough to prep in a streamlined manner, so it doesn't take them much time to get together, divvy up the tasks and goals, and familiarize themselves with the material they're going to teach.)

As a language teacher, I believe that a good classroom is a noisy classroom. Silence is death: you want your students producing, not sitting there passively, forever waiting for your cue. I've asked my students whether they think the class might be too noisy, and not one has complained: they're all able to concentrate on what the team across from them is saying.

The round-robin teaching activity is predicated on the idea that you learn when you teach. You can't teach material effectively if you haven't mastered it, so a lot of the learning, for such a lesson, actually happens before the round robin itself, during the prep phase. The only real disadvantage to this method is that the students can't model pronunciation for each other; that's my job. So after the hour is done, I normally go over mistakes I had heard during the lesson, reviewing the mistakes with the entire class instead of pointing a finger at specific error-making students. This seems to work well; no one feels undue pressure.

The lesson is also predicated on the notion that Koreans are already too well-trained in passivity, an unfortunate cultural trait that I feel it's my duty to fight as hard as possible. I provide the overall skeletal format for the round-robin lesson, but beyond that, it's up to the students to provide all the content. They're responsible for planning and prep: they take the reins of learning in their own hands. It's empowering, I think, to give the students a measure of control, especially in a language class where output is paramount.

Ultimately, it's the students who make this lesson format work. If they didn't buy into the round robin, I'd be back at Daegu again, dealing with kids who are too slow and lazy to bother prepping for the coming session. The class you see in the video is one of my absolute lowest-level classes, and look at how active they are. The equivalent class at Daegu would have been half asleep, bereft of even the merest scintilla of motivation. I'm both proud and thankful to be working with the sort of kids I have now, however nastily they might evaluate me in six weeks. I think they understand that they're being provided with a unique learning experience—one that empowers them, that puts the responsibility for learning in their own hands, and that forces them to master material on their own before they come to class to teach it. The result may look like a loud, happy mess on the video, but there's a cognitively and pedagogically sound method underlying all that madness. Or so I like to tell myself.



Charles said...

I've always wanted to see what this looked like in action. Thanks for uploading that.

The fact that this is a language class aside, your general approach sounds a lot like a graduate seminar, or at least how I run my graduate seminars. Student teams do the prep, present the material, and lead the discussion, while I am there as a facilitator and fellow discussant. My grad students caught on quickly and now engage in discussions that are more lively than any I ever saw during my time as a grad student here.

(P.S. Next time please turn the phone sideways! Vertical video is a harbinger of the doom of the universe.)

Kevin Kim said...

re: holding sideways

Well, I guess you see what a slave I am to the old-style smart phones and their un-rotating ways. As for the universe, well... it was doomed from the start.

Kevin Kim said...

Bill Keezer emails this kind comment:

Very impressive job with your students. They obviously were enjoying themselves. That is obviously your true calling. I expect that once you are debt-free you will leave Golden Goose and go back to the classroom.

Kevin Kim said...


re: your grad-school comment

Good call. I noted the grad-school seminar as my influence in this post from 2013.

Elisson said...

I am profoundly impressed.

Animation, engagement, and self-motivated learning. Sweet.