Guest Post #1 – Luciana Podschun’s Response to the Wandrous IWB Challenge

 

When I first entered the world of twitter and blogs I was very fortunate to find some wonderful people who were very supporting and motivated me to have my own blog and discover what a great tool for professional development it can be. The final “push” I got towards the final decision of starting my Box of Chocolates here came from Ceri Jones, who invited me to write a guest post on her Close Up, telling my experience with one of Jason Renshaw’s challenges (Trying Upside Down and Inside Out). I have Ceri (and Jason) to thank for that final push :-)

So I find it really interesting that the first guest post on my blog is also the result of another of Jason’s challenges. I’m pleased to have as my first guest writer Luciana Podschun, an English teacher from São Paulo, who decided to take up Jason’s Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge on one of her groups and wrote about her experience here. May it also be the final push Luciana needs to start her own blog!  Help me give her the final push people :-)! Thanks for sharing your experience with us Lu, and for being a wonderful first guest post writer!

 

 

 I am really pleased to write for the first time as a guest on the Box of Chocolate Blog.  I want to thank Cecilia for giving me this opportunity to write about an experience I had with my students.  I want to address the question if the “Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge” technique suggested by Jason is worth utilizing.

 

Unfortunately the school where I currently work is not very progressive with its teaching methods.  Teachers must give classes following a strict methodology, step by step and without deviation.  We don’t feel like teachers and at times we feel like robots. Most of my students learn the steps or at least the procedures after each step of the lesson.  I’ve recently written on Ken Wilson’s blog that I am a teacher who likes to break the rules and yesterday I decided to do something different with my pre-intermediate students who range in age from 13 to 17 years old.  I knew I couldn’t spend more than 40 minutes on a new activity as I would fall behind the set schedule even further.  Anyway, I decided to go ahead and as soon as my students started arriving in the classroom we just greeted each other as normal and I didn’t say anything until the bell rang.  I then closed the door and said, “today will be slightly different”.  I then gave the marker to my student who arrived first, she is not shy, so I decided to start with her.  Her first reaction was just to stare at me; she didn’t know exactly what to do, so I told her to write anything she wanted on the board.  She asked me if it really could be anything she wanted, so I just nodded…..after hesitating a bit she wrote: 1)“Deliver us from Evil”, which is the name of a song by Bullet from my Valentine, a rock metal band.

 

An up-close look at what the board looked like

 

And then the following students wrote:

2) I studied English yesterday

3) Bob went to a party yesterday

4) I will go school tomorrow

5) I went to Pernambuco last year

 
   

My sixth, seventh and eight students arrived while the activity was already taking place so I gave them the marker and asked them one by one to write something on the board.

6) I will probably go to the country next year

7) I love you teacher

8 ) My name is Nicolas

So, as everybody wrote I started to ask questions.  For example, with line 1, I asked my student who sang that song.  She said it is sung by Bullet from my Valentine.  As this metal rock band is not popular amongst my students we had many questions related to this band but also to music in general.  As they had not hear about this group, and neither had I, I am sure most of them went to look for more information about it after class.  After exploring the first subject we moved on to the second line.

As you can see there is a mistake so I asked them to find it.  I then followed with many questions using the simple past as well as the simple past continuous (the last grammar topic they learned) Since the third and fifth subjects were also related to the past tense, I decided to discuss both sentences together third student wrote the name Bob, who is Bob?  He replied that this name was inspired by his dog’s name.  This answer made all my students laugh until they cried.  So in total we spent about 15 min in past tense subjects.

When my fifth student wrote “Pernambuco”, I mentioned that I got a new twitter friend from Recife, PE who is also an English teacher. :)

  
Subjects fourth and fifth were related to the future tense so we could explore more about what they will probably do on their holidays  as well as their next vacation…..many plans, many hopes.  These discussions lead to the 1st conditional that we will study during the next lesson.  Subject 7, “I love you teacher”, I wanted to know why.!!  The student said, “you’re the best teacher in the school, you’re out of this world”.  Needless to say I blushed, so I turned the subject to talk about the beloved person in each student’s family.  We also talked about the importance of love in the world. Subject 8, the student wrote his name, he said that this was the first thing that came to his mind as he was the last student that arrived in the classroom.

 

    

My Conclusion:  Fantastic activity, it gave my students the chance to see their potential in developing a conversation and they concluded that English conversation is not the nightmare that some of them expected.  It also gave me the opportunity to establish more interaction with each student.

They learned new words and most importantly they learned from each other.  When one of them wrote something wrong the other students would spot the mistake and even explained the error – this was great to see.  In my case, having a pre-intermediate group, the session also worked as a review of the tenses, specially past and future.  The students saw that they can go beyond the current boundaries if they want, they just need to be willing – as Cecilia mentioned on her post

After spending more than 40 min, I thought I wouldn’t have enough time to finish the lesson but to my surprise I was able to do complete the set lesson for the day because my students were much more “alive” than ever.  They were motivated to carry on the previous lesson.  So, answering the question about the usefulness of this technique, it was not only worth doing but also rewarding for the students.  I think that every teacher who likes challenging their students should try this activity as well as other new things to keep the students motivated – yes, even if he or she is breaking the rules of their school.
 

Luciana Podschun
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What Comes Out of Unsuspecting Students + Wandrous Board Challenge

 Last week Jason Renshaw (aka English Raven) wrote about his experience on teaching a lesson (unplugged)  starting with a blank white board and putting the marker on the students’ hands, without giving them any directions, without saying anything. He then proceeded to have some speaking practice (free conversation) drawing from what his students had written on the board. He also seized many opportunities for teaching that came out of the conversation. He then proposed a new challenge (having a hard time keeping up with so many great challenges these days!) for teachers to do the same and share what happened in their classes. If you’re not familiar with the challenge and would like to learn more about ir, read his post here.

 

  

So I went in, put some music on and waited a bit for them to come in. Once the first few students took their seats I picked a marker and gave it to one of the boys, pointing towards the board and indicating I wanted him to write something. When he asked what was he supposed to do/write, I shrugged and gestured (or at least tried to) that it was up to him. At this moment I feared it wouldn’t be as easy as I could have thought. Never having done this and being very used to being directed and controlled in their classes everywhere, they just froze, like animals looking at the headlights of the car which is about to run over them. Didn’t like the metaphor? Well, that’s how the first student looked like, standing in front of the board, marker in hand, looking at me, pleading for instructions. He just stood there. After a little incentive from me (mimicking) and the others (shouting ideas of what he should do) he finally drew the smiley face and the speech bubble that read: “I’m beautiful”. I motioned for him to hand the marker to another student and they went on until all 6 had written something. That took about 15 minutes total. I have to admit that after the first one the others were faster at deciding what to write. The first step is usually the hardest – knowing that, the choice of that student for the first up was not random. He’s a very bright, outspoken member of the group, always volunteering his opinion. I wonder what would’ve happened had I given the marker to one of the others… They’d probably have surprised me, as they always do. :-)

What the board looked like.... Yes, I like markers in different colors!

 

This is what they wrote, in the order they did it (I’m writing it here because I don’t know whether it will be readable on the photo”:

1- Smiley face with speech bubble “I’m beautiful”

 2 – I’ve just woke up.

 3 – Sport is the best! PST

4 – And there’s no song that I could sing, and there’s no combination of words that I could say. But I’ll still tell you one thing. We are better together. J.J.

5 – Party all the time!

6 – I need music in my life – all the time!

  

The first three sentences were written by boys (and the other three obviously by the girls). At this time, with everyone back on their seats (they got excited halfway through the activity, got up, stood by the board while others were writing, etc), I asked them to change the positioning of the chairs a bit and sit in a circle so that we could have less of a “teaching moment” setting. And I went on drawing conversation from what they had written. For #1 Igot them talking about the importance of beauty in a person’s life, their personal opinion and how society in general saw beauty. Some things that were mentioned in the conversation that followed were first impressions we make of people, attractiveness and good looks on job interviews and self-esteem. At one point one of the girls asked how she would say “Quem ama o feio bonito lhe parece”, to which I replied the most adequate saying I thought for that would be “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”. I then took that opportunity to elicit from them sayings they knew in English, how most times you don’t literally translate the saying, etc… We wrote some of those on the board, they said some, asked about others.

 

 
 
   

  
 

Too tired to study?? Or of studying?

When we moved on to #2, another girl asked if the sentence wasn’t incorrect, if it shouldn’t be “woken”. I told her she was right and asked her to explain why, which she did. Issues approached for that sentence were sleeping after lunch and the benefits from it (increase of study capacity), the ratio between numbers of hours slept X productivity, sleep being a waste of time – my personal feeling on the topic, to which a student promptly informed me that less sleep would make me die sooner, and another let me know that little sleep increases the probability of heart problems. I guess I’m doomed then! While talking about this students asked how you’d say “abusado”, how some of them felt if the nap was too short. I taught them “cranky” and elicited other sleep related vocabulary. Everyone contributed with something (siesta, nap, numb, etc), and as they said something I asked them to write the words on the board.

 #3 is related to soccer - Sport is a big local soccer team here, and I don’t think I have to explain how most Brazilians are crazy about soccer, very passionate really. The PST acronym stands for “Pelo Sport Tudo”, or “We give everything for Sport”. So we talked about sports and how some people take rooting for their teams to extremes. Sentences #4, 5 and 6 are all related to music: the first is a verse from a Jack Johnson song (Better Together), the second is a song by the Black Eye Peas (who had had a concert here in Recife the night before – 2 of the students had gone to it) and the last is a student’s feelings. We discussed the importance of music in their lives, studying and concentrating while listening to music, kinds of music for different types of tasks, etc. When we got to the last of it, we only had 10 minutes to go, so I collected their homework and assigned some homework for next class (an oral comment about the activity through vocaroo sent to my email).


 

My assessment of the activity? It went well, it made students motivated and eager to talk. They learned new things (mostly vocabulary) that they felt the need for (emergent learning?) and they learned from each other as well as from me. They had a good time and said they’d like to do it again – which we probably will. The other 2 classes/groups where it worked were similar stories, different topics. On the one that it didn’t go well, I believe the problem was that the students just didn’t buy it. I really enjoyed taking up the challenge, learned a lot from the experience. One consideration I’d like to make regarding it is that the effectiveness of it depends on students being willing to do it and also on the teacher’s ability of seeing beyond the literal meaning of words written and coming up with interesting issues from anything – a true exercise for a teacher’s creativity and knowing your students (and therefore what they’d be interested in talking about).  So, that’s the result of my first attempt at the IWB unplugged. Do you think it was worth it? I do. :-)