I first came across the collaborative learning strategy known as “Think-Pair-Share” when I was doing my Dip. Ed., before I got into the field of ELT. I’ll let Kristina Robertson explain what it is:
In a think-pair-share, students are given think time to reflect on a question silently, so that they have more time to process the question, the language, or think of the language needed to convey the answer. By then discussing their answer with a partner and the class, students have the opportunity for increased interaction, and teachers can monitor comprehension.
Often–and mainly because I have my eyes on the clock–I’ll throw some discussion questions at the students and instruct them to have at it with their partners. Some students will start talking at this point; many will sit for a few moments in silence. Meanwhile I’m busy dashing about the classroom from pair to pair, urging them to get on task, silently worrying: “They’re really not into this, are they?”
Some students will genuinely not be into the topic or the task: it doesn’t interest them, they’re tired, they’re hungry, they’re shy, they’re distracted, they’re thinking about the job they haven’t found yet–you know the list. But what if the problem for many of those seemingly reticent speakers is that they haven’t been given enough time to think about the questions as well as the linguistic resources they need to answer them?
Would you be able to answer, off the cuff, some of the discussion questions you set for your students? And they have the added hurdle of doing this task in the language they’re trying to learn!
So this afternoon, given that I’ve a goodly amount of discussion questions in my planned lesson, I’m going to give Think-Pair-Share a go. Robertson suggests following these steps:
Ask a thought-provoking question of your class.
Give students some time to think about the question on their own, as well as the language they will need to respond.
Have students share their thoughts with a partner; this gives the students the opportunity to ‘check out’ their answer with another student or hear another possible answer. If confused, the students can ask their peers for help.
Finally, ask students to share thoughts with the whole group, which serves as a form of accountability for the students. In this discussion/explanation, the teacher gets feedback on what the students do or don’t know though informal assessment.
Let’s hope that taking the pressure off students in this way makes for more meaningful, considered discussion in class.
For those of us in far-flung places like Perth, opportunities to attend ELT conferences are few and far between. Fortunately, there are a lot of presentations and webinars online, and I was recently able to catch a number of IATEFL 2016 talks posted by MacMillan. I’d like to highlight a couple in this post, because both presenters provide useful sets of guiding principles for incorporating technology in our lessons.
Michelle McDonnell-de Graaf’s main message is that it is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tech tools that are out, so how and why we’re using these tools is more important than which tool we use.
For McDonnell-de Graaf, a good tech tool . . .
- stimulates interaction.
- does something the teacher can’t. For example, Kahoot! does a much faster and more efficient job of maintaining a leaderboard during a class quiz than a teacher ever could.
- allows variation in skill and content.
- facilitates peer assessment. Collaborative online spaces such as Google Drive, Wikispaces and discussion boards are great for this.
- stimulates creativity and depth. (McDonnell-de Graaf gives the example of a student-created Kahoot!)
- promotes autonomy.
Tom Walton maintains in his presentation that who is using the technology is just as important as how and why, and he makes the case for placing tech as much as possible in the hands of students. This is a complete inversion of how I imagine many teachers think about technology in the classroom: we generally see ourselves as the IT gurus in the room, whereas Walton argues technology should be managed by the learners. Given that most of our learners are digital natives, and given that we want them to be more autonomous, Walton’s notion makes perfect sense.
Here are Walton’s guidelines for cultivating a learner-centered approach to technology in the classroom:
- Start with the tech that your learners are already using (ask them).
- Never touch the technology yourself. (This is one I’m not sure about: surely there’s scope for demonstrations/modelling–but I guess more confident or tech-savvy students could be used for this.)
- Get your students to create things using the technology.
- Get your students to set up a shared online space (WhatsApp, for example).
- Make your students responsible for tech support; your responsibility is language support.
- Tech tasks should be language-focused, not technology-focused–and should involve uncomplicated technology. (Walton provides some examples of these tech tasks, and more are available on one stop english.)
- Your learners will probably be more tech-savvy than you . . . and you should take advantage of this.
So there are your takeaways: be discerning about the tech tools you use in your lessons, but then be ready to cede control of them to your learners.
An essential part of what I do is finding ways to incorporate e-learning and m-learning into the main syllabus, but Peter Pun’s (ELT Planning) post on breaktime games using an interactive whiteboard has got me thinking about how mobile devices can also play a role in the warmer, filler and cooler stages of a lesson.
These “breaktime” stages are helpful not only for re-energising students or revivifying a flagging lesson, or as simple punctuation points between lessons; they also link back to previous input (e.g. by recycling vocabulary) or forward to out-of-class study. Online ELT games can be a useful vehicle for self-directed study, and you could help familiarise students with this by having them try out these games in class on their mobile devices. I like Macmillan Dictionaries’ suite of language games; see Pun’s post and comments for more games to try out.
Macmillan Dictionaries’ Irregular Verb Wheel Game
A note of caution: you’d want to make sure you choose games that function just as well on mobile platforms as on desktop. (I found this out the hard way when I tried using a game I’d created in Classtools.)
No matter how experienced a teacher you may be, there are those classes that are simply going to be a struggle to manage. Here’s what Larry Ferlazzo does when things are getting out of hand:
I will jettison my lesson plan and redirect students into some less intensive learning activity that I know they will want to do (a game, get into their book discussion groups) and then make arrangements with teachers of the most egregious offenders to pull them out for several minutes the next day during my free period so I can have a one-on-one reflective conversation with them. For example, we’ll talk about what their goals are and how their behavior is hurting or helping to achieve them — if they want to be an Ultimate Fighter, not being able to show self-control is going to create problems. We’ll revisit some of the life skill lessons we’ve done and talk about what they think might help them develop more self-control (change seats, take their work outside if they feel they are “losing it,” get a stress ball, etc.).
Working in adult ELT poses different (and doubtless less intense) classroom management challenges than working in a high school. But even adult ELT students find it difficult to maintain focus or self-control at times, and there are days–invariably afternoons in 30+ degree heat with a poorly-functioning air conditioner–when all this lack of focus reaches a critical mass. And at this point, as Ferlazzo notes, teachers are faced with a choice: punish the offenders (and presumably push on with the lesson), or adopt the more effective redirect-and-reflect strategy. With adult learners, those one-on-one discussions are great for drawing connections between their long-term academic/career/migration goals and something like classroom etiquette and homework.
[EDIT: The original post contained a reflection on a lesson gone awry, but I’ve chosen to store that elsewhere and focus in this blog on useful “takeaways.” I may include reflections at a future point when I feel more confident :)]
[Note: I’ll use the second person and imperative in the following and future”Takeaways” sections, but the primary audience is myself.]
- Jettison the plan if it’s not working, and do something more enjoyable/engaging–but still relevant.
- Get students to reflect upon their goals and what they’re doing to achieve them. This means you as a teacher need to know what your students goals are. To add a blended learning component to this, have students share their reflections on a discussion board or blog.
- Anticipate whether your students will find the lesson enjoyable/engaging/useful. Visualising the lesson (a method of planning suggested on the TEFL Show podcast-–I think in this episode) might help here.