Actually, it feels like my advanced class has gone a bit mad. When we returned from the tea break on Friday, it was clear that something (else) was afoot. A deputation had been organised.
“Laura, there’s something we want to tell you.”
Heart beating fast (obviously all I was hearing was, “Laura, you are a TERRIBLE TEACHER”), I put down my mug and pulled up a chair to hear what they had to say. It was this:
“We don’t have enough grammar to cope with this book. That’s why we only got Cs in our test. You think we’re advanced level, but we’re not. In class we want you to explain basic grammar in detail and then give us exercises, and make extra grammar worksheets for us to do at home. That’s what the Georgian teachers do.
Why do we always have to guess things? Just tell us the answers. Don’t teach us any vocabulary in class, because we can learn the meanings of words at home and check them in the lesson by playing word explaining games. But no other games! The only ones we liked were the word explaining games and the prefix and suffix dominoes.
Don’t do listening in class either. Do grammar and writing, because we can’t make correct sentences when we write and this is our biggest problem. You should give us written tasks each week, and we email them to you, and you send them back with comments. Is that OK?”
Wowsers, right? I’m a terrible teacher and they hate this class. I’m a terrible teacher and they hate this class. I’m a terrible teacher and they hate this class. That was pretty much me on Friday night.
But now (Monday afternoon), having spent the weekend thinking on the conversation, I feel quite excited about what happened. I realised they don’t hate the class, as thirteen of thirteen have just re-registered for this term; they just felt comfortable saying what they wanted. And how often is this likely to happen? Having students who can and will articulate their needs is a rare blessing, so I should see this as an experiment rather than an indictment. I have a few comments on their comments, though.
First, I’m under no illusion that they’re advanced level. Since whole levels are completed in just 50 hours here they’re understandably upper-inty, so they’re right to say they don’t have enough grammar to cope with the book prescribed by the school. We’ve been using SpeakOut Advanced which is, I admit, a chewy little biscuit, and I often can’t do the exercises myself.
Second, the ‘word explaining games’ they mentioned are back-to-the-board and a card game version of it. I’m not sure why they got the seal of approval when other games are “a waste of time”, but the dominoes, I suspect, were successful because they were taken from an upper intermediate resource pack and were therefore of a more suitable level. And by ‘guessing things’ they meant deducing meaning from context, which to be fair is hardly a walk in the park when (as in SpeakOut) at least 50% of the lexis in any given exercise is new.
Third, their writing, unfortunately, is as bad as they think it is, and they do indeed need more practice. But when I’ve set written homework before only two-thirds of the class has handed anything in, and the half-arsedness was tangible.
Am I correctly interpreting the messages they're trying to give me? They find the class too hard, they didn’t like getting Cs and they find aspects of CLT infantilising? As graduates, they've passed all the way through an education system which prioritises rote learning and examination grades* so their feelings are not exactly surprising, but do I indulge the request or challenge it? Do they want better integration of technology? Some of the students bring iPads to class, yet the teaching centre has nothing so high-tech as an OHP between 25 teachers. Do I need to look into flipping my classroom...?!
Basically, with thanks in advance, I’m soliciting advice from my PLN:
What would you do with this class?
* Perhaps Michael Gove would like to do a field visit.