KEEPING TA GOING (only just!)                JANUARY 2014

These comments follow on from the posts on Lessons 1 and 2 and Reflections on Starting TA with Class 3 beginners.
The Christmas holidays came just after we’d finished doing these lessons, so it wasn’t possible to carry them on smoothly – however, this is the sort of thing which always comes up. After Christmas I felt I had to move forward with the book more quickly as they’d have to have a test in the middle of February. The next chapter in the book was about sports, which didn’t lend  itself immediately to carrying on the same type of theme, so I decided just to try to keep our ‘describing’ lessons in the pupils’ minds and do other things meantime.

How I tried to make sure they wouldn’t forget our ‘describing’ and the idea of parameters
At least once a week I took 5 – 10 minutes of a lesson to do one of the following:-
acting out the new vocabulary we’d learned for describing and asking what the parameters were ( they didn’t all remember words like ‘shape’, but they’d remembered the idea well).
playing the game where I say a word and they say the parameter – we also played it with one of them coming to the front, and with one saying a parameter and seeing who was the first to shout out a value.
- I made colourful ‘posters’ for the wall with SHAPE, COLOUR, TYPE OF FOOD and SIZE on them, and made words to stick on the posters. They were given a word each and had to stick it in the right place. This was a very quick exercise which kept the words and parameters in mind. I thought it would be too easy, but every time there were mistakes which they pointed out to each other, reminding each other of what the words meant and of what they were supposed to do.
One or two pupils described a food and the others had to guess, and sometimes we played the password game, but very quickly, without writing anything up or reflecting on what they’d said.

Some thoughts on reflection - English learning notebooks
I hadn’t actually had time to give notebooks for reflection to two of the groups, so in the end I gave them later and their first reflection was not on TA work, but on their first vocabulary test. This vocabulary test was very traditional, based on learning a list of words from the course book. I still haven’t managed to get away from such tests which do seem to make pupils apply themselves to remembering words, but for how long…? Anyway, my question was, ‘How did you learn the words for your test?’ and I asked them to give detailed answers. As they’re not used to thinking about this kind of thing at all it took them a while to get started, but eventually they wrote a fair amount. Before their next vocabulary test I showed them a summary of the first reflections they’d written and asked if they could think of a different way of learning for the next test, and then I’d ask them about it and they could give each other good ideas as to how we could learn words better. When I did this they almost all wrote that they learned the same way as last time.

I know we should have tried out some alternative ways of learning together first, but I thought I’d see if they came up with anything themselves. Many said they didn’t try a new way because the first way worked well, and of course they’re right – there was no need for change. What I have to do is to change the test, and to think of ways of having them use the vocabulary more. So this learner reflection hasn’t really gone anywhere, except that I’m more aware that there’s no point in reflecting if there’s nothing to reflect on!  There had been no challenge with any clear aim, at least from the pupils’ point of view, involved in the task, so things remained the same. However, it’s a step towards them thinking about their own learning and learning strategies and getting used to reflecting on what they’re doing. It also helps me a lot to read their reflections as we don’t have so much time to actually discuss these things together.

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