This post continues from 'Starting TA with Class 3 beginners: 8 The Chump Problem'. Below I describe how I planned to continue these lessons by introducing a new challenge where the learners are forced to think more quickly about which are the relevant parameters for this particular situation. The aims and basic situation are still the same as those described in the previous post.

STEP 1: New context and challenge
Whiz comes to the kiosk, but the shopkeeper has just put up the Closed sign. (I thought we could actually have a make-believe kiosk and sign, or a sign for each pair – maybe they could put the closed sign around their necks, for fun!) Anyway, the shopkeeper is keen to go home, and now along comes Whiz asking for his chump, so the shopkeeper is a bit impatient and says, ‘Quick!’, and ,’Sorry, I STILL don’t understand!’, and generally makes impatient noises, so Whiz really has to think about how he can describe the food in as few sentences as possible, having to find the defining feature of each food as quickly as possible.
STEP 2: Building the stairs
At this point we can look at the passports and see that in many cases they don’t help here, so how can we show the defining feature for each food? Should we circle the best parameters for each…? What suggestions do they have? Can we just adapt the model (chart/passport/ENV) we have, or do we need a new model altogether? They could think about this in groups to see what they come up with.
STEP 3: Reflecting / testing the model
Here I thought we could have a kind of game, ‘The Chump Challenge’. In 3’s the pupils could act out the situation. One pupil will be the shopkeeper, one Whiz and one a competition official writing out the sentences suggested by Whiz, and counting them. He or she will then give them to the judge (me, or another pupil?) and we’ll count the sentences, but will also give extra points to any ‘superclues’, which say it all in a nutshell. We’ll look together at the sentences and results and decide on the points to be awarded.  The idea is that the pupils get used to finding the most relevant clues in a particular situation, at first using their models, and this can later be transferred to other situations, in which they might need to adapt their models further. The models they have probably won’t help them much at all in finding the defining features of foods.

There had been too long a gap since our previous ‘thinking’ lessons, although I had kept the ideas of parameters and describing alive through various short activities every now and then. I felt this fitted into the book quite well, but now we’ll only have time to read the actual café conversation from the book very quickly. However, it should be very easy for them after what we’ve done.

I think the content aims of the lesson were met as the pupils used food vocabulary and the shopping conversation in different contexts and repeatedly, through the chump problem. They also all started using ‘Pardon?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ a lot, which is good – simple, but very necessary, phrases for a beginner.
I didn’t actually get very far with the thinking aims – only as far as them getting stuck and starting to revise the chart/ model/ENV (I’m not sure what to call it), but I think the whole idea of the ‘chump’ word has potential, though I maybe need to adapt how I use it. At times I felt I was labouring the point with the class. It has to be simple to understand and carry out.

All three classes I tried this out with seemed to waken up at the idea of Whiz going to the kiosk and they liked the word Chump. All three were also keen to work with the chart, and though we’d agreed beforehand there wouldn’t be homework, some of them wanted to work on it at home, and they were in no hurry to leave the class when the bell rang. I need to remember to keep variety within the lesson more for this age group.

It’s a pity I won’t be able to carry out the plan I outlined above (as the holidays are starting), but maybe in the autumn we can continue in the same vein with a topic other than food (so it doesn’t get boring). We could have the same kind of situation and conversation for example in a pet shop.

I didn’t manage in the end to do nearly as many thinking lessons as I’d planned after Christmas, and I realise now that I have to have them planned as maybe a 6-week block in order to really get somewhere with them and not feel I don’t have time. Maybe I can look at next year’s book and see if I can somehow fit this kind of thing in. We can continue with yes/no, riddles and other challenges to reinforce the idea of using ENV, making strong questions and sentences, and building and adapting thinking models. At the same time I have to keep them reflecting on their own learning. Although this year I've felt I have a clearer idea of how to integrate TA into my teaching, it's still very difficult to keep the momentum up, and I'm guessing this will take time, as I gradually move into new ways of working and the pupils get used to it too.

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