What happens when all the fun goes out of learning language? The students disengage. Learning doesn’t have to be entertainment for entertainment’s sake, but I’m learning that if students aren’t engaged in learning, they see it as hard and not just boring–the opposite of fun.
Hi, my name is Sra. Cottrell and I am not a fun teacher.
Whew, feels good to get that admission out there. I am not one of those teachers that relates so well to teenagers (I didn’t relate well to teenagers when I was a teenager), that’s super-approachable, that always makes the learning relevant and fun and feel effortless. I am boring, busy, distant, and sometimes burned out on creativity.
Never did I feel this more than in the past couple of months, particularly in a LangChat about games and at the Central States Conference in early March. I came away from both of those with my head spinning with ideas of what to do to up the engagement in the classroom in fun ways.
Now, some of these ideas were very bad. Particularly as I read through Brain Rules, it stuns me that in spite of continuing research that says that attaching meaning to information is what makes it stick in long-term memory, and the first few moments of learning are the most crucial for how the information will be remembered, and meaningful repetition is what cements information, we still break language learned for the first time into discrete parts and drill it incessantly separate from any meaning. Some of the most successful (in the eyes of the field) teachers I know, who would claim to be very communicative, still advocate ‘games’ that drill verb conjugations or drill vocabulary connected only to translation and to no meaning at all.
But… even good games based on bad theory can be tweaked, or so I’ve found. I took some of the ideas and tweaked them to try to keep them communicative. Keep me accountable and let me know if you can make them more so.
When I got back from CSC, I had a week without my AP class because they were on their senior trip. I took advantage of the time to put my ideas into a cohesive plan and make a poster listing all of the options for our new activity. Since I took this picture, I’ve added two: Descríbemelo and Trabajos.
I told the students that we would do one of these for the first ten minutes of every class. This is one of the things I love about teaching without a textbook and with performance-based unit-end assessments. It gives the flexibility that we have been able to implement this for two weeks without hurting our progress in the curriculum. Also, it forces me to do something in every class that I think a majority will find engaging, without spending too much time on it beforehand.
As students are coming into the room, I copy/paste the options into a random option picker.
So the fruit machine picker chooses what activity we will do. If the activity requires a person to start, I copy/paste a roster and choose that person. If it requires a word or phrase, I copy/paste the options and choose that. Then I set the timer at 10 minutes and we begin.
Look for more posts in the future to explain the options. Maybe something will sound like a fun activity for your class.
Edit January 2013: We’re still using these activities but we don’t do them every day. Students continue to like most of them very much. Also, after learning what I have about primacy/recency and memory, we do not do these activities at the beginning of class – we do it in the middle, when everyone’s lagging and needs a break.