Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Facebook in the classroom

I whinged a while back about the situation I found myself in which resulted in the dismal classroom experience which the image (left) illustrates...not much happening. Nothing to see here. Move along. Bell will ring in 45 minutes. Avoid getting noticed or saying anything. Just scribble in the spaces, it won't get checked or corrected - or even read. This is the before picture.

It was explained to me that the students here were 'all failures', so don't expect much. For a moment that shocked me, but then I remembered my context. There are other schools around with bigger reputations, and there is a definite pecking order in this country. This is reinforced by the ridiculous nature of the entrance exams system, and the 'educational' infrastructure of jukus etc that hover around the honey pot. What an awful realisation to be presented with before you even start HS that your prospects are in tatters. Not very hard to understand the "Why bother?" mood in the room then.
Breaking the ice

I went to a really crap school in Worksop (Nottinghamshire) in terms of academic results - mostly as a result I'd say of the socio-economic background of the catchment area. The two other schools which shared our playing fields were worse. I had good teachers who gave a rat's arse though, who had not given up on us. They certainly didn't fob us off with the helper (there wasn't one). The PE teacher helped me overcome the bullying and gave me opportunities I'd never had before.

So, I don't think schools are crap here...I just think they are stuck in the slow lane, hazard lights on with a flat tyre and a dodgy radiator. Is this going to change anytime soon? Well, it hasn't done so yet in the 20+ years I've been here, so why be optimistic? The system does not motivate teachers, after all. To continue the banger analogy, keep to the kerb, don't do anything sudden and you'll get there in the end.

Now we're talking
Unfortunately, teachers have never been given any specialised pre-service (or in service) training to teach English professionally/competently. Plenty is available, I hasten to add, through workshops constantly put on by publishers, ETJ & JALT etc, but this is not formal and given short shrift. It is also too late. Modern EFL instruction should be dealt with in colleges & universities by default, and preferably with a work experience in industry or even better, overseas. And while you are at it, promote a formal qualification to prove competence in core skills. And why not boost those English language skills too? Win win? Re-boot the AET/JET program to be a formal job exchange for novice foreign language teachers with study time & performance improvement expected. Come back culturally aware, linguistically competent and professionally fit for purpose.

In the last few weeks I have been 'left to myself' in my particular classrooms. This actually means my oppo has relinquished all responsibility, but that is a separate (and serious) issue. From a practical point of view, I am unencumbered and the students likewise freer to express themselves a bit.
This is the 'after' photo
  • We have managed to (mostly) escape from from 'eraser hell'
  • standing up does not induce vertigo-like chair clutching
  • boys actually talk to girls, and vice versa
  • sleeping is no longer 'a hobby'
  • Japanese is not L1 teacher talk
Our last classes together this term (I am not invited to the school festival, school trip, etc) was a rewarding break through kind of a day. The maths teacher was still in his chair in the teachers' room five minutes after his class should have started with 'my' lot...I'd already said 'Cheerio' and formally left the room (no team bow, at last), but I wandered back in because they were still on task, working hard and having a giggle.

The idea came from a couple of sources, including the frustration that we are not allowed to use mobile devices...for example, I am thinking that a 140 character limitation is an excellent 'ceiling' for shy/unconfident learners. Previous classes had revealed that some 'surfed the internet' as a hobby (besides generic 'sleeping', for crying out loud!). One student nearly fell over when I said I did know what 'twitter' was. The actual plan comes from Cambridge University Press, the excellent multi-level photocopiable resource "Teen World" - 2.1 'Teenspace'. Not very achievable in 45 minutes but worth a dab. As I said, we ran over (mostly because getting started with hangman took forever). By the end, the students were very keen to see what their friends had produced as an analog 'Facebook' page, and were jostling to get their comments scribbled and glued up on each others' 'message boards' (they had 8 slips to get rid of, signed, one per page). They were tasked to react to something different, so first come first served. eg "I live in Hata too", "I hate AKB48 and shopping too", "I'm also hungry".
On task, motivated and achievable

Useful teacher tip regarding the 'friends' section - suggest banning names of people in same class or even school - makes it less cliquey/room to upset those less popular.

Given the chance, I would like to continue this exchange on a 'safe' SM site such as Edmodo...