Jul 31

Course 1 – Lesson 7

Direct link to the lesson plan

If you can’t see the slideshow above, go to my picasa album.

Freestyle lesson

This was a “freestyle” lesson — not quite DOGME but very flexible. I had a rough lesson plan but I knew it was very likely that they wouldn’t have prepared anything — the busy adults they are 🙂

Personally, this was one of my best lessons. I enjoyed myself tremendously and most importantly, my students enjoyed themselves, too, and stated that they learned a lot. They participated very actively and it didn’t have the feel of a lesson but more like a real get-together of friends playing games, going on field trips and all the while chatting with each other. As I have just watched Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture”, it reminds me of the “head fake” — students thinking they are doing something else while learning something different. In other words you learn best when you forget that you are learning.

Time

Students were relatively punctual. But this time we were hold up by an observer who wanted to record the lesson on video to show his bosses how the lessons were going. This had not been discussed before and as we were using voice, I wanted him to ask the students whether this was all right with them. They agreed. As the plan was flexible, there was plenty of time for all of the activities.

Student participation and voice

A bit frustrating was that none of the students used voice for reason I have stated in some of the previous posts. So, I was the only one using voice to at least give them an opportunity to listen to English. Some students were participating less actively in the chat, so I asked questions (e. g. What do you think …? What else can you do here?) and prompted them to do so, too.

Corrections

Spelling and grammar errors were corrected immediately by me and sometimes by the students (!) in local chat during the review game and the field trip. I opted for delayed individual feedback on the stories told as I wanted to avoid interrupting the flow and putting the storyteller on the spot.

The game

I did not explain the original version of the “Spin the bottle” game as our lesson was being recorded but told my students they could look it up on the Internet if they wanted. The game was hilariously fun! But not only that, students did actually ask good review questions about vocabulary and grammar and gave feedback to each other, clapping when it was correct. We had two visitors but they did not disrupt the game but stayed with us until the end. Sometimes, the bottle was spinned when it wasn’t supposed to be but it didn’t get out of hand. I think we could have all played it for much longer. But it’s best to stop when it’s still fun and we still wanted to go on a field trip and tell stories.

The field trip

Nobody had prepared for it but one student took us spontaneously to her favourite island Bora Bora where you can jet-ski, surf or go hang-gliding and gave us a guided tour. It is a beautiful island with a lot of traffic and we’ve all had so much fun that even our observer jumped in and tried out the jet-skis and surfed. Students were having fun and practising their English talking about all the things you could do and see there.

When the students encouraged me to try out jet-skiing I said: “You only want to get rid of your teacher.” They laughed 🙂 There was a lady who was always present. She might have been the owner of the place or maybe an official. I will have to ask her. When she approached one my good-looking male students, I told her jokingly not to flirt with my students and that this was an English class. She offered me friendship, so I will contact her later. The place is also good for vocabulary learning as most of the objects have floating texts in English: “surf board” “go hang-gliding). It’s a good place to go when talking about some aspects of American culture or sports.

Storytelling time

For the storytelling we teleported to yet another place and set around a campfire. I was hoping to create a nice fitting atmosphere so that students would relax and enjoy the stories or the conversation. Unfortunately, none had prepared a story and the only one who had disappeared suddenly, I guess he crashed as there were many crashes at that time. For such a case, I had prepared to tell my story but didn’t really want to do so if possible and rather have a free conversation. It took a lot of asking, prompting and encouraging until one agreed to tell a story. She had even had typed it up and I think she used the SpeakEasy HUD. She asked me whether I could read it out loud, which I did, trying to make it sound like telling it rather than reading. It was a true anecdote and we laughed a lot as it was very funny. This brought up the question what an anecdote was. After this, students started initiating a conversation without my prompting.

Again a lesson that would have been not been possible in this way in real life. I love teleporting 🙂

What made me sad

The one thing that made me sad in this lesson was what the observer said. As I said, this was such a wonderful lesson, students were having fun and were very much engaged, interacting wonderfully with each other, all in English. I was happy that this was the lesson they were recording and not one of those that looked more traditional with seated students and the teacher in the front. So, this was the conversation we had (I was using voice and he text chat):

He: this turned to open game 🙂

Me: Yes, I’m glad you’re recording this.

He: am not taping 😀

Me: Oh, why not?

He: just taping the good part

He: where there is learning

Me: You have a very traditional view of learning

He: no i don’t

He: its just that my managers don’t understand it

He: if for me i get it

How sad!!! I am so happy that I don’t work for an institution whose policies or ideas of good teaching I have to follow. But maybe I am doing these managers injustice. Maybe they don’t really think THAT traditionally because their e-learning projects  have all been very innovative. That’s why I agreed to co-operate with them in the first place. So, my hope is that the observer was being overly cautious.

Conclusion

Games are a very lighthearted way of doing reviews. Having students fill out a worksheet (in RL) or doing a formal quiz might be more time-efficient but certainly not as memorable and fun. Students mostly want homework. They were said when I told them that this time there was no new homework. all students say they find their homework useful and most of them that it is fun.

Students need time. When I gave them this time, suddenly they started telling anecdotes. And they said they have improved during this class. Now, that made me happy again. Students love the unorthodox lessons, they loved the field trips and they love talking. Good thing also that I found out they chat with each other outside class. How wonderful! They also send me IMs when I’m logged in and want to chat. Group dynamics and rapport between students and teacher is very good and I dare say not much different than in a good face-to-face class.

SL Etiquette II

I have come to the conclusion that we have to accept some behaviour that would be impolite or rude in RL simply because there are a lot of things that can interfere in SL: technology (crashes), RL (baby wake’s up, spontaneous guest arrive, telephone rings, etc.). Sometimes, people manage to say good-bye sometimes they suddenly disappear. This is normal and not to be taken personally or seen as inappropriate behaviour.

Personal

The lessons are so intensive that I have to take many notes afterwards and keep thinking about them so that it is difficult to sleep. (time of lessons 11.30 am SLT – 1.00 pm (that’s 9.30 pm – 11.pm for me). Several times, I didn’t sleep until some hours later because I had to reflect on the lessons and take notes as long as my memory was fresh. The lessons are much more immersive for me as a teacher as I thought they would be.

Jul 27

Course 1 – Lesson 6

Direct link to the lesson plan

 

Time

Some of you might wonder why I plan 10 minutes for  the very first stage of the lesson — Welcome/Sound Check/Overview. As in RL, many students are not punctual. So, instead of starting with an activity or discussion in the first minutes and having to explain what’s going on again to newcomers, I use this time to give an overview of the lesson. Latecomers can still see it up on the board. Sound check is an essential part at the beginning. As I said before, you do not want to have been talking for minutes until somebody asks whether the lesson is in voice and that they cannot hear anything. This would mean interrupting the activity, trying to help that student to set up sound, and repeating the activity.

A lot of time lost again at the beginning. We had to wait because there were only two regular students + one who hadn’t come to class often and a guest. None had prepared anything for the tour. I used the time to have the guest introduce himself and went through overview and language.

Aim

This lesson’s aim was to really get students speaking. The “tour guide” practised their fluency and taking longer turns and the “tourists” (hopefully) listened attentively and asked questions. I planned to stay out of the way as much as possible and only gave some support to the “tour guide” in local (text) chat when necessary and prompted the “tourists” to ask questions and helped get the conversation going when it went quiet.

I did not pre-teach any specific language here except a quick review of what we had looked at before. As it was a review, I had students read the sample sentences. This took too long because the student I had chosen was the weakest and had problems using the talk button. He pressed the button too late or started speaking too early so that we couldn’t hear the beginning of the sentences. I showed him later how to use the talk button more effectively. I chose a weak student because I wanted to give him a chance to speak without being afraid of making mistakes. He could read the sentences and it was a review so he had heard them many times. 

Pronunciation

At this stage, I did a quick pronunciation exercise with “can” but didn’t spent much time on it and instead provided the same sentences on the course website together with a voice recording to which they can listen as often as they need.

The field trip

Two students agreed to take us on a tour without being prepared, which brought up the word “spontaneous”. The first tour was to a car exhibition with some beautiful modern and old cars, some quite expensive but we all got a copy of a free car. There was also a racetrack but unfortunately we did not have the time to try out our free cars. The “tour guide” did a good job explaining the place. He was new in SL but his English was good (too high for this group actually). The most interesting fact for everybody was that petrol in Saudi Arabia costs only about $ 0,20 a litre. We talked about whether the students like cars and some gave us information about their cars. 

During the tour, a new class member joined (he was late) but had no voice. I helped him to set it up but he still didn’t participate because it was too difficult for him. I assume, this was partly due to the fact that we were in the middle of the activity. 

The second tour guide took us to Turkey in Second Life and gave us a tour of the famous Sultan Ahmed Mosque better known as The Blue Mosque in Istanbul and a shopping area. Although, this student is one of the weakest in the class, he was able to explain things very well. His main problem was  understanding some of the questions.

Transition and other technicalities 

Teleportation between the places worked perfectly and no time was lost here. However, there was the “usual” Saturday evening lag and it took a while until the avatars had rezzed. Navigating becomes also more difficult when there is lag. Other minor issues like people sinking into the ground or chairs are a normal part of life in Second Life 🙂 

Eavesdroppers and onlookers and problems with these

During the field trip, like in RL, there were  other people in those places, especially Turkey was very crowded. Some were curious what was going on, joined the tour and asked questions. One person, especially, stayed with us and he even turned up in my house where we met to talk about the tour. One of the students must have given him a teleport. Unfortunately, this person was disruptive. While we were talking about the tour, he was walking around and jumping over us like mad and talking (French). I asked him several times to stop that and that I would mute him otherwise, which I eventually had to do.

Final stage — Feedback

In the final stage, students unfortunately didn’t say much, although I tried to get a discussion going. They did however like the places and during the tour there were questions asked. The best speaking practise was for the tour guides. 

At the end, I gave some feedback using the notes I had taken on a notecard during the tour.

Conclusion

In this lesson, students had a lot of freedom and I did not interfere much. I was a “tourist” and was on the same footing as the other student “tourists” and really learned something from our tour guides. The lesson plan is basically only a frame leaving a lot flexibility and space for students to talk. This worked out fine and I am satisfied with how the main activity — the field trip — went.

As usual, keeping the lesson plan very flexible is extremely important. I still have to learn to be stricter with guests and new students. The reason why I am not that strict at the moment is, however, mainly because it is a free lesson and the first for all the students. I do not want to disappoint anybody. 

This was the second time that I ran out of time a bit at the end and finished the lesson ten minutes later. This could have been avoided with a bit of a faster pace in the first stage without needing to leave out anything. Maybe then, the students would have relaxed more and a better discussion might have arisen from that.

Update, 1 Augsut 2008

Student Feedback

Level was right, they learned a lot of new words and practised speaking a lot. They liked all the activities and think homework was useful. What they liked most about the activities was that they learned a lot of new words. They also liked visiting interesting places.

Jul 24

Course 1 – Lesson 5

Direct link to the lesson plan

 

Punctuality

Students arrived very late except two who were punctual. This cost a lot of time but on the other hand, I had a change to chat with those two and they had a change to speak a bit more (they are eager to speak). 

Etiquette in SL classes

One student excused himself and left in the middle of a pair work activity. I wonder if this is plain impolite or something we have to accept in online or Second Life classes. I do not want to say here what his excuse was but it did not sound urgent to me. 

Visitors

We had two visitors but one couldn’t hear me and left after a while. The other was there but didn’t participate except saying hello once and yes that he would like to participate. Later, I completely forgot to teleport him to the new location 🙁

Classroom management

I had forgotten to set up the notecard giver. So, I had to hand out tow notecards to every individual students. Cost time.

Dictation took too long because I was distracted with visitors. The guessing of my dates was too long, too, although I did want them to practise asking questions, 5 dates would have been enough. This meant that there was less time for the story writing/telling.

Transition worked perfectly as I can teleport a whole group of people at once. No time lost here. In RL this would have taken much longer or would have been impossible.

Boys and girls and parcelled houses

For group work, I had the girls work together and the boys. The reason for this was that the boys like to use voice but the girls don’t want to use voice while the boys are around. This is why I chose my house as a location for the groups to discuss and come up with a story. My house is divided into two parcels and what is being said in one cannot be overheard in the other half or from outside. I was hoping to give the girls a chance to practise speaking with this setting. Unfortunately, the girls did still use text chat only and the boys used IM. The stories both groups came up with were very different and funny, though, and students enjoyed the activity.

Conclusion

I told students to be more punctual. In future, I will not wait that long for students to arrive, so they do not get used to my waiting and see they actually miss something when they arrive late. I will not accept visitors after the second or third lesson. They can observe (I cannot prevent that anyway if lessons take place in public places) but cannot participate (maybe some exceptions, e. g. if the class is very small and observers have the necessary SL skills and level of English). I would do the dictation much more quickly and would only use 4 or 5 dates to be guessed and tell students they do not have to guess them in any particular order. I have to find a better way of monitoring students during pair work when they use IM. I will meet with the girls and let them test the parcelled house and see for themselves that they can really speak without being overheard hoping that next time they will use voice.

There is neticet, wiki etiquette, etc. Is there also SL etiquette? What is acceptable behaviour in SL? Are there any guidelines we and our students can follow? Do we have to establish them?

 

Update, 1 Augsut 2008

Student Feedback

All students who filled out the form, state the lesson was the right level, they learned a lot of new words and liked all activities. Most say they practised speaking a lot and one student says it was enough. They all liked the activities. Replies to best activity were: the Coca-Cola story, homework, conversation. There was nothing they didn’t like. All found the homework useful and some also fun.

 

Jul 24

Course 1 – Lesson 4

Direct link to the lesson plan

 

A very classic lesson (plan). Just wanted to test how it would work out in SL. 

Voice issues

There were six students and one visitor. Two students could not  hear me. I could help one  to configure voice quickly. All the other other students could hear me but opted not to speak due to various reasons (technical issues, too much noise at home, too shy) 🙁  This meant a lot of typing for me. 

The SpeakEasy HUD

Thanks God, I had prepared the long text (The story of Coca-Cola) for the SpeakEasy HuD, which is a tool that allows you to type up the text you want to “speak” in advance and displays it line by line by simply clicking on the tool.

What I did was was to tell the story in voice and at the same time show it bit by bit as text in local chat. This was good for the listeners, too. They could also read along if they wanted.

Analysing students’ language

Students’ sometimes not being able to use voice can be an advantage, too. They practise their writing skills (writing in chats is a real-life skill now) and I have a more complete chat log which I can analyse later. However, this course focuses primarily on speaking skills. Therefore, I am always happy when voice does function and students are able to speak. In order to have a record of what students have said, voice can be recorded, too. This would help with analysing their pronunciation and intonation.

After the listening and reading of the text, we did a quick review of the Past Tense and most students knew all about the form and use of it except one student. I gave some more examples and explained the concept briefly and also added links with information about it in the Moodle plus exercises for those who want or need practice. 

The last stage went well and students came up with several inventors. Some used the Internet which was OK. What was not OK was that one simply pasted what he had found into local chat but appologised when I said he should use his own words.

The film will be watched as homework.

Homework

I asked students why they don’t do their homework whether it is time or they don’t like it. Those at the university said they were busy working on a project. In the feedback survey, all students say that homework is useful and fun.

Conclusion

Always except something unusual to happen. Be prepared. Have alternatives. Be strict with no IMs during lesson. People will know with time that when I set myself into busy mode, that I am really busy and do not reply. But I have to admit that I do not know what it looks like on somebody else’s computer/list of friends. Does it say Daffodil Fargis (busy)? You do not receive inventory items that are sent to you during busy mode. So, if you want your students to write a notecard and send it to you, you have to leave the busy mode.

The lesson worked well for the students and feedback is positive but personally it did not satisfy me. As I said, at the beginning, this was a simple transfer of a classic Real Life lesson to Second Life. This is not what I want my SL lessons to be. What I am thinking about for future lessons is how to make grammar come alive using SL’s unique potential. 

Student Feedback

Right level of difficulty for everybody. They learned a lot of new English words. They didn’t practise speaking enough because of the reason I mentioned above. Best activity: Learning about Coca Cola (stated by several students). One students says: “I never thought that coca cola has a history.” (So, interesting content is very important to engage students).

Jul 23

Pre-lesson issues – Vandalism!

Fifteen minutes prior to the lesson, I logged in and found myself in a mess. My newly decorated house that I wanted to hold part of my lesson in had been vandalised. No time to fix it. I was glad I had planned two alternatives for that stage.

When I came back after the lesson, even more furniture was turned up-side down or moved. So, it was somebody who was observing me 🙁 This feels very strange. It is only my virtual home but it was a real person doing this. What for I wonder?