Dialogic journaling. Part 2, dialogue.

If you had a lot of time on your hands and read all 2500+ words of my previous blog post, you also read this line: “That’s what I asked Matt, my helpful journal companion. In my next post you can read quite a few of his questions based on the notes you’ve probably just read above.”

So, here goes… (note: maybe you want to read my previous blog post to know what we’re talking about here. But maybe you can very well do without it. Your choice.) Matt’s selected questions are presented here chronologically, so they refer to my class notes from October to December. I wonder if the connection to the actual lessons is traceable OR important at all, for you as a reader.

 

***** PART 2. Q&A. *****

You said that one of your goals was to nurture a sense of community, how do you think that setting class and task expectations could reflect this?

I’m not sure. It seems at the moment they don’t have a strong sense of community/group goals. Maybe I should try setting peer goals for tasks…? I’m scared to try certain things, as I’m afraid it will (a) take time, which is even more precious in this class than in others; (b) confuse students more.

 

What is your definition of connecting on a personal level? Is there a particular time and place for it in each lesson, or should there be a sense of connection in every instruction that you give?

Interesting question, and the very first one may actually be the crucial one for me in this particular case and many others! I need to give this more time to give a thoughtful answer. Thanks for asking.

I guess I want them at least to look at me without me asking them to do so. That would be a nice start. Some do. Lisa, for example, seems to hardly ever look anyone in the eye, though (just realized that!!). She has a somewhat bored look and always at materials or her lap or nails, something. Interesting observation which I’ll check tomorrow.

Maybe during the first few classes the group sort of shocked me so I did not talk to them on a more personal level either. Like I assumed they were not following me or not interested. I fear that.

 

To what extent do you feel that your learners are also looking to connect with you?

That is another excellent question! And why should they?) I feel that some of them are ready to listen to my “teacherly” explanations, to take in what I am there to sort of give. … I don’t know how to answer this question! I guess it is another one to mull over (which is good).

 

Where do you think the problems derive? Is it their lack of motivation, their level or English, or your delivery of instructions? How do other classes respond to your instructions?

Other classes face no problems with instructions, for the most part. When there’s confusion, either partners come to rescue, or I help the pairs who struggle. When you ask “Where do the problems derive?” I wonder which problems exactly you mean, because it looks like there are plenty.

I honestly don’t think their motivation is significantly lower than that of other classes. “Motivation” is a word too vague in any case, and for each student in that class especially  often a matter of many aspects coming (or not coming) together – being late, being sleepy, partner, topic, mood, etc. Their level of English in itself maybe is not a problem either BUT their confidence is another matter. What bothers me the most is maybe oftentimes the lack of response to me. <…> And I am more relaxed in other classes. Maybe part of the problem is my tension over what their weaknesses generally are.

 

Have you considered the concept of ‘Willingness to listen’? This is closely related to willingness to communicate. Perhaps one follows the other – if they are not willing to communicate, arguably they may not be willing to listen either.

I should research that, thank you!

 

Do you feel that your sense of relaxation lead to the students asking you for more help?

I think that’s a possibility. Maybe I didn’t appear so concerned or tense as in our previous classes. But that’s honestly just a speculation. <…> On a separate yet maybe somewhat related note, I wonder (not the first time in this journal?..) if my labeling them as not interested in each other affected their communication. I could be intentionally avoiding situations that I saw as “challenging” for them – and uncomfortable for myself.

 

You mentioned that you were more comfortable with silence, and more comfortable to wait. This was an interesting observation. What role do you think more waiting time on your part could have on future classes? How long are you prepared to wait without any intervention?

It was an interesting observation and realization for myself, too. I think there are types of waiting, and I need to try the useful types. For example, in the beginning of fluency they are silent because they are looking for the ideas in the text (my fluency questions refer them to the text), getting ready. They are not the type to easily jump into speaking. Then I could wait for them to understand/clarify with each other the structure of a task. But once I see they are stuck OR clearly wasting time, I would interrupt.

My feeling is (and has been proved by previous classes) that they realize what they are supposed to do through doing it, not from me telling them (modeling helps, but not always – sometimes some of them are not following).

 

Flow is an interesting idea too. Do you think that your flow as a teacher is sometimes at a faster or slower current than that of the learners? Or a different stream altogether?

Absolutely!! That is something else I would love to find some reading about. Maybe under a different term?… Though to me flow applies perfectly. I think a case of a mismatch is potentially detrimental – to rapport in the first place, and to the learning as a consequence. Also it would add to anxiety, both learners’ and teacher’s. I believe (now) it is a teacher’s job to adjust our flow to that of the learners’. Hopefully I have been trying to do that… Nice question!

 

You made me think about the role that timers play in discussions. Are you hoping to build in a separate planning stage so that they can organize stuff before you start the timer? How could the preparation activities be used more effectively so that they can just jump straight into the discussion when the timer starts?

It is an interesting thought to include a separate step before starting the timer. Last class I just asked once again if everything is clear, but I think I should come up with better ways ensuring they are all aware of the upcoming discussion flow. Especially relevant for the review class and discussion test!! If you have any ideas,I would love to talk about them…

As for the prep activities, their content should mirror CLEARLY the discussion questions, that is one of the points that causes confusion. I think transferring ideas from a more detailed prep to rather generally worded discussion questions is something that causes the trip-over. Helpful question, thank you! They could benefit from clear options in the questions, repeating the topics they just discussed in prep.

PLUS they need a reminder of what phrases to use to start. – on the board as a gap-fill?…

 

I’d like to know how the topic of the class fits with what you learnt from Sarah Mercer’s talk and your student profiles that you created. Will this have any bearing on how the content of the class or how you organize groups?

Well the topic did not really overlap with Sarah’s ideas. However, students were surprised to hear that Ken (and Lisa) consider themselves to be introverts. I was quite surprised myself.

As for the groupings, I think it is my intentional decision to have them always mix partners. At this point I can see they are all interacting well and reacting well to each other. This is very nice to see! I see now that there is no need really to guard them against each other under the subjective  impression that they don’t match or that they would feel uncomfortable. Even if it is so, through communicating, they improve it AND thus build rapport. It would certainly have been a mistake to split some students apart!…

 

I’d like to ask something more summative. There have been a number of micro-observations in this journal, but is/has a bigger picture emerged? Are there any definitive things that you could say you’ve learnt from this experience?

Certainly I will gather the bigger picture in a clearer way when I read through all of the entries again and make sense of them. I was too overwhelmed in the beginning of the course, and then many factors I think affected the picture. As in gradually some things became less of a problem, some things (=concerns I had) seem to be less of a problem than I originally imagined. I will try to make sense of what happened through blog posts on my blog and then my paper. Can I use some of your questions?))

What I learnt, I think, among other things:

  • A classroom is more complex than we imagine or are used to thinking (especially vivid when many issues surface);
  • Emotions play a big part;
  • Teacher is the one more responsible for establishing good rapport. Students, at least here in Japan, might be happy to follow the teacher’s lead but will likely not initiate it.

And other things I guess!!

 

I want to ask, do you think this form of reflection has been constructive for you? Has your insights helped to reveal where issues lie and how to respond the them?

Absolutely! And I believe questions added to the experience. Writing it down was beneficial by itself, of course, but an extra pair of eyes probably gave other directions to my thought. In the end, I have my tendencies to think of my classes. Even when I write reflections, I do it in my own way. But your questions added different perspectives and made me consider aspects I would not have considered otherwise.

 

*****

I thank Matt for going through this experience with me, being open and open-minded, patient and helpful. I can say without a doubt that this kind of dialogic journaling is a great format of engaging in reflective practice. Reflection certainly comes in many different ways (and my blogging has long been the way number 1 for me), but I recently feel like I want a partner for my reflection. A group. A community. And I am lucky I have one now 🙂

Yet no one will write my article for me.

 

Thank you for reading!

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2 thoughts on “Dialogic journaling. Part 2, dialogue.

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Ann,
    What a great idea for professional development – I think I’ll suggest it to some of our teachers. Both of your posts have prompted a LOT of questions. This is my full train of thought as I re-read the posts, so I hope it’s not too overwhelming! I think these are all of the type of things I would be looking for if I was observing you live with my CELTA trainer/DoS hats on and which I use to make observation notes about/choose from and chat about in a post-observation discussion, but since unfortunately I can’t see you live, I’ve listed them all here. The long list reflects your observation at the end: “A classroom is more complex than we imagine or are used to thinking (especially vivid when many issues surface)” – teaching is easy, right? 😉 I’ve included a quotes from your posts if relevant to help you see what prompted the questions – let me know if you’re still not sure what they’re referring to:
    – How old are the students? How much English do they have a week? Are you their only teacher? Are these normal classes or remedial in some way? (‘Change certain tasks from regular classes’)
    – How much control do you have over the lesson plan? Is it a lesson you’ve taught before with other students? (I seem to remember that’s how things work at your school, but I’m not 100% sure)
    – You mentioned that there have been changes in the group dynamics over the course. What would you describe as the initial problems with the dynamics? Do you think these are students who socialise outside your class? How much did/do they know about each other? Do they seem to speak to each other in Japanese much (you said they don’t greet each other as they enter the room – what do they do instead)?
    – Do you know anything about their motivation for learning English? Is it just because they have to? Do any of them use English at all outside the classroom? What for?
    – Is speaking the only way students have really communicated with you? Did you end up doing much micro-writing with them? Like journals or something similar? https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2015/04/15/iatefl15/ I think this could be a group that might really benefit from this if you haven’t tried it already.
    – ‘They take time to figure out tasks and interpret discussion questions.’ ‘They are not the type to easily jump into speaking.’ What does a typical speaking activity look like in your class from start to finish? What do you do? What do the students do? How often is there a separate planning stage?/How much preparation do they have before speaking? What kind of prep? How long for? As input from the teacher or thinking time or both? (You mentioned some things in later entries, but I’d love to know more) At what stage is the task introduced? How? (again, you mentioned some of this in some of your journal entries)
    – (Or) What is a typical lesson in terms of stages that you/the students go through? You said that tasks ‘resemble one another from class to class’ – what is similar? What changes? How much routine is there? ‘I think transferring ideas from a more detailed prep to rather generally worded discussion questions is something that causes the trip-over.’ Is this a common structure in the lessons?
    – How often do you repeat speaking activities students have done before? For example at the beginning of a future class? Or is it always something new/a new topic?
    – What kind of activities do you use at the beginning of classes? Which ones work and which ones don’t? (‘Always a slow torture’) Do students tend to arrive on time and ready for the class? Do you have any start-of-class routines?
    – At what points in the lesson do/did students tend to use Japanese? Have you tried recording a lesson to analyse this? Or have they mostly stopped now? (I suspect they might have done from later comments you wrote)
    – Do interactions between the students seem to be limited because of lack of language, lack of engagement, lack of motivation, lack of rapport between students or a mix of all of the above? And is this only true in English or in Japanese too?
    – Who decides on the goals? You or the students? How much choice do students have in the type of activities done in class? How do you remind them of the goals? Do they seem motivated to achieve them?
    – You mentioned a lack of confidence. Do you think their confidence has improved? Have you discussed confidence with them? Do you have any ideas what the roots of their lack of confidence are?
    – When you say they ‘need more time’, more time than who? Or than you expect? What do you base your timing ideas on? And has this changed much as the year has progressed?
    – How do you get attention before giving instructions and setting up tasks? You mentioned that they don’t look at you unless you ask them to, though this seems to have improved over the time you’ve been journalling. What do you think has made a difference? Is this a problem with other groups? How much of this do you think is cultural? (I have no idea about Japanese students!)
    – What do you see as an interactive discussion? What skills do you think students need to have? Which do you think they already have and which do you think they need to develop?
    – Do students tend to remember functional language from one lesson to the next? How much drilling/memorisation is done of the language before they get to the speaking activity? Is there time to fit this in?
    – What kind of activities have worked best with this group? Which ones have completely bombed? Is there a pattern? (you mentioned some in your posts, but I wonder if you’ve spotted any wider patterns)
    – You said you’re afraid of trying certain things as it will take time. What kind of things are you worried will take more time? Are they things that might actually be an investment, taking a bit of time now, but saving time later?
    – Do the students know much about you as a person? Is it acceptable for them to find out more in your/Japanese classrooms? Do you think this would help them to feel more of a connection with you?

    Here are a few things I’d like to suggest to help (apologies if I’m telling you things you already know!):
    – When setting up (shortish) speaking activities, try ‘I do, you do, we do’. I learnt this from my colleagues at IH Bydgoszcz. Rather than giving instructions, do the task with one or more students in open class. Then get a student to repeat the task with another student, again in open class. Encourage others to help them if they get stuck. Then get them to do the task in their pairs. If you think they need it, give all of the students preparation time before beginning the demonstration, with a clear framework for how to prepare for the task, so that they’re not put on the spot as the demo starts.
    – Could you use traffic lights to check understanding of tasks? https://speakinggames.wordpress.com/2017/01/02/traffic-lights-a-free-resource-for-correcting-errors-and-checking-understanding/
    – In some shameless self-promotion, I wonder if any of the ideas from my ebook would help. They’re all about how to get more out of speaking activities, including how to help students prepare and how to make the activities more engaging: https://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/richer-speaking/
    – If Japanese is still a recurrent problem, challenge them to ever longer periods of English only, rather than aiming for a whole lesson. I get my students to set a 5-minute timer which they are responsible for. Every time I hear Polish, it resets. Once they’ve managed 5 minutes, they aim for 6, then 7, etc. We have a points system in class, so they get extra points every time they reach one of the targets, but you might offer another reward, like 1 minute when they’re allowed to speak Japanese, perhaps which could be banked for when they feel they need it.
    – If you haven’t already audio recorded a lesson, and if you can get permission to do so, I’d strongly recommended it. Confusion about instructions, use of Japanese (when and why), your own use of TTT and wait time, and more will probably all be easier to analyse if you can listen to at least one of your lessons.

    Finally, please don’t beat yourself up about not writing on your blog or elsewhere. You’re a very diligent person all the time, but you also know when to stop. You have a good work-life balance, and you should maintain it! It’s certainly a lot healthier than mine 😉
    Apologies for the Spanish Inquisition! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WJXHY2OXGE and I hope these questions help.
    Sandy

  2. […] articulating my teacher beliefs. In the winter I blogged in two installments (notes in part 1 and questions in part 2) what later transformed into a solid article on my dialogic journaling experience last fall. Here I […]

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