It was fitting that my final ELL Reading lesson should be taken from What’s the Big Idea by my long distance mentor, Jim Burke.
I followed Burke’s discussion plan. We held a lively ‘Conversational Roundtable’ on the relationships in Romeo and Juliet as a review for the final exam. The students could easily relate to the relationships: parent-child, romantic, friends and mentor-child. We looked for what rules were common to all the relationships. We discussed the differences. However, the harder question was how these relationships shape our identity. By then the students were getting a little tired, looking forward to their summer break.
I decided to end my final year of teaching with a challenge for me as well as my ELLs. I hoped Shakespeare’s play with its eternal themes of relationships would act as a bridge for entering regular English 10.
It was fun. I taught out of my comfort zone, knowing the students would have to spend most of the time acting. The students rapped one of Juliet’s soliloquies, mimed cooking , ironing and folding laundry while acting. They certainly got into the rhythm of the play.
A lot is being written about the value of assigning homework.
I explain the assignment (usually a first draft reading), and make sure my ELLs have everything they need in order to successfully complete it. I often tell them how much time they should set aside in order to compete the task. Next lesson, the students deepen their understanding by sharing their ideas in the form of chat stations, guided discussions or answer an open question using a backchannel such as TodaysMeet.
We are going to read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah; and in order to give the students background knowledge, I assigned an Upfrontarticle on child soldiers. The goal of the reading was to notice big ideas and confusions.
Then each student in the group was responsible for deepening their peers’ understanding by presenting her/his poster. The goal of the presenter was to infer, question, and add to their “first draft” knowledge.
The students collaborated well, produced interesting posters and some insight. The audience, for their part, had to generate high level questions.
Needless to say, this was a great way for me to check their understanding as well as their ability to go beyond the text. However, we need to continue practicing crafting high level questions.
I will be using more of Ferlazzo’s homework presentations and hope they will engage my students as much as this one.
The Talk Show role playing test came together on the day.
I was so impressed by the performances of the two groups. One group emphasized their originality in the props and staging, offering a backdrop of slides. The other group demonstrated insight into the characters though their detailed scripts.
At the end of their performances, I asked my ELLs to complete a Venn Diagram comparing the Talk Show Test and a Written Test.
They enjoyed “being creative, connecting with students, generating ideas, going into detail, giving their opinion, teaching how to explain their point of view not only to the teacher but to everybody, being able to fix something if it’s not good and having fun.”
The written test, on the other hand, means you are “by yourself, more nervous, bored, stressed, not showing everything you know.”
The ELLs concluded that there should be a balance between ‘action’ and written tests.
But they all opted for a written test as their final exam.
The Talk Show test required so much more than demonstrating a deep understanding of the novel. It involved learning how to assign roles, work collaboratively and listen. Like working in the real world.
However, for us teachers it is all about balance, isn’t it?
Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.