When teachers first finish their pre-service training course, one of their first worries is to get through their lessons as successfully as possible. Many of them will have gone into their first teaching posts only a matter of weeks before their first formal observations. There is also the added pressure of getting their heads around the syllabus and sticking to the curriculum. The last thing on their minds will, understandably, be Learner Progression.
However, many learners leave courses and do not return to language schools because they think they did not progress during the course. Now, most teachers will be able to assure you that all their learners did indeed progress and might even be able to demonstrate this to you. This is all well and good, but it is the learners who need this evidence of progression demonstrated to them, not other teachers.
If learners need evidence of progression, then that leaves a few questions to be answered: What techniques could be used? How often should a teacher do this? What if a learner has not truly progressed?
What Techniques Could Be Used?
A syllabus will be divided into Learning Cycles – that could be units of a book, linguistic aims or topics. Whatever system you use, at the end of each learning cycle you should be looking to revise that unit and then demonstrate to your learners what they have achieved during that cycle.
I technique I often use involves brainstorming as a whole class six areas which have been looked at during the learning cycle. Get these areas up on the whiteboard numbered 1 – 6. Six is the suggested number because it lends itself nicely to using a dice. You throw the dice and whatever number it lands on, the learners have to talk in pairs or groups for a set amount of time about that area. I usually set a 1 minute time limit for lower level groups and a 2 minute time limit for higher level groups. Once the time is up, you throw the dice again and move onto the next topic, until they have all been covered.
You should probably feedback on each area after the 1 or 2 minute brainstorm or you could leave the feedback stage until after all the areas have been covered. Either way, you want to ensure all the learners have covered as much as possible. You could even get them to go back over their class notes or check their coursebooks.
After this idea development stage, arrange the learners into groups of 2 or 3 and assign a topic area to them. Their task now is to produce an information poster which should inform the reader about their given topic area. You might also wish to set some general criteria against which the posters should be produced, for example:
- Plan your poster before producing it
- It must contain explanations
- It must contain examples
After their posters have been produced, you then move on to a poster presentation stage. Each group needs some time to prepare their presentation. I usually involve some kind of linguistic aim, such as phrases for introducing examples or sentence stress. It is important the learners have time to prepare their posters and it is often worthwhile to encourage them to produce a presentation which is more than simply ‘reading out’ what is on the poster.
This idea was adapted from Luke Medding’s and Scott Thornbury’s “Lightning Talks” on page 37 of their book Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching.
Other ideas are explored in this video:
The original article can be read here:
How Often Should A Teacher Do This?
The basic answer is at the end of every learning cycle. However, that leads to the question: where are the learning cycle boundaries set? These can often be set in accordance with the frequency of testing. So, for example, if you tend to teach two units from a book and then test, this is where your learning cycle boundary would be placed.
However, for those who have courses which are based rather on a syllabus and not a coursebook, a learning cycle might be determined according to topics or number of topics.
For those who work in schools where there is no formative assessment, you might want to leave this kind of lesson for a ‘rainy day’, as they take minimal preparation.
What If A Learner Has Not Truly Progressed?
This is the big question. I do not know of any immediate panacea. However, perhaps some teachers out there could enlighten us with what they do and how they have dealt with this in their experiences in the comment section below.