23 March 2011

(Trying to) Make learning fun

What happens when all the fun goes out of learning language?
The students disengage. Learning doesn't have to be entertainment for entertainment's sake, but I'm learning that if students aren't engaged in learning, they see it as hard and not just boring--the opposite of fun.

Hi, my name is Sra. Cottrell and I am not a fun teacher.
Whew, feels good to get that admission out there. I am not one of those teachers that relates so well to teenagers (I didn't relate well to teenagers when I was a teenager), that's super-approachable, that always makes the learning relevant and fun and feel effortless. I am boring, busy, distant, and sometimes burned out on creativity.
Never did I feel this more than in the past couple of months, particularly in a LangChat about games and at the Central States Conference in early March. I came away from both of those with my head spinning with ideas of what to do to up the engagement in the classroom in fun ways.
Now, some of these ideas were very bad. Particularly as I read through Brain Rules, it stuns me that in spite of continuing research that says that attaching meaning to information is what makes it stick in long-term memory, and the first few moments of learning are the most crucial for how the information will be remembered, and meaningful repetition is what cements information, we still break language learned for the first time into discrete parts and drill it incessantly separate from any meaning. Some of the most successful (in the eyes of the field) teachers I know, who would claim to be very communicative, still advocate 'games' that drill verb conjugations or drill vocabulary connected only to translation and to no meaning at all.
But... even good games based on bad theory can be tweaked, or so I've found. I took some of the ideas and tweaked them to try to keep them communicative. Keep me accountable and let me know if you can make them more so.
When I got back from CSC, I had a week without my AP class because they were on their senior trip. I took advantage of the time to put my ideas into a cohesive plan and make a poster listing all of the options for our new activity:

I've added two since I took this picture: Descríbemelo and Trabajos.

I told the students that we would do one of these for the first ten minutes of every class. This is one of the things I love about teaching without a textbook and with performance-based unit-end assessments. It gives the flexibility that we have been able to implement this for two weeks without hurting our progress in the curriculum. Also, it forces me to do something in every class that I think a majority will find engaging, without spending too much time on it beforehand.

As students are coming into the room, I copy/paste the options into this random option picker:
So the fruit machine picker chooses what activity we will do. If the activity requires a person to start, I copy/paste a roster and choose that person. If it requires a word or phrase, I copy/paste the options and choose that. Then I set the timer at 10 minutes and we begin.

Look for more posts in the next few days to explain the options. Maybe something will sound like a fun activity for your class.


Sra. Spanglish said...

Can't wait to hear more about Gira la Botella, Conecta cuatro, & Drama inmovil!

Sra Cottrell said...

Drama inmóvil is an idea from @paulinobrener and so far it's certainly their favorite. Gira la botella is idiom practice and Conecta cuatro is vocab practice.

Mandy said...

That's funny, I have a teacher who is entertaining, relatable, creative, and engaged in her students... Oh wait, she's you! Don't underestimate your impact on students and your talents in the classroom! :)

Sra Cottrell said...

Oh HI Mandy!! How did you end up here?! Thanks so, so much for your encouraging comment - everything good I've learned to do, I stole from someone else. Glad it's working. :) See you in the fall.

tamlinares said...

Would be interesting if we know what the each topic entails. So for example, Gira la botella is for idiom practice...do you have a spinner and they have to say what the idiom is or do you ask for volunteers to create opportunities to use the idiom at that time or throughout class? Just not clear on what the topics are. Thanks for posting this, would like to implement and share with you too. Sra. Linares.

Sra Cottrell said...

Thanks Sra. Linares - you can find the explanations of the activities under the 'communicative activities' tag. I've blogged about five of them so far - the Gira la botella one is here.

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