This time, it is a conversation post: a conversation about one specific activity, one lesson with students, and what we teachers can learn from carrying it out. I often say how lucky I feel in my life, as I get to (virtually) meet wonderful colleagues, real Teachers, ready to generously share ideas and activities. I am even more lucky to get them to read this blog and support some of my projects. Svetlana is one of such colleagues, and you might have already read about her on this blog, and even tried her News Report activity out.
We had this exchange at the end of May, as it is the time of the year when school semesters end in Europe, so teachers often create some kind of ‘wrapping up’ or ‘review and reflection’ activities to close the academic year. With Svetlana’s kind permission I am sharing our email conversation about one way how this can be done in class. Hopefully it can be useful for someone planning a final lesson, or collecting creative ideas for the future.
Svetlana: As promised, I did a ‘Hands’ activity as an exit ticket activity with two groups of my [high school] fourth-graders. They’re leaving school in a couple of days so they are currently incapable of thinking about anything else but their university entrance exams. That’s why they did very little writing, but lots of drawing and coloring, I guess it was easier. I asked them to describe:
- thumb – their growth in English/overall achievements/top accomplishments
- index finger – the biggest challenge in their English language learning
- middle finger – most fun
- ring finger – least fun
- pinkie – needs for improvement/changes to make to improve themselves/become better language learners
The coloring and drawing (see the picture below) was to represent their general attitude towards learning English. Looking back, I feel the five tasks could have been articulated better.
Zhenya: I loved the images your students have come up: such a wonderful feel of the coming summer and freedom! I am impressed how each student has their own style of drawing and writing, and many of them have invested quite a bit of themselves into the artistic side of it. Did you expect them to come up with something like this? Did you show any examples to get them started?
Svetlana: Though they’re a great group of students, I didn’t somehow expect their work to be this colorful and detailed. I actually thought they would write more and draw less. I did show them a couple of ‘hands’ from the group I’d done this with before them – one of them was the pink leafy one so that’s why many of them used leaves and flowers as the main motifs.
Zhenya: The fact that students did a little writing is okay, I think (it shows the real picture, not what we imagine they would want to be doing). You said that ‘the coloring and drawing was about their general attitude towards learning English‘ and I can sense that they love this subject, this language, and your lessons. Is this how you see this group of students?
Svetlana: I’ve really enjoyed working with this class over the last four years. They are cheerful, talkative and diligent learners, and respond well to new and different things. ‘Joie de vivre’ is the first thing that comes to your mind when you meet them so yes, they are exactly what their drawings show. I also have to mention that they’re mostly girls so there’s a lot of their feminine nature in these miniatures.
Zhenya: You finished your message saying ‘I feel the five tasks could have been articulated better‘ and I would love to think/brainstorm together of what kind of ‘tweaks’ can be made. One idea that crossed my mind when I see the images shared: as we read from left to right, and most likely, this is how they were writing in the template, starting from the pinky (for right-handed writers who outlined their left hand), the first question is ‘needs for improvement/changes to make’. I don’t know if it is only my feeling, and whether the order of the questions matters, but I was curious to read what the (left-handed? the picture with the two pink roses as a bracelet) student said about her confidence in speaking English and becoming more talkative. Maybe these are just speculations, and maybe we can simply mention the five categories/questions, and let students choose the order? Just thoughts!
Svetlana: Regarding the articulation of the tasks, I wasn’t sure whether what I wanted students to reflect upon was truly and only about them. Some of the writing prompts/questions sounded as if they were more about me and my teaching. Now I think that this was sort of a self-evaluation activity for all of us. They made themselves aware of their language learning ups and downs but at the same time they pointed out a few things to me: most of them said they’d struggled with grammar so I guess I should try with a different approach to it in the future; when writing about what they enjoyed the most/least they definitely signaled what kind of focus my lessons should’ve had or should have from now on, etc.
I have to admit I wasn’t thinking about right/left-handedness at all. They all did the thumb first, which was about their overall achievements. I love the idea of letting them choose the fingers for each of the questions – the size, shape and position of the fingers chosen for answering specific questions would also be a fair indication of their character and opinions on these matters. I think I’ll try your idea next time I do this. Thanks!
Zhenya: And I would first like to try it your way! How were (are?) you planning to work with the answers they provided? One thing that comes to mind is bringing all the answers together, grouped by questions (as a Google Form would, for example) and making a note of any trends/tendencies.
Svetlana: When everyone was finished, we put the drawings on display in the classroom. The students were more interested in the design but I could easily see the patterns in their answers. One of them was an eye-opener, like ‘Was I really that blind to the obvious? How could I not have noticed what they wanted/didn’t want from me all this time?’ (I’ve already mentioned how beneficial this activity is for the teacher too). Grouping answers in Google Docs is an excellent suggestion! I didn’t do it this time but here’s my plan for the next school year.
Zhenya: How would you modify anything in the activity, if you did it again? This sounds like a question on a training course, but that’s something I am always curious about when we give something a go.
Svetlana: I think I might do this activity at the very beginning of the school year with somewhat different questions: how good is your English at the moment, what are your strengths and weaknesses, what do you enjoy doing in English lessons most/least, what are your expectations from the course (these need to be worked upon more). Students color the drawings and I put them away. At the end of the school year we do it again: they think about their achievements, strengths and weaknesses, whether the course has lived up to their expectations etc. I show them the September drawings and they compare them with the new ones. This might be interesting both in terms of what they’ve written as well as in terms of their designs and colors they’ve used. Finally, a Google Doc could be made and trends noticed, which could eventually result in the change/refocus of learning/teaching strategies for the following school year.
Zhenya: Love this, love this! Can’t imagine how they are looking at the ‘old’ answers and the new ones. Metaphorically speaking, it’s 2 hands, not one! Now this is something I would love to try out with students or teachers. Thank you Svetlana for our idea exchange time, and for the chance to see what your students came up with. It is a true inspiration for me!
Hope there will be more conversations like this in the coming summer.
Questions to Readers:
- What questions would you have asked Svetlana?
- Do you have an activity for a simple Hand Template that you would like to share?
Thank you for reading!
P.S. This post is another one in my series ‘It’s in (Y)Our Hands‘ where I add one activity idea for each day of the Ukrainian war with Russia. You can read more about the project here and you can #StandWithUkraine by donating to United24 platform, for example, or inviting a student from Ukraine for a lesson. Or teaching a class with some of the images from Creatives for Ukraine. The image below is called “Peace” (by @roberta_riezniece_art)