I love how some ideas spread and come back to you with new ideas to consider!
As a follow up to my initial Wandrous Whiteboard Challenge (and then the Wandrous Whiteboard featuring Lindsay Clandfield's Global Wave), I found myself reading a great post on the same sort of experiment from Michelle Worgan in Spain, which she calls the Babbling Blackboard.
What interested me about Michelle's experiment is that she tried this out with three different classes of different levels. Her beginner level, like mine, appeared to want to go with whole sentences (however limited), whereas her more advanced level sort of stuck to one word concepts and over-arching ideas.
Thinking about this today, I wondered what might happen if I rigged the activity a little more to "force" my beginner level students to vary between longer sentence-level statements and shorter, one-word ones.
So instead of using a completely open whiteboard, or one with wave-like parameters, today I presented a sort of "wall" with different sized open bricks in it.
Here's how it looked once students had finished filling it in:
Well, as per my and Michelle's initial findings, these beginners went straight for the largest bricks first, and wanted to write fullish statements. The smaller spaces only filled up with single words or very short statements towards the end of the initial whiteboard wander.
This fascinates me, because I think there's an automatic assumption from a lot of teachers that beginners and lower levels will go for the easiest or simplest options with open language work. Before seeing Michelle's results and then manipulating the activity this way, I probably would have expected my students to go for the small bricks and just write single simple words in.
But it appears the opposite tendency is the case. Do (some/many) beginners feel a need for more space? A sense that they have room to move? From my observations, it appears my beginners genuinely want to communicate information about themselves, and they want room to do so freely.
Well, I went on with the discussions, and expansions, and language work in the right hand margin of the board (something I didn't show in my previous blog posts on this wandrous whiteboard theme, so here are some close-ups of how I handled that:)
As you can see, this is a process of numbering the input in the initial wandrous whiteboard spaces, then pulling each one out to discuss more with students, offer corrections (or improvements), and create expansions.
There are a variety of ways I handle that, based (basically) on trying to offer variety! Sometimes I show how a statement could be adjusted to offer similar or expanded information. Potential questions are offered for statements, and potential answer patterns are offered for questions. Other times I use it as a vocabulary or concept link. Sometimes, once I've checked for meaning and the chance to converse about something, I focus on grammar patterns.
And a lot of the time, I find ways to incorporate communicative chunks from previous lessons into the new input presented here (hence, for the entry "pencil", I have reviewed and recycled "May I?" and "borrow" elements from past lessons).
You can also see in the final picture there above that I am now also creating gapfills for the students (again emulating language already used or presented in class) to complete as a group before we move on to more in the way of a discussion element.
Each element is followed up with extensive oral practice, and some interactive practice between myself and learners, and/or between learners themselves.
In any case, despite not being quite as "elegant" or flowing as the wave-like wandrous whiteboard, this was a really interesting experiment today, and the flow of communication and language was just amazing for such apparently low levels.
I also got some feedback from the learners today, which was quite pleasing (considering their limited means of passing on their feelings in English).
They all said they liked this style of learning, and an older Afghan gentleman pointed at me with a huge smile and said:
"You teacher - I like. You teacher... [raised his arms and then spread them] tree... Making tree English!"
Another nodded sagely and said: "My English. My English is tree. Thank you."
Perhaps I am being wildly optimistic here, and taking advantage of their limited English, but I'm fairly sure they were showing me that they got the point of this style of teaching, and they felt their English was growing.
Until they can judge and explain more succinctly, I'll take that and run for a bit!