A fairly representative illustration of the extensive and sophisticated physical tools required in an unplugged language classroom... :-)
Well, I've been promising a video of an unplugged class for a while now on this blog, but wanted to wait until I had established solid enough relationships with my classes before taking a video camera (in my case, the brilliant Flipcam that Jeremy Harmer recommended to me a while back!) into the room.
I've reached that point now, but complications with institutional policies and getting across to very low level students the personal permissions involved have meant I'm only game (at this stage) to video myself and let the learners' voices speak for themselves. In any case, I hope a detailed view of the teacher's end of the unplugged classroom (with the learners a metre or so to the right of screen) might still be interesting and useful for any teachers out there contemplating an unplugged teaching approach.
What you're about to see (if you have the patience!) is a class of seven adult students (six Karen refugees from Burma and a Congolese refugee) who are in one of our preliminary levels (think real beginner, without much if anything at all in the way of formal education even in their L1s). I've been with this group for about six weeks now, teaching them twice a week. Two of the students are new, this being only their second lesson with me.
The first part of the lesson is here:
I paused the camera at this point, to let the learners get on with their basic "Finding Out" activity (I've mentioned Finding Out and the Wizard English Grid on a few of my more recent posts).
Once they completed their grids, we took a 15 minute break. When I returned to the classroom, I found that a couple of the Karen students had decided to engage with the Congolese lady, and they were talking about what they'd been cooking in the morning. The lesson continues:
Started running out of recording time and battery at this point (unfortunately).
Following this, we used our Finding Out sheets to write simple summaries (with first and third person templates provided by me on the whiteboard) about themselves and three other classmates.
From there, I generated a simple form resembling part of the documents presented at child care centres and kindergartens (this is one of their key assessment tasks -- filling out personal information on simple forms), and we roleplayed a situation where they were checking out new child care or kindergarten facilities for their children (the "what do your children like?" line is one I've faced in the same situations).
Some of the males in the room indicated that it wasn't really their role to look into childcare and school. That was interesting, as I pointed out that Australian males don't (or shouldn't) adopt that sort of stance anymore, and gave the example of myself (handling pretty much all of the school and childcare issues so my wife can concentrate on her schooling) And, if nothing else, with limited linguistic skills it might be a much better idea if two parents tackled these sorts of tasks together rather than one alone. They agreed with that at least! Pity I didn't get that part on camera, because the concepts involved sound complicated, but we managed to deal with them using amazingly simple language and a fair amount of body language! It was also demonstrative of the sort of ongoing issue with cultural differences, trying to respect the learners' backgrounds and culture while adequately exposing them to the cultural norms of the society they've come to live in.
Normally, these people would need to wait for a time that a translator and settlement support officer could accompany them to organise things like child care and kindergarten. Perhaps we've managed today to take them a few steps closer to being able to handle this sort of thing on their own.
In any case, there are some portions of an unplugged lesson with very low level adult learners. There is a plethora of things happening in, around and through what you can see here, but for now I'll let the videos speak for themselves, and try my best to answer any questions anybody has!