By Larry Ferlazzo

28 November 2019 - 14:21

Two purple public phones on a yellow brick wall
'If a student has an A or a B average, which is 80 to 100 per cent accuracy, we call their parent or carer.' ©

Brunno Tozzo used under licence and adapted from the original.

Teacher and author Larry Ferlazzo has won the TeachingEnglish blog award. He shares the activities, resources and methods for learning that he is testing, three months into his school year. 

This is my 17th year teaching in a Californian high school. Every year, I think that I can do what I’ve done in the past, and this year will be easy. 

I always throw that thought out the window by the second month of school.

I can apply some of my past lessons – and all of my previous experience – to a new year. But each new high school year brings a new group of students. Many are from different cultures, with varying levels of education and English language proficiency.

And, of course, my students are individuals with different personalities and learning needs. 

With these challenges come opportunities. Each student's life experiences can make a richer classroom environment for all. And these new challenges help me become a better teacher.

I try new instructional strategies and experiment with new ways to improve relationships and cultivate students' intrinsic motivation – motivation that comes from within.

Extensive research shows that positive classroom relationships encourage students to want to do their best, instead of requiring coaxing from the teacher.

Here are the new ideas I’ve been trying in my current school year:

Video recording with audio narration

This year, I'm using the app Adobe Spark for the first time. It’s free to use online or as an app, and lets you create videos of up to 30 seconds. You can extend that by creating a slideshow and have thirty seconds of audio for each slide.

For each theme we study (family, home, food...), I've made a simple writing frame like this. Students draw a picture and write about it. It might be about a family member, or a room in their house, or their favourite food. 

Then, while the class is working on that sheet or another project, I have a peer tutor or nominated student photograph all of the pictures. They go outside, to get away from classroom noise, and record their voice reading the description they wrote. 

They upload the image and audio recording to Adobe Spark to create a video, like this one. The student used a writing frame, and was responding to the question 'What is your favourite spot' based on our reading the book The Story of Ferdinand.

The next day, everybody watches all the videos together.

My students love this activity. It allows for risk-taking in a supportive environment, and they can practise writing, speaking, reading and listening skills. 

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New language-learning games

Find the mistake

Like many English language teachers, I often use some form of Find the mistake. I usually do this without much planning.

This year, I’m taking a more strategic approach. I identify common errors in my students' writing and create slideshows. Each subsequent slide shows the correct version. 

Student pairs have a mini-whiteboard. They have to correct the errors before I show them the subsequent slides, and the winners get prizes. The winners are the pairs who get the most correct answers. 

Here’s an example of one slideshow

Quizizz (not really new)

Quizizz has been one of my favourite game sites for years, but I’m using it more this year. 

I like it because if I search for any vocabulary that my class are studying, a teacher has created a game for it. We use it in the computer lab or project it on a screen, and students can use their cellphones. My students can't get enough of it. 

Student self-assessment

Some students have had less formal education than their peers, or their education has been interrupted. This is also known as SLIFE (Students with limited or interrupted formal education).

Students in this situation might not be familiar with standard or appropriate classroom behaviour. 

Inspired by an exceptional colleague, I’ve developed a student self-assessment form. It lists ten qualities designed to show 'how serious I am about learning English.' It includes behaviour (I helped other students) and academics (I did my homework).

Students quickly grade themselves at the end of each week in each category, and determine their overall grade.

I have a short, weekly conversation with each student to review their self-assessment. I give them my own grade, and we have a discussion if we disagree. I do this during the time that my students use the computer lab for language learning. 

I collect the assessments. If a student has an A or a B average, which is 80 to 100 per cent accuracy, we call their parent or carer. I tell them how impressed I am that their child is such a serious student, and is working hard to learn English.

I'm able to speak to parents and carers whose home language is Spanish. If the parent speaks a different language, I ask the student to interpret.

I have the benefit of speaking the home language of most of my students. If you don't speak the parents' home language, you could try one of these techniques for including home languages in education.

If a student who has been experiencing multiple challenges has a great week, I make that call immediately. That can motivate the student to keep learning. 

It can be tricky to decide what should and should not be included in formal school grades. I haven't yet decided how much weight this assessment will have in overall grades, but I try to be flexible and not attach much stress to the process. 

After three months of using this process, most of my students are trying hard to learn. 

What are your new teaching moves this year?

Teachers, visit our TeachingEnglish website for more lesson plans and activities, and find out how you can become a TeachingEnglish blogger .

Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He has written or edited twelve books on education, including four on teaching English Language Learners, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher, and has a resource-sharing blog.

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