Guided Tasks

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3 thoughts on “Guided Tasks”

  1. I just read the article and found it interesting. But I note some distinctions between what they do and what we do:
    1. Small class size – Even 25 students are too many (paragraph 5); my class size ranged this year from 32 to 43. Alternate universes? You bet.
    2. Significant amounts of homework – 2 to 3 hours per night (paragraphs 7 and 8); even the most ardent proponents of “rigor” at the high school level don’t advocate that much homework; imagine 5 classes (we won’t count PE) x 2.5 hours = 12.5 hours of homework + 6 hours class time = 18 hours of school work per day. Any chance? Slim to none.
    3. Motivated students – These students see short-term real-world applications for their learning (paragraphs 1 and 2); my students aren’t even sure they will ever go somewhere that requires them to know German; many of them have no plans to go to college or travel outside the United States
    4. Mature students – While these are undergraduates (paragraph 2), the difference in maturity levels between freshmen in high school and freshmen in college is immense; frontal lobes and neural connections aren’t fully established until the mid-twenties, and there’s a lot of development that occurs between 14 and 19.
    On the other hand, there are some commonalities.
    1. Personalization – Teachers communicate with students as individuals (paragraph 8)
    2. Community – There is an emphasis on creating a community (paragraph 9)
    3. Language is for real-world tasks – I infer from various comments (paragraphs 4, 6, 7) that the “grammar stuff” probably takes place outside of class as homework; that gives them class time for interaction
    I also have a couple of thoughts about what is really going on:
    1. Personal analysis of teaching can be deceptive
    2. The class is probably quite interactive (interpersonal communication) – after all he does talk about “constant one-on-one contact” with students (paragraph 9)
    3. The class is apparently a safe zone – students “have the support they need to take risks” (paragraph 9)
    Questions arise with the statement, “Students are doing the mechanical work they need outside class; in class we need to come up with information-gap activities that require language skills to solve a problem or get information.” (paragraph 10)
    1. What do they mean by “mechanical work”? Is this memorization of long lists of words or learning words in context (e.g. reading texts)?
    2. How do they decide which information-gap activities to design?
    3. How do they insure that students have the skills to do those activities?
    4. Are these activities impersonal, like the ones in textbooks, or personalized for the class? (Sounds like the latter)
    One statement with which I wholeheartedly concur is “What seems to be efficient in terms of numbers of students in a classroom with an instructor turns out to be inefficient in terms of skill development. Teaching is one thing; learning is another.” Our public education system needs to learn to look at the right kind of efficiency.
    This is not to say that we have nothing to learn here. I would love to be able to observe these classes over time and see what really happens – how much Arabic is used by the professor, what kind of interpersonal communication takes place, how many students start out in the program and how many finish, maximum size of classes, etc., etc.
    At the end of the school year (today was the last day with students), I know there are things I could have done better and plan to do better next year. Somehow I never quite recovered from seeing 184 students per day; the class management piece definitely needs work. So does the paperwork piece. Next year will be interesting in that I will have no freshmen. I’m also still thinking about how to apply the rubrics for the three modes of communication.
    /ramble off

  2. Congratulations Robert; I’m finally starting to feel less worn down after two weeks now of summer vacation. I spent the first week installing and fixing stuff around the house just to socialize myself back into daily life.
    I read an article like this describing a large amount of grammar being handed over to the students and a large amount of speaking occurring in the tasks and have no problem whatsoever with it, as these are things that fit the target population. We’re talking here, as Robert notes, about a university population in which the students are not only pre-screened through the college admissions process for being good with abstract reasoning, but several of them seem to hold classified jobs and can handle that stuff okay.
    This teacher is bringing the intensive preparation for a professional-level audience that can respond to and respects that level of engagement, and I applaud him for it. Teaching high school students is an entirely different ball of wax, as we are engaged more often with establishing the reason WHY they should be learning in providing them something worth engaging. It’s not so much the homework or speaking assigned that helps a given student population as the intrinsic value of those activities as perceived by those students. Our job with high school students generally lies in building value in learning as opposed to maximizing time on task for a more adult audience. I can live with that.

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