Monday, November 21, 2011

Pointless exam

A few days ago Year 11 sat the French NCEA which is the end of year exam here in New Zealand. As you might be aware the exam was of a poor quality. Some questions were of a level 3 instead of level 1. French teachers have complained and you can listen to a podcast of teachers expressing their feelings.

Of course like all the other teachers I am shocked and disappointed that my students were assessed to a higher level than they are expected to work at. But I am more asking myself about the idea of exams itself.

I actually do not know why students have to sit an exam at the end of the year. What is the point ?

So you work all year around, you learn everyday more French and at the end of the year you sit an exam and then what ?? 2 possibilities here : first you carry on with French or it was your last test ever in French. Either way you haven’t learnt anything at all from this exam.

In 2011, we have seen in NZ students using more and more ePortfolios in order to not only gather evidences but also to reflect on their own progress. To me, it seems it is pointless then to ask our students to sit an exam at the end of the year. I think it would be a much better idea to ask our pupils to sit an exam during the year, give them a feedback and ask them to sit the same exam (or another one of same difficulty) and see what the progress have been.

It is common practice in other subjects to pre-test student and then retest them later on using the same test (when the learning has taken place). By doing so students can see their progress and are given the opportunity to actually reflect on their learning.

What do the students do with their NCEA results ??

Yes I am outraged that the exam was of a very poor quality, full of errors and of a higher level, but for me the biggest complain is that there is no point at all to assess the students the way it is done now.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back to the old times

In my previous post I spoke about how a cartoon can change your teaching life. However in this post I am going to mown a bit and look at how things unfortunately never change -If you do not want to read a moaner, don’t read this post.

As I was saying in my previous post I have been attending a conference in Auckland about Task Based Language Teaching. Although the food was great something got stuck in my throat.

As I arrived at the venue I had to register, so far very normal. While I was registering, the lady behind the counter gave me a bag which I thought was full of chocolates. Unfortunately it wasn’t !!

I was very disappointed to see that in the bag with a bottle of water I was given a block notes and a pen. And my disappointment did not stop there. I was very sad during a good session to be given paper handouts.

Why was I disappointed ?

First because if we take notes or if we are given paper handouts we cannot share them with the rest of the world. Why should knowledge be restricted by distances? I am sure that a language teacher in Europe would have loved looking at the presenter’s research. By sharing paper with an audience you do not promote collaboration.

It is now 2011, it is time that teachers collaborate and share. How can we expect our students to do so if we cannot even show them that we are doing it?

Another thing was quite disappointing. On the program the word elearning did not appear once. I saw the word internet but I did not see the words elearning or ePortfolios.

I went to this conference to become an effective teacher and for my students to learn better, I did not go to become a better teacher in 1985, I want my students to learn better in 2011 in order to succeed in the world in 2020.

From those points of views, it was a bit sad to be stuck in the 20th century -which has seen Vanilla Ice and Milli Vanilli, let’s not forget it- instead of being shown how we can use a great language method in the 21st century.

Crossing Boundaries

I have been lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship by the NZAFT to go to a conference on Task Based Language Teaching in Auckland.

First I would like to thank the NZAFT for this great opportunity.

When I arrived at Auckland University I was very pleased to see that there were language teachers from around the world. It is encouraging to see that teachers from each corner of the globe is dedicated enough to come so far for a conference and also it is encouraging for our students to see that their teachers are thinking about teaching and learning.

Sometimes you go to a conference and among great stuff there is something exceptional which is going to change the way you teach. On the first day of the conference there was a moment like that. While I was listening to a teacher from Japan, he showed us a cartoon. This cartoon changed my life (as a teacher).

This teacher has asked his class at the beginning of the year to draw their German class. I could not believe what I saw.

The students are drawn in what I believed to be a typical 1960’s class. The teacher was at the front of the class with a giant frown sitting at her desk. The rest of the class was sitting behind their desks facing the teacher. Some students were even drawn sleeping.

Then at the end of the year -using TBL as a learning method- he asked the same students to draw their language class. This was a different story- or should I stay cartoon.

The teacher on the second cartoon was nowhere to be found. Students were sitting facing each other and were actually drawn having conversations. The desks were put every where in the room instead of being aligned like on an army camp.

Like Bridget Jones when she realises that she has to change, that point of the conference is when I realised I HAD to change learning in our French class.

I do not want to be the frowny teacher at the front of the class, I want instead the students to have conversations in French and enjoy the ride.

Now the big question is how to manage this shift ?

Reforme en français

This year in my French class, I have been asking myself some questions. These questions were ranging from “Why am I the one working the most in the class while I already know French?”, “How come my students cannot speak any French?” to “Why do I teach what I teach?”

I had to find a solution in order to make my lessons more students centered. As I have also been teaching Social Studies, I could see that students could be more independent in their learning and that they could be in charge of their learning. As much as I am egocentric and that I love that “ it is all about me”, school is not for teachers but it is for students. So it was time that I find solutions to put the kids at the front instead of ME the teacher.

As I was looking at a solution or solutionS, I have been reading a bit about Task Based Learning and asked advice to our wonderful National Advisor Ruth. Of what I read TBL seems to be quite structured which could be restrictive for me as I like going in every directions.

So instead I came to my class and I showed my students a simple Powerpoint that I had made in the morning about my school. I told them in French that they had to produce a Powerpoint as well about their school in pairs and that they could not speak any English at all, if not they will be punished. After a few moans they started to work. I hadn’t given them any vocabulary at all or any structures. They didn’t even know how to speak about school subjects. I wanted that the learning comes from them instead of me telling them what to learn.

Using phrases like “ Comment dit-on biology room en français?” they managed to produce great writing (this was obviously a writing assignment) but the best for me as a teacher was that they chose what they wanted to learn, and actually if we compare what I was going to teach them initially and what they learned there was not a huge difference.

I had to be a bit vigilant though when the students were talking among each other though. They were discussing in English so I had to punish them. Their name appeared on the board and after 3 ticks they will be dramatically punished. Nobody got punished as they started to speak French among them and using sentences like “mon portable à la maison, demain photos du collège”. I think because I did not give them the choice that they had to speak in French at all times, they felt in danger and they had then to speak French. I think that in conventional lessons they were not using the French they already knew because they were in their comfort zone that English was acceptable and possible. If one goes to France one will learn French not because French is spoken there, but because one HAS to in order to get understood.

I was indeed very pleased with this try, and I will do it again.