Gagne and the Nine Events of Instruction in an English Lesson

Skitch note created in Brasilia at 19:37

After years and years of teaching and planning, it is common to think that we know everything. During this teaching journey we also discover that our craft is everywhere we look around. I recognize this might sound like I am a bit obssessed about teaching. But, think with me, don't sports stars and actors also seem a bit obssessed about what they do? So, why shouldn't we? Anyway, obsessed or not, we see a lesson and an opportunity for teaching in a film we watch, on a flyer handed out in traffic light, in a science podcast. Being that enthusiastic about what I do, I have always thought that this is a wonderful job. It extends throughout your life and the older you get the better you become. It might not be so, but thinking like this makes me more comfortable about getting older and having chosen such a career. This pervasiveness is true especially for those who teach language once our subject matter is everywhere. We have a drive to communicate and spoken, written, and even sign language is everywhere. This way, we language teachers, are never at a loss for teaching materials and and the instruction ideas that spring out from them. In this matter, I would like to share with you what I have learned in the course I took at UMBC about Gagné and the Nine Events of instruction. In this post, I will try to connect each of the nine events to the way most teachers teach language.

Gain attention in the first event of instruction according to Gagné. It is true that if we want to engage our students in the learning process, the first thing we should do is to find a way of having, if not all, at least ninety percent of them, focused on what we have planned for a given class. So, this is the moment in which we announce that there will be discoveries. It is that ” hey you ” moment in which you stop any parallel conversations without asking your students to shut up. To gain attention, you share something that is in way connected to the lesson you are about to start.

Inform learner is the second event of instruction proposed. This is an opportunity to tell your class what your objectives are. I know many teachers are against doing it explicitly (especially if it is a grammar lesson), however we can always come up with implicit/inductive ways of doing it. Informing learners make them realize that we care about their intake of the content ahead and also helps building autonomy. Besides that, it is helpful in the wrap up process at the end of every lesson. Once informed about what lies ahead, learners can access what they have really achieved once the lesson comes to an end.

Stimulate recall of prior learning is the third event in a language class. It is during this event that we show students that we want to learn a bit from them, that what they already know is extremely important for us and for that specific learning community. When we do this, we allow them to share their knowledge and give the first steps in the direction of building a tapestry in which their contributions start being woven into the fabric of collaboration that emerges in class. This event sets the foundations to build the rest of our teaching event. It tells students that they are active participants in the learning process and not mere passive, blank slates.

Present stimulus material is the fourth event on Gagné's list. This one refers to the moment we show learners the content that needs to be retained. For retention to occur, Gange points out, we need to organize the material in meaningful chunks. That is exactly what language teachers do: we divide the content in bite sized morsels so that our students can slowly swallow, digest, and later use it. I like this analogy with food because it helps language learners and teachers realize that it is not possible to speed up the process.

Provide learner guidance is the fith event of instruction. This step has to do with how the instructor communicates with the learner and is intertwined with the previous one. This communication, in case of language teaching is very specific. The teacher tailors the language and instruction to guide the learner and help him or her stay on track. This guidance comes not only in verbal discourse, but also through images and any other media that assists the learner in retaining and encoding information. Such precise and guided communication allows learners to understand content and process it in a way that they gradually feel capable of using it later.

Elicit performance is the sixth event. This one is in a way much anticipated by educators. After crafting a good attention getter, informing the learner, and grading the language used to present content, we do look forward to the moment of having our students perform a task that demonstrates we are doing a good job. Performace at this stage, is still a controlled practice and limited to the repetitions of examples we have given. It is a moment for repetition of a model provided by the instructor. Nevertheless, it is much awaited because it gives us feedback on how much progress is being made by students in retaining the target content.

Provide feedback is the seventh event. This is the one in which we prune or praise the controlled practice. Here lies an opportunity we have correct the course of the learning journey. This correction can be done in many ways. The istructor can give explicit and direct feedback or use strategies that allow students to notice what needs to be corrected and do it by themselves. Here teachers give opportunity for students to review and improve performance.

Assess performance is the eight event. It is at this moment that the teacher checks whether learners have fully understood the lesson. Different from the previous one which involved controlled practice, this one involves a larger degree of freedom because the goal is to assess, not to correct or give feedback. This event is the coronation of a lesson and might indicate the need for change of methodology in the future. An attentive instructor might discover during this event that one of the previous events need to be re-evaluated.

Enhance retention and transfer is the last event. Once assessment has been carried out, learners must feel they have learned the content and are ready to apply it to other situations. So, teachers should plan activities that expand students' knowledge and make them confident in using what they have learned. This is the moment in which students produce language that goes beyond what has been drilled or modeled by the instructor. It is a moment for exercising creativity and transferring what has been learned to a variety of situations. This event is an occasion for free production of language.

As you could see, the nine events proposed by Gagné are a good way of revisiting what we know about teaching. Besides that, they also offer some insights into steps we should consider taking when planning our lessons. For me, the breaking down of the standard lesson plan into more discrete units seems to be helpful for instructors trying to better understand the dynamics of teaching and learning. Finally, it is good exercise to read the steps and compare them to our prior knowledge, and also, a way of enhancing retention and transferring our skills.

 

Classroom Interaction

Foldable for reading activity

Techniques and behaviors for increasing student participation and practice in class.

On July 25 Dr. Ron Schwartz came back to teach and entertain us a little bit. This time we also had the pleasure to have Madeleine Schwartz as a lecture. The topic of the day was classroom interaction and here is a summary to myself and my readers.

When we teach English, we do not just teach a language, we teach communication. If communication is the goal of our teaching, then classroom interactions are really a vital part of our classes. Therefore, this workshop made us reflect on our practices and gave some ideas on how to promote classroom interactions that help our students learn. This reflection, however, was coupled with experiential learning. Such feat was achieved because the techniques and behaviors discussed were role played during the entire workshop having participants act as teachers or students.

One of the tips shared by Dr. Schartz was a chart in which we could mark the kinds of interactions happening in class. As Dr. Schwartz proceeded with the lecture, participants marked on the hand out the equivalent interaction pattern (teacher asks question, student answers question, student volunteers, etc). This exercise reminded us of the importance of guaranteeing even participation and monitoring the quality of language produced by our students. Although the procedure demonstrated seemed to some of us a little challenging to be execute, it could be used by a peer teacher to observe our classroom and later feedback. A chart like this could also serve as check list to keep on the back of our minds, as a reference to remind us of promoting good exchange and real communication.

As we discussed interaction, the theoretical discussion came to the foreground. This gave us an opportunity to reexamine our, beliefs, methods, and approaches to language teaching in the light of our experince as teachers and the context of our institutions and countries. This was good exercise because it allowed us to share our perspective and reminded us that there is no such a thing as one size fits all method or approach. The ideal method or approach is the one that takes students needs into consideration and is flexible and not restrained by theoretical limitations.

Still related to classroom interaction, we discussed techniques and behaviors that conduct to effective leaning. At this point, Madeleine Schwartz gave us a sample class for teaching very young learners (eleme notary students). We played the role of students and she conducted a very instructive reading activity. The used of foldables together with reading strategies such as predicting, clarifying, asking questions, and summarizing gave us precious tips on ways to engage young learners in reading activities.

On a cultural note, we were reminded that culture affects one interaction style. Although this is little stereotypical, but is helpful to understand the way people interact. Americans are monochronic/linear and when answering to a question go straight to the point and do not give much extra information on the topic. Latins, on their turn, are polychronic and tend to zig zag as they answer a question or tell a story. So being aware of these differences between our culture and the target culture is helpful in making our spoken (and even written – essays) interactions more successful.

Where to Publish Students’ Work?

Since I started using the web in my classes I have become a big fan of publishing and I have always been proud of some of mine and my students’ accomplishments in this arena. In the beginning I started blogging. At first, I wrote blog posts myself and asked students to post comments. I could see that this seemed to be a nice and interesting way of engaging students. It elicited a given structure or lexicon, and got their opinion on a given subject. However, it lacked initiative from the part of learners. I felt that I could not limit blogging to comments from the part of students only. Besides that, I found my posts a little predictable and missing the desirable originally.  To be honest, I started getting tired of listening too much of my own of voice as the conversation initiator.

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photo credit: Βethan via photo pin cc

Once I realized that reducing blogging to students comment was not enough, I moved on to the second stage of my publishing efforts. This stage involved getting my students to create blogging entries themselves. As a result, my class blogs blossomed with creativity. Students used their own drawings and images to illustrate posts. Besides that, I could see that they were more interested in reading and commenting on what their friends had written. Comments were not always written, but they always checked and browsed their peers posts. Therefore, there was a change on the cyber landscape. At this point, I also could change my role and started being the one  reacting, giving feedback on my their work. Not only that but I also got some of my online friends to give feedback on my students published content.

However, as time went by, I started realizing that blogging also had some limitations of its own. For example, in a large, prolific group, one easily loses track of content. If you have too many posts, it becomes difficult to keep up with the time line. Posts that are quite recent are not visible and only the most recent ones are displayed on the first page. As result, your audience (students themselves and others) might feel a bit overwhelmed with content. To top it all, as the web evolved, blogging started losing its appeal to younger learners. Their interest moved to platforms that allowed adding peers as friends and all sorts of connections besides mere comments on posts.

It was after realizing that students needed a more connected publishing platform that I went for social networking. So, that is where I am now. I am struggling to find one that suits mine and my students need. Although I really like Facebook, I think it has the drawback of being sometimes too overwhelming for getting an audience to more reflective publishing. Facebook is good to connect a group, but it is limited if you want to teach writing or engage your group in a given activity. I might be wrong, but I think a barrage of posts and updates does not help teaching. Meanwhile I am still looking for a more suitable and “free” social netwoking platform. While I wait, I am using grou.ps. Here is what my students and I have been doing.

Project Based Learning – Some Challenges

Guilherme Viana Lima

In the last two years I started working with projects. It all started with online courses I took in the beginning of 2011 with UMBC called Teaching Young Learners and more to the end of the same year I took Methods II on Project\Problem-Based Learning with University of Oregon. In these courses, I developed projects for the courses themselves and tried to synchronize assigned course tasks and the ones in my teaching practice. In this post I will address some of the challenges posed by project based learning while working on some projects with my students.

In my opinion one of the greatest challenges of working with projects is the tight schedules we have in our institutions.  As a result, instructors are generally expected to teach a certain amount of content within a given time frame. In my case, most of the content is broken into units and lessons. Therefore, teachers know what lesson to cover in a given class or week. Besides that, a teacher has to keep an eye on the incoming test date which serves as a sort of time tracker that informs them that they have to squeeze content within certain deadlines. To cope with this limitation, the best approach is to work on mini projects, on something that will not take up more than two consecutive classes. A second solution would involve assigning tasks as homework. Doing so, the instructor  saves valuable class time and adds authenticity to a project.

A second challenge has to do with the syllabus itself and the textbooks we have to use. Most of the textbooks adopted by schools are content-based. Being a teacher myself, I know that some teachers would certainly agree that task-based course books would make the perfect match for a project-based learning approach. However, we do not always have the luxury of inhabiting such perfect worlds. Besides that, I have grown to believe that a task-based syllabus has its own limitations. To win the battle between content versus task, an instructor has to carefully plan tasks that smoothly integrate the content taught into projects he or she plans to carry out.  So, for every piece of content, we should try to think of a realistic task that could be inserted into a mini project. This approach makes the content more palatable and gets learners involved into more authentic activities.

 A third challenge is the sharing of these so-called mini projects. Therefore, once you and your students have invested some precious time and effort into something such as a class project, it seems reasonable to come up with a way for displaying\sharing the work done. If schedule is a little tight, it certainly poses some limitations to the usual group by group presentation scheme. A possible solution is publishing the final result on the web. Such approach allows for the class members and its immediate community (parents and classmates)  to check the outcomes beyond the classroom walls. Besides that, when you decide for this mode of sharing you force your student and yourself to acquire twenty first century learning skills (publishing and all the skills associated with this task). Finally, sharing project outcomes on the web also makes learners aware of the importance of building and online presence and is a valuable opportunity to teaching netiquette (some basic rules for good online behavior).

As a final remark, I would like to point out that this short post is in no way a complete inventory of all the challenges an educator might face when working on projects. I have

just tried to address some of the problems I had to deal with in my specific context – the one of an EFL instructor teaching at a binational language center in Brasilia – Brazil. Nevertheless, I do recommend setting aside some of your class time to work on projects. It is really rewarding and it does change the way you and your students engage with content and learn.

Stupeflix for videos

 
I am always amazed by the power of communities of practice. An e-friend of ours (Gilmar) posted a querry on our virtual community ( Learning With Computers ) asking for hints on video maker site. Some members (Ana Maria and Bob Palmer)  suggested Stupeflix. I tested it and loved it. I created a channel called teacher stuff and seached the tag teaching on flickr and twitter and this was what I got. Nice, isn’t it?

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Correcting composition on line

Dear students,Correcting compositions is a task that requires great effort from your part and from the teacher’s as well. The guide we give you in class is really helpful. Many of the corrections you will have to make will be just a matter of changing word order or other simple measures. Other times, however, you will probably need to consult a dictionary or do some kind of research in other sources. The guide below is intended to be a shortcut to help you out when you need to do this. I hope it is useful to you and I am open for suggestions to improve it and for helping you out with any difficulties you may find.

 Insert here lextutor type the word select “start with” and click on “search concordances”. you can also use VLC . This one will give you a list of words with the words coming before and after it.– 

Use lextutor also for word families, say, tell, ask, / However, but, although.

– If you want to see examples using the word just click on the word link to see a larger context.

– To view synonyms or antonyms (wrong word) consult a thesaurus  just type the words and you will see lots of related synonyms and antonyms. You will discover that a thesaurus is a really useful tool. 

– If the problem is punctuation you can check The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation . This is a good way of knowing about punctuation and the rules to use commas, periods, colons, etc.

– When the issue is spelling search google.com just type the wrong word and the search will come with the question “Did you mean _______?” With the probable correct answer, just click and check.–     

Happy Easter

To all of you my dear students, I would like to wish the happiest of all Easters. I wish you renew your faith in God and your hopes for a better life amongst the ones you love. And how about you? What does Easter mean to you? What are your expectations? Please leave your messages to your classmates or comment on these questions.

Best wishes  José Antônio