Here is my official Action Plan:
Use co-operative structures during class
to effectively build students' oral proficiency in French
in an authentic manner.
In my last post, I mentioned the co-operative learning structure Talking Chips from Kagan Cooperative Learning by Dr. Spencer Kagan and Miguel Kagan (@KaganOnline). I had been eager to try new structures - RoundRobin & RallyRobin and Simultaneous RoundTable in particular but…
…then I fell back onto a structure I felt very comfortable with – Inside-Outside Circle: “In concentric circles, students rotate to face new partners and then answer or discuss teacher questions.” (http://www.kaganonline.com/free_articles/research_and_rationale/313/Effects-of-Communication-on-Student-Learning)
But I still wanted something more. Inside-Outside Circle had become less of a circle, and more of an amoeba-shaped blob as I attempted to mold the class within the confines of the desk set-up without constantly arranging and rearranging the desks to the different class sizes. The sound level made it nearly impossible to hear one another as students were conversing in very close proximity. And the blob formation made it unclear which direction to rotate. (I have, however, used a more zipper-like formation with more success.)
In any case, I decided to set up ‘stations’ around the classroom. These are merely numbers taped to the wall. Students then spread out and work in partners at each of these stations. The students have more space to work in and the rotation becomes more obvious, and thus the stations seem more effective overall. (I may have borrowed/stolen this idea, and if so – MERCI! – oh, and could you please remind me where I got it from? I’d like to give the person credit.)
Here is a picture of the ‘station’:
Here is a picture of students working at a station:
So far I’ve used this structure for general oral discussion as well as interviews. For the discussion, I set up my Sharp Board like the picture below, with the question on one side and the timer on the other.
My students are high school level and I’ve found that 2-2.5 minutes was lengthy enough for the discussion questions. As they’re discussing, I circulate and listen in and/or give feedback, or help them with vocabulary. Afterwards, I sometimes have them discuss the same question with different partners, or I ask for volunteers to share their answer, or I pick students to share, or they just move on to the next question.
How do I get them to the stations? As the title states, I have ways of making them talk!
Here are some of the methods that I’ve used:
- number off
- choose names from cards
- playing cards
- dialogue 1 or 2, whichever they’re working on
- and – gasp! - free choice.
Students haven’t complained about this. I think that it’s because they know they’ll get moved around anyway so they’re not stuck with one particular student. Besides, the true excitement lies in how I’ll get the rotation happening. At this point, it’s less Inside-Outside Circle, and more…um…slot machine? I’ll call out that the person who rotates counter-clockwise is the one who:
- is older (or younger)
- is shorter (or taller)
- will be celebrating their birthday next
- has the textbook (or dialogue no. 1 [or 2]) in hand
- holds the higher value playing card; or in the case of a tie, whomever wins at rock-paper-scissors.
OK, I haven’t actually yet tried that last one, but it sounds like fun! Doing the rotation in the manner described above does mean that at times students work with the same partners twice during a session, but I would rather that than the predictability of students knowing exactly who is coming next. Oh, and if I have an uneven number, either I place myself at a station (great for assessment for learning observation), or I get them to work in a group of three.
My Grade 11 students are fondly referred to as my guinea pigs (‘cobayes’ in French) for my attempts at these structures with them. They have commented on how they feel more confident in carrying on conversations in French and how we spend at least 30 minutes of each class talking, whether it’s by using the Talking Chip method for current event discussions, or in Inside-Outside Circle. Hooray - it’s working (Hourra - ça marche)! Now, I’ve got to try a couple more structures to switch things up…
- How do you use Inside-Outside Circle?
- Which other cooperative learning structures have you tried?