LCB Teachers Training College Rodrigo Rouco Taller Didáctico p. la Enseñanza de Inglés en N.
Managing Pair Work
Class: 1st year N° of learners: 13 Age of learners: 13 Length of lesson: 40 min. Level: Intermediate Teacher observed: M _____________________________________________________________________________________ During the lesson Sub-skill a) Moving into an activity i) Organising groups, seating, etc Observation T asked sts to ask & answer qs ‘in pairs’. Comment It was clear she meant w/ each person’s neighbour. No need to change partners or arrange a different seating for the activity. T showed which qs she meant by showing the book page to sts. Clear, to-thepoint instructions, though no checking. She then had to re-explain instructions to some individual pairs.
‘You’re going to discuss these qs w/ your partner. In pairs, ask & answer these qs. Take a look at the prompts.’
b) Monitori ng pair work
ii) Verbal contact
iii) Teacher’s voice, position, etc
T walked around the pairs, listened into the conversations, prompted/fed language, answered sts’ qs, asked qs herself. At first, T had to reexplain instructions to some pairs who hadn’t understood. She prompted pairs to use the ‘Useful phrases’ & ‘Adjs to show your opinion’ from the book. She asked qs and got engaged into the talks, corrected mistakes, prompted selfcorrection. Lower tone of voice than the one used to address whole class. She stood up facing/next to the pair no crouching or sitting down.
T was very active and involved w/ sts’ performance.
T always helpful and at hand (roles: helper, prompter, resource). She interacted a lot w/ some pairs. In that case, she may have become the ‘centre’ of the conversation.
Tone: appropriate to informal talk style.
c) Moving out of an activity
i) Signalling & reorienting
ii) Reporting back
T said (louder voice) to whole class: ‘Well, OK! Let’s see. Now, we stop w/ this.’ She walked towards the front of the class and stood up there. T: ‘J is going to tell us what P did last Saturday. You tell us what you found out about P.’ T asked other sts: ‘Could you listen to your mates, please? / Please, cooperate.’
Very clear signalling. Sts were able to see and hear her, they made silence, and stopped talking. She listened to J, prompted self-correction as she spoke and asked him to give more info as the st ran out of comments.
After the lesson 1) Sub-skills when moving into and out of an activity (& their purposes) Moving into: Organising groups/seating: to decide who works with whom (according to friendship? level of ability? at random?); to decide whether some moving about is required (of sts/desks) and how long and / or chaotic this may be - all this takes on significant consideration for the teacher of a large group. Engage sts: to motivate them into sth worth doing, fun, enjoyable, interesting, etc so that they feel enthusiastic about it and profit from it. Instructions (giving and checking): to give a clear / careful explanation of what sts should do and aim at. This can involve a mere verbal explanation, a demonstration, paraphrasing, repeating, asking a st to recap, re-explain, two sts to demonstrate, everyone doing the first item together, etc. This ensures sts are certain about what they are supposed to do. Timing: helpful to give sts a clear framework to work with. Also, we should usually stick to the time allotted. Moving out of: Signalling to stop: for sts to go back to the ‘whole-class’ mode and be able to listen to other pairs in the next step. The teacher can stand at the front of the class, raise his/her voice, clap hands to call for attention, etc. Organising feedback: it can involve the teacher asking general questions to the whole class (opinions, conclusions, reactions…) or individual sts/pairs at random. Depending on the task, we can ask for self-
correction, peer-correction, or the teacher can correct (on the spot or more delayed feedback). We can ask partners to compare their results, choose their favourite… Bear in mind the effect of positive, constructive feedback as more powerful and motivating than negative one. Language mistakes is only one part. Focus on how successful sts have been at conveying meaning. 2) Teacher intervention (statements based on Brown 1988:9) a) ‘A teacher monitoring a group is there to listen, help and monitor, but not to teach.’ Partially True. It is true that we shouldn’t interrupt sts and let them try to communicate as much as they want /can so that they develop their ability to manage on their own. We can, of course, help, prompt if our assistance is required. But, if a pair is stuck at sth critical, we can teach them sth that can help them solve that problem - the typical ‘How do you say…?’ However, even listening, helping and monitoring are part of teaching. b) ‘Any teacher comment must be preceded by the teacher listening closely to the group to find out how they are getting on.’ True. If you’re going to contribute with sth, it should be as a response to the sts’ comments, opinions, questions, doubts - first we listen to them and, if need be, we add. c) ‘Any interaction must be initiated by the group or its members but not by the teacher.’ Partially True (but more True than False!). Again, you would but in after listening to them. But, in some cases, you may find a pair who are not making as much progress as expected, or aren’t certain about how to explore the topic, so you can start interacting so as to guide them and involve them in the discussion. d) ‘The teacher must give equal time to the groups.’ Mostly True. To be fair, of course. But it often happens that some groups may demand more time than others because they need it or ask for it. Others may be doing quite well without much of our intervention, so we may not spend as much time with them. In any case, the time we devote to different pairs may also vary from class to class. e) ‘ The teacher must give equal time to individuals within the groups.’ Mostly True. The same as point d). We should try to balance our attention in a fair manner so that more able / confident / sociable sts don’t take up too much of our time in detriment of less able sts. But sometimes we should pay more attention to those who may profit from more personalised assistance, may need more encouragement, etc. Again, this should be catered for evenly throughout different lessons. f) ‘The teacher must sit or crouch down so that he or she is at the same height as the students.’ Mostly True. This is advisable so that you are at the same eye-level as your sts and you don’t show a very commanding, authoritative presence. If we want to mirror a real-life communicative experience, it is more common in a talk for people to share the same ‘power’ and be equals. Anyway, this may be an issue if learners feel a bit detached from the teacher and see the teacher just as an evaluator looking for mistakes and not really interested in what they want to say. g) ‘Proxemics, eye contact and tone of voice in group work are necessarily different from those in full class activities.’ True. When you’re talking to the whole class, you will be raising your tone of voice and may stand up further away from individual sts so that everyone can see you, and your eyes will move about more often and focus on particular sts for less time. For teachers and sts, pair work gives them the chance to discuss topics in a more everyday, ordinary communicative situation. 3) Ease with which members of each pair were able to: Communicate: As this was pair work, each st was given ample opportunities to discuss their opinions with a partner. Pair work greatly maximises the chances for output. Relax, feel comfortable: In general, I noticed that sts were quite engaged and relaxed while talking to their close partners. Working in pairs takes off some of the pressure of addressing a big crowd, so some
shier sts may welcome this opportunity, especially if they work with someone they know and feel closer to. Concentrate on the activity: In this lesson, some sts were highly ‘on task’ until the very end - when the teacher wound up the activity. Some girls who sat at the back quickly finished talking and started chatting in L1 about other matters. Perhaps one of the disadvantages (?) of pair work is that it relies heavily on the student’s responsibility and motivation to carry out the task. If the topic doesn’t raise sts’ interest much, they won’t have much to say, and the teacher won’t be there for all the pairs to guide them and sustain their interest. That’s why some sts may finish off soon, get bored, or wander off to a different topic - often in their L1. See the board: In this case, there was no need for sts to look at the board as prompts and useful language were provided in their textbooks. Depending on the seating arrangement, the sts should always have the chance to see the board for useful language available there. See/hear the teacher: The teacher would approach pairs as she walked about the classroom. So every st had (some) moments when they could get full teacher’s attention. However, the only minor difficulty which may have arisen was that, as everyone was talking and the classroom had become noisier, teacher and sts talking to each other may have had some trouble hearing. Work silently: As this was a speaking activity, there was no need to work in silence. The whole purpose was to get sts talking. Pair work will necessarily render a noisier classroom. Be included as an equal member: Pair work provides ample chances for sts to work with their partners in equal terms of responsibility and contribution. In this lesson, it seemed that, as sts worked with their neighbours of choice, I assume they were those whom they got on well with. They all chatted comfortably and in a friendly manner. The only disadvantage may be when one of the partners is more talkative or dominant than the other and may not let the other speak much. That’s why pairing based on friendship tends to be the most profitable organisation - so they feel at ease. 4) Ways of organising report-back (will depend on the form of production required by the task) One member (‘the leader’) of the group presents their conclusions, while the rest of the class can comment on these. If it was a dialogue, some pairs can perform for the class ‘live’. Instead of all the class listening to one or two people, we can make sts move to other groups and presents and compare ideas with their new groups. One advantage of this is that everyone gets more opportunities for talking and participating. A possible disadvantage is that some valuable and / or critical points / ideas / mistakes may go unheard of by the rest. Another risk is that recapping again in groups may render the whole task too long or repetitive - just check how much sts are interested in the topic and enjoying the discussion. If the work lends itself to a written presentation, you may choose to ask the pairs to present the work I written form and pass it round the class for others to assess it. If you and your sts can make use of new technologies, you can propose sts recording a briefing of their discussion or a performance of their role-play with their mobiles / MP3 players and then they can upload it to a (class / personal) blog, for instance. An advantage of this is that everyone can appreciate everyone’s work whenever and wherever they can. On the other hand, some sts may feel reluctant to be themselves or their just voices recorded and to appear online. Here the role of the teacher as reassuring and generating enthusiasm may play a vital role to encourage learners to take up new possibilities. Reflection
Of the various skills covered in this observation, I feel that the three steps (moving into, monitoring, and moving out of pair work) need reviewing in my own practice, but with increasing consideration as the activity moves to the end. For example, as for monitoring, I would like to find better ways through wich I can assist my sts when they work but without neglecting others. As I mentioned before, the time I devote to different sts when they work among themselves usually varies during a whole course: sometimes I stay longer helping, contributing with some sts, sometimes I do that with others. So not everyone gets the same attention every class. But I try to distribute my help throughout. What is more, it’s happened that some sts have welcomed my assistance and wanted to ‘hold’ me for longer time, while others preferred me not to intervene - they felt ‘observed’ and self-conscious. And I can’t help thinking that my rapport with them may have had something to do. It’s very difficult ot have the same kind of relation with everyone, but if that affects how confident my sts feel at doing sth… well, that’s something I’d like to improve… As for the moving out of the activity, my questions have to do with the report-back phase. How to everyone equal opportunities to share with the whole class? How not to linger at this phase? How to make it look as a different stage (with a new and useful ‘flavour’) and not make it sound repetitive?