So here’s the situation. As of yesterday, I teach a class for a group of students whose previous English grades were among the lowest. In the 10th and 11th lesson of the day—that is from 4pm to 6pm. With a course title “compulsory intensive English revision”. Would you want to attend this class?
So yesterday, I expected the worst. I expected late-comers, frowning faces, and bad moods. I was ready to face the lions in the den.
Instead, my 12 upper class students were awaiting me in front of the classroom early, quietly, and ready to roll! …Ok! I see you!
So we got settled and started right away: In the first couple of minutes, I presented myself, checked attendance (100%), memorized and reviewed the names, and asked them why they are in this crazy class. I decided to do this part in German to make sure we are all on the same page. While we went around the class, it was so quiet—you could have heard us breathing! Then we talked about the format of the class:
- No grades (For fellows, grades are forbidden territory (Thank you!) and competence matrixes my very best friends!) but a shout-out on the next report card!
- Snacks and drink allowed as long as flow isn’t interrupted!
- Phones visibly placed on tables, screens down, used for independent translations and research during class! àIf someone happens to be whatsapping, I better be the recipient! This is no joke. My rationale for this decision is adopted from an awesome, now retired principal from Berlin: all of us live with our smart phones every day. Why can’t school be a place where we learn to use them responsibly and effectively?
These three frames were unanimously accepted.
Next, I distributed yellow and green sticky notes and asked them to take a couple of minutes to write down their doubts and anxieties regarding the class on one and their wishes on the other—anonymously! We collected them in two clouds on the board and left them there for the time being.
We finished the first lesson with our first English activity: a little exit ticket right before the break to 1) check a few vocab words and 2) visualize their self-perception of their English skills. We’ve got work to do!
After the five-minute break, the students returned to three sentences written on the board. “Two truths and a lie” is a popular game to play with new groups, and we played our variation this way: everyone student wrote down three sentences (in silence) about themselves, one by one, they came to the front to present their statements, and then the class guessed which one the lie was by raising their hands with the corresponding number of fingers. Except for one, all students presented, everyone got applause, and everyone engaged in these little dialogues about one another’s pieces of information.
At the end of the class, I switched to German one last time to return to the sticky notes on the board. I read them aloud to show the students that, for example, no one wants to be laughed at when mispronouncing a word. Or that everyone wants to be able to answer more fluently and present on a topic more confidently. And that every single one of them had already overcome one prominent fear: speaking in front of the class.
The class left with chatter and at ease. I left the same way, chatting into my phone, because let’s be real, I was the only person in my car. But feeling this invigorating fusion of relief and excitement left me sensing: this work is important, never boring, and for many more reasons among the most intriguing there are!