Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Survey Says

I have been doing the same lesson back-to-back in my first grade classes the last two weeks. Well, it isn't the same lesson, per se, but the same activity--a survey of habits and preferences of other students in the class.

Each team has to create three survey questions about their specific topic, then spread out and find their classmates' opinions, habits, preferences, etc. I give them a form, thus:

Curiously, there are a few difficulties with this form, experienced by more students than I would like to admit: 1) writing their questions along the slanted lines--some students ignore the lines and write horizontally; b) trying to fill in the answers to the three questions going down a column, rather than across a row (??!); 3) writing their own name repeatedly in the space labeled Name. So I have created a mock-up version to illustrate how to complete the form. In fact, I have a whole notebook filled with mock-up versions of different hand-outs for my lessons.

Each team is given a specific topic related to the general unit topic. for instance, last week we finished the cell phone chapter, so topics included: game-playing; camera; parents/punishment/restrictions; statistics. This week the subject is food, and topics include fast food, genetically modified foods, Youngil school lunch, snacks, cooking, etc. My classes have 40 students, or ten teams of four, and thus ten topics, but you get the idea. The co and I move actively from group to group helping them with their questions. Then they spend ten to twelve minutes going around the classroom, asking their questions and answering other students'.

At least, hopefully. Korean students have a real desire to please the teacher, which means to them completing the worksheet. If there are twelve slots to fill in, they must fill in ALL twelve slots. They know it would be impossible to do this in twelve minutes by speaking their questions in English, waiting for their classmate to process and answer the questions, then understand the answers and write them down (which is exactly what I want them to do), especially if they than repeat the process in reverse.

So they tend to do two things which utterly defeat the purpose of the activity, no matter how strenuously and clearly they told NOT to do them: a) give their survey paper to the other person, let him read and write his own answers (see, they read and write English quite well--they just can't speak and listen. That that fact is why they have this class doesn't seem to register with them in their zeal to complete the assignment); or b) read it in English once, then translate into Korean for the sake of expediency.

During the last phase, they return to their groups, combine the data and calculate the results; to wrap up, I ask each group a question to see what they learned about the class's food preferences, like: "Team I, what percentage of students think the school lunch service is delicious?" and "Team A, what is the favorite fast food in this class?" For MI Theory practitioners, this is the opportunity for the math/logic intelligence to shine.

The class survey, pretty good lesson idea. It's not perfect--I don't yet have any lessons that are. It provides a focused, student-generated opportunity for conversation. It requires both teachers to actively listen and relentlessly correct during conversation, which makes it quite tiring.

But you learn things. For instance, very few students admit to having "self-pics" on their cell phone, and ice cream is easily the most popular dessert food among my students. Also about 70% are happy with the school lunch program, a turn-around from two years ago, when we ditched J & J Catering for Dongwon Food Service.

The funny thing is, Dongwon was so much worse, the situation became such that the faculty lunchroom was deserted because everyone left campus for lunch. Now, they have J & J back again, and people seem far happier.


George Bailey Sees The World! said...

I love this lesson, too. I must say though, your students seem to be much more self-motivated than mine. It's interesting to know though that you have the same challenges I do in terms of students cutting corners to complete the task. I have seen so many open classes where there is a portion of the class set-aside for students to roam-about the room or simply circle their team tables asking and answering each other in English. This usually lasts until a teacher is out of ear-shot, and then, you're right... purpose defeated.

Charles Montgomery said...


The amount of ideas I've stolen from you and repurposed for super-talented English speakers?

Just went up by one!