Tag: project-based learning

Social Class in England: A Video Project with Students

“LANG 801: Advanced British Cultural Studies (Special Topic)”

That’s the uninspiring name of a module I was teaching this summer semester. It’s part of an MEd degree programme for future EFL teachers here in Germany.

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But not to fear – I am always on a mission to capture students’ attention with an interesting ‘Special Topic’ and get them really engaged in the content so they can develop their language and academic skills! Previously, I’ve done “Immigration and Multiculturalism,” “How United is the United Kingdom?,” and “Britain in the 1990s.”

And another thing I’ve started in recent years is getting students to work on a class project with a result that can be shared more widely than just Trier University! We’ve put on an exhibition and written an e-book so far.

This term, my students produced short documentary films, each around 15-20 minutes long, and each on one aspect that influences social class in England. They came up with the catchy title of “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?”

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You can find the videos on YouTube here. Feel free to enjoy them all, and leave a comment or two of feedback for my students!

 

If you want to know about the Whys and Hows, read on…

 

So why do I think projects like this are a good idea?

  • I’m required to assess students on written and oral production – students writing the script and recording the audio for the videos allows me to do this.
  • If students do in-class presentations, it’s a lot of work to then only share with around 15-20 people.
  • In such stand-alone presentations in class, the content is not ‘useful’ for work other students are doing, so they are less engaged as an audience. In the video project, each ‘episode’ connects to other videos, so students actively engage with each other’s work.
  • Students develop a stronger bond to the class and their work, which helps them develop team-building skills such as politely criticising, negotiating, and arranging appointments or deadlines. And they can support each other through the film-making process!
  • It changes the class atmosphere to something akin to a collaborative business meeting and increases students’ sense of accountability.
  • Our roles change – students learn from each other and build up their understanding together. There is little to no ‘teaching’ from me, but I am asked for help or guidance by students – which also means they actually take on board what little I do then say!
  • It helps students develop a whole bunch of critical thinking skills; from finding connections between pieces of information, to drawing out key points from their research, digesting the research into concise reports, and considering the most appropriate ways to present something to different audiences.
  • It allows students to acquire other practical skills that might be useful in their future careers, such as using the filming equipment or video editing software. (We have all of this at the University but it is sadly underused!)
  • I’m sure there are more benefits I can’t think of right now, or am not even aware of!

 

How did I set up the video project?

  • The class met for 90 minutes once a week, for 13 weeks.
  • Weeks 1-2 of semester:
    • I set reading on the topic of Social Class as homework.
    • In lessons, I displayed discussion questions and let students discuss in groups.
    • We started off in smaller groups (~5 students) and by week 3 the whole class (16 students) was sitting in a circle debating together.
    • The readings and questions encouraged them to evaluate stereotypes and models of social class (e.g. Karl Marx), and to investigate the findings of the ‘Great British Class Survey’.

GBCSDuring the discussions, I provided vocabulary or phrases the students were lacking, if asked, and at the end of each lesson, I gave feedback on langauge mistakes I had heard. (I did this every lesson, but won’t keep repeating it in this list!)

 

 

  • Weeks 3-4 of semester:
    • From the previous group discussions, students formulated further questions and aspects they wanted to explore.
    • They individually chose their own homework readings, as preparation for discussions of these new questions.
    • They devised the title “Social Class in England: Is it really all about the money?” and decided on specific aspects they wanted to investigate. Pairs then took on one ‘aspect’ (e.g. housing, education, langauge, consumer behaviour) as the topic for their video, as well as one group working on a general introduction and one on a concluding video.
    • During the discussions, I prompted more analysis by throwing in questions where I thought it would be beneficial or where the discussion got ‘stuck’.
  • Week 5 of semester:
    • In small groups, students began drafting introduction scripts for their videos, highlighting the background that had led them to investigate their specific aspect and the guiding questions for their video.
    • At home, they continued reading and researching their specific topics. (Also continued every week, but not repeatedly listed here.)

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  • Week 6 of semester:
    • We held a peer review session on the written scripts students had produced so far. Students worked with peer review worksheets I provided (see here).
    • We discussed differences between an academic essay and what would be appropriate for a documentary script.
  • Weeks 7-9 of semester:
    • Students gave ‘work in progress presentations’ in their pairs to share what they had learnt so far, and presenters lead discussions to find connections between topics.
    • Some students interviewed contacts / friends from England to gain more insight and check the validity of what they had read.
  • Week 10 of semester:
    • We had a session led by the technician in the University’s video lab to see the equipment available and how it works, and practised using video editing software.
    • Students devised concepts and formats for their videos, such as voice-overs on PPTs, ‘news reporter’ formats, sketches, and so on.

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  • Week 11 of semester:
    • In the video lab, students created a trailer video for the documentary series.
    • Students decided on an opening clip to use on all videos, to ‘join’ them together as a series.
    • Students investigated copyright laws and potential sources of images and video clips they could use in their own videos.
  • Week 12 of semester:Documentary_eflyer.PNG
    • We held a peer review session on the full scripts each pair had produced.
    • Students discussed overlaps and points where they should/could refer to the other videos in the series and inserted these into their scripts.
    • Students designed a basic e-flyer to advertise the documentary series.
  • Week 13 of semester:
    • We held a general discussion about what they had learnt about England and social class over the course of the semester and attempted to connect these insights to their work on other modules (e.g. American culture studies, English literature, etc.)
    • Students discussed self-evaluations and completed the obligatory module evaluation forms.
    • Students submitted the final drafts of their video scripts for assessment and feedback. I gave feedback on a separate form, and corrected language errors in their scripts so that the videos would not include (too many!) mistakes.
  • One month after semester:
    • Students recorded their audio scripts and produced their videos independently, with occasional help from the video lab technician.
    • I created a YouTube channel and uploaded the videos in the order the students had agreed upon.
    • We are now busy sharing the videos and information about the project on social media 🙂

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Writing an ebook with students

Writing an ebook with students

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My students have written an ebook!

You can read it for free here.

From an ELT perspective, this ebook is the result of a semester-long CLIL class, with project-based learning and a real and motivating outcome! If you want to find out how we did it, this post is for you!

Context

Our class was on British cultural studies, aimed at master’s level students of English Studies. This class aims to promote language learning and learning about content, in this case a particular British cultural topic. Usually, students are expected to do one oral presentation and one piece of written work as the assessment for this class. Only the other class members see the presentations, and the individual teacher is the only one who reads the essays, in order to grade them.  I’d say this is a pretty standard set up.

Background

Last summer, a colleague and I revamped our British cultural studies classes to move towards project-based learning. In 2016, our students hosted an exhibition open to staff and students a the University, which you can read about here. It was pretty successful, though the students involved found it a shame that all their hard work was only seen by a limited audience. Of course, the audience was a lot less limited than usual, but that’s what they said anyway…!

And so I came up with the idea of producing an ebook this year, which could then be made available publicly. I had seen other organisations use smashwords, and read about how easy it could be to publish a book through that site, so that’s what I thought we should do. I chose the umbrella topic of Britain in the Nineties for our focus, and 23 students signed up. I provided an outline for the class, which included a general module description, assessment requirements for the module, a provisional schedule for the ebook (to be sent to publish in the last week of semester!), and a selected bibliography of recommended reading on the topic.

Our semester is 14 weeks long, with one 90-minute lesson of this class each week. So how did we manage to produce an ebook in this time?

Weeks 1-3

In the first three lessons, I provided a video documentary, an academic article and a film for students to watch/read as a broad introduction to the topic. In lessons, we collected the main themes from this input (key words here: politics, music, social change), and discussed how they were interlinked. Each week, a different student was responsible for taking notes on our discussions and sharing these on our VLP for future reference. In week three, we rephrased our notes into potential research questions on key topic areas.

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At the end of each lesson, we spent some time talking about the ebook in general. As the semester progressed, the time we spent on this increased and resembled business-like meetings.

Week 4

By this point, students had chosen topics / research questions to write about and discussed their choices in plenary to ensure that the ebook would present a wide-spread selection of topics on Britain in the Nineties. The students decided (with my guidance!) to write chapters for the ebook in pairs, and that each chapter should be around 2000 words, to fulfil the written assessment criteria of the class. Writing in pairs meant that they automatically had someone to peer review their work. To fulfil the oral assessment criteria, I required each writing team to hold a ‘work in progress’ presentation on the specific topic of their chapter. I had wanted to include these presentations to make sure I could tick the ‘oral assessment’ box, and because having to present on what they were writing would hopefully mean they got on with their research and writing sooner rather than later!

Weeks 5 & 7

The lessons in these two weeks were dedicated to writing workshops and peer review. We started both lessons by discussing what makes for good peer review, and I gave them some strategies for using colours for comments on different aspects of a text, as well as tables they could use to structure their feedback comments. These tables are available here. Regarding language, these are post-grad students at C1 level, so they’re in a pretty good position to help each other with language accuracy. I told them to underline in pencil anything that sounded odd or wrong to them, whether they were sure or not. If they were sure, they could pencil in a suggestion to improve the sentence/phrase, and if not then the underlining could later serve the authors as a note to check their language at that point.

In week 5, we looked at different genres of essay (cause/effect, compare/contrast, argument, etc), and how to formulate effective thesis statements for each of them. This focussed practice was followed by peer review on the introductions students had drafted so far. By this point, the students had decided that their chapters could be grouped thematically into sections within the ebook, and so did peer review on the work of the students whose chapters were going to be in the same section as their own.

In week 7, we reviewed summaries and conclusions, and also hedging language. Again, this was followed by peer review in their ‘section’ groupings, this time on students’ closing paragraphs.

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Weeks 6 – 11

Almost half way through the semester, all writing teams were working on their chapters. In the lessons, we had a couple of ‘work in progress’ presentations each week. Further to my expectations, the presentations did an excellent job at promoting discussion, and particularly prompted students to find connections between their specific topics – so much so, that they decided to use hyperlinks within the ebook to show the readers these connections. Some students also used their presentations to ask for advice with specific problems they had encountered while researching/writing (e.g. lack of resources, overlaps with other chapters), and these were discussed in plenary to help each writing team as best we could. The discussions after the presentations were used to make any decisions that affected the whole book, for example which citation style we should use or whether to include images.

Week 12

In week 12, all writing teams submitted their texts to me. This was mainly because I needed to give them a grade for their work, but I also took the opportunity to give detailed feedback on their text and the content so they could edit it before it was published. I was also able to give some pointers on potential links to other chapters, since I had read them all. I felt much more like an editor, I have to say, than a teacher!

In the lesson, we had a discussion about pricing our ebook and marketing it. To avoid tax issues, we decided to make the ebook available for free. One student suggested asking for donations to charity instead of charging people to buy the book.

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This idea was energetically approved, and students set about looking into charities we could support. In the end, SHINE education charity won the vote (organised by the students themselves!) I dutifully set up a page for us on justgiving.com: If you’d like to donate, it can be found here.

 

At this point, we also discussed a cover for the book. One student suggested writing ‘the Nineties’ in the Beatles’ style, to emphasise the links to the 1960s that some chapters mentioned. We also thought about including pencil sketches of some of the key people mentioned in the book, but were unable to source any that all students approved of. Instead, students used the advanced settings on the google image search to find images that were copyright free. A small group of students volunteered to finalise the cover design, and I have to say, I think they did a great job!

Week 13

During the lesson in this week, the ebook really came together. Some of the students were receiving more credit points than others for the class, based on their degree programme, and so it was decided that those students should be in charge of formatting the text according to smashwords’ guidelines, and also for collating an annotated bibliography. I organised a document on google docs, where all students noted some bullet points appraising one source they had used for their chapter, and the few who were getting extra points wrote this up and formatted it into a bibliography.

Formatting the text for publication on smashwords.com was apparently not too difficult, as the smashwords’ guidelines explain everything step-by-step, and you do not need to be a computer whizz to follow their explanations!

Week 14 and beyond

This week was the deadline I had set for sending the ebook for publication. After the formatting team had finished, I read through the ebook as a full document for the first time! I corrected any langauge errors that hadn’t been caught previously, and wrote the introduction for the book.  This took me about 2 evenings.

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Then I set myself up a (free) account at smashwords.com and uploaded the ebook text and cover design. Luckily, the students had done a great job following the formatting rules, and the book was immediately accepted for the premium catalogue! (*very proud*)

 

Another small group of students volunteered to draw up some posters for advertising, and to share these with all class members so we could publicise the ebook on social media, on the Department’s webpage, and in the University’s newsletter.

Et voila! We had successfully published our ebook in just 14 weeks!

Evaluation

I’m so glad that I ran this project with my students! It honestly did not take more of my time than teaching the class as ‘usual’ – though usually the marking falls after the end of term, and it was quite pressured getting it done so we could publish in the last week! In future, I might move the publication date to later after the end of semester to ease some of the stress, though I do worry that students’ might lose momentum once we’re not meeting each week.

The students involved were very motivated by the idea that the general public would be able to read their work! I really felt that they made an extra effort to write the best texts they could (rather than perhaps just aiming to pass the class). This project was something entirely new for them, and they were pleased about their involvement for many reasons, ranging from being able to put it on their CV, to seeing themselves as ‘real’ writers. They have even nominated me for a teaching prize for doing this project with them!

Sadly, one student plagiarised. Knowingly. She said that she was so worried her writing wouldn’t be good enough, so she ‘borrowed’ large chunks of texts from an MA dissertation which is available online. Her writing partner didn’t catch it, and was very upset that their chapter would (discreetly!) not be included in the ebook. He was very apologetic to me; and probably also quite angry at her. If the reason she gave was true, it obviously rings alarm bells that I was expecting too much from the students or didn’t support them enough. I will aim to remedy this in future. It could, of course, just have been an excuse.

Also, some other students reported feeling that this project demanded more work from them than they would normally have to put into a class where the grade doesn’t count. Maybe this is because writing in a pair can take more time and negotiation, or maybe they also felt stressed by having to write their text during term time, rather than in the semester break when they would normally do their written assessments. Overall, though, the complaints were limited and often seemed to be clearly outweighed by the pride and enjoyment of being involved in such a great project!

I’m really pleased with how this project panned out, and would recommend other teachers give it a go! I’m very happy to answer any questions in the comments below, and for now, I wish you inspiration and happy ebook-project-planning! 🙂

 

 

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing student skills through project-based learning

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing student skills through project-based learning

Dr Jenny Skipp

Exhibiting CLIL: Developing Student Skills through project-based learning

My dear colleague Jenny has just held  her first ever presentation at an iatefl conference!

It was a very well delivered talk, with a perfect balance of theory and practical ideas teachers can adapt into their own teaching. It’ll probably be of most interest with young adult learners, and also for teachers looking for ways to stretch their advanced learners. Want to know what she talked about? Look no further, here’s a summary:

Jenny presented a CLIL project she ran with a post-grad British cultural studies class at Trier University (Germany). Cultural studies classes in this context are for advanced EFL learners and thus have two aims – language learning and learning about content, in this case a particular British cultural topics. Making them good examples of CLIL.

Based on Coyle et al’s conceptualisation of CLIL as encompassing four Cs, content, cognition, communication, and culture, Jenny and I devised project-based British Cultural Studies classes, which she then took as the basis of an investigation of the opportunities it afforded for developing language and academic skills.

The project was setting up an exhibition on the topic of the course, which would be open to all staff and students at the University. The students in the course are working at a C1-2 language level. How do you test C2 level?? Jenny thinks an exhibition might be one way.

Previous Culture Studies courses had required students to hold an in-class presentation and write a final essay. We hoped this project would prevent them from only seeing their presentations or essay topics as isolated from what their peers were doing, which we believe was limiting to students in their language acquisition and practice, as they worked on making the exhibition as a collective whole.

Over the course of the term, students had round table discussions in lesson time, gave ‘work in progress’ oral reports on their exhibits in pairs to prompt discussion, and collaboratively wrote a concept paper to present the content and flow of the exhibition. They thus used the language of team work and of exhibit design, and were given feedback on it orally. On the exhibition day we also monitored their interaction with visitors, as they were explaining their exhibit topic to non expert peers and staff from various academic departments. After the exhibition, students wrote short individual essays at end of course.

So, what opportunities were really provided for language acquisition and practice?

Here, Jenny assessed this through the lens of the language tryptic described by Coyle et al. She explained, very convincingly, how studentrs developed…

Language Of Learning – general subject language, which is easily learnt or already known, in this case there were some concrete terms that stuck out to surveyed students- “popular vs mass culture” “identity”, “economic/economical”

Language For Learning – in this category, Jenny saw feedback languages used when evaluating others’ work in progress, language for data collection such as creating interview or survey questions, linguistic analyses, and differing register and synonyms and expressions for describing the exhibition to different visitors.

Language Through Learning– figurative and idiomatic language, new words & how to use them naturally, academic register, and colloquial expressions, were all mentioned by students. But not just specific words, it was also evident that students developed new ways of talking about concepts and their topics.

75% of the students, who were surveyed after the end of the course, perceived good opportunities for topic specific language learning during the term-long preparation, and 82% during the exhibition. And in their essays they demonstrated a noticeable improvement in this and general language naturalness.

Jenny was really pleased to see students talking to exhibition visitors about exhibits – they were seen to be paraphrasing for a non-expert audience, lower level undergrads, or using formal register with more informed lecturers — this ability to adapt language to play around, scale up or down their language to explain their understanding of complex topics to different people would seem to be one way to show C2 level language competence!

Academic skills were trained by this project, too – HOTs that fit into the ‘cognition’ C, with students analysing data from many sources, evaluating & synthesising it to make their exhibition. Jenny found she could tick all the boxes, as it were, of Coonan’s taxonomy. Students also noticed these opportunities for criticality.

Overall, then, it seems that both linguistic & conceptual techniques, and communicative competences  were practised and developed by this CLIL project, as well as cognitive abilities and transferable skills such as collaboration, organisation, teamwork, students perceived this, and demonstrated it in both their exhibition and essays. The final C was also addressed in this project, with students demonstrating expanded cultural sensitivity and international perspective.

This research, and Jenny’s compellung pkug for CLIL, shows that a project as a collaborative event facilitates the use, practice & feedback of language, as well as key skills! Try it yourself!

Slides and materials available from:

Skipp@uni-trier.de

Read more: Jenny Skipp & Clare Maas, Content & Integrated Learning: In Theory and In Practice, Modern English Teacher, April 2017.

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