Essential Agreements in an English course

Friday, a beautiful, warm evening and some motivated students meet for their twice-a-week, compact English course.

It’s the second meeting and my plan for them: Establishing essential agreements. What are those? Read about them here¬†and over at What Ed Said’s blog. In a nutshell, they are agreements related to attitude, behaviour and treatment that a particular group establish, usually when they get together for the first time.

In the past I have established essential agreements with my primary grades, and it was the first time I have done this with an adult English course. It was supposed to engage them and to make them feel more connected to the course. I don’t want the participants to feel like this is a 4 week course to just get over and done with. I want it to be an experience, I want them to want to come back. I want them to learn, and I want them to own their learning. Just like I always do…

The level of English is probably pre-intermediate (some have a better grasp of the language, some less so), so this provided a good opportunity to look at the situation and vocabulary of discussing and consensus-finding. I provided some basic phrases and words they might find useful in their discussion and then followed some simple steps:

1. Discussion about negative experiences regarding learning. Every participant thought about their previous experiences and got to talk about the “bad stuff”. They then shared their ideas with the whole group.

2. Making the negative positive: We then created positive situations out of the negative statements.

3. The participants got together in small groups to consider important agreements.

The time just flew by. They talked and talked. They enjoyed it, as their exit cards showed. And now we have agreements that will make the remaining 6 sessions a delight!

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Learning English… a slightly different way

One of the classes I teach is a compact course, meeting twice a week for 90 min. Currently there are 14 participants, which makes it the biggest group I teach. The official title is “English for active people” and the course description makes it obvious that the course is open, not related to any text book, an overview of grammar and fun.
The course is run at a state-funded adult education center, the German Volkshochschule.

When I interviewed for the position as English teacher, I made it clear that I am not too keen on text books and “boring” classes. I didn’t know they had already, in their minds, matched me to this particular course.

The first session was on Tuesday. I was expecting 17 participants, 14 showed up. And I was nervous. I had planned the lesson in some detail, but what can you do when you don’t know the level of English of your participants, their needs and, well, them personally? I like to think of myself as someone who thinks on their feet a lot, which makes such beginnings much easier.

But I quickly noticed that I wouldn’t be using the book I was offered to use. I also saw myself applying all those teaching strategies that I used in PYP schools or experienced in PYP workshops myself.
The thing about using “different” teaching styles with adults is… they might not be comfortable. I am glad my class reacted mainly positive, and I hope they will find the course useful and exciting. Without the text book, without the sitting at desks and filling out gaps in texts.

Here are some of the things we did in our first session:

  • Find someone who: It was a way for me to see how the participants form questions, but also a way for me to avoid them sitting down and waiting for the class to start. They got to walk around and speak to each other before the class even officially started!
  • Ice breaker: Speed dating … The participants got to speak to everyone in the room for 1 min only. It was a great way for them to get to know each other, and for me to listen in.
  • Goals: I was curious about their needs and wishes, so in groups they brainstormed their reasons for attending this course and wanting to learn English.
  • Exit Cards: Reflection is important, and so is feedback for me. In this session, the topic for the exit cards was: Why am I here/My goals for this course are/My expectations
The first session was a real success. The exit cards allowed me to get a good overview of what the participants are expecting. Some feedback suggested that I speak English only, and that we establish a “no German allowed” agreement, which makes me think that the next session could include essential agreements as well.

A new adventure

It has been ages since I blogged. So here is a short update about what has been going on.

I left Italy and my amazing position at an amazing international school in Italy for personal reasons and since February have slowly been starting to work again in Germany.

My current positions are a mix of temporary and more permanent assignments and include:

  • Teaching/supporting primary school children with immigration backgrounds
  • Teaching/supporting potential school drop-outs
  • Teaching English to adults (mainly business English)
  • Teaching English to adults (General/big group)
That keeps me very busy. The other day I was offered a much better, amazing position as well though. It fits my interests much better, even though I love working across the board in education. Watch this space for more information.
As far as the variety of work goes, it has shown me how transferable skills are, and how “old-fashioned” even the most progressive places can be. Having worked in IB PYP schools for the last 2 1/2 years, and a similar school in Berlin before that, I am struggling to accept that some schools still rely so heavily on worksheets and books. So I am ready to challenge.
So, ready to blog again, to reflect, learn and move forward in my journey through education!