On 16 March 2018 we – Shirin Ud-Din and Isabell Kaemmer – invited all the English teachers as well as the “Non-English” teachers from Ban Phang Heng Secondary School and Ban Sikeud Primary School to our workshop “Techniques of Teaching and Learning”. As many teachers were sick on that day, we offered our workshop again on March 26 and 27 so that every teacher had the chance to participate.
Our main goal was to introduce new teaching techniques that focus on the start and the end of a lesson. Through our teacher training at the University of Education in Karlsruhe, we were made aware of the importance of good ways to start and end a lesson, and we wanted to share this insight with our Lao tandem-teachers.
We organised our workshop as cooperative learning, which means that the teachers had the possibility to try out the techniques themselves that we introduced to them. Therefore, we prepared diverse teaching material so they could experience the effect of the techniques for themselves directly in the workshop. We offered five different techniques for them to test with our guidance.
The workshop was also structured according to the “Sandwich Principle” (developed by Diethelm Wahl, a German psychologist). This means that in a lesson (or workshop) the teacher’s presentation(s) and the individual and collective work done by the pupils constantly alternate. Just as a sandwich has different layers, so does the lesson: A variety of teacher-oriented phases and learner-oriented phases with added changes between individual and collective work.We explained the idea and then showed how it works by doing it thoughout our workshop.
All of the techniques we introduced and carried out are based on Wahl’s book on how to design successful teaching and learning scenarios.¹
the workshop with our agenda gave the teachers an overview of the content of our workshop.
First, we asked them
how they usually start a lesson and which techniques they might know from their participation in the project so far. After two minutes we summarized the contributions of the teachers on the whiteboard: A lesson can be started with questions, pictures, mind-maps, videos, or music, for example.
The first technique we tried out with our tandem-teachers was the sandwich principle. The constant change between teacher presentation and phases of activities and tasks for the pupils – carried out individually, in partner work, or in group work – guarantees a varied lesson as well as motivating and activating the pupils. The sandwhich principle also ensures that the content is continually revised throughout the lesson. The deepening of the content is the goal of this technique, as is the use of different strategies of learning.
Before presenting our very first technique, however, we conveyed the importance of a good lesson start by introducing the “Agenda”. An agenda is a written plan of all topics that are going to be covered in the lesson which is announced by the teacher at the beginning of the lesson. After showing the example of the agenda for our workshop, we talked about the main goals of agendas generally. At the same time, we also addressed the challenges regarding the implementation of this technique in Lao schools: More often than not, there is no time or “no time” to write an agenda before a lesson. Lesson preparation time does not seem to be included in the overall workload, or if it is, then other things will turn up to fill that space. On the other hand, we drew attention to the fact that teaching can get more effective when the pupils are confronted or activated by the goals of a lesson and they also know what will come up during class. It raises their curiosity!
The next technique we tried out together was the “Structure Application Technique”. With the help of prepared fragments, the teachers were asked to construct a logical structure on the topic of teaching techniques. Every pupil gets 15 to 20 fragments with words that are connected to one topic. Each student will work on their own to create a structure that makes sense for them. When all pupils finish their structure, they can explain it to the others. As there are up to 60 pupils in a Lao classroom, we recommended to split the class into 5 groups. The technique is not about having only one answer or solution, it is about constructing a structure of one’s own ideas. In the end there should be connections between words so that you can see and understand the set structure. By using the structure application technique, contents of past lessons can be explained again, but it can also be used for collecting ideas for a new topic.
Another nice technique to start a lesson with is the “Partner Interview”. It is an interview between two pupils who ask each other pre-formulated questions about a topic that was discussed before, or a text that was read in a previous lesson. First, the pupils answer half of the questions alone, so there is partner A and partner B who answer three questions each, and when both have finished, they will meet up to start the interview. In the EFL class we call this a “gap-filling activity”. Both A and B become “specialists” for their questions and are responsible for taking care that their partner understands the content. At the end, both pupils should complete the other half of the questions individually, after having been instructed by their partner. This leads to an atmosphere that is comfortable for the pupils and makes learning more interesting and effective.
Another striking benefit is that the social competence is strengthened, too. Our tandem-teachers tried out a pre-set partner interview after reading a text about a music club, and they really liked the interview because they experienced that they understood the text better with the help of their partner.
As a last big topic we talked about the end of a lesson and how the teachers could design it. Ending a class should be used to revise and “secure” the content, and to open a space for questions. For this, we introduced three techniques.
The first technique was the “Small Basket Technique”, in which questions or key words that are based on the teaching content are placed in a basket. Every pupil draws one fragment out of the basket and gets at least two minutes to think about it. Then every pupil presents what comes to his or her mind when he or she thinks of his fragment. This way the whole content of the lesson is presented once more, this time by the pupils through their joint presentations. Our audience tested this technique based on the text they had read before. They got key words like “orchestra”, “violin”, “instruments”, “play”, “exciting”, etc. and had to think them over. In the end the whole content was reproduced.
The main goals of this technique are the repetition of the lesson content, the joint development of knowledge during the lesson, and the overview of the content. However, in a Lao class with 50 to 60 pupils this would take forever, so we recommended to split the class into at least five groups so that the last minutes of a lesson would suffice for this technique. On the other hand, this means bringing 5 baskets and 5 sets of word cards to class. Seeing as as Team III installed a Didactics Room at Ban Phang Heng Secondary School exactly for this purpose last year, everything could be prepared there and could be re-used and shared between the teachers.
The last techniques we introduced were the “Traffic Lights Method” and the “Wish Marble”. The traffic lights method enables the investigation of the level of knowledge of the pupils by asking them questions about the lesson. Every pupil gets three traffic light cards in the colors red, yellow, and green. Again, it is time-consuming to prepare the cards, but the teachers can create the material together in the Didactics Room, where it can be stored and re-used for many years and in many lessons. What works well, too, is the use of colored pencils, which the pupils mostly have in their pencil cases. Teachers who cannot create or buy their own material can ask the pupils to help make it, and they should then also make sure that the pupils have a safe place somewhere at school to store it.
During this technique the pupils will find questions on the blackboard, on a worksheet, or in a power point presentation, with three possible answers, which are shown in the colors red, yellow, and green. After the teacher sets a count-down, the pupils must decide which answer is correct by showing the correct color. This technique promises fun as it is checks knowledge in a playful manner. We suggested to our tandem-teachers that they could maybe use this technique before the “monthly test” so that every topic for the test can be repeated in an enjoyable way.
The wish marble, on the other hand, is an emotional ending of a lesson because it strengthens the bond between the pupils. One pupil gives a marble to another pupil with a wish for him or her for their future, and this continues for a while. The pupil who gets the marble at the end of the lesson may keep the marble as a lucky charm and can remember this moment whenever he or she sees the marble. Since we know that there are no marbles in Lao schools we recommended using stones or shells, which the students can also color individually later, maybe in their arts class. The teachers came up with the idea to use this method in graduation classes on their last school day to remind the graduates of their time at school. In this case there should be one stone/marble/shell for each pupil, of course.
As we wanted to know if our tandem-teachers understood the content of our workshop, we also ended our workshop with the traffic lights technique. The teachers were very enthusiastic about trying out this method and had lots of fun answering our questions. We were all agreed that this was the perfect way to end our workshop with our Lao tandem-teacher-friends.
Text by S. Ud-Din & I. Kämmer & I. Martin
Photos & video by I. Kämmer, S. Ud-Din & S. Walschburger
¹Wahl, Diethelm (2013). Lernumgebungen erfolgreich gestalten: Vom trägen Wissen zum kompetenten Handeln. Bad Heilbrunn: Julius Klinkhardt Verlag. This could be translated as Designing Learning Environments Successfully: From Lethargic Knowledge to Competent Action.