Language Sensei

A Language Teacher's Journey

My “Oral” Failure: Assuming They ‘Get It’…And Learning They Don’t…


img_2348We don’t do a ‘novel’ through the course of Year 4. Instead we do a story unit – one in which we read a story as a group (it’s a graded reader story in Japanese) and follow this with a ‘select your own’ story to read. Both the ‘group’ and ‘self-read’ story have presentational pieces and, for the ‘self-read’ story a day where they tell others about the story they read.

But I wanted something that I could evaluate – wanted some sort of component in this whole story time where I heard from them. I settled on the idea of a presentational piece using the ‘group-read’ story.  I struggled to think what this, in a reading unit, could be.. Not sure what to do I purchased a teacher guide for a TPRS story by Kristy Placido to investigate (why purchase? I was looking for insight into using stories but I want the authors to get the royalties that they deserve). I introduced the idea of an ‘oral summary’ that was in the guide. I liked it for what I wanted – a chance to hear students give an oral summary that I could evaluate. Students would have 3 minutes to give the summary using pictures from it as a guide. The operative word in my mind was ‘summarize’. I wanted them to hit the highlights and show that they had grabbed the ‘facts’ and gained some insight into the story. Great idea…I prepared a sheet with pictures from the story…We practiced with partners. We did my favourite Carrie Toth “Yellow Brick Road” review down the main hall of our floor of the school …we were ready.

Until…student number 5.  To be honest I had started to be concerned around student 3…but it wasn’t clear to me until number 5 what was going on. In 3 minutes she didn’t get past the 2nd picture. She clearly understood the story…she gave great detail. So much detail that she was bogged down. She couldn’t get the idea of a summary…because she saw the word ‘detail’ in the rubric and that was what she thought she had to deliver. She thought if she didn’t tell everything about every part of the story it wasn’t a successful summary. And whose fault was that? Who didn’t walk them through what a summary might be? Who didn’t set them up for success? Me. I failed to go over what a summary was. I failed to involve them in discussing how you might summarize something using structures we already knew. I assumed. And I was wrong…

Like all classrooms mine is one of second chances. And I am grateful that there will be a second chance for them. I won’t ‘hear’ this second chance as a presentational oral – but they will – in their self-read story fair day – get to use their summary skills to tell others about what they read. And next time, next year, I will do what I didn’t do this year to set them up for summary success not only in what we do in class to prepare but also in the rubric that describes the goals of the activity – a link to my new and improved one is here.

What did I learn? Never assume they get it. Never ever give a brisk “and this is what you will do” and leave it at that. Check in with them. Help them. And above all, set them up for the success you want them to have. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing that their inability to do something that is directly caused by what you did, or didn’t do in the set-up. Lesson learned…


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