Sunday, October 26, 2014

Florencia Henshaw: Building Accountability into the Task-Based Classroom

by Ann Abbott

Ever had a colleague whose work you admire, whose skills complement yours, and yet your work overlaps and--let's be honest--she so pushes you, too?

I think that's a rare combination. 

That colleague, for me, is Florencia Henshaw.

So when I began to think about my social entrepreneurship for next semester and how I wanted to do a few things differently, it finally dawned on me to ask her for help.

Here is our email conversation:

My question

Dear Florencia,
Una pregunta: since you are teaching [the methods course] in an active way, not just sitting around discussing the readings, how do you know if students are doing the readings or not? I'm trying to think of better ways to build in accountability to my entrepreneurship course for next semester and thought you might have some insights.

Florencia's answer

Hi Ann,

I usually do so in the form of:

a) creating questions/activities based on sections of the readings for their classmates to answer (e.g., "each person gets 1 question about one part of the reading; they need to come up with one more question related to that aspect and then lead the discussion in groups for 5 minutes") 

b) activities I create that make them apply what they have read (e.g., "critically evaluate this activity/textbook in light of the suggestions indicated in this week's reading", "watch this video and indicate how the views expressed in it reflect or not the ideas outlined in today's reading"; "identify what type of corrective feedback this is")

c) questions that go beyond basic comprehension (e.g., "create a dialog between two of the linguist mentioned in the reading, taking into account what each of them believes about language learning"; or responding to misconceptions based on what they now know after doing the reading.)

d) React to what the reading proposes (e.g., pros/cons, things they are not convinced about yet)

e) Quick writes ("Could the suggestions Brandl proposes for teaching vocabulary also apply to the teaching of grammar?" - they wrote for 10 minutes at the beginning of class, I collected them all, we continued with class; then at the end of class, they re-read what they wrote to see if their thoughts had changed after our class discussion)

In all of these cases, I don't review the content of the reading unless I notice some misunderstandings or areas that were not too clear as they work on the activities above. So far, it's working great!  It is never meant to be a "pop quiz" or anything like that. They know they can re-read sections or access their notes. What I do see that I had never seen before in a grad course is that many of them are coming with their own notes and summaries about the readings. I think it's because they know they will need to access the information quickly to do the activities. It might also be that since we have a quiz every 3 weeks, they feel they need to be more organized and keep up with the material more than in other courses. In the vast majority of grad classes, there is only a midterm (if that), and in a few cases there is a final exam, but there is very little in terms of being accountable for the readings throughout the course. Maybe that's just to encourage more learner autonomy: after all, in the real world, you will read whatever and whenever you want... I don't know!

I hope this helps! If you want to talk more about it or see some more specific examples, let me know.


Could you incorporate Florencia's suggestions in your courses? What do you do to build accountability into your courses? How do your colleagues inspire and, yes, even push you?

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