PowerPointing Better

Just last week, I wrote a post about improving my classroom communication by limiting my public speaking.

I was put to the test sooner than I expected.

As my substitute teaching gig continued, one of the provided lesson plans called for presenting two already-made PowerPoints on two different topics in one hour of one class session (the other hour was spent on an in-class quiz).

The thing is, subs really need to stick to the syllabus and provided lesson plan. My job was as much to provide stability as it was to reach the students. This was really not the moment to radically change the content delivery or otherwise deviate far from normal.

But putting everyone to sleep while I droned on wasn’t going to be particularly helpful, either.

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So here’s what I did:

  1. Set expectations.
    I always put an agenda on the board and cross out what we’ve finished. When we got to this last chunk of the class, I explained that we would do a PowerPoint and then practice it… then another PowerPoint with a practice activity. So we had a lot to do in the last hour of class, and we all knew it.
  2. Kept it short.
    Neither was one of those egregiously long PowerPoints, thank goodness. I did make an effort to keep it snappy without rushing.
  3. Kept it interactive.
    I used Think/Pair/Shares and asked for lots of responses during the presentations. The first one was clearly designed with an interactive class experience in mind, so this was easy for me. The second one was more of an information-dump and it was more of a challenge to keep it from being a soliloquy.
  4. Used the whiteboard.
    I wrote down my oral instructions (i.e. “think of two more examples with your partner”). This saved a lot of time and kept people focused. I also used the board to highlight or explain key points from the slides, e.g. the most important signal word, examples of prefixes, etc.
  5. Built in change.
    The plan was that after each PowerPoint, I’d immediately have students move their seats to practice the material in the context of the textbook article they’d read for homework. This was not going to be a solid hour of PowerPoint!
  6. Went meta.
    My assistant teacher knows this course extremely well, and told me that the students’ final project involves making a PowerPoint. She suggested that I point out good and bad attributes of the PowerPoints I was using today. I pointed out some, particularly on slides that were too wordy.
  7. Split into smaller groups.
    Though I presented to the whole class due to prep, space, and tech restraints, I split them up as soon as I could. I numbered them off (1, 2, 1, 2) so that the assistant teacher and I could explain the practice activity to the smaller groups instead of to the whole class. Those small groups then split into pairs and triads to carry out the activity.

I don’t want to come across like I think I taught the perfect lesson. I felt like I was spinning too many plates to be fully present with the class. Despite my PowerPoint vigilance, I did lapse into teacher talk at least once. I also gave my assistant teacher some vague directions and blanked on a couple ways I could have helped several students with general academic issues. Nothing disastrous, but enough that I couldn’t let this post be only about how focused and awesome I am.

That said, I did manage to focus on making the most of the PowerPoints, and I think it made a difference. In the all-class presentations, the students were engaged and answering questions, not passively reading slides. And the practice time made use of small and tiny group interactions to make the content more meaningful and help people stay alert at the end of a night class. I’m really glad it was in the forefront of my mind.

Photo CreditMelissa on Flickr

You’re reading PowerPointing Better, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Journal: Passive Voice

Sorry for the blog hiatus.  We’ve been working on passive voice (i.e. “My wallet was stolen.”) for the last week and a half.  I can’t use the textbook’s materials because this topic is scheduled for next semester, not this one.  However, we needed it now, and they’ll need it again next semester.  So I’ve been working extra hard with no text to lean on, and it’s been wonderful but tiring.

Students: 12

One thing that went well:  Jigsaw reading.  In my attempt to not over-use it, I’ve been under-using it.  This time, I used two readings that were fairly long and hopefully high-interest.  The students read independently and worked on comprehension questions.  Then they got together into two same-story groups to discuss their stories: 1) main idea, 2) new words, and 3) what surprised them.  Then they split into different-story partners and shared about their story using the same three questions.  One or two groups finished early, so I had them compare and contrast the two stories.  That proved quite interesting – I wish I’d had everyone talk about it!  Two particular victories: I didn’t talk much, and it ended our class on an energetic and communicative note.

One thing to improve:  Eliciting student opinions.  I actually do it a lot – that’s not the problem.  The problem is that I’m usually met with ringing silence.  I’m clearly not framing it as well as I could, both leve-wise and culture-wise.

One surprise:  I gave a quiz in passive voice today.  I mostly left transitive vs. intransitive verbs off of the quiz – they’re important, but the class was simply not ready for a quiz on them.  However, I wrote a bonus question asking them to write a passive sentence with the verb “sleep.”  This is a trick queston because you can’t use “sleep” or other intransitive verbs in the passive voice.  My happy surprise?  Several students got it right!  It was very exciting.

Journal: Tiny Class

Students: 9 (sad!)

One thing that went well: Yesterday’s lesson.  And I still had abysmal attendance today.  Although I hope that if I taught horribly my students would stop coming to class, I just really can’t take it as direct correlation between bad teaching and low attendance.

One thing to improve:  Actually, today was pretty good too.  Even in terms of talking too much – I stopped myself several times.

One surprise:  Realizing for myself that English spelling rules for -ed verbs and pronunciation rules are both pretty simple and pretty consistent, but are 100% unrelated.  It’s so crazy!

Journal: The Verb +ed Common Thread

Students: 14

One thing that went well:   Yesterday felt very choppy, but today we were more focused.  We still worked on three different topics, but today the topics were related (-ed vs. -ing adjectives, pronouncing -ed endings, and reading a story that was mostly in the Simple Past).  I also did a much better job of having them practice rather than just talking at them.  One of the topics was in response to a pronunciation question they asked yesterday.  Though it wasn’t perfect (see the next paragraph for more on this), it felt good to teach a solid lesson based on something they asked about yesterday.  So I guess I felt that several things went pretty well today.

One thing to improve:  Although I think the lesson on the pronunciation of regular past tense verbs (think of the -ed in fixed vs. studied vs. interested) was pretty effective, I think I needed to more clearly tie what we were talking about to verbs ending in -ed and to pronunciation (as opposed to spelling).

One surprise:  We were reviewing the difference between adjectives for feelings that are made out of verbs.  There’s usually an -ed form and an -ing form and they mean different things.  Just think of “bored” and “boring.”  To help them practice this, I drew them a picture of me walking up a really long staircase.  I labeled myself “tired” and the stairs “tiring.”  Then I had the students draw pictures and label them.  Half the class did “interested” and “interesting,” and the other half did “embarrassed” and “embarrassing.”  I was surprised at just how useful it was for bringing out questions that solidified their understanding.  I was also surprised at how vehemently a couple of students either couldn’t or wouldn’t draw anything.  Incredibly useful but incredibly controversial.  Very surprising!

Journal: Grammar was driving us crazy!

Students: 13

One thing that went well:  I busted out a grid activity at a good time in our really exhausting grammar lesson.

One thing to improve:  There were so many incredibly picky questions, and most of them were not actually on the topic of our grammar lesson, which was Past Continuous (i.e. Grammar was driving us crazy.).  Transitive and intransitive verbs came up in one of our examples and there went 20 minutes (The chicken was roasting. vs. I was roasting the chicken.).  I did manage to avoid slipping into an impromptu lesson on Active and Passive Voice (I prepared the chicken. vs. The chicken was prepared by me.), but only because I’ve been revving up to dive into it in our next unit.  But anyway… grammar basically engulfed the whole class period.  And this was after I refused to answer half their questions (the Passive Voice ones).  How harshly should I reign things in?

One surprise:  How easy Past Continuous (you know, our official grammar point of the day) was compared to all the questions they were asking.

Journal: Easy Writing and Confusing Computers

Students: 12

One thing that went well:  We’re on our second big writing project, and this one is much easier for the class.  They’re writing letters.  I think it’s more concrete than just an opinion piece, so it’s less nerve-wracking, less academic, and possibly more useful.  Note to self: start with this one next time.

One thing to improve:  I’ve kind of stopped writing the daily plan on the board (i.e. 1. writing, 2. reading, 3. computers), but I think I should start again.  I just think it’s better to give the class a bit of a road-map of where we’re going on a given day.

One surprise:  The computer lesson.  Today’s topic was judging Google results.  I stated the goal (to judge Google results).  I demonstrated.  I checked for understanding.  We repeated the goal together.  The class had a sparsely-worded assignment to refer to.  But it turned out that a few people still had no idea what we were doing.  I discovered this when they emailed me answers that had nothing to do with judging Google results.  Sigh.  I shouldn’t have been surprised – my less tech-savvy students were the most confused ones.  Leveled computer classes, please!

Journal: Comfort Food

Students: 14

One thing that went well:  Today’s long reading was about comfort food.  I think it went well from beginning to end: it started with students’ experiences with comfort food, modeling and practice of figuring out confusing words from context only, and munching the cookies I’d brought in.  The timing of the lesson was pretty good too, and we ended class with a nice, up-beat feeling.  No complaints from me!

One thing to improve:  Making writing less stressful to students.  I’ve been trying with process writing (as opposed to one-shot, get-it-right-or-fail writing), examples, and pointing out my own writing’s shortcomings in said examples.  But I think I need to focus on it even more, especially framing writing stress as something the students can exert a degree of control over.

One surprise:  I thought that a few students in particular would struggle with today’s writing assignment, which was basically to map out the purpose and main points of the letter they’ll be drafting tomorrow and perfecting (inasmuch as writing is ever perfect) next week.  I kept an extra eye on them, so I can proudly report that they did just fine!