In last week’s Cooking Show I described my first stumbling steps into the world of video production with my students. In spite of the shortcomings the experience did whet my appetite for more activities like that in my classroom., and I decided to do something similar with my older students in the German class.
In Finland we have a somewhat complicated language situation, something we have in common with several other European countries. First of all we have two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, both very “small” languages spoken by an extremely small portion of the world population. My students’ L1 is Swedish, and their L2 therefore Finnish. Their L3 is English, also mandatory for all students in the Finnish schools – both their L2 and their L3 are studied to the C1-level according to the European framework of references for languages. Additionally they have the option of an L4, which is either French or German. In recent years Spanish, Japanese and Chinese have been introduced into the language buffet for L4 or L5, but they have not reached a popularity to threaten the position of German and French, at least not yet, and definititely not at the school where I teach.
That year our full-time German teacher had taken a year’s sabbatical and I took over a lot of his classes. One of those was a large group of freshmen at our senior high school who had opted that year to start their German studies. They were not absolute beginners – they had about 40 lessons of German behind them – but they were definitely not fluent in the new language.
The text we would start working on that week was about hobbies, and I thought maybe we could do something with that. I would still work with the groups-of-three model but the roles and the situation would be different from the cooking show-scenario.
This time the students were supposed to be working as TV-reporters for an online youth magazine, and sent out to interview young people about their hobbies and leisure activities. The first stage in the process was to come up with questions to ask – they had just learnt how to use interrogative pronouns so this would be a good opportunity to practise for real. According to my guidelines they had to find out what the interviewee’s hobby was; how it was practised and what equipment was necessary; where this hobby of theirs took place; when, how often and with whom, as well as the reasons why they had chosen this particular hobby. As everbody had to interview somebody at some point they all had to work on these questions before they got down to the particulars of planning the video production and worked on the answers in their respective groups.
The group work was rather complicated because here they had to decide on the roles for each particular video, they had to decide on a hobby, discuss it with the others and refine their questions that hitherto had been construed on a pretty general level. This time they were free to choose the locations themselves, and they did not have to remain in the classroom for this pre-video stage – they could work in the school library where they had access to German dictionaries, or in the hallway or in the cafeteria. Or they could simply remain in the classroom. As it happened, nobody chose the last alternative – they scattered in all directions and I remained alone in the classroom, which surprised me somewhat. The curious thing was that I did not remain alone for long – as the teamwork took off there suddenly seemed to be high level of motivation and engagement for the task at hand, and there was a steady stream of students literally running back to the classroom to ask me for help with words or phrases in German, something I was more than willing to assist them with.
In the cooking show activity I did not really venture on anything more elaborate than plain shooting with their own cell phones or digital cameras. This time around I was more ambitious and “adventurous” as I opened the possibilities of editing of both sound and video clips, inserting stills or external video clips, still using their own mobile equipment with the software addition of Movie Maker Live or iMovie. They could also use voice-over or music and add captions or subtitles if necessary. The main thing was that they had to respond to the task: working as a real life TV-reporter and interviewing young people about their hobbies. Language errors or mistakes were of no consequence – the main thing was to make themselves understood and to communicate successfully.
The result was beyond my wildest expectations. There were as many different approaches to the task as there were groups in the class. In this eight-minute video, for example, Fanny Forsén, Ida Voutilainen and Lizette Krooks have made all three interviews into one coherent drama play with extra touches of humour and real life activities like making coffee and offering that to the visiting reporters.
Among the other contributions, I was also surprised to find we had a big rock star in class, one who wants to be anonymous at this point, but who made a great impression on me. Just a matter of time and we’ll see him among the other great stars on TV.
In the debriefing stage after the project the students got to evaluate the whole process and they were overwhelmingly positive about it. They had never done anything like it before, but they would definitely jump at the chance of doing something similar again – and in other subjects as well. As a teacher I was happy to write it all down as a success, too. The students had used all language skills – they had written, read, spoken and listened, and they had learnt a lot of new vocabulary and had demonstrably communicated successfully in their newly acquired L4-language. The students showed high-level engagement and motivation throughout the process, and it was a joy to observe them working together on each other’s texts and practising their lines.
Even though this idea was realised in German, it works fine in any language classroom, and I can’t think why it couldn’t take place in the ELT classes with younger (or older) students, as well.