Aligning lead-ins and “lead-outs”

21 05 2015

My last post dealt with a tendency I have been noticing in my classroom observations regarding lead-ins being either used to pre-teach language that should actually be discovered by students or turned into loose conversation activities with no clear pedagogical purpose beyond “just talk”. I also commented that this long time spent on the lead-in resulted in teachers’ having to rush through their lessons, preventing them from dedicating more time to the actual communicative production as a result of the lesson of the day.

This month, I’d like to elaborate on this idea of the “lead-out” and how it can be closely aligned with the lead-in so as to clearly show students what they gained from the lesson of the day. To this end, I’m going to use a lesson I’ve observed recently, with the permission of the teacher.

The outcome of the lesson was for students to be able to use a set of adjectives and adverbs to describe animals. For a lead-in, the teacher had students tell each other if they had pets and which animals they thought made good pets and why. He then showed a video with many animals for students to decide which ones they would like to have as pets and which ones they wouldn’t and also explain why.  The teacher allocated twenty minutes to this lead-in, but students’ production was rather limited because they didn’t have the necessary vocabulary to expand their ideas, resulting in a sort of dragged discussion with some pairs. Students then worked in pairs again to match adjectives with definitions on slips of paper and opened their books to complete a chart with animals and the adjectives they could use to describe them. Next, students listened to a text describing animals and filled in the blanks with the adverbs of the same adjectives they had previously used. After going over the answers, the teacher led students to infer the rule for forming regular adverbs and when they should be used. A fill-in-the-blanks exercise followed. There was no time for a free production activity in which students would be led to use the adjectives and adverbs just learned in an authentic-like task.

In my post-observation discussion with the teacher, he himself recognized that his lead-in had taken an unnecessary amount of time. The good thing was that the lead-in did not purport to pre-teach adjectives and adverbs and it was effective in motivating students for the topic and personalizing it. However, it could have ended as soon as the discussion began to wane or, even better, when the students were still interacting enthusiastically. Why? Because their brains would be ready for learning!

Then we came up with the idea of a lead-out based on the lead-in: the teacher would show the same lead-in video again and now, equipped with knowledge of new adjectives and adverbs, the students would redo the same task – “Let’s talk again about which of these animals would be good pets and focus more on the why, using the adjectives and adverbs we have just studied.” An option would be to add animals to the list, for a greater challenge and to avoid so much repetition. A whole-class reflection would follow, in which the teacher would raise students’ awareness of how their ability to perform the task had changed as a result of what they had learned that day. In other words, students would clearly see learning taking place, that they were now able to do something they weren’t able before.

Lead-outs closely aligned with the lead-in of the lesson allow the teacher and the students to immediately assess if the lesson objectives were reached, by comparing what students were able to do in the lead-in, that is, in the beginning stage of the lesson, and what they can do now. This results in more accountability, for the learning gains are very clear to the students (though it is a fact that there are many other peripheral or incidental learning gains, too). Within this framework, the lead-in should be very short, just to serve its purposes, as stated in last month’s post, and the lead-out should be longer, for students would have the necessary lexical, syntactic, and functional tools to perform the task more effectively and, thus, for a more extended period of time, promoting language acquisition. This lead-out should ideally be the last task of the lesson, so students can go home with this sense of accomplishment. With the tech tools now available, students can even record their production in the lead-in and in the lead-out, so they can  perceive their gains even more clearly!

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