Saturday, November 25, 2017

What To Do When Students Won't Sit Still and Pay Attention to a Skit

I got this question on email this week about a problem I deal with myself in class as well: what do you do when you're trying to narrate a skit in class with actors and a) students in the "audience" are talking, playing on their phones, not giving you input or participating, etc. and b) the "actors" are more of a distraction than a visual presentation because they also are talking, messing around, not listening to your stage directions or the narration, etc.

In my teaching situation, I have noticed this problem growing worse and worse over the past 8 years or so. With the new generations of students who are coming through our classes, TPRS (or telling a skit) just doesn't work the same way as it used to, 10-20 years ago. I have tried to address this reality, with varying levels of success, in various ways. I think it helps a little bit if you let the class choose the actors because that makes the skit into a little more of a "game." I think it helps if you don't do "circling" (asking 8-10 questions about every statement in the skit right after making the statement) or anything else that drags out the skit. I think it helps if you set up the class routine of skits right away at the beginning of the year and you coach and nag and cajole about how you want them to behave during a skit, first day.

But even with all of those ideas, some days, I just get too frustrated to keep trying to refocus a class that simply can't sit still and pay attention to the skit.

So here is what I do. When I reach that frustration point, I sit the actors down and have the class get out a clean sheet of paper so they can translate the skit. Yes, it's for a grade. Yes, you have to do it if you don't want a zero. I then project the Word document (but you could have copies of the skit prepared in advance) of the skit on my screen, enlarge the font, and set a timer for 5 minutes. "You have five minutes to translate everything on the screen into English on your paper. Go." Then all I do is stand there and tell them what a word or phrase means when they ask. And feel instantly less stressed out. Now they are doing all the work instead of me.

When the timer goes off, I tell them to draw a line so I can see how much they got translated for that section, then I scroll to the next section and give another 5 minutes. We proceed with this process until the whole skit is translated, or until the bell rings. Either way, at the end, I have them count their words. I then base their points on word count and/or whether or not they got all of each section done. (You might need to adjust the timer for a section based on how many "fast" students were able to finish in the five minutes, by the way.)

My TA alphabetizes the papers and I flip though putting points in the gradebook. Done. Next class, we get a fresh start. Either they can focus on the skit and participate, or they can translate again.

Is this the best way to provide comprehensible input? No. Is it a reasonably good secondary way? I think so. Can I preserve my sanity with this backup plan? Yes.

I hope this helps those of you who are dealing with this same issue. Let me know in the comments if you have experienced this and if you have figured out any other hacks!

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