September 26, 2013.

Form 9

Text Technology text:   “A  Man of Knowledge” from ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ by C. Castaneda. 

Language aim: speaking skills -  discussion – reasoning and argumentation

Thinking skill – introduction to the problem model- a problem formulation

Background. The students read a part of the text  ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ by Carlos Castaneda and  offer a way how to defeat the first enemy on the way of learning – fear. This was, in my vision, the first step  - in this case it was creating a first draft of the task. I plan to refer to this draft after doing sub-tasks and to evaluate the task.  The coming lesson was aimed at dealing with these sub-tasks.

Activity 1. The teacher. I asked the students  to look back at the text they read at home and try to list the problems  or things we can call problems which they can find /identify in the text . 

– The aim of this task was to show them that they should notice a number of potential problems even if it seems to be one problem, here - the first enemy of the man of knowledge.

The students  either didn’t understand the task or couldn’t do the task, whichever,  they didn’t do the task. The challenge was all there. When it took too long – 3 min and they still didn’t start doing the task, I asked them what the problem/difficulty was.

The students asked for clarification as they couldn’t understand what exactly they had to do. We started discussing what exactly was not clear in the task.

Here are the learners’ questions

- Whose problem?

- What kind of problems? 

 The text is about fear as an enemy of the man of knowledge not a problem. Here I tried to bring them to the idea that ‘an enemy’ is a notion which has  features of a problem. They seemed to accept this and understood the task, at least then they started doing the task.

 My reflection: I didn’t expect that finding examples of problems in the context would have caused so much difficulty. On the other hand I see a good sign that they didn’t start doing the task because they started thinking about how to do the task, while usually I had examples when  they instantly started doing the task without any thinking.

 Another good thing was their questions – Whose problem? What kind of problem should we find? It can mean that they require specification and don’t do the task quickly and superficially as they feel that they don’t have enough information.

My problems:

- How to formulate the task so that it is clear for the students what to do  so that they could fulfil the task

- how  to make it clear what to do and to keep the room for thinking, not giving them too many hints  

Activity 2.  The aim – to formulate their ideas in the form of a problem – to revise the structure of a problem formulation:     Who + wish but who  + obstacle+ explanation. To introduce limitation/specification of the wish so that the problem looks like ‘Who + wish + explanation  but who  + obstacle+ explanation’

Teacher:- Do you remember how we formulated the problem last year?

Students:  Who + wish but who  + obstacle+ explanation  the students recalled the structure)

Teacher:  Can you choose one problem from your list and re- formulate the problem accordingly?

The students did the task and reformulated the problems. Here is the list of problems they offered:

1. he isn’t clear about his objectives

2. it’s difficult to overcome fear

3. Nothing happen to the man if he runs away in fear, but he will never learn.

4. a problem with zeal of M of K he is afraid doing something

5. thoughts soon clash because of the big chunks of what to learn

6. fear can appear in every step of the way

Examples  of problem  formulation

1. A M of K wants to overcome fear, but he can’t, because it’s difficult to overcome.

2. A M of K wants to win fear, but he can’t, because it can appear in every step.

3.  M of K wishes  to learn, but he isn’t clear about his objectives, so he can’t do it (because task isn’t clear)

Reflection time.

Teacher :  What does this way of problem formulation give us?

Students: -The problem becomes clearer -We introduce specification

Teacher:  Can we specify it more?


- Yes we can but we don’t need.

- We can specify who man of knowledge is, why they wish to become a man of knowledge. - 

– we don’t need it because it is evident/obvious.

As the idea of specification of the wish was important for me I decided to show them that the reason for the wish might be not so evident.

I asked each of them to continue the phrase I wish it was summer now because ……

The answers were different

– because I miss warm weather,

-  because I don’t want to go to school,

- because I had more free time,

- because I want to meet my friends more often,…

I tried to show the learners that the answer to the question why a person wants/wishes to become a Man of Knowledge is not that obvious and different people may have different reasons, which in its turn will require different ways of problem solution. Here I wanted to introduce or revise the idea that we can’t solve a specific problem by general methods, that introducing limitations is important for understanding the problem we face.

After the discussion they agreed that we have to specify the reason for the wish.

At the end of the lesson I asked them to think about a very specific problem situation for them and me- they have to do a lot of things  - self- study, grammar home tasks, text home tasks, vocabulary tasks, regular diary writing – but they have not so much extra time.  I asked them to think and to formulate it as a problem.


My reflection.

What to do next?

My difficulties

1. How to go from the problem formulation  Who + wish with explanation why + but + Who + obstacle+ explanation why  to a contradiction form

2. How to introduce if + …. then …

3. How to build It should be ….. and it shouldn’t be …

4. Which of the above to deal with first? Second? Is the choice linear?





# Alexander Sokol 2013-10-08 22:24
I will divide my comments into two parts.

1. Possible reasons for difficulties your learners experienced

As I can judge about the lesson only from your description, it's easy to be wrong but I am thinking that one of the reasons for the difficulties could be connected with the type of text you've chosen. As the text is metaphorical, before learners identify problems, they should read some meaning into the metaphors. This makes the task more difficult. If I were you, I'd have spent some time to ensure that they read the text as a metaphor and worked on possible interpretations (tasks 4.7 and 5.1 in the system of tasks to this text directly deal with the question of metaphorical reading of the text).
Re your questions after the first part (the issue of clarity and challenge), I am not sure I understand it. Why do you need to make it clear for them if you want to challenge them?

2. How can we move from the description of the problem situation to the contradiction?

I'd say that the first requirement here is to make sure that students are interested in solving the problem and feel that they are unable to do it without following a certain strategy. In other words, rules for contradiction formulation should become the strategy they would like to develop at Step 2. For this, you should succeed in 'selling' them the problem at Step 1. At the moment, I am not sure you have, to be honest.

Secondly, before you move to the formulation of the technical contradiction / contradiction of the element (if ..., then + but - structure you are referring to), you need to make sure that the problem has been properly described. The criteria I normally want my learners to come to (their strategy) are as follows:
0.1. WHO / Problem solver is clearly identified
0.2. Wish / aim of the problem solver is defined on the basis of the ENV model, ie CHANGE V1(P) --> V2(P)
0.3. There is a list of specific obstacles that prevent the problem-solver from achieving the aim.
If you look at this list, you will probably see the problem with the formulations of your learners. They are too general as they are still at the metaphorical level (a man of knowledge, enemy, fear, etc.). This is not acceptable.

When you are happy with the result of the above steps, you can move to the technical contradiction. There are a number of ways of how it could be done but the easiest one is probably via a typical solution. We should ask ourselves what is normally done in this situation. If it satisfies us, the problem is solved. If not, it brings us to a contradiction.

I'd just focus on the technical contradiction / contradiction of the element first, without going further if you want them to master the skills of contradiction formulation. If your aim is different, I should probably know your aim before I can comment further.
# Irina Buchinska 2013-10-09 23:26
Thank you Alexander for your comments and advice.

re- clarity vs. challenge, I meant the clarity of the task formulation, so that the learners understand what is required by the task, it is still difficult for me.

re- selling the problem. I would like to discuss it in more detail, as I never considered it really important, as the learners are usually ready to do whatever I offer or ask them to do, but I might be too superficial in understanding what selling the problem actually means, or/and my students might be too superficial in approaching and doing the tasks.

re- the contradiction formulation. I will probably work more on the problem as who+ aim/wish+ obstacle description in terms of its specification first and only then with the contradiction.
Thanks once more.
# Alexander Sokol 2013-10-10 01:14
You are always welcome, Irina :)

Re clarity of task formulation, we probably need a few specific examples.

Re 'selling'. I think that one of the differences might be in the type of motivation your learners have. If a problem has been successfully 'sold', it's normally internal motivation, they want to deal with it.
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