A six-tier cake: an experiment with self-selected learning tasks Eva Kraus-Srebric, Lidija Brakus and Dragica Kentric This article describes an experiment in self-directed learning in which Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was used to establish six levels of cognitive ability. For each level different learning tasks were prepared. Children in four classes in a Belgrade school were then each invited to select the task that the
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    six-tier cake: an experiment with self-selected learning tasks Eva Kraus-Srebric, Lidija rakus and Dragica Kentric This article describes an experiment in self-directed learning in which Bloom s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives was used to establish six levels of cognitive ability. For each level different learning tasks were prepared. Children in four classes in a Belgrade school were then each invited to select the task that they individually felt to be the most appro- priate and to complete it together with others who had chosen the same task. During the experimental lessons, pupils showed enthusiasm and an ability to select their own learning tasks, and to co-operate well in their learning. The experiment described below was inspired by Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, 1956)¹, as well as our own desire to offer more beneficial learning experiences to our mixed-ability twelve- and thirteen-year-old pupils. Briefly, we used Bloom’s hierarchy of educa- tional aims to set up tasks requiring different levels of cognitive processing corresponding roughly to the range of ability in English language learning that we had identified in our classes. I The Material and Teaching with fables at a time when all our efforts are concentrated on Activities teaching language as communication might seem funny, especially to those who know how hard it is to teach anything but a short dialogue in a mixed- ability class of twelve-year-olds. Moreover, fables are not the literature these children would normally read if asked to choose. But we did not decide to use a fable for this pilot study by accident. What we needed was a text which we could give to the five or six levels of ability we have deter- mined among our pupils, for them to work on by themselves. We wanted to plan for each of these levels a different educational aim, with its own learning task and programme. At the same time, we wanted to offer a simple and interesting lesson in which all the ‘ability groups’ would have a chance to participate. We prepared tasks for each ability level according to Bloom’s Taxonomy: the lowest ability level would have the task of memorizing the fable (with the help of the written text and a tape-recording); the second level that of confirming their understanding after reading the fable; the third would have to translate it, or even to turn it into a poem; the fourth would have to write a short analysis; the fifth would be asked to write a summary or to re- organize the text; and the sixth would have to write down their own ideas about (evaluate) the moral of the fable. The fable we chose was a simple one: a monkey had a tummy-ache and everybody laughed at him, with the exception of a budgie, who brought him fruit every day After the monkey got well again, the bird got caught in ELT Journal Volume 36/1 October 98 9 articles  welcome  a trap and the monkey helped the bird to get free. The moral, and even the title, of the fable illustrate the old, well-known proverb: ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’. Having planned the ability groups’ tasks for the period of independent learning, we planned the second period, the ‘presentation period’. We had two possibilities in mind: either pupils would form new groups, made up of representatives from each previous group, and would give five or six separate short presentations; or the groups would choose repre- sentatives or put together their written materials, and would give only a single longer presentation per group. (See the appendix for the lesson plan.) Bloom’s Taxonomy helped us to decide how many levels we would plan work for, but it also gave us a lot to think about. First of all, the lowest level, which might attract very weak pupils, would have a task for which we could not find a communicative aim. We made a list of the advantages and disadvantages of our plan for this ability level, and finally we decided that at least they would be involved all the time, so they would have no time to make a noise or mess around. More optimistically, we hoped they would ‘reinforce’ some of the irregular verbs they should have learnt ages before. We also hoped that this occasion would give some of them a chance to regain their self-esteem, since they would be the only ones who would hear the fable (the others would only read it) and who would know it by heart. In the case of the second ability level, we also had some doubts. For instance, if a pupil only had the ability to understand something in English, would he be able (and should we force him) to write his answers in English? Shouldn’t we prepare questions in the mother-tongue as well? Finally, we decided to prepare different sub-tasks and to allow pupils to choose which- ever they wanted (e.g. drawing a strip-cartoon, answering questions in the mother-tongue, answering questions in English, etc.). Pupils at the third ability level were asked either to translate the fable or to give it ‘a poetic rendition’. As a lot of pupils in our schools deal with poetry and are members of different free activity clubs where poetry- writing is favoured, we expected this task would suit some of our pupils’ needs and ambitions. As for the higher ability levels, we were most anxious that they should be properly catered for. The fact is (as is so often pointed out by educational experts) that most school work is not aimed at anything more than memorization and mere understanding. Even before reading Bloom’s Taxonomy we were aware of moments when some of our pupils achieved the fourth, fifth or sixth educational aim. Knowing some of our pupils’ abilities, we were curious to see how they would perform the tasks (which they would be free to select). The Experiment: After preparing all the material, we carried out the experiment in four what happened classes: three of them consisted of thirteen-year-olds, and one of twelve- year-olds. All had learnt English at school for about five years. Each class contained about thirty pupils. During the experiment there were slight differences in interpretation, depending on pupils’ own choices (in one class, for example, not one pupil chose to do the fourth and fifth level tasks, but all more able pupils did only the sixth level task) and on their approach to the tasks. In the three older classes we did not give pupils the option of drawing a strip-cartoon, and in these classes they all had to give presentations during the second 20 Kraus-Srebric Bracus and Kentric articles  welcome  period, while the younger class gave one presentation per group. Here is what happened during these two periods within the groups: evel one As we expected, pupils who chose the lowest ability level task (just to memorize the fable) were busy through both periods. What we hadn’t anticipated was that most of these pupils completed not only this task, but the second level task too, which means that they understood the fable. They had the opportunity to hear its translation by listening to other groups; however, listening to their own interpretations on the tape recorder, one can realize how seriously they worked. Another point was clear here, too: this work improved the motivation of almost all the weaker pupils, and their self-esteem, too. Knowing that their task was unique, they felt more responsible for it. At a point when some groups were ready to start their presentation, and a group was asked if they could start, they said : ‘We need another minute. We’re mastering the intonation now ’ During the pre- sentation period it was clear that all of them had done the task, and, most important, that the other pupils, who usually do not listen to what weaker classmates say in English, enjoyed their classmates’ success, especially when the group presentation depended partly on the participation of weaker pupils. It is significant that out of 120 pupils only one did not do the task well, and that even a boy whose oral and written performance are rather poor was quite successful this time. evel two The pupils who selected the second level task (to confirm their under- standing of the fable by reading it by themselves) also gave a very interest- ing display: in the class where they were given the choice of either drawing the fable or answering the question, they did both tasks, and, by splitting into pairs, organized their work in a way different from that suggested. During the task they were busy all the time, too. They discussed and even argued before making their final choice. It is worth mentioning that in the cartoon-drawing group there was a child whose English is rather poor, and whose notebook is untidy. This boy is not a diligent pupil, but he par- ticipated fully in the task, doing some sketches for the strip-cartoon and reading his piece during the presentation period without a single mistake. He drew the pictures and wrote the text very neatly and tidily, too Not being offered the drawing task, the older pupils were not attracted to this level. However, they too performed their task quite accurately, showing a better understanding of English when asked in the mother- tongue, and giving much longer explanations than expected. As all the pupils were offered a choice of levels, one of the pupils, who was brought up in the USA and who doesn’t feel at home in Serbo-Croat, chose to do the sixth level task (evaluation). When her paper was written, it showed no evidence of evaluation, just minimal understanding, which indicates that she should have been in the second level group, too. evel three While in the older classes most pupils chose to write the translation, those in the younger class decided to give their poetic version of the fable. They did their work twice. The first time they were not satisfied with their work; then they got together over the weekend and prepared a final version, which they performed during the second period. One of these pupils stammers, and it is interesting to note that the boy did not stammer while reading out his part of the fable. In the older classes only three children decided to give a poetic rendition, and the teacher was very surprised to see A six-tier cake 2 articles  welcome  22 that one of these was a girl whose imaginativeness and creativity she had doubted. But, as a result of the experiment, the teacher found out that the girl was just a shy poetess. As the girl’s performance in English is not very good, this was probably the first time in her life that she had felt at ease in an English lesson. Let’s hope it gives her the urge to start learning English more sedulously. evels four and five Pupils opting for the level four task performed it successfully and all took an active part in the work. In one class they did it unexpectedly quickly and were given extra work (putting a dialogue together), which probably isn’t appropriate to this cognitive level. In the same class, the fifth level group, whose task was to write a summary, performed their task twice. They were unhappy with the first version of their summary, and as they had plenty of time, they rewrote it and made it shorter. They still had some time left, so they were given an extra task-the fourth level task. It is interesting that almost all excellent pupils decided to select this task. evel six Pupils who chose this task explained their own ideas about the fable and its message in a way which pleasantly surprised us. We did not expect that we would get such a good selection of short evaluations, almost on a par with their mother-tongue work, although not in such rich and colourful language. What was very interesting is that in the older classes pupils decided to write their papers in pairs, and thus we got one instead of two papers in some cases. In the younger class, there was not such a variety of papers. The pupils choosing the sixth level task first discussed the topic, and then, after making up their minds what they wanted to write, wrote very short texts, simply explaining the main message, and not going into deeper analysis of friendship and situations when a friend in need is a friend indeed. 3 Conclusions Before deciding on the whole plan, we had asked ourselves what would happen if our pupils underestimated or overestimated themselves in choosing their tasks. As we had decided not to give them any guidance, we simply let them do whatever they chose to do. As it happened, only a few children overestimated themselves, and selected tasks which were too diffi- cult for them. For instance in one sixth level group there was a boy who was not able to cope. He probably discovered this when it was too late to change groups. He would probably have been more active if given the task of confirming his understanding, or even of writing a translation. However, fitting among those who were struggling to write down their own thoughts he was helpless. On the other hand, probably some of the pupils who chose the first level task, and did the second level task as well, should have selected the second right away. However, on the whole we found that our pupils chose their tasks according to their own feelings and estimation of their own ability quite objectively. If we did this sort of work more often, all the pupils would probably find exactly the level at which they belong and would do exactly as much as they could, learning with and helping others, which is the final aim of this kind of individualized lesson. After assessing all the work that we got from these lessons and after listening to the recordings of the class presentations, we draw the follow- Kraus-Srebric Brakus and Kentric articles  welcome
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