Monday, November 30, 2015

Funnies for a Monday

Something else -- non running

The one where I talk about something else besides running…

power of teaching

Leaving Classroom South this morning after teaching my Extensive Reading IEP course at GSU,  I went out the side door and stumbled across some young folks experimenting with soda bottles. Being the sucker for experiential learning and kids that I am, I stopped to ask the one adult I saw present what was up. We don’t usually have kids this young on GSU’s campus. I caught a glimpse of her name tag. Her name looked familiar; her face looked more familiar. Couldn’t place where I knew her from, but I kept talking. I was probably nervous rambling, but it energized me to see high school youth teaching elementary youth about carbonation and such — while watching bottles explode, so I kept talking. I figured out that she was a former teacher from Fernbank Science Center, the STT program in ninth grade. I mentally told myself that she isn’t going to remember me from that, then I remembered the independent study neuroscience class I took with her my senior year. She wasn’t going to remember me from that either. I told her I was an alum of STT and her face lit up. I didn’t tell her about the other class — she asked what I was doing now. I sheepishly told her I am an English teacher andApplied Linguistics MA student at GSU. She smiled and tried to make me feel more comfortable. I think she said “I consider linguistics a science” and mentioned that her neighbor worked in my department. I left the conversation awkwardly at this point, but I had so much more I wanted to say.
I wanted to tell her, “thank you” first of all. I’m bad at things like this. I wanted to tell her I still have my electron microscopy pics of the pig’s heart cells I took in her class at Fernbank Science Center. I wanted to tell her also that I gained an appreciation for attention to detail by doing assignments such as these and having these experiences. I wanted to tellher how much about the brain I learned in her class in 12th grade, and how much about headaches I learned during her research project and how much self-confidence I gained during the presentation I did in her class even though I hated presentations. Then the memories started flooding back. She told me that I was too quiet once (those that don’t know me from HS don’t know that I was painfully anxious). She told me senior year that she didn’t think I had much to say until started interacting on the message board — I’ve always felt more comfortable expressing myself in writing. She told me that “I finally came alive” I think were her words. I wanted to tell her that I’m not actually as dumb as she thought I might have been back then, and how much more reflective I have become. Hers was the first class with an online component I took, ever, in my life. Back in the days of WEBCT. I’m dating myself now. But that medium made me realize that I could contribute — even if I didn’t want to talk in class. Hers was also the first elective class I took in the sciences — after my failed AP Biology fiasco that same year. She gave me faith in myself again — in learning at my own pace. I saw a human brain for the first time!
When I think about it now, so much of that year shaped who I am today, as corny as that sounds. Even though I rejected a career in the sciences, I didn’t reject a career in education — even after many trials and tribulations. Many of my beliefs about education and exploration (of language or other subjects) came from that year — and her brief class in neurobiology. When I think about it, I became an elementary teacher because I wanted to instill the love of discovery in young children. I wanted to share my delight in learning new things by experience with them. I do it at my pace, and I wanted to make sure that they understand that learning at one’s own pace is the right thing to do, despite what society tells them.
I guess I’m writing about this experience today because it solidified for me, why I’m doing what I’m doing.

To the future teachers of world: your voice makes a difference. Your actions make a difference. If I can remember something small from 20 years ago from a teacher I saw maybe twice in a month, that’s the power of a teacher. You have such incredible power — use it for good. Your students may hate your subject, show that they hate you because of it, be quiet because of crippling insecurity, but regardless, they are taking it all in. You just never know what it is they are taking in, and you may never know. Dr. Fiore will never know (unless she reads this blog post) what went on in my head after my interaction with her this morning, but and I will just have to live with that. She was simply doing what she loved, back then, and now.

As I move through this journey we call life, I realize my world gets smaller and smaller. Even more so with the internet. I have the power to google her name. I have the power to learn that she has since moved on from Fernbank, to become a science methods instructor for early childhood in the College of Ed at GSU. But what does that tell me really? That we have more in common with each other than I previously thought? Why does that help? 

These are just some thoughts of mine…

This experience got me thinking, too, about my Science Methods course during undergrad. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough. It’s so hard to find teachers to teach these courses, and Jamie (can’t remember his last name) got us thinking about ways to engage young learners with experiences, not textbooks. It got me thinking about how he was really an artist at heart — and how I ran into him years later at the art festival in Piedmont Park, doing what he loved.

Have you ever had such an interaction? Have you ever had a teacher shape your thoughts and experiences in ways you didn’t know until years later?

Tell me about it! Comment below!

That Spells DNA by Jonathan Coulton

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What I'm Proud of This Week...

Besides making it to the end of another week. These are down about 20 minutes from last year's race.

Greetings from AmeriKitty!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reflection on My Classroom Based Experience Teaching Summer 2015
16 weeks, 6 hours per week = 96 hours

You also write a reflection on your teaching, starting with background info on where you’re teaching/ your students/ what you’re teaching, and then getting into reflection. You might reflect on any challenges you faced and how you dealt with them, how you applied something you were learning in your graduate classes to your own classroom, anything you did that you were particularly proud of, etc. It only needs to be a couple of pages.

The last 16 weeks I’ve spent teaching in a non-profit community-based ESL program called SPEAK, Inc. located in the education buildings of Victory World Church in Norcross, GA. SPEAK is an acronym (I didn’t know this until two weeks ago; I’ve been teaching here for a year) that stands for Serving People with English and Acclimation Keys: The director is a church member and the wife of a pastor at the church. Not being a religious person, I was wary going into this position but quickly found out that there was nothing to be afraid of. Both the director and the night directors have degrees in Applied Linguistics and are very much interested in making the lives of immigrants in Atlanta better with English instruction among others. It’s very much a growing organization. The first class I taught for this organization was entirely volunteer and several teachers that were there before me taught on a volunteer basis for two years. They have just recently reached a point where they’ve had enough students to be able to pay their teachers $18/hour.  Students that join these classes do so on a temporary basis, and pay for either a 7 week session or a 5 week session. Before now, they have only had the option to register for an 8 week session, and for the past two weeks, I have been teaching introductory students for 8 weeks (with no prior English classroom experience) and high intermediate students for the last 8 weeks.

The organization as a whole has also changed textbooks and resources over the year I’ve been there. I’ve gone from teaching with STAND OUT (a very skills-based curriculum) to teaching with Cambridge Interchange curriculum (a very academic curriculum.) Most students are church members not interested in matriculating at a University but improving their everyday, functional English either for a more fulfilling personal life or for a better job. Most were highly skilled professionals in their home country but because of English proficiency were forced into a life of manual labor or low-paying jobs (or both!) I was taking the Approaches course at the same time I was teaching these 16 weeks and I was able to apply much of what I was doing in the classroom to what I was learning from Dr. Lauren. She’s a FANTASTIC resource for new teachers! The most important phrase I took from her class was the idea that “Learning is Becoming.” I don’t think anyone has ever really made me view learning like that before and it was a refreshing change. I know I will continue to collaborate with her as my career progresses as I am very interested in the process of academic writing and the idea that “writing is teaching” and how that relates to teaching ESL learners. I was also taking the technology and language course during this period but because we are such a new program we had no access in the classroom to any of the technologies we talked about in class. I don’t have a computer for every student (I bring my laptop to class to show videos and play listening clips.) I don’t have access to a corpus of language. That is far too academic for the students I was teaching this summer. I really liked that each class was 6-10 people large. I didn’t like that I never knew who would show up on any given day of class. (I am quickly learning that this is more of the norm in adult ESL programs of this nature.)

I also really struggled with my beginning class. All of these students were Spanish speakers and this allowed me to rely heavily on my own L2 knowledge. Most have been living in Gwinnett County for over a year (some 5-10 years) and I remember thinking that this really was an EFL class because it’s entirely possible to live in Lawrenceville, GA and never communicate in English except when you come to English class.  It was the first group of beginning students and I didn’t know until 5 weeks into an 8 week class that 5 of the 10 students I started with had never had formal English classes before in their lives. Most of my students were learning English for the first time in their mid 40s! One of the things we talked about in Approaches class was the sheer difficulty of learning a second language after age 18. I struggled with Spanish at 15, 16, 17 and now as an adult I continue to struggle with acquiring Spanish vocabulary as a native English speaker. One of the other things I took away from Approaches is the importance of vocabulary acquisition in learning a second language at the beginning stages. I had a Spanish teacher this session also; he said that you can speak Spanish effectively and be intelligible and comprehensible without knowing grammar, but the more vocabulary you know the more you are able to talk about. This is an idea that shaped my teaching in my intro class. My focus turned from the textbook I was given to teach from to vocabulary 24/7. I love the Interchange book for grammar, but when it comes to intro learners it really is not a great fit, at least not for MY intro learners.  I found myself creating much of my own materials and relying on the way I was taught. (This is the other main topic that I learned with Lauren is that teachers always default on the way they were taught when planning and prep fall short -- which it always does in community programs!) Much of my teaching was teaching strategies on how to acquire English vocabulary, and yes, I used the ones I used to acquire Spanish vocabulary in high school: Label your home. Index cards with L1 on the front and L2 on the back. Pictures labeled. Notebook paper folded in half with L1 and translation on the other side. I taught all of these and modeled how I did it to learn my L2. I gave vocabulary quizzes. After all, you can’t really communicate in your L2 without knowing the word for common objects, and at an intro level I think this was a good use of our time in the classroom. I just don’t know if it was the best use of our time. I know I am teaching in a post-method era and this is one of the hardest elements of teaching in this field. This class taught me patience, and the idea that it’s OK if we don’t make A LOT of progress but going slower is OK if it gives your learners a more positive association with learning English over 40.

The high-intermediate class different. This class started with 6 students and was quickly reduced to 3-4. The mobility of ESL students will never cease to amaze me! Never was this class the same group of students over a week. These students had work commitments and family obligations, so their motivation for coming to English class was a little lower than the beginners I taught. This class had Spanish speakers but also a married Brazilian couple so I couldn’t rely on my own L2 knowledge. Though it was a lot easier to keep English the primary language spoken in class sheerly out of necessity! I quickly learned the challenges associated with having a couple in a language class. (Don’t seat your married couple next to each other unless you want to inadvertently put yourself in the position of a marriage counselor on top of your teaching duties!) This was also a much younger class, so their motivations for learning  were much different. I had a 22-year-old, a 33-year-old, and two 25-year-olds. Age is only a number, but it does affect the way I think about planning for an English class dramatically. My director told me when starting this class that I was going to have students that were very much interested in what I was interested in. (Her way of saying they’re my age.) I was nervous about them seeing me as more of a friend than a teacher. (We talked about the role we want to play as teachers, and I haven’t quite figured that out yet!) But this was a class that previously hadn’t been challenged in previous English classes. They told me that their last class at the same organization was too easy (or at least two students said this, and two students didn’t have the attendance record to be able to say this confidently.) So going into a book with high reading comprehension made me very nervous. What I learned was this particular book was challenging for them, but they enjoyed it. They always commented that the reading was challenging and the vocabulary was challenging, but they always learned multiple things every class period. I found myself teaching every element of language from reading to writing to vocabulary to a little bit of pronunciation (I hate teaching pronunciation for a variety of reasons that I could write a whole other reflection paper about.) But this class was also higher proficiency than any other class I taught in the past and very much professionals in Marketing, Finance, Human Resources, and others in their home country. Many were job searching and one even found a job in her field at the end of class, so talk about instant feedback on how the course went! Instant reward for both teacher and student! Take an English class, increase confidence! Get a job in Atlanta! I also felt compelled to not only do book work, but also incorporate pop culture elements into this class, and they were very well received. Instead of doing canned listening activities from the textbook (which were often too easy for most of these students) I found a TED talk or a podcast that went along with the theme of the unit. My students were very interested in the psychology of personality, so TED talks from Susan Cain and Sir Ken Robinson worked well. These students had access to email and were better readers than speakers so I found it worked well to email them the materials to preview before class (something that did not work with my beginning students) so that our discussions would be richer in class. We were able to focus more on CONTENT of english rather than form. We were able to discuss the differences between cultures when it came to recognizing personalities and then later mental health issues. We were able to discuss topics that MATTERED, rather than just the basic needs communication I did with my beginners. I love teaching both for many different reasons, but this is why I enjoy teaching advanced classes so much more. I got comments from students after class like the following, which always makes a teacher feel good: (in an email)

Good morning teacher.
I just want to inform you I had to come back to Mexico city ,it was an emergency and I want to apologize for it, I  couldn't say goodbye but I hope in the future see you again you never know and if some day you want to go to Mexico my house is your house and you are welcome. Thank you very much for the support, the patience I enjoyed everything and leaned a lot of things, you are an excellent and original Teacher.
Have a good day....

First of all, the fact that this was composed by a non-native speaker speaks volumes for her confidence in written communication.

Secondly, I had never really received anything like this from any ESL student before, so it made me feel like despite my many teaching weaknesses (I talk too much, I don’t let them talk enough, I hate teaching grammar rules, which ESL students seem to LOVE) I did something RIGHT!

There are many more things I can talk about here, but I will continue teaching here throughout the remainder of the program (after a 7 week break for the start of the semester)  and it will continue to help me grow as an ESL teacher and professional.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

JULY 15 Reflection from Class

Actions for July 15 Reflection
Jennifer Rose posted Jul 19, 2015 12:55 PM

On Wednesday my group spent a lot of time talking about spoken grammar vs. written grammar and trying to determine which was the most important to teach. I think the consensus we came to was most definitely that spoken grammar was far more important. I wasn’t quite satisfied with that discussion though. I know from personal experience the students I teach now have no intention of furthering their education (many have Bachelor’s degrees from a University in their country) and really just want better employment, and to them it’s the spoken grammar of being able to navigate a job search process and nail an interview that is most important for them. 
Many say that it is verb conjugation in oral speech that makes them sound like an unintelligent foreigner (when this is not the case) that an American employer would not hire. So my focus in class is most definitely spoken grammar. It wasn’t until Friday when we finished our discussion with the Korean teachers that I realized just how important written grammar actually was for this group of people. I never realized how high the stakes were and don’t think now I can fully wrap my brain around the fact that ONE missed question on a test determines whether a learner can attend the university of his choice or not....seems absurd to me when Americans (myself included) don’t really even write with correct grammar on occasion. 
It seems unfair, but I suppose it’s a cultural phenomenon that can’t be judged from an outside perspective. It made me rethink my reasons for wanting to become a teacher. Of course I want to teach communication strategies and teaching grammar rules is not my thing, but I do it when I have to. What if I end up taking a position at a Korean High School when I am done with my Master’s Degree? It seems like a likely fit seeing how the Atlanta ESL market and IEP settings are saturated. Korea seems like a good setting for me to gain more experience (seeing as how I already have a little), but after Friday it seems I will have to become a lot more detail-oriented in regards to written grammar if I am to succeed with adults or high school students there. Being a big-picture, idea-based thinker, I’m really good at coming up with activities when it comes to unit plans, but not so good at focusing on a topic such as the use of modal verbs in written grammar. But I suppose I can learn this skill with a lot of practice. Being a native speaker contributes to this struggle, as I’ve never had to think about why we say things the way we do. It adds to the challenge of ESL teaching, but it’s doable. Talking to the elementary teachers from Korea friday (there was one at my table) it seems like their stakes are a little lower, but working with kids brings a whole new set of challenges (namely behavior and parents) and it seems like if you work with kids for too long you get stuck there and not able to move to a different level, but I could be wrong.

New Beginnings/New Learning

Friday’s event at Georgia Tech brought many new ideas and learnings to me. It’s hard to identify the most important but I shall try. I have grouped them into categories for ease of reading. I will say that I could have kept talking to my group for a few more hours and not run out of topics to talk about.
Importance of Being an Effective Discussion Leader in the Classroom
I think this was my biggest takeaway. I’ve always considered myself pretty skilled at getting people talking, which is one of the reasons I chose the field of ESL teaching to explore. I approached the discussion with an air of curiosity in my voice so that I was asking my table to comment on various topics after introducing themselves. What I discovered is it’s really hard to keep a group of just six people from different backgrounds and cultures talking to each other as a group. There were many points in the conversation where I could tell the Panamanians and the Koreans just didn’t understand and didn’t know what else to ask. I tried to insert my clarification of what I think was said, but I could never be really sure if that is what they were intending to get across. There were several points in the conversation where the table would split, and pairs would start talking to each other for longer periods of time, and I was afraid they were bored. I had two men even start texting for a period of time but they eventually came back to the group. 
I know that I am a person that needs to feel comfortable with a group before leading, and so introductions are not necessarily my strong suit. I know I will have to work on this for future classes because knowing what I know now, introductions are crucial. I didn’t really feel like we got into the meat of things until the last thirty minutes and felt like this part was rushed because of time. It always takes me a few extra minutes to really feel comfortable with leading a group. Once we got into our conversation, I felt comfortable enough to ask “Why did you become an English teacher?” In hindsight, I should have asked this question as one of my first but shied away thinking it was too personal for having just met. This question is the one that helped me understand everything else said during group and served to neatly close the conversation, which I suppose is good too. Leading a conversation is one of the hardest things to do, I learned. I don’t want to talk too much, but I want to make everyone feel comfortable at the same time. It’s almost like walking a fine line.
Motivation for Becoming an ESL/EFL Teacher: A Cultural Divide
When I asked the “Why did you become an English teacher?” question, I got two major answers: one from the Koreans and one from Panamanians. The Koreans always answered among the lines of “It’s a solid/stable/respected career with good working conditions.” I thought about this answer quite a bit. How is this different in the United States? I know as a certified teacher I will always have work. That, however, is where the similarities end. I wouldn’t call teaching a respected career in this country. In fact, when I came home from college my junior year and told my parents I had changed my major from Nursing to Early Childhood Education they had one question for me: “Why?” Then they asked if I intended to marry rich. I had no such plans. They were incredulous and made it seem like they wished better for me. Working my way through two years of teaching with Minneapolis Public Schools made me see my parents’ original point. It’s a thankless job and the working conditions (namely sheer volume of time put in to achieve a mediocre result) were less than average. 
While my kids were always great, my parents seemed much different. I was constantly questioned and criticized about every step of my teaching process, from my classroom management to my assessment practices, to my ability to run a classroom when I was not a parent myself. I felt just a general lack of respect, and I was not alone in my feelings. I had an entirely different experience in Korea though, and I could see that there was a much different attitude taken toward education in that country. I was suddenly an authority, and if my students did poorly on an assignment, it was their fault, not mine. The sense of responsibility the learner has is greatly increased. Which makes a teacher’s job much easier (while still not easy) in comparison. I had a moment where I understood why the Korean teachers at my table thought that teaching was a respected, stable, steady career.
Meanwhile, the Panamanians answer to this question was very different. They were elementary teachers, and it seemed like a second career for them. One woman was a journalism major who couldn’t find work in that field. She took advantage of the president’s initiative and hiring bonuses after graduating and grew to love children and teaching. The other was similar from what I gathered. Both of these woman talked about the profession similarly to the way I view elementary teaching here. Low pay, high stress. They talked a lot about inclusion in the classroom, having children with both physical disabilities and behavioral disabilities included in their classrooms. This was a concept foreign to the Koreans, and I remember having to explain the word inclusion and write it down for them. I was surprised (I don’t know why) to learn that the population of children on the autism spectrum was high in Panama. The Panamanians seemed to describe their working conditions as chaotic and stressful. They have six classes a day and move from classroom to classroom, often carrying their materials on a cart or rolling suitcase.
Behavior management is something they struggled with because they were not the classroom teacher but often the floating ESL teacher. They would enter a classroom, calm children down, do a lesson and move to the next classroom all in 50 minutes. One teacher talked in detail about the breathing exercises and meditation activities she did to calm her students. When I asked the Koreans how they handed behavior in the classroom they simply said “Students are highly motivated by scores, so when they misbehave we take off points on a test.” It seemed to work for them. I could just see the learning happening at my table, though. Neither group knew quite what the other was talking about, but they all were working for a common goal: to help children be the best they could be, and that is where I stepped back to say to myself, “Wow, what an awesome field I have chosen for myself.” Honestly, I couldn’t be happier working with the learners I work with now, learning about different cultures and constantly learning about myself. This sounds cheesy, but this is really an AWESOME life!

A working Shitty first draft of my current teaching philosophy for language

Articulating Your Teaching Philosophy: 
First Draft of Many

Please list ONLY 3 ideas per question.  I know you have more.  The point of this activity is to make you CHOOSE.  E-mail this to me before class on Monday.

1.         In your opinion, what are the three MOST important guiding principles for any teacher—language or otherwise?

            a. A classroom should be tailored to the learner – learner’s needs should come first.

            b. A teacher needs to take what she knows from theory and put it into practice creatively.

            c. Patience and compassion are vital in the role of a teacher, they set the tone of the class.

2.         In your opinion what are the three MOST important guiding principles that you will follow specifically as a second/foreign language teacher?

            a. When I fail to plan, I plan to fail. As a post-method teacher, I cannot simply use template activities. I must think through the how and why of the lesson and what my learners will gain from it.

            b. Every learner is different. When I fail to plan, I fail to take into consideration that all learners are not like me and tend to fall back to my default learning style, which is also my default teaching style. 

            c. As a language teacher, I am also a lifelong learner of a language. Although my learners may see me as an expert, I am far from it and will never stop learning and encouraging my learners to learn outside of class.

3.         In your opinion, what distinguishes a person who has acquired communicative competence in a second/foreign language from one who has not?

            a. A person who has acquired communicative competence feels confident in his or her ability to carry out every day conversational tasks in the L2 60% of the time.

            b. A person who has acquired communicative competence in L2 can interact with service providers and understand what is said and someone can understand them 75% of the time. They usually tend to have a greater quality of life in the country that L2 is spoken, and enjoy themselves more.

            c. Such a person usually has acquired enough vocabulary to be able to be creative with language and communicate the same idea multiple ways in multiple settings.

4.         If someone told you that they wanted to learn a second/foreign language and asked your advice on the best way to do it, what advice would give them and why?

            a. First, take note of your background. If you do not have any knowledge of the language, it will help tremendously to take a class in a formal setting. This will help establish basic guidelines and rules of the grammar of the language.

            b. Second, if you are not doing so already, READ. Vocabulary acquisition is the heart of language. If you do not have the words, you cannot communicate. Simple as that. Once you have picked up basic sentence structure, READ daily in L2 and learn as many words as you can.

            c. Don’t be afraid to speak. Most native speakers of their L1 don’t speak perfectly. Keep this fact in mind as you practice your L2. You will not get better at a language if you don’t use it daily in everyday conversation. SPEAK. Don’t be shy. 

5.         In your opinion, how should language teachers interact with their students and why?

            a. Be prepared daily, but be flexible. Answer students’ questions regularly. Be attentive to breakdowns in comprehension and be prepared to fix them. This requires a teacher to be extremely knowledgeable about comprehensible input at all levels of the process. Learners of a language are extremely scared when they start the process. It is important to calm those fears but also push leaners a little beyond what they can comfortably do so they improve slowly and gain more confidence.

            b. Don’t be so rigid in your beliefs on different culture that you alienate students’ motivation for being in class. Be open to learning about other cultures and languages. This will help your students see that you have experience being a learner as well and make it easier to empathize and to create a compassionate community that is willing to learn from each other. 

            c. Be non-judgmental in your words and chose your words carefully. Just because you may like the way things are done in one country or culture doesn’t mean it’s the correct way. You will have a better chance at creating a cohesive learning community if you ask open-ended questions with no bias attached. Wait and listen (and expect) learners to educate you about what is important to them.

6.         In your opinion, what are the most important aspects of creating a classroom environment conducive to learning and why?

            a. Listen more than you talk. Your learners are there to practice speaking their L2 and take risks with language. They can only do this when you as the teacher are not talking. This requires the teacher to choose her words carefully enough to be understood and then know when to stop talking and let learners practice and play with language.

            b. Remember that you are teaching language over content. When you keep this in mind, it will make it easier to recognize that there is really no one “right” answer to a discussion question and it will make it easier for you not to “jump into” a conversation and dominate the talking time in class. Let your learners make mistakes with language and try to fix it themselves before you jump to correct.

            c. Set guidelines for appropriate discussions and stick to them. Be stricter at the beginning than you would normally be. You can always be nice at the end of class and not get walked over.

7.         For each of the skills/topics listed, what is ONE idea that you find very important to keep in mind when teaching that skill/topic?

            Listening: Many listening activities assess more than listening if they assess listening at all. Listening is one of the hardest skills to assess by itself. Be mindful when selecting listening tasks to assure that 90% of the content is listening and not writing or vocabulary.

            Speaking: Make sure you as the teacher are letting the learner speak more than you. They are, after all, here to practice their L2. You are already fluent in it, and therefore don’t need the practice. 

            Grammar: Differentiate between spoken and written grammar and make sure you are teaching the one that your learner finds most important. Remember that most L1 speakers are not perfect in either. When assessing grammar make sure you only focus on what the learner has already learned. Be selective with what you do in a red pen.

            Writing: Writing is documenting the process of thinking. And it’s difficult. It’s difficult to do in an L1 and doubly difficult to do in an L2. Be compassionate about a learner’s writing and respect the process of thinking while providing ideas along the way. In the words of the great Anne Lamott, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppression…embrace the sh#&%y first draft.” Remember how hard it is to get your own thoughts down on paper before tearing your learner’s thoughts to shreds. 

            Reading: Reading is thinking too. If you are not thinking when you are reading, you are doing it wrong. When I teach reading, I teach learners how to stop every so often, monitor comprehension, and vocalize their thoughts on what they have read so far.

            Vocabulary: Beyond a doubt, this is the most important aspect of learning a language, L1 or otherwise. A learner that does not have words cannot communicate. Reading is the most effective way to build vocabulary. In any language.

            Strategies: Strategies are imbedded in every aspect of learning a language, and a teacher who does not teach strategies has only taught half of the process. Without strategies, learners do not have what they need to learn outside of your classroom.

8.         What is your opinion on each of the following topics?  Write 1-2 sentences, no more.

            Use of L1 in an EFL Class: In absolute beginning classes, some L1 is necessary to clarify vocabulary. After that, it becomes somewhat of a crutch to learning an L2 and should be kept to as little as possible for comprehension.

            Grammar Feedback on Writing Assignments: The teacher should only comment on one or two types of grammatical errors at a time and this should be purposeful so as not to become overwhelming to the learner. The grammatical comments given should follow suit with what was learned during that week in class.

9.         List THREE things you will do to ensure that you continue to grow and improve as a teacher once you are in the field:

            a. Continue to observe and volunteer in as many experienced teacher’s classrooms as possible. I feel like this is the best way to take away good teaching practices and hone my craft.

            b. Reflect daily on my own teaching practice, in writing. The act of journaling is not only therapeutic, but very useful in determining my own thoughts and where I could have improved on the day’s lesson.

            c. Continue to be a lifelong learner of language. Ask questions of students, and research constantly. Never stop learning.

10.       What are questions you still have about teaching that we have not addressed?  List as many questions as you wish, but list at least ONE.

            What does the recent research say about L1 use in an L2 learning environment? I feel like we haven’t really covered a lot of this in class and is a definite interest of mine.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The trouble with Grad school in Education....

I’m having trouble coming up with original reflections because not a whole lot of class yesterday was spent talking about original or new things. The trouble with approaches classes is that there is just that: A LOT of talk. As an education major undergrad, I spent A LOT of time TALKING about the right way to do things. And you know what? If I’m completely honest with myself, I don’t think it did a whole lot of good. The problem with pre-service teachers like ourselves is that we think we have all the answers. We look at models of teachers and thinking like we can do better. It’s kind of like parenting I suppose. We spend a lot of time criticizing our parents for what we think they could do better, but as a non-parent, I can’t say that I would actually have done any different. And further, my friends that did just start having kids now say that they are a lot more forgiving of their parents. I went through a similar notion when I started teaching. I sat and I criticized my teachers (even my Spanish teachers) for what I thought they could be doing better. When I entered my practicums I sat in silent judgement of other teachers. He was too quick to react, or she is too nice/mean/crazy/unorganized/energetic/insert adjective here. But when I did start my ten weeks of full-time teaching, I can’t say that I did a much better job. I made all the same mistakes that rookie teachers make. I still do. I over plan, and don’t move fast enough, I don’t leave enough wait time, and I rush through the objective. I’m not sure why I’m remembering this now, but I think it is helpful to remember that it is really hard to TALK ABOUT APPROACHES when I haven’t actually APPROACHED anything real yet. Classroom talk is just that, talk. And I don’t find it helpful to talk with others who have had the same experiences in a university classroom as me but haven’t actually succeeded at teaching, like myself. Maybe yesterday just caught me in a really negative moment. But I do reflect on my classes that I teach after I teach them, and I do want to become a better teacher. I think I may be suffering from either “too much information” syndrome or “not enough real world experience” syndrome and my growth has kind of stalled or plateaued. There comes a time when one has to stop talking and start doing.
                I will use the line “papers are written from the middle out and syllabuses are written back and forth” in the future. I hate writing syllabuses. I absolutely dread it. The teacher in me loves the beginning of the year/session/semester. I absolutely love the new learning possibilities involved at the beginning of a semester. But the decisions I have to make in order to make a syllabus absolutely fill me with terror and anxiety. I have so many questions but when I ask the questions I look like I’m not a professional to my co-workers. I was told when I started teaching to “Fake it until you make it” but how much faking it do you really have to do until you really feel confident as a teacher? The syllabus I operate under now changes at least 5 times a session for some reason or another. Most of the time it is because students don’t do their homework so their progress slows and I can only meet them where they are at, so to speak. I can only hope this gets better with time, but how can it if I’m doing the same thing over and over and that same thing is wrong. After all, my piano teacher always used to tell me that practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent. 


The point that struck me in today’s class was the following one: “Watch videos silently before watching them with sound.” I don’t know why this struck me, but it did and it did with some profundity. I show a lot of YouTube videos and videos that go along with my curriculum in my classes. I have never thought to show them without sound first but after hearing this, I went to do this on my own today because, after all, a teacher should do everything she is asking her students to do. So for today’s reflection, I decided to do this exercise. And while doing it, at first I thought that it was dumb. I sat there looking at the picture trying to imagine what I would say to a class before watching it. I didn’t really know, and was at a loss for words. But then I was instantly reminded of a course I took two years ago in American Sign Language. I began to remember how effective that class was for me not just because I learned a little sign language (I know NO deaf people) but because it made me a more effective communicator. I seriously recommend that all teachers be required to take a course in American Sign Language because you learn so much more about how to connect to another person using elements besides speech. It made me a better communicator because when I started teaching beginners, I had more tricks in my sleeve and knew more than to just talk louder as many do with people that don’t understand language. I could slow down, I could gesture, and I could use eye contact and space around me more effectively. I still don’t know how I would introduce a video I would show silently, but that will come with time.

Fluency vs accuracy

Laila and I discussed in great detail the fluency/accuracy debate from the reading and came to the conclusion that fluency was far more important than accuracy, at least in the beginning stages of learning a language. Because we talked about vocabulary being the key to learning a language (and not getting stuck on grammar and verb tenses) fluency is all about using vocabulary. If a student can show that he or she can use vocabulary, that student has achieved fluency. If I can understand what he is trying to say, I try not to correct minor points and continue with functional communication, showing the student that he was understood and comprehensible, building confidence in that student. At the beginning stages of learning a language, I believe that is far more important than correcting a lack of a plural s or a verb tense. This has taken me a while to learn, and I still slip into overcorrection mode at times, as it appears to be my default when I need something “teacherly” to do. Laila and I also talked about pronunciation and teaching it. I don’t find this difficult, but again I worry with my speech pathology background I can overkill pronunciation so that it’s not useful and just tedious to students. I use IPA when I teach this, and if my students don’t understand the symbols I teach it to them. I wonder if this is a useful strategy. It’s what I was taught to do in previous classes, along with tongue placement, mouth shape, and palate movement. Some students respond really well to these kinds of drills and others just kind of look at me like I’m crazy and move on to the next thing in the lesson that day. I’m wondering if there is a better approach