Monday, November 30, 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Reflection on My Classroom Based Experience Teaching Summer 2015
16 weeks, 6 hours per week = 96 hours
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: http://www.wespeakatl.com/. 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
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 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.
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