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
Thursday, July 9, 2015
I reflected on the teacher awareness point “you should never give an assignment of any kind – formal or informal – in class/out of class – that you have not actually done yourself.” I am guilty of this, particularly when I teach beginners. Yes, I look through the book ahead of time, and yes, I stay a chapter ahead of my students – but do I do every single exercise? The answer to that would be a firm no. I think I rationalized it by saying to myself that I am a native speaker and the exercises -- doing every single one gets boring when I’m prepping lessons. But at the same time, as a teacher I fall into that dangerous trap of assigning busy work when I don’t look over the lessons too. I start to think to myself “oh, this will take up some time, let’s do this.” Which is very dangerous and is probably how I was taught a foreign language most of the time. There we go, falling into default mode again. I did this again this past week too. Our session is ending and so I had to give a final exam. My supervisors request that we stay consistent and if we teach form the book to give the test from the book as well. Since I’m a new teacher, with very little experience teaching adults, I do this and thought I was doing folks a favor, saving myself time, etc. I waited until two days before the exam to print the exam. I looked over it, sure, to make sure we had gone over the things that were on the test, but I didn’t take the test myself. I didn’t think I needed to. Well, sure enough, as my students were taking the test, there were questions, and I started looking at the test with a closer attention to detail and yes, there were a few really confusing items. Also, the directions were worded differently than the directions in the activities I give for homework and that confused more than a few students. So, I suppose lesson has been learned. If I am going to give a test, I will take the test first. Even if it is an intro level class and even if I think I am wasting my time at first. Good call. With our new session starting next week (after the holiday) I have been given a new class. I will be teaching high intermediate to advanced learners. There is more complicated grammar points that I will have to explain. The readings are longer. I will most certainly have to slow down, and do the exercises before teaching them. I will have to re-learn some of the grammar from my high school English classes. I think this will force me to be a more mindful teacher. But I will take it one week at a time.