I’ve decided to write a series of posts in a new category: ESL Assistant Teaching Tips. I’m writing from the point of view of an assistant ESOL instructor in academic English classes at a community college. For background, here’s why I love assistant teaching, and here is what the basics of the set-up look like. I hope that other assistants will find this useful, and that this wonderful classroom model will spread!
On Monday, I talked about the interruption conundrum: to interrupt, or not to interrupt?
In this post, I’ll break down how this not-very-extroverted person goes about circulating so actively so much that she thinks of it as “crowd surfing.”
The short version is: I don’t stand by and wait for more than a minute or so at a time. If I’m not being flagged down, I’m either quietly walking or verbally checking in.
Step 1: Greet Everyone and Check In
When I walk in in the second hour of class, everybody is usually working. In one classroom, I enter from the front, and I find this very uncomfortable. In the other classroom, the door is in the back, so people don’t know I’m there unless they turn around or I greet them.
Most days, I circulate around the room quietly and interrupt students individually or in pairs in order to greet them by name. It’s a quick hello and social question, asking about their weekend or something like that. I listen to their answers. If they’d been absent the class before, I ask if everything’s OK. They seem to respond well to that. I then remind them that I’m here to answer any questions or help however I can.
It’s important to me that we have this little connection. Honestly, I sometimes skip this step in the class with the door in the front. And it shows – I feel more connected to the other class. No more skipping the greeting, Emily!
Step 2: Walk Around Quietly
If nobody has any questions for me right away or they’ve just started working on something, I just walk around quietly. I look at their work, and I’m not shy about stopping to read and telling them that they’re on track… or making a suggestion to get them back on track.
I’ll sometimes ask how it’s going, especially if someone seems to have less done than the other students. Usually people nod or say “fine,” but occasionally I get a panicked “bad!” and then I talk that person through tackling the longest assignment they’ve ever written in English.
Step 3: Ask If I Can Check Anything
Once students have some work down, be it textbook work, an outline, or a draft essay, I ask each person if there’s anything I can check for them.
If it’s a small amount, I read and check it all. If there are errors, I point them out but I don’t give the answers.
If it’s a large amount, I ask if they have any specific questions.
If they seem to want me to spend 20 minutes checking all their work, I’m up front that I can’t. I encourage them to ask me only the most important couple of questions so I can check in with the other students, too.
I cycle between Step 2 and Step 3 for much of class, and I also get flagged down a lot.
Step 4: Build Up, Chat, Farewell
As class comes to a close, I make sure to point out to students what they’re doing well, to build up their confidence and their positive associations with writing.
I always stay a few minutes late in case people want to chat a bit – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I don’t chat a lot about my personal life, though I share a few bits about my family and other interests. I mostly just want everyone to finish class feeling hopeful… and enthusiastically encouraged to utilize the college’s writing center!
I also make an effort to say good night to everyone and wish them a nice evening or weekend as appropriate. If they have a big assignment or exam coming up, I wish them luck. It’s a little thing, but like with the greeting, I think it just helps us feel connected.
It’s not rocket science!
Over the last few semesters, I’ve decided that the interrupting is worth it and the initiating is definitely part of my role even though I’m not in charge.
Does crowd surfing come naturally to you?