Experimental Homework Blog

At the request of a couple of students, I started a homework blog:

http://esolhomework.wordpress.com/

The first week has posted and I’ve got the second week lined up.

Just so you know, I’m not planning to continue posting on that experimental blog through the vacation if I don’t really hear feedback or otherwise have any indication that it is or might be useful.

Still, it’s been a fun and extremely useful experiment just to think about how to structure it and and to find and gather resources for it.  There’s so much out there!

Second Language Acquisition in 5 Minutes

Over at the Minnesota Literacy Council’s Tutor Tips Blog, they posted a fabulous video by fabulous Susan!

In less than five minutes, Susan walks us through the process for learning the grammar involved in saying, “I don’t speak English.”

It’s nearly jargon-free and is a really powerful way to understand why learning correct grammar takes so long and why skills can appear to regress at times.

PS – I’d like to point out that this video is on YouTube.  This is just one example of why it’s absolutely ridiculous to block YouTube in schools and other places of learning.

I’m Back, With a New Focus

"nikon em bokeh" by dsevilla on Flickr
"nikon em bokeh" by dsevilla on Flickr

I think I’m ready to pick up the blog again!

My focus has changed since I last posted.  I thought about starting a new blog, but I think that the underlying theme of what I’ve been thinking and doing has remained the same.

What Has Changed:

  • I moved across the country and am now a proud resident of Maryland.
  • I will be teaching ESL part-time through a community college at a nonprofit starting Monday, 7/12.

What I Plan to Write About:

  • My experiences teaching.
  • Whether or not to stay in nonprofits.
  • What professional development I should pursue.
  • What’s next?

Looking forward to blogging again!

Blog Hiatus

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I spend my time because there just never seems to be enough of it.  Although I enjoy writing on this little blog, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to put energy into other projects for a while.

Thank you so much for reading, and for your comments (especially MJ, my star commenter). There’s a good chance I’ll be back at some point.

Volunteer Management Conference

After being kind of disappointed by MinneTESOL, I wasn’t hugely excited about the next conference on my list, the Volunteer Management Conference.

Concrete Bricks by Alesa Dam on Flickr
Concrete Bricks by Alesa Dam on Flickr

It seemed unlikely to be valuable because I was feeling pessimistic about conferences in general, and also because volunteer management is kind of a “fluffy” profession, not backed up by much research or data or formal history.

I’m thrilled to report that I was pleasantly surprised.  The sessions I went to did not perpetuate the fluff, but sought to give us concrete ideas and skills for taking our work to the next level.

I gained background in creating a volunteer-led ESL curriculum, setting up focus groups (of students and volunteers), addressing the 80/20 rule of life (that 80% of your effort will go to 20% of your tasks and problems), and creating well-designed flyers and brochures.

I think I actually found the last one to be the most useful.  Making flyers is one of those random parts of my job that I’m expected to just do, and I have never had the slightest bit of training on how to do a good job.  The presenter walked us through the four pieces of the puzzle that we need to consider, and three days later I still remember them: proximity, alignment, repetition, and contrast.

Here’s what I think she did right:

  1. limited her scope,
  2. stayed focused on it, and
  3. provided different levels of meaningful practice.

That presentation had no hand-outs.  This was disconcerting at first, but it turned out to be a strength.  Her goal wasn’t to give resources, but to convey four interrelated elements of design.  She didn’t try to make us into designers that afternoon.  The unified design she was teaching us was reflected in her presentation: she taught what she said she was going to teach, and she did it in a way that assured our attention was never split.  She also followed the basic format of a good ESL lesson: I do it, we do it, you do it.  By this I mean she gave us opportunities to practice what we were learning, and that over the course of the session she went from actively guiding our practice to letting us work through examples independently.

I think what made this conference stand out is that all the sessions I went to were taught in this way.  I hope other conferences catch on soon.

MinneTESOL

MinneTESOL was last Friday and Saturday.  Overall I’m glad I went, but I wasn’t quite blown away.

To my mind, the conference’s highlight was when Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer spoke on Friday evening.  It was poetic and moving and beautiful.

The rest of the conference was a let-down except when I went to presentations by Hamline University faculty.  And no, Hamline did not pay me to say that.  The fact is that their presentations were exactly what they sounded like, were well-thought out and easily within their expertise, included hands-on practice of what we were learning, engaged and engaging presentation style, and successfully distributed useful materials that I’ll be able to use and/or alter at the learning center.

There was actually one other worthwhile presentation about a research project in neurolinguistics.  It was just a talk with a PowerPoint but the speaker’s energy and focus on actually communicating with the audience made it work wonderfully.  My colleague also pointed out that the scope was perfect for a short presentation.

The other presentations committed the following (what I consider to be) sins:

  • the keynote was plain lecture with a busy, dense PowerPoint for an hour straight.  Also, they didn’t know that PowerPoint has several pointer features and that they didn’t have to point to parts of their graphs with their shadows.
  • one woman actually just read her paper to us without pause while her busy PowerPoint went on behind her.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t get up at 6:45AM on a Saturday for your airport voice.  Thank goodness she only wasted 20 minutes of my life.
  • the following 20-minute session was at least an attempt to communicate with the audience, but he had not only made too few hand-outs but misplaced some of them and didn’t freely pass his card around for us to contact him later.
  • the special interest brainstorm session on Adult Education had potential, but I ended up in a small group that was taken over by a group of three women griping about terrible cooperation between ESL/ABE and the MN State Colleges and Universities.  I wish we could have moved past that phase of the discussion.
  • I went to another 20-minute presentation in which the speaker concluded that adopting technology in the classroom was easier than people think and they just need more time.  Clearly he hadn’t seen the keynote in which they thought they knew PowerPoint.

I feel the conference as a whole could have done a better job with:

  • making sure there were on-site photocopying resources
  • facilitating electronic communication of presentation hand-outs in lieu of paper hand-outs (i.e. a Conference Resources page on their website, or an email directory of the presenters)
  • laying down some standards of presentation style

Several people I talked to agreed with me but remarked that these are perennial issues with conferences.  Which begs the question… why?  These are very fixable problems!