Journal: Goodbye, Cave!

Goodbye, Cave!

As I mentioned yesterday, our classroom was inexplicably moved from our bright, sunny medium-sized room to a small interior room I think of as The Cave.  Last week, the students dictated a letter to me explaining why The Cave was an inferior classroom and asking to return to our previous (and unused!) classroom.

Today, the woman in charge of scheduling in the building popped in and whispered to me that we could go back.  Grinning uncontrollably, I asked her to come in and tell everyone.  The class cheered and thanked her!  One student zipped down the hall to make sure the room was open.  It was, so everybody grabbed their stuff, my stuff, and trooped down the hall to bask in the sunshine.

When we resumed, I emphasized to them that the letter we’d written together was very important.  I’m the teacher, but I’m only one person.  Together, we were 20 people, so we were stronger.  Together, we got our room back.

Journal: Update and Ponderance

I’m finding it difficult to maintain the homework blog, my other commitments, and this blog too!  Sorry!

The class has undergone some changes since I last surfaced.  One is that our room changed.  Instead of having a medium-sized room with a wall of windows, we have a smallish room with no windows and not enough electric lights.  I like to think of it as The Cave, but it’s not horrible, just a small step backward.  Another change is in our schedule.  We’d been having computer time daily, but the class decided to have longer computer sessions twice a week instead.  So far it’s working out well!

Class size has been hovering in the high teens, except that Monday we had 21, which is a lot for The Cave. 

One issue that’s thus far been a non-issue is our textbook.  It’s actually quite good, but it’s geared for English as a Foreign Language, not English as a Second Language (EFL, not ESL).  The difference is that EFL is for people who are in their own, non-English-speaking countries, learning English in classes.  ESL is for people who are in English-speaking countries, learning English both in class and in their life through necessity. 

One general difference between the two groups is often (but not always) income.  Think about it: who has more plentiful opportunities to earn good money, someone who speaks the dominant language of the country he/she’s in, or someone who is just learning to do so?  In other words, ESL students are (generally) less well-off than EFL students.

This in turn impacts the units present in textbooks.  Right now we’re in a unit about vacations.  This is soon to be followed by a unit on transportation (plane, ship, train, rental car, limo) followed by a unit on shopping.  My students are not all living in poverty by any means.  Many of them clearly have some disposable income.  But many of them simply do not have the means to choose between an African safari and a cruise in their normal, everyday lives.  I feel a little awkward harping on spending (lots of) money for three units in a row.  It seems particularly ironic since there’s a distinct absence of a work-related unit.

Now thank goodness my program cheerfully gives us the freedom to modify and to write our own unit tests.  In this way, I have some flexibility regarding what to focus on within the units.  At risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, I can’t help but notice that the responsibility is falling on me to donate (a lot of) my time to fix the textbook.  This is not a case of my program being oblivious.  It’s a case of scarcity and all of us doing our very best with what we have.  I think we do a great job.

But why is this level of scarcity acceptable to our students, our government, and our society?

I’m happy to go along with it out of respect to my students and my employers.  I’m improving my own skills in the process.  Looking at a macro level, though, I worry that all of us doing exactly what I’m doing are in a way perpetuating the scarcity.

Journal: Bearing Less than Uplifting News

So, sometime between last night and this morning, there was a third reactor blast in Japan.  Needless to say, I felt that it was important to talk about it today too.  Instead of trying to use Google Images, I used a primitive form of visual expression called “Emily attempts to draw on a chalkboard.”  My nuclear reactor was kind of lop-sided, but at least it was simple.  We talked about the water level going down, the explosion, the crack in the reactor wall, and the evacuation.  It was all based off of this BBC article from this morning.  I think today’s lesson/discussion went much more smoothly than yesterdays, which is heartening!

So then I get to class and realize that I need to give them a standardized reading test today and that I want to give them a unit test Thursday before Spring Break.  I’m a horribly mean teacher!

Despite harping on bad news all morning, what with Japan’s challenges and the epic bout of testing this week, I feel like it was a good class.  We did some controlled practice with giving and asking for directions at school, and then did a nice fluency activity asking for directions in a store.

Journal: Really Current Events

One challenged I faced this morning (poor me!) was talking about the tsunami that hit Japan on Friday.

I had finished my lesson planning for this week on Thursday, and over the weekend I was taking care of things in my non-teacher life (laundry, for example) while keeping half an eye on the unfolding information about Japan.  I was literally out of the house from 9AM-11:15PM Sunday and was not up to date on the major fears of a potential nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

And so (yes, poor me) when the class came in talking about Japan’s tsunami, I was not really prepared to teach about nuclear meltdown, radiation, or that aspect of the disaster.  I had no pictures queued up or strategies ready to go.  Nuclear reactions get so technical so quickly that few students had the vocabulary to even know what I was talking about when I brought it up. 

Pictures would have helped to some degree, but as I said, it was impossible for me to be prepared to teach today about something that really developed yesterday.  Sometimes when I quick need a picture I’ll do an image search right in front of the class.  I do this for words like “tree” or  “glacier.”  I did not do this for something like “nuclear meltdown” or “uranium” that could result in disturbing hits.  (Note: not image searching for “uranium” in front of the class was a good call.  I don’t recommend it even alone.)

So what did we do?  Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and general destruction are not too difficult to explain and/or demonstrate, and we did talk about those aspects of what Japan is facing.  I related it to the class by pulling up a Google Map of Japan and putting markers in the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan and in Seoul, South Korea.  This way we could see that the place where half our students are from and the troubled part of Japan are at least 800 miles apart, and one of our Korean students told us that the prevailing winds at this time of year tend to run from Korea toward Japan instead of vice versa.  I think everybody learned something, and many students contributed questions or information. 

Tomorrow, I might show this BBC video about how an earthquake can cause a tsunami, but narrate it myself in my American accent.  I haven’t really found anything clear and basic on nuclear meltdowns in my limited search time, and the weak video I did find on nytimes.com is supported by a video ad that I don’t want to show my class.  If you see anything that does a great job at this, please let me know!

Journal: Week In Review

This week went pretty well!

Interesting tidbits from this week:

  • I discovered that having groups of six or seven students seems to be perfect for conversation time.
  • My two youngest students, a woman and a man, speak the same native language and are good friends.  The woman struggles more with spoken communication than the man does, so she usually gets him to translate for her, particularly when she wants to talk to me.  On Tuesday, I thanked them very much for helping me understand, and thanked him for translating so much… and I told them that this was the last week I would listen to his translations.  Starting next week, she’ll have to talk to me herself.  It won’t be easy, but having him speak for her is not a viable long-term plan.
  • I started giving them weekly quizzes, and here at the end of Week 2, they still seem to love them.
  • They complete said quizzes at wildly different rates, and I need to have something for the quick test-takers to study while the slower test-takers finish.  Vocab-of-the-week word searches anyone?
  • They really like working on spelling, and we should work on it more often.
  • It’s OK to repeat an accuracy-focused chain drill two days in a row.  Actually, sometimes it’s more than OK, but the absolute right thing to do.
  • My numbers had dipped to the high teens over the last couple of weeks, but today there were 20 students.
  • My true story of broken umbrellas on such a grey, rainy day was well-received, and umbrella shopping made a great example dialog topic.  Yay context!
  • The class complimented my outfit today.  I liked it too.  🙂

I think that’s it for now!

Journal: Moving Forward

I fell off the blog wagon for a while because I got frustrated with my teaching.  I’d love to say that I realized I was too distracted and needed to intentionally limit all the “extras” for a while, including blogging.  But really, my motivation was largely just about being kind of pissed off.

Even though I backed away from blogging for a while, I did not back away from analyzing what I did wrong and trying it again differently.  I learned a lot!

So yes, I’m back.  That’s all for now.

Journal: End of the Week

Yesterday’s class stood out to me because I felt that I had confused my students, and I was worried that they were frustrated.  I know that they’re adults and that they can handle being frustrated… but I still didn’t like it.

I actually stand by the difficult work we did.  The activities helped me gauge their comprehension and made them think very hard about what they’d been learning the past couple of weeks.  I wish I’d done a better job of highlighting what they already knew before they began.  I also wish I’d followed it up with something more fun and manageable. 

My goal for today was review, but even more importantly, I wanted them to feel good about their English.  I know that could easily become BS-y or condescending or a total waste of time if the content was weak.  I owe them more respect and professionalism than to assume they want easy fluff and then pandering to said assumption.  So I thought of it as a day to be sure to set them up for success.

I think it worked out well.  First we had a contest to remember exercise vocabulary.  It was fun and different and not too difficult.  And it will be on the test.

Then they separated into small groups to make posters of the two verb tenses.  I was very happy with the process and the results.  Firstly, they had to speak English because the groups all included people with different first languages.  Secondly, they had to read and interperet the instructions that were projected on the screen.  Thirdly, they had to think hard about what they already knew about the verb tenses.  It was a matter of remembering, organizing, and applying.  At least one student per group knew it cold, and this allowed everyone to practice, contribute, ask questions, and/or make corrections.  Fourthly, we now have great review materials I can use next week.

Next, we rehearsed the play again, but today Group 1 rehearsed while Group 2 watched and vice versa.  We staged it so that nobody’s back was to the audience, and worked on adding a bit of drama: inflection, pointing, and in once case having a character bolt out of the room.  It was a good time, and I hope that it helped with comprehension for the one or two students who still needed it.  The culmination of all of their practicing this week was performing for the ESL class next door!  The audience seemed to get a kick out of it, and my students finished off smiling and seeming energized. 

For the last activity I let them choose between a dictation and watching anther Mr. Bean episode.  Dictation won, as it always does.  🙂  Different students read each sentence, and other students wrote their final answers on the board where we identified once again which were Simple Present and which were Present Continuous.

I think they worked really hard today, and I also think they both demonstrated and felt success.  It’s a nice way to finish the week!