Journal: Quick Update

Today was a great but busy day!  I just have a quick, disjointed update before doing some serious relaxing.

  1. The class set a new record in my experience as a teacher: 25 students!
  2. The “vote with your feet” activity would have gone much better if I had moved it out into the hallway where we had more room.  Don’t forget your physical surroundings, Emily!
  3. It’s really interesting to balance the fact that some students attend mostly for reading while others attend mostly for conversation and still others are there for a bit of everything.

That’s all for tonight!

Journal: Very Pleased!

Today there were 21 students.

For a warm-up, I gave out piles of four scrambled sentences.  Students worked on making four proper can / have to sentences out of them in groups of 3 or 4.  It was part grammar, part riddle: even if they created two grammatically perfect sentences, they might have to switch words in and out of them to be able to make all four correct sentences simultaneously.  And the thing is… they did it!  It was really challenging, but they were ready and willing and they did it.  I was really happy with their work, and I hope they could tell!

We then did some work with personal calendars.  I showed them the three-day view of my Google Calendar on the screen and we did some calendar reading comprehension.  I then had them write lists of what’s on their schedules today, tomorrow, and Saturday.  Next, they drew and filled in their own calendar grids modeled after mine on the board.

That’s when our fluency activity kicked in.  Everybody had to have a minimum of five conversations with other students based on their real life calendars.  It was more or less to this effect:

A.  Can you go ice skating tomorrow at 3?
B.  Sorry, I can’t.  I have to cook dinner for my family.
A.  How about at 1?
B.  Sure!  That sounds good.

I was pleased that they were grammatically ready enough and that we worked with their real lives.  I asked them how it felt to use this language, comfortable, so-so, or uncomfortable.  Nobody said they were uncomfortable, and they seemed in good spirits.

Now we’re about to work on the most recent post from the homework blog together – my very first homemade audio post!

Journal: Moving to Fluency Practice

Today I had a total of 23 students attend class, though we were a class of 20 as class ended at noon.

One interesting challenge that’s come up is that my enrollment cap is thirty, but there are only 21 computers in a computer lab.  So far I’ve never had more than 21 students at computer time…

Anyway, we were very grammar-heavy in yesterday’s class, focusing in on the structural similarities and differences in using “can” and “have to.”  I really wanted to get beyond the form, meaning, and even pronunciation fo  of the words and into usage.  To do this, I needed to design a fluency activity.  This means I had to set the stage, step aside, and let them use the language. 

To set the stage, they needed a quick vocabulary review of different activities.  I tend to struggle with vocabulary, but I was pleased with how this one turned out.  By the end of this activity, they had gotten up out of their seats, reviewed the vocabulary, demonstrated some level of understanding by putting it on a spectrum, and put a huge word bank on the wall to prepare for the upcoming writing activity.

Here’s what we did:

  1. At home, I wrote 22 activities on 22 notecards in dark ink.
  2. I wrote on the board, “Shh!  Do not read the cards out loud!”  I drew a picture of a card and wrote “secret” on it.  I explained verbally too.
  3. I asked a student in the front to tape a card to my back.  Naturally, someone read it out loud.  🙂  We repeated the directions and laughed.  I demonstrated that I could not see it, but everyone else could.
  4. I taped a card to each student’s back.
  5. First, students walked around silently, reading each other’s backs.  I demonstrated first, and gave them 5 minutes.
  6. Second, each student had to figure out what was on his/her back, still with no talking.  I demonstrated the charades game and told them they had to act.  I gave them about 7 minutes.
  7. After they’d figured out their cards, I had them tape them to the top of the blackboard, organized from great exercise through no exercise (for example, play basketball and talk on the phone were on opposite ends of the board). 

I was very happy that it was quick, interesting, and a nice transition piece.

The writing activity was to write three invitations using “can.”  For example, Can you play golf on Saturday morning? 

We then used these invitations to begin the part of lessons that tends to make me nervous: fluency practice.  For fluency practice, the teacher sets the stage and then backs away to let the students actually use their English.

Students paired off.  Using their written work either as a script or as inspiration, they invited each other to do things.  The invitee made up an excuse using “have to” (i.e.  Sorry, I have to teach class then.).  Then we changed the rules so that the invitee had to accept (i.e. yes, sure, good idea). 

Tomorrow, we’ll do a small amount of accuracy practice, probably sentence scrambles.  We’ll spend much more time making calendars and having some real conversations about them with even less of a script than we had today.  We’ll see what happens!

Journal: Snow Day Victories

Well, it turns out that a scant inch of snow is enough to delay my place of work from opening until noon.  Since I have a morning class, that means a snow day!

I was of course uneasy about the possibility of my students coming to class to find nobody there, so I called everybody.  I also told every single person and voicemail I spoke to that in the future I would not be calling. See the homework blog for more details.  I’ll have even more options for them in person tomorrow, but I’m not posting them because they highlight where exactly I work.

Victory #1:

I spent the morning registering for a class for my own professional development as an ESOL teacher.  Yay!  It starts Monday and will meet weekly all the way through mid-May.

Victory #2:

high five? by StephVee on Flickr
high five? by StephVee on Flickr

I also spent time getting my work email to run through Gmail instead.  Success!  My mistake from Monday was trying to accomplish what I wanted through the college email system instead of through Gmail.  Maybe tech support could have pointed me in that direction instead of just saying that my request was “impossible,” but I got there eventually.  🙂

I’m so excited about this change for these reasons:

  • General annoyance: Gmail’s interface is just better from log-in to reading to sending.
  • Gmail has a SPAM filter.  I see no evidence of one in my work email.
  • Personal boundaries maintained: I set up a new work Gmail separate from my personal account.
  • Inbox overflow issue solved: messages will only stay in my work email for a moment before flying to my new, huge work Gmail.
  • My replies will be faster: I’ve set up filters in my work Gmail that will forward important messages straight to my personal account.
  • More flexibility for me: I can now email my colleagues from my personal account but have it look like it’s from my work account.

In other words, I’m in charge now, not the email system. It’s a good feeling!

I’m not going to do a complete email victory dance until I’ve seen my set-up in action for a week or two, but I’m very happy with my progress!

Happy snow day to all!

PS – Yesterday: 20 students, engaging grid activity warm-up about the students’ exercise habits, beginning of the Getting In Shape unit, reading charts, talking about the calories that various activities burn.  Very fun!

Journal: Campus Email

It was a good class.  There were 18 students, even though it was a freezing cold (for Maryland) Monday!  We did lots of varied practice around the same grammar point, including writing, talking, and filling in blanks.  I was pleased with my planning and execution, and I feel good about my direction for the rest of the week.

I’ve had some ongoing frustrations with my campus email, but today I had a real problem: I got a gmail note from one of my colleagues that her messages to my work email were bouncing back.  I cleared out the few offending medium-large (they were by no means huge) messages that I’d received late last week and into the weekend.  Since gmail doesn’t have that kind of a bounce-back problem, I decided I’d quick set up email forwarding to run my campus mail through gmail instead.  The system said to call tech support to do so.  When I called tech support, they said it was impossible.

I don’t believe that forwarding email is actually impossible, so I’m spending today’s post-class time working around the restrictive email system (I’ve got several ideas for at least partial solutions, and am testing one right now).  I normally use this time for my lesson reflection, planning, and prep.  I guess all of that will have to come later on in the evening sometime.

When I have prohibitively dull tools, I have to stop my real work to sharpen them.

Journal: High Energy Day!

Today was super fun!

What surprised me:

  • We got a computer lab!  For the exact days and times I was hoping for!  Wooo!
  • I had 19 students!  Yesterday we were at only about 11.  Several were people who moved up from my class from last semester, so it was like a chain of mini reunions as familiar faces walked in the door.
  • How long one tiny grammar point, just quickly “covered” in the book, took to practice. 
  • The student who asked me to do the Homework Blog over the break told me that she used it a lot!  I’m not sure if she meant the blog specifically or my Computer Class page of resources, but either way, I was very excited to hear that at least one student got extra study guidance from it.

What went well:

I think I did a good job of staying out of the spotlight today.  I liked the emphasis on students learning each other’s name.  First we used a standing chain drill, then quizzed volunteers to try to say everyone’s name in the circle.  Then we sat back down and took turns being the teacher, asking one student how to spell his/her name and writing it on the board.

Overall, I like our textbook, particularly the TV series it comes with.  One of its weaknesses, at least for my classes, is that it crams a ton of material into not just one unit, but any given page.  I took one tiny piece of the grammar suggested for Monday’s lesson and we practiced it (meaning, accuracy, and fluency) for a large chunk of the class time.  Also, it was great to do a lesson in that format.  I learned it in TEFL class, and it’s just a great format. 

I was pleased that I had the good sense to ask students to self-identify their computer level before we went down to the lab.  Some people had already publicly told me they were computer beginners, so I wasn’t afraid to ask everyone who needed help getting to the internet to raise their hand.  I asked them to look at each other and to sit together when we got to the lab.  I explained that I wanted to help them without running all over the room.  It worked out well.

What needs improvement:

A couple of grammar details surprised me during class.  I didn’t have a problem handling these surprises, but they could have been prevented if I had prepped the point itself (as opposed to our practice of it) more thoroughly.  This is the type of thing that will get more and more automatic as my accumulated knowledge grows, but right now I need to keep on it!

Thoughts for Next Week:

I already miss having a beginning routine like we did last semester.  I don’ t think the dates practice will serve this class as well as it did Level 1.  Ideas I’m kicking around include spelling dictation practice and vocabulary games of some kind. 

Looking forward to starting the “Getting In Shape” unit!  I’d also like to incorporate some additional reading into our work.

Journal: Day 1 Again!

It was a lovely Day 1!

What a difference it makes to already know where to park, where to go when the copier is broken, who to ask for a computer lab, and some of the students in the class.

What surprised me:

  • how drastically the new pre-registration process cut down on first-day paperwork nonsense.  Yay office!
  • the profundity of an error in which a student wrote, “I am not grammar.”
  • I had exactly the same number of Spanish speakers as Korean speakers, meaning that I could make conversation pairs in such a way that they needed their English.

What went well:

I was happy with my pre-teaching of the grid activity, both content and process.  The students found out about each other and practiced some slightly tricky listening as well (“What do you do?” vs. “What do you do on weekends?”)

We got our minimal paperwork and policies out of the way with little pain and little confusion.

We were pretty focused on the question, “What is the most important to study?  Reading, writing, listening, speaking, computers, or grammar?”  We talked about the meaning, separated into conversation pairs, and then wrote responses.  I liked that they practiced different modalities while giving me input about how class should look for the next semester.

What needs improvement:

One of my students is significantly hard of hearing.  Being loud is helpful but isn’t enough.  I need to be much more mindful of how I can support what I’m saying with writing.  This will also help the students who can hear but have trouble understanding.

The class needs more structure, but I’m having trouble getting one into place when I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to have a computer lab or not.  I did put in a very sweet request – I just hope it can work out.

Also, I discovered a few students who apparently have trouble sitting next to each other and getting in-class writing done at the same time.  I actually had them all at one point last semester, so we already have a good rapport.  I used this rapport to tell them I thought they were distracting each other.  I’m not here to treat adults like children, but I will be watching them like a hawk to see if I need to respectfully split them up, at least during the next writing activity.

Thoughts for tomorrow:

Stay student-centered.  Lay some grammar groundwork for the beginning of the unit on Monday.  Reading.  Continue trying to get a computer lab.  That should do it!

Journal: Last Day

The last class session of my morning class just finished!  Sad!

We had a fun time playing review games and Bingo.  The students brought in food for a nice, light party, and we listened to music on Pandora and watched videos on YouTube while we ate.

Highlights include our one Korean student dancing to the music videos the Latina students were showing on YouTube, the lightning-fast responses in our Catchphrase-esque review game, and the enthusiasm of our 70+-year-old Latina grandmother for Bingo.

I emphasized to everyone that they could access my website on any computer with an Internet connection; this turned out to be new information for a couple of the students.  At the request of one of the students I’ll be putting “homework” assignments on it once a week or so over the break.

Wishing everybody safe travels and happy holidays was bittersweet.  The class really formed a nice community for the past couple of months, and it’s sad to see it scatter.  Even though it’s temporary, who knows who will actually be able to come back to class in January, and who knows which level I’ll be teaching come January?  Still, the fact that all of the very different people in the room were connected enough to hug farewell today was something I’m honored to be a part of.

Till January, morning class!

Journal: Liberty

The students asked to spend the last week of class really focusing on the US Citizenship exam, so that’s what we’ve been up to.

Statue of Liberty by Elcobbobla on Wikimedia
Statue of Liberty by Elcobbobla on Wikimedia

I decided to focus on the geography questions.  One of them is, “Where is the Statue of Liberty?”

Interestingly, the official answers (the applicant must name one) are:

  • New York (Harbor)
  • Liberty Island
    [Also acceptable are New Jersey, near New York City, and on the Hudson (River).]

I appreciate that the test reflects the fact that Liberty Island is technically over the New Jersey border but is widely considered to be in New York.  The thing is, that kind of ambiguity is very difficult to teach Level 1 students!

On the theme of “Liberty,” we also dove into two of the history questions:

“What is one important thing that Abraham Lincoln did?”
“What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?”

In researching for class, I realized… Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863.  The Statue of Liberty was officially opened to the public in 1886 (work began on it at least 9 years earlier, and the concept was older still).

Really?  In just 23 years, we went from enslaving human beings to receiving a giant statue symbolizing the freedom and opportunities found in our country?  Seems a bit hasty.  Seems like maybe even a farce given that the freed slaves, their children, and their children’s children had to face being second-class citizens with very limited opportunities and terrorized by hate groups.  Are you really free if you have reason to believe you’ll get lynched because of your skin color?

I couldn’t communicate most of that last bit to my students.  Just the basics about the statue and about Lincoln were new information for most everybody (though I have one history geek in the class, which is awesome).  We could not get into Reconstruction and race relations in the US in any meaningful way unless we switched into their first languages.  We just took step one into the history with the simple background from the Citizenship exam.  I hope I made it interesting enough that they’ll be excited to learn more in another class or on their own.


Journal: Last

Today, a student asked me a question during computer time.
He had 3 phrases written on his paper:
    last song
   last Thursday
   nothing lasts forever
He said, “Teacher… last?”

I’d never thought about it before.  I let him know that all of his sentences were correct; “last” just has many meanings.  I asked him why he asked – was it a question from the computer?  He said he was just thinking about it.  Pretty insightful!

While he went back to his normal computer time work, I looked up “last” on Merriam-Webster’s website.   I discovered 23 entries, though 17 are phrases involving the word “last,” i.e. “at last.”  Isn’t it funny what seems unremarkable until you start thinking about it?