Student Panel

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One of my colleges recently sent out a beginning-of-semester newsletter that included an interesting article: they had a student panel weigh in on what students want faculty to know.

I’m listening!

Here are most of their points, rearranged a bit and with a couple of notes:

 

1. Students Want Feedback

They want to know when they’re doing great and when they’re not. They want to know what their grades are, and they want us to notice and approach them when they’re absent or missing assignments. And they want to be referred to strategies and supportive college resources.

2. Intro Activities: “Authentic” and Names

Introductory activities should be “authentic” and help everyone learn everyone’s name. I’ve never been sure what exactly authentic means, so I usually put it in quotes. But I think here it means not too cheesy, and helping people really get to know each other. Thinking through my Activity Corner ice-breakers, I think Conversation Jenga, Quick-Switch Conversations, and One-Question Surveys, among others, might fit the bill. Do you agree?

I also recommend doing what a lead teacher of mine has done: have students make name placards using marker on a piece of card stock, and write their names on both sides. Collect them at the end of each class and set them in the front of the room for students to pick up as they enter each day. This way, name tags are always there and people can learn the names of people in front of them. This can also help the instructors, though I urge instructors to actively study student names so they’re down pat as soon as possible.

3. Show Enthusiasm for the Course and College Life

Students want us to be excited about our subjects – it helps them feel engaged. It’s OK to show that we’re total geeks! Whew!

To this I add a personal note: there are geeks who can’t wait to welcome new geeks into the fold, and there are geeks who look down their nose at the outsider philistines. Be the first kind of geek.

The students also pointed out that students need encouragement and specific suggestions to get involved in college life. I think this is especially important on commuter campuses. For us ESOL teachers, a quick plug for the international student club, Model UN club, field trips club, sports teams, and other relevant campus organizations could be the difference between our students feeling isolated and our students finding a way to plug into the campus community.

Of course, some of our students are middle-aged, working full-time, raising a family, and taking classes at night with no time for clubs or other such “kid stuff,” so be mindful of that, too. Not everyone is looking to get involved, and that’s OK.

 

Thanks to this college for sharing some student feedback! More on student feedback on Thursday.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Powell on Flickr

You’re reading Student Panel, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Book Review: Deep Work

508024134_140I recently read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

It was a good read and made me look differently at what I want to do and how I go about it, but mostly, how I allocate my attention. I recommend it to anyone who feels that they don’t have enough time, which is high praise, because that’s most everyone I’ve ever met.

The main premise of the book is that it’s really important to carve out uninterrupted time in our days to focus on tough problems, ignore distractions, and do the hard work. He calls this “deep work,” and contrasts it to the shallow work of reacting to email, refocusing after interruptions, meetings, engaging on social media, and so on. He argues convincingly about why deep work is valuable, and writes extensively about how to go about it (e.g. scheduling, how to limit shallow tasks), as well as how to boost your concentration skills to make the most of your deep work time (e.g. meditation, memorization work).

I have to admit that it was a bit hard for me to get into it: as a stay-at-home-mom who can’t use the bathroom without getting interrupted, the multiple stories of single men retreating from the world for months at a time to incubate their genius in silence felt kind of like Newport was flipping me off. I’m glad I kept reading anyway, and I encourage you to do so as well. I think he’s just trying to be engaging by talking about so many extreme examples at first. In Part II of the book, he really delves into the how of deep work, and includes many suggestions and examples of people working deeply to great effect without abandoning their other responsibilities.

ESOL-Related Thoughts

Are we employing deep work strategies to perform our best as faculty? How could our departments support deep work of both full-timers and adjuncts? How can we as individuals harness it?

Are we fostering or impeding deep work in class? With our assignments? With our LMS expectations?

Is this a topic worthy of mention and coaching in our classes, like information literacy and plagiarism and critical thinking?

Excerpts from this book be a worthwhile text to use in an advanced class. The writing is pretty direct, has a strong voice, and makes really valuable points as well.

 

In case you’re interested but aren’t going to be reading the book any time soon, Newport has some talks up on YouTube, and he’s a great speaker.

 

You’re reading Book Review: Deep Work, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Goal For This Semester

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On the first day of class, even while everyone was juggling silly First Day logistics, I was really struck by that First Day feeling, where it’s all excitement and hope and curiosity.

It’s hard to imagine the mid-semester slump even though it happens every single time.

Since I have no grading or planning responsibilities at this job, the rigors of the semester don’t impact me directly. Being around increasingly tired and stressed out people sometimes does, though.

But why not decide right here and now that instead of dragging down with everyone else, I can lift them up just a bit?

I’m setting a personal goal this semester of deliberately staying upbeat and optimistic right through that mid-semester slump and straight into frantic finals.

I’d like to make sure it’s genuine, and that it doesn’t turn into flaunting how I have a very low-stress job, unlike most other people in the building.

How to accomplish this…

Sleep well, whenever that’s within my control.

Feed my own joy, to make sure there’s plenty to share.

Listen.

Notice progress and highlight it.

Encourage.

Remember when people were absent and check in with them when they return.

Refer people to tutoring early on, just to make sure.

Bring in a bunch of balloons if it comes to that!

 

Photo Credit: Marina del Castell on Flickr

You’re reading Goal For This Semester, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Two Truths and a Lie

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

1471150324_a52068a957_zI don’t usually choose to use this one in my own classroom. I mean, first of all, it’s a drinking game. Second of all, do we really want to get to know each other by lying? And third of all, since we’re all lying about something, it can lead to confusion, especially in a language-learning setting.

Boy, I should’ve gone into marketing, eh? I can really sell these activities.

I’m including it because as an assistant teacher, I’ve seen this activity used multiple times to great effect. Nobody cares (or knows?) that it’s a drinking game, most people seem to have fun making up a lie to innocently trick everyone, and I’ve been impressed at how little confusion results from this game.

Plus there’s no prep, it requires no materials, and is general enough to be used in many levels and situations.

Procedure:

  • Write the name of the game on the board.
  • Model: tell two truths and one lie about yourself. It’s helpful to write them on the board at all but the highest levels. Have students guess which is the lie. When they identify the lie, go ahead and draw a line through it to show that it is indeed not true.
  • Give students time (around five minutes) to think of two truths and one lie about themselves.
  • Call on students randomly to share their two truths and their lie. Encourage the other students to guess which is the lie: the first, second, or third sentence.

It’s really simple, it doesn’t take much time, and people seem to get a kick out of it.

Note: there’s usually someone in all but the highest classes who doesn’t quite get that they are supposed to tell one untrue “fact” about themselves. When that happens, remember that it’s inevitable and be prepared to joke, “You’re just too truthful!” or “You’re so honest!” No big deal.

Give it a try!

Photo Credit: Carmella Fernando on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Two Truths and a Lie, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

A Fresh, New Semester

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Fall semester 2017 has begun!

There’s a bit of a change for me this time around: I am assistant teaching in two academic writing classes, back-to-back. First I spend about an hour in Intermediate, and then I walk two doors down and spend an hour in Advanced.

It’s pretty great. Both of my lead teachers are off to a solid start, and both of the classes are full of students who are highly motivated to learn the material so they can fulfill their dreams.

First day tidbits from both classes:

  • one classroom shares space with a few (computer) servers. I’m amazed at how little I can hear over their low hum.
  • both classes faced the usual Day 1 logistics of confusing computer log-ins, a wide range of student computer skills, confused people walking into class either by mistake or 45 minutes late, and the need to set a good tone while going over the syllabus and procuring diagnostic writing samples. It’s good to witness that this is ubiquitous and watch both teachers weather the challenges with grace, and help as much as I can.
  • I went to great pains to memorize my recently-updated work password so I could have access to Canvas during the first class. But then I couldn’t remember my username. Oops.
  • In both classes, there were a couple of students who particularly struggled with the computer, even down to basic keyboarding. I spoke privately to each of these individuals and recommended that they do free typing practice online every day, starting the very next day. I hope they’ll do it, or else their timed midterm is going to in effect grade their typing skills instead of their English writing skills.

 

We’ll see what the semester holds!

 

Photo Credit: USDAgov on Flickr

You’re reading And We’re Back, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Activity Corner Round-Up Update!

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It’s time for an updated Activity Corner Round-Up!

Click here to see all of my ESL Activity Corner posts in chronological order. This link is updated automatically.

I thought it would be nice to round up my activity posts thus far and make an at-a-glance activity resource. Feel free to bookmark this page!

I’ve sorted the list by two factors:

  1. Prep – anything you would need to do/make/get before doing the activity. Most of the activities here that require prep are pretty low-key, i.e. print out a grid.
  2. Movement – anything in which students need to move around during the activity. I do not consider switching seats to be significant movement.

Zero-Prep Activities

Chain Drill
movement – no
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Guess the Word
movement – no
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Snowballs
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Hidden Vocab Words
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Language Experience Approach
movement – some
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Making Groups
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Dictation Relay
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – no
competition – yes

Quick-Switch Conversations
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Minimal-Prep Activities

Scaffolding Peer Review
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Jigsaw Reading
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Quizzing Styles
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Scaffolding Editing
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Conversation Jenga
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

One-Question Surveys
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Grid Activity
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

The Flyswatter Game
movement – yes
ice breaker – no
competition – yes

Building Blocks
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

From Textbook to Gallery
movement – yes
ice breaker – no
competition – not really

Information Gap
movement – yes
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Put It In Order
movement – yes
ice breaker – yes
competition – yes

You’re reading Activity Corner Round-Up Update!, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Plagiarism vs. Real Life

Students, perhaps especially ESOL students, seem to really struggle with plagiarism.

Every semester in every syllabus, academic integrity rules and consequences are described in detail. And every semester, there are students who wind up living with the very serious consequences of being caught plagiarizing.

Why does this keep happening? And how can we prevent it, or at least a lot of it?

I think that there’s some actual cheating. But I think there’s also some genuine confusion. Our students begin as plagiarism outsiders, and it’s our job to help them become insiders. To lead them successfully on this path, I think there are barriers we have to break down. One barrier I perceive is a difference in expectation.

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Real Life vs. Citations

In many situations I can think of from my own life as an American in the USA, attribution expectations are informal, conversational, and optional. For example, labels at pot luck dinners do not typically include the original author and source of the recipe, unless it’s called “Auntie Ruth’s Baked Beans” or something like that.

Even in my own work as an adjunct instructor at several different schools, attribution is not strictly enforced in many situations. The syllabus I write borrows heavily from department templates and real examples from previous semesters. I have never been asked to make a list of the older syllabi I use, put anything in quotes, or in any way document the evolution of the original syllabus to the newest iteration I created. Many departments also pool teacher-made activity and lecture resources for each course. Though the creator’s name is usually on the work, other instructors are expected to simply use the materials during class as they see fit and without attribution.

Overall, the prevailing attitude in our class preparation is that there’s no need for each individual teacher to reinvent the wheel. It feels a lot like sharing book recommendations or learning a new game.

Writing academic papers, by contrast, demands that each individual student reinvent the wheel, or else suffer rather severe punishment. Incredibly detailed attribution is expected in order to build up individual professional reputations as well as a trail of the evolution of ideas and conclusions. The sheer number of rules and guidelines bring to mind law firms and accountants, and the steep punishments feel like the IRS (or INS, in our case) is watching.

That’s really different.

Embrace That It’s Unique

Our students might be stumbling over the fact that we’re asking for a level of attribution that seems to them to be equal parts unnatural and impossible.

No criticism is meant here – it is what it is. I accept that this is the culture of academic writing, and that it serves to protect intellectual property rights. I must support my students in learning it thoroughly.

But as we writing teachers spend more and more of our lives immersed in this culture, we get more and more accustomed to it. It starts seeming normal to us.

It is not normal. It is not universal. It is not intuitive. 

As we try to get our students to join us aboard the Academic Integrity train – perhaps using slides prepared by another teacher several years ago followed by an activity idea suggested by the department chair who found out about it during an observation of a new teacher – we need to step out onto the platform and realize: plagiarism avoidance is kind of weird and obsessive.

That might be a more realistic starting point than a list of crimes and their punishments.

 

Photo Credit: Dawn Huczek on Flickr

You’re reading Plagiarism vs. Real Life, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.