MD TESOL 2017

As an ESOL teacher in Maryland, I was pleased to attend the annual Maryland TESOL conference a couple days ago.

As always, it was a nice experience.

I’d say that the theme of my conference experience was a dearth of presentations that were applicable to higher education.

And the uncomfortable corollary: if I want something to be there, I need to consider providing it myself, even though I’m just me.

Summary

The keynote was about students with limited/interrupted formal education. It was well-considered and well-presented, and I thought she made several good points about literacy- and school-related cultural differences between many of our students’ home countries and the USA. But overall, her topic was not new to me and I don’t know that she added a whole lot to my schema. I also don’t know how relevant it was to higher education students and classes. I mean, we have SLIFE students, but I didn’t leave the presentation with ideas for how to work with them more effectively within the confines of the syllabus-led courses we teach. I was hoping for more than this from a keynote.

There were three breakout sessions, and I only attended one specifically relevant to higher education. This session dealt with a very specific study of a very specific group of international students, and though it was interesting, I didn’t feel like I walked out of that session with any insights that were actionable.

The other two sessions I attended were both interesting as well. The first session was about public schools. It was a stellar presentation – easily the best of the day. But since the public schools are peripheral to my professional life, the likelihood of my ever using information from this presentation is low. The second session was about corpus linguistics. The speaker’s energy for her topic was contagious and would have sparked anybody’s interest. However, I was already interested, and I was disappointed with how much time she spent on the mechanics of using the search functions on the corpus websites. She did give a couple of activity ideas which I might be able to adapt to my future classes, but I wished for many more ideas and much less of the assumption that my students had the time and/or inclination to play with the corpus tools in or out of class.

Though I had a great time and feel that it was a pleasant use of my personal money for my professional development, I was a little disappointed to walk out of the conference with nothing that was clearly actionable in my current work setting.

Feeling Disappointed? Get Busy!

Again, none of this is intended to be a complaint. I think it’s more just a long-winded justification for wondering if it’s time for me to step up and present. Not because I think I know more than the people around me (I’m pretty sure I don’t!), but because this is the kind of gap we ourselves need to step up and fill. And I think it was a gap. I can’t be the only person who was looking for more higher-education-related sessions – I’m just not that special!

So I’m trying to think through what I wish had been there. What would I have loved to have attended?

  • grammar anything (I’m a grammar geek), maybe particularly re: academic writing
  • advanced grammar review for teachers – clause types, non/restrictive commas, etc.
  • the color vowel chart (I’m a pronunciation geek, too)
  • tips on teaching/tutoring essay writing
  • academic activities based on corpus linguistics… that could fit into a syllabus class
  • cultural presentations (i.e. Cultures of West Africa 101)
  • how to run a small-scale study
  • how to run a large-scale study
  • grading essays efficiently
  • working with your college’s librarians
  • working with your college’s tutoring center

Many of these are enticing to me because they represent gaps in my knowledge and experience. I could not present on many of these topics, at least right now.

But several on my list are my interests/hobbies. I’d like to attend sessions on them in hopes of going deeper. Perhaps those would be subjects to consider presenting on next time, in case anyone else is interested too. And if nobody else is interested, that’s OK! I’ll go attend someone else’s and learn something new!

How do you figure out what to present on? And when you’re “good enough” to present?

You’re reading MD TESOL 2017, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Activity Corner: Fourth Week Survey

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One of my departments has all of its teachers do a really, really smart thing.

About a third of the way into the semester, teachers hand out an anonymous survey to their students. The results are for the teachers’ eyes only, for the sole purpose of getting the lay of the land and seeing if any changes can be made to improve the semester.

The types of questions the department suggests:

  • Do students feel they can succeed in this course? What support do they need?
  • How is class time going? How could the teacher make it more effective?
  • How is homework going? How are the assignments, directions, and deadlines?
  • How are major assignments going? Are students prepared in class to complete them? What could be improved?
  • Are students getting feedback? Is it understandable? Is it helpful? How could it be improved?

Remember to ask for specifics and for suggestions. They might not all be workable, but at very least they help you see the students’ point of view. Point out that general statements like “this class is too hard” are not useful, especially coming from anonymous sources, because you have no idea what is too hard about it.

Now, with a survey like this comes the fear of negative feedback. What if everyone hates my class? And since this is during the semester, you’d still have to work with a group of people who may have told you you’re not doing as well as you thought.

My advice is: handle it. You’re an ESOL teacher – you’ve handled awkward in the past, and you can handle awkward this semester, too. It’s just not that big a deal.

And the rewards are significant: free professional development, very possibly a topic to present on at the next local ESOL conference, and most importantly, the potential to make a comeback and teach an epic class that really reaches your students.

Even if your department doesn’t nudge you in this direction, give it a try! Don’t wait till next semester to make positive changes!

 

Photo CreditAshley Van Haeften on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Fourth Week Survey, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Exit Tickets

(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.)

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Did your students learn what you think they learned today? Ask them a brief question at the end of class, and have them hand it in on a post-it on their way out the door.

Checking for Understanding

You can use exit tickets to check for understanding. For example, if one of the session’s main objectives was working on thesis statements, exit ticket questions might be,

What is a thesis statement?

Write one example of a thesis statement.

If you’re working on the grammatical form of Present Continuous, you might say,

Write a sentence in Present Continuous.

 

Supporting Metacognition

Alternatively, the exit questions can be metacognitive:

What was the point of today’s lesson? might elicit interesting and/or sassy responses.

What was the most difficult part of today’s lesson? might also be illuminating.

Another useful one might be, Do you need to improve any technology skills to be more comfortable in this class? Which ones?

After handing back a major assignment, something like this might help a few people find time to head to the tutoring center: Are you satisfied with your essay grade? If not, what is your plan to get additional help to improve your results?

 

Some teachers use this activity at the end of every class session, and others just sometimes. Give it a try and see what you find out!

 

Photo Credit: Dean Hochman on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Exit Tickets, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Frequent, Low-Stakes Quizzing

5533236567_6f29870f4b_zStill thinking a lot about student feedback around here, and one great way to get a feel for how students are doing and what they are learning is to frequently ask them to show you: quiz them at least once a week.

Depending on your style and level, that might sound like a lot. But the quizzes are routine (i.e. not surprises), generally not long, and have point-values more on par with homework than with exams. And they can be incredibly informative about students’ progress.

Quizzes can take many forms, but just frequently quizzing isn’t enough. Quizzes don’t just generate grades to record: teachers and students need to respond to the results.

Formative Assessment

Did a lot of the class completely bomb the quiz? Take a moment to listen to what their errors tell you about how you taught the material!

What patterns do you see in who did poorly on the quiz? Did your teaching reach mostly your book-learners but notsomuch your auditory learners? Did only your star pupil (who should’ve placed into the next class up) pass?

How many opportunities did your students have to practice the material and check for accuracy during the lesson?

Do you know that the students understood the material immediately after the lesson, via exit tickets or somesuch?

Did students know to study this material?

How did the homework support retention or distract from that particular topic?

How new and/or advanced and/or complicated is the material? Do the students just need a bit more time and exposure?

Most importantly, the purpose of asking these questions is to move forward more effectively, not to feel guilty about a less-than-perfect lesson. We don’t get re-dos, but we do get tomorrows.

 

Helping Students Adjust

Low quiz grades do not always trigger a constructive response in our students. They may conclude that the teacher is mean and/or terrible, that the course is too difficult, or that they themselves are somehow inherently inadequate.

It doesn’t occur to everyone in the thick of the stress of the semester that poor quiz grades might be helpful indicators pointing toward specific actions they can take to improve their mastery of the material.

The call to action needs to come from the teacher.

Explicit Call to Study – include studying and/or correcting quiz errors as an ongoing homework assignment. Consider offering back a percentage of points for corrections.

Early Warning – remind students that the quiz material will also be on major exams and/or assignments. This was just a first warning that they don’t understand it well enough yet. There is still time to master the information/skill.

Study Skills? – use multiple poor quiz grades as a trigger to speak to students privately about their strategies for taking notes and studying. You can gently point out that what they’re doing isn’t working. You can refer them to various college services, internet and YouTube resources that will help them beef up their skills.

I think especially in ESOL, it can be very surprising to teachers to find out what the students learned well and what they missed.

Quizzing a lot might sound harsh, but if you keep the grades low-stakes and the feedback front-and-center, the results can be eye-opening!

 

Photo Credit: Paige Powers on Flickr

You’re reading Frequent Low-Stakes Quizzing, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Student Feedback: Stress-O-Meter

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

 

Stress matters, whether you call it stress, pressure, anxiety, or the affective filter.

How stressed your students are will definitely impact their attendance, participation, and their performance on assignments.

Do you know how your students are doing in this regard? How do you know – are you guessing? Or are you finding out too late, during an outburst in class?

Try this: create a very simple online form (I like using Google Forms) that you can send out to all your students on a regular basis – at least weekly. Ask no more than three questions, targeting their stress levels.

Stress Report Sample

 

What would this data show you about your course, your assignment instructions, your deadlines, and your students’ lives outside of your course?

What might it mean to a student who’s overwhelmed in his personal life, to be able to click that first 5 and know that he’ll get a kind word from you in class?

How would you change these questions to suit your own classroom?

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.

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.