Five Strategies for Learning Names

Happy January!

What’s your strategy for learning names?

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Learning your students’ names quickly helps set a great tone for the semester.

Here are five ways to get it done:

Set a goal

I was born good at names. It’s a little eerie sometimes. Also, most classes I’ve taught are relatively small. In that kind of situation, I’ll usually know people’s names within the first two sessions without trying particularly hard.

But my goal is always to know my students’ names by the end of the first class session. I expect them to work hard – I can push myself, too.

You should set a goal that works for you, but make it as soon as humanly possible.

Feeling like you need some external motivation? Schedule a Name Test for yourself, and make it as public as you dare!

Use Two-Sided Name Placards

Yes, do some typical introductions and warm-ups. But don’t stop there.

On the first day, hand out card stock and dark markers. Ask students to write down the name they wish to be called on both sides. This helps the entire class learn names, including the students who sit in the back, and including the teacher.

Collect the placards at the end of each session so they’re always available in class. Plan to use them for at least the first five weeks of the semester.

Practice

Quiz yourself in both directions: face-to-name and name-to-face. Read down the roster, picturing each individual’s face. When you work with students’ assignments, attendance, grading, etc., deliberately picture each student. In class, look systematically around the room, recalling each individual’s name. At home, picture where each student was sitting and recall their names.

None of this takes a designated block of time, just a minute or two of your attention.

During your practice, make sure you don’t rely on identifying students by their hair, makeup, jacket, or other features of style they may choose to change at any time. You also can’t assume they’ll always be in the same seat – you need to know them wherever they’re standing or sitting.

If coming up with any particular name gives you trouble, practice repetition in multiple modalities: say it, write it, think it, spell it out loud, trace it on your palm with your finger, place it into a short tune or rhyme – play to your strengths!

Know Your Error Style

What types of name errors do you tend toward? And how does it manifest: blanking? garbling? slow recall? mixing up faces?

I’m a garbler, so mnemonics are my friend. My classic name problem is to mix up and/or reverse syllables in new-to-me names.

Since I know this is my error style, I recognize names that will give me trouble right away and immediately start building mental structures to keep me on track.

It’s often simple things, like “me in the middle” or remembering that this friendly person ironically has a syllable that sounds like mean in her name (not neam, but mean). 

If you mix up faces, ask permission to take photos, perhaps of rows of students at a time. Use the photos to study.

If you panic and blank, just going through the motions of studying may help you feel more confident, which may in turn help you blank less. You should also experiment with practicing in other modalities (see above) – maybe one clicks more readily for you than others do.

Double-Check Your Pronunciation

Names are important to people, even if they don’t say so. Take an extra few minutes to check your pronunciation. It’s really not awkward because the only reason anyone would check is because s/he cares. Even if it’s already halfway through the semester – just check.

How do you check? First, listen. How do the students and other teachers pronounce the students’ names? Do any differ from how you say them?

Then, directly ask individuals. You just quietly ask. Here are a couple of examples:

“I hear different people say your name differently. How do you say your name? What do you prefer?”

Or,

“This is how I say your name. Is that right? How can I say it better?”

You can be less direct too, perhaps asking everyone to re-introduce themselves to build classroom community, or by making a public “test the teacher” activity.

If you can just feel the pronunciations sliding through your head, ask again. Simply say that you’re having trouble with this name, but that it’s important to you to get it right. Try saying a name two or three different ways and asking which is best. Write your understanding of the pronunciation and ask, “Like this?” Write it down for yourself in IPA. You can even ask if you can make an audio recording of the student saying his or her name properly.

 

Names matter. They’re worth the work it takes to memorize them. My best semesters have been ones where there’s a sense of community in the classroom, and it’s incredibly hard to have that when you’re not fluent in their names.

Get them quickly, and get them right!

Have a great semester!

 

Photo Credit: k4dordy on Flickr

You’re reading Five Strategies for Learning Names, 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.

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.

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, attending 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.

 

 

On Unfriendly Students

15781780806_450ff528e2This semester, we have one student who came across as unfriendly at first. It was hard to put my finger on why, or on whether it seemed to be more of an aggressive thing or a defensive thing.

It turned out to be a defensive thing, from years and years before she even came to the USA. It had nothing to do with me at all.

Finding this out made it a lot easier for me to interact with her.

But Emily: you’ve never seen it not be a defensive thing. So just go ahead and assume that they’re protecting themselves for a reason that makes sense to them, and act accordingly.

 

Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

You’re reading On Unfriendly Students, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Two-Year Nonprofit Anniversary

Today I’m celebrating my second anniversary of working a real job in a nonprofit!

Balloons, Photo by Ric e Ette
Balloons, Photo by Ric e Ette

Here are the top 5 things about my experience that surprised me:

  1. How easy it would be to put in ludicrously long hours.
  2. That relatively little changed as a result of my ludicrously long hours.
  3. How readily colleagues accepted and relied on my “technology” prowess.
  4. That I would be part of such a close-knit team.
  5. That I would be so frustrated by so many things.

Based on those surprises, here is some unsolicited advice I have for people getting started:

  1. You need to watch out for yourself when it comes to work load, hours, vacation, etc.  Yes, we work for the benefit of others, but it is still okay to advocate for yourself.  You cannot help others effectively if you are burned out.  If you do not draw the line, you will burn out.  The line can be drawn reasonably, tactfully, and respectfully.
  2. Organizations and work flows change slowly.  New systems take time to design well and additional time to implement and reinforce.  They are worth this investment.  Pursue change, but understand that it’s not just a quick sprint down the lane, and pace yourself accordingly.
  3. I advise you to be careful about what you take on.  If there isn’t room for it in your work plan, there isn’t room for it on your list of responsibilities or in your schedule.  That being said, also understand that sometimes, things just need to get done.  It’s a tough balance.  Be in good communication with your supervisor, and see advice item #1.
  4. Value your team.  Be sure to tell your team that you value them and tell them why.  Mean it, or don’t say anything.  Harness the power of gossip for good – tell other people how awesome your team is and why.
  5. Nonprofits are noble and support causes etc. etc., but they’re jobs, organizations, offices, etc. like every other place of work.  They are not immune to annoyances, challenges, surprises, and other such typical work-related frustrations.  Communication, the major challenge of all organizations, is not magically solved in nonprofit land.  Work through it, and see advice item #2.  It is worth being patient and persistent.

What do you have to say to nonprofit newbies?  Do nonprofit newbies have any questions to ask?