Back to Basics

It’s easy to get mired in details at the beginning of the semester, so here is a round-up of posts on some core basics of good ESL teaching:

 

Prepping

Three-Phase Lesson Planning – I do it, we do it, you do it

Students Will Be Able To… – focusing on what students will be doing

Reducing Teacher Talk – saying less is valuable. Plan it in.

 

Teaching the Students

Frequent, Low-Stakes Quizzing – find out for sure what they got out of the lesson

Connecting Syllabus and Student – feedback and supporting top-down learning

 

Reflective Teaching

“You’re Too Hard On Yourself!” – am I? Reflection isn’t criticism, it’s honesty.

Beginning with the End in Mind – the end is coming! Get ready!

 

You’re reading Back to Basics, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

 

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How I Described Rubrics

Substitute teaching last month was such a rich experience!

At one point, I found myself suddenly needing to explain what a rubric was to an advanced EAP reading class.

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I think that overall, rubrics are intimidating and ugly. I have yet to see a warm, fuzzy grading rubric, and if one ever did come into existence, I doubt that it would manage to be warm, fuzzy, and useful.

Coming from my experience of needing to talk students down from the edge of panic after receiving rubrics in other classes, I decided I needed to try to sell rubrics.

 

These were the two points I made on the fly:

Teachers want to grade fairly.

We want to be consistent from student to student and hold everyone to the same standards.

We also want to be clear to students what those standards are. This way they don’t need to guess what will earn them a good grade.

The rubric is your friend.

Use the rubric. It is a guide that tells you how to get a good grade.

Read it.

Compare your work to what the rubric asks for. Do you have all the requirements? Make sure they match.

 

What would you add?

 

Photo Credit: microbiologybytes on Flickr

You’re reading How I Described Rubrics, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Quizzing Styles

33272595691_0d0b0037cdQuizzing students is a pretty common classroom activity that deserves at least one slot in the activity corner.

It doesn’t really fit my usual template though.

Instead, here are the primary ways that four different teachers I know use quizzes in their own classrooms. I’ve changed a few minor details to make these folks anonymous. Over the years they’ve shared with me what they do, but I did not ask them for permission to star in my blog.

I’m sharing these four styles of quizzing because I think they’re all very strong. I hope you find them useful too!

Four Quiz Methods

Low-Beginning Content and Test Prep

One teacher I know gives very short quizzes (2-3 questions) every day at the end of her community ESL classes. She uses it as a formal formative assessment – to make sure they learned what she thinks they learned. She deliberately formats them in the same style as the standardized tests her students need to take from time to time. When someone commented that this all sounded pretty intense for low-beginning ESL, she replied mildly, “If you set the expectation, they learn to meet it.”

Take-Home Review

Another teacher I know gives take-home quizzes after every session of his ESL classes, no matter what level he is teaching. They tend to be 5 – 10 questions. He uses these quizzes to review the main points from class and from the homework. He deliberately makes them as straightforward as possible. They count as a small percentage of the students’ grades, so they’re not high-stakes, but they’re not a joke. He asks students to try to complete them closed book. Whatever they can’t remember, they can then do open book. And they can come to class early to collaborate on the questions they struggled with right before handing it in. It’s due first thing the next class session.

Dictations, Modified

Yet another teacher gives dictation quizzes at the beginning of every grammar session, usually 5 or 6 questions. She uses these as both review and formative assessment. Plus if students are late or absent, they miss the quiz. The questions are always connected to the previous class session and/or homework. Sometimes they questions are straight dictations, and sometimes the students must transform/correct what she says (i.e. she reads a statement, the students write that statement as a question).

Traditional, With Corrections

A fourth teacher I know only gives periodic quizzes. She deliberately makes them difficult and on the long side (at least 12 questions). She uses them to encourage her students to study hard and really learn the material in order to pass the quizzes. She makes sure to allocate class time for going over answers, and allows students to earn back a small number of additional points if they submit corrections with explanations. In this way her quizzes are also great review.

 

How do you use quizzing?

 

Photo Credit: Animated Heaven on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Quizzing Styles, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Snowballs

(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.)

2946943615_c95e521e6aI went to MD TESOL earlier this month and came away with some great warm-up ideas.

What I like about this one is that the students provide the input, but it gets randomized so nobody has to be put on the spot. It’s a particularly great way to review examples of grammar, writing, etc. anonymously, but can also be used for get-to-know-you activities.

Process:

  • Write a prompt on the board. (A question, several questions, an instruction to write a type of grammar construction, etc.)
  • Students each write their answers on a piece of paper.
  • Students crumple up their paper (“snowball”) and toss it into the middle of the room.
  • Everyone takes half a minute or so to pick up the crumpled papers and toss them toward the center again, which really mixes them up.
  • Each student picks up a random crumpled paper and unfolds it.
  • The students complete the activity with the random paper (i.e. read the example on the paper and correct it)

Example:

Let’s say I want to review Present Continuous with a fairly advanced grammar class.

I might put a picture up on the projector that shows people doing several different activities. Perhaps children on a playground.

I’d write the prompt, “Write three sentences describing what the children are doing. Please use Present Continuous in each sentence.”

The students would write their sentences. Then I’d have them crumple their paper, toss it into the middle of the room, and we’d all randomize them.

The students would each take a random paper, check it for errors by themselves, then switch with a partner. I’d circulate and help. If there’s time, we could also share them all as a class, or we could just spot-check a few where the partners disagreed on the corrections.

Other Content Possibilities:

  • as a more personal activity, students could write down information about themselves. When students receive their random snowball, they have to try to figure out who their paper is describing. In Level 1, this could be visible information (i.e. “brown shirt, long hair, glasses”). In higher levels, it could be less visible information (i.e. “I play the piano. I love to read. I work in a hospital.”)
  • ask students to produce pretty much any grammar point
  • ask a few content questions (perhaps about the reading assignment?) and then “grade” each other’s papers. The point would be to learn the content better from the process of answering and correcting, not to receive the grade. You could ask them to report what grade they would have gotten, though, as an extremely informal formative assessment.
  • in academic writing, you can ask students to write two thesis statements or three example topic sentences. Then they can evaluate and improve upon each other’s examples.

 

Photo Credit: Turinboy on Flickr

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

Journal: Passive Voice

Sorry for the blog hiatus.  We’ve been working on passive voice (i.e. “My wallet was stolen.”) for the last week and a half.  I can’t use the textbook’s materials because this topic is scheduled for next semester, not this one.  However, we needed it now, and they’ll need it again next semester.  So I’ve been working extra hard with no text to lean on, and it’s been wonderful but tiring.

Students: 12

One thing that went well:  Jigsaw reading.  In my attempt to not over-use it, I’ve been under-using it.  This time, I used two readings that were fairly long and hopefully high-interest.  The students read independently and worked on comprehension questions.  Then they got together into two same-story groups to discuss their stories: 1) main idea, 2) new words, and 3) what surprised them.  Then they split into different-story partners and shared about their story using the same three questions.  One or two groups finished early, so I had them compare and contrast the two stories.  That proved quite interesting – I wish I’d had everyone talk about it!  Two particular victories: I didn’t talk much, and it ended our class on an energetic and communicative note.

One thing to improve:  Eliciting student opinions.  I actually do it a lot – that’s not the problem.  The problem is that I’m usually met with ringing silence.  I’m clearly not framing it as well as I could, both leve-wise and culture-wise.

One surprise:  I gave a quiz in passive voice today.  I mostly left transitive vs. intransitive verbs off of the quiz – they’re important, but the class was simply not ready for a quiz on them.  However, I wrote a bonus question asking them to write a passive sentence with the verb “sleep.”  This is a trick queston because you can’t use “sleep” or other intransitive verbs in the passive voice.  My happy surprise?  Several students got it right!  It was very exciting.

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!

Muffins and Testing

On Saturday morning I held a training for my volunteers called “Muffins and Testing.”

Blueberry Muffin by rachel is coconut&lime on Flickr
Blueberry Muffin by rachel is coconut&lime on Flickr

I got up early that morning and baked two dozen muffins that we munched on as we talked about testing our students (CASAS and TABE, as required by NRS standards).  You can probably see why I advertised the muffins before the subject matter.  Still, we had a great time.

I had an attendance of four, which at first glance (I have close to 30 volunteers) seems disappointing.  One of the benefits of such a small training, though, is that everyone can really participate.  I was able to tailor my talk to the questions they asked, assuage fears of only teaching to tests (we’re not only teaching to the tests, but the competencies on these tests are actually really useful to students), and lead a brainstorm that included ideas from everybody.

Though I did give them time to look through examples and to explore the online resources we have, I wish I had done about 20 minutes less talking when it came to looking at an example test-related classroom activity.  Talking too much in front of the room is a pattern of mine as a teacher and trainer, and I’m continuing to work on it!

I didn’t do a formal evaluation, but based on hearing “ah ha,” “oh, I didn’t know that,” and “wow, this means we should really try to follow the curriculum” each more than once, I’d say that they learned something.  I’m very excited to work through the brainstorm list of how we can all better support testing, from simple office tasks I can complete in 20 minutes to changing our online lesson reporting to having a volunteer be the assessment liaison.  Since learning happened and next steps appeared, I’d call it all a success!