Journal: Love Apples?

Students: 13

One thing that went well:  Jared did a voice recording for me yesterday.  He really did call me yesterday evening to tell me that his bike pedal broke off mid-commute and that he needed a ride home.  The recording he made for me was the message he would’ve left had I not been able to pick up the phone right when he called.  The class seemed impressed that it was really him and about a real situation.  And we all kind of got a kick out of it.

One thing to improve:  I talk too much.

One surprise:  Our long reading was about tomatoes.  (Apparently, in French they used to be called “love apples.”  So the title of our reading about tomatoes was “Love Apples.”  It was weird.)  It was surprisingly engaging.  The pre-reading questions, which are so often lame, actually led to some really interesting conversations and a debate as to whether tomatoes were fruits or vegetables.  Then, once the reading explained the biological definition of “fruit” (it contains the seeds), we had a great time thinking up surprising examples, for example, peppers and cucumbers.  I guess I would’ve thought the article about tomatoes would be mind-numbing, but it wasn’t at all!

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Journal: Complicated Fluency Activity!

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus last week.  Family emergency.

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  The complicated fluency activity actually went pretty well!  The purpose of it was for students to practice taking and leaving messages in small groups.  There were six groups, different roles in each group, and message scenarios – in other words, there was plenty of room for chaos. Modeling it took a little time, and getting it organized took a bit more time.  However, it turned out to be pretty doable, fairly engaging, and long enough to justify the time investment of getting it rolling in the first place.  I’m thinking about modifying it a bit for tomorrow and then re-using it.  We’ll see.

One thing to improve:  This class frequently hesitates to volunteer to put answers on the board.  It can be kind of painful.  I need to be more creative about answer-checking.

One surprise:  Well, in retrospect it’s not at all surprising.  You know those little phone message form things that lots of offices use?  With little check boxes for “Call back” or “Returning your call” and teeny tiny lines to write messages on?  I have an irrational dislike of them.  Maybe it’s because I don’t like to write very small, or maybe it’s my dislike of forms in general, but I’m much happier taking notes on blank paper.  My class, however, was pretty enthused about the forms in the textbook.  This shouldn’t have surprised me: the check boxes allow for less writing, and the form supplies built-in reminders about what to write down.  So at the break, I quick made them some phone forms.  Note to self: just because I dislike something doesn’t mean the class does!

Journal: A Quick Morning

Students: 12 (no public school today, so many parents had to stay home)

One thing that went well:  The Excel presentation didn’t put most people to sleep.  It should have put a couple to sleep because they’re already pretty quick with Excel, but I think they were too polite to flagrantly conk out. 

One thing to improve:  The grammar quiz I gave was both grammatically difficult and logically difficult.  The results might still be worth something, but I have to realize that they measure is not just their understanding of the meaning Present Perfect, but also their “If X = Y, and Z means X > Y, then Z is false” logical abilities. 

One surprise:  Time.  It went super quickly today.

Journal: 16 < 19 < 20

Students: 20

One thing that went well:  Right before class started, one of my early birds asked for clarification on the grammar point.  My class doesn’t always understand when to use Simple Past and when to use Present Perfect (I went to Italy vs. I have gone to Italy).  The woman’s question was about the difference between specific time and general time.  Her question led me to frame the functions of Present Perfect a bit differently in class, and it really seemed to be working better for people.  Yay for student questions!

One thing to improve:  This is going to sound trivial, but I really need to remember to think about whether or not I have enough books and/or copies for the whole class.  I have enough books for 16 people, and today I made enough copies of non-book materials for 19 people, and I was surprised when I didn’t have enough for 20 people.  Focus, Emily!

One surprise:  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading their writing when I took it home to comment on last night.  I was also surprised at how very long it took me to read them all, write meaningful comments, and suggest corrections.  There goes my hourly wage!  🙂

Journal: Jigsaws and Shovels

Students: 19

One thing that went well:  Unlike yesterday, today I remembered to bring the DVD with the listening exercises on it!

Ok, that’s cheating.  

One real thing that went well:  We ended with sort of a truncated jigsaw reading.  I think the big success was the reading itself – it was really interesting! It was a magazine-style quiz with ten different scenarios.  Each scenario highlighted norms in different countries and cultures, and the questions were either, “What should you do?” or “What was your mistake?”  I gave each group two questions from the quiz, and they read them and discussed their answers.

Since we were short on time, I didn’t mix up the groups as I normally would in a jigsaw.  Instead of mixing up the groups for phase two, I had a volunteer from each group read one question to the whole group and give their suggested answer.  Then, I told everyone if the book agreed or not.  We also related it back to US culture.  This saved a lot of time (we were running a bit short), and it was also a great, high-energy way to end class.

One thing to be improved:  With grammar, sometimes I feel like I’m digging us into a hole rather than clarifying anything.  Today was one of those days.  We didn’t do too much – I cut it a bit short when I felt the shovel in my hands.  I hope to start to dig us out tomorrow.  Aside from making sure my points are clear, I need to do my best to steer them away from obsessing over exceptions and weird overlaps (i.e. “Have you eaten dinner?” vs. “Did you eat dinner?”).

One surprise:  We’re studying Present Perfect.  We also watched a DVD dialogue  in which one character said to another, “I never forget a face.”  A student asked why this wasn’t in Present Perfect: “I have never forgotten a face.”  She even backed it up: it emphasizes the past up to the present, and it’s about an experience (or rather, the lack thereof).  I thought it was a brilliant connection!  We talked about it being a normal phrase, and why it’s in Present tense, and the slightly strange tone it would take in Present Perfect.  But still, really great insight.

Journal: Spreadsheets and Apples

Students: 16

One thing that went well:  This week was “The Week of the Spreadsheet,” and I think it went well.  I liked that I demonstrated what spreadsheets could do first (in daily mini-demos) rather than focusing on how to find Excel and how to save your document – it made many of the students curious, and a few even asked if they could make their own soon (Why yes! So glad you asked!).  I also liked that all of the instructions were computerized.  I had them download and print Word documents of instructions from my website (mwahaha, high expectations), and they did great.  I also liked the fact that they all had the instructions and I wasn’t trying to synchronize a class of 16 on each step, (“Ok, has everybody found Excel?  No?  What about now?  Ok.  Now, click in the first box.” – that would have been a nightmare).

One thing to improve:  In short, instructions.  Explanation-wise, I never made it very clear that the reason we were asking each other questions and writing down the answers in grids was so that we could enter that information into our spreadsheets.  It was pretty easy to clarify, but whoops, it was an avoidable hiccup.  Format-wise, a quick audio/visual presentation would have been easier for some of the students with lower computer skills.  I could have made such a thing with Jing – it just would have taken a long time to make, mostly due to my inexperience.  The Word docs served their purpose and it was handy that they could print, but I should really give upgrading to video a try!

One surprise:  I worked with a student during break, one of the ladies who’d scored surprisingly low on the quiz yesterday.  When we were finished, I went to get my water bottle out of my tote bag, and inside it I discovered a plastic shopping bag with three apples in it that I definitely hadn’t brought with me.  They were from a couple of other ladies in the class, they said from the Amish market.  Delicious.  And now I can say that I’ve been appled.

Journal: Quizzing and Stress! (but it went fine)

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  I gave them a six-question grammar quiz as part of our accuracy review this morning.  Honestly, my motivation for doing so was to get data that was meaningful to them for our daily mini-demo on spreadsheets.  But the data turned out to be very informative for me.  I found that one of my questions was unduly difficult and why (whoops), about 2/3 of the class was pretty solid on the grammar point, and about 4 people (I was surprised at who they were) were struggling considerably.  Very good to know!  Note to self: low-stakes quiz more often.

One thing to improve:  The warm-up was weak and lacked any structure at all.  This was not a choice, but a result of saying during my planning, “I’ll come back to the detail of how exactly they should practice each other’s names” and then doing so when I didn’t have enough time to figure it out.  I ended up telling them that they had 7 minutes to study each other’s names, first and last.  It actually seemed to go pretty well: many of them used their grids from Monday, everybody was involved, and later on during the break I heard snippets of “how do you spell your name?”  Free-form seemed to have been a good idea – I’d just like to use it intentionally in the future.

One surprise:  This week, several students have mentioned to me that they’re stressed in class.  Not in tears or anything, and always with a laugh, but still.  In some ways this is not actually a surprise because a couple of them just moved up from Level 2.  But one of the students has been Level 3 for a while now, and though her writing is excellent, she mentioned that it really stresses her out.  I guess I’m surprised that I could both be stressing out my students and that they’d be willing to tell me so – you’d think they’d be mutually exclusive.  Also, I’m not really sure what to do.  Thoughts?