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?

Journal: General Things

Students: 17

One thing that went well:  I wouldn’t say it was a stellar class session.  It was fine, just not great.  In particular, I struggled to stay student-centered.  I am happy that even though it was hard, I continually asked myself, “What am I about to do that the students could do instead?”  Answers: giveexamples, read questions, hand out writing folders, and many more Teaching 101 no-brainers that I almost totally overlooked.  It just wasn’t coming naturally to me today, but I managed to be mindful.  This helped me stay focused on the students instead of hosting The Emily Show.

One thing to improve:   I guess I’d like to improve my class endings in general.  Looking back at the lesson, there was nothing wrong with it in particular – I just feel kind of “meh” about it.  Maybe taking a few minutes to recap and wrap up would help us end positively instead of neutrally?

One surprise:  I managed to not make a mess today.  I usually have my stuff strewn about the room, which is pretty impressive given that said stuff doesn’t live in this room.  Each epic mess is only ever a few hours old.  But anyway, today my piles and stacks were manageable !  I think it’s because I’ve been working hard to not save what I don’t need and to leave home what I don’t need to bring in.  I’ll be ready to suavely* roll on my way when the classroom’s next instructor arrives instead of ineffectually fussing around my materials hoard for 10 minutes, slinging it haphazardly together and staggering out of the room as usual.  Wish me luck!

*I will probably trip, but that’s not the point.

Journal: First Day of Computer Lab

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  The warm-up turned out to be quite a success.  We practiced each other’s names.  I kicked things off by saying we should test the teacher.  I went around the room and named everyone who was there so far.  (100% correct, not because I worked at it, but because names generally come easily to me.)  Then we split into two groups and did name chain drills that rapidly turned into free-form name repetition, which I had no problem with.  Next, we mixed up the groups a bit and repeated.  We wrapped up with a second test for the teacher because more students had arrived since my first test.  Everyone is very friendly but maybe a little shy, and they seemed to really enjoy this excuse to get to know each other a little bit more.

One thing to improve:  We’re doing some process writing, and we’re getting to the point where they need more individual time from me for guidance, corrections, etc.  I’m not really sure how to provide that in a class of 18.  Weekly conferences?  Email?  I’m not sure what’s best.

One surprise:  Our first computer lesson was not an unmitigated disaster.  Granted the room was locked when we got there (just like last semester), getting everybody up and running went slowly, and the room was seriously cold.  Still, they all got to my website, and all but one student successfully filled out the online survey I’d made to get a sense of their computer skills and their interests.  I didn’t realize I was missing someone because I had 18 answers and 18 students.  It turns out that somebody filled it out twice… with totally different answers each time.  Ah well.  We made it through, they’re more familiar with my web resources, and I’m more familiar with their interests and needs.  A surprisingly solid start!

Journal: Planning Extensively Paid Off

One thing that went well:  Conversation time at the end.  We only had about 15 minutes for it, but I asked them something to the effect of, “If you could choose only one, youth or money, which would you pick?  Why?”  They seemed to find it interesting, it made for a really fun mood with which to end class.  Yay!  Also, it wasn’t the only part of the lesson that went well.  Double yay!

One thing to improve:  Explaining and modeling the warm-up could have gone better.  Specifically, we were practicing quick, formulaic small-talk you might have with your neighbor if you both happened to be walking to your cars at the same time.  However, I didn’t make this clear enough and some students took the opportunity to have a longer chat.  This wasn’t catastrophic, but it also wasn’t the purpose of the activity. 

One surprise:  My (perhaps obsessive) planning from yesterday actually resulted in a laid-back pre-class morning, well-paced and in-depth English practice, exactly the right amount of material for our three-hour class, and overall good feeling as everyone filed out the door at noon.  I’m not sure that all of that has ever happened before in one class period as a result of my good planning.  Maybe I’m getting better at it!  Confession: I didn’t pick out the conversation starter itself until it was time to write it on the board.  But I’m still Captain Planny for the day, ok?

Journal: Day 2 of Level 3!

Classes officially began yesterday!

I’m going to try a new format of daily post. I hope it will help my posts be short and thus more likely to happen.

Students: 17

One thing that went well: The flow of our work with goals. We read four short pieces from a great book called Journeys.  Each piece talked about the author’s goals, and they were all quite different.  From there, we thought about our own goals and made lists.  We’ll continue to work with those lists.

One thing to improve:  Teacher talk.  I talked too much.  “They can understand me” is not a good excuse!

One surprise:  How much more settled in it already feels to me.  Yesterday seemed a little awkward, and I wondered if I came across badly.  Today I felt that we all communicated with each other better and have started to become a class.

Journal: Hello, Metacognition!

Metacognition just means “thinking about thinking.”  Or in the case of my class yesterday, learning a bit more about how they learn.

It was time to revisit our revised learning schedule (longish computer time twice a week, and a longer lesson twice a week ending in conversation) after a one-week trial.  The students were telling me what they liked, what was so-so, and what was terrible about this new schedule.

We did decide to stick with it for another four weeks and then revisit it again.  But along the way, one of the students said that she thought conversation time was terrible because during it, they speak broken English instead of correct English.

At this point, I took a risk.  I reminded them that I’m a student, studying to get my Master’s in teaching ESL.  People study students and how they learn.  I taught them something I learned.

There are two different speaking skills: speaking correctly, and speaking fluently.  It was easy for them to understand the former; I demonstrated the latter and explained that fluent meant smooth, easy, and with not much thinking.

I drew a line between the two on the board.  I told them that you can’t practice both at the same time.  They are different.  They can do both in Spanish and Korean and Chinese because they’ve known them for a long time.  But when you’re learning, you can’t be correct and fluent together.

I told them that if we only study speaking correctly, after five years they’ll sound like this: “Excuse me……………..where…………..is- no are………………..the………………………pants.”  (It sounded even more awkward than it looks!)  It’s correct, but it’s not comfortable and it’s not fluent.

So it’s actually important to make some mistakes in conversation time, because that means you can practice being more fluent.  I explained that in every lesson, I tried to give them time to practice being correct and time to practice being fluent. 

I know my class pretty well, and I wasn’t seeing baffled bewilderment on their faces, nor was I hearing distracted side conversations.  I should have checked for understanding better than I did, but I have reason to believe that they were with me.  Very cool.

Later, when we moved from an accuracy activity to a fluency activity, I pointed it out.  I used my hands to show them that in the first activity, I wanted high accuracy and low fluency, but in the next activity I wanted more fluency so they could worry about accuracy a bit less (not zero though!).

Maybe this was the key to overcoming my natural hesitance to use a lot of fluency activities: the class now knows some learning theory too, so I have to be sure I don’t lean too heavily toward accuracy!

Journal: Goodbye, Cave!

Goodbye, Cave!

As I mentioned yesterday, our classroom was inexplicably moved from our bright, sunny medium-sized room to a small interior room I think of as The Cave.  Last week, the students dictated a letter to me explaining why The Cave was an inferior classroom and asking to return to our previous (and unused!) classroom.

Today, the woman in charge of scheduling in the building popped in and whispered to me that we could go back.  Grinning uncontrollably, I asked her to come in and tell everyone.  The class cheered and thanked her!  One student zipped down the hall to make sure the room was open.  It was, so everybody grabbed their stuff, my stuff, and trooped down the hall to bask in the sunshine.

When we resumed, I emphasized to them that the letter we’d written together was very important.  I’m the teacher, but I’m only one person.  Together, we were 20 people, so we were stronger.  Together, we got our room back.