First Day Round-Up

A round-up of posts relevant to the first day of class!

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Getting Ready

Beginning with the End In Mind – Thinking beyond the syllabus, log-ins, and diagnostic tests of the first day, to the larger question of how the semester should go.

Student Panel – Authentic introductions and warm-ups are important, according to a student panel at one of my colleges.

Student Questions – How will you be handling student questions this semester? Think about it, and set the expectation on Day 1.

Connecting Student and Syllabus – Best to start out with a plan for this!

 

Activities

Syllabus Activities – Ideas for going over the syllabus on the first day, plus more ideas for integrating it into class throughout the semester.

Conversation Jenga – A particularly great activity for Day 1 conversations.

Warm-Ups – All of my posts tagged “warm-up”

 

Journals

Awkward First Day – Classic journal post from my earliest days teaching EBS.

Comfortable First Day – Classic journal post from my days teaching EBS.

A Fresh, New Semester – My first day last semester – assistant teaching in for-credit EAP.

 

Photo CreditJeanne Menjoulet on Flickr

You’re reading First Day Round-Up, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Assisting the Teacher: Getting Started

This is part of a series of posts called ESL Assistant Teaching Tips. I’m writing from the point of view of an assistant ESOL instructor in academic English classes at a community college. For background, here’s why I love assistant teaching, and here is what the basics of the set-up look like. I hope that other assistants will find this useful, and that this wonderful classroom model will spread!

My first semester assistant teaching was a fantastic experience, and one of the highlights was getting to know, observe, and collaborate with my lead teacher. But I have to admit, we got off to a slow start.

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Neither of us had ever been an assistant teacher, and neither of us had ever worked with one, either. To complicate things, she had graciously taken on teaching the class at the last minute when the need came to her attention, and I wasn’t assigned to the class until the second week. This meant we not only felt like we started out by playing catch-up, but we had both missed the training for working with/as assistants. So we had a bit of a learning curve.

Even though the following semesters had less confusion and scurrying, there was (and is!) still plenty to learn while navigating different courses, lead teachers, students, and semester events.

Based on all of that, these are my top five suggestions for getting started:

  1. Introduce yourself to the teacher. Not just your name and contact info, but a really short summary of your qualifications, experience, and what you have to offer. At least at our school, assistant teachers only need a BA or significant writing experience. One semester when I wasn’t proactive about introducing myself, it turned out that one of my lead teachers got most of the way through the semester before learning that I was an experienced ESL instructor with an MA TESOL! Where did I think she would learn this about me, if not from me? Oops!
  2. Introduce yourself to the class.  Sometimes I’ve been given the opportunity to introduce myself, and sometimes not. I drastically prefer introducing myself – I think it makes a huge difference with how students see me. My spiel to classes is similar to what I tell the teacher, mentioning that I’m a qualified teacher but not in charge of this class. I also emphasize that my job is to answer their questions, and that I really like this job!
  3. Attend the entire first class if possible. My assistant teaching gig starts the second hour of a two-hour class session, but ever since I began late in my first semester of assisting, I have asked to attend the entire first session of every class I could. I like that students see me there from the beginning, so I’m not extra. It also gives me some additional time to get a feel for my new lead teacher’s style.
  4. Find out if your lead teacher is accustomed to the assistant teacher model. The easiest way is to ask the lead teacher, though I think it would also be reasonable to ask the person who hired/assigned you. If your lead teacher is new to having an assistant teacher, be reasonably proactive with suggesting what you can do for him/her during class time. And when in doubt, circulate.
  5. Know your job description. At my college, assistants are specifically placed in classes to be an extra set of hands during class time. They are not to do subjective grading (e.g. major essays), preparation at home, etc. Particularly if your teacher is new to your department or new to having an assistant, be prepared for the possibility that you may have to decline tasks that are not within your job description. It does not feel good to say no, but I’m living proof that you can say it and still have a great relationship with your teacher. Focus on what you can do for them. If you find you’re saying “no” with any frequency, encourage them to speak to a head of your department if they have questions about your role.

It’s hard to believe that a few years ago, I’d only vaguely heard of assistant teaching at the college level, and I’m now it’s such an important part of my career and teaching perspective.

Here’s to a wonderful semester, everyone!

 

Photo CreditChris Conway, Hilleary Osheroff on Flickr

You’re reading Assisting the Teacher: Getting Started, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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.

 

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.

A Fresh, New Semester

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Fall semester 2017 has begun!

There’s a bit of a change for me this time around: I am assistant teaching in two academic writing classes, back-to-back. First I spend about an hour in Intermediate, and then I walk two doors down and spend an hour in Advanced.

It’s pretty great. Both of my lead teachers are off to a solid start, and both of the classes are full of students who are highly motivated to learn the material so they can fulfill their dreams.

First day tidbits from both classes:

  • one classroom shares space with a few (computer) servers. I’m amazed at how little I can hear over their low hum.
  • both classes faced the usual Day 1 logistics of confusing computer log-ins, a wide range of student computer skills, confused people walking into class either by mistake or 45 minutes late, and the need to set a good tone while going over the syllabus and procuring diagnostic writing samples. It’s good to witness that this is ubiquitous and watch both teachers weather the challenges with grace, and help as much as I can.
  • I went to great pains to memorize my recently-updated work password so I could have access to Canvas during the first class. But then I couldn’t remember my username. Oops.
  • In both classes, there were a couple of students who particularly struggled with the computer, even down to basic keyboarding. I spoke privately to each of these individuals and recommended that they do free typing practice online every day, starting the very next day. I hope they’ll do it, or else their timed midterm is going to in effect grade their typing skills instead of their English writing skills.

 

We’ll see what the semester holds!

 

Photo Credit: USDAgov on Flickr

You’re reading And We’re Back, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Beginning with the End In Mind

8580915870_f08788c2a9In anticipation of the beginning of the semester, here’s what’s on my mind:

  • What can I do to set a great tone for the semester?
  • How do I meaningfully and efficiently communicate expectations to everyone?
  • Am I prepared to help people log into the class computers? This system is particularly weird!
  • How am I going to support the students with the lowest tech skills?
  • What is a reasonable and early indicator that a student is in danger of failing the class?

Looking back at thoughts from the end of last semester, some more things to think about:

  • What are three things I can do this semester that I will be proud of?
  • What can I improve from last semester? (perennial answer: teacher talk, Emily. Teacher talk.)
  • What take-aways do I want to foster all semester long?

A few posts with ideas for the first day:

Lastly, just for kicks, a few posts from previous First Days:

 

Photo Credit: solidariat on Flickr

You’re reading Beginning with the End in Mind, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Syllabus Activities

14193201770_0f44e45da7The course syllabus gives students powerful information about the upcoming semester: learning goals, assignment schedules, grading policies, academic resources, and so much more.

But it just looks like a stack of paper.

Unfortunately, in my experience the students who need this resource the most are the ones least likely to recognize and understand all it provides.

In my opinion, the single most effective way to get students to realize what is in the syllabus and see how it can help them, is to have them use it.

Here are several activity ideas:

On The First Day

Embed Write-Ins

When you write the syllabus, leave prompts for students to write in personalized information.

“A classmate’s name and contact info: ___________________________”

“Dates I know I’ll have to miss class: ___________________________”

Take it a step farther and go for some metacognition:

“Which of these technical skills do I need help with? ___________________________”

“Is it better to go to the writing center or fail the class? ___________________________”

“What will I do if I get less than 75% on a major assignment? ___________________________”

Info Gap

Turn the syllabus into an information gap activity. You can do this with the whole thing or just one or two sections.

Make three different versions of the syllabus:

  • one complete master document
  • Version A (see below)
  • Version B (see below)

Name the files abundantly clearly.

In Version A, blank out 5-10 key pieces of information. Leave space for the students to write in the information during class.

In Version B, blank out 5-10 different key pieces of information. Double check that the information missing from Version A is present in Version B and vice-versa. Again, leave space for students to write in the information.

When you print them, be sure to label the cover of each. Color code, call them “Complete,” “A,” and “B,” etc.

Have students circulate and ask each other for the information they’re missing.

Note: Specify that the purpose of this activity is to practice conversation AND to be familiar with the syllabus.

Good question:  “When is the midterm?”

Bad question: “What is the third word in the second paragraph of page 2?”

Jigsaw Activity

This is the most advanced suggestion on this list.

During class, use the syllabus as the basis for a jigsaw activity.

Have small groups become experts in one section of the syllabus. Suggested activities: within each group, take turns reading a paragraph out loud while the others follow along. Then each student take a few minutes to develop a comprehension question on each paragraph s/he read aloud. The students quiz each other, closed-book. They share their opinions about how important their section is, and when it’s most useful. Last, together they put together a one-minute summary of their section that they will share with the others.

Then, these small groups break apart and form new groups with at least one representative from each original group. Within the new groups, students each share their one-minute summary. Then they give their opinion about how important their section is, and when it’s most useful (e.g. the grading policies section is very important, especially useful if you’re worried about your grades; the school closing section is important, but only if it’s snowing out).

After The First Day

Make Sure It’s A Relevant, Living Document

When you talk about grading or policy issues come up, refer back to the syllabus. Open up the document online or in your hands. Or both.

When you “complete” a course objective or a major assignment is handed in, graded, corrected and thoroughly finished with, take a moment during class to check it off on your syllabus. Use a document camera if you have one. Encourage students to check off accomplishments on their copies as well.

If your syllabus includes a schedule, and that schedule changes (e.g. Unit 5 needs another week), update the master copy of the syllabus. Ask students to put an X through their latest version of the course schedule, and then hand out updated (and labeled) hard copies.

Assign It As Content

Sometime in the second week, have the students complete a basic take-home assignment using the syllabus as a reference. Depending on your style, some might call this an open-book “quiz,” but others would simply say “homework.”

Ask straightforward questions that highlight what you want students to be most aware of.

“What happens if homework is late?”

“How much of your grade is your midterm worth?”

Use It As A Text

Going over coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS)? Highlight them in the course objectives in the syllabus and discuss why each one was chosen.

Learning to paraphrase? Why not paraphrase some of the syllabus section on plagiarism?

Practicing intonation? Use the syllabus! There are certainly statements, lists, dependent clauses, and so on.

 

Wishing students and teachers everywhere a wonderful semester!

 

Photo Credit: Phillip Wong on Flickr

You’re reading Syllabus Strategies, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.