Journal: Easy Writing and Confusing Computers

Students: 12

One thing that went well:  We’re on our second big writing project, and this one is much easier for the class.  They’re writing letters.  I think it’s more concrete than just an opinion piece, so it’s less nerve-wracking, less academic, and possibly more useful.  Note to self: start with this one next time.

One thing to improve:  I’ve kind of stopped writing the daily plan on the board (i.e. 1. writing, 2. reading, 3. computers), but I think I should start again.  I just think it’s better to give the class a bit of a road-map of where we’re going on a given day.

One surprise:  The computer lesson.  Today’s topic was judging Google results.  I stated the goal (to judge Google results).  I demonstrated.  I checked for understanding.  We repeated the goal together.  The class had a sparsely-worded assignment to refer to.  But it turned out that a few people still had no idea what we were doing.  I discovered this when they emailed me answers that had nothing to do with judging Google results.  Sigh.  I shouldn’t have been surprised – my less tech-savvy students were the most confused ones.  Leveled computer classes, please!

A Note on My Current Class

This Fall, I’m teaching Level One Multilevel for 12 hours per week (Monday through Thursday mornings, three hours each day).  This means that most of my students are “Level 1.”

“Level 1”
Every level, Level 1 being no exception, includes a range of student abilities.  Some students at this level cannot easily understand the question, “Where are you from?” while some can have a conversation with me about their morning exercise routine.  Some are great at reading while others have trouble reading in their first language, let alone English.  Some students have been immersed in American culture for five or more years while others arrived a week ago.

It’s also typical for a given student to have higher skills in some modalities than in others (for example, one student I had back in St. Paul couldn’t understand a word I said but absolutely schooled a Level 2 reading test).

The “multilevel” distinction is an interesting one.  Basically, my class includes all of the Level 1 students, as well as the Level 2 and 3 students who aren’t able to make it to class at least 9 hours per week.

Mine is also the class where new students are sent to fill out forms and await their placement tests.  That’s why I had 17 students on Wednesday – many of them were just temporarily in my class until we could ascertain their level and schedule and place them in a class for real.

What I Think Of This
This set-up does add some chaos to my classroom, but I think it limits chaos on the whole.  First, it lets us keep our 12-hour classes for folks who can come for about 12 hours without just sending the others away.  Second, it makes sense to send new registrants by default to the lowest class because it’s better to risk them being bored than intimidated.

We were all hoping I’d have a volunteer aid to help with new students and with computer-based learning for the students from Level 2 and Level 3.  However, I don’t seem to have one.  One of the office staff does come by once or twice a week to test new students and help with paperwork, and that’s huge.

A few more thoughts on this:

  • This class, with solo teaching multilevel and being a demi-coordinator too, is really going to take my planning to the next level.
  • A paid classroom aid would make more sense to me than a volunteer.  Such a position would be a small expense compared to its impact on quality.
  • I could probably try to recruit a volunteer classroom aid from the college.


One of my adult students has been in the beginning ESL class for a long time.  He’s getting really frustrated that he’s still there.  The problem is that he’s not ready for intermediate.  I can tell from his tests, from talking to him, and from the fact that he had a little kid translate what I was saying to him.

Point! by a2gemma on Flickr
"Point!" by a2gemma on Flickr

The thing is, he has it in his head that the only thing that will help him is to move to the intermediate class.  He seems to think that the problem is with the beginning level class.  I asked him what he needs more of, he said he didn’t know, and he wouldn’t talk about improving the class.  This makes me less inclined to accept his finger-pointing, though improving classes is always on my mind.  He has just decided that he’s going to move up into a harder class even though he can’t pass the easier one.

And since I won’t move him up a level, he has stopped coming to beginning classes, thus ensuring that he will not be ready for intermediate any time soon.  He is also about to lose his spot in the class because of poor attendance – I have a wait list full of students who want to attend class.

I’m just seeing some basically self-defeating behavior, and my questions are:

  1. does he know it’s self-defeating?
  2. would understanding that it’s self-defeating stop the behavior?
  3. what could help him stop finger-pointing and start thinking about how he can achieve?
  4. how can I redirect competent adults from willfully shooting themselves in the foot?
  5. what cultural nuances am I missing that would help me understand the situation more fully?
  6. how can the beginning class be improved?

Regarding this particular situation, we’ll work through it and it will be resolved.  It probably won’t resolve quickly, but that’s ok.

I also see a more universal situation though.  We all do the self-defeating thing to ourselves at some point by insisting on the wrong goals, stubbornly blaming things on external factors and accepting no responsibility, doggedly pursuing paths that aren’t working, expressing frustration by breaking or ignoring our tools for success, and basically doing exactly what I see this man doing.  How can we notice this behavior in ourselves, and what could we do to redirect ourselves back to being constructive?

Maybe if I figure that out about myself, it will help me work more effectively with frustrated students.