Journal: Moving to Fluency Practice

Today I had a total of 23 students attend class, though we were a class of 20 as class ended at noon.

One interesting challenge that’s come up is that my enrollment cap is thirty, but there are only 21 computers in a computer lab.  So far I’ve never had more than 21 students at computer time…

Anyway, we were very grammar-heavy in yesterday’s class, focusing in on the structural similarities and differences in using “can” and “have to.”  I really wanted to get beyond the form, meaning, and even pronunciation fo  of the words and into usage.  To do this, I needed to design a fluency activity.  This means I had to set the stage, step aside, and let them use the language. 

To set the stage, they needed a quick vocabulary review of different activities.  I tend to struggle with vocabulary, but I was pleased with how this one turned out.  By the end of this activity, they had gotten up out of their seats, reviewed the vocabulary, demonstrated some level of understanding by putting it on a spectrum, and put a huge word bank on the wall to prepare for the upcoming writing activity.

Here’s what we did:

  1. At home, I wrote 22 activities on 22 notecards in dark ink.
  2. I wrote on the board, “Shh!  Do not read the cards out loud!”  I drew a picture of a card and wrote “secret” on it.  I explained verbally too.
  3. I asked a student in the front to tape a card to my back.  Naturally, someone read it out loud.  🙂  We repeated the directions and laughed.  I demonstrated that I could not see it, but everyone else could.
  4. I taped a card to each student’s back.
  5. First, students walked around silently, reading each other’s backs.  I demonstrated first, and gave them 5 minutes.
  6. Second, each student had to figure out what was on his/her back, still with no talking.  I demonstrated the charades game and told them they had to act.  I gave them about 7 minutes.
  7. After they’d figured out their cards, I had them tape them to the top of the blackboard, organized from great exercise through no exercise (for example, play basketball and talk on the phone were on opposite ends of the board). 

I was very happy that it was quick, interesting, and a nice transition piece.

The writing activity was to write three invitations using “can.”  For example, Can you play golf on Saturday morning? 

We then used these invitations to begin the part of lessons that tends to make me nervous: fluency practice.  For fluency practice, the teacher sets the stage and then backs away to let the students actually use their English.

Students paired off.  Using their written work either as a script or as inspiration, they invited each other to do things.  The invitee made up an excuse using “have to” (i.e.  Sorry, I have to teach class then.).  Then we changed the rules so that the invitee had to accept (i.e. yes, sure, good idea). 

Tomorrow, we’ll do a small amount of accuracy practice, probably sentence scrambles.  We’ll spend much more time making calendars and having some real conversations about them with even less of a script than we had today.  We’ll see what happens!

Journal: Day 1 Again!

It was a lovely Day 1!

What a difference it makes to already know where to park, where to go when the copier is broken, who to ask for a computer lab, and some of the students in the class.

What surprised me:

  • how drastically the new pre-registration process cut down on first-day paperwork nonsense.  Yay office!
  • the profundity of an error in which a student wrote, “I am not grammar.”
  • I had exactly the same number of Spanish speakers as Korean speakers, meaning that I could make conversation pairs in such a way that they needed their English.

What went well:

I was happy with my pre-teaching of the grid activity, both content and process.  The students found out about each other and practiced some slightly tricky listening as well (“What do you do?” vs. “What do you do on weekends?”)

We got our minimal paperwork and policies out of the way with little pain and little confusion.

We were pretty focused on the question, “What is the most important to study?  Reading, writing, listening, speaking, computers, or grammar?”  We talked about the meaning, separated into conversation pairs, and then wrote responses.  I liked that they practiced different modalities while giving me input about how class should look for the next semester.

What needs improvement:

One of my students is significantly hard of hearing.  Being loud is helpful but isn’t enough.  I need to be much more mindful of how I can support what I’m saying with writing.  This will also help the students who can hear but have trouble understanding.

The class needs more structure, but I’m having trouble getting one into place when I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to have a computer lab or not.  I did put in a very sweet request – I just hope it can work out.

Also, I discovered a few students who apparently have trouble sitting next to each other and getting in-class writing done at the same time.  I actually had them all at one point last semester, so we already have a good rapport.  I used this rapport to tell them I thought they were distracting each other.  I’m not here to treat adults like children, but I will be watching them like a hawk to see if I need to respectfully split them up, at least during the next writing activity.

Thoughts for tomorrow:

Stay student-centered.  Lay some grammar groundwork for the beginning of the unit on Monday.  Reading.  Continue trying to get a computer lab.  That should do it!

Blog Action Day: Poverty

Blog Action Day seemed like as good a way as any to get back into blogging after my random, unexplained hiatus.

The idea is for everyone to discuss poverty to raise awareness and cause some action.

I’ve skimmed a couple of other posts in my RSS feed, and they were very “us” and “them.”  Given the resources you need to be involved with blogging and other interactive social media, I’d be very surprised if the majority of voices raised today were saying “we.”  Still, discussion and awareness are good things.  Let’s just be aware of whose voices we’re hearing and not hearing.

So here are my rhetorical questions:

  • Are you living in poverty?  I’m not asking if you can afford that motor boat you’ve always wanted.  I’m asking about poverty.
  • Do you know anybody living in poverty?  I’m not asking if you pass them on the street.  I’m asking if you know them.

My guess is that most (not all) answers to both of those questions are “no.”

I think there’s a divide.  I think it’s sad and dangerous.  I think a lot of people agree with me.  I’m not going to get into it here because it’s not my main point.

My main point is that the divide doesn’t have to be there.  Difference in resources doesn’t have to translate to parallel lives lived entirely separately.

  • What are you doing to build relationships across the poverty line?
  • What are you teaching your children about poverty, equality, and humanity?

Poverty in itself is unfair and tragic and theoretically avoidable.  We should end it.  But until that day comes, let’s not sit back and say “those people.” One post I skimmed suggested that you give something to someone who lives in poverty.  Yes, resources are important, but in my opinion, that’s the “those people” mentality talking.  How can you share instead of just giving?  How can you make a friend instead of just talking?  How can you cry with someone instead of just for them?

I guess what I’m saying is that money isn’t good enough.  Lip service isn’t good enough.  Education isn’t good enough.  Genuine pity isn’t good enough.  Intellectual outrage isn’t good enough.  Without the deep and widespread understanding that each person is a person, anti-poverty efforts will just skim the service.

It’s not something anything but your own experiences with people can teach you.  What are you going to do about it?

Personal Internet = Successful Usage

This blog started out as an experiment in limited internet access, and I’d like to quickly revisit that theme by comparing it to my constant access now.

I spent a while working to customize my internet experience through del.icio.us bookmarking, assembling an RSS feed, starting my own personal blog, starting a Flickr account, and keeping up more regularly with twitter, Facebook, technorati, etc.  Out of that social media category, I’d say the RSS and blog had the most impact in making the web more comfortable and rewarding to visit.

I feel significantly more connected with everything since I took the time to personalize my browser.  I consolidated my switch-hitting between Safari and Firefox (Firefox won).  Then I sat down and made my bookmarks toolbar sensible and usable, and cleared out old bookmarks I hadn’t used in ages.  I’ve started with some add-ons, most notably Google Notebook.  I no longer feel like I’m just visiting the internet; I’m home.

Based on my own experiences, I don’t see how people popping into the library to use the internet for an hour, or even people who have a laptop but no home internet access, can have the same rich experience that I’m having with my full set up.  So much time goes into organizing and arranging things to be just right, not only for my enjoyment but to help me keep up with everything.  It gives me an advantage in terms of research (school, career, and beyond) and in terms of social media presence over people without my modest but crucial resources.

How are web developers working to enable custom internet experiences for people who don’t have their own personal computers?  How are those free or cheap wi-fi projects I keep hearing about going (I think there’s one in Minneapolis…)?  When are some $200 laptops going to hit the American market, and would they be usable enough to bridge the digital divide within our country?  And what can one person do to share her technological advantages?