How I Described Rubrics

Substitute teaching last month was such a rich experience!

At one point, I found myself suddenly needing to explain what a rubric was to an advanced EAP reading class.

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I think that overall, rubrics are intimidating and ugly. I have yet to see a warm, fuzzy grading rubric, and if one ever did come into existence, I doubt that it would manage to be warm, fuzzy, and useful.

Coming from my experience of needing to talk students down from the edge of panic after receiving rubrics in other classes, I decided I needed to try to sell rubrics.

 

These were the two points I made on the fly:

Teachers want to grade fairly.

We want to be consistent from student to student and hold everyone to the same standards.

We also want to be clear to students what those standards are. This way they don’t need to guess what will earn them a good grade.

The rubric is your friend.

Use the rubric. It is a guide that tells you how to get a good grade.

Read it.

Compare your work to what the rubric asks for. Do you have all the requirements? Make sure they match.

 

What would you add?

 

Photo Credit: microbiologybytes on Flickr

You’re reading How I Described Rubrics, 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.

 

Taking Notes

 

6016780468_67a298ed8eUnrelated to teaching, I began bullet journaling this year. It’s kind of a thing, but having done it for several months, I see why it’s popular.

The idea with a bullet journal is that it’s for everything, so I took it to class with me. And rather than just say to myself, “that activity my lead teacher just did was so awesome, I’ll definitely remember it whenever I begin lead teaching again,” I went ahead and jotted them down. I collected way more ideas than I’ve written up for this blog.

While I was jotting, I also took notes on student reactions to all sorts of things – activities, assignments, assignment review, conferences, etc.

And while I was thinking about those, ideas popped into my head speculating as to why their reactions were so different than what I’d expected, or other interesting activities, or different angles for lessons, and even blog posts to publish in this space.

Taking notes helped guide and expand my thinking about our class in a way that I hadn’t expected. I went from wanting to feel a bit more organized as a stay-at-home mom, to poaching great ideas from my lead teacher, to really pretty deeply considering the intersection of the students and the syllabus.

Also unexpected: I’ve reread my notes several times already. Since they’re in my bullet journal and I always have my bullet journal on me, rereading happens pretty organically.

I’ve already characterized assistant teaching as amazing professional development, and I found this semester that taking notes took my learning and reflection to another level.

 

Photo Credit: matryosha on Flickr

You’re reading Taking Notes, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Ending with the Beginning In Mind

3526550845_d4e3d14c85As class starts to wrap up, here are some of the end-of-semester thoughts that are on my mind:

  • what are their lasting take-aways (content and impressions)?
  • are they prepared for their next courses? How do I know?
  • am I proud of myself? Why?
  • what did I learn?
  • am I prepared to teach/assist better next time? How?
  • feeling sad that an enjoyable routine is coming to an end
  • feeling inspired to fill that time in great ways this summer
  • feeling excited to assistant teach again in September

So looking back, looking at now, and looking ahead. Thinking, feeling, wondering.

The funny thing is, right now I can’t actually imagine what it’s like to be at the beginning of a semester. I’ve been there, you know, a lot. It just feels a universe away from right now.

I’m guessing that as the summer comes to a close, I’ll be wondering what it feels like to be at semester’s end as I start to face an unknown new one.  So here’s where I’m at right now, Future Emily!

Looking forward to the last few sessions of a great semester, and looking forward to writing Beginning with the End in Mind in a few months!

 

Photo Credit: Nicholas Canup on Flickr

You’re reading Ending with the Beginning In Mind, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Three Links About Seeing

So much important reading this past week.

Please check out these three short pieces. Each one is worth much more than the 30 seconds it takes to read it.

 

“Five years ago, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I wanted to dye Easter eggs with my kids.”

 – Seeing Things from Another Angle by Alanna

 

“The whole ESL class walked to the library yesterday. Young children, too. When we emerged, it was raining. Then this happened.”

 – Something Right In The World by Marilyn

“Emotional connection is our default. We only added words and symbolic logic much later.”

 – With The Sound Off or On? by Seth

Spring Break!

In honor of Spring Break, a few questions for our teacherly metacognition:

  1. What does Spring Break typically look like for you: a break, or catching up on work?
  2. In an ideal world, what would your Spring Break look like?
  3. What is one thing you can do to bridge any gap between the ideal and the real world?

 

Students’ Notes

312697129_94967f6b1bWhat do you do when you notice that your students take “disorganized” notes?

The “Disorganization”

I put “disorganized” in quotes because their notes appear disorganized to me… but they’re not my notes. Maybe they make perfect sense to the students?

Some of the examples I’ve seen over the years:

  • students open to a random notebook page and begin writing
  • no meta information at all added to the page
    • no date
    • no sub-headings to group what they’re working on
    • just a list of answers – not the questions, and no page or unit number
  • guides pre-printed on the page (i.e. a graphic organizer, a 2×2 grid, etc.) are utterly ignored like they’re watermarks

I don’t mean this to sound critical – in adult ESL, we’ve got folks from many cultures and all sorts of educational backgrounds. Of course their note-taking styles vary, too. Most of my students are highly motivated and earnestly respectful. It’s my pleasure to meet them where they’re at.

My question is, how best to meet their note-taking? Narrowing a broad question a bit more, how much of this should be my focus in an academic ESL setting?

Ideas and Activities

Right now, I’m leaning away from methodically making them take notes the way I do, or making it a rule that every piece of paper be dated. The way I see it, taking notes is personal. It’s private and ungraded. The student is generally the only person who sees or uses most of his/her notes. External, enforced change is unlikely to stick.

I think I’d use a metacognitive approach. In the second class session, we’d discuss the purposes of notes. The two purposes I see are 1) reinforce learning as it happens, and 2) create study materials for ourselves. I’m genuinely curious to see what the class would come up with!

Then we’d have think-pair-share time about how we can take notes that support those purposes. Students would generate and share ideas about how to improve their notes. It would be up to students to adopt any new habits – or not.

Right after the first graded assessment – when they’re fresh from studying – I’d follow up with another metacognitive notes activity. I’d probably run the Snowballs activity with each student writing one way their notes were useful and one way their notes could be improved for studying. Then they’d scramble their answers snowball-style and write a short reflection on the random answers they received: would either of these improve their own notes? What is one more strategy they’d like to try?

Actually, in a writing class, that could make for a nice little in-class writing assignment and be useful for practicing transition and organization words.

 

How do you support your students’ note taking? Or how would you?

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Lin on Flickr

You’re reading Students’ Notes, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Three-Phase Lesson Planning

8543315720_4c4676260bOne elegantly simple way to lesson plan is to go through these three phases:

  1. I do it
  2. We do it
  3. You do it

In other words, first you introduce what the students will be learning. Then you all practice it together. Lastly, students have the opportunity to practice it more independently.

I want to be clear that I did not invent this. I learned about it in several conversations and trainings. It’s not the only way to lesson plan – just a really helpful tool to have at your disposal.

Five things I love about this lesson planning lens:

  1. “Do.” In a language classroom, we are using the language to do things. We should not just be learning about the language.
  2. Teacher Talk (or TTT) is in its place. It serves phases two and three. It introduces and then steps aside. It is not the point.
  3. Metacognition. Students need to have ownership of their own learning. One way we can support this, even within the confines of a syllabus-led class, is to be up front about the strategies we use. This lesson plan is an easy one to communicate.
  4. Buy-in. Some students might not think that group work or fluency activities are “serious.” Particularly adults accustomed to a non-communicative way of language learning. Showing that this is an intentional part of a methodical plan can help them try it out with an open mind.
  5. Over-thinker support. I am a classic over-thinker. There are lots of detailed lesson planning suggestions out there, and they rightly point out the bazillion factors you should consider in your lesson plan. This one helps me take a step back and see in broad strokes if I have a pretty good plan or if I’ve been rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Does anyone out there use this lesson planning method?

Photo Credit: Tim Green on Flickr

You’re reading Three Phase Lesson Planning, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Student Questions Matrix, Part 4

This is Part 4 of a series on Student Questions. See Part 1 (intro), Part 2 (the axes), and Part 3 (action steps).

In this post, I’m going to explore ways to use this matrix in direct instruction and ways to use Green Zone questions.

The Graphic (click to enlarge)

importantrelevant

It’s Also a Learning Tool (Metacognition)

When I jotted down this little matrix, I was thinking of it as a mental model for teachers. But I think it could also be an interesting tool to use in the classroom.

It would take about 30 seconds to draw one of these on the board, perhaps even instead of a stand-alone Parking Lot. You could tell your classes, particularly Intermediate and above, that this is how you are thinking about their questions and deciding which to answer immediately.

I think this could be particularly helpful if you have a student or two who tend to take the class off on their own tangents. I’m all about student-centered learning, but in my opinion having the whole class follow the loudest students’ whims is only student-centered for one student!  

A step past just up-front description of your mental model would be to ask students to use it to categorize their own and/or each other’s questions. Since the categories are subjective, there may be disagreement, which causes discussion, which requires English for an authentic purpose (what’s more important than convincing everyone you’re right?). Count that as a win!

A further step yet would be to ask students how class goes when one student asks a lot of questions that are only relevant to him/her. How is it when students ask many important and relevant questions? Have they thought about this in their other classes? Has thinking about this changed how they ask questions in their other classes?

Questions, Answers, and Activities

In all this talk about student questions, I wanted to be sure that we also did some cool things with them.

Firstly, there’s no rule that the teacher has to be the one to provide the answers.

One nice practice that would easily fit into however you usually do things is to pause before answering a question and ask if any of the students would like to answer first. Be sure that everyone can hear their answer, and that you confirm if it is indeed correct.

Another tactic could be to ask students to find the answer in their textbook.This way everyone is engaged, both students who know the answer and those who don’t. It also gives them practice scanning for information and getting to know a great English resource.

You can also turn answers into activities that students participate in. Rather than simply explaining at length (again) about a certain grammar point, you could briefly review and then do a quick chain drill, perhaps followed by more communicative practice. (Yes, it’s off the cuff, but if you guys are accustomed to chain drills anyway and you keep some spare blank grids in your bag, you can do a lot!) You could also collect up to several answers at a time anonymously from all students with a low-tech snowball activity.

You can also consider having students “be the teacher” in the sense of taking on categorizing each other’s questions, finding answers for each other, and even teaching lessons and/or leading activities. Depending on the course you’re teaching and where you’re teaching it, this could be the primary way that class is conducted, or a particularly rich 45-minute review activity to use a couple times per semester. This allows the teacher to step back, and more importantly, allows the students to step up. 

End of Series!

Thanks for reading! It’s a really big topic and I certainly haven’t thought of everything. I hope you’ll chime in in the comments!

 

You’re reading Student Questions, Part 4, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.