Back to Basics

It’s easy to get mired in details at the beginning of the semester, so here is a round-up of posts on some core basics of good ESL teaching:

 

Prepping

Three-Phase Lesson Planning – I do it, we do it, you do it

Students Will Be Able To… – focusing on what students will be doing

Reducing Teacher Talk – saying less is valuable. Plan it in.

 

Teaching the Students

Frequent, Low-Stakes Quizzing – find out for sure what they got out of the lesson

Connecting Syllabus and Student – feedback and supporting top-down learning

 

Reflective Teaching

“You’re Too Hard On Yourself!” – am I? Reflection isn’t criticism, it’s honesty.

Beginning with the End in Mind – the end is coming! Get ready!

 

You’re reading Back to Basics, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

 

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PowerPointing Better

Just last week, I wrote a post about improving my classroom communication by limiting my public speaking.

I was put to the test sooner than I expected.

As my substitute teaching gig continued, one of the provided lesson plans called for presenting two already-made PowerPoints on two different topics in one hour of one class session (the other hour was spent on an in-class quiz).

The thing is, subs really need to stick to the syllabus and provided lesson plan. My job was as much to provide stability as it was to reach the students. This was really not the moment to radically change the content delivery or otherwise deviate far from normal.

But putting everyone to sleep while I droned on wasn’t going to be particularly helpful, either.

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So here’s what I did:

  1. Set expectations.
    I always put an agenda on the board and cross out what we’ve finished. When we got to this last chunk of the class, I explained that we would do a PowerPoint and then practice it… then another PowerPoint with a practice activity. So we had a lot to do in the last hour of class, and we all knew it.
  2. Kept it short.
    Neither was one of those egregiously long PowerPoints, thank goodness. I did make an effort to keep it snappy without rushing.
  3. Kept it interactive.
    I used Think/Pair/Shares and asked for lots of responses during the presentations. The first one was clearly designed with an interactive class experience in mind, so this was easy for me. The second one was more of an information-dump and it was more of a challenge to keep it from being a soliloquy.
  4. Used the whiteboard.
    I wrote down my oral instructions (i.e. “think of two more examples with your partner”). This saved a lot of time and kept people focused. I also used the board to highlight or explain key points from the slides, e.g. the most important signal word, examples of prefixes, etc.
  5. Built in change.
    The plan was that after each PowerPoint, I’d immediately have students move their seats to practice the material in the context of the textbook article they’d read for homework. This was not going to be a solid hour of PowerPoint!
  6. Went meta.
    My assistant teacher knows this course extremely well, and told me that the students’ final project involves making a PowerPoint. She suggested that I point out good and bad attributes of the PowerPoints I was using today. I pointed out some, particularly on slides that were too wordy.
  7. Split into smaller groups.
    Though I presented to the whole class due to prep, space, and tech restraints, I split them up as soon as I could. I numbered them off (1, 2, 1, 2) so that the assistant teacher and I could explain the practice activity to the smaller groups instead of to the whole class. Those small groups then split into pairs and triads to carry out the activity.

I don’t want to come across like I think I taught the perfect lesson. I felt like I was spinning too many plates to be fully present with the class. Despite my PowerPoint vigilance, I did lapse into teacher talk at least once. I also gave my assistant teacher some vague directions and blanked on a couple ways I could have helped several students with general academic issues. Nothing disastrous, but enough that I couldn’t let this post be only about how focused and awesome I am.

That said, I did manage to focus on making the most of the PowerPoints, and I think it made a difference. In the all-class presentations, the students were engaged and answering questions, not passively reading slides. And the practice time made use of small and tiny group interactions to make the content more meaningful and help people stay alert at the end of a night class. I’m really glad it was in the forefront of my mind.

Photo CreditMelissa on Flickr

You’re reading PowerPointing Better, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Why Assistant Teaching Is Completely Awesome

Last year, I was feeling overwhelmed with balancing my at-home duties and my teaching duties. I’m certainly not the first person in the world to feel that tug of priorities! Everybody makes the decision that’s right for them, and for me, the right decision was to decline taking on a class that semester. I was sad but relieved.

I was then offered the opportunity to assistant teach, and it was so wonderful that I signed up to do it again this semester.

Before I gush too wildly about how much I love assistant teaching, I do want to admit that I miss lead teaching. This week the teacher spent some time going over essay expectations (again), handing out rubrics, etc., and I seriously felt nostalgic about all of it. And since I’m so separate from the grading, I don’t have a complete picture of which students are struggling on their assignments and how they’re struggling. I mean, I can see their grades, but that’s very different from doing the grading. So there’s some disconnection there.

With that out of the way, here is more about what I am getting out of my assistant teaching gig:

Light As A Feather

I get to breeze in without preparing anything, work with the teacher and students on an as-needed basis, and then breeze out again without that big stack of grading. It’s very fun and relaxed!

Professional Development

I get to be in an hour of every session of someone else’s class. Sometimes I play second-banana, and sometimes I observe. Either way, it’s fascinating and I’m paid to be there! I have taken notes on so many great activities and explanations these past two semesters. It’s way better than a conference because it’s embedded in an actual class with real students across a whole semester.

Observing Students

My time is either spent conferencing with students or watching the class. Since I’m not running the show, I have attention to spare for keeping an eye on the quiet ones, watching people’s faces, seeing exactly which word tripped people up (and jumping in if needed, which is rare), and just being a fly on the wall and getting a perspective other than that of Leader Of The Class.

Working Closely With Another Teacher

Being an adjunct instructor is a lonely business! Especially working at secondary campuses and working at night – I just don’t usually have a lot of contact with my wonderful departments and colleagues. Being an assistant teacher, I’m always with my lead teacher, and any work I do supplements her agenda. This is really different from what I’m used to, and it’s valuable and refreshing!

Balance In My Life

All that time I’m not spending trying to prep lessons, write tests, keep track of late homework, and grade essays? I’m using it to blog, go to bed early, organize the house, start up a garden, donate the baby stuff my kids have grown out of, etc. I even get to read sometimes! I don’t feel so stressed and depleted. I have more to give. It’s good. It’s really good.

Prep

When I’m ready, I would be overjoyed to lead teach this class. And while assistant teaching it any number of times will certainly not make it “easy,” I am way more prepared to dive in than I would have been just reviewing the previous teacher’s syllabus. I have tons of specific activity ideas, familiarity with the textbook (though they’ll likely switch textbooks by the time I get there), and observation hours ready to inform my decisions, lessons, assignments, and grading. I’m looking forward to that semester, whenever it turns out to be!

You’re reading Why Assistant Teaching Is Completely Awesome, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Journal: High Energy Day!

Today was super fun!

What surprised me:

  • We got a computer lab!  For the exact days and times I was hoping for!  Wooo!
  • I had 19 students!  Yesterday we were at only about 11.  Several were people who moved up from my class from last semester, so it was like a chain of mini reunions as familiar faces walked in the door.
  • How long one tiny grammar point, just quickly “covered” in the book, took to practice. 
  • The student who asked me to do the Homework Blog over the break told me that she used it a lot!  I’m not sure if she meant the blog specifically or my Computer Class page of resources, but either way, I was very excited to hear that at least one student got extra study guidance from it.

What went well:

I think I did a good job of staying out of the spotlight today.  I liked the emphasis on students learning each other’s name.  First we used a standing chain drill, then quizzed volunteers to try to say everyone’s name in the circle.  Then we sat back down and took turns being the teacher, asking one student how to spell his/her name and writing it on the board.

Overall, I like our textbook, particularly the TV series it comes with.  One of its weaknesses, at least for my classes, is that it crams a ton of material into not just one unit, but any given page.  I took one tiny piece of the grammar suggested for Monday’s lesson and we practiced it (meaning, accuracy, and fluency) for a large chunk of the class time.  Also, it was great to do a lesson in that format.  I learned it in TEFL class, and it’s just a great format. 

I was pleased that I had the good sense to ask students to self-identify their computer level before we went down to the lab.  Some people had already publicly told me they were computer beginners, so I wasn’t afraid to ask everyone who needed help getting to the internet to raise their hand.  I asked them to look at each other and to sit together when we got to the lab.  I explained that I wanted to help them without running all over the room.  It worked out well.

What needs improvement:

A couple of grammar details surprised me during class.  I didn’t have a problem handling these surprises, but they could have been prevented if I had prepped the point itself (as opposed to our practice of it) more thoroughly.  This is the type of thing that will get more and more automatic as my accumulated knowledge grows, but right now I need to keep on it!

Thoughts for Next Week:

I already miss having a beginning routine like we did last semester.  I don’ t think the dates practice will serve this class as well as it did Level 1.  Ideas I’m kicking around include spelling dictation practice and vocabulary games of some kind. 

Looking forward to starting the “Getting In Shape” unit!  I’d also like to incorporate some additional reading into our work.

Gearing up for Day 1!

I’m wrapping up my preparations for the first day of the semester, and I just have to say that reading my blog archives about other first days and my previous Level 2 class has been amazingly helpful.

I also realized that tags such as “ice breakers” would be very helpful to have, but I don’t have them yet.

Wish us all non-icy roads tomorrow morning!