ESL Assistant Teaching Tips

I’ve decided to write a few posts in a new category: ESL Assistant Teaching Tips.

Why

This is partly in hopes of sharing what I’ve learned in my last few semesters of assistant teaching.

It’s also partly in hopes of encouraging more programs to hire assistants for ESL writing and reading classes. Not all of my community colleges do this, but I wish they would. I think it would also be helpful in settings beyond EAP, though admittedly I’ve been pretty firmly embedded in adult EAP the past while.

The Basics

The way assistant teaching works at at least one community college I work for is as follows: academic reading and writing courses with a minimum number of students have an assigned lead teacher and an assigned assistant teacher. Classes meet for about two hours, twice a week.

Second hour of class only, the assistant teacher comes in.

The intention is for the first hour to be more about instruction, review, etc., and second hour to be reading and writing practice in class with two instructors available to lead small groups, circulate, check work, conference, etc.

Assistants are not hired to do preparation at home, including lesson planning or grading. They do not necessarily reduce the lead teacher’s workload; rather, they allow more to be accomplished during class, particularly in terms of interactions with students.

 

I will be periodically posting tips and ideas about how assistant teachers can support the classroom. I hope it’s helpful!

 

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Semester Report: Breaking My Silos

This semester I’ve been assistant teaching both an intermediate and an advanced academic writing class, back to back.

I also had the opportunity to sub twice for the assistant teacher of both an intermediate and an advanced academic reading class, also back to back.

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy for me or my family to have me at work three nights a week these past couple of weeks. It was a bit of a circus. But I’d been building a neat little silo around myself, and the bigger picture I got from subbing was fascinating.

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First, the four teachers each have really different styles. Their personalities are completely different, which I think pretty directly informs their different ways of spending class time and going over assignments. Sometimes when I’m teaching, or even just assisting, I get this feeling like I’d be better at it if I were someone else. But all of these teachers are definitely themselves, and they all definitely make it work. It gives me more confidence to be me.

Also, my role in intermediate vs. advanced writing classes is a bit different, just with the level of grammar and writing advice needed. But the role in writing vs. reading classes is totally different. The reading classes gave me more opportunity to work with small groups to discuss vocabulary, the readings, etc. It makes me wonder if there are more opportunities for ad-hoc circulating the room in reading classes, and leading small groups in writing classes.

And finally, many of my writing students were also enrolled in the reading classes I subbed for. I got to work with many of the same people but in a different capacity and with different subject matter. It was super fun to see a couple of students who don’t seem particularly into writing in class articulately and vehemently explaining their points of view regarding the novel they’re reading.

Assisting in the same advanced academic writing class several semesters in a row gave me strong familiarity with that course, but at the cost of narrowing my horizons a bit. Branching out this semester has helped me see the silo I’d been in and break free.

Photo CreditNapafloma-Photographe on Flickr

You’re reading Semester Report: Breaking My Silos, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Book Review: Deep Work

508024134_140I recently read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport.

It was a good read and made me look differently at what I want to do and how I go about it, but mostly, how I allocate my attention. I recommend it to anyone who feels that they don’t have enough time, which is high praise, because that’s most everyone I’ve ever met.

The main premise of the book is that it’s really important to carve out uninterrupted time in our days to focus on tough problems, ignore distractions, and do the hard work. He calls this “deep work,” and contrasts it to the shallow work of reacting to email, refocusing after interruptions, meetings, engaging on social media, and so on. He argues convincingly about why deep work is valuable, and writes extensively about how to go about it (e.g. scheduling, how to limit shallow tasks), as well as how to boost your concentration skills to make the most of your deep work time (e.g. meditation, memorization work).

I have to admit that it was a bit hard for me to get into it: as a stay-at-home-mom who can’t use the bathroom without getting interrupted, the multiple stories of single men retreating from the world for months at a time to incubate their genius in silence felt kind of like Newport was flipping me off. I’m glad I kept reading anyway, and I encourage you to do so as well. I think he’s just trying to be engaging by talking about so many extreme examples at first. In Part II of the book, he really delves into the how of deep work, and includes many suggestions and examples of people working deeply to great effect without abandoning their other responsibilities.

ESOL-Related Thoughts

Are we employing deep work strategies to perform our best as faculty? How could our departments support deep work of both full-timers and adjuncts? How can we as individuals harness it?

Are we fostering or impeding deep work in class? With our assignments? With our LMS expectations?

Is this a topic worthy of mention and coaching in our classes, like information literacy and plagiarism and critical thinking?

Excerpts from this book be a worthwhile text to use in an advanced class. The writing is pretty direct, has a strong voice, and makes really valuable points as well.

 

In case you’re interested but aren’t going to be reading the book any time soon, Newport has some talks up on YouTube, and he’s a great speaker.

 

You’re reading Book Review: Deep Work, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

 

Activity Corner: Who Are You?

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

This is a nice warm-up activity that helps students get to know each other a bit better as we share how we see ourselves.

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You split students into small groups of about four each, and each group has a group of “personality” cards. Students have quiet time to think about which personality card(s) best describe(s) them, and then share what and why with their small group. This can be as simple as outgoing vs. shy, to pictures of various animals, to Jung’s 12 architypes.

Procedure:

  • Decide on a set of personality cards.
  • Print out enough that you have one set for every four students in your class.
  • Students work in groups of about 4. Give each group a set of cards.
  • Students look together at the different cards. Each picks one to represent him/her.
  • Students take turns holding up the card that best describes themselves and telling their group why.

Example:

In an intermediate class, the teacher should separate the class into groups and hand out five cards per group: lion, sheep, chameleon, robin, and goat.

Go through the cards as a class. What does a lion do? What about sheep? What kind of lizard is this, and what does it do? What kind of bird is this, and what does it do? What do goats do?

Their answers might differ – things like this are open to interpretation, and different cultures and individuals likely interpret them differently. This is part of what makes it an interesting conversation activity.

Model the activity. “I am looking at the cards. Which card is like me? Which card is similar to me? Here is the goat. Goats get into trouble. They jump over fences. They eat crazy things. They are always active. I am like the goat, in my mind. My brain jumps around like a goat. I think too much and I get in trouble like a goat.”

Give instructions. “Now, it’s your turn. Which animal are you? First, think. Then, tell your group. Tell them why. You have ten minutes.”

Circulate to make sure everyone understands and everyone participates.

Variations:

  • use different sets of cards depending on the level and interests of your students, and the content of your unit of study.
    • personality vocabulary (outgoing, shy, thoughtful, etc.)
    • colors (red, blue, gray, etc.)
    • musical instruments (trumpet, erhu, bass drum, etc.)
    • plants (cactus, rose, oak tree, etc.)
    • animals from an area of the world being studied currently
    • characters from a story you’re reading or a movie you watched as a class
    • Jung’s 12 archetypes
  • after students share within their own small groups, ask all students to re-group with others who chose the same card. For example, all the goats form one group. Students can compare why they chose that card – was it for the same reason or different reasons?
  • reflective writing can either precede or follow this activity.
  • follow this activity with a grid activity, in which students ask each other which card they chose and for one reason why. This in turn can be used for students to practice using reported speech.

Photo Credit: svklimkin on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Who Are You?, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Summer Vacation!

34323588412_cd71f2d88bHello!

I have decided to take the summer off from publishing on this blog.

The plan is to return in September when I start assistant teaching again, or possibly before.

Some links around this blog that may be helpful to you while I’m away:

Have a great summer!

 

Photo Credit: Carmine.shot on Flickr

Activity Corner: From Textbook to Gallery

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

This is a really flexible activity kind of like jigsaw and grid activities.

This is a great one for making the textbook fun and getting students out of their seats. It’s also a great way to have students tackle particularly difficult questions because there is a lot of thinking out loud, explaining to each other, etc.

Procedure:

  • Copy five or so relevant questions from the textbook so that you can print them out and tape them individually to the board. (Maximum is number of students divided by 2) Tape them horizontally with as much room between as you can.
  • Students work in groups of 2 or 3. Give each group a stack of sticky notes.
  • Each group begins at a different example. They should read it and write down their answer(s) on sticky notes, one per group. They should stick their notes under the question.
  • The groups rotate to the next question. They should consider the question and the previous group’s answer, then stick their own answers on the bottom.
  • Repeat until time is up or until all students have answered all questions.
  • When going over answers, ask students to justify their answers, look up answers, etc. A lot of critical thinking happens here!
  • Take note of the ones that many groups were confused about!
  • Point out what page in the textbook the activity was taken from so they can refer back to it.

Example:

In our academic writing class, my lead teacher noticed the class seemed confused about restrictive vs. non-restrictive commas, so she did this activity with several textbook examples.

She posted the examples, and then each group had to use two notes: one to indicate whether the example had restrictive or non-restrictive commas, and the other to indicate if the information was necessary or extra.

The students and she had a great group discussion while going over the answers, and she used their answers to inform the homework and the next quiz.

Variations:

  • the sticky notes can either be one color per group, or all the same color so their answers are anonymous.
  • if students disagree with the answer immediately before theirs, you can require them to post an additional sticky note explaining why they disagree.
  • you could have students hide their posted answers, either posting them backwards or placing them under the question paper. This way each group would see each question afresh.
  • this could be modified for low-literacy classes to use pictures as questions and one-word answers on post-its
  • in case of low mobility and/or longer answers, the different questions could be placed in numbered folders and passed from seated group to seated group.
  • this activity could be used for grammar, content classes, and all levels of ESL.

You’re reading Activity Corner: From Textbook to Gallery, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Activity Corner: Information Gap

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

13981256424_9658f31715Information Gap is a classic type of flexible communicative activity. It’s a close cousin of the Jigsaw Reading, in which students provide each other with information.

The teacher does not have the answers. Instead, the students are divided into two groups that each have answers for the other. The students communicate to give and receive the information they need.

Example:

Here is a simple information gap activity example. Each student is given a slip of paper with one of these sentences.

Group A: Ann is traveling to Brazil on a _______. It leaves at 3:10 Tuesday afternoon.

Group B: Ann is traveling to Brazil on a boat. It leaves at _______ Tuesday afternoon.

Students partner up across groups. They are not supposed to look at each other’s papers.

Group A would ask a question to fill in their blank. For example, “How is Ann getting to Brazil?” Group B would do the same, asking something like, “What time is the boat departing?”

That’s it!

Procedure

  1. Decide what you want your students to practice. See below for some suggestions.
  2. Choose or create your materials. Note that materials can be reading passages, lists, maps, nutrition labels, and so on. The more material, the longer the activity can be.
  3. Prepare the information for Group A and Group B. The more blanks, the more time the students will need. This can be as low-tech as using white-out. It’s very handy to number each blank. Different colored paper can also be handy to prevent confusion.
  4. In class, prepare students for the content and language to be used in the information gap task.
  5. Explain the activity: each group is missing some information and they need to talk to each other to fill in the blanks. They will work with a partner who is missing different information.
  6. Be sure to emphasize on what the purpose is. For example, if you primarily want them to practice forming and asking questions, be clear about this so they don’t gloss over their helping verbs and intonation.
  7. Form partnerships however you see fit. Make sure each partnership has one student with the Group A paper, and the other has the Group B paper.
  8. As the students begin, circulate to observe, provide help, etc.
  9. Check answers. This can be done as a class, in pairs of partnerships, with all the Group As and all the Group Bs… Depending on your objectives, you might also choose to have students model how they asked for the information.

Content Possibilities:

  • reading any level of informational text in any subject
  • in academic writing class, could be sample paragraphs or essays
  • conversation/intonation practice – the content is just a vehicle for communicating verbally
  • spelling out loud – content just a vehicle for spelling words out loud
  • skimming and scanning
  • map reading and/or prepositions of place
  • forming questions
  • vocabulary practice
  • introducing the syllabus or other “boring” policy information

Variations:

  • Regular grammar exercises – the students check each other’s work. Group A does the odds and Group B does the evens. Each group is provided with the answer key for the other group. I recommend checking answers verbally – so much of our grammar practice skews toward written instead of spoken!
  • Multilevel classes – Group A could be the lower level and Group B be the higher level. Group B would have more blanks. Group A could practice spelling them out loud if they didn’t know the word.
  • Metacognition – students guess the information in the blank first. (You’ll want to at least triple-space these ones.) This could be especially useful with content in an ESP class.
  • Editing practice – create an info-gap of level-appropriate writing that needed editing, but leave a gap instead. Students can write in their answer. You can then provide the original and Ss can discuss their different answers and compare them to the original. (You might want to provide suggested answers as well, especially at lower levels.)

This is a super flexible type of activity – I hope you’ll give it a try!

Photo Credit: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Information Gap, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.