Student Panel

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One of my colleges recently sent out a beginning-of-semester newsletter that included an interesting article: they had a student panel weigh in on what students want faculty to know.

I’m listening!

Here are most of their points, rearranged a bit and with a couple of notes:

 

1. Students Want Feedback

They want to know when they’re doing great and when they’re not. They want to know what their grades are, and they want us to notice and approach them when they’re absent or missing assignments. And they want to be referred to strategies and supportive college resources.

2. Intro Activities: “Authentic” and Names

Introductory activities should be “authentic” and help everyone learn everyone’s name. I’ve never been sure what exactly authentic means, so I usually put it in quotes. But I think here it means not too cheesy, and helping people really get to know each other. Thinking through my Activity Corner ice-breakers, I think Conversation Jenga, Quick-Switch Conversations, and One-Question Surveys, among others, might fit the bill. Do you agree?

I also recommend doing what a lead teacher of mine has done: have students make name placards using marker on a piece of card stock, and write their names on both sides. Collect them at the end of each class and set them in the front of the room for students to pick up as they enter each day. This way, name tags are always there and people can learn the names of people in front of them. This can also help the instructors, though I urge instructors to actively study student names so they’re down pat as soon as possible.

3. Show Enthusiasm for the Course and College Life

Students want us to be excited about our subjects – it helps them feel engaged. It’s OK to show that we’re total geeks! Whew!

To this I add a personal note: there are geeks who can’t wait to welcome new geeks into the fold, and there are geeks who look down their nose at the outsider philistines. Be the first kind of geek.

The students also pointed out that students need encouragement and specific suggestions to get involved in college life. I think this is especially important on commuter campuses. For us ESOL teachers, a quick plug for the international student club, Model UN club, field trips club, sports teams, and other relevant campus organizations could be the difference between our students feeling isolated and our students finding a way to plug into the campus community.

Of course, some of our students are middle-aged, working full-time, raising a family, and taking classes at night with no time for clubs or other such “kid stuff,” so be mindful of that, too. Not everyone is looking to get involved, and that’s OK.

 

Thanks to this college for sharing some student feedback! More on student feedback on Thursday.

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Powell on Flickr

You’re reading Student Panel, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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On Unfriendly Students

15781780806_450ff528e2This semester, we have one student who came across as unfriendly at first. It was hard to put my finger on why, or on whether it seemed to be more of an aggressive thing or a defensive thing.

It turned out to be a defensive thing, from years and years before she even came to the USA. It had nothing to do with me at all.

Finding this out made it a lot easier for me to interact with her.

But Emily: you’ve never seen it not be a defensive thing. So just go ahead and assume that they’re protecting themselves for a reason that makes sense to them, and act accordingly.

 

Photo Credit: Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

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

Learning to Meddle

As I mention basically every post nowadays, I’ve been assistant teaching for a couple semesters, and it’s completely awesome.

I think I did a fine job in my first semester. The class was pretty small and pretty quiet, and everyone kept to themselves. I mostly worked with the same few students, though I did try to touch base with everyone each session. Sometime near the end of that semester, one of the students I helped all the time said something funny. When I smiled, she remarked that it was so nice to see me smile sometimes because I was always so serious. I really enjoyed that semester, and I was chagrined to find out that I was hiding it so well!

So this semester my number one goal was to come across as less grave and more friendly.

At first, this took the form of just making sure to smile even if I felt awkward.

And I’ll be honest, I was feeling very awkward about offering help. I mean, I’ve always been more than happy to help anyone who asks, but I figured that not everybody wanted my help. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted the assistant’s help when I was a student. And did it make sense to interrupt people’s trains of thought to see if they had any questions? I personally dislike being interrupted.

So I walked around remembering to smile, and helped out the few people who flagged me down.

But one thing I could do a lot as an assistant was observe. And as I observed this class, I realized that the students in this group were interacting with each other all the time, and that this was deeply connected to the very positive, energetic feel of the class. When I first described it to my husband, I exclaimed in disbelief, “They meddle with each other! And they like it!”

I realized that there was a significant divide between our cultures and expectations. And I figured that if they liked being meddled with, my respectful restraint probably came across instead as standoffish, even when I smiled.

The only way toward my goal was to join in the meddling.

This was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I’m kind of shy, and I fear being annoying. And it was extra unnerving to treat people in a way I was pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be treated. But I did it anyway.

It went so well.  It was an absolute joy.

The response was immediately 99% glowingly positive. I had to work a little bit on one person, but we got there in the end.

And I learned so much.

I learned to check that people understood the task’s instructions right away. (This is less obvious during class when I understand the teacher’s directions perfectly.)

I learned that talking face to face with one person or a very small group had much more impact than speaking from the front of the room.

I learned to go ahead and interrupt.

I learned to gently joke that if I did their writing for them, I’d be getting the grade.

I learned to have them remind me that they were next in line to work with me.

I relearned some basics for about the 600th time: to always start from what they know, to use examples, that they won’t remember what’s not written down, and to speak reasonably simply to reduce their cognitive burden.

I learned to help without leading. And I learned that leading is very distracting.

I learned to reach out in a way that I’d somehow missed before.

I’m grateful. And I’m looking forward to learning from my next class in the fall.

 

You’re reading Learning to Meddle, 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

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?

Acceptance vs. Control

I attended a Work/Life Balance training today.  Lots of interesting food for thought.  One of the points the presenter made was about finding a balance between accepting and controlling your workload.  

Facets discussed:

  • We all work with people, which means our day-to-day workload is going to shift:
    • email volume is largely out of our control;
    • meetings, phone calls, and personnel mini-crises happen;
  • It’s not realistic to check off everything from our daily, or even weekly check-lists;
  • Two unhealthy tendencies:
    1. perfectionism;
    2. multi-tasking.
  • Suggested Solutions:
    • Prioritize;
    • Organize;
    • Breathe, take a break;
    • Analyze how you’re spending your time so you can determine how to be more efficient.
My questions:
  • At what point do employees need to take some control?
  • At what point do employers need to address workload situations?
  • What happens when items both “important” and “urgent” get passed to next week’s to-do? 
    • What happens when this becomes a pattern rather than an anomaly?
  • Yes, perfectionism is unrealistic.  Where is a reasonable line of standards of excellence?
  • How can a person or organization reign in demands without damaging relationships?