The past year or so, I’ve been getting much more into pronunciation than I ever was before.
By personality, I’m very bookish and very drawn to the written word (if you couldn’t tell from this blog). I also enjoy analyzing how things work, so I get a kick out of grammar. Pronunciation kind of went under my radar.
But then two things happened thanks to really amazing colleagues:
In conversation, one colleague name-dropped a few ESOL big-wigs she’d met at the big TESOL conference over the years. I only recognized one of the names. I unabashedly wrote down the other names (she kindly repeated them for me) and looked them up. One of those names was Judy Gilbert.
Another colleague is running a special program focused on giving one-on-one pronunciation help to students. She told me all about why she started it and what it means to the students who attend, and then I couldn’t help but invite myself over to observe. It’s fascinating and has a huge impact.
Now I’m hooked on pronunciation.
So the following resources are for deep learning. They are not the ones that will be useful to you ten minutes before class starts. But I found them really eye-opening.
Teaching Pronunciation Using the Prosody Pyramid by Judy B Gilbert. This is a 50-page book, and it’s worth every single page. It completely convinced me that pronunciation is more closely tied to the other skills than I had realized and gave me a ton of activity ideas. It is posted in the TESOL resource center with no pay wall, so I assume it’s legitimately online for free.
The Color Vowel Chart by Karen Taylor and Shirley Thompson. This is a visual system of dealing with the 15 English vowel sounds. It’s a really powerful way to sort, communicate, and systematically teach and compare our vowel sounds. It is posted in the US State Department’s resource section, so I assume what I’m linking to is legitimately online for free.
Any similarly awesome resources to share with me? Please let me know in the comments, even if this post is already years old!
I’ll be teaching Level 2 in the mornings from next Wednesday through early June. Yesterday we all received our paperwork, books, and materials for the semester. Looking through my paperwork, I saw one student who was in Level 1 with me last semester in my Level 2 class! I’m not sure who will be taking over my old class or how many of my former students will be returning to Level 1
In other news, I’ve applied to be a non-degree-seeking student at one of the local universities to pursue a bit more coursework in ESL. I should hear back any day now via snail mail. My intention is to apply this semester to be a degree-seeking student starting in the Fall.
Volunteering in the Emergency Room continues. I really like it. I’m not sure I could do it much more than 3.5 hours per week though – it’s exhausting!
I just finished several great books, and one of them is very relevant to working with people new to America. It’s called The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, written by Kao Kalia Yang. The writing is stunning, musical in a good way. There is no preaching about war and genocide and US foreign policy, nor is there any exoticism of a culture whose world view tends to differ greatly from the typical American world view. Yang invites you to join her family in the jungles of Laos, the refugee camps of Thailand, and the low-income housing of St. Paul, and she tells you stories. The book made me feel like an insider in a culture I hadn’t known much about, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I think that’s everything! Can’t wait for teaching to begin next week!
The result of these changes is that stressed-out people rely on habits, and that these habits can become “ruts” and downright counterproductive behavior. From the article:
“Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,” Dr. Sousa said. “I call this a vicious circle.”
Angier also emphasizes the plasticity of the brain, noting that the brain returns to normal when the stressors are removed.
Some interesting groups of stressed-out people whose brain chemistry might be favoring habits over goal-driven behavior:
Refugees and immigrants
People struggling to pay bills (be they heat or private college tuition)
Overworked, under-supported teachers
This has some pretty interesting ramifications. What I see applying to my students (many of whom are refugees):
they need a safe, relaxed, predictable environment to help them think
many would respond well to repetitive exercises, vocabulary drills, etc.
teaching them basic survival habits will help them through future stressful situations
Today at a meeting, we were talking about EdWeb, a list of websites for Adult Basic Education (ABE) classroom use vetted and categorized by ABE teachers.
Someone asked if this was antiquated – what’s the point when you can just do a Google search and get a whole slew of different websites?
Someone else replied that the vetting was important because it assured quality. The massive Google list includes a lot of junk.
I’ve had a lot of informal library training in my life, so I’ve been in the “vet it!” camp for as long as I can remember. I have a theory, though, that the general public (meaning the “not-necessarily-indoctrinated-at-a-young-age-by-a-reference-librarian” public) might be joining this camp.
I think this for the exact reason the first person stated. Pretty much anybody really can get a huge list of relevant websites with the ease of a Google search. What’s harder to get is a categorized list of high quality website, and what’s even harder is knowing where to start. So the perceived value of the all-inclusive list is decreasing while the perceived value of the Top 10 list is increasing.
I picked it up because it was available at my local library and because the title was pretty spot-on with what I was looking for. I was expecting a nice overview of the field, and I pretty much got one. Renner defines “the field” a little differently than I do – he doesn’t relate anything specifically to English Language Learners, or even to remedial education in general, but his discussion was still useful to me.
As Jen mentions in twocomments, Renner seems to go back and forth between “educational miopia” and “practical and helpful ideas.” (Jen, I’m not 100% sure I know what you mean by ‘educational myopia’, but I’m about to go off on my own interpretation. Feel free to hit the comments to add your two cents as it was intended.) I see him as myopic in two ways – in that he doesn’t really seem to say anything new or see beyond his time, and in that he’s looking closely to dissect but not necessarily at the big picture. These limitations worked pretty well for me – I needed some reflection of the time and some small bites of methods and techniques. And Renner does a great job of citing some big-picture people his work is derived from.
In fact, I’d say that one of the chief values of this book for me was that it was a gateway. Renner introduced me to other authors’ work, noted his discussion pretty thoroughly, and I’ve been able to identify and include works on my syllabus that I want to peruse. I’m considering making note of his whole bibliography for future reference – we’ll see.
You should know that I’m going to have frustrations with pretty much any book I read. I’m picky. One of my chief frustrations with this book was when I felt his content to page-space ratio was page-space-heavy. At times I also found myself wondering about his editor – why was Renner allowed to write fluff (i.e. his discussion of Kolb’s learning style inventory), include “classic concepts” where they made no sense (i.e. an overview of underlying assumptions of adult education at the end of a chapter focused on overhead projector how-tos), and focus on silly content (i.e. when to throw out markers) while glossing over key content (i.e. how to plan an effective lesson)? Aren’t editors there to help authors avoid these kinds of things?
Despite some frustrating moments, this book was valuable to me for its introduction to the field, its bibliography, and its concrete ideas for running an adult class.
Projecting Overhead: What Renner says about using overheads is largely transferable to quality digital slides. In six points he manages to say that simple is best and to focus on readability. He then lists a bunch of Dos and Don’ts, which emphasize the value of controlling the learners’ attention by only revealing a bit of information at once, not leaving old slides on the screen, leaving lights on to allow for note-taking, and minimizing distractions such as waving your arms. He also emphasizes the importance of setting up the room so that everyone can see and spends a page listing diagrams.
He includes a “classic concept” at the end of this chapter that to me seems entirely incongruous but important: Knowles’s assumptions of adult learners:
adults are motivated by what they feel they need to know;
adults are more life-centered than subject-centered;
adults have many experiences, and these should be analyzed in their education;
adults want to engage in self-directed learning.
Seems a little ironic after a chapter of “how to transmit knowledge to learners via a one-way presentation.” Or maybe the juxtaposition was intentional?
Flipping Charts: Renner encourages posting flip-charts as records of what was discussed, but only inasmuch as they help the class focus. He spends four paragraphs talking about different qualities of paper and how to tear it, even describing and recommending the “matador tear.” This struck me as a little odd, or a little desperate to fill space. He recommends multiple easels or a blank wall, and specifically mentions that it’s nice to have a separate place for brainstorms and side-lists that aren’t the main focus.
He suggests bringing a screwdriver and pliers with you to presentations to remove pictures and nails from walls so you can hang flipchart paper. I cannot even imagine feeling comfortable un-decorating a meeting space that’s not my own.
He diagrams how to set up a row of flip-chart paper along the wall with already-torn tape in a neat line above it for writing and posting ease. He also diagrams how to tape the caps of four markers together, resulting in a “handy four-color dispenser,” which I thought was kinda clever. Then he crosses the line into micromanaging by telling you when to cap and put down your pens, and goes so far as to recommend throwing out dry markers immediately. I mean, sheesh.
His suggestion to use colors in such a way that learners can see them and to help organize text is also a bit obvious. He encourages abbreviation and posting an abbreviation key, which I agree with but there’s no mention of potential difficulties for English Language Learners. Encouraging presenters to remember to face the learners and to observe the sheets from a learner’s point of view were helpful pointers.
All in all, perhaps needlessly detailed.
Showing Films: Renner warns that old videos are more humorous than helpful, that they’re passive unidirectional tools, and that they have to have a purpose that relates to the topic. He spends a page and a half emphasizing planning ahead and previewing material. Then he reminds us to prepare the learners – give the film some context and tell the learners where you’ll be going with it, and then go somewhere with it both short-term and long-term.
He lists eight ways to go somewhere with films, including Q&A sessions, pitting the film against an article with a different viewpoint and comparing them, and creating “viewing teams” that address questions, clarity, disagreements, agreements, and application. I can actually use those ideas. Way to end strong, Renner!
My Overall Impressions
In writing notes on that second chapter, I kind of couldn’t believe he was still going. I’m still astounded that he spent the same amount of space discussing paper and markers how-to than he did when discussing how to properly prepare for, screen, and follow up with an educational film.
I was also surprised that there was no wrap-up to the book. It’s not one that’s necessarily intended to be read cover to cover, and each chapter was separate, but in a work that emphasizes discussion and debriefing, it was an abrupt ending.
Writing in Journals: It takes Renner six pages to convey about a half-page worth of information. He suggests providing some class time for writing and sharing, providing some guiding questions, and periodically reading the journals as a teacher. He provided case studies to give examples of how journals can be used. A list would have sufficed. Six pages.
Assessing the Course: These six pages were more justifiable, as the examples of different types of evaluation (i.e. first-day, mid-course, self-evaluation, daily, post-activity) actually deepened his initial explanation. All examples were noticeably qualitative. Some of the example questions felt obnoxiously leading (i.e. “How did you build group spirit?” and “What could you do to increase productivity?”), but just seeing all the different pieces of a course that can be evaluated was helpful.
Giving and Receiving Feedback: Renner’s most helpful suggested guidelines for giving feedback are to focus on observable behavior, to give feedback as soon as possible after the event, and to not give too much at once. His guidelines for receiving it are to actually listen, to not worry about responding right then and there, to be sure you understand, and to stop the giver of feedback when they’re giving too much of it. Seems pretty clear and reasonable.
Designing Tests and Quizzes: Renner busts out two adult learning principles that I’m not remembering from earlier chapters:
when learners know what they’re going to learn, they’ll learn better
immediate and long-term reinforcement also helps
He relates this specifically to tests, but they seem like basic principles that could have been unifying themes in the book.
His test-writing tips can basically be summed up as: “Don’t be an idiot.” I do appreciate his mentioning that true-false questions are set up to penalize students who can come up with exceptions to even seemingly-obvious statements. True-false is pretty much the bane of my test-taking existence. I also appreciate his little margin quotes of bizarre test questions. I guess I’ll close with my favorite:
Write not more than two lines on The Career of Napoleon Buonaparte, or The Acquisition of our Indian Empire, or The Prime Ministers of England.
N.B. Do not on any account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.
These chapters are around the same length as the last five – quite short and focused on recommended activities. I’m a little surprised he didn’t group them together into a unit or somesuch to differentiate them from chapters more focused on theory or general practice, but I can hardly complain about organization.
Inspiring Participation – Renner highlights two activities: Speedy Memo and Spend-a-Penny. Both activities give everyone a venue to communicate, and both are extremely low-prep. I’ll summarize basically:
Ask a question, particularly to get anonymous but quick feedback or opinions
Request very short responses – one or two words
Learners write their response on a small piece of paper and pass it to the front
Answers are mixed up and read out loud
Each learner gets three coins (or tokens, or whatevers) to “spend”
“Spending” is answering questions or commenting in class.
When a learner spends a coin, they put it in front of them.
When all three are in front of them, their turns for the session are over.
The goal is for all learners to spend their coins during the activity/class session.
Studying Cases – Renner encourages teachers to write case studies for students to work with. These stories can help learners focus on lower-level content such as “what happened?” and higher-level problem solving. He advises that you write like it’s a story, using real names and at least some dialogue. He also advises against flashbacks – just tell the story chronologically.
Inviting Experts – Renner points out that this can benefit classes and presenters with limited experience. He gets into the nitty-gritty of finding and booking the expert. It’s obvious, but prepare the students for the speaker. He also proposes student debates in lieu of an outside expert.
Learning Outside the Classroom – Yes, fieldtrips are good. A really great point is that adults don’t need chaperones – you can send them out into the world to do, for example, four hours of “work” in a related field. Such a thing wouldn’t be possible with a whole classroom’s worth of students all at once. They still need support, including clear instructions, an explanitory letter, and some suggested contacts, and class time should be taken to let learners share experiences.
Individualizing Assignments – This follows logically from the last chapter’s discussion of individual field trips. It talks about setting up independent projects, the purpose being to develop self-education skills. He says: define topics, provide guidance, set completion date and consequences for lateness, figure out what the end product will be and how to collect it, and make sure they learned accurate information on their own.
Renner ties this to Lewin’s experiential learning model, which is:
have an experience
note the results
build a general theory around this – “if I do this, this will happen.”
I’m confused as to why this was at the end of this chapter instead of the previous one.
My Overall Impressions
Though I enjoy the short and meaty chapters, I felt that a two-pager on how to run a competent independent project was kind of sloppy. These could go horribly awry – I need more guidance. I have a lot of “how” questions, I think tied to the question “in what context?” In a classroom of even 15 students, I need some more details on how exactly to manage 15 disparate projects effectively. Some common pitfalls to avoid would have been nice too.
I definitely appreciated the activities that give all students room to participate. One of my students is specifically in my class to improve his conversation, and he rarely speaks. I asked him about this after class one day, and he said he doesn’t speak up because he’s giving the other students a chance to speak – he doesn’t want to be rude. Well, I found I couldn’t argue with that. These activities foster communication differently than “shout-it-out” answer time and than the ever-tiresome round-robin.
I also love that Renner encourages teachers to write case studies. Published readers are handy, but often pretty sterile reading. Why use something canned and not quite right if you can do it better yourself? His tips for writing quality pieces were well-taken. I would add that we should all read and take to heart The Elements of Style.
These are some seriously short chapters. They offer some concrete, well-explained activity ideas tied to specific purposes AND tied to a “classic concept” of straight-up ed psych.
Observing Group Behavior – people exhibit three kinds of predictable behaviors in groups:
task-oriented (initiating, summarizing, etc.)
group-building (encouraging, compromising, etc.)
self-oriented (blocking, bulldozing, etc.)
Renner suggests specifically teaching these before doing a lot of group work – it can help people be more aware of their role in making a productive group.
He also references Schultz’s stages of groups, specifying that they can happen in any order and often repeat:
need for inclusion
need for control
need for affection
Rallying Learning Circles – ask a question and go around the circle letting each participant answer round-robin. Each question should start with a different person. Circles can be the whole class or sub-groups. This is a way to gather ideas and a great strategy for showing that input from all learners is welcome.
Brewing Brainstorms – to generate ideas without judging them. Post the topic in writing. End with evaluation, such as selecting the top three.
Directing Role-Plays – to add some real life into class, and to highlight different points of view. Set the stage, direct the play, and debrief. Interesting tips for intervening: have the performers reverse roles; stop them in the middle and ask what they’d like to change; direct them to exaggerate; allow them to turn to the audience and ask for help if they’re stuck. Renner also ties this to body language and work done by Mehrabian about how much facial expression and tone of voice convey. It’s now on the syllabus.
Teaching by Demonstration – Renner suggests watching Julia Child’s cooking show and John Cleese’s management training videos. I added them to the syllabus. He ties this to Gagne’s nine conditions for effective instruction.
Gain and control attention
Inform the learners of the expected outcome
Stimulate recall of relevant prerequisites
Present new material
Offer guidance for learning
Make transfer possible
My Overall Impressions
I didn’t find myself particularly inspired to ask questions much deeper than “how can I apply this?” And I think for such short and concrete chapters, that’s probably forgiveable.
These chapters are useful to me, especially in thinking about how to work with my advanced ESL class. A more challenging question to me is how to apply them in our GED classes, which currently have a little less structure.
The brainstorming chapter, as cursory as I found it, resonated with me because that’s what my pilot syllabus has turned into – a resource brainstorm. It’s definitely valuable as such, but it will have much more value to me when I get farther along in the project and organize it in terms of what to tackle next and what’s a nice idea for “someday.”
Renner is pretty progressive – I was a little surprised that he’s ok with lectures existing. He says that lectures can be valuable when they’re purely giving information, outlining the subject, aiming to get people interested, or modeling how to handle a lot of information. Average attention span for a lecture listener is between 12 and 20 minutes – good to know. Also, he cited research that said laughter and a really engaging presentation style boost retention of content. He also suggested using ten-minute lecturettes (and a kitchen timer) and switching to other activities in between.
I seem to have a thing for simple and concrete tips. His tips for improving lecturing were mostly obvious, but to me the most helpful points were to minimize the disruption of distributing handouts, periodically pause, and to think carefully about your sequencing. To get everyone’s attention, change tempo, move around, or use silence.
He also suggested making “fill in the blanks” pages for learners to guide them and reinforce your lecture. I actually find this to be pretty insulting and would never have considered using it. I also would have questioned its effectiveness – it seems very much more passive than constructing one’s own notes. But I guess not everyone has the ability to take good notes. Maybe some adult learners, particularly people who haven’t attended college yet, would benefit from such prompting after all. I’ll think on it.
My Overall Impressions:
I liked the immediate focus on appropriate (and inappropriate) uses of the lecture. Maybe it wasn’t profound insight, but it was useful.
It was interesting to read a piece about delivering a lecture that doesn’t mention computers or Power Point. Focusing on the fundamentals (i.e. use pauses) was refreshing – sometimes we can get a little too focused on the technology. That being said, the habits of participants are changing. Here’s an article about presenting to people who are twittering.