Humbling Moment: Healthy Breakfast

About eight years ago, in the learning center in Minnesota, one of my volunteers and I had a humbling moment.

This particular volunteer was not only extremely well-qualified, but a joy to work with for me and the students alike. And because wherever she went she was always one of the few volunteers with years of experience and an MA TESOL, she was always asked to teach Advanced. After years of this in various programs, she asked me if she could switch to beginning.

With some schedule wrangling, I made it happen, and my fabulous volunteer happily went in to teach beginning English for the first time in ages, excited to be working on basic meal and nutrition vocabulary instead of the intricacies of modals and such for once.

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When we all reconvened after classes, she bashfully handed me the sign-in sheet she had passed around the class.

It said, in the handwriting of eight different students:

Attendance (Monday)

Maria
Ahmed
Fatuma
Ayaan
Luis
Healthy Breakfast
Pa
Hyun Mee

It’s humbling to realize that one of your students is (and thus likely has been) so lost that she doesn’t recognize an attendance sheet and probably also doesn’t understand what the words are that she’s copying off the board with great intensity.

As the library was shutting down around us, we wrote notes for the next day’s teacher and brainstormed a plan for supporting this student more effectively during class.

Inadvertent formative assessment, and a reminder that great teaching begins again every day not with the content of our lessons, the brightness of our enthusiasm, or the years of our experience, but where our particular learners are.

 

Photo Credit: jules on Flickr

You’re reading Humbling Moment: Healthy Breakfast, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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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.

Five Strategies for Learning Names

Happy January!

What’s your strategy for learning names?

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Learning your students’ names quickly helps set a great tone for the semester.

Here are five ways to get it done:

Set a goal

I was born good at names. It’s a little eerie sometimes. Also, most classes I’ve taught are relatively small. In that kind of situation, I’ll usually know people’s names within the first two sessions without trying particularly hard.

But my goal is always to know my students’ names by the end of the first class session. I expect them to work hard – I can push myself, too.

You should set a goal that works for you, but make it as soon as humanly possible.

Feeling like you need some external motivation? Schedule a Name Test for yourself, and make it as public as you dare!

Use Two-Sided Name Placards

Yes, do some typical introductions and warm-ups. But don’t stop there.

On the first day, hand out card stock and dark markers. Ask students to write down the name they wish to be called on both sides. This helps the entire class learn names, including the students who sit in the back, and including the teacher.

Collect the placards at the end of each session so they’re always available in class. Plan to use them for at least the first five weeks of the semester.

Practice

Quiz yourself in both directions: face-to-name and name-to-face. Read down the roster, picturing each individual’s face. When you work with students’ assignments, attendance, grading, etc., deliberately picture each student. In class, look systematically around the room, recalling each individual’s name. At home, picture where each student was sitting and recall their names.

None of this takes a designated block of time, just a minute or two of your attention.

During your practice, make sure you don’t rely on identifying students by their hair, makeup, jacket, or other features of style they may choose to change at any time. You also can’t assume they’ll always be in the same seat – you need to know them wherever they’re standing or sitting.

If coming up with any particular name gives you trouble, practice repetition in multiple modalities: say it, write it, think it, spell it out loud, trace it on your palm with your finger, place it into a short tune or rhyme – play to your strengths!

Know Your Error Style

What types of name errors do you tend toward? And how does it manifest: blanking? garbling? slow recall? mixing up faces?

I’m a garbler, so mnemonics are my friend. My classic name problem is to mix up and/or reverse syllables in new-to-me names.

Since I know this is my error style, I recognize names that will give me trouble right away and immediately start building mental structures to keep me on track.

It’s often simple things, like “me in the middle” or remembering that this friendly person ironically has a syllable that sounds like mean in her name (not neam, but mean). 

If you mix up faces, ask permission to take photos, perhaps of rows of students at a time. Use the photos to study.

If you panic and blank, just going through the motions of studying may help you feel more confident, which may in turn help you blank less. You should also experiment with practicing in other modalities (see above) – maybe one clicks more readily for you than others do.

Double-Check Your Pronunciation

Names are important to people, even if they don’t say so. Take an extra few minutes to check your pronunciation. It’s really not awkward because the only reason anyone would check is because s/he cares. Even if it’s already halfway through the semester – just check.

How do you check? First, listen. How do the students and other teachers pronounce the students’ names? Do any differ from how you say them?

Then, directly ask individuals. You just quietly ask. Here are a couple of examples:

“I hear different people say your name differently. How do you say your name? What do you prefer?”

Or,

“This is how I say your name. Is that right? How can I say it better?”

You can be less direct too, perhaps asking everyone to re-introduce themselves to build classroom community, or by making a public “test the teacher” activity.

If you can just feel the pronunciations sliding through your head, ask again. Simply say that you’re having trouble with this name, but that it’s important to you to get it right. Try saying a name two or three different ways and asking which is best. Write your understanding of the pronunciation and ask, “Like this?” Write it down for yourself in IPA. You can even ask if you can make an audio recording of the student saying his or her name properly.

 

Names matter. They’re worth the work it takes to memorize them. My best semesters have been ones where there’s a sense of community in the classroom, and it’s incredibly hard to have that when you’re not fluent in their names.

Get them quickly, and get them right!

Have a great semester!

 

Photo Credit: k4dordy on Flickr

You’re reading Five Strategies for Learning Names, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Assisting the Teacher: In-Class Down Time, Part I

This is part of a series of posts called ESL Assistant Teaching Tips. I’m writing from the point of view of an assistant ESOL instructor in academic English classes at a community college. For background, here’s why I love assistant teaching, and here is what the basics of the set-up look like. I hope that other assistants will find this useful, and that this wonderful classroom model will spread!

As an assistant teacher, I’m paid to come in for the second hour of a two-hour class. The idea is that this time in class should be set aside for group tasks, writing tasks, reading tasks, conferences, etc. that would all clearly benefit from having a second teacher in the room to work with small groups or individual students.

Second hour usually looks like this.

But it doesn’t always.

The first section of the class might run long, or an exam might take up the entire class session, or the needs of the students and curriculum might not fit that format every class period, or there might be a last-minute sub because the teacher’s car broke down and so the lesson got flipped up-side-down (true story).

It happens.

What I’m saying is, there will be occasions when you show up to class only to find that the teacher is working with the students in a way that does not remotely require a second teacher. You could literally play games on your phone – you’re that unnecessary.

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Ideas

Um, yeah, don’t play games on your phone.

You’re not necessary in that moment, but there’s the rest of the class period and the rest of the semester to consider.

And there are so many useful ways to fill the time.

In the past, I have used this type of class time to:

  • write answer keys,
  • evaluate particularly tricky-to-grade essays as a second opinion,
  • write sample paragraphs,
  • scribe as the teacher and class went over textbook answers
  • stand on the side, strategically near the most commonly confused students, so they could whisper questions to me,
  • take notes in my bullet journal of ideas and experiences to inform future semesters

You could also use the time to:

  • read the novel or article your class is working on,
  • reread the syllabus and schedule of assignments,
  • grade homework with objective answers

And there are certainly many more opportunities beyond these little lists.

What to Do If You’re Suddenly Idle

So you walk into class and the teacher shoots you an apologetic look as s/he leads an activity that clearly doesn’t include a second teacher. The agenda on the board shows more of the same.

You’re parked near the students who often need a boost, but they’re on their A-game today and they don’t need you.

My suggestion: see what preparation and grading help you can provide during those times. 

If appropriate, ask the teacher if there’s any homework to check or preparation you can do for next class.

If you can’t interrupt to ask, take a look at the syllabus and see if there are any samples you can prepare for future units.

If all else fails, take some notes for your own future use and be on the alert for anything you can do to help as the lesson continues.

How to Be Prepared

Even though it’s a pretty rare occurrence, there will be times when there’s nothing obvious for you to do as assistant teacher.

It’s not ideal for you or your lead teacher to be scrambling in the moment to find something to occupy you. I mean, it’s better than playing Candy crush or standing stock still against the wall, but better still would be if you already had a task in mind.

Specific tips coming up next week in Part II.

 

Photo Credit: Christian Hornick on Flickr

You’re reading Assisting the Teacher: In-Class Down Time I, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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!

 

Subbing!

Well, I’m pleased to say that my week randomly away from the blog had directly to do with some substitute lead teaching!

One of my lead teachers suddenly and unexpectedly needed to miss a week of class, and I was happy to step in to support her and our students.

I’m still a stay-at-home-mom to my very young children, and planning while parenting (and parenting while planning) just doesn’t produce quality results for me, my students, or my kids. Luckily, between my teacher’s routine planning ahead and support from our head of department who’s teaching the same course this semester, my prep duties were minimal.

I have to say that even when so well-supported and even with knowing the class well from assisting, taking the reins of the class stressed me out! I’m confident in my ability to teach well, but I’m not confident in my ability to lead the class in the exact way the real teacher wanted it led. Lack of mind-reading skills and all.

That said, it was cool to be back up in front of the class again. From that vantage point, I wondered:

  • How many of my students are too near-sighted to read the board? There was a lot of squinting, and not a lot of evidence that they had read the agenda I’d written there first thing.
  • What are students’ expectations of themselves and their instructors when they (the students) miss a class?
  • What support systems do they have as they juggle work, family, and classes?

It was a great week, but I’m very happy to be back on the sidelines and back on the blog again!

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.