Journal: Quizzing and Stress! (but it went fine)

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  I gave them a six-question grammar quiz as part of our accuracy review this morning.  Honestly, my motivation for doing so was to get data that was meaningful to them for our daily mini-demo on spreadsheets.  But the data turned out to be very informative for me.  I found that one of my questions was unduly difficult and why (whoops), about 2/3 of the class was pretty solid on the grammar point, and about 4 people (I was surprised at who they were) were struggling considerably.  Very good to know!  Note to self: low-stakes quiz more often.

One thing to improve:  The warm-up was weak and lacked any structure at all.  This was not a choice, but a result of saying during my planning, “I’ll come back to the detail of how exactly they should practice each other’s names” and then doing so when I didn’t have enough time to figure it out.  I ended up telling them that they had 7 minutes to study each other’s names, first and last.  It actually seemed to go pretty well: many of them used their grids from Monday, everybody was involved, and later on during the break I heard snippets of “how do you spell your name?”  Free-form seemed to have been a good idea – I’d just like to use it intentionally in the future.

One surprise:  This week, several students have mentioned to me that they’re stressed in class.  Not in tears or anything, and always with a laugh, but still.  In some ways this is not actually a surprise because a couple of them just moved up from Level 2.  But one of the students has been Level 3 for a while now, and though her writing is excellent, she mentioned that it really stresses her out.  I guess I’m surprised that I could both be stressing out my students and that they’d be willing to tell me so – you’d think they’d be mutually exclusive.  Also, I’m not really sure what to do.  Thoughts?

Journal: First Day of Computer Lab

Students: 18

One thing that went well:  The warm-up turned out to be quite a success.  We practiced each other’s names.  I kicked things off by saying we should test the teacher.  I went around the room and named everyone who was there so far.  (100% correct, not because I worked at it, but because names generally come easily to me.)  Then we split into two groups and did name chain drills that rapidly turned into free-form name repetition, which I had no problem with.  Next, we mixed up the groups a bit and repeated.  We wrapped up with a second test for the teacher because more students had arrived since my first test.  Everyone is very friendly but maybe a little shy, and they seemed to really enjoy this excuse to get to know each other a little bit more.

One thing to improve:  We’re doing some process writing, and we’re getting to the point where they need more individual time from me for guidance, corrections, etc.  I’m not really sure how to provide that in a class of 18.  Weekly conferences?  Email?  I’m not sure what’s best.

One surprise:  Our first computer lesson was not an unmitigated disaster.  Granted the room was locked when we got there (just like last semester), getting everybody up and running went slowly, and the room was seriously cold.  Still, they all got to my website, and all but one student successfully filled out the online survey I’d made to get a sense of their computer skills and their interests.  I didn’t realize I was missing someone because I had 18 answers and 18 students.  It turns out that somebody filled it out twice… with totally different answers each time.  Ah well.  We made it through, they’re more familiar with my web resources, and I’m more familiar with their interests and needs.  A surprisingly solid start!

Journal: Week In Review

This week went pretty well!

Interesting tidbits from this week:

  • I discovered that having groups of six or seven students seems to be perfect for conversation time.
  • My two youngest students, a woman and a man, speak the same native language and are good friends.  The woman struggles more with spoken communication than the man does, so she usually gets him to translate for her, particularly when she wants to talk to me.  On Tuesday, I thanked them very much for helping me understand, and thanked him for translating so much… and I told them that this was the last week I would listen to his translations.  Starting next week, she’ll have to talk to me herself.  It won’t be easy, but having him speak for her is not a viable long-term plan.
  • I started giving them weekly quizzes, and here at the end of Week 2, they still seem to love them.
  • They complete said quizzes at wildly different rates, and I need to have something for the quick test-takers to study while the slower test-takers finish.  Vocab-of-the-week word searches anyone?
  • They really like working on spelling, and we should work on it more often.
  • It’s OK to repeat an accuracy-focused chain drill two days in a row.  Actually, sometimes it’s more than OK, but the absolute right thing to do.
  • My numbers had dipped to the high teens over the last couple of weeks, but today there were 20 students.
  • My true story of broken umbrellas on such a grey, rainy day was well-received, and umbrella shopping made a great example dialog topic.  Yay context!
  • The class complimented my outfit today.  I liked it too.  🙂

I think that’s it for now!

Journal: Pictures, A Play, and An Impressed Teacher

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Today I had 23 students.  One of the women who was also in my class last semester brought me a beautiful pink rose!  🙂

We tried a new warm-up activity today: conversations about pictures.  I put a few questions on the board (Who is in the picture?  What are they doing?  What else do you see?  When was the photo taken?) and then projected a photo onto the screen for five minutes.  I had the partners discuss their answers.  I used a picture from the last day of last semester, a picture of my husband and I cutting our wedding cake, and a picture of my friends dancing at my wedding.  The pair conversations were surprisingly thin even though the large-group discussion that followed was pretty rich.  Maybe the pairs felt awkward? Maybe it was that I’d never given this type of assignment before?  I think it’s worth repeating in a couple of weeks, maybe with small groups instead of pairs.

We’ve been studying Simple Present vs. Present Continuous.  I modified a short play out of a book – I really liked the punch-line.  The way I tweaked it, it now deals nicely with both tenses.  We did a read-through as a class.  The goals were to see what a play was, that there were characters and roles, and that there was a second page on the back.   I didn’t really push comprehension at all; that’s for a different day.

There are 12 characters in the play, so I split the class in half.  Two groups received their roles and began practicing today.  They seem engaged: they know what to do, they remind each other when it’s time to say a line, and they seem open to practicing their lines for a few minutes everyday.  The plan is to practice for a little while everyday this week, culminating in a final performance.  I’m hoping that they’ll be willing to perform for the class next door; right now, they’re a bit to shy to do that.  Still, I’m glad it’s off to a promising start!

We did a little grammar work based on a student error on the homework blog: Present Continuous vs. the type of Future that uses “going to.”  When I checked for comprehension, I saw that a few people were still confused, and I was able to talk to them individually between normal class and computer time.  One student who’s pretty quiet in class had a lot of questions for me, so I told her we could talk more during computer time.  At computer time, we sat down, she opened her book, and proceeded to methodically write several example sentences and check with me which tense each was in.  I was completely floored at how organized she was in honing in on her problem and creating a solid framework of examples with which to improve her understanding.  Six well-chosen examples and boom, she got it.  I wasn’t her teacher then, just her super-impressed English resource.  After, we had a nice conversation in which she told me a bit more about herself.  It was so nice to get a moment with a typically quiet student and to watch her mind piece this crazy language together!

Journal: Speed Dating?

Today we had 23 students.  I finally used Google Voice to get a local phone number, and today I repeated my Day 1 speech about good attendnace, wait lists, and how important it is to contact me when you’re absent.  Now the students have a local number that will call my non-local cell phone, and they also have my work Gmail address in case tehy’d prefer to email me.

We’ve been doing grid activities every Tuesday morning for warm-ups.  They really had the hang of it last week, so today I made it more difficult by having students fill in the questions at the top of their columns.  It was an extra step in the directions, and the variety of questions confusion about who was writing down what answers where.  We got through it slowly with everyone on board, and when we do it again next week, it will be much smoother.  And once it’s smooth… I have a new warm-up tool that I can weild as I see fit.  Mwahahaha.

We hammered in the form and function of simple present today, and as a final fluency activity I borrowed what I’m told is a speed-dating set-up: two concentric circles of students, the inner circle facing the outer circle.  Students were “partners” with the student directly facing them from the other circle.

I gave every student a verb card, which they held in front of themselves.  Students were to make up a true sentence using an adverb of frequency for their partner’s verb.  For example, if my partner’s card was “go running,” I would say, “I go running sometimes” while one of the elderly ladies in the class might say, “I never go running.”  Then my partner would make up a true sentence based on my card.  Then, the middle circle rotated one person to the right and we all had new partners.  Since there were 23 students and 1 teacher, we each went through 11 partners, so there was a lot of practice!

I think it worked well because it was the second day of a pretty familiar grammar point and because I modeled the process with student volunteers.

I have never seen this class, or perhaps any other, be so enthusiastic after an activity ended.  When I asked them how they felt about the English and about the activity, there was a huge, loud, resounding positive reponse.  Woah.  I guess we should do that one again!

Before signing off and racing to my volunteer gig, just a quick note to check out the homework blog.  Since I had more students than computers, I had a couple of volunteers go computerless and write about their typical day using the target grammar.  Then, I recorded their voices reading their stories on my phone (thanks for the Christmas present, honey!  It’s so shiny and useful!), uploaded the audio files to Dropbox, and put links in the homework blog along with comprehension questions.  Very fun!

Journal: Quick Update

Today was a great but busy day!  I just have a quick, disjointed update before doing some serious relaxing.

  1. The class set a new record in my experience as a teacher: 25 students!
  2. The “vote with your feet” activity would have gone much better if I had moved it out into the hallway where we had more room.  Don’t forget your physical surroundings, Emily!
  3. It’s really interesting to balance the fact that some students attend mostly for reading while others attend mostly for conversation and still others are there for a bit of everything.

That’s all for tonight!

Journal: Very Pleased!

Today there were 21 students.

For a warm-up, I gave out piles of four scrambled sentences.  Students worked on making four proper can / have to sentences out of them in groups of 3 or 4.  It was part grammar, part riddle: even if they created two grammatically perfect sentences, they might have to switch words in and out of them to be able to make all four correct sentences simultaneously.  And the thing is… they did it!  It was really challenging, but they were ready and willing and they did it.  I was really happy with their work, and I hope they could tell!

We then did some work with personal calendars.  I showed them the three-day view of my Google Calendar on the screen and we did some calendar reading comprehension.  I then had them write lists of what’s on their schedules today, tomorrow, and Saturday.  Next, they drew and filled in their own calendar grids modeled after mine on the board.

That’s when our fluency activity kicked in.  Everybody had to have a minimum of five conversations with other students based on their real life calendars.  It was more or less to this effect:

A.  Can you go ice skating tomorrow at 3?
B.  Sorry, I can’t.  I have to cook dinner for my family.
A.  How about at 1?
B.  Sure!  That sounds good.

I was pleased that they were grammatically ready enough and that we worked with their real lives.  I asked them how it felt to use this language, comfortable, so-so, or uncomfortable.  Nobody said they were uncomfortable, and they seemed in good spirits.

Now we’re about to work on the most recent post from the homework blog together – my very first homemade audio post!

Journal: Snow Day Victories

Well, it turns out that a scant inch of snow is enough to delay my place of work from opening until noon.  Since I have a morning class, that means a snow day!

I was of course uneasy about the possibility of my students coming to class to find nobody there, so I called everybody.  I also told every single person and voicemail I spoke to that in the future I would not be calling. See the homework blog for more details.  I’ll have even more options for them in person tomorrow, but I’m not posting them because they highlight where exactly I work.

Victory #1:

I spent the morning registering for a class for my own professional development as an ESOL teacher.  Yay!  It starts Monday and will meet weekly all the way through mid-May.

Victory #2:

high five? by StephVee on Flickr
high five? by StephVee on Flickr

I also spent time getting my work email to run through Gmail instead.  Success!  My mistake from Monday was trying to accomplish what I wanted through the college email system instead of through Gmail.  Maybe tech support could have pointed me in that direction instead of just saying that my request was “impossible,” but I got there eventually.  🙂

I’m so excited about this change for these reasons:

  • General annoyance: Gmail’s interface is just better from log-in to reading to sending.
  • Gmail has a SPAM filter.  I see no evidence of one in my work email.
  • Personal boundaries maintained: I set up a new work Gmail separate from my personal account.
  • Inbox overflow issue solved: messages will only stay in my work email for a moment before flying to my new, huge work Gmail.
  • My replies will be faster: I’ve set up filters in my work Gmail that will forward important messages straight to my personal account.
  • More flexibility for me: I can now email my colleagues from my personal account but have it look like it’s from my work account.

In other words, I’m in charge now, not the email system. It’s a good feeling!

I’m not going to do a complete email victory dance until I’ve seen my set-up in action for a week or two, but I’m very happy with my progress!

Happy snow day to all!

PS – Yesterday: 20 students, engaging grid activity warm-up about the students’ exercise habits, beginning of the Getting In Shape unit, reading charts, talking about the calories that various activities burn.  Very fun!

Journal: Day 1 Again!

It was a lovely Day 1!

What a difference it makes to already know where to park, where to go when the copier is broken, who to ask for a computer lab, and some of the students in the class.

What surprised me:

  • how drastically the new pre-registration process cut down on first-day paperwork nonsense.  Yay office!
  • the profundity of an error in which a student wrote, “I am not grammar.”
  • I had exactly the same number of Spanish speakers as Korean speakers, meaning that I could make conversation pairs in such a way that they needed their English.

What went well:

I was happy with my pre-teaching of the grid activity, both content and process.  The students found out about each other and practiced some slightly tricky listening as well (“What do you do?” vs. “What do you do on weekends?”)

We got our minimal paperwork and policies out of the way with little pain and little confusion.

We were pretty focused on the question, “What is the most important to study?  Reading, writing, listening, speaking, computers, or grammar?”  We talked about the meaning, separated into conversation pairs, and then wrote responses.  I liked that they practiced different modalities while giving me input about how class should look for the next semester.

What needs improvement:

One of my students is significantly hard of hearing.  Being loud is helpful but isn’t enough.  I need to be much more mindful of how I can support what I’m saying with writing.  This will also help the students who can hear but have trouble understanding.

The class needs more structure, but I’m having trouble getting one into place when I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to have a computer lab or not.  I did put in a very sweet request – I just hope it can work out.

Also, I discovered a few students who apparently have trouble sitting next to each other and getting in-class writing done at the same time.  I actually had them all at one point last semester, so we already have a good rapport.  I used this rapport to tell them I thought they were distracting each other.  I’m not here to treat adults like children, but I will be watching them like a hawk to see if I need to respectfully split them up, at least during the next writing activity.

Thoughts for tomorrow:

Stay student-centered.  Lay some grammar groundwork for the beginning of the unit on Monday.  Reading.  Continue trying to get a computer lab.  That should do it!

Journal: Yesterday’s Bribery and This Weekend’s Planning

Yesterday I didn’t post because a student ended up staying over 45 minutes late chatting about jobs and grammar. It was awesome!

I started yesterday’s class with discussion again, and it was lively and 90% in English (there are a lot of Spanish-speakers, who sometimes prefer to communicate in Spanish). They asked for more conversations, and on the spot I had a plan: conversation starts at 8AM. Conversation ends at 8:30AM. If you want an entire 30 minutes of conversation… you have to come on time.

Given how much they’re into it, I think it’s reasonable to hope that it will be a nice bribe to get there right at 8AM. I realize it could also be taken as saying we’re not really starting till 8:30… but I think it’s a gamble worth taking.

After working with Present Continuous for two full weeks, this coming week we’re going to move to the next unit: exercise/health/wellness with a focus on how and when to use Present Continuous vs. Simple Present.

Can’t wait!