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.

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Assisting the Teacher: Actively Circulating

I’ve decided to write a series of posts in a new category: 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!

 

On Monday, I talked about the interruption conundrum: to interrupt, or not to interrupt?

Spoiler: interrupt!

In this post, I’ll break down how this not-very-extroverted person goes about circulating so actively so much that she thinks of it as “crowd surfing.”

The short version is: I don’t stand by and wait for more than a minute or so at a time. If I’m not being flagged down, I’m either quietly walking or verbally checking in.

Step 1: Greet Everyone and Check In

When I walk in in the second hour of class, everybody is usually working. In one classroom, I enter from the front, and I find this very uncomfortable. In the other classroom, the door is in the back, so people don’t know I’m there unless they turn around or I greet them.

Most days, I circulate around the room quietly and interrupt students individually or in pairs in order to greet them by name. It’s a quick hello and social question, asking about their weekend or something like that. I listen to their answers. If they’d been absent the class before, I ask if everything’s OK. They seem to respond well to that. I then remind them that I’m here to answer any questions or help however I can.

It’s important to me that we have this little connection. Honestly, I sometimes skip this step in the class with the door in the front. And it shows – I feel more connected to the other class. No more skipping the greeting, Emily!

Step 2: Walk Around Quietly

If nobody has any questions for me right away or they’ve just started working on something, I just walk around quietly. I look at their work, and I’m not shy about stopping to read and telling them that they’re on track… or making a suggestion to get them back on track.

I’ll sometimes ask how it’s going, especially if someone seems to have less done than the other students. Usually people nod or say “fine,” but occasionally I get a panicked “bad!” and then I talk that person through tackling the longest assignment they’ve ever written in English.

Step 3: Ask If I Can Check Anything

Once students have some work down, be it textbook work, an outline, or a draft essay, I ask each person if there’s anything I can check for them.

If it’s a small amount, I read and check it all. If there are errors, I point them out but I don’t give the answers.

If it’s a large amount, I ask if they have any specific questions.

If they seem to want me to spend 20 minutes checking all their work, I’m up front that I can’t. I encourage them to ask me only the most important couple of questions so I can check in with the other students, too.

I cycle between Step 2 and Step 3 for much of class, and I also get flagged down a lot.

Step 4: Build Up, Chat, Farewell

As class comes to a close, I make sure to point out to students what they’re doing well, to build up their confidence and their positive associations with writing.

I always stay a few minutes late in case people want to chat a bit – sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. I don’t chat a lot about my personal life, though I share a few bits about my family and other interests. I mostly just want everyone to finish class feeling  hopeful… and enthusiastically encouraged to utilize the college’s writing center!

I also make an effort to say good night to everyone and wish them a nice evening or weekend as appropriate. If they have a big assignment or exam coming up, I wish them luck. It’s a little thing, but like with the greeting, I think it just helps us feel connected.

 

It’s not rocket science!

But it is a lot of interrupting and a lot of initiating, both of which I’ve been a bit ambivalent about, especially as the mere assistant.

Over the last few semesters, I’ve decided that the interrupting is worth it and the initiating is definitely part of my role even though I’m not in charge.

Does crowd surfing come naturally to you?

 

You’re reading Assisting the Teacher: Actively Circulating, 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.

 

Frequent, Low-Stakes Quizzing

5533236567_6f29870f4b_zStill thinking a lot about student feedback around here, and one great way to get a feel for how students are doing and what they are learning is to frequently ask them to show you: quiz them at least once a week.

Depending on your style and level, that might sound like a lot. But the quizzes are routine (i.e. not surprises), generally not long, and have point-values more on par with homework than with exams. And they can be incredibly informative about students’ progress.

Quizzes can take many forms, but just frequently quizzing isn’t enough. Quizzes don’t just generate grades to record: teachers and students need to respond to the results.

Formative Assessment

Did a lot of the class completely bomb the quiz? Take a moment to listen to what their errors tell you about how you taught the material!

What patterns do you see in who did poorly on the quiz? Did your teaching reach mostly your book-learners but notsomuch your auditory learners? Did only your star pupil (who should’ve placed into the next class up) pass?

How many opportunities did your students have to practice the material and check for accuracy during the lesson?

Do you know that the students understood the material immediately after the lesson, via exit tickets or somesuch?

Did students know to study this material?

How did the homework support retention or distract from that particular topic?

How new and/or advanced and/or complicated is the material? Do the students just need a bit more time and exposure?

Most importantly, the purpose of asking these questions is to move forward more effectively, not to feel guilty about a less-than-perfect lesson. We don’t get re-dos, but we do get tomorrows.

 

Helping Students Adjust

Low quiz grades do not always trigger a constructive response in our students. They may conclude that the teacher is mean and/or terrible, that the course is too difficult, or that they themselves are somehow inherently inadequate.

It doesn’t occur to everyone in the thick of the stress of the semester that poor quiz grades might be helpful indicators pointing toward specific actions they can take to improve their mastery of the material.

The call to action needs to come from the teacher.

Explicit Call to Study – include studying and/or correcting quiz errors as an ongoing homework assignment. Consider offering back a percentage of points for corrections.

Early Warning – remind students that the quiz material will also be on major exams and/or assignments. This was just a first warning that they don’t understand it well enough yet. There is still time to master the information/skill.

Study Skills? – use multiple poor quiz grades as a trigger to speak to students privately about their strategies for taking notes and studying. You can gently point out that what they’re doing isn’t working. You can refer them to various college services, internet and YouTube resources that will help them beef up their skills.

I think especially in ESOL, it can be very surprising to teachers to find out what the students learned well and what they missed.

Quizzing a lot might sound harsh, but if you keep the grades low-stakes and the feedback front-and-center, the results can be eye-opening!

 

Photo Credit: Paige Powers on Flickr

You’re reading Frequent Low-Stakes Quizzing, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner Round-Up Update!

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It’s time for an updated Activity Corner Round-Up!

Click here to see all of my ESL Activity Corner posts in chronological order. This link is updated automatically.

I thought it would be nice to round up my activity posts thus far and make an at-a-glance activity resource. Feel free to bookmark this page!

I’ve sorted the list by two factors:

  1. Prep – anything you would need to do/make/get before doing the activity. Most of the activities here that require prep are pretty low-key, i.e. print out a grid.
  2. Movement – anything in which students need to move around during the activity. I do not consider switching seats to be significant movement.

Zero-Prep Activities

Chain Drill
movement – no
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Guess the Word
movement – no
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Snowballs
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Hidden Vocab Words
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Language Experience Approach
movement – some
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Making Groups
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Dictation Relay
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – no
competition – yes

Quick-Switch Conversations
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Minimal-Prep Activities

Scaffolding Peer Review
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Jigsaw Reading
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Quizzing Styles
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Scaffolding Editing
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

Conversation Jenga
movement – no
ice breaker – no
competition – no

One-Question Surveys
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

Grid Activity
movement – some
ice breaker – yes
competition – no

The Flyswatter Game
movement – yes
ice breaker – no
competition – yes

Building Blocks
movement – yes (but not everyone)
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

From Textbook to Gallery
movement – yes
ice breaker – no
competition – not really

Information Gap
movement – yes
ice breaker – yes
competition – not really

Put It In Order
movement – yes
ice breaker – yes
competition – yes

You’re reading Activity Corner Round-Up Update!, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.