Taking Notes

 

6016780468_67a298ed8eUnrelated to teaching, I began bullet journaling this year. It’s kind of a thing, but having done it for several months, I see why it’s popular.

The idea with a bullet journal is that it’s for everything, so I took it to class with me. And rather than just say to myself, “that activity my lead teacher just did was so awesome, I’ll definitely remember it whenever I begin lead teaching again,” I went ahead and jotted them down. I collected way more ideas than I’ve written up for this blog.

While I was jotting, I also took notes on student reactions to all sorts of things – activities, assignments, assignment review, conferences, etc.

And while I was thinking about those, ideas popped into my head speculating as to why their reactions were so different than what I’d expected, or other interesting activities, or different angles for lessons, and even blog posts to publish in this space.

Taking notes helped guide and expand my thinking about our class in a way that I hadn’t expected. I went from wanting to feel a bit more organized as a stay-at-home mom, to poaching great ideas from my lead teacher, to really pretty deeply considering the intersection of the students and the syllabus.

Also unexpected: I’ve reread my notes several times already. Since they’re in my bullet journal and I always have my bullet journal on me, rereading happens pretty organically.

I’ve already characterized assistant teaching as amazing professional development, and I found this semester that taking notes took my learning and reflection to another level.

 

Photo Credit: matryosha on Flickr

You’re reading Taking Notes, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

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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 and I smiled, and 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.

Ending with the Beginning In Mind

3526550845_d4e3d14c85As class starts to wrap up, here are some of the end-of-semester thoughts that are on my mind:

  • what are their lasting take-aways (content and impressions)?
  • are they prepared for their next courses? How do I know?
  • am I proud of myself? Why?
  • what did I learn?
  • am I prepared to teach/assist better next time? How?
  • feeling sad that an enjoyable routine is coming to an end
  • feeling inspired to fill that time in great ways this summer
  • feeling excited to assistant teach again in September

So looking back, looking at now, and looking ahead. Thinking, feeling, wondering.

The funny thing is, right now I can’t actually imagine what it’s like to be at the beginning of a semester. I’ve been there, you know, a lot. It just feels a universe away from right now.

I’m guessing that as the summer comes to a close, I’ll be wondering what it feels like to be at semester’s end as I start to face an unknown new one.  So here’s where I’m at right now, Future Emily!

Looking forward to the last few sessions of a great semester, and looking forward to writing Beginning with the End in Mind in a few months!

 

Photo Credit: Nicholas Canup on Flickr

You’re reading Ending with the Beginning In Mind, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

Highlighting the Value of a Writing Course

2233349300_9646c5864eOn Monday, I wrote a bit about what an in-person college writing course offers that free resources typically do not.

I also shared my opinion that these offerings seem to be overlooked quite frequently, and that including them in the syllabus is not enough.

Today, here are some routines and one-time actions that teachers can take to help students make the most of their ESL writing course.

Cohort

  • First class – names, ice-breakers, exchanging contact information with at least one other student
  • Activity – debate
  • Activity – brainstorming
  • Activity – communicative group work (e.g. jigsaw or grid activities)
  • Routine activity – peer review

A Teacher Who Knows You

  • First class – learn names quickly
  • Activity – early writing assignments where students can explain their own experience and opinions
  • Routine – use grading rubrics
  • Routine – be available before and after class, even though for so many of us it’s unpaid
  • Routine activity – conferencing

“Free” Services From The College

  • First class – emphasize that they are paying for their classes AND tutoring centers AND the library (and the gym, and so on)
  • Routine – when outlines and drafts are coming due, suggest (again and again) that students visit the writing center
  • Routine activity – offer bonus points for students who go to an appointment with the writing center
  • Activity – invite a librarian to class, or take a field trip to the library
  • Activity – initiate a chat with a college librarian during class
  • Activity – evaluate internet sources

 

Photo Credit: Benson Kua on Flickr

You’re reading Highlighting the Value of a Writing Class, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

 

The Value of a Writing Class

5818134689_781773b3ddThere is an incredible wealth of writing resources available for free on the internet.

Aside from the ability to earn credentials (certificates, degrees, etc.), what do college ESL writing classes offer that is more valuable than the freebies?

Here are three strengths of in-person writing courses, such as ones I’ve taught and assistant-taught at various community colleges:

A Cohort

  • other students at approximately the same level going through the same difficult class provide cameraderie
  • people to brainstorm, develop ideas, and debate with
  • peer review exposes students to each other’s styles and scaffolds self-editing and metacognition in writing

A Teacher Who Knows You

  • teacher provides direction, assignments, accountability
  • teacher available during (and usually after) classes for in-person questions, plus emails
  • teacher provides individualized feedback on assignments

“Free” Services From The College

  • writing centers
  • tutoring centers
  • libraries with access to hundreds of electronic databases and full of academic librarians to help with research, citation, etc.

 

So What?

I was a decently successful college student. This was due in part to my fluent English, and also my strong academic background, with some luck and some sleepless nights thrown in. It really had nothing to do with my intelligently using course and college resources, including all of the ones listed above. That wasn’t even on my radar.

From casual observation of many students over the years, it doesn’t look like these elements of the class are on their radars, either. But of course, our students aren’t fluent, often have interrupted educational background, and have not enough luck and way too many sleepless nights as it is. As a group, they really need support.

So I think that we as the leaders and assistant leaders of the classroom should make sure that this support is front and center.

Including it on the syllabus and mentioning it in passing on the first day is not sufficient.

 

Some specific action items coming up on Thursday.

 

Photo Credit: POP on Flickr

You’re reading The Value of a Writing Class, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Scaffolding Editing

2750551146_1d22ab2e84Last week, I described several factors that make editing a particularly difficult task for ESL students.

Today, I’m going to offer some ideas for scaffolding editing in an academic writing setting. They’re based on my own experiences (including some from this semester in my lead teacher’s classroom), advice that’s been given to me, and my own ideas.

This is sort of a mini Activity Corner of its own, all about editing!

Strategies for Scaffolding Editing

Ongoing

Strategies to incorporate into your writing class routine

  • Practice writing the same information in several ways. Juggle clauses, use synonyms, use short sentences and long ones, etc.
  • Hand out example work that needs editing side by side with how you would change it. You’ll need to emphasize that this is not The Answer Key – just a pretty good answer. This could be a good information gap activity for small groups.
  • Practice editing a sentence or two together as a class each day as a warm-up. You could focus on grammar, word choice, style, hook/thesis/topic sentence effectiveness, etc.

Teacher Edits

Strategies for marking written assignments at home

  • Don’t fix things that you want your students to learn when you edit their writing. Identify errors for them, but let the fixing be the students’ job.
  • With minor errors, either let them go or quick write in that missing “the.”
  • Use codes (i.e. WW = wrong word) and/or color codes (i.e. yellow = I don’t understand, pink = This is great!!) in-line to help them identify specific errors and give them a clue as to what’s wrong. Be consistent with your code all semester.

Peer Review

Strategies for students to help edit each other’s writing

  • Prep the class for peer review and support their skills as reviewers with this Peer Review Scaffolding activity. You can do this to review each other’s homework, example thesis statements, etc.
  • Set students up to give and receive both positive and negative feedback. Make it the expectation and build it into the task itself.
  • If you use a code when you edit student work, consider having the student use that code (or part of it) to mark each other’s work.
  • Consider using a short checklist or yes/no questions to keep students focused.

Student Corrections

Strategies for having students correct their own writing, after teacher edits and/or peer review

  • Offer bonus points or a few “points back” if students choose to submit corrections. Set an upper limit on how many points they can earn.
  • Identify each student’s most common (or serious) error types and assign corrections on these. Corrections should be on separate paper and include a short explanation of why the change is correct. Note: this is really difficult and time-consuming for students. From what I hear though, it really pays off.

In The Moment

Strategies for when you’re circulating in class and a student is stuck on an editing task: 

  • Ask the student to read it out loud. This can be especially helpful with punctuation. Note: this will probably help auditory learners and Global English speakers more than it will help your book learners and hesitant speakers.
  • Target the basic organization: paragraph level, then sentence order. Ask the student if the organization is strong and every sentence is where it needs to be.
  • Target the shortest sentences. They’re the easiest to get right.
  • Target the longest sentences. They’re the easiest to garble. There is likely a problem.
  • When targeting long sentences, have the student break it into multiple short sentences on scratch paper. This can help them see the structure and fix the errors in the longer sentence.

What do you have to add?

Would it be useful if I spelled out details and examples of any of these strategies? Let me know in the comments!

 

Photo Credit: julian on Flickr

You’re reading Scaffolding Editing, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

Activity Corner: Language Experience Approach

(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)

4856159509_b5e34f2735The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is one of those “activities” that can actually just replace the curriculum.

It’s typically used with students with low writing ability. This usually means they have low (English) speaking ability also, but not necessarily. The genius of it is that accommodates students’ language ability because the students generate the text.

16559888601_0d74dc9defIt works with children and adults. It works with students from pre-literate cultures, “regular” ESL students, and low literacy students who are fluent in English. It’s always interesting and always fresh and new.

So what is it?!

Procedure

First, you do something as a class. Take a walk, go on a field trip, do something real in the classroom. Everybody attends, everybody participates.

Then, the students dictate a true story about what they just did.

This text (based on the original experience) can then be used as a springboard for vocabulary building, grammar study, cloze activities, reading practice, conversation practice, memorization, etc.

This is probably the shortest procedure I’ve written so far in the ESL Activity Corner! This is also probably the richest activity I’ve included here.

Example

Back in a lesson journal post from 2011 (almost a full 6 years ago?!), I mentioned a slight modification of LEA for my intermediate level class. I’m going to re-explain it, but this time through the lens of LEA.

First, our classroom was switched on us in the middle of our term. We went from a spacious square room with an entire wall of windows to a small irregularly trapezoidal room with literally no windows. I thought of to myself as The Cave. This was the “real” thing that formed the basis of the LEA activity.

Now, my students were not a bunch of complainers. They kept attending, they kept studying… but they were clear that they did not like this room. I had spoken to the building manager, who told me they were going to be renovating that wing of the building. But we kept an eye on it, and the renovation did not seem to be happening.

It came up in class one day that they were still not pleased with the classroom, and that the old room was still untouched and unused. So we did a group writing assignment.

I set up a really simple chart on the board to compare the old room and the new room. I asked them for examples of what was better in the old classroom and worse in the new one. They came up with many examples!

Then together we chose the top three or four strongest points from the brainstorm. I set up some flip chart paper and began a letter to my boss, “Dear ___,” Students took turns suggesting sentences, and the group talked about them and made changes or agreed, and then I wrote down their thoughts on the giant letter.

They outlined why their old room was better and pointed out that it was sitting empty. They insisted on ending the letter with something like “Thank you for free English classes,” which I thought spoke volumes. All of us signed the letter.

I folded it up and hand-delivered it to my boss, and the next week we were back in our beautiful old classroom.

 

It was a really worthwhile activity as it was, and I could have easily extended it more by recycling the text into sentence-scrambles, cloze activities, and a conversation circle topic.

Variations

  • interesting demos are another option, though full-participation experiences are generally better, especially at the lower levels.
  • as students’ abilities increase, they can write the story rather than dictating.
  • in a multi-level class, the lower level students can dictate to the higher level students.
  • it works well one-on-one
  • for students who have a fairly solid vocabulary and some workable grammar, it works well even with activities that are not shared. The story-telling process becomes an even more authentic communication, conveying new information to the reader.
  • using the text – cloze, students or teacher write comprehension questions, change the verb tenses, re-imagine the ending, create a vocabulary list, scramble the sentences…
  • extending the topic – have the general topic of the experience be the topic for a conversation circle session, or ask students if they’ve had a similar experience before and work with them to generate texts about those experiences.
  • keep the LEA texts the students generate as a class portfolio. It’s like the students are writing their own textbook!

This is just a wonderful activity to do with students at and below the Intermediate level. I hope you will try it!

Photo Credit 1: jelm6 on Flickr

Photo Credit 2: COD Newsroom on Flickr

You’re reading Activity Corner: Language Experience Approach, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.