The Whole Package

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Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

The way we deliver our message has a big effect on how it is received.  Not only do we receive the message, but we receive the way it is presented or “wrapped”. It’s the whole package.  How we say things adds another layer of meaning to the message.  Teaching about the delivery of a message in ESL classes adds a lot of value for students. Continue reading

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Aligning your Assessments to Improve Learning

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Most of the time, ESL courses and activities are considered non-credit by their host institutions. Private language schools and larger corporations usually run some form of progress assessments for their students, but rarely are these associated to grades. In some rare cases, ESL courses may be graded and may also count for credit, especially in the case of EAP (English for Academic Purposes). To many, the fact that they are “non-credit” courses seems to imply that they are taken less seriously or are “less important” than for-credit courses. Regardless of how your language institution handles success in language courses, timely and “aligned” formative evaluations are a must in the teaching and learning process. The “non-credit” label given to ESL courses may lead to inadequate assessment and/or feedback for students, which can ultimately lead to less achievement. Below are a few guidelines for creating assessments that promote learning and self-reflection as well as target the language skills you are trying to develop in your students.

Aligned Assessment

The concept of “aligned assessments” revolves around ensuring that the learning outcomes set out by your course or student expectations are properly assessed through “authentic” assessments. How many ESL conversation courses have you taught in which the final assessment was a paper-and-pencil grammar exam? Continue reading

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Focusing on Writing Strategies: Attention, Please!

The bug is fixed in red pen in a notebook
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I have been teaching writing at the college level for over six years to both first and second language learners. Unless I am teaching EAP, where my students are second language learners, my classes have been mixed: native language students at various language levels and experiences as well as non-native language learners, including 1.5 generation (people who immigrate to a new country before or during their early teens) with different levels of language proficiency. Note that no matter who the students are, my job is to help my students achieve the learning outcomes of the course (e.g. to be able to write an academic essay), which means I must pay attention and therefore take into consideration each student’s individual needs. How do I reconcile all these differences in a writing course? Well, among many teaching strategies, I focus on selective attention.

Selective Attention

According to Richard Schmidt (2010) our ability to focus is dependent on our awareness of the existence of stimuli. It is difficult (even impossible) to pay attention to every bit of information around us, so we need to be consciously aware it exists to be able to notice it. Hence, not knowing what to focus our attention on can leave us paying attention to unimportant information, unaware of what it is we should be focusing on! Continue reading

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Come Again: You Said What?

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Imagine if someone said something overtly sexual or crude to you. What would your reaction be? Disbelief? Shock? Anger? Now imagine that the speaker is your ESL student. Of course, your response has to be different.

Sometimes because of pronunciation or improper word usage, ESL students inadvertently say or write the most shocking things. A while back, one of my students wrote this in a peer review (a student response to a student assignment, in this case an essay): “Your hooker is not very appealing and is unlikely to attract the reader.” Of course, he meant hook. What a difference two letters can make. This situation was easier to deal with because the student had not uttered this sentence aloud to the class. I took him aside and explained the meaning of the word, resulting in him blushing quite a bit.

Sometimes students mispronounce words such as sit, beach, can’t etc. I deal with this issue Continue reading

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Supply Teaching – A Positive Experience

Some of my students working in a computer lab

I was recently assigned the role of a full-time supply instructor in an English as a Foreign Language department of approximately 70 instructors. “Take this on as a new challenge” was my first thought, and I haven’t looked back.  Our EFL department has two divisions. These are the academic and the technical preparatory programs. I had not yet taught in the technical program and was interested in these students with different needs. I had always been curious about the technical program and was anxious to jump right in and teach.

We have just completed midterms and I have had a generous sampling of most of the courses that our department offers. I have benefited from this experience in more ways than I had anticipated. I have continued to learn about my peers, technology integration, institutional facilities, and most of all the students. Here is a brief overview of the things I learned:

Technology integration

Our college supports education technical technology through an environment of well stocked and supported digital learning options. It is interesting to see the varying degrees to which technology is being used by the staff and students. Student behaviour often reflects their instructor’s education technology routines. When I direct the students to use some technology, their efficiency indicates whether or not they use technology on a regular basis.  I have been very impressed by those teachers who have integrated technology seamlessly into their instructional practice.  Continue reading

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Anaphylaxis in the Classroom – Do you know what to do?

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Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

Food allergies are on the rise, so it’s safe to say that you may know at least one person who has to stay away from common or obscure dietary allergens and intolerances.  With both adults and children affected, (mine included), you will inevitably come across someone dealing with food allergies in your classroom. In fact, this topic may have already been covered in your work module. Here are some good facts and tips that may simplify this topic, helping to create a healthy discussion amongst coworkers and students alike.

Disclaimer: The following content is for information purposes only. I’m not a health expert, but I know a lot from personal experience. Always seek advice from a trained professional. Continue reading

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Lesson Planning Gagné Style

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image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

As teachers we prepare lesson plans for many reasons. We do it because it helps us keep track of our lesson delivery and also because it is required of us. The latter one, however, can make us lose sight of its true purpose, which is to help our students achieve the learning outcomes of the lesson. Through my many years of teaching, I have learned that lesson planning is most useful when I put myself in my students’ shoes.

Effective Lesson Planning

Let’s face it. For a lesson plan to be effective, it needs to focus on what students need to demonstrate at the end on the lesson. Lesson planning is about meeting learning outcomes for our students; the objective of the lesson is not for us to deliver content or for administration to see that we spent hours on prep-time (Yes, we do!), but for us to think of ways for our students to demonstrate learning. Continue reading

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A Student’s Take on ICQs (Instruction Check Questions)

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Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

The following are diary entries from a fictional ESL student.

March 1st

I started my new English class today. I was excited to meet my teacher and classmates. I like my teacher a lot. Harry was very friendly and he made us laugh right from the start. I already feel very comfortable with him and the rest of my peers. I really think I’m going to enjoy this class and I hope I can really improve my English. Continue reading

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Presentations that feel like home

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Image source: www.bigstockphoto.com

Presentations are ubiquitous in modern life, so it makes sense to include them as a component in ESL classes.  In North American culture we have certain expectations about how presentations will be given.  The format is low-context, meaning the presenters are making sure that they can be understood by the audience.  The students in our classes not only require the appropriate language skills, they also need to understand how to format a presentation so that the audience can understand its structure.  The following house analogy is one way to teach about how the format of a presentation gives it structure.  This structure makes the content more coherent to the audience. Continue reading

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Field Tripping ESL Learners in the Community

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What happens when you take ESL learners outside the classroom?  There’s a peak in interest in the class and in the lessons, a growth in connection among the class members, and an increased sense of belonging to the wider community.

Over the past number of years, I have taken adult learners in small, mixed-level ESL classes on field trips in the community.  We have visited the public library, a farmers’ market, a curling rink, the local fire station, a nature park, our city hall (including sitting in on part of a city council meeting), an outdoor nativity play, and a maple sugar bush.

On every one of these outings, we found that our hosts were Continue reading

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