I just got off the phone with a student who was not happy. As manager of ESL programs at the college where I work, I have just finished with a major overhaul of all our language courses, essentially flipping them, individualizing the syllabi and encouraging the active participation of students in class. I have followed all of the cutting-edge research in educational techniques and I know that my program is now excellent. So why was she angry? Continue reading
It has been said that a teacher’s first task is to make herself progressively obsolete. I could not agree more. After all, one of our main mandates is to enable students to learn the target content and achieve the learning outcomes.
Thus, by course’s end, students should be able to “do” as the teacher “does”. If my course revolves around getting students to speak at an intermediate level in English, then by definition, they no longer need their teacher by course’s end. If they do, the course has failed in generating the target learning.
But how does a teacher go about “doing” this? I propose using a flipped class, or “student teacher” approach. See below.
***Warning*** – What follows may cause anxiety, dizziness or a lack of student trust in the teacher’s choice of instructional strategies. It may cause poor results on a course evaluation. It may actually push some students to complain to your superiors. But, fear not! It is ultra-effective! Continue reading
To function or not to function? That is the question. Have you ever been faced with a 36-hour business English intensive course that aims to bring beginner-level students to a “functional” level of fluency in a work-place setting? Do you think this type of course can be successful in developing “functional” fluency? I think not.
There currently exists a panoply of “function-specific” ESL courses, from business correspondence to academic purposes. While it is possible to teach an advanced student to draft conventionally proper business letters, it is virtually impossible to do the same with a beginner. In order to meet this demand however, many institutions offer short courses which are function-specific. In other words, the ESL course will not cover, say, Continue reading
Do you have students who never do their homework? Are you tired of presenting topics only to have less than half the class actually care? Is it a challenge to get students to practice English when not in class? Do you find them usually unprepared for class? Do you hear a collective ‘sigh’ when you say the term “oral presentation”? Don’t fret! All of these problems disappear when you flip your class!
Lectures as Readings
A very good way to pass class time is to spend it “presenting” topics or content to a class of semi-interested ESL learners. Nowadays, the “teaching and learning” of any topic, within any discipline, can be done wholly without direct instruction – and this is a good thing! How many college lectures do you remember? How many oral presentations do you remember giving in college? I believe most of you would remember more presentations than lectures for one simple reason: When giving a presentation, you were engaged. All of your faculties, from the cognitive to the affective, even the psychomotor, were called upon to deliver that presentation. Continue reading
Technology in Education is so hot right now! Since the technology boom of the mid- to late-nineties, high-tech gadgets have been creeping into the classroom and into our lives in general, for better or for worse. But, does educational IT really help our students learn?
Maybe, if it’s used well and for the right reasons. Below are several tips on effectively incorporating technology into your ESL class.
Prepare in Advance
One of the first traps many teachers fall into when attempting to use technology in the classroom is the lack of adequate preparation. Typical preparation for a course includes building and reviewing a lesson plan, creating or finding didactic materials and ensuring that all needed peripherals are in place. Educational IT, however, requires a little more attention. First, in heterogeneous classrooms, the students will have varying levels of ability with IT. The learning curve with new technology will be very different for the students involved. It is highly suggested Continue reading
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.
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
Something that I have struggled with for the last ten years as an ESL teacher has been whether or not to properly inform my students about the implications of studying a new language. There seems to be a prevalent preconception among many ESL students that learning to speak English is easier than say, learning the subjects in a college level math course.
To many, abstract subjects like theoretical mathematics or computer programming are obviously more difficult than linguistic subjects. There may be some truth to this concept. However, these courses are often very specific in scope, last anywhere from thirty-two to ninety hours, and require students to simply “remember” and maybe “apply” what they learn. Even though it is a common practice to segment English language programs by level of ability, say levels 1 to 5, or like the CLB, 12 levels in total, these courses are often far from adequate in providing enough time to properly “learn” the content of these levels. Continue reading
The business of education is riddled with complexity and counter-productive demands. Teachers are often content-centered, students diploma-oriented and administrators bow down to the almighty dollar when making pedagogical decisions. In other words, students just want a job, and teachers want to profess the wonders of their discipline, while administrators want to show a profit. It is no surprise that the real goal of education is obfuscated by these demands, and the expectations that our students have are often misplaced.
Picture this. It’s the first day of an EAP (English for Academic Purposes) class. A particular student approaches you at the end of class and in broken English asks, “Teacher, will my English be like yours at the end of this course?” You want to say yes, but you know it is impossible. By telling the student the truth, you risk demoralizing her to the point that she drops the course. Why? Because she wants a job and she wants it now. Her motivation is employment. Yours is to improve her English. How do we square that circle? Simple. Chocolate. Continue reading
As an ESL teacher, my first priorities are the linguistic development of my students and the attainment of their language learning goals. As an educational researcher, my first priority is to study and develop extremely effective teaching and learning strategies to get students to where they want to be. Students might not like it too much, but research is really starting to show that the ball is almost entirely in their court.
As Thomas Carruthers said, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. Ignoring how this might make us feel about our paycheques (insert chuckle), it is important to mention just how accurate this is, especially in terms of in-class strategies. Our students want to improve their English language ability, so they should be doing all the talking, reading and writing The effective and simultaneously “unnecessary” teacher is one who is more of a learning experience designer, who spends most of her time designing learning moments and strategies outside of class time, reflecting on student difficulties and successes when not in class, and using these as beacons in the dark when planning the next class. And now, we finally have confirmation that we teachers are useless – well, almost. Continue reading
We all know the expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but is it really true? Art theorists and philosophers would answer “No, of course not!” and here I quote Dennis Dutton, famous art theorist who stated in his 2010 Ted Talk, “…it’s deep in our minds. It’s a gift handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors.” In other words, the experience of beauty is not subjective, but quite objective. There are clear guidelines or criteria to what constitutes beauty for all of us, based on our genetic pre-disposition. Continue reading