Category Archives: encouragement

Can’t handle the truth?

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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

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Bridging the Great Divide

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I have been teaching in an EAP program for the last six years. The goal of our program is to prepare international students for the experience of studying in a post-secondary program alongside their domestic peers. Understandably, competence in their use of English is paramount. However, I am constantly struck by the fact that domestic students and international students, regardless of their ability to speak English well, remain largely separate on campus, both in and out of classes.

My students often comment that they don’t know how to make friends with Canadian students, and they are worried about the quality of their English and how they will be received. In an effort to bridge this ‘great divide’, I recently had the opportunity for my students to participate in a communicative activity that, for a change, did not involve their own classmates. Working alongside a wonderful colleague and professor in another discipline*, I was able to offer my class of twenty students a chance to meet and converse with the very Canadians they had been worried about meeting (and intimidated by) for a long time. Continue reading

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Motivation Madness

Employee incentive business concept as a group of businessmen and businesswomen running on a track towards a dangling carrot on a moving cable as a financial reward metaphor to motivate for a goal.
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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

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Tips for the Daily Grind

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Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday I was planning what I wanted to do this summer with my family, and here I am already preparing for classes.  I can’t believe how fast the school year got here!  Everyone will soon be going back to the daily grind  of  lesson prepping, dry mouth from excessive talking, and marking, so I hope you’ve all enjoyed your time off.

I’m going to be honest — I was struggling to come up with a topic, especially on such a beautiful day like today. But then I thought about going back to work and how to best transition from no school habits like: sleeping in, (well, I haven’t had the pleasure of doing that since becoming a mom), and going wherever the wind takes me, to a quick shift into the routine of waking up early, standing for hours teaching, and the usual work-related things. Continue reading

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 An Active Start to the Academic Year

 

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Another school year is just around the corner. Teachers (me included) are bound to be planning for that first week where we set the mood of how learning will happen in and out of our classrooms. Last year, I wrote about ‘get-to-know activities’[1], but these are just some of the many introductory activities we could introduce. For example, it makes sense to plan for student-centred lessons right from the first day of classes by introducing active learning activities, which give students the opportunity to learn while doing –and which many students are not accustomed to[2]. This can help our students transition smoothly to learning by discovery and collaboration. Smart, right?  Below are two of my favourite active learning activities. (I hope you will share yours too!). Continue reading

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To Err is Progress

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Fear of making a mistake or asking a stupid question is a legitimate problem. Sir Ken Robinson in his TED talk: “How schools kill creativity” talks about how the education system makes people fear being wrong. This fear of being wrong can squash our creativity. If we always keep ourselves in check, so that we don’t make mistakes, we will never take chances. He states we need to be prepared to be wrong.

I often say to my students “There is no such thing as a stupid question!”  I’ve said this many times.  However, when I put myself in the position of student, I sometimes feel like my question might be stupid.

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Is it a Bird? Is it a Plane?

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Want something for lower-level ESL students that is fun and informative?

When I taught benchmark one classes, I did something that increased their vocabulary by about 100 words in a month or so. It was also fun. It’s not a very original idea. In fact, I borrowed it from my days as an occasional teacher when I had to teach kindergarten.

In many kindergarten classes, they have show and tell. A child brings in an object in a bag, and the rest of the students have to guess what it is by asking questions. I decided to do this with my ESL class.

We sat down and thought of all of the properties that might be associated with an object, things like shape, size, colour, age, and material.  I got poster paper for each attribute, and then had them make one for each. They supplied me with the words, and I Continue reading

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The Unsung Heroes of ESL/FSL

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I’ve always wondered how an adult who is learning a new language felt when surrounded by the unfamiliar. Although I’ve once experienced the difficulty and hardship of learning a new language and acclimating to a brand new environment as a child, it doesn’t compare to the emotions and experiences felt by an adult learner.

Having watched both my parents in the past try to interact with other fellow Canadians without the proper use of the English language was noteworthy.  Though at times they were clearly frustrated, they seemed to get by.  Today, my parents’ command of the English language is vast and they are both able to carry on conversations and express their wants and needs. Aside from their drive to want to learn and acclimate, they also had French to fall back on. But what about those who migrate from Continue reading

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