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.
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 →
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 →
The following are diary entries from a fictional ESL student.
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 →
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.
The introduction welcomes the audience to your presentation.It tells them who you are, why you are giving the presentation and, maybe most importantly, it shows themwhat to expect.It’s the first impression that the audience has of what will be delivered.Much like the front lawn or the walk way to your house, the first impression of the introduction adds value. 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 →
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 →
Imagine you are in a doctor’s office being told that you have a serious, life threatening condition. Blood races through your veins, heartbeat pounds between your ears, breath is shallow, and you can feel your clothes sticking to your skin. Your body is in a heightened state of arousal. Do you recall the term “fight/flight/freeze” from science class? This is it — you are in what is called “survival mode”. By the time you get home, you realize how many questions needed to be asked but were forgotten while in the doctor’s office, and you barely remember what was said. This is an example of the psycho-physiology of trauma.
If you can relate to this scenario, (or one like it), then you can understand how difficult it is to function normally in this heightened state of arousal. It’s understandable that this state of anxiety can occur during a traumatic or highly stressful experience, but what you may not be aware of is that it can also persist for long periods after the traumatic event.
Why is this important now? With the refugee influx coming into Canada, you may encounter a surge of students in your classroom displaying symptoms related to post traumatic experiences like violence, displacement or loss, which will have an impact on how they learn. As a teacher, you may see a trend of problematic behaviours or students’ lack of progress in the traditional learning environment. 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 →
It happens across the board. It is a pervasive notion that seems to have been adopted with little to no research. It is somehow implicit in most English-learning environments, explicit in many course outlines and used as an evaluative tool in measuring the efficacy of language instructors. I have actually been refused employment because of my “renegade” attitude towards this ill-researched tenet of TESL. However, it stands in complete opposition to evidence-based educational research in second-language acquisition; not to mention a panoply of related motivational issues.
We’ve all heard it, said it and even followed it. “Only speak English in my class!” I used to insist. “Hey, you guys in the back, no Spanish!” was another one. “Stop translating everything! Focus on English!” I used to believe, only to my students’ dismay of course.
By doing this, we inadvertently omit how the brain works from our teaching and learning strategies. Continue reading →