Lessons learned in an ESL Literacy Class

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During the fall term, I was privileged to teach a group of 10 ESL Literacy students. Although in the past I had volunteer-tutored a literacy student and had taught various computer literacy classes, teaching a whole class of beginner ESL students with literacy needs was a whole new challenge. I have to say it was thoroughly rewarding Continue reading

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A Clash of Technology and Needs

Confused elderly man looks at the computer
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The age of technology has arrived. It can be integrated, according to its pundits, into every stage of teaching the four basic skills: Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing. Better yet, nothing beats technology for enhancing both teaching and learning, the pundits add. It’s the new transformative tool and game changer in the domain of education.

Selected studies on specific target audiences suggest that one particular app or another has indeed enhanced reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. On the whole, however, years have passed, and test scores and outcomes have not gotten any better with most technology assisted learning and its various applications. No one, especially me, seems to know which technology is best suited to a teacher’s goals and outcomes. There are, and I think everyone would agree, too many apps purporting to enhance both teaching and student learning. At the same time, studies on the efficacy of technology and second language learning are Continue reading

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Looking at ESL from an International Perspective

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Image source: bigstockphoto.com

I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the ACPI-TESOL National Conference in Costa Rica earlier this month.  Although it was a relatively small conference (under 60 participants), the organizers were able to attract presenters from the U.S., Panama, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and UAE (and me from Canada).

I believe as teachers, we can always learn something new no matter how many years we have been teaching. This conference was no exception in that there were many take-aways from the presentations.  However, before I provide some of the conference highlights, I wanted to talk about my experience trying to navigate in a Spanish-speaking country as a non-speaker of Spanish.  (I did take some lessons a few years ago, but I didn’t even have enough language skills to function.)  I forgot how it feels to be unable to communicate – even a simple request!  The last time I experienced this kind of powerlessness and vulnerability (not to mention feeling dumb) was when I got lost in Hong Kong; I actually got lost 3 times in 3 different taxis in Costa Rica!  There is certainly nothing more meaningful for a language teacher than experiential learning and appreciating the daily challenges for many of our students!

Here are some of the conference highlights: 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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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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Old Classic takes Students on New Adventures

Image source: amazon.ca
Image source: amazon.ca

While clearing out my cupboards, I came upon an old boxed set of classic books that I had bought for my children when they were younger.    Rather than putting them into the donation bin, I thought they might come in handy in my level 3 LINC class.  As it turned out, I found them to be quite a useful tool in the classroom.

I focused in on one particular student (I will refer to him as John) who I felt was just about ready to be promoted to level 4, with the minor exception of a weakness in his reading skills.  He was an excellent, hard-working student, but he was lacking confidence in his own abilities.

I suggested that he take home one of these books and read a little each evening.  The books are small, about 4 inches by 5 inches, and about an inch thick, with brightly coloured illustrations on the covers – not very intimidating looking.  They are adapted 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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Is Competency Based Assessment Useful for Older Language Learners?

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Image source: bigstockphoto.com

For some time now, I have been having some reservations about the effectiveness and value of the competency based form of assessment that my paymasters have asked that I use in my class of older English as a second language (ESL) learners.

For starters, I don’t think that I am that competent to give what is generally called an objective “competency standard.”  A number of items in a portfolio, including can-do lists, which by themselves seem to put too much pressure on older learners, still leave me questioning myself: What is my standard of competence? And am I assessing my students against my standard of competence?  And not what I think they can do?  Is the notion of competency superseding everything else in class?  The questions keep popping up. And the more they do, the less competent I feel.  Continue reading

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