The cherry blossoms are out! It’s spring and finally warm enough to ride my bike to work. I do my best thinking on that bike. With a new semester starting, I find myself reflecting on the semester gone by. Peddling on cold, rainy days tends to cause me to remember my failures, but on warm, sunny mornings, I recall my successes. For 16 years I have been teaching university prep writing, grammar, reading, speaking, and listening to students from around the world.
In the first years, I focused on covering the topics of the curriculum, and assessing students’ abilities to see if they could succeed in the next level. As a result, my courses had many difficult tests and assignments, which were graded and returned without much follow-up.
Of course, covering the curriculum and assessing are important, but these days, I no longer perceive them as my primary concerns. I now believe that the most important thing for my students is not a perfect understanding of essay structure or the present progressive tense, but rather a deep confidence in their English ability. Eventually some of them will communicate beautifully, while others will always struggle in English. Nevertheless, the most useful thing I can help them attain is the knowledge that they CAN communicate in the English-speaking world.
This shift in focus has caused a change in my daily teaching. For example, I never used to allow re-writes of tests or assignments. However, lately I have been encouraging weaker students to rewrite tests or assignments. In the beginning, I would average out the grades between the first test and the rewritten one, but now I feel that the second, better test score reflects the additional studying and learning that the student has achieved, so I record only the second grade. I have created on-line weekly tests which allow students to complete the test twice within a one-hour time limit. The two tests are similar, but not identical, and in the end, the highest grade is recorded. Between the two attempts, students can see their mistakes and the correct answers. I consider these weekly tests a wonderful review and learning tool that can help to boost students’ confidence.
I used to explain essay structure in class and deconstruct essays from the text. My students then wrote an essay for homework. In later years, my class and I wrote an essay together during class time before students were given a different topic for their homework essay assignment. Now, students write the actual essay in groups a paragraph at a time. Then they write a whole essay, on the same topic, for homework. After receiving feedback on their first draft, the final step is a second draft. As you can imagine, the quality of essays has risen remarkably. So has the confidence of students in their ability to write in English.
Success, success, success – these days, that’s my mantra. I think I’ve come a long way over the last sixteen years. More importantly, my students’ confidence in their English ability has increased significantly.
What growth in your teaching style have you observed over the years?