So what have I learned?

As I bid adieu to this final course in TESL certification, I am both a little overwhelmed and very excited at the prospect of teaching ESL. Although the first assignment of this course was daunting, I appreciate how this course helped me focus on the needs of students in meaningful and practical ways as I developed a ten week course and a three-day project. I don’t feel that my perception of the teacher’s role has changed. I definitely have a better appreciation of the many details and considerations the teacher is managing hence my feelings of being a little overwhelmed.  I am taking my apprehension to mean I care strongly about the learning needs of my students and my ability to help them to succeed. Which brings me to four or five valuable things I have learned as a result of working on this program:

  1. Empathy, admiration and respect for ELL students. Having studied the many components and factors that come into play in order to successfully learn English, I have a whole new appreciation for the learning situation ELL students have placed themselves in.
  2. There is a wealth of information out there  – teaching strategies, lesson plans/activities and very knowledgeable people waiting to be utilized.  As an ESL teacher, I will not be a lone-ranger.
  3. If I am going to structure lessons/activities that will enable student success, I have to continuously be mindful of the their needs and address the needs in lessons/activities. The lessons cannot not be about me teaching my agenda. The lessons/activities must be interesting, appealing and relevant to the learners. They must be at an appropriate level and use materials the student can work with, successfully. I need to be prepared to modify to meet the different learning levels in the classroom – there is no one size fits all.
  4. It is important to create a positive learning environment. Students need to feel comfortable taking risks, being out of their comfort zone and trying new things.
  5. On-going professional development is critical to ensure my classroom instruction is effectively meeting the needs of students.
Of course as I reread this blog later and peruse the blog entries of my peers, I will think of several other valuable learnings I am sure, but for now those are the ones that come to mind. This program has been a very positive learning experience and has given me both an appreciation for the depth and breadth of teaching and learning English as well as supplied me with valuable tools. My knowledge and skills have developed and grown because of the meaningful content provided in the program, because of  the sharing of information and perspectives from knowledgeable instructors and because of the exchange of ideas, struggles and viewpoints of peers. I am grateful and excited…
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“Autonomous” Language and what it means to me…

An immediate word comes to mind – automaticity.  Autonomous language for me means being able to communicate effectively and confidently in varied situations: formal and informal settings – professional and social settings.   I remember volunteering at a orphanage in Mexico and being very frustrated with not being able to communicate easily with the children. Gradually I was able to learn some phrases, but I relied most heavily on pictures and gestures. Despite having taken some very basic spanish lessons, at no point did I feel I was becoming autonomous. Maybe my frustration was a learning block and maybe my reliance on pictures/gestures became too big of a crutch. Definitely I would have liked to have been able to speak and write to the children in their native language. A peer noted autonomous language as being able to speak and write without having to work hard at thinking before doing so. I strongly concur. Automaticity.

Nepalese

Oh dear! At first when I clicked on to an internet page of Nepalese writing I wondered if I needed to put on reading glasses – all those squiggly symbols, was it my blurred vision? Try as hard as I might, I could not find rhyme nor reason let alone meaning to the text. My head hurt. I am reminded how important motivation is to sticking with learning a new language as it is so easy to give up when your head hurts. The pictures help give the gist of what is going on, but in some ways it adds to the frustration as I haven’t a clue what to do with the symbols. There is absolutely nothing I can find that has any similarity to my native language (or any other language I know).

If I were learning Nepalese I would appreciate knowing how to decipher the symbols – what is the logic, what are the mechanics of reading the symbols. Is there any logic in my first language that I can transfer to learning this new language? I think for instruction to be most meaningful to me, I would need authentic learning situations – help me learn what I need to know to get by on a daily basis – the important things and please keep it simple. Starting out I would appreciate pictures to go with words and phrases.  I would also need lots of meaningful practice opportunities and a very patient instructor 🙂 Meaningful in the sense that I can see relevancy to applying the learning in an authentic situation. I would also appreciate a knowledgeable instructor who can guide me in the most effective ways to learn Nepalese – are they the same as learning English? What is the foundational starting point that is absolutely essential for me to understand? What are the less important things that will come in time and with practice?

This activity reminds me once again of the braveness of English Language Learners!

Things I Want to Remember When I Plan My Lessons

I want to remember everything that was covered in Module 2 of the Developing the Language Skills course. Wow! I really enjoyed this module – I was writing notes all over the place and bookmarking sites like crazy.

Some of what I read reiterated important teaching ideology that has stuck with me from previous courses and definitely things I want to remember such as:

  • making sure I have clear objectives so I know the goals of my teaching and so I know what it is that I expect from students – exactly why am I asking students to undertake particular reading and writing activities and what is it that I expect they will get from the lesson/activities
  • putting myself in my student’s shoes and asking if the reading and writing activities I am proposing are interesting, appealing and have relatable purposes
  • structuring lessons and activities so that students will be successful – have I provided enough information and is it the right information, does the reading text and writing expectation fit the student’s skill level, how have I motivated students to be engaged in this lesson and associated activities, have I incorporated the interests of my students where possible, will I be accessible to students who need extra help
Otherwise, I have made notes (with additional notes on bookmarked sites) to remember to review pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading activities as well as the writing activities. The activities are awesome. I find it hard to choose three or four to highlight as I would… will use all of them depending on each activity’s relevance to a particular learning situation and expected outcome(s). I am grateful for the variety and applicability of these reading and writing activities to general teaching and not just ESL teaching. In some ways they link the learner groups.

Late, but definitely back!

Here I am late entering my post on starting my final course in completing the ESL certification process, but I have definitely been here since the start of the course. Reacquainting myself to studying after a short summer break (three very short weeks) wasn’t an issue, but then the assignments started and I was treading water to keep afloat. Egads the first ESL assignment was a little daunting to say the least, but mainly because of my busy schedule and time constraints. As I look ahead to the reading of future modules I am excited. I see a lot of practical material that I can apply not only to ESL teaching, but to teaching in general.

With renewed spirit and a not so full plate of work, I look forward to working through the modules and picking up new knowledge.  I am especially looking forward to hearing from peers about how they are going to use our new information or for those who are experienced in ESL teaching environments, how new knowledge actually gets played out in classrooms.

This, the last course of the ESL certification process, promises to be another course of enlightenment and awe at the depth and breadth of ESL teaching. Bring it on…

Final thoughts on teaching grammar and vocabulary (joyfully)

I think back to Module 1: Notes on Joy and the section on Finding Joy in Learning (and Teaching) Grammar and the word Learning now jumps out at me in whole new insightful way as this course has highlighted for me how as a native speaker of English, I take grammar and vocabulary so much for granted using it every time I speak without a consciousness of the rules that are being deployed (or broken) and that in addition to learning how to teach grammar and vocabulary, I too am learning how to apply it. This  course on teaching grammar and vocabulary has made me realize how fragile my grasp on the English language is.

I think on EAL learners who do not have the luxury of unconscious grammar automaticity and the fact they must learn grammar terms and rules, English vocabulary, appropriateness of English words in different contexts, pronunciations and… and… and…  I feel a bit overwhelmed for them.  It has once again provided many moments of when putting myself in my learner’s shoes, I marvel at the significance of the EAL learning task they are undertaking and the importance of keeping things appropriately balanced between simple and complex so as not to overwhelm. I see the need for helping provide joy in a new light!

In addition to realizing my shortcomings in understanding grammar in order to teach it, I think about the angst I sometimes feel with trying to develop lessons at an appropriate level. I realize the CLB is a guide and students often do not fit in a perfect level classification despite my I wishing they would 🙂   I trust that when I am in a classroom setting and know my students’ needs and requirements first-hand, I will be more confident and able to develop lessons that meet their varying needs. This course has been very helpful and insightful not only in learning about how to effectively meet the grammar and vocabulary needs of EAL students and all of the considerations and strategizing that goes with that, but also in helping me realize skills such as grammar, that I need to develop and build in order to have confidence in teaching those skills to EAL students.

Deductive versus inductive – your preference please!

I  agree with the opinion of many of my peers that both deductive and inductive grammar teaching strategies are appealing, their application depends on context. When I have conducted adult technical training sessions I have used somewhat of a combination of what might be considered a form of deductive and inductive approaches – when I first introduced a topic I would ask questions about the topic to get the adult students thinking about the topic and relating it to their personal experiences/familiarity with the topic (inductive similarities), often I would record their expectations or assumptions of the topic and then I would present the topic content (deductive). As the training session progressed, we would compare the information being presented against their assumptions and expectations.

As I was reading about inductive strategy it reminded me of the Activating Strategy in the Triple A approach to teaching whereby you are priming the student for what is about to follow. Despite taking more preparation time for the teacher, I think it is worth the effort both in terms of the lesson being more engaging for the student and for the teacher to be prepared to present and facilitate the grammar session. Having little grammar teaching experience, right now I am all about putting in the effort to be prepared 🙂 so the fact that it takes more prep time doesn’t deter me. Instinctively though, I must admit, I can easily see myself reverting to a deductive approach. I think it is because it is the approach that my teachers used thus I am most familiar with it. I also agree with the many pros listed to support deductive teaching: students may be expecting it because they are more familiar with such an approach; it has greater cognitive appeal to adult students; it quickly gets straight to the point allowing more time for practice. Yet I like that the inductive approach immediately requires students use their deeper thinking skills and it empowers students to problem-solve and be self-reliant as well as be more actively engaged in the learning process. Armed with the awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of both, I plan to use both in my future classrooms of course taking into consideration the context of the students’ needs and the learning situation.