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…

“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.


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.

Flow and Lesson Planning

I’m back after a brief hiatus from learning how to teach EAL and it is good to be back exchanging thoughts. The task of considering how ‘flow principles’ can be incorporated into lesson plans is proving to be an excellent refresher and much appreciated to help get me refocused as are my peers very insightful blogs on the topic. Flow the enabler of being in the zone – total absorption in what you are doing so much so, that you don’t realize the work or efforts that are being asked of you to complete whatever it is that you are doing. You are fully engaged in whatever it is that you are doing more so because you want to be and not because you have to be.

When considering flow and lesson planning one could equate it with learning being ‘hidden’ – the lesson is so very engaging to the student and so very able to meet his or her needs, that they are unconscious that they are learning a lesson. Students are engrossed in the activities of the lesson meaning:

  • they are feeling comfortable and they are willing to take risks and make mistakes – the teacher has succeeded in creating a supportive environment that is non-threatening, the teacher has established good rapport with the students, students are encouraged to help each other, the lesson builds on what they already know progressing from easy to more difficult;
  • they know what is expected of them and what they need to do to achieve success – students know the goals and objectives they are expected to achieve, they have a game plan outlining processes and steps they will be undertaking all of which enable them to self-monitor their progress;
  • they are self-motivated to undertake the tasks and to expend necessary effort – the lesson has been developed in such a way that students can see the relevancy to their lives; the activities promote a communicative approach whereby students are communicating with each other in authentic situations that are relatable to their lives outside the classroom
  • they are taking ownership of the lesson – the lesson promotes immediate feedback through a variety of methods: self-realization and feedback from the teacher or from peers all of which allow students to immediately realize accuracy or the need for adjustment while the error is fresh in their minds;
  • they are finding enjoyment in completing the lesson – the lessons have an element of fun and/or success built in providing the students with opportunities to realize a sense of accomplishment, the lesson has variety in presentation methods and hands-on activities to be undertaken, the lesson has been structured to minimize feelings of pressure or stress.

Course 3: The Joys of Teaching Grammar! (Or that’s my take on it.)

Welcome back! It’s blogging time again with me sharing my thoughts on teaching grammar. Grammar sort of reminds me of listening – both are critical, but so undervalued. For this blog we have been given a hypothetical situation to write a script on: a student comes to me and tells me she is bored with grammar lessons and that she feels she can learn English without learning grammar separately.  I would hope in a live situation my response might go something like this…

“I am glad you decided to tell me how you’re feeling about grammar. I appreciate your honesty and being able to talk about it with you. It’s important to me to know you are finding grammar lessons boring and to know why. A key reason that we are learning grammar as we are learning English is because learning both together helps students learn English faster and better. It’s a proven fact. Another key reason for grammar lessons while you are learning English is so your accuracy continues to grow as your use of English grows.  One of the unfortunate things that happens when students stop learning grammar is that even though they continue to learn English, they do not always use it correctly because they do not know the right grammar to use with the new English they are learning. Think of learning grammar and English together as learning a game and its rules together. If you don’t know all the rules, you can never be sure you are playing the game right. If you want to be taken seriously, you need to know how to play the game correctly. If you want to be understood in any situation, you need to speak and write English correctly. I hope this helps you understand the importance of why you are doing grammar lessons as you are learning English. We have a problem, however, and that is the grammar lessons are not effective for you. Because grammar is so important to helping you become a good communicator, I want to do all that I can to make the lessons meaningful and interesting. Please tell me why the grammar lessons are boring for you, I want to make sure future grammar lessons are more interesting.”

The student’s feedback is a great opportunity to step back and review and assess lesson efficiency to-date. Depending on the feedback from the student, I would want to address specific issues the student raises as well as review several general areas. For example, I would want to make sure that grammar lessons are addressing relatable situations for the students. That is, can students see how the grammar improves their English communication and that we are not simply learning a grammar rule for the sake of learning grammar rules. They should be able to use the grammar they are learning right away. Is the grammar being incorporated with a communicative learning approach? Recently I reviewed a great grammar book whose lessons included integrating activities that covered speaking, writing, listening and reading modalities. Are my lessons doing that? I would also be mindful of the grammar lessons not being overwhelming. Is the breadth of grammar being taught and the pace aligned? Is there variety in grammar lessons both with how the lessons are presented and the activities the lessons entail. Also, are the activities leveraging the students’ interests where possible? Am I giving students options and voice in their learning? Maybe this is a good point to have a ‘meeting’ with the students to discuss the importance of grammar and check-in with how they are doing and feeling about grammar.

Wrapping up “Understanding the Language Skills”

Another teaching EAL course completed and WOW! it was full of great information and just as thought provoking as the first course was. I am even more pumped to teach.  Definitely a highlight of this course was actually developing lessons to use with EAL students and, of course, interviewing a ‘real, honest to goodness’ EAL speaker. What a fantastic experience in taking theory and putting it to practical use. I now have new questions and thoughts to explore with my peers in the next course.  I appreciated being able to ‘test’ the learning assessment tool I had created with the EAL speaker. I was given some very good feedback and insights. A couple of highlights from the interview with the EAL speaker were:

  • the pressures EAL students feel to not appear unintelligent or ignorant because of their English language limitations;
  • the importance of climate/receptiveness of audiences if the EAL student is going to take risks and try new words, phrases and conversations;
  • frustrations of EAL students in having information to share and feeling they are unable to do so because they do not have the appropriate words or they might use a wrong word.
I have new empathy for the struggles of an EAL learner.