Hello out there: this is Aaron from Teacher in Development. Just curious: is there anyone still connected to this blog via RSS or email? If you’re still there…shout out! Let me know who you are. If there’s enough of you, I may just get back into blogging here. Thanks, and looking forward to hearing from you….whomever you are!
Hello everyone - everyone who is left that is. I know I haven’t been around here in ages - and if you’re still reading me in your RSS feeds, thank you for sticking around. I’d just like to let you know that I’m now blogging over at my company website at www.epicenterlanguages.com.mx. You’re invited you to drop by and stay a while.
Blog themes are around teaching (like here) but also explores how we think a language consulting firm should be operated, and delves into business development, leadership, classroom theory, and other riffs we find of interest.
Hope to connect with you there!
Haven’t seen any of the vids yet, but I thought I’d pass this on - http://www.youtube.com/TOEFLtv - "The official YouTube page of ETS and TOEFL."
We’re prepping to step out into uncharted waters, and so I thought I’d post this out and see who’s reading still - and tap into your networked intel.
My small company has started working with an adult student with ADD, and I’d like to toss out some ideas that I got from research I’ve been doing on the matter. Please tell me what you think, and if you have other ideas on the matter - do chime in on the comments. Thank you!
Traits that could work in our favor:
1. ADD does not mean "unable to learn." It means teachers must find a way in and reach the student.
2. Teachers should look for ways to take advantage of and unleash creativity. I’ve interviewed this student and spoken to him several times. His office has many small statues of famous musicians, cool jazz instruments, and - changing topic - sports items. (He’s an intense soccer fan.) Having read the bit on livingwithadd.com, the creativity part seems to make some sense here.
3. Gut feelings and Intuition - how could teachers tap into this? From what I’ve heard about the ADD client we want to work with, he has a reputation of operating from the gut. I wonder how/if this could be tapped in the ESL classroom. Perhaps trying to anticipate how grammar will work?
4. Holding interest is a big battle we must win. Learning a language is a long term quest - and a successful teacher working with an ADD student will need to learn how to market their stuff REALLY, REALLY well. And on a regular basis. I’ve heard this student say - on several occasions - that he’s just not good at learning languages. Perhaps what he’s really saying is that he’s just not been engaged in the right way?
5. Class material must be deemed important by the student to be paid attention to. The guy’s office is —well, it looks like a small bomb went off. Piles of stuff everywhere. EVERYWHERE. What does that look like in the ESL classroom? Is there something here against strict classroom rules or learning pathways? Should there be more freedom instead? More - wandering?
6. Time not mattering much. That’s bad news. This guy notoriously arrives late for class - or sometimes doesn’t show at all. Could this be that his concept of time has been altered for the moment? What does this mean for typical classrooms? How long could he hang in there and focus? Would short, high concentrated bursts throughout the day work better?
7. Very important: help create a strong sense of accomplishment - and on a regular basis. Create short work projects with clear objectives, and then help student realize that they have actually accomplished that task with they finish. Create clearn starting and ending markers.
Those are some of my thoughts…what do you think?
- Effective Practice pushes students to expand their comfort/skill zone.
- Top Performers move to the "I suck at this zone" on purpose - and stay there to perfect a specific skill.
- In most cases, top performers need a teacher to draw them into the "I suck" zone.
"…deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them. "(Geoff Colvin, Why talent is overrated.")
Deliberate practice: How often does that happen in a busy ESL classroom? And more importantly, and given the vital role of the teacher in this process, how often do we make time to CREATE and Deploy deliberate practice opportunities in our classrooms? I venture to suggest that course design, text-books, and even our own teaching styles are pretty far away from the concept of deliberate practice.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on Colvin’s article - and came to some pretty gut wrenching conclusions:
I think far too many times, my classwork leaves students very safely in their comfort zones. The definition of deliberate practice says that work is being done on specific areas of weakness - usually only one area at a time. What needs to be improved is clearly identified by the teacher and maybe even the student, and the teacher develops practice that will improve that specific ability. Practice on that specific area of weakness is repeated often, until mastery occurs.
Question: who has time to do this? The whole process sounds like a luxury - a dream! A dream in that a teacher could actually find a student who is willing to subject him/herself to such focused and painful work. (Because it would be painful to hammer away at the same thing - perhaps from differing angles - until mastery occurs.) Most students I know want instant results. They want fluency, and they want it yesterday and would complain bitterly if you dwelt on a theme or area for more than a few days.
Few have accepted the idea that language learning often requires years of dedication and practice. (I know this is true because I hear ESL company commercials on the radio almost every day that promise to make you bilingual in a matter of months - the marketers throw this out, because it’s exactly what the public wants to hear and believe.)
Deliberate practice is a hard sell - but I wonder if we ( the teachers) need to learn how to sell it to our students. (Heck - while we’re selling, we should be sure that we’re sold on it ourselves…) Maybe it’s a metacognition issue, where we need to learn how to help students see and understand the need to break away from their comfort zone, and step into "I suck"- and stay there for a while with the objective of top performance.
Maybe that’s how you sell it - help your students paint a mental picture of where they want to be with their language skills, but then help them connect to the distance between where they are now, and where they want to be. In this distance, you can help your student identify those vital skills that need to be developed, and then work together to create exercises that will eventually produce results in those specific areas of opportunity. This is where the "sell job" needs to happen. I think a student will happily go with you up to this point - after all, you’re helping him/her identify areas of growth opportunity. But this is the crucial space - where the teacher may need to put down their lesson planner and text books - and don their best sales hat. Success from here on in, will depend on how well we can sell our student on the idea of deliberate practice. It will also deeply depend on how well we design our future lessons.
What do you think? If deliberate practice could help students improve, how could you effectively deploy it in your classroom? And how could you sell it to your students?
Some people have natural language learning ability. My wife, for example, seems to be one of these people. She is Mexican, so her first language is Spanish. But she speaks near fluent English, and has begun picking up French, German, and seems pretty open to learning Italian. She seems to take it on with ease - while I have been immersed in Spanish for almost a decade and still have problem areas.
My wife, like many other people out there, have a natural gift to learn other languages. If you get one of these people in your class - great. They’ll likely push you more than others, but you’ll likely see faster progress.
But then there’s the rest of us. The ones that don’t have a "language talent." How can teachers develop classwork that encourages and even creates an environment for top performance to happen for everyone else?
Fascinating read: "Why Talent is Overrated."
"The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice. At the driving range or at the piano, most of us are just doing what we’ve done before and hoping to maintain the level of performance that we probably reached long ago." (Geoff Colvin Talent is Overrated.)
Classroom App:Redefine Practice
Do our practice activities simply rollover the skills our students ALREADY have?
I fear that this is a common situation - and finds itself in my own life. I have been playing the guitar for about ten years, but have never ventured out of basic chord progressions like G, C, D, F, and E. I stay there because it’s easy and safe. I can play those chords with ease and confidence.
When I try to play a bar chord for example - I enter new and often painful territory. It doesn’t come easily, and often sounds HORRIBLE.
Can you guess what happens to my "practice" time? I stay in the nice and easy zone. Even though I often feel frustrated with my lack of progress and the limited music I can produce, the prospect of enduring the awful sounding new is just too much. And we’re not even talking about the difficulty of managing new hand positions and commanding fingers to sluggishly stretch to new spots.
But practicing just beyond my skill zone (read: comfort zone) is vital to improve performance.
How well are we pushing students past their comfort zones? For example, when they are able to describe things they are doing RIGHT NOW(present continuous) consistently and correctly - what would happen if you suddenly used the same tense to describe something you were planning to do in the future: (I’m flying to Madrid on Sunday.) And then ask them to produce the same thing?
It’s important for students to feel like they have mastered something - but it’s VITAL to keep them pushing back their comfort zone.
It’s not easy to develop ESL course work around unique content and student needs. I’ve often posted against using "cookie cutter" style course work - buying the level appropriate course book, marching your students though it chapter by chapter until the book and their current level is finished. (Which usually happens at the same time.) Exams or quizzes are administered, results tabulated - and in most cases, the student moves up to the next level where the whole "cookie cutter" process repeats itself. (Another book is purchased, the chapters marched through, the book/level finished, and evaluations fly.)
This methodology is widely employed - at least around Mexico City where I work. It has a lot going for it: a) It is easy to replicate: most every language school/company I have had contact with here employs it in some way. b) The industry is designed for it. (It’s pretty easy to call up your local ESL bookshop and buy level appropriate material. c) Students tend to expect it. I think, perhaps, this is the strangest thing of all: students actually expect you to follow the book model - and even complain when they don’t get it.
I’m pretty sure the "book method" works. Somehow. But I wonder if it’s the most effective strategy to adapt. Is it really THE most effective thing you could be doing with your students?
Making Meaning: Is the industry broken?
Idea: Maybe the ESL industry is broken. We’re used to doing things the way I described above. Everyone is doing it. The public expects it. But it’s broken. We’re just buying books, filling in blanks, doing practice activities, engaging in, many times, boxed in conversation, and then filling out exams. I’ve seen students blow through books - successfully performing all the activities, and passing all the exams, but with little to no improvement in their real world langauge necesities. (The English they need to use OUTSIDE the classroom is often left unimproved- or what was learned does not filter out to where it’s needed. I’m not sure which.)
Fixing Tinkering with TESOL
I suggest that there’s a better - but more difficult path to explore. Instead of relying solely on course book content, classes should be built around the specific needs of each of your students. Corporate lawyers will have very different language development needs vs. a Marketing manager - yet the classic approach is to lump everyonetogetheraccordingtolanguagelevel instead of according to language needs AND language level.
This approach is not easy. It’s not efficient either, at least in the short term. But I wonder: would the more awkward and tailored approach eventually catch up to - and even surpass current ESL industry practices given time as far as effectiveness goes?
Some interesting reads that I think have to do with this post:
"The validity of the action learning process is well-grounded in research on how adults learn — which is predominantly via on-the-job "real-time" experiences. Sound action learning design provides a stage upon which behavioral performance dynamics can be observed and critiqued, and from which new choices and behavioral improvements can emerge." (Action Learning: A Recipe for Success. Marshall Goldsmith)
– Action Learning could and should be applied to as many ESL classroom experiences as we can. We should be thinking "How can I make these lessons as close to real life as I can possibly make them. How can I get chapter exercises OUT of their chapters so that they fit into Student needs.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 - 1882)
– Nuf said. Just cus everyone is going in the same direction doesn’t necessarily mean that they have found the right direction…just means that path is easier to take.
What do you think? Should more tinkering be done with TESOL? Class delivery? Text books?
The three most fundamental parts of our newly certain knowledge are:
-What we teach is not the same as what students learn
-There is a long delay and many stages between coming across the language for the first time and mastering it
-People learn differently and so learn different things at different speeds
Until a textbook deals with the points above (and I have yet to see a teacher’s book that even mentions all three in full), whether we teach more natural English, more collocations, more international English etc. is not really a question I can get excited about. The question is how we teach any of these points.
Hat tip to the TEFLtastic blog and a post about a TESOL revolution underway.
There’s not a single doubt in my mind about Grammar and my classroom: They should be together. Actively.
In my own experience learning Spanish as a second language, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity - and curse - of being immersed in the target language 24/7, 365 - for a grand total of almost 9 years.
The wonderful result: I’m pretty near fluent in Spanish. I can read, speak, and listen to most Spanish content at a native speaker’s level without much effort.
The curse: I never took a single Spanish class, nor learned about the grammar. In fact, if you were to offer me some Spanish grammar lessons, I’d likely turn you down…scared off by the potential for brain numbing boredom that is often associated with this content.
But I know deep down somewhere, that I need to learn how to properly construct my sentences. I need to learn some rules. I sense their lack, and know that - my writing especially - is suffering because I don’t know how everything works.
This is true for most everyone. Grammar needs to be in our classes, as Case underlines in his post. It’s a bad move to solely rely on exposing students to English, and over time expecting them to pick it up. Children, perhaps, would best respond to this method for fluency development, but at some point they will need grammar to help them organize and structure, adults even more so.
Where I think teachers need to be careful is to not swing too far to the right in grammar instruction. Classes that are 100% grammar, are 100% boring. Even if you manage to keep your grammar work down to respectable doses, you still need to be careful about how you present and serve up your content.
It’s kind of ironic: the very thing we know we need to teach, and the very thing many students know they need in order to improve, is the very thing that can shut our brain off, and kill enthusiasm if served the wrong way.
So DO teach the grammar. Do make it a part of your class. But DO pay careful attention to keeping it interesting. Remember, cognitive science tells us that:
Brains love the unusual, the strange, and the unexpected. And they love emotions as well: Surprise. Curiosity, and Fun.
But the real trick is to employ the above with your next grammar lesson…
I’m really starting to love the idea that "Simple is Beautiful." A few weeks ago, without even looking for it, I came across a really great quote over at WorkHappy.net. This is what I found:
"Be mindful of the link between present action and desired future outcome. Ask yourself: if I repeat today’s actions 365 times, will I be where I want to be in a year?" Roz Savage.
I liked this quote a lot. There’s so much truth behind it, and I think that very few of us are really conscious of it - mindful - as much and as often as we need to be.
In a pre-intermediate group I’m working with, we’ve been looking at the simple future tenses, as well as the present progressive. That night I came across the quote, I thought to myself: Wow! What a great way to talk about something that matters to most of us (living a life that’s on purpose, and going the way we REALLY want it to) while working on some target language along the way - "will", "going to", "want to."
After teaching new words (mindful, link, desired, outcome) we read the quote together a few times. Then we worked on a really quick explanation of "will, going to, and want to"
We read the article multiple times, and each time the students understood the text a little more. And then we started talking about it. I encouraged them to take a moment to pause, and consider what they were wanting to be by the end of 2008. After they had thought about it, I asked them to share. (Of course, having to use the simple future tense we had just been learning about.)
It was incredible. Mistakes happened, but not many. Because they had time to think a little about what they wanted to say, the ideas flowed very well…and best of all, they were very real. Then the really fun part came…the present continuous. So you want to do "x"? What are you doing today to make that happen?
Again, I encouraged them to take a few seconds and think about it before speaking…but the moment was electric. As I looked around the small meeting room table, I saw that a few were starting to think about things in ways they had never done before. What AM I doing to make my dreams happen???? You could almost hear their thoughts as they worked away in silence.
The end results: We spent the whole class talking about THEIR future, and THEIR present action. It wasn’t hard. It wasn’t fake. There was no tooth pulling….the conversation flowed quite freely. The best of all, at least for me, was that it didn’t feel like a typical grammar lesson. No pain or suffering…at least in trying to figure out how to use the new structures. It just flowed because there was, I think, a strong connection to the content.
Via the Fast Company blog: Education: The Cream Is Rising
So does having high grades as a student teacher mean you’re going to create star performers out of your future students? The FC post seems to avoid unwrapping that point - but don’t you think it’s a rather important question to explore?
Perhaps the main thrust of the post was that the education field was attracting smarter talent…but does that mean anything on the front lines of the classroom?
In my opinion, not really. Most teachers are smart…but I’ve had more than my fair share of them who lacked the heart of a teacher.
For me, math was always my weak spot. (That’s why I’m a social worker who teaches English. I got as far away from math as I could.) There were concepts and operations that just never clicked with me, and though I’m sure I had really smart math teachers, not one of them had what it took to see my state of stall, and come along side to help me out. Or if they did, they quickly lost patience and moved on.
There’s more to being a great teacher than just having great marks on your training courses. (A really cool FC post that touches on this here:Talent is Everywhere (if you know how to look) Especially with teaching, I think there’s a lot to be said for talent, vocation, and heart - but I wonder how well DELTA or CELTA courses (or any other teacher training course for that matter) help you develop there?
Knowing the theories and facts about teaching is very important, but if you are lacking in the other areas like how to make what you know meaningful and understandable for your students, then prepare yourself: instead of inspiring your students to dig deeper and march forward, you’ll be great for a few (the smart, fast moving ones like you) but you’ll shut down the slow movers, and help perpetuate the idea in them that english class sucks, and I might as well give up on trying to learn the language in the first place.
Being a great teacher is more than just head knowledge.
Teaching Math or Something: by foundphotoslj