Every teacher needs to be aware of the characteristics of the students who come into the classroom. You are well on your way to reaching all of your students because you are aware of where they come from, what they bring with them into your classroom, and where they are going. Use this to your advantage:
- Design activities that engage these young people in what they are interested in doing.
- Tap their talents and encourage them to apply the language they are learning to those talents.
- Find out how they learn.
Armed with this knowledge, you can go about providing learning experiences for them that will engage them from the beginning because the experiences are interesting and relevant.
When students work in pairs or threes, they can:
- explore topics of similar interest,
- support each other in their learning process, and
- reduce the amount of time the teacher needs to be “talking to the class” thus leaving the teacher free to work independently with individual groups.
The final product is a reflection of well-designed rubrics and prompts that demonstrate use of appropriate content, language, and cultural interaction, all with the individual twist and interpretation that makes life so interesting.
Incorporating some new and exciting technology
For lesson planning and resources:
A new school year is starting. It is so exciting to meet new students, see their eager faces, and realize how excited they are to be learning a new language. One of our tasks as teachers is to make their experience as positive and attainable as we can. This includes couching their learning experiences in terms they know and understand. Enter: Tah Dah! new developments in the language classroom. Most of these new developments are technology based, so I thought I would highlight some of the technology discoveries made during our summer Spanish Immersion Institute.
Resources for teachers and students, prepared activities. Many languages and formats (both on-line and in the classroom) from which to choose. (Free)
Spanish language and culture, offers a variety of lesson plans about culture and language that incorporate a variety of media. (Free)
For connecting, collaborating, and sharing:
Presentation package. Combines brainstorming, organizing, and presenting in one package. Zoom and fly from one point to the next. (Free)
For Creating Visual Impressions:
Collaborative space for sharing ideas. (Cost)
Collaborative space for sharing ideas. (Free)
Collaborative space for sharing ideas. (Some resources are free, some have a cost)
- www.picassohead.com -
Create heads to express ideas, emotions, personalities, etc. Drag and Drop. (Free).
- www.wordle.net -
Create word pictures with different sizes and orientation of words and phrases. (Free).
Have a wonderful start to a new school year! If you have questions, YANA is here to help, and reminds you that You Are Not Alone!
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Setting Goals, Reflecting, and Succeeding
The school season is hard upon us! Our restful days of summer have rejuvenated us and we’re ready to step into the fray, eager and anxious to share our love of language to the new crop of students awaiting us. But, what do we want to accomplish this year? Of course, we want our students to succeed, to develop an understanding of language and cultures, and to get through the curriculum our district has established for us. Is that all?
As we all know, there is more to teaching than page turning, so take a few moments to seriously think about at least three goals you would like to achieve this year. Perhaps you can come up with five, but don’t go beyond that. These goals may be personal, they may be professional, or they may be focused on your students. It really doesn’t matter, although a good mix is not a bad idea. Maybe your goal is to incorporate a specific technology into your teaching on a regular basis or to integrate all of the 5 C’s into your teaching for each thematic unit. Or, is it leading your students to confidently be able to speak for some determined length of time? It might even be that you want to return all assignments within 3 days, with grades and detailed comments.
Once you have determined your goals, set down some intermediate steps to help you achieve your goals by the end of the school year. Make a plan for your success by taking out a calendar and pacing out your march toward achieving the goals. Plan and schedule these markers to determine what you will achieve towards your goals, how you will get to that point, and by which date. Your markers are intended to help you achieve your goal and should be scheduled in a way that works best for you. Whether that is at the end of each grading period or is determined by certain events in your life, whatever your framework is, set yourself intermediate steps.
Beyond that, it might be helpful to list some strategies that you will use. Strategies can include a list of books, websites, mentors, or tools that you might use to help you. Strategies can also include behaviors on your part or on the part of your students. If your goal is returning assignments, then perhaps a strategy is to turn off the TV for 2 hours in the evening. If it is to learn technology, sign up for a workshop and designate time each week to work and practice with it. If it is student speaking, devise some activities that will give them the experiences and time they need to be comfortable while speaking.
Why is it important to set goals? It keeps us from wandering aimlessly about, wondering if we are making a difference, asking ourselves if we are improving ourselves in any way, and gives us something to focus on beyond planning lessons and grading assignments. When observation and evaluation time comes around, this is something we can share with our evaluator. Most importantly, it gives us focus and an opportunity for reflection about how we are doing with our chosen profession. Reflection prompts adjusting and improvement, and improvement is what we all want.
If you have a plan and have a fairly good idea of how you will achieve the plan, you will find that you have met your goals when this year is over. What a sense of achievement that is!
Think. Set goals. Plan. Reflect. Achieve.
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Five Resolutions for starting a new
It’s a new year and time for some
resolutions! The start of a new
semester presents a wonderful opportunity to institute some new ideas, tighten
up procedures, and generally spruce up the classroom environment. These five are relatively easy to
execute and should go a long way toward getting you through February. (Where I live, February is chilly,
grey, dreary, and often drippy, with very little sunshine, and lots of
humidity. The year’s shortest
month often feels as long as two Januarys!)
#1: Tighten up use of classroom time.
· Look at your procedures and chop out those
minutes of down time.
· Institute fun and engaging activities for
students to do as they are waiting for the bell to ring and for you to finish
those quick administrative duties at the start of class.
· To ensure that students are actively
participating in language use, change the type of activity every 12-15 minutes.
· Finish up class with a “culminating activity”
that incorporates all the major points of the class period. This only needs to last 5 minutes and
remember that the operative word here is activity. Make it active and all-inclusive.
· Reinforce the procedures you instituted at the
start of the year, thus keeping the pace of class moving along.
#2: Include students in your preliminary
· Talk with students about the parts of class that
seem to be of most help in their learning.
· Get their ideas about what will improve their
· Apply these ideas regularly in your planning.
#3: Do something exciting for yourself that
relates to your classes.
· Buy a book or a DVD that you’ve been wanting.
· Go to a concert, lecture, book signing, or local
celebration that relates to your teaching.
· If you are excited, it will transfer to other
things you do, including your demeanor in the classroom.
· Share interesting things you have done or
learned with your students.
#4: Refurbish and refresh the classroom
· Change the arrangement of classroom furniture.
· Renew the walls.
· Change the bulletin boards.
#5: Try something completely different
· Invigorate learning by trying a hands-on project
· Take learning out into the community in some
· Invite teachers from other curricular areas to
share their knowledge as it relates to your language and culture.
There are thousands of ways to make the start of the second
semester feel like the start of an exciting new course. Be creative in your approach and both
you and your students will beat the February blahs and find that it’s spring
before you know it!
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Checklists to assess teaching and classroom management
I would like to have some forms or check lists to help me assess my own EFL teaching and classroom management. I teach Reading to college level students overseas.
What an interesting and valuable idea you offer. Most of the questions I receive have to do with the student side of the equation. You have posed a wonderful two-part question and I will address each part separately. This column will talk about classroom management and the next column will talk about self assessment as a teacher.
The most important piece of successful classroom management is knowing what you expect from your students and conveying those expectations to them in a clear fashion and being consistent about their application. Give this careful thought before going into the classroom on the first day, including the following ideas.
• Establish classroom procedures that will ease the flow of the activities you have planned.
• Have clearly stated goals and objectives for the course, unit, and day.
• Have a clearly stated grading policy.
• Be sure that what you expect is reasonable and respectful of the students and yourself.
• Prepare a syllabus that clearly identifies what topics will be covered and what skills will be addressed.
Do you lose the students as you transition from one activity or topic to the next? Ask yourself the following:
• Do you clearly know what you are going to do, and when and how you will do it?
• Do you know how to operate the equipment you will be using that day?
• Have you checked out the equipment to be sure it is functioning properly?
• Do you have your teaching materials organized and easy to locate?
• Do you have back-up plans ready and in place if something goes awry?
• Do you have students engaged in learning from the start to the end of class?
It is very easy to lose your students if you do not transition smoothly and quickly from one section of class to the next, or if you do not have your students actively participating in the learning process for the entire class period. Have things planned for students to do from start to finish. Part of your procedural training of the class should include how to work in small groups and pairs. Start the class off with paired work that either reviews yesterday or lays the groundwork for today. Then, be sure they know you have been paying attention to their work.
If a transition is going to take some time, devise a small group activity for the students to do while you are setting up the next piece that either uses the old or new topic. Here are some ideas to use for transitioning:
• a short conversation,
• the writing of a group story with a beginning, middle, and end (5 sentences using current vocabulary and structure),
• sketching a print advertisement using the current vocabulary and structure,
• creating a jingle that reflects the old or new topic,
• preparing a list of questions to ask the teacher that pertain to the new topic,
• a quick, ungraded, pre-test on the new material that students will use later to assess their understanding of the new topic.
Just about anything works here, as long as it is quick and relevant. Then, before actually starting the next piece have some type of follow-up to the small group activity. This will ensure that students are being held accountable for what they do during that transition time.
Do you find that students are not able, or willing, to demonstrate the skills you expect? Take a look at:
• How much time you are talking during the class period.
• How much modeling you do of the expected outcome.
• How much time students have to practice the skill.
Student performance will be low if they do not have the opportunity to practice and/or do not know what to practice to what end. Model what you expect, then step aside and provide lots of practice time. Ungraded practice is good for exploration and testing of unknown waters. Move quickly to checking what they have done by using follow-up questions, reporting back to the class, and other quick-check methods. Although ungraded, these methods keep the students responsible for their time, and allow you to assess their progress.
Prepare students for the final assessment by breaking up the material into smaller pieces and giving them the opportunity to perfect them, and then combine them into a larger piece. Ultimately they will have a fairly large piece already practiced and perfected when it comes time for the final evaluation. The students will find it easy to prepare and the scores should be high if this is done correctly.
Once you have classroom management under control then the students will have positive learning experiences. That is, providing you have given proper thought to planning. Next month’s column will address how to evaluate your own teaching.
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Teacher Self Assessment
Last month I answered the first of a two-part question about teacher effectiveness. That section dealt with classroom management and this section will address self assessment on the part of the teacher. There are a lot of classroom management self assessment tools available for teachers on the Internet and you may find one that seems to address your particular situation. Classroom management is only a portion of being a successful teacher. Likewise, subject matter knowledge is only a portion. Preparation is still another piece of the successful teacher puzzle.
Good planning, with alternate plans, is a key to effective teaching. Your plans should outline the entire course, each unit, and each day, and be more and more specific as you approach the daily lesson plan. It is very important to know where you are going and how you are going to arrive there. Predictability will help both you and your students to succeed. I know some teachers who say they have taught the same course for years and don’t need to write lesson plans all of the time. What they fail to recognize is that each class has a different student make-up. This means different skills, interests, and abilities. You must take the unique nature of each class into consideration when deciding what you will do each day. If you teach the same subject several times a day, the same holds true: each class is unique because of the students and the time of day. I also know a teacher or two who say they don’t know what they are going to teach until they’ve taught it because they want to be open to that “teachable moment” when it arises. Don’t be fooled by that! Good lesson planning always allows for the digression into that teachable moment.
What is a good lesson plan? It is one that accurately predicts and reflects classroom activity on a given day. If you look back to the classroom management column from last month, you will see that good planning is the key there as well. It creates a flexible framework for forward progress. Always plan for a bit more than you think you will achieve. Frame your activities to so they involve all students in a positive and nurturing climate.
Each class should provide students with a variety of activities, each of which probably shouldn’t last more than 20 minutes. Variety can simply mean using the same content in different ways: draw a comic strip to illustrate an idea or to use vocabulary, write a poem using vocabulary, perform a skit incorporating inter-personal relationships and communication, conduct surveys and prepare a summary of their findings. Some of these activities might be ungraded practices that lead to a culminating activity in a few days time. This variety will help students who have different learning styles grasp the concepts. Ungraded practice can be whole class, yes, but it must also include small group, paired, and individual practice as well. Your classroom should seem like organized and controlled chaos to an outsider.
Spend time with your colleagues and your mentor. Share your ideas, successes, and not-quite-so-successful attempts with them. They will have had similar experiences and will be able to help you fine-tune your style, approach, and expectations. When something doesn’t go quite right, they may have the simple answer, or be willing to help you search for an answer. Things will go better if you maintain and expect positive and respectful behaviors in your classroom.
How your students perform on your assessments is probably the best indicator of how well you are doing as a teacher. If students consistently perform poorly, it may be for a variety of reasons: (a) The assessment is too demanding. (b) The expectation is beyond the students’ abilities. (c) The assessment is poorly designed. (d) The assignment and/or the rubric was not clear (e) The learning did not take place. Take a close look at all five of the possibilities and honestly judge them. You may have to go back and do some things again in a different way and assess again. Did you do enough evaluation along the way to the final assessment to know what the students still needed to learn? Did they practice and learn what you tested?
Finally, reflect on your day every day. What went well? Why? How could the best be made better? What did not go quite so well? Why? Improve on the idea and try it again. Is your voice tired and your throat sore? If so, you are talking way too much. Stand back and let your students do the talking. Only through practice will they gain proficiency.
How does one know if one is an effective teacher? Briefly, I would say that student performance on proficiency based activities is a good indicator of your effectiveness. Also, the general atmosphere in the room will tell you whether your students look forward to, or dread, their time with you. Pay attention to the types of questions and comments the students have; if these are superficial and/or critical you may have some changing of your ways ahead of you. If students volunteer their participation, come prepared, have assignments ready when due, are positive and respectful, and seem comfortable in class, then you are probably doing a fairly good job of it. There’s always room for improvement: build on your strengths!
Having said all of the above, please remember that even the best of the best teachers run up against a difficult class now and then. It’s rare that an entire class is difficult, so ask your mentor to observe, to review your lessons, assessments, and other materials. Seek help from those experienced teachers around you. Remember, and apply, the “positive and respectful” theme.
So, here’s a check list based on the above:
- Do I have a course outline and a set of course objectives?
- Do I have a complete lesson plan for each day of a unit?
- Do I allow for the individual differences found in each class, while essentially keeping them in the same place?
- Do I have a variety of activities?
- Do I group students for practice and production of information?
- Do I switch activities frequently?
- Have I set a predictable routine and taught the students how to move from one activity to another?
- Do I provide ungraded practice time before graded performance time?
- Do I evaluate student progress regularly during the class?
- Do I teach what I test?
- Do I test what I teach?
- Do I talk with my mentor?
- Are the assignments, and expectations, clearly stated?
- Is the rubric clear?
- Is my classroom a positive and respectful place in which to learn?
- Am I taking time every day to reflect and critique how the day went and why?
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Why must I write annual goals to submit to my principal?
Whether you feel that the appropriate use is made of your written goals by your administrators or not, they are important to put down on paper, perhaps especially for you. I will approach your frustration from the angle of how this will help you, and will not address what your administration does or does not do with them. There are a variety of reasons why an administrator might ask for goals. Among them are having to satisfy a list of objectives either for the superintendent or the school board, or as part of a check list for accreditation.
We all arrive at school in the fall ready to tackle another year, having spent time over the summer thinking about our successes and our failures, our strengths and our weaknesses. While everybody likes to sit on their laurels, what will make us even more successful, is to spend time reflecting on our failures and weaknesses. This reflection should include delving into reasons why we weren’t satisfied and exploring ways to make the effort more successful. Jot down the most important of these and prepare a plan of action (aka: a set of goals) for improvement. A time-line might be helpful if you have devised a multi-step plan for one of your goals.
While thinking seriously about these things is an important first step, putting ideas on paper helps to crystallize the thoughts and organize approaches for improvement. Written down, these ideas then become easier to run a self-check on as the year progresses. Pull them out every month or two and critically analyze your trajectory toward achieving the goals. Make adjustments as necessary.
There are always hoops through which we need to jump, whether or not we like or agree with them. Stop grumbling about having to write these goals and submit them to your principal, and turn your thinking around into how this will help you become an even better teacher than you are already. We all have room for improvement!
- Make a list of what you areas would like to improve in this year. Be specific.
- Form a plan of action from this list. Be specific.
- Prioritize this list, using whatever criteria are important to you.
- Select the top 5 items and submit them for your goals for this year.
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How to best serve on my school district's text book adoption committee
You are indeed correct when you indicate that selecting a textbook is an important and far-reaching activity and you are right to approach it with a sense of the responsibility that was bestowed upon you. For those of you who are not serving on such a committee, be sure you make your ideas known to a representative. Volunteer your name for the next time around. Stay informed in the interim. The more all of us are involved in the choices that affect our daily work routine, the more control we have over a positive outcome.
Along with everything else I am going to suggest, please keep in mind what is appropriate for your community, both in terms of demographics and finances, including price contracts for the duration of the adoption cycle. You want to look at all levels in a series, not just what you teach, from the point of view of the teacher, the student, and the parents. Ancillaries are secondary and should be used to break a tie, especially if there is a cost involved.
It is very likely that your state has already done some of the groundwork for you by reviewing and approving several series. This means they will have looked at how the books deal with the state standards for foreign languages and the soundness of the pedagogy. In addition, they will have considered such mundane things as the durability of the book itself.
|Things to consider in a general overview
- uncluttered pages
- easy to understand icons
- useful references
- size and weight of book
- durability of student text
- sufficient support included in the text to not need many of the ancillaries
|Things to consider from the students' point of view
- organization of the textbook
- useful icons
- comfortable size (for carrying and for desktop use)
- up-to-date photographs and cultural items
- clear drawings
- consistent format
- consistent color coding
- colorful and uncluttered
- clear, concise directions
- easy-to-follow models
- variety of exercises
- easy to locate vocabulary listings
- easy to use grammar help
- interesting content
Things to consider from the teachers' point of view
- organization of the textbook
- front matter includes a schematic of how the various parts fit together
- reasonable to cover in one year
- How does the “extra” material in a text get treated in the next level
- useful and easy to interpret icons
- spend equal time covering skills and standards in a proficiency approach
- photos and other cultural information up to date
- incremental learning, re-entered regularly
- vocabulary presented in manageable groups
- address the same skills and standards as the text
- treat the same material as the text
- reflect incremental learning
- contain a variety of exercises
- contain a variety of exercises
- reflect text material
- clear and uncluttered
- reflect text material
- speech is clear
- speed is sensible
- pauses are sufficient
- repetition is appropriate
- contains different pronunciation patterns
- images and content are appropriate, relevant, and up-to-date
I wish you luck in this endeavor. Choosing a textbook series by committee is an exercise in accommodation and compromise. Whatever the committee chooses must be acceptable to a variety of teaching and learning styles, as well as a variety of ages and interests.
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What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling is a multimedia way to tell a story. Many of the successful digital stories use music, still photos, speaking, and some include snips of video. The result is a short video piece similar to the kind of thing Ken Burns did with his Civil War series. Topics may be personal memories, historical research, creative writing, or anything else that crosses the mind.
You will have to become versed in a variety of software in order to lead your students through the creation of their own stories. Talk with the IT person at your school to see what they suggest. You will need an audio editor, an image editor, and a video editor. Some good ones are available fir free, and your school may already have access to some of these. I strongly suggest that you create some digital stories yourself first for use in the class, both to learn the process and to demonstrate the final product. Ask your IT person for help as you create these. Tell your students that you are learning how to do this and ask for their honest critique of your work.
What can you ask your students to do in a digital form? Your students can transfer anything you have them write as an essay or as a creative writing assignment to this digital format. The challenge is to reduce the information to the essentials so that the video does not run beyond 3 minutes or so. See the Teachers Lounge in Culture Club for a lesson plan.
Some students will come to your classes with the skills and knowledge to do digital storytelling and others will have no clue. Talk with your students about how they use computers and what they know how to create on their computer. This will give you an idea of where to start your instruction, because not only will you be assigning a “project” to your students, in all likelihood you will be teaching them how to use new software as well. Students will enjoy preparing and presenting reports and stories in this exciting new digital mode. It takes time to create, but it is worth it!
Several websites will be of help to the beginning digital storyteller. Just put digital storytelling into your favorite search engine and you will find a wealth of information at your disposal.
Main Directory for the Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling Website
College of Education, University of Houston
Introduction, Goals and Objectives, Getting Started, Examples, Tools, Evaluation,
Excellent tutorial and basic information with examples.
techLEARNING, Nov. 1, 2007
Tips for Digital Story Telling.
Clear, concise and excellent one-page introduction
Digital Storytelling Good collection of sites with examples, instructions, hardware and software requirements
The Center for Digital Storytelling
Cookbook of how to put one together.
Examples of good digital stories
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To use or not to use the dictionary, that is the question?
~How do you say
Dear How do you say:
Using a dictionary is a topic that is likely to generate as many opinions as there are people taking part in the conversation. Everybody has their own take on the effectiveness of exercises and use. Here's my approach to dictionary usage.
I discourage their use at just about any time for work they will be doing for class, especially in the productive skills areas. I always encourage their use for curiosity and growth. The reason for not using them at this level has everything to do with what they must learn to pass the course. If they are laden with additional words they need to learn, we are risking a melt-down. All of the creative, individual and group projects that my students engage in are based on the vocabulary of the current, and past, lessons. If this project is something to be shared with the class, the vocabulary has to be commensurate with the audience's knowledge. If it is an individual writing for the teacher, I permit some additional words beyond the scope and sequence of the course. Students need to be able to talk about what interests them and I do provide opportunities for that on a regular basis. If students are assigned a reading that contains words they do not know, I usually gloss them, both to save the student time, and to keep the flow of information coming.
To ensure that dictionaries are used correctly, I do a series of short lessons that will introduce the students to how the dictionary is organized, the abbreviations that are used and what they mean, and the multiple meanings of a single word, depending on context and part of speech, for example "spoke." In addition, I do a piece on idioms, so they understand that some phrases must be taken as a whole, and not their individual parts. A favorite one that illustrates this point is "of course."
Intermediate and Advanced Levels:
I continue to discourage the use of dictionaries on a regular basis in order to reduce dependency. How many of us carry a bi-lingual dictionary in our pocket all of the time? They must learn to store words in their memory banks (aka brain) and retreive them when they're needed.
As the complexity of their language increases, and the topics become broader and more esoteric, dictionaries are permitted, always with attention paid to choosing the correct word.
In summary, the use of dictionaries has a place in learning another language, especially with the productive skills. I have many in my classroom and do tell students to consult them when it is an appropriate use. These comments are relative to both print and on-line dictionaries. They have nothing to do with on-line translators, which I abhor and do not permit at all. When I am working on my non-teaching language projects I often have an on-line dictionary open, to check to be sure that I have chosen the most appropriate word. I sometimes use both an on-line and a print dictionary when working with very specialized vocabulary that is relatively new to me. I am not anti-dictionary, but I do try to avoid using one in most cases.
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Getting away from the book and still teaching the curriculum
Dear Bookless and loving it!
What a wonderful observation you have made! Many teachers lean on the book in class and still produce students who can communicate without the book. My observational experience says that there are higher numbers of proficient students leaving classrooms of teachers who do not use the book very much in class. We need to remember that proficiency is a continuum of skills and knowledge that is acquired over a period of time. So, when we talk about proficient students leaving a level one class we understand that they are not “fluent” nor are they as proficient as a student leaving a fourth level class.
Now, to address your question directly … If you provide your students with opportunities to express themselves every day, and require them to do so, they will eventually gain the confidence needed to step out on their own into uncharted territory. You can do this in a variety of ways.
For communicative speaking proficiency:
- On the first day, introduce the vocabulary in small chunks of about 10 words. Use action, pictures, definitions in your TL, or any other means that comes to mind, to give meaning to the words. Avoid English at all costs. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Put the vocabulary in a place where everybody can see it. Ask the students to carry on a conversation using the words on the list, with each student selecting at least 6 of the 10. This should take 2 to 4 minutes.
- Have the students change partners and engage in a second conversation using the same words. It will be a different conversation because it involves different people. This should take about 3 minutes.
- Do this a third time, with a third partner, this time removing the word list so they work from their memory. This should take about 2 minutes.
- When you introduce the next group of vocabulary, you may have to go through only two conversation cycles.
- Then, incorporate a random sampling of the previous lists so the students expand their base of vocabulary to include a wider variety of topics about which to talk.
To increase communicative listening proficiency:
- Capture radio reports about events the students already know about. Listen to them carefully ahead of time to be sure the speed and regional pronunciation will not interfere with comprehension.
- Select songs with lyrics the students will be able to distinguish without too much difficulty.
- Show short segments from a film or a TV program that reinforce your content for the day.
- Use the materials supplied by your textbook.
- Always do pre- and post- comprehension activities.
- Activate their knowledge about the subject before listening. Guide their listening with specific questions, but avoid going into too much detail at first.
- After listening to the segment a couple of times, check for understanding by having groups discuss the content, having students draw a picture, having an impromptu skit that re-tells the content. Be creative here. Boring questions and answers are going to lose the students.
Be sure to include the cultural component from the beginning, so that students gain cultural competency along with language competency.
- Start with simple manners of behavior: use of social register, physical greetings (hand shake, bow), personal space.
- Expand to include more subtle behaviorisms such as how to form a line to be served in a bank, or where women and children unaccompanied by a man sit on the bus.
The first time I ask level II students who are new to me, to do a short conversation without writing it out first strikes terror in their hearts and minds. By selecting short vocabulary lists and giving them several times to practice before they need to do this for an audience, they become comfortable with the process. After completing the first step they are amazed that they were able to do it. It’s all about developing confidence. Ultimately, your goal is to provide the student with all of the tools to navigate successfully through the linguistic and cultural waters at his level of expertise. With the confidence that you have helped the student develop, he will succeed. That is proficiency.
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Tired of teaching the same things year after year
Every year is the same yet different in so many ways. What can you do to keep your interest as a teacher at peak level while teaching the same thing year after year?
First, talk with your supervisor to see if there isn’t some way you can be assigned another level next year. Explain your predicament and seek his/her help. Be sure you come across as wishing to expand your professional abilities, rather than complaining about having the same old teaching assignment year after year. Put in a correct and positive, light, you might surprise yourself and get a new assignment next year.
But, for this year, you have the same text and the same material to cover. Don’t get discouraged, however. First, look to your students for ideas. Find out what their interests are and work those into the lessons. Just because the family section suggests the students make a family tree and describe each member of the family doesn’t mean that you have to do this! Be creative with this assignment. Move away from the family tree idea and have students create a powerpoint presentation about the family of a famous person. You can control this by limiting it to historical people (presidents, for example), or literary characters (Harry Potter). Or, send them on a shopping trip for their family, so you can cross reference foods that each family member likes or dislikes.
Find new materials. There are some excellent websites that have all kinds of interactive opportunities. Choose things that involve the students and ask them to create a final product that they must present to the class in some fashion. Step out of the old favorites of posters or essays and get them into digital activities. The IT person in your school will be thrilled to sit with you and help you come up with how to execute an idea.
This is your year to stretch your own margins and step into another dimension. The first two years of language study are so important in determining whether a student will continue his study beyond the required level. Work to make it exciting for the students, and along the way you will become excited as well. Involving the students actively, getting them to use the language every day for the entire class period, leading them to understand your joy with the language will go a long way toward reducing your boredom. After all of this, you may find that you are so excited about levels one and two that you won’t want to give them up! These are the levels where we need our most inspiring teachers.
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What is the true value of rubrics?
Rubrics give structure to a task, clarifying what is expected in the final product and indicating how the final product will be evaluated. Rubrics also help in the design of an assignment that leads to a final product.
A good rubric …
Covers a range of abilities: With a point spread enabling the evaluator to place a student on a continuum, each element is defined and relegated to a particular location on the line. The top score should always reflect going beyond the assignment, and the bottom score should reflect no attempt to cover the material, or work done in a completely unsatisfactory manner.
Includes content: Is the content of the assignment included in the product? The evaluator may want to make a list of items mentioned in the prompt to aid in answering the question.
Includes structure: Divided into two separate categories, the first category focuses on the structural elements of the current lesson, and the second focuses on a general over-all holistic assessment of the structure.
Includes vocabulary: The prompt should indicate the type of vocabulary expected in the product, and perhaps provide a list of things to be included. The vocabulary used should be commensurate with the level of study of the student.
Includes organization: Organization can be visual on a poster, linking on a website, or the logical flow of ideas in a story or essay. In any case, it reflects a thoughtful relationship of ideas.
Includes expression: This addresses the manner of expression. Does it address the audience appropriately? Is it too juvenile? Is it sophisticated? Are all of the sentences simple, or are there a variety to include compound and complex? Did the student use prepositional phrases, adjectives, and adverbs well?
Allows for creativity: Within the parameters of what is expected, the elements should be presented in an original and interesting fashion.
Allows for risk-taking: This is especially important in the structure and vocabulary sections where students should be rewarded for attempting to do something beyond where they are at the time of the exercise. Sort of like bonus points.
When you set about to prepare an assignment, in your mind you know what you expect the students to turn in to you on the due date. If you start with that list, formalize it, organize it, and prioritize the elements, you have the beginnings of a good rubric. Once you are satisfied with this list, assign relative values to each of the elements, indicating the relative importance of each element in the over-all design of the product. When you distribute the assignment, include the rubric as part of the information. This will help students include all of the elements you are expecting and will avoid the "How was I supposed to know you wanted …?" kinds of questions later on. Use the rubric for evaluation of the product and return the rubric to the student for his information. Nothing is a surprise when everybody has the rubrics for reference.
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I am transferring to a new school that is on block scheduling...
There are several types of block scheduling, the most common being either the A-B or the 4x4.
In the A-B, classes meet every other day and over the course of two weeks each class meets 5 times. This extends for the entire year through both semesters. In the 4x4, classes meet every day for one semester, with a new set of classes for second semester.
In the 90+ minute classes found in block scheduling variety is the key to success. Do not spend more than 20 minutes, 15 preferably, on any one method of contact. Choose from paired or group activity, individual work, student presentations, teacher prepared presentations (board, computer, PowerPoint, etc.), and a host of other types of activities. It is very important to keep students on task all of the class period. Once they learn that you will dawdle while shifting from one mode to another, or that the out-of-seat activity can be extended to enable chatting, you will have a very difficult time getting them back on track.
Create times when students are forced to be on their feet and moving about the classroom. I use a device I call "fiesta time" in which everyone is attending a party and there are no chairs to sit on. Everyone talks with another person about the assigned topic for a couple of minutes. Then I call out "change!" and they move to a new conversation partner. After talking with 3 or 4 different partners I end the fiesta. Here I am trying to simulate what would happen at a real party where one talks for a moment with one person and then moves on to somebody else. Students love it and often start to wander off into other topics of conversation. I ignore it as long as it is in the target language and they think they’re getting away with something! I usually make a casual comment about the topic sometime later in the class so they know I was listening. Start out easy on this kind of an activity because it places huge responsibilities on the shoulders of the students while requiring you to be able to hear as many as 15 conversations at the same time. I listen for English and for strange words. Don’t do this more than once a week because it will lose its freshness.
A 95 minute class might look like this:
1-10 minutes - warm-up and review
11-25 minutes - presentation of new material
26-30 minutes - paired practice of new material
31-35 minutes - paired practice of new & familiar material with another partner
36-45 minutes - whole class activity using new & familiar material to check on learning progress
46-60 minutes - out of seat activity of some type
61-75 minutes - story telling with new material
76-90 minutes - sharing of stories with the class
91-95 minutes - wrap-up and discussion of homework
The first few weeks of a block schedule are exhausting, but once you get the hang of it you will enjoy the extended time with the students. Plan for more than 95 minutes so you have something to fall back on if an activity doesn’t work, or if they move something quicker than you anticipated. You will be a better teacher and your students will be more successful if you hand over the class to the students. Introduce, demonstrate, and then let the students practice while you walk around and help individuals.
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