Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Cellphone Debate

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

We’ve all been there, right? The lesson is going well. The students are engaged. I am sharing pearls of ESL wisdom in an accessible and entertaining fashion. I am scanning the back of the room, when all of a sudden I see a student with his/her head bowed. Sadly, that student is not being momentarily overcome by the sheer brilliance of my teaching methodology. More likely, that student is on his/her cellphone.

ARGH!

According to an NPR report on innovation in education, How to get Students to Stop Using their Cellphones in Class, college-aged students in the US use their cellphones an average of 8 to 10 hours every day and check them an average of every 15 to 20 minutes. If that first statistic doesn’t blow your mind (seriously, 8 to 10 hours every day?!?), the fact that in a 2 hour class, our students, on average, are checking their phones 6 to 8 times just might.

Two Sides of the Cellphone War

Okay, for the record, I know I am old and I have an old person’s relationship with my cellphone. I have an old Read more »

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Value of a Multi-Generational Teaching Staff

heyer_picBy Sandra Heyer
ESL Teacher and Author of the textbooks True Stories Behind the Songs and More True Stories Behind the Songs
Songs and Activities for English Language Learners

When I walked into the classroom of my 24-year-old colleague, a popular song was softly playing – but the music didn’t seem to have anything to do with the lesson. The students were hunched over their desks, filling out a worksheet on irregular past tense verbs. When I looked at my colleague quizzically, she explained, “I play music when they do worksheets – otherwise it’s too quiet in here.”

“Really?” I thought. A quiet classroom would be undesirable during, say, a class discussion. But is a quiet classroom always undesirable? I grew up in an era where music and TV were not life’s constant backdrop, so the song in the background struck me as distracting. But when I looked at her students, all adults in their 20s and 30s, I couldn’t deny that they looked focused, yet relaxed. Perhaps they, like my younger colleague, were more comfortable in settings that were not “too quiet.”

I teach in a small community-based Adult ESL program with a multi-generational staff. Two teachers are in their 20s, one is in his 40s, and I am in my 60s. I think both students and teachers benefit from this range of ages: Younger teachers tend to bring fresh approaches that are particularly effective with students close to their age, and older teachers tend to bring insights that come with experience. Read more »

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 5

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

If you’ve been reading this blog lately, you know that the past 4 posts have focused on a struggle that is common to many teachers, reducing the amount of time we talk in the classroom, also known as TTT. This is something I readily admit to struggling with, but I found that by considering several scenarios containing examples of problematic teacher talk, I’ve learned a lot about how I can reduce the amount of class time I spend talking and increase the amount of class time my students spend talking.

Scenario 7

Scenario 7

This scenario, a version of which I found in Walsh (2002), contains an example Read more »

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 4

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my past few posts, I’ve shared some strategies for reducing Teacher Talk Time in the classroom. I know I have a bad habit of talking too much. But, I also know that when I am talking, my students aren’t, and that’s not fair to them. Keeping that in mind, I’ve been presenting a variety of scenarios that contain common examples of TTT gone bad and sharing experts’ suggestions for making TTT count.

Scenario 5

Scenario 5

Ah, the challenge of answer checks! As with previous scenarios in this series of posts, you don’t even have to read the conversation to know the teacher is doing the lion’s share of the talking. Read more »

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 3

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my recent posts, I’ve shared some thoughts about ways to make Teacher Talk Time (TTT) count in the classroom. Every time I am yakking during the lesson, the students aren’t, so I really need to make sure that the time I do spend talking is valuable. In the research I did for a professional development session I facilitated, I came across many examples of “bad” teacher talk, which I think provide an interesting jumping off point for a critical evaluation of my own TTT habits.

Scenario 3

Scenario 3

Oh jeez. Reading this conversation is like jumping back about 20 years when I was a brand spanking new teacher in Korea. In one of my first experiences with Read more »

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 2

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In a recent post, I talked about my struggle with keeping my Teacher Talk Time (TTT) in check. I had the pleasure of facilitating a professional development session on the topic for Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL), and I wanted to share some of the research I came across.

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined the debate that has dominated the discussion about TTT. After doing a fair amount of background reading, I have arrived at the conclusion that while excessive TTT does reduce students’ chances to practice the language themselves, good TTT can provide a valuable model and can take the positive format of explicit instruction. As Harmer (2007) points out, “We should not talk simply about the difference between STT [Student Talk Time] and TTT, but also consider TTQ (Teacher Talking Quality)” (Harmer, 2007, p. 38). Read more »

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Gift of Gab? – Part 1

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I feel like I should start this post with a disclaimer. I love to talk. I love telling a funny story to a rapt group of listeners. I love the feeling of being the center of attention. For this very reason, I struggle with reigning in my Teacher Talk Time (TTT) in the classroom. After all, there is almost nothing more enticing to a gabber like me than a captive audience of students who laugh appreciatively in (mostly) the right places and appear to hang on my every word. So, because I can really get carried away, I have to work hard to avoid turning every lesson into “The Tamara Show.” That’s why, when I was given the opportunity to facilitate a professional development session for the Montgomery County Coalition for Adult English Literacy, I leapt at the opportunity to learn a bit more about strategies for keeping TTT in check.

A Bit of Background

In the literature I encountered, there seemed to be two camps when it comes to TTT. Opponents of TTT rightly point out that too much TTT discourages authentic communication. Teachers “speak more, more often, control the topic of conversation, rarely ask questions for which they do not have the answers, and appear to understand absolutely everything the students say, sometimes before they even say it” (Musumeci, 1996, p. 314). Does that sound familiar? It does to me. Read more »

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Grammar Teacher’s Rant

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I had a disturbing conversation with another teacher a few days ago, and it’s been bouncing around in my head ever since. It’s been a bit frustrating because, at the time, I just couldn’t think of a diplomatic way of responding to her. So I just nodded and smiled like an idiot, while inside my head I was screaming and tearing out my hair. Maybe you’ve had a similar kind of experience?

The Wind Blow or Blows?

Anyway, when this conversation happened, I was delivering a professional development session for some local teachers. In the session, I provided the participants with a variety of scenarios containing excessive teacher talk time (TTT) and asked them to come up with suggestions for reducing the TTT. (Incidentally, when I was doing research on reducing TTT, I came across some interesting theories and teaching tips that I hope to share in a future blog post. Stay tuned!) Read more »

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Mirroring Project

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In a recent post, I wrote about The Mirroring Project I had my students do at the end of our high intermediate pronunciation class. Since that time, I received an email asking for more details about it, so I thought I would break it down a little and describe what we did, step by step.

The goal of the Mirroring Project is for students to apply all the pronunciation skills they had learned throughout the semester. In our upper level class, we focus on suprasegmentals, specifically word stress, focus, intonation, connected speech and speech rhythm, with a smattering of segmentals highlighted as necessary. So, when the students work on their Mirroring Projects, they try to bring together all those elements. Read more »

Monday, November 30, 2015

Collaborative Writing, Courtesy of Nigel Caplan

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland
jonestamara@hotmail.com

In my most recent blog post, I wrote about the workshop Nigel Caplan recently delivered for teachers at my school. He introduced us to the concept of genre writing, and suggested that in order to help students become the best writers they can be, we follow the steps in the Teaching Learning Cycle as described in Martin (2009) and Rothery (1996).

teacher-learner-cycleDeconstruction

The first part of the Teaching Learning Cycle is to provide students with good models of different genres to prepare them for the wide variety of writing they may do outside the ESL or EFL classroom. Read more »