Archive for August, 2015

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Bitter End?

TamaraJones

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

A colleague recently forwarded me an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education called Final Exams or Epic Finales . The author, Anthony Crider, describes how his dissatisfaction with the traditional “final exam” closure of a class led him to consider alternative assessments and activities for the last day of class.

Goodbye TOEFL Style

In some ways, I can relate to Crider’s frustration. I, too, have experienced the “hushed farewell” that he and his students exchange as they are turning in their final exams. In the Spring, I taught a TOEFL Prep class, and the final exam took up the entire final day of the class. So, my last exchange with students with whom I had worked all spring to develop a relationship and of whom I was so proud, wound up being a whispered, “Have a good summer. Good luck on the ‘real’ TOEFL!” as they slunk out of the exam. In truth, I did get to make a little speech about all their hard work before the exam began, but I suspect most of them were not really listening and probably just wishing I would stop blathering so they could get on with the test. As Crider says, “[t]his is not how a course should end.”

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Listening from the Bottom Up

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

In a previous posting, Learning to Listen, I shared some important lessons I had learned from a presentation I attended at TESOL 2013. One of my biggest takeaways from that presentation was that I needed to do a much better job of incorporating bottom-up listening skill building in my ESL classes. According to research conducted by Goh (2000) the vast majority of students’ difficulties with listening were related to bottom-up skills. Moreover, Tsui and Fullilove (1998) found that less skilled listeners rely on bottom-up strategies to such a degree that their listening comprehension suffers. Therefore, all our students, but especially those who struggle with listening comprehension, benefit from more practice that develops their bottom-up listening skills.

So, what are bottom-up listening, or decoding, skills? Well, it means “using the information we have about sounds, word meanings, and discourse markers, like first, then and after that, to assemble our understanding of what we read or hear one step at a time.” (Brown, 2011, page 19) According to experts like Goh (2000), Field (2008), and Vandergrift and Goh (2012), some of the biggest problems students have with listening include the inability to segment speech into manageable chunks, to recognize individual words, even ones they easily recognize in print, in streams of speech, and to comprehend English spoken at a natural rate.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Going “Retro” in Grammar Class

Richard FirstenBy Richard Firsten
Retired ESOL Teacher, Teacher-Trainer, Columnist

Every few years, it seems, somebody comes up with a new approach to language teaching, a new methodology with certain strategies that will save the language-teaching world and make teaching and learning a language a total joy without anything laborious required to accomplish the goal. Well, during my 35 years plus of language teaching, I saw my fair share of these approaches and methodologies. None of them was perfect, of course. They all contained good strategies, but they had bad or impractical strategies as well. It didn’t take me too many years to realize that the best approach for me, at any rate, was to pick and choose, borrow and adapt strategies from all sorts of ways to teach and learn a language – in other words, to go eclectic. At the same time, when thinking about techniques I’d often used that got the job done, I always kept in mind that old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So just because something was supposedly new, that didn’t mean I had to forego something tried and true and replace it with what was now in vogue. Unfortunately, I think that was what many teachers actually did.

There are two things I think worth discussing from the ELT “days of yore” that I hope many of you will keep in mind and use in your teaching approaches if you’re comfortable with them. For the most part, they’re oral/listening comprehension activities.

MMC

This approach was developed by Christina Bratt Paulston and Mary Newton, two early leaders in the field of ELT.

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Practicing the Present Perfect

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

I find students need lots and lots of  practice before they can use the present perfect with a degree of fluency and accuracy. Here are some of the activities I turn to when I want to spend a little more time in class on the present perfect.

Past Participle Circle

Students often struggle to memorize the past participles of irregular verbs, and they tend to need multiple opportunities to review them. A quick way to warm up once students have been introduced to the list is the Past Participle Circle. Have the students stand in a big circle. Start the game off by saying the base form of a verb. Then, the person (let’s call him/her person 2) to your left has three seconds to say the past participle of that verb. If person 2 is correct, then the person to his/her left (person 3) says the base form of a verb. But, if person 2 is incorrect, he/she sits down and is “out”. In that case, person 3 must say the past participle form of the verb and person 4 says the base form of a new verb.

In the traditional form of this game, if someone makes a mistake they are “out.” However, in a recent in-service I attended, a colleague suggested a great twist on this game that ensures that the people who are “out” continue to remain involved and engaged. If a person makes a mistake or can’t answer in time, a person who is “out” has a chance to answer and, if correct, take the place of the person who didn’t know the answer. I have found this tweak to the original game to be a lot of fun and it means the entire class keeps playing for the whole game and not just the stronger students who already know all the forms anyway.

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