Archive for July, 2017

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Colorful Writing

TamaraJonesTamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland.

When you’ve been teaching for as long as I have, you’ve probably tried just about every teaching technique at one time or another. I have drawers full of old games and activities that I dust off from time to time for use in a class I am currently teaching. Sometimes, I attend a PD session that reminds me about an approach that I used to use years ago, too. When I was at TESOL in Seattle a few months ago, one of the sessions I attended did just that; it put a name to a strategy that I used to use years ago when I was teaching a TOEFL Prep class, Writing with Colors ©.

Colors in the TOEFL Prep Class

One of my favorite classes to teach is TOEFL Prep. The students tend to be super motivated and focused because they are on the cusp of a major life change, and they need specific scores to move on to the next chapter. It’s also challenging for me as a teacher because the students ask the most thought-provoking advanced grammar questions and because, when I was teaching it, I was always trying to come up with engaging and meaningful ways to introduce students to useful strategies for increasing their scores.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What Does It Take to Learn?

TamaraJonesTamara Jones is an ESL Instructor at Howard Community College, Columbia, Maryland

What can we do in our classes to facilitate student learning? What activities increase learning? Are we inadvertently doing anything to impede learning? These are certainly some of the most important questions that language teachers are (or should be) asking. After all, student learning is the whole point, right?

But, we know from our experience in front of the classroom that teaching doesn’t necessarily equal learning. How many times have you taught a grammar structure or a vocabulary word only to be met by blank stares when “reviewing” it in the following lesson. Learning is rarely a straight forward movement, and that old saying about taking a step forward and three steps back seems really apt when the topic of learning comes up.

Fortunately, researchers have some suggestions about biologically proven ways to increase student learning in our classes. In other words, there are things that we can do as teachers to help students learn more easily and more fully. In a recent professional development session delivered by Lynn (2017), she highlighted three best practices for facilitating learning in our ESL and EFL classes.

Before I share what I learned, it might be helpful to understand how learning physically happens in the brain. So, get ready for some incomprehensible figures. According to researchers, we are born with 100,000,000,000 neurons in our brains, we can grow 700 new neurons every day, and each neuron has dendrite branches (like leafless tree branches) that can make 10,000 connections each over the course of our lives. Each connection represents learning. When we learn about something, synapses, which are located in various places along the dendrite branches, fire and a new connection between two dendrite branches is made. The stronger the learning, the stronger the connection.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

The Science of Using Art in Language Classrooms

KFieldingKristine Fielding teaches ESOL at Lone Star College in Houston, TX.

What’s the difference between art and science?

I suppose a person’s answer will be based on her perspective. For example, when I was a Chem 101 student, I fell in love with the elegant beauty of the periodic table. Such a simple design, yet it represents an enormous amount of information. As a starry-eyed student, I felt art and science were the same. On the other hand, a politician looking to cut a state’s education budget would have a much different view of art and science.

As language instructors, we have another perspective, especially when it comes to teaching. We often mix art and science to maximize time and student success.

One of the most popular uses of art in a language class is showing students pictures to activate background knowledge. We know if students associate new knowledge with old, they will understand new concepts better and remember them longer. But I would like to talk about another way we can use pictures in language classes: We can use simple images as symbols for new ideas.

A few weeks ago, my low level adult ESOL students were learning the different forms of the simple present “be.” From experience, I knew some students would forget the three forms and would have difficulty recalling them when writing short sentences, so I decided to use a simple image to help them remember. I drew a triangle on the board and asked the students to tell me the three simple present “be” verbs. When students gave me the answers, I wrote each word on a corner of the triangle. Later, when I was helping students with their sentences, I only had to draw a small triangle to help students remember that “be” has three forms.

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