Archive for July, 2018

Monday, July 30, 2018

Right from the Start: Teaching True Beginners

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

This past academic year, I taught a class that was brand new to me. It’s always weird to be doing something completely different when I’ve been teaching ESL for as long as I have (25ish years now), and that’s one of the things I love about this field. You never know where you’re going to find yourself if you say yes to stuff on a regular basis.

My instructional sweet spot is high intermediate, but I’m one of the administrators of our English Language Center, so I teach what is needed. This past year, what was needed was a teacher for a brand new academic pre-beginning all skills class. We’re talking students whose English proficiency is so limited that they can’t say where they are from, they don’t know colors, they may not be able to decode letters the alphabet, and they can’t understand basic commands. Gulp. So, way back last August, I panicked for a bit, and then I attended a professional development session, googled “teaching true beginners,” talked with my generous mentor, took a deep breath and jumped in.

It’s been quite a year. I am painfully aware that I still have a lot to learn about teaching true beginners. In my experience, pretty much any first pass with a class is destined to be a bit of a train wreck, as I experiment with supplemental materials and figure out what works and what bombs. True to form, I made lots of mistakes. But, that’s how we learn, right? And, even though I am admittedly not an expert in this area at all, I wanted to share some of my observations about the differences between teaching true beginners and teaching higher level students.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Do You Do or Don’t You?

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

If you have taught English for any length of time, you have heard frustrated students bemoan the cornucopia of grammar exceptions to the rules. Their frustration is easy to understand. After all, when students first start studying English grammar, the patterns are simple. As students progress, the rules become tangled until they seem to be upside down and inside out. However, if we remind students to look at grammar as a function of communication, they will have an easier time as they advance in their studies.

One example of a confusing rule is the do-insertion before action verbs in statements. This occurs when we want to stress an action by inserting do (or its forms) before a verb. For example, if you said, “Maria doesn’t want to go to the movies with us,” but Maria hears you and insists this isn’t true by saying, “Yes, I do want to go with you,” the do-insertion emphasizes that she wants to go.

Many grammar books omit the do-insertion because it would be easy for students to assume do + base verb is used all the time. We often see this when students use did + base verb for every positive simple past tense verb, alleviating any need to learn the past participles (until students advance to using past participles as adjectives). The do-insertion may also be overused since do is the auxiliary verb for yes/no questions, which leads to do as the verb for the short answer, “Do you want to discuss grammar phenomena over coffee?” “Yes, I do.”

I don’t usually teach the do-insertion to basic or low intermediate students so as not to confuse them and to prevent bad grammar habits. When I teach this concept to high intermediate or advanced students, I give the example of being reproached for not doing a required task at work or school since either of these situations are relatable. I use the example of my being required to turn in grades by a certain date. If my program director told me, “You did not turn in your grades on time,” but I know I did, I would say, “I did turn them,” to emphasize that I completed the task.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What Modifications Would You Make for ELLs in Mainstream Classrooms? – Part 3

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

In my last 2 blog posts, I told you that one of my best friends asked me for some advice about supporting English Language learners (ELLs) in a mainstream primary school class. In addition to working as an adult ESL administrator and instructor, one night a week I teach in a local MATESOL program. So, I got pretty excited when she asked about this topic.

Her question was: What modifications and adaptations would you make for ELLs in your classroom?

In Part 1 of this blog post, I shared my thoughts on teaching vocabulary. In Part 2, I discussed the importance of knowing my learners. I had 1 other piece of advice for her as well.

Balancing BICS and CALP

Jim Cummins (1989) came up with the terms BICS and CALP to differentiate between the different kinds of language students need to master. BICS refers to Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. It’s basically conversational language and it develops in 6 months to 2 years, in general. CALP, is Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. It’s typically learned through formal instruction and relies on vocabulary and grammar that may not be used in everyday language. It takes (get this!!) 5 to 7 years to develop, and for SLIFE, it can take up to 10 years! The problem is that ELLs develop BICS and then are considered English proficient; however, they may not have developed the CALP they need to succeed with content area learning. It’s this discrepancy that has led to the proliferation of LTELs in US public schools.

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