Thursday, June 28, 2018

What Modifications Would You Make for ELLs in Mainstream Classes? – Part 2

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

In my last blog post, I told you that one of my best friends asked me for some advice about supporting English Language learners (ELLs) in her 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. I had two other pieces of advice for her. Here is one of them:

Know your Learners

Educators who are unfamiliar with ELLs might often think that they are one fairly homogeneous group. Even though they might speak different L1s, they all are English learners, right? ESOL professionals, however, know differently. In fact, there are many different kinds of ELLs with many different kinds of needs (Freeman, Freeman & Mercuri, 2002). It should be said here that although I am specifically speaking about public schools in the USA, I suspect that the situation in many other countries is similar.

Educated ELLs

Some students may come from countries with solid, reliable education systems. This was certainly the situation for me when I taught middle school English as an Additional Language (EAL) at the British School of Brussels in Belgium several years ago. My ELLs generally came from well-off families, and their parents were not only literate in their L1, but also often proficient English speakers. In many instances, the topics my students were learning about in their content classes, they had already learned about in school in Japan or Korea or France. So, they could concentrate on learning the English for the topic. They were usually well-supported by their parents at home, too. One of my students’ fathers told me that he had sat with his daughter every night and brushed up on electricity or animal adaptation or the water cycle in Japanese just so he could help his daughter learn the content in English. Read more »

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What Modifications Would You Make for ELLs in Mainstream Classes? – Part 1

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

One of my best friends in the whole world recently sent me a message asking for some help with a job application she is putting together. She is a mainstream teacher; her work experience has always been with “regular” primary school classes in English-speaking countries. However, interestingly, one of the application questions she was asking about was a distinctly ESOLy question. I suspect that is because the make-up of public school classrooms in North America is changing and teachers, even mainstream content teachers, are increasingly expected to adjust their lessons to accommodate and include English Language Learners, or ELLs.

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

This question really got me excited. Although my day job is as an administrator and teacher in an English language program for adult students at Howard Community College, for fun, I teach in the MA TESOL program at Notre Dame of Maryland University one night a week. My MA students are usually public school teachers who want to specialize in ESOL or who are seeing more and more international students in their classrooms and want to learn how to best support them. So, yeah, I had some ideas to share with my bestie on the topic of accommodating ELLs in mainstream classes.

Here is my first piece of advice:

Words! Words! Words! Read more »

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Should Students Use Word’s Spellchecker and Grammar Checker?

By Dorothy Zemach
ESL Materials Writer, Editor, Publisher, Teacher Trainer
Eugene, Oregon
Email: zemach at comcast dot net

I’m old enough to have learned to type on a typewriter, not a word processor. Personal computers arrived as I was leaving college; I got my first Macintosh my senior year. Oh, the glory! Saving! Cutting and pasting! Spellcheck! Wonderful tools.

Of course, like all wonderful tools, these need to be used with some care; and there are other tools available to writers that are not wonderful at all.

A spellchecker is a writer’s friend. It catches your typing mistakes as well as the mistakes you make because you honestly don’t know how to spell a word. It can’t catch everything – if you mean you’re but write your, the mistake will not be fixed. To find that kind of mistake, you still need a good understanding of English, and to reread your papers carefully to make sure you wrote what you meant.

Still, though, spellcheckers catch a lot. I advise students to spellcheck every paper before turning it in; I also advise them to spellcheck emails sent to professors, staff, supervisors, coworkers, clients – in short, anyone with whom they have a formal relationship.

The grammar checker, though … ah, that is another story. It would be wonderful, I know, to have an automated way to fix your grammar, or even just to point out where things were wrong. And who knows, maybe someday we’ll get one. But we don’t have it yet. The grammar checker is one tool I advise students not to use. Ever. And I’m going to show you why.

The examples in this column, all screen shots from my grammar checker, come from novels written by Russell Blake, a well-known writer of thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels. He’s a native English speaker and a good writer. Like most professional writers, after carefully checking his own work (he does three complete drafts on his own), he sends the manuscript to an editor (me).

I do some light fact-checking (if a man runs into the subway in Prague at 4:00 am to escape an assassin, I check to make sure that the subway is open and running then), I watch for words used too often, I make sure the love interest’s eye color doesn’t change between chapters, I make sure phrases in a foreign language and international place names are spelled correctly. And I check his grammar, for both accuracy and variety. Read more »

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A Fresh Take on Teaching Point of View

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

I had the good fortune to be able to attend the TESOL 2018 Conference in Chicago back in March. Even though I have been teaching for 25ish years, I always learn something new whenever I attend conferences like TESOL or IATEFL. This past spring was no exception; I left with several great ideas and renewed enthusiasm for teaching.

As I perused the conference program, I was excited to see a session called Shifting Student Paradigms: Beyond Main Ideas and Five Paragraph Essays. So often, ESL instructors teach students to write through the five paragraph essay format, and yet, when you really think about it, when was the last time you actually wrote a five paragraph essay in real life? Sure, it could be argued that the five paragraph essay is a microcosm of longer academic writing. My Master’s dissertation and Doctoral thesis do contain the skeletons of five paragraph essays. And, it could also be argued that students need to learn academic writing and the five paragraph essay is merely a common, familiar vehicle for the practice of it. However, I am also always intrigued when teachers want to look beyond the five paragraph essay to other genres. (For more on this, see my blog post describing Nigel Caplan’s outstanding workshop on Genre Writing.) Anyway, I was intrigued.

And was I ever glad I put a star beside this particular session! Among other ELT ideas, the presenters, Chui and Fujiwara, described a great activity for teaching students to consider point of view when writing. This is an important skill for our learners because, “an active exploration of this writer/reader interaction can lead students to realize and internalize the idea that what they write becomes another person’s reading and must therefore anticipate a reader’s needs and meet a reader’s expectations” (Spack, 1985, 706). However, L2 readers and writers may need extra support when considering issues of point of view. In addition to this being something important for writers to keep in mind, it can be a useful skill for critical readers as well. Being able to recognize an author’s implied point of view is an essential step toward identifying bias in a text. And, we could all bring a little more of that to what we read, right? Read more »

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Importance of Critical Reflection

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

Last week, I taught a class that was a bit of a train wreck.

This semester, every Monday and Wednesday morning, I teach an ESL class of Pre-beginners. I have 14 wonderful students who speak very limited English. They come from all over the world – Iran, China, Syria, El Salvador, Guatemala, Korea and Venezuela – and range in age from 17 to 76. They are truly the most lovely group of students a teacher could ever hope for, and I really enjoy being in the classroom with them.

However, teaching this very (very, very) beginning level is somewhat of a new challenge for me. (My teaching sweet-spot is really high intermediate level classes.) Fall 2017 was my first semester teaching a class of zero-English speakers. This spring, I am teaching the class again, but the “B” section, which means even though it’s the same class, I am using a different text book. So, I am in the middle of another semester of new prep and another semester of wrestling with materials that are not quite low enough in level. (I suspect the experienced teachers out there know exactly what I’m talking about!) This is all to say that this class is somewhat new for me, and there are bound to be hiccups along the way.

The Worst Wednesday Morning Ever

Well, last Wednesday was one gigantic hiccup. The book work was a bit dry and I didn’t create as many opportunities for interaction as I should have done. Also, the students appeared to know their numbers (a change from the class last semester), so I quickly decided to ditch a number review I had planned and leapt right into the collaborative writing activity that was next on my “practice” list. The plan was to give Read more »

Monday, February 26, 2018

Old-School Class Presentations

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

Maybe I’m not as old-school as I thought.

Back in the day, I was a staunch supporter of the Class Presentation, believing it was a sign of a Good Teacher to require one from all students. A Good Teacher helps her students iron out a presentation, demonstrates how a rubric works, and then dutifully sits through hours of student speeches, making a tally mark here or there on her grading sheet.

For good or bad, times have changed. Lately, I have been reflecting on the value of class presentations and wondering if they are worth the time to prepare, give, and listen to.

Recently, I had a few students request that our class never again give class presentations. This was after two and a half class sessions devoted to class presentations. These particular students spoke well and eagerly participated in every class, so I didn’t think their request was based on any lack of confidence or desire to speak in front of their peers. Instead, they said, they came to class to learn English from a fluent speaker.

My students pointed out they listen to each other during our speaking activities and discussions, but they would prefer not to spend additional time just listening to other students’ imperfect English since that wouldn’t be helpful to learning good habits.

I realize their argument flies in the face of political correctness. I remember one of my graduate TESOL courses discussed the validation of the infinite varieties of English, not just American English or British English; this is especially true since English is becoming the lingua franca worldwide.

I explained to my students they needed to learn to negotiate the language in everyday interactions because they will likely meet and interact with others for whom English is not their first (or second…) language.  My students agreed, but they had paid to hear a fluent speaker. Besides, they negotiated language during our speaking activities anyway, they said. Read more »

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Three Things I Like about my Teacher

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

I really hate getting up early in the morning to exercise. When my alarm goes off, I curse my love of buttered bread and cheese and begin the (sometimes 15 minute long) process of talking myself into lurching out of bed. On Friday morning, my internal discussion is a little easier because I really like the new teacher in my early morning Total Body Workout class.

I’ve given some thought to why I like her so much. (After all lunges are so much less awful when I have something else to think about!) There are things I certainly don’t love about the class. I often don’t care for the music she chooses. She’s not the perkiest instructor I’ve ever had. The workout is hard and I absolutely loathe the cardio stuff she has us do. The gym is hot. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. So, I really had to think about exactly what it is about her that appeals to me so strongly that I don’t mind getting up on a cold Friday morning and going to the gym. In the end, it really boils down to 3 (pretty mundane) things.

1. She starts the class on time.

It’s a small thing, but, as it turns out, it makes a big difference to students like me. I’ve been going to this particular class for a few years, and in that time, we’ve had several different instructors. They all started the class on time the first few weeks, but as the students trickled in later and later, they often delayed starting the work out until a majority of the students came in.

Even though I am occasionally one of the latecomers, this really irritates me. First of all, it’s disrespectful of the students who actually made the (sometimes superhuman) effort to actually get to the class on time. Second, it shortens the length of the class time. And, third, it doesn’t encourage any of the chronic latecomers to make an effort to come to class on time. Read more »

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Differences between “No” and “Not”

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

The other day, in the middle of a lesson on the past perfect tense, I asked if there were any questions. A Spanish-speaking student raised her hand and asked what the difference between “no” and “not” is. First, I thought this would only take a moment to answer, then I realized that since I am a native English speaker, I had never given this much thought. So I wrote the following two sentences on the board and hoped we could figure it out together:

“I have no dogs.”

“I don’t have any dogs.”

As a class, we talked about what the two sentences had in common and what was different. It finally came down to what word or words followed “no” or “not.”

“No” is often used before a noun or adjective + noun to signify a zero amount. (Of course, “no” can also be used as a negative answer to a yes/no question, but this wasn’t the student’s question.)

“Not” is used with the verb, placement depends on which verb is used in the sentence.

By taking a moment to demonstrate how I would figure out the answer, I showed my students that they already knew enough to do a little analysis to find their own answers.

Read more »

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tools for Talking about Natural Disasters

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

When 2017 began 10 months ago, I doubt many people predicted this year would be plagued by so many natural disasters. Daily news broadcasts report tragedies and upheaval that many of us thought unimaginable. Because of these calamities, people around the globe have found ways to help those affected, whether the victims are local or international.

We know that vocabulary acquisition is more successful if the words are meaningful to students. Even if our students were not personally affected by any natural disaster this year, it is easy for students to sympathize with others. Students may also have had past experiences that may relate to this year’s turmoils.

Below is a list of 65 terms that give students the building blocks to express themselves. I gleaned these terms from various news reports over the last few months.

communicable diseases
flash flood
government agencies
heroic efforts
needed supplies
posttraumatic stress syndrome
potable water
rescue efforts
Richter scale
search and rescue
severe damage
short-term aid
tropical storm
wind speed

As you discuss terms with students, it may be helpful to use graphic organizers to compare and contrast vocabulary words for different catastrophic events. For example, “wind speed” may not but used with earthquakes like it is with hurricanes, but “aftermath” could be used for both. The word “victim” can be used for anyone negatively affected by any situation, regardless if the event is natural or man-made. Word maps may also help students connect already-known words to new ones.

Sentence stems provide shape for students’ thoughts. Below I have included 8 sentence stems or stem groups that may be springboards for class discussion or journal entries.

I experienced a/an ____ (natural disaster). First, ___. Then ____. Finally, ____ (student describes her experience).

Before the ___, I was ____.
During the ____, I ____.
After the ____, I ____.

When I heard about the ____ (natural disaster), I felt _____ (emotion).

I saw pictures of the ____ (natural disaster) on the news. I saw ____ (specific details).

In ___ (year), there was a ____ (natural disaster) in _____ (place). This caused ____(results).

I wonder if…

I can prepare for a/an ___ (natural disaster) by…

I can help the people in ___ (place) by…

As I mentioned before, natural disasters may bring out the worst in Mother Nature, but they bring out the best in people. Below are two NPR reports of how people performed small acts of service that had huge impacts. Listening to these with your students may provide a chance to discuss human resilience and offer a hopeful note to an otherwise dismal topic.

Nick Fountain tells of Mexican teenagers delivering supplies on their bicycles after the earthquakes:

Kelly McEvers, host of NPR’s Around the Nation, reports how amateur ham radio operators were able to help Puerto Ricans who could not reach relatives in the United States:

In an ideal world, we would never need to cover these topics in our classrooms. However, we live on a planet rife with dramatic events, natural or otherwise. We can help our students increase their abilities to communicate their ideas and experiences if we give them the tools.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Preparing for a New School Year: Lessons Learned

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

Ah, August. These are the final hurried weeks before a new school year for some of us, and for a few of us, these are the nervous, nail-biting, nauseating and sleepless weeks before our first official teaching positions.

I remember my first-day-of-school anxiety before my “maiden voyage” as a middle school English teacher over fifteen years ago. I spent much of my time trying to anticipate every possible situation and devising plans to overcome any obstacle. I hoped that if I thought of every scenario, then perhaps I would have a smooth first year. But alas, we cannot predict the unpredictable. Each class and every student are unique, an infinite number of variables that are constantly changing. Every day brings new interruptions, necessitating sudden modifications to lesson plans, adapting to unforeseen situations. I learned that flexibility was not only a skill but a necessary tool for survival.

Since my first day, I have taught in public and private schools, from elementary through college. Though many of the lessons I have learned over the years may pertain to particular situations, a few rules of thumb apply to nearly every instructor. Perhaps I can help other teachers avoid a few of the pitfalls I have encountered by sharing a little advice. Read more »