Archive for Tag: Ela Newman

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Responding to Compliments: Do I Really Have to Say “Thank You” or Can I Just Spit Three Times?

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

Advice about Compliments …  the Surprise of the Hour

“Well, at least they have a healthy pile of magazines I can shuffle through,” I consoled myself after hearing that it would be a bit longer before the doctor could see me.  Passing over the monthlies dealing with sports, cars, and teenage-hood, I settled on a magazine concerning lifestyles–and that’s where I found the surprise of the hour… an article entitled 10 Things Your Mother Never Taught You, which included a section on how to take a compliment.

“Really?” I thought, questioning the piece’s relevance to the average American audience.  To my at-least-somewhat-assimilated mind (which has lived in the US for about ten years now), most Americans seem to accept compliments almost automatically.

Responses to Compliments…  Spitting

As I began to read the section, I recalled having to adjust my reactions to compliments when I relocated to the US.  In Poland, where I was raised, people almost invariably downgrade or even reject compliments.  Reading on, I found mention of someone’s relatives who, in the face of a compliment, spat three times in order to avoid bad luck.

Read more »

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tabloid Fever: Rousing Students’ Zeal for Emotion Vocabulary

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

College Life- I’ll put that one in pile A.  Recycling- Pile B.  Male-Female Communication- That one should probably also go there in pile A.  Fast Food- I’ll add that to pile B, at least for now. Celebrity Gossip- Definitely pile C.

ESL Lessons and Newspaper/ Magazine Articles: Piles A, B, and C

Like many of you, I suspect, I have developed an ESL teacher’s eye for newspaper and magazine articles.  Even when I read one out of personal interest or idle curiosity, I speculate by reflex about how I might use some of it in an ESL lesson.  I tear out and stockpile articles, or pages from articles, that strike me as worthy reading material.  In pile A go the current, student-relevant, and interestingly controversial pieces.  Pile B contains pieces on significant but comparatively stale topics, pieces I usually consider “emergency reading material.”  The pieces that end up in pile C are worth less or worthless; I can’t always decide.  We’re talking gutter press, basically.  The pages in pile C present scandalous or shocking news and they are loaded with hyperbole.  Ordinarily, I’d use pile C items only to illustrate variety in media language.

But that changed recently…

Read more »

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Teaching Objectives or Learning Objectives?

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

One day long ago my student teaching practicum supervisor, the one with the fine-toothed comb, asked me “Why are you planning to start your lesson with this jazz chant?”  I replied “Because it will be fun!”  At that, she sighed… not out of relief, mind you, but out of discontent.

My answer revealed that I had not fully grasped one of the key points about learning objectives: that they must allow us to measure what the students have learned.   “Fun cannot function as an objective of learning,” my practicum supervisor continued.  “How would you measure that fun?”  “What would your students learn from that fun?”

As I began my teaching career, those key questions continued to swirl around in my head, and even though they seemed relatively easy to answer, formulating learning objectives which were both specific and practicable (unlike some larger instructional goals) was not an effortless task for me. Often, the objectives I devised sounded fine, but after a second look, they turned out to be flawed, partly because they were more about what the teacher wanted than about what the learner needed.  Here are some examples.

  • “Students will understand how to use possessive pronouns.”
  • “Students will know how to talk about their personal life.”
  • “Students will practice formal and informal greetings.”

Such objectives were decent and useful enough, I thought.  I wanted the students to understand this, to know that, and to practice those things, and I assumed that they would learn from the activities I had planned, but those activities were nowhere apparent in those objectives.  Worse, those objectives, as stated, were not measurable. How could I measure “understanding or knowing”?  What about “practicing”?  Was that measurable?

After some revision, those objectives became:

  • “Students will use possessive pronouns accurately.
  • “Students will answer correctly at least three questions about their personal life.”
  • “Students will demonstrate that they know the difference between formal and informal greetings.”

In these forms they seemed more exact, more task oriented, and, quite naturally, more measurable too.   

As the years passed, and I got better at orienting my objectives more toward learning than teaching, I created a strategy for deriving a learning objective from a “language carrot.”

A “language carrot” is a potential result of a lesson’s or week’s work, and a view to the details (perhaps rather, in keeping with the metaphor, composition) of that “carrot” can direct a teacher to a precise formulation of a learning objective.  The objective can, in turn, guide a teacher to exact instruction which results in measurable learning on the part of her students.

The first time I “dangled a language carrot,” it went like this…

I presented my students with a seven-sentence narrative in which all the sentences began with a grammatical subject, and beside it I placed a similar narrative including several sentences which began with present or past participle phrases.  (Enter the “carrot”…)  I then asked my students which narrative they preferred. To this, some responded “The one that’s not so boring!” but some also responded “The one that’s not so repetitive.”  At that point, I seized the moment and asked them “How would you like to learn the ‘tricks’ to writing the better one?”

The learning objective derived from that “language carrot” was:  By the end of this week’s unit, students will be able to write a narrative composed of five to seven sentences, at least three of which exhibit correct usage of present or past participle phrases before subjects.  

Have you had any adventures in developing your own learning objectives?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dare to Dictogloss!

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

If we step outside our ESL classrooms for a moment and think about the mode of language that we use most often in “real” life, we might say “speaking” by reflex, or we might pause and name one of the other three modes (listening, reading, and writing) after a second thought.

Research built up since the 1930s or so indicates that listening is actually number one.  Something like 45% of human language use amounts to listening.  Speaking comes in second at about 30% (Feyten 1991).  Keeping our ears pricked up appears to be key to daily human communication.

So how can we respect and use this in the classroom?  One typical classroom task that requires intensive, concentrated listening is dictation.  Here students listen not only for the gist, but rather for the entirety of the message, every word and sound.

Read more »

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaching Ghouls

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

There were spooky rubber spiders strewn across the walls, and eerie paper witches on little wooden broomsticks hanging from ceiling.  It was a pre-Halloween workshop for our English tutors and a scene fitting to the topic of discussion that evening, namely, An English Tutor’s Worst Nightmare: What It Would Be and How We Could Banish It.

The workshop began, and after only the slightest of promptings, the several tutors had pieced together a quite sad and scary picture.  The image centered on a tutee, and a sorry one indeed.  This student was fifteen minutes late to the tutoring appointment, distinctly rude when making the acquaintance of the tutor, sharply offensive in body odor, completely lacking in written work and other materials, and, during the tutoring session, generally unresponsive to the tutor’s advice as well as hyper-critical of the respective teacher’s instruction.

With this horrifying specter before us, we proceeded to the workshop’s corrective phase (or perhaps better the exorcistic phase) and began to brainstorm ideas on how to cope with such a situation effectively and professionally.  Composed of some bright heads, the group quickly generated a good little list of measures…

Read more »

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speechless Lessons for Beginners

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

There was a full moon over us, a forested park before us, and an elfin presence all around us.  It was an ideal setting and a perfect atmosphere for watching a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The scene was in the medieval Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov, and we, the audience, were waiting breathlessly in the castle park for the actors to appear beneath us and our revolving, open-air amphitheatre… and then they did appear, and they did play, but they did not speak.

We wondered, watched, and continued to listen, but not a word was spoken.

And then, soon enough, we realized who we were.  We were an audience of individuals, foreign tourists, who spoke some European language, Asian language, and other language as a first language, and many of us did not speak Czech, the language of Cesky Krumlov, and the players and the producers knew all that.

So, believe it or not, they performed a wordless version of Shakespeare’s play.

Read more »

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On “False Friends”: Embracing Cross-Language Connections

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

There he was, sprinting toward our classroom, eager to see his new group of EFL-teachers-to-be, fixed on sharing his latest lesson materials.  My college professor, a jovial and energetic Brit, captured our hearts for many reasons, not the least of which was his active interest in languages other than English, especially our L1.

His signature opening phrase, “Jaka data, prosze?” (“What’s the date, please?”), literally and roughly translated from his English into our Polish, and pronounced in a typically “Britishly” aspirated way, would begin class every day. 

Read more »

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Giving Advice: The Value of Detail and the Importance of Realism

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

Student A:  I have a headache.

Student B: You should go to the doctor.

Another Student A:  I don’t like my boss.

Another Student B: Why don’t you look for a new job?

Does any of this sound familiar?  Combinations of correct grammar and appropriate “suggestion” phrases, yet ultimately advice that seems extreme, even unnatural?  In my experience, the problem usually lies in the way the dilemma is expressed.

Read more »

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

“Fear Not, Language Learners”: A Reflection on H. D. Brown’s First Commandment

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

In an ironic sort of way, Monika stood out in that class I was teaching a few years ago.  Timid, often nervous, and generally unmotivated, she attracted my attention.  Monika put a lot of effort into hiding herself among her classmates rather than taking advantage of the frequent participation activities.  Still, I could see her there; she was silent and struggling.

Half way through the semester things changed, however.  Monika discovered something, something key to effective language learning, something characteristic of good language learners.  How did she discover it?  Well, that’s a little tale worth telling, in a moment….

Read more »

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Collocations: Digging for Language Nuggets

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

newjgea@aol.com

As a teenaged language learner I did not see much point in spending most of my pocket money on a monolingual English dictionary.  “It’s all in English” I reasoned, questioning the usefulness of definitions written in the language of the headwords.  It seemed circular and otherworldly to me. 

Read more »