Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

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.”

Read more »

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.

Read more »

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.

Read more »

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Incorporating Content

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

The Content / Grammar Divide

After a lifetime of teaching English to adults in an IEP (or similar) context, when I first started teaching at to secondary school students in Belgium I found myself scrambling to find (and often create) materials that would meet two needs: (1) help students improve their English and (2) prepare them for the academic content they would encounter as they matriculated to their mainstream classes.

Every day that my students spent in EAL (English as an Additional Language) Immersion was one less day they had to learn the stuff the rest of their peers were learning in secondary school. Therefore, our goal was to get them proficient enough to join their regular classes as soon as possible, and I found the irregular past tense taking a back seat to physics and chemistry vocabulary.

Read more »

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 2

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

The Trouble with Teaching Vowels

In last week’s post, I described why vowel sounds are so difficult to teach – they are hard to describe, there may be differing phonemic symbols for a single sound, and there are just so many of them in English. But, I also acknowledged that, even though they are daunting, we should cover them in all of our ESL and EFL classes because they are essential to communication. Specifically, the stressed vowel in a focus word needs to be pronounced comprehensibly or speakers risk obscuring the entire thought group. This is even more important for conversations between non-proficient English speakers who, research shows, rely more heavily on the sounds articulated than on the context for making sense of an utterance. I concluded the post with a promise for practical and painless suggestions for teaching vowel sounds.

Read more »

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A, E, I, O, U, … Y Teach Vowel Sounds? – Part 1

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

Why are Vowel Sounds so Hard to Teach and Learn?

I have a terrible confession to make. Even though I have taught pronunciation for more years than I care to count, I avoided teaching vowel sounds whenever I could. They were just so hard to teach; inevitably we would all wind up frustrated.

First, describing how we make vowel sounds is just hard. One of the first hurdles teachers encounter is that there is no contact of the articulators like there is when we make consonant sounds. In other words, we don’t touch our tongue, teeth, tooth ridge or lips when we articulate vowel sounds. So, when, for example, we teach the /θ/ and /ð/ sounds, we can tell students to stick their tongues between their teeth. But, when we teach vowel sounds, there is no such easy description of what students should be doing with their mouths.

Another problem is that all vowel sounds are voiced, so there is not that easy distinction the way there is with consonant sounds, like the differentiation between /v/ (voiced) and /f/ (voiceless) for instance. Similarly, when we are making all of the vowel sounds, we don’t block the airflow the way we do with some consonant sounds, such as /p/. In short, the way we differentiate between and describe vowel sounds is much less concrete and easily understood than the way we talk about consonant sounds.

Read more »

Monday, June 22, 2015

Repeat After Me

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

How much choral repetition do your students do in your lessons? What percent of the class time is devoted to having your students repeat words and phrases in unison? If your pedagogical approach tends to be more or less along the lines of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), your answer is probably, “Not too much.” In fact, you might even be reading this with a little grin as you think, “Well, none, of course. Choral repetition is boring and not very communicative at all. Why bother?”

That certainly was my response for many years. I felt like every moment I spent on choral repetition was time the students did not have to learn new things or communicate with each other. Besides, choral repetition is an inherently teacher-fronted activity. It’s boring, demands nothing from the students but mindlessly repeating after the teacher and brings a creepy, robotic quality to the classroom. Right?

As it turns out, no.

Read more »

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part II

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

The Functions of Focus

Recently, I shared the research of Reed (2015) in which she sheds light on the disconnect between what speakers mean and what students may actually hear. Specifically, when proficient English speakers shift the pitch change from the end of a thought group in order to communicate a specific meaning. For instance, when a speaker says, “My boss said he’d fix the problem” many English learners may assume that the problem had been or would be fixed. Conversely, proficient English speakers would understand that the pitch change on the word “said” implied that, in fact, the problem probably hadn’t been resolved at all.

Not hearing or failing to understand the meaning that is communicated by these pitch changes on focus or prominent words can put our students at a major disadvantage. They end up missing out on key information that their peers will have gotten and they are often incapable of making the predictions that help good listeners follow a conversation.

Read more »

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Music has Meaning – Part I

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

Two Very Different Conversations

Imagine the following conversation: A student approaches a teacher after a lecture. The student says, “I am very busy this week. I know the paper is due on Friday, but can I hand it in on Monday instead?” The professor responds, “You can.”

In your imagination, was the student an English learner or a proficient English speaker? What the student understood about the conversation could be wildly different depending on his/her level of English. In fact, if you visualized an English learner, most likely the student understood the professor’s words, the locution. He/she would have left feeling content in the understanding that it was perfectly okay to submit the assignment late.

However, a proficient English speaker would have subconsciously understood that when the professor stressed the word “can,” he/she was communicating an additional message, in this case a contrary one.  As noted by Wells, the speaker typically states one thing but implies something further (Wells, 2006).  The proficient English speaking student would have probably felt much less confident that the teacher was okay with a late submission than the other student because he/she would have heard the illocutionary force of the message.

Read more »

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Confessions of a Conference Junkie

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

It’s almost that time of year again!  That special, exciting time of year when all ESL/EFL teachers’ minds turn to thoughts of … conferences!  Well, maybe it’s just me.  I have to confess, I just love attending teaching conferences, both big and small.  Lucky for me, the conference season is just around the corner.  TESOL is holding their annual conference in Toronto, Canada on the 25th to 28th of March, and, for those of us on the other side of the pond, the IATEFL Conference is scheduled for April 11th to 14th in Manchester, UK.  There are also heaps of local offerings, as well, over the next few months; this means that almost everyone will have the opportunity to access professional development in the near future.

I know what you are thinking.  Conferences can be expensive to attend, especially the big, international ones, what with transportation, accommodation and the conference fees.  Many programs are facing budget cuts and there may not be money to fund all those who want to attend.  I can relate.  In fact, in the past 14 years, since I first attended a TESOL conference in St Louis,

Read more »