Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

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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Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Woman with a Plan

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

To Plan or not to Plan?

Do you plan your lessons? I wouldn’t have thought this was a question worth asking until I happened to find myself involved in a conversation with an experienced instructor who casually said he didn’t usually write up a lesson plan. His point was that the Teacher’s Resources that come with many textbooks provide such a complete step by step breakdown of the lesson, that he doesn’t feel the need to do any planning.

So, as you are reading this, what reaction are you having? Are you thinking, “Well, duh. Lesson planning is for suckers.” Or, are you thinking, as I was, “What?!?!” Even though I have been teaching for more than 20 years, it would never occur to me to step foot in front of a class full of students without having thought through what I want them to accomplish in the time I have with them.

Why Bother with a Plan?

Part of the reason I am a rabid lesson planner is simply because I am a planner in general. I plan everything: meals, vacations, weekends. My poor husband hasn’t experienced a moment of spontaneity in years. I like the comfortable feeling of walking into a class knowing what we’ll be doing in the lesson. I also think my students appreciate when I write the lesson schedule on the board so that they also have an idea of how the class will unfold. Planning makes me feel (and appear) organized and in control.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How Jay Leno Made me Think

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

I have to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is silly comedies, like the ones written and directed by Judd Apatow. You might remember such classics as Trainwreck and This is 40 as well as others with titles that probably would make some blog readers uncomfortable. So, anyway, he came out with a book called Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy that contained a series of interviews with comedians who’d had the biggest impact on his own career. As I was reading it, I found, much to my surprise, that it caused me to reflect on my own career as a teacher.

In his book. Apatow talked a lot about comedians, such as Jay Leno, who shared advice and feedback as he developed as a professional standup comic and writer. This made me think about people I have had the privilege of working with and how they have impacted the trajectory of my career and my teaching practice.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

You Should Be Careful When Giving Advice in English

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

Giving advice in English is a dangerous business. “[I]n Anglo-American cultures, advice giving is often associated with criticism, especially when it is unsolicited.” (Houck & Fujimori, 2010, 91) Therefore, it’s a good idea to think carefully about who you are giving advice to because the very act of giving advice puts you in the position of being an expert on the subject. In fact, if I were to give advice, even to a close friend, I would be fairly indirect. As teachers, we might want to make sure our students are aware of all the nuances associated with advice giving in English in order for them to avoid making any pragmatic errors.

Do you see what I was doing there? I was giving advice! But, I was dancing all around it, and I never once used the word “should”. But, why? Why bother doing all that linguistic maneuvering when all grammar textbooks teach “should” as THE strategy for giving advice? Because, like a lot of speech acts, some of which I have written about in previous blogs (A Good Compliment, I am Sorry, but Apologizing in English is Really Complicated, Offers they CAN Refuse, The Art of “Yes, But …” and, Can I Please Borrow your Car?) advice giving is a dangerous business, and our students get it wrong a lot.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Good Compliment

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

Mark Twain is credited as having said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” I think the key word in his quote is “good.” For example, if a strange man whistles at a woman on the street, while that’s technically a compliment, it’s a creepy one at best, right? A “good” compliment is genuine, personalized and meant to communicate appreciation of some aspect of the recipient’s appearance, actions or possessions.

“Teacher, you are beautiful.”

Complimenting doesn’t necessarily leap to mind as something that ESL/EFL students necessarily need to learn. After all, it is not a face-threatening act and the language surrounding it is fairly straightforward. Even if a student makes grammar mistakes, it’s usually quite easy to understand the intention behind the utterance.

But, have you ever received a compliment from a student that feels a little funny? Many years ago, I taught a young man from Georgia who used to tell me that I was beautiful. I know (or hope, at least) that he was genuinely trying to be nice, but it made me uncomfortable. A similar example of a compliment gone wrong can be found in

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Starting with the WHY in Teaching and Learning

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

Have you seen Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action? If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this blog right now and watch the first 10 minutes! Go on!

Okay, you’re back. So, Sinek talked a lot about business. English teachers aren’t business people, so you might be wondering why you just spent precious minutes of your busy life watching a guy blather on about Apple and the Wright brothers. What does “the golden circle” have to do with learning about verb tenses or reading for the main idea or developing critical thinking skills? Maybe you thought, “Just a minute here. I am just trying to teach students to add the final “s” to third person singular verbs, not sell computers or lead a social justice movement or be the first to fly.”

Or maybe you heard the part about how “all the great and inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it’s Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright Brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way, and it’s the complete opposite to everyone else” and you thought, “Hey now. Teachers are leaders, and some teachers are great and inspiring leaders. I want to be that kind of teacher.”

The Golden Circle in the Classroom

Here is Sinek’s “Golden Circle”:

golden-circle

Basically, he says that we all know WHAT we do. I know WHAT I do. I teach English. And I know HOW I do it. I know that I use a variety of methodologies and approaches in my classes, from the communicative approach to the lexical approach to total physical response. But, Sinek argues that only a very few leaders know WHY they do WHAT they do. And, here’s the kicker: according to Sinek, the leaders that start with WHY are the most successful.

So, WHY do we teach English? Why teaching, instead of banking or fighting fires or healing sick people? Why English, instead of German or French or Spanish? We’ve all got different answers for that (and I’d love to hear yours), but mine are pretty simple: I teach English because I like helping people achieve the goals they have that require some degree of English proficiency. In my former teaching context this was an obvious goal with immediate pay–off in that I was helping middle school students access the content in their mainstream classes. It was easy every day to see students improving and to see how I was making a difference. Now, I teach a spelling class. I know that by learning to spell, students are improving their reading and writing. Also, we do a lot of listening discrimination, so I am helping them improve their bottom up listening skills.

The WHY in a Lesson Plan

When I clearly know the WHY, I can be more successful in the classroom because it means that the WHY is powering all of the curriculum and teaching decisions I make. I think sometimes it can be easy to forget this, especially when I am working on lesson planning. Sometimes, my plan for the class reads more like list of activities rather than a journey from the WHY.  For example, we always start with a warm up activity, so I plan a flyswatter game because we did a card match activity just last week and then move on to the next activity. But, maybe I should stop and ask myself WHY I want to have a warm up activity. What purpose will it serve? Maybe I want to have students review the word stress of numbers that we studied in the previous class. If that’s the case, do I want them to produce the target language or just hear it? If I want them to produce it, then I shouldn’t plan a flyswatter game because that won’t make them produce it.

This is just one example of how the WHY can really impact the activities we choose for our class. We shouldn’t plan a conversation activity just because it’s time for the students to talk. We should plan activities that genuinely move students towards their goals. And, we should make the purpose of the activities explicit. It might seem obvious to me that we are doing a gap fill in the book because it will help the students to produce the past tense more automatically which will make their speaking more fluent and their reading faster, but it’s not always so obvious to them. Saying so can provide students with a boost of motivation and a sense of purpose.

Our Students’ WHY

In order to start from the WHY, we need to know our students’ WHYs. Why are students taking my class? Why have they given up their time and money to spend time with me? Maybe for some students in some contexts, it’s because they have no choice. That’s a tough one. But, my students DO have a choice. So, on the first day of class, I introduce them to our Learning Management System by having them do a recording for me answering the question, WHY they are in my spelling class? By learning why accurate spelling is important for them, I can tailor my lessons to suit them and I can make explicitly clear how learning how to add –tion, -sion and –ssion to base words can make a difference in their lives.

Sinek reminds us that “people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know WHY you do WHAT you do, how will anyone else?” I find my students to be pretty trusting and willing to go along with whatever it is I am asking them to do in my class, but I guess to really get them to buy into the lesson, I need to make the WHY clear.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Increasing Student Production

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

The title of this post sums up our raison d’être, right? I mean, pretty much the whole point of everything that we do in class is tied in to helping our students communicate (produce) more. This might mean that we want them to speak more or write more. But it doesn’t just mean more words coming out of their mouths or flowing from their pens. Production isn’t exactly the same as participation, is it? Students can participate in a group discussion, for instance, but if they are incomprehensible, they are not producing language. In other words, increasing production really means increasing students’ successful use of English.

The Importance of Pushed Production

A while ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a professional development workshop offered by Brad Knieriem on this very topic. The speaker, one of the full time instructors with our program, kicked off the session by having us think about why increasing production might be important. Of course, as I said before, helping students communicate more successfully is pretty much the main goal in many of my classes. But, increasing production also requires students to stretch beyond their English comfort zones.

You may already be familiar with this concept, better known as “pushed output.” (Nation & Newton, 2009) It makes sense that when students speak or write more, they become more aware of English norms. They can experiment more with new forms and they notice gaps in their linguistic abilities.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Friends on Facebook?

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

There it was, in my local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, nestled among accounts of shootings and police brutality, was an article I found so relevant to my professional context that I had to channel my mother and clip it out to take in to work. The title, Should you be Facebook Friends with Teacher?, really rang a bell with me.

I don’t have children, so I don’t need to worry about being friends with their teachers. I also don’t teach children anymore, so I don’t have to grapple with the question of friending the parents of my students. However, as a teacher of adults, I often get friend requests from my students. I also get friend requests from other teachers who are friends with their students. All these friend requests, while flattering, put me in an awkward position. I suspect I am not alone.

My Facebook Friends are my Friends

As Ciulac’s brief article in The Baltimore Sun pointed out, “Facebook is where I blow off steam to some of my dearest friends.” I am not in “teacher mode” when I am posting pictures of my husband renovating the bathroom or of my gorgeous new niece. The pictures I share on Facebook are personal, meant for friends and family who really know me. I have been known to post pictures of professional accomplishments, but Facebook gives me a chance to share my proud moments with my friends. It is not my resume. As one of the experts in Ciulac’s article argues, teachers “are entitled to a private life, as well as having their own embarrassing friends and family.”

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

I am Sorry, but Apologizing in English is Really Complicated

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

Remember when you were a kid and after a fight with your brothers or sisters, your parents would make you apologize? Even though my sister and I are great friends now, when we were younger, we’d get into some terrible battles. I was older and wilier, so it was often my unkindness that was to blame. But, when we had to make up at my mother’s insistence, the “I’m sorry” I muttered could never have been mistaken for a genuine expression of contrition.

Finding the Words to Say Sorry

But, why was that? Isn’t it enough just to say the words, “I’m sorry” when we’ve done something harmful to another person? Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Let’s assume that we are talking about genuine apologies here, not my coerced childhood apologies to my sister. According to Trosborg (1987), the language we use for an apology depends on the severity of the complaint (e.g. bumping into a stranger on the street versus running over a neighbor’s pet) and the relationship between the apologizer and the apologizee (e.g. a woman in a yoga class versus a supervisor at work).

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