Archive for Tag: Tamara Jones

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Warming Up Your English Muscles

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

When I go for a run, I don’t leap out my front door and sprint straight up the hill to the forest. Instead, I walk briskly for a few minutes (or at least until I get up that darn hill) before I break into a jog. Likewise, I don’t start off my English classes by plunging directly into a lesson. I prefer a gentler approach of easing my students into what might be their first English thoughts of the day. So, I start every class with a warm-up activity. I would never dream of running without warming up my leg muscles first, so why would I ask students to start a lesson without warming up their English muscles first?

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Confusion in Conversation

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was visiting some friends in Madrid last weekend. A few years ago, I used to teach a class of women who got exceptionally close over the semester. Since then, we have all kept in touch, going out for dinner and emailing often. When two of our group moved back to Spain, it was logical for us to plan a weekend away to visit them.

So, there I was in the back seat of the van with my Polish and Greek friends. Our two Spanish friends were busy driving and navigating in the front seat. To make conversation with my back-seat-mates, I asked them, “What time did you get to bed last night?” (I need my beauty sleep, so I always went to be long before they did.) My question was met with looks of complete confusion. Let me be clear; these are high-intermediate speakers of English. My question wasn’t grammatically complex and the vocabulary was simple. Even a high-beginner could probably comprehend the question if it was part of a lesson. So, why the bewilderment, even after I repeated the question?

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaching Strategies for Impoliteness?

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was recently able to attend the IATEFL (International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language) Conference this year in Brighton, UK. Among the many wonderful sessions I attended, one really made an impact. So much so, in fact, that I have been thinking about it ever since.

Martin Warters gave a presentation called “There is (no) need for that!” In his speech, he explored “the appropriacy and need for the explicit teaching of impoliteness in the second-language classroom in a UK setting.” When I read the session description, I was intrigued. Teaching impoliteness to our students? I wasn’t sure how I felt. I don’t feel comfortable teaching students how to swear in English (they can get that from most Hollywood movies, thank you very much) and I kind of feel that the world doesn’t need more abusive individuals in our shops, our restaurants, and our motorways.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Perfectly Pleasant Presentations

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I Have to do What?!?

From all the groaning and writhing that was taking place in my class, you would think I just told them they would have to spend several hours at the dentist getting all sorts of uncomfortable procedures done. In fact, I had just informed my students that the following week they would be delivering a short presentation in front of the class.

This is consistently one of the least popular lessons in my classes; students really seem to hate public speaking. This reaction, though, isn’t really a surprise. In fact, in some surveys, the fear of public speaking (glossophobia) ranks higher than the fear of death (necrophobia). Add to the mix the fact that students need to do this in a language that is not their first, and you can see why this is a terrifying prospect to many language learners. In fact, one of my students used to get so scared before her presentations, she actually became pale and sickly looking and shook like a leaf.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

What Do a Zoologist and a Teacher Have in Common?

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

I was reading an article in the January 2011 edition of O Magazine recently about a zoologist, Laurie Marker, who is working in Namibia to help save the cheetah from extinction. You might wonder what a zoologist in Africa could possibly have in common with an English teacher in Belgium. Well, not much, really. But, one thing that she said in the article really resonated with me. She was talking about how she came to this place in her profession, and she concluded by saying, “I don’t take what I do lightly.”

I don’t take what I do lightly.

Those words have stuck with me for weeks now. I believe they perfectly summarize how I feel about my profession and my career. However, I spent some time thinking about exactly how I demonstrate that I don’t take what I do lightly. What have I done and what do I do to show my dedication to English Language Teaching?

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Singing the Way to Pronunciation Success!

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Last week I talked about some ways I incorporate songs into my Conversation classes. I’ve also had great success with bringing music into my Pronunciation lessons. Singing and Pronunciation are just a perfect fit. At no time is my French /r/ sound more perfect than when I am singing along with my recording of Edith Pilaf’s “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Singing the Way to Conversation Success!

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

So, there I was, tearing through the streets of Brussels, chatting away with my taxi driver in my halting French. He was telling me (if I understood correctly) that he had family in Quebec, and I wanted to tell him that even though I am from Canada, I have never been to Quebec. As I was trying to cobble together a grammatically correct negative, the lyrics from a French song suddenly popped into my head. Non, je ne regrette rien. Thanks to French songstress Edith Pilaf, I got my negative right! Je n’ai jamais visite Quebec. As a teacher, I have been using music in my English classes for a while, but this was the first time I had a personal experience that backed up my hunch that singing is a great language learning tool.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

What am I Doing in this Level?

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

“Okay, get into groups of 4 and we are going to play a game.” For many students, this is a cue to relax and have some fun in a language class. For me, though, when I hear these words in my French class, I actually become nervous and ashamed. I really like playing review games (there is a great deal of brain research that suggests when people are engaged and excited, they are actually learning more easily) and I appreciate that my teacher is so creative and enthusiastic about language learning.

The problem doesn’t lie in the game. Rather, I am averse to participating actively in the class because I am in the wrong level.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Observations For Teachers and Supervisors

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Very few words strike fear into the hearts of teachers like “Do you mind if I stop by and observe your class next week?” Being observed, either by a supervisor or a colleague is rarely a completely comfortable experience. It is natural to be nervous and, when something goes wrong, it is natural to have a few moments of panic. However, if done with tact and care, observations can be a really positive experience for both the teacher and observer.

I’ve been on both sides of the clip board, so to speak. As a beginning teacher, I observed my more experienced colleagues; as a more experienced teacher, I have been observed by my supervisors and by other teachers; and as a Lead Instructor, I observed other teachers, both new and experienced. I have never failed to learn something from any of my experiences.

For Beginners

As a beginning teacher, the opportunity to observe more experienced teachers was an invaluable accompaniment to the theory I was studying in my CELTA/RSA Certification. I was able to see the methods in practice and decide for myself what I wanted to try and what I might be comfortable with. Teaching can be a very isolating profession, and observations help to bridge the gap between a new teacher and his/her field.

For More Experienced Teachers

As a teacher, although I don’t look forward to being observed (who does?), I really did appreciate the thoughtful comments of my former supervisor, whose opinion I respect very much. I looked at the observations as an opportunity to learn from my supervisor’s many years of classroom experience. Her comments were usually largely positive and the suggestions were clear and based on examples of my behavior in the class. (In my case, they often had to do with slowing down during instructions, something I still struggle with.)

In my previous school, the observer was required to complete a form with plenty of space for comments. After the observation, the teacher and observer scheduled time to go through the form together. I valued the verbal feedback and I was given a chance to explain the choices I had made in the class.

Some teachers may worry that something will go wrong. They are right; it might. I once observed a teacher who sat on a wet chair in the middle of her lesson. She had to excuse herself to dry off her pants. These things happen. (They happen to me all the time, in fact.) As an observer, I was more interested in how she handled the situation quickly and gracefully. In observations myself, I have neglected to queue up the cassette tape and forgotten essential pieces of an activity. Again, these things happen. The important thing is to move on and realize that they have most likely happened to the observer at some point, too.

For Supervisors

As an observer, I have also learned a great deal from my experiences. Teachers often scramble to show the flashier parts of their lesson plans, the games and interactive activities. But I also really enjoy watching how teachers handle the mundane daily tasks, such as roll call and homework checks. I first learned the great benefits of writing the lesson plan on the board in an observation of a less experienced teacher. (Even though I have been teaching for a while, it is possible for this old dog to learn some new tricks.)

In order for the observation to be successful, the supervisor has to be in a position of legitimacy. Trying to offer suggestions to a teacher when you have little or no teaching experience yourself will inevitably cause anxiety. Also, just as with grading papers, the feedback sandwich is important: one compliment, one suggestion, one compliment. (Observations are a great opportunity to boost a teacher’s self confidence.)

Finally, I strongly believe that it is important to offer the teacher a chance to defend his or her own choices. They may have a reasons for what they are doing that isn’t immediately apparent to you. Also, supervisors need to keep in mind that (thankfully) not all teachers have the same style. Your noisy, lively class management style might work for you, but another teacher might be just as successful with a more subdued approach.

As I said, being observed is rarely a completely relaxing experience, but there are a lot of potential benefits. In my current teaching situation, we don’t have any formal observations at all, and I have to say that I really miss the feedback and the opportunity to learn.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Answer Checks Made Clear and Communicative

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Checking the answers in a homework or in-class assignment can be one of those huge time eaters. It is a necessary evil. After all, there is little point doing an activity if students never find out if their responses are accurate or not. However, calling on students to mechanically read their answers aloud can take up a lot of valuable class time with very little pay off. It is boring, predictable and involves very limited student talk.

My goal when I spend time checking student answers is twofold. First, I want to make sure students get the correct answers. And second, I want to make sure students understand why their answers were incorrect so that they can learn from their mistakes. But how is this best accomplished?

Time for Questions

When I assign homework, I usually provide the answer key. Students do the work, check their own answers, and put a star beside the questions which they don’t understand. At the beginning of every class, I ask the class if they had any questions about the homework. We go page-by-page and students can ask their questions and get a brief explanation. This system has worked very well for me in adult classes which are low-stress. Students have to feel comfortable enough to ask questions in front of their peers without losing face.

Of course, you also have to be able to trust the students to do the work before looking at the answers! One teacher I observed who did not have the same faith in her students put several copies of her answer key on the back wall. Students came early to the class to check their answers; it was a genius way to encourage students to come on time!

Check with a Partner

In a recent edition of Voices, Nicholas Northall suggests giving students time after an activity to check their answers with a partner. “This time allows them to discuss any answers they don’t agree on and to reach a conclusion as to what the right answers are” (Northall, 2010, page 11). This pair work would best supplement, not substitute for, a traditional answer check. Students still need your final word on “right or wrong.” But during this time, the stronger students may be able to explain their own choices to their partner, thereby eliminating the need for as much teacher talk.

Write it on the Board

I once observed a teacher who had her students come up one-by-one to write the answers to the homework on the board. This was SO boring for the students, and it cut into the time the students might be using for a communicative activity. Instead, she could have had the students who came into the class early write their answers up before the class even started. Or, she could have had the students work in pairs, as described above, and then shown the answers on a PowerPoint slide or overhead projector transparency.

On the other hand, I observed another teacher who used board writing in a very valuable way. She played a listening and, as the class listened and took notes, she took her own notes. After, the students were able to compare what they had written with her answers. It was immediately clear to the students if their notes were accurate and adequate.

Running for the Answer

Another teacher I observed turned her answer check into a fun communicative activity. She put copies of the answer key in several places around the class. She put the students into pairs; one was the “grader”, the other was the “runner”. The “graders” sat with both their assignments and their partners’ assignments. The “runners” moved between the answer key and the “graders.” telling them what the correct answers were. This format did take a bit of extra time, but the energy level in the class was high and all the students were interacting, so, in my opinion, the time was well-spent.

How do you check answers in your classes? Do you have any novel techniques for making the most out of this time? How do you make your answer checks clear and communicative?

Northall, N. (2010) What’s the answer to question 5? Voices, 216.