Category Archives: For language Teachers

To Correct or not to Correct: That is the Question

The Teacher in Training

When I was studying for my M.A., I had the opportunity to volunteer as a conversation partner, helping ESL students for an hour a week to get speaking practice and improve their English. I really enjoyed it, and that experience gave me my first taste of offering corrections. My previous internship was at a time when I really didn’t know much about what to do, so I didn’t do much correcting. My conversation partners appreciated the corrections and made it clear that they wanted me to give them, as did my online students later on.

Debate and Decision

There is a lot of debate as to whether or not correction in the ESL classroom does any good, and it is important for you as a teacher to settle in your mind where you belong. Do you see the value in correcting students’ mistakes, or do you believe that you should only model and the students will finally begin self correcting? Articulating your position on this question will help you when you are planning your lessons, as well as when you are defining your ideal students. If you don’t find value in correction, then your ideal student is not going to be a student who wants/needs a lot of correction.

My own Stand

As for me, I believe that there is value in correction. Students are sometimes not aware that they have been making certain mistakes, and others have taken such long breaks after studying English in school that they have forgotten many things. So in one case, the corrections make students aware of mistakes. And in the other case, students are reminded of what they once knew well.

Using Correction: the Chat box

There are 3 ways in which I use correction in my online classes. The first, and most used, is the chat box. Whichever conferencing client you use for classes, you have a chat box, which can be one of your best friends. When I correct students, I type the phrase that had the mistake followed by a colon, then the corrected phrase. I tell students up front that I’m not magic and can’t catch everything, which usually makes them chuckle. Students can make the choice to watch the chat box while speaking, or look at the corrections later. Either way, there is a saved history of mistakes that need improving. Though I must admit that it also preserves a record of my biggest weakness; English spelling, the bane of my existence.

Unseen or Delayed Corrections

The second method I use is one that I only use for certain activities. Sometimes I will assign students a speaking question as homework, for which they have to prepare, or a timed question in class. While the student is speaking, I will type mistakes and corrections in a blank file instead of the chat box, then paste them in after the student is done speaking. Students often like this as part of a lesson. For nervous students, I will sometimes mute myself and turn off the camera so they aren’t aware when I’m typing up the corrections. This carries the added benefit of providing telephone practice. For examples of written correction, check out the video below.

Correcting with Your Voice

The third mode of correction I use is spoken feedback. Sometimes I will just utter the corrected phrase and the student will repeat it. Or I will answer his/her statement with the corrected form. For example:

S. “I went to the beach and swimmed in the ocean.”

T. “You swam in the ocean? How cool!”

You’ve probably seen this one in your course books when studying for your DELTA or other certificate.

Your Turn

So tell me, do you correct your students? If so, I hope this post has provided some useful tips on how you can easily do it online, maybe more easily than in the classroom. If not, feel free to leave a comment as to why you have elected not to correct your students. Or you can certainly leave one if you use other methods. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Adventures in ESL 1: Having me on

Got Ya!

 

Humor is not necessarily constrained by language. And some students thrive on the “got ya” moments. I was teaching a group of two students, a husband and wife. Now, you have to understand that the husband had a general tendency to be a bit reserved.

 

We were in the midst of a pronunciation exercise, which consisted of practice at a slower speed, (classroom English), then at native speed, after some explanation of particular pronunciation quirks. The students had finished pronouncing the target sentence at native speed rather well. The ensuing dialogue went something like this:

 

Teacher: “Are you American?” (Asked in Russian for the fun of it.)

 

Husband: “I have been there a long time.”

 

Teacher: “You were there a long time? Really? Interesting.”

 

Wife: “He is big lier.”

 

Husband: “I have been there for three weeks.” (Amid a lot of laughter.)

 

On the one hand, you had to be there to fully appreciate the “got ya” moment in that little exchange. You would have had to see the likely gullible expression on my face, and read my student’s mind as he quite probably thought the Russian equivalent of “got ya” amid inward and outward chuckles.

 

Moral

 

The main point of this little sort of tale is that this student, though at about an intermediate low level, was ready and willing to try a bit of dry humor on his poor teacher. Language doesn’t stop our students from messing with our heads, so let’s not allow it to get in our way as we teach. Relax and have a little fun with your students; online or offline. If the context allows and a “got ya” moment presents itself, use it. It’s a teachable moment, and it lightens the mood of the class. And, hey, it’s just plain fun; as teaching should be, right?

English Language Curriculum Design Diary: Day Two

Hello on Day Two

Well, here I am again at the end of another day. Once more, it has not been as productive in the area of curriculum design as I would have liked because of my propensity for distraction, but it has still been productive. My stress level is lower, and I can look forward to waking up tomorrow and trying to be more focused. Some of my distraction today was justified, as it was time to produce my website’s weekly feature, but other things, such as reading about SEO, did not fit with my purpose for this week off from teaching.

My Learning

So what have I gotten done today? Well, I was able to watch a couple of useful videos on backward design as it relates to curricula. Backward design is one of the principles my teaching coach taught me, and I wanted to look at it more in depth. Unfortunately, I was a bit daunted. One of the developers of this method for curriculum design said that one should take small steps toward using this method on a whole-scale basis. But I need something whole-scale now! What to do?

Later, I began reading one of my old text books from my Masters training. A note to those still in training: save those text books. You will wish you had later. The text was “Designing Language Courses: a Guide for Teachers,” by Kathleen Graves. I will include a link to the Amazon page at the end of this post. I read again about how designing a language curriculum has several different pieces, and each piece influences the other. For example, your context will inform your course goals and your materials, your course goals will affect your assessments, which will also affect your materials and goals, and so on.

I also had time to begin reading about the first piece discussed in the book, defining the context of the curriculum. I had been thinking that I had to try and design something that would work for a myriad of different contexts because of the nature of my online teaching. I teach all levels and those who need to improve various skills. But this time around with the text, I wanted to actually do some of the activities, being a kinesthetic learner in many ways. So I thought of two of my students who are both at varying degrees of the beginner level and used them as a context. This brought so much clarity to the process. It is simply unrealistic to expect that I will be able to develop even a foundational curriculum for all my students very quickly. But I must start somewhere. So I will begin at the beginning and design a course for beginners. The aim is to bring them to the point where they can be considered intermediate low in all four skills. This will be more clearly defined when I am ready to use the level indicators I have found published on the web as a guideline for assessment. I am just so relieved to have a direction and a clear context to practice with.

Goals for Tomorrow

As you have seen, focus is a major issue for me, and I have a tendency to change tack. But tomorrow I hope to continue reading through the Graves book, doing some of the activities she lays out. I also hope to read some other relevant texts, including other text books that I have saved. Until then, I hope you have at least learned what not to do on a similar journey. And perhaps you have gained some useful ideas too.

Useful Resources

http://www.amazon.com/Designing-Language-Courses-Guide-Teachers/dp/083847909X

English language Curriculum Design Diary Day One

The Context

As teachers, we are often tasked with developing courses that will help our students to progress. Being an online language teacher, I am presented with an interesting set of opportunities and challenges. The online context allows me to draw from a rich list of teaching methodologies and approaches to design something that is flexible. I am also able to tailor lessons to learners with a wide range of learning styles and who come with different levels of negative affective filters. I can attempt to reduce those in a non-threatening way. On the other hand, I am also tasked with doing it all. No one has provided me with a nicely laid out curriculum and set operating parameters. I am only just now beginning to form a support network of other teachers facing my same challenges. And the list goes on. Many of these are not exclusive to the online environment, but that this the environment I teach in, so that is the environment I will talk about.

The Background

Less than a year ago, suffering from extreme discouragement, I took a week off from classes, intending to spend the entire time doing research and learning how I could improve the lessons I was giving to my students. I was a brand new teacher who felt as though I had taken a high dive into deep water. But as I researched, I began to remember things from my training and, even though I did not accomplish much of what I had set out to do, the week off had refreshed my soul and given me time to learn some valuable things. My lessons definitely improved after that.

In the many months that have followed, I have still felt overwhelmed and discouraged at times, especially feeling as though I were just going from lesson to lesson with no real cohesive structure and no real support. Then I met a teaching coach in a FaceBook group. One of the things he specializes in is instructional design. An answer to my prayers! So after some sessions with him, I am now equipped with some new knowledge and mental tools for designing courses and units for my students. But there are still gaps. What approaches should make up my core methodology? How can I design a curriculum that is logical for me and for the students, so that I can measure their progress and help them to do so? How do I design something that is flexible enough to be tailored for the different students and different skill needs? So many questions to answer. So here I am again, taking a week off to plan and research.

The Journey

I am not such a dreamer as to expect that I will solve all my problems this week, but I’m certainly going to try and solve some of them. My biggest problem is trying to decide which problems are priority, because I have to start teaching again next week, and I need something to show for this time off. So I invite you to join me in this journey as I prioritize, research, and move through the mire. And, well, if you have comments or tips, feel free to share. My hope is that you will dialog with me on this journey, profit from my fumblings, and that maybe these entries will help make your own journey clearer.

The First Day

Today has not seen a promising start to this endeavor. I allowed myself to become distracted by other things I would like to accomplish, such as optimizing my website, and finding ways to attract students. These are valid accomplishments, but not my main goal. Hey, I am being honest and real here! Still, I found a great video which served as a reminder of what some of my priorities ought to be, bringing a little clarity to the journey. It was a video providing an overview of what is needed for a language curriculum design, such as needs assessment, (du), input from students, understanding of the learning context, etc. I found another video from the same channel which provided a list of principles on which a curriculum should be based. Now I realize that this is a little subjective, and I can find other lists of principles that are thought to be just as valid. But it reminded me that any curriculum and philosophy of teaching should be based on sound research. Another no-brainer, but one that is easily forgotten in the mire of all that a teacher must consider when she is the teacher and the administrator in the thick of the battle so to speak. I took some nice notes that I think will prove to be quite useful. The day has not been a total loss. As the day draws to a close, I think tomorrow will be focussed on choosing a framework and articulating some of my beliefs about language teaching. So good night for now, and happy teaching.

Do you Know Someone Who: A Practice Activity for the One-on-One Venue

Find Someone Who

This activity is an extremely common one in the ESL classroom, and is used to practice many aspects of Englis grammar or vocabulary. Anyone who has taken a training course or watched a few workshops will recognize it. But here is a quick introduction for those who are new to the teaching realm.

 

The idea is for students to communicate with each other and locate others in the class who have done something on a list of activities, read one book out of a list of books, etc. The teacher first works with the class to create a list that is related to the target grammar or vocabulary. The teacher then provides copies of the list. Students then go around the class, asking classmates if they match the items. When a match is found, the student’s name is written next to the list item. Some of the results are then presented to the class.

 

The One-to-One Classroom

 

But how do we implement such an activity when there is one student in the class. Well, the one-on-one teacher first has to wrap his/her head around the idea that there are times when the teacher must become one of a pair. So, for pair or group activities, you must take on a role that is similar to that of the student. This activity is a clear example.

 

Do you Know

 

In a class with only one student, it is pretty much impossible to find someone who, whatever. But your student likely knows a lot of people, as do you. Why not leverage this idea and modify the common classroom activity.

 

How to Use

 

This sort of activity requires little or no preteaching. You only need to begin asking questions. If you want to emphasize listening, you can refrain from writing the questions, or if you want to emphasize reading, you can refrain from saying them out loud as you write. Each question should contain the phrase “do you know someone who.” Then the question should contain items that will elicit the target grammar or vocabulary. For example, to practice the present perfect tense, you could ask, “Do you know someone who has visited England recently?” The student should answer with something like, “yes, my sister has visited England recently.” This may take a little coaching the first time or two, as the student may think a simple yes or no is sufficient.

 

After you have asked your questions, it’s the student’s turn. There are two ways to proceed with this. You can give your student a few minutes to prepare his/her own questions, explaining that the questions should be formed the same way as yours. Or you can choose to put the student on the spot and simply direct him/her to begin asking you questions. Sometimes students need this push to develop immediacy in speaking, though of course the teacher should be patient.

 

This activity is valuable for practicing many aspects of grammar or vocabulary, such as tenses, adverbs, etc. The video posted below is a more detailed explanation of the value and usage of this activity, giving several examples of practice questions. Please feel free to leave a comment if you can think of other uses that have not come to my mind. Here’s hoping I have helped you in your teaching journey in some small way.

 

Holly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLbDJ1yjuEU

Introducing Myself

Hello,

 

My name is Holly, or as some have called me, Teacher Holly. If you are passionate about the world of languages and about helping others to navigate your part of it, then you are speaking my language, (pun intended).

 

To make a long story short, I never thought I was cut out to be a teacher, much less a teacher of English. But while obtaining my B.A. in Intercultural Studies, I had the opportunity to intern for an organization assisting refugees in my local area. The director requested that I help in the English classes offered thrice daily, four days a week. So, having no idea what I was doing, I began. It was a wonderful experience, and the students seemed to learn in spite of my ineptitude.

 

Several years later, when it came time for me to go back to school and decide what I wanted to do when I grew up, it was that previous experience that helped make my decision. I went on to study for an M.A. in Linguistics, with a specialization in TESL.

 

After obtaining my degree in 2013, I began the arduous search for a job. Unfortunately, the economy had fallen by this time, and there was a major lack of TESL jobs in my area. Couple that with the fact that I am totally blind, and things were rather frustrating. Thankfully, unconventionality happens to be my trademark, so I was searching around the web one night, and got introduced to the idea of online language teaching and learning. Fast forward a year to this lovely Sunday evening, and I am writing this post, having taught online for ten months. Though the transition from a more traditional mindset to the online model was daunting at first, I can honestly say I have never looked back. The chance to build lasting rapport with students, to explore multiple teaching methods, and set my own hours has been a perfect fit.

 

Well, it seems that I was not able to make my long story short after all, but believe it or not, there were many details left out. I hope, as I grow as a teacher, that I can help other online teachers, current and prospective, to navigate the wonderful world of online language teaching. I say language teaching instead of English teaching because I hope that at least some of the ideas and experiences I share on this site will benefit teachers of any language. So, without further a due, hello and welcome.

 

Holly