Saturday, August 16, 2014

Busy Summer!

Well, it's not surprising that I haven't posted in a month!  I hope you've been having a nice summer.

I've been busy getting used to a new routine now that I'm working at IH Philadelphia.  The course I'm teaching is a summer intensive and this is the first time I've taught a group three times a week.  I love seeing the learners more often and I think it helps their memory.  It's much easier to prepare for a 90-minute lesson than a 3-hour one, that's for sure.  But I've injected some suspense into the process by scheduling my prep session for just before I leave to teach.  I give myself exactly one hour.  Will I have a decent plan when it's time to jump into the car and hit the road?  Well, I'd better -- cuz the deadline is fixed!

On the other two days of the week, I'm meeting with a private learner (advanced level). Two-hour sessions with one person are (for me, anyway) more difficult to plan.  But we get along well, and she knows that part of the planning is up to her: in addition to my own responses to her performance and progress, she needs to share her feedback on the quality of the lessons and how she would prefer to spend our time together.  Over the last four weeks, she has reported improvement in her ability to understand quickly spoken American speech.  Now she wants more speaking practice.  If she re-ups (her course is ending after next week), that's where we will go next.

One nice thing about the new setup is that I actually have afternoons free now.  Obviously, I'm not spending the time blogging, ha ha!  I have stepped up my fitness routine, which was non-existent before January, and am being more intentional with mindfulness practice. And I'm meeting friends for coffee. (A teacher with a social life?  Go figure!) Eventually, all this free time will get sucked up into studies if my plans go, um, as planned. But the break is refreshing!

I also got a new computer, which has been surprisingly time consuming.  It's a Yoga 2 Pro, which is an ultrabook. It's light enough to carry easily in a backpack and has a touchscreen, so it can function like a tablet.  In addition to the usual shifting of data, programs, and configurations, I'm learning how to best use the new features ... and getting used to Windows 8.1. (And stumbling into some glaringly inconvenient bugs along the way. There are workarounds, but I'm wondering how they got past product testing and why they aren't patched yet.)  Ultimately, I think this machine will be a good choice for the classroom. I no longer have access to a projector, but I can prop the Yoga up in tent mode (see link above for an image) to show a video to my relatively small group. And I can actually use my attendance spreadsheet right in class. Get this -- I can even pass the laptop around and let the learners sign in directly!

Actually, I have been blogging ... or typing reflections into blog posts, anyway.  I hope to clean a couple of them up and share soon.   Meanwhile, here's a decorative summertime picture:

House sparrow (weaver) in South Philadelphia.
Yes, I have also had more time to take the "good" camera out for some fun!  I bought it in December for taking pictures of birds and scenery, primarily when on vacation.  But, heck, why not use it more now while the weather is fine?

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Experiences Ahead

On Monday, I will begin teaching an intermediate class at my new gig.

The first year or so that I taught in a classroom, the focus was ESL.  Lesson goals were based on life skills: "students will be able to check their grocery receipt against what they actually bought and report a discrepancy to a clerk or store manager".  Lessons were supposed to include a balance of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, but the default emphasis was (in my opinion) on reading.  A lot of the speaking was actually reading aloud, a lot of the writing was related to completing exercises, a lot of the listening involved reading along.  I had been taught to develop a lesson around a grammar point that would be needed or useful in the context of the life skills goal.  The lesson format was essentially PPP.

The remaining three years of classroom teaching saw a shift.  Lessons were to revolve around US Civics topics, with language learning as needed for this purpose.  I really liked this, because I could respond to whatever language needs arose as we explored together.  It was easy to include discussion sessions (speaking practice) and we regularly watched videos related to current events (listening practice).  Learners also researched and reported on topics (writing, pronunciation).  Vocabulary-building took a larger role as well.

I would like to have expanded to project-based learning.  My thinking was to involve the learners in a real civics activity of some kind.  Perhaps organize a snack sale to benefit our host (the library) or maybe other students at our agency (GED graduates who can't afford a cap and gown, or the fees for taking the exam). Another project might be to write a language learners' newsletter to distribute to other English classes (and maybe solicit contributions from the other learners!). And, of course, learners might bring in a need from their own neighborhood. The group would think of possibilities, choose one, plan it, execute on it, and then do a post-mortem.

I hope we get more out of conversation than this! (credit)
In my new assignment, the emphasis will be on speaking and listening. Current events or a civics project remain possibilities ... if learners are so inclined.  No matter what, as long as I am not working with a fixed curriculum I will be letting the group drive the content of our lessons.  I'll be doing this indirectly by observing what they seem to be interested in and what their language needs are, and directly: asking them to discuss and choose.  New for me:

- working with a fairly stable cohort
- shorter lessons, three times a week
- teaching a course of exactly 21 lessons

It's possible that some (all?) of the learners are continuing from past courses.  They may already know each other and have expectations based on their experience with a different teacher.  So, a big part of our first lessons will be sharing a lot about myself and how I teach (unplugged!) and learning as much as I can about them. If they don't know each other, then we'll all be in the same boat!

I think the unplugged approach will go over well because, after all, this is a conversation-based course.  I'm really excited about this chance to explore spoken English more thoroughly!