Friday, February 10, 2012

Connect Classes with Our Life

Our ESL team works with a thematic framework rather than a specific curriculum.  I love this, because teachers all work with similar ideas at the same time, so we can support each other.  But we also have a lot of flexibility.  We can let the students in each class bring what they want and need to the topic as well.

This month, the theme is "Learning and Education".  It could cover the American school system, communicating with teachers, helping children with homework, participating in school activities, plans for making a transition to a training or education program, or even learning and study skills.  I'm going to start off with a focus on the latter, and also on getting everyone up to a basic level of computer-using skills.

To kick things off, I decided to trot out the ol' "What makes a good English class?" activity, described briefly here. Two of my three classes did this activity, the third was unfortunately unable to meet due to a sudden closing of the library -- one of the perils of free-range teaching.  After brainstorming "What makes a good classroom?" as a class, two groups discussed "What makes a good teacher?" and "What makes a good student?" and then shared their ideas with the whole class.  I proposed that many of the items for teacher and student are the same (or similar), such as "come to class prepared" and "be a good listener".  Then students were invited to choose what they think are the top 5 items for teacher AND student.  In both classes, this was given as homework.  I look forward to the final discussion next week!
Courtesy of DaveBleasdale
In the meantime, I wanted to mention that the "What makes a good teacher?" item is a nice way for students to indirectly give me some feedback.  There is one student, an older gentleman, who really wants more of a traditional classroom environment.  Naturally, his suggestions included "more exercises" and "more handouts"!  I know I could do more reinforcement activities in class and I hope that my efforts to improve in this dimension will satisfy him.  Also, I'm wondering if giving a handout for homework periodically will help meet his need?

The response to that question also gave me some insights into student expectations.  One student, for example, noted that "teachers should immediately correct all mistakes".  I correct mistakes in some parts of our lessons, but when students are immersed in communicating, I note mistakes for later correction rather than interrupt the flow.  I guess I need to explain this, so students know where I'm coming from.

Finally, I was delighted with the lists from both classes!  One student -- I am totally not making this up -- said, "a good teacher should connect classes with our life".  Another student said, "a good teacher should use emotion, good or bad, to help us remember".  With some probing, I determined that this too was related to connecting to real life experience.  Other ideas included "good body language and eye contact" and "ability to work with different learning styles".  Good suggestions for any teacher.  Perhaps for students too!

In addition to coming up with their top 5 list, I asked students to think about how they study/practice English outside the classroom and to bring in 2 tips to share with their classmates.

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