Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Look to the Future

A while back, I realized that I needed to guide myself more when it came to my personal professional development efforts.
They're all attractive, which one(s) should I choose? *
I started exploring specific subjects in more depth rather than reading whatever interested me at any moment. Thanks to learning opportunities that came up, I chose to examine "vocabulary teaching" first. That included joining a book circle, reading other books on my own, and collaborating with other teachers and a researcher to teach vocabulary-focused lessons to one of my classes for 6 months.  The books:

Vocabulary Myths - Keith Folse (book circle)
Teaching Vocabulary to English Language Learners - Graves, August, Mancilla-Martinez (related to our project)
How to Teach Vocabulary - Thornbury (my choice)

I'll just share a quick comment on each: Folse really did make me rethink my assumptions about teaching vocabulary.  It was a good book start with, as it kind of shook my mind open.  Graves focuses on teaching ELLs (kids in the US schools system) which is not directly relevant to me, but I especially liked the chapters on teaching word learning strategies and promoting word consciousness (both promote autonomous learning). Thornbury backs up almost every concept with concrete examples of how to apply it in the classroom and introduces corpora as a tool for teachers (and even learners).

A conclusion I came to about vocabulary teaching (especially from Thornbury) is that it's difficult, and maybe doesn't really makes sense, to teach vocabulary (or grammar, or "the facts") as separate entities.  That inspired me to put (or keep) these topics on my queue:

The Lexical Approach

While the vocabulary project was going on, I also had a chance to take a state-sponsored course on teaching EL-Civics.  That took 3 months, all told, and involved online course material, developing lesson plans, using them in class (my class that was not getting the vocab-intense lessons got the honor), reflecting on the lessons and sharing with other teachers.  The online material, funded by the US government, is available free to anyone who's interested.  Topics that arose from this are:

Content-Based Learning
Task-Based Learning
Curriculum Design

The first two are supposed to overlap with Dogme in a number of ways. They both also seems like naturals for EL-Civics, since the goals of the program are to improve English skills while becoming familiar with American civics topics and to learn how to connect with and contribute to the community.  I also want to examine more formally other ways to explore topics with learners than the standard PPP approach.

Grammaring is next!  I finished my first pass of  "Uncovering Grammar: How to Help Grammar Emerge" (Thornbury) over Thanksgiving and that was good preparation for "Teaching Language:  From Grammar to Grammaring" (Larsen-Freeman), which is now in progress.  Reading is not enough, of course.  I'll have to try things in class, refer back to both books, and reflect.  It will be a little different without other people (collaboration does impose a bit of discipline, ha ha!).  Let's see how it goes.

* photo courtesy of Peter Stevens

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