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!

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