ESL Teacher Orientation

I am teaching an ESL class this semester and had a meeting this morning with the entire faculty of the program.

There are four instructors and two staff/faculty positions involved. I have met three of the six folks previously. Now I have met everyone.

The classroom has been painted, updated, and decorated. It is a very pleasant room. I wish we could do that for all the rooms we teach in. They tend to look very institutional.

I learned quite a bit about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERF), which is what we are using to base our assessments on–both incoming and outgoing.

The level of writing that I will be teaching assumes B1.

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise while traveling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and dreams.

Before they get into on-level classes, they need to achieve C1.

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.

Students and teachers will all be challenged this semester.

2 Ways FYC Does Not Match Student Expectations

Increasing difficulty:

In most courses the assignments are level. The information across assignments is different, but the level of difficulty stays somewhat consistent. Unless there is a clear jump (such as between a regular exam and a comprehensive mid-term), students assume that they did the last assignment well and they know everything they need for the next assignment.

This is not true in second-semester freshmen composition. The course is scaffolded, so that the easier assignments are earlier, but the assignments throughout the course get increasingly harder, even while building on previous assignments.

Grading:

Students in writing (and other) classes assume that the first assignment will let them know how the teacher grades and that the next assignment, done the same way, will allow them to earn the same grade.

This is NOT true when the assignments are scaffolded. Each assignment increases the level of complexity. That means that if the student does not learn and apply the requirements in equally increasing complexity, the grades will decrease with each assignment.

A = Analogies

Analogies are useful for learning because, once we disregard the surface similarities, the shared structures can be illuminating.

Providing two analogies rather than one improves learning (Schwartz, Tsang, and Blair 3). Basically it creates a Venn diagram of the shared ideas that can elucidate the idea/theory/practice we are attempting to focus on.

Confession:
When I first heard of this, I thought it was a simple and fascinating concept. Just give students random things and they could try and figure out how those things “were like” the topic.

I have done that for a single random item (a bunch of small toys) in an FYC course during the introduction of students, asking them to explain how the toy was like their chosen major. It worked really well and was interesting.

However, for focused learning, I probably can’t throw random physical objects around the room for them to work with/on.

Random Practice Example:
Looking at the table in front of me, how is a bowl like writing? You fill it up with something significant. It is not particularly useful empty. It is designed to hold and transport things (or ideas).

Looking at the table in front of me, how is a cheese stick like writing? It needs to be wrapped up. It needs a particular level of wrapping to be useful. The cheese/writing can go bad if the wrapping/words are less than optimal. You consume it in small bites. You can put it up and eat/read it later.

Looking at those two objects, the ideas/food are what are wrapped/carried in the package or bowl and if the bowl or package is inappropriate (by type or size or whatever), the food/ideas go bad or do not get properly delivered.

That means that how we present our ideas really matters. Certain key concepts (like a thesis, topic sentence, and transitions) help create the correct carrying case for our ideas.

Application:
Can the students make that big of a connection? Or could they make better connections?

What if we had two or three students working together? Synergy and collaboration could lead to the sum being greater than its parts.

The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair

Group Work

The research conducted by [behavioral scientist Patrick] Laughlin and his colleagues tells us why the best leader operating individually will be beaten to a correct solution by an all-inclusive cooperating unit. First, lone decision-makers can’t match the diversity of knowledge and perspectives of a multi-person unit that includes them. The input from others can stimulate thinking processes that wouldn’t have been developed when working alone. … Second, the solution seeker who goes it alone loses another significant advantage–the power of parallel processing. Whereas a cooperating unit can distribute many subtasks of a problem to its members, a lone operator must perform each task sequentially. (Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini 100).

Goldstein, Noah J., Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini. Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Gaming the Classroom

Gamification: Engaging Students With Narrative begins:

When looking at how engaged students are in playing games, it makes sense to capture some of the ideas that game designers use to engage the player. This idea of applying gaming mechanics to non-game situations is known as gamification.

What defines a game is having a goal or objective. However almost all games also have some sort of theme or story.

Interesting. Relates to book read three years ago and book on game design read two years ago.

Results of Teaching Perspectives Inventory

My university encourages faculty development and I am presently enrolled in a Master Teacher course, for folks who want to be better teachers.

The homework before the next session involved taking the Teaching Perspectives Inventory.

After I took it, so I would have some idea what it meant, I went to the article “Development and Use of The Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI)” by Pratt, Collins, and Selinger.

My dominant mode is apprenticeship. I am not surprised by this, as that has been the metaphor I have used within my classrooms since at least the second year I was teaching, decades ago.

Apprenticeship:
Effective teaching is a process of enculturating students into a set of social norms and ways of working.

Good teachers are highly skilled at what they teach. Whether in classrooms or at work sites, they arerecognized for their expertise. Teachers must reveal the inner workings of skilled performance and must now translateit into accessible language and an ordered set of tasks. Learning tasks usually proceed from simple to complex,allowing for different points of observation and entry depending upon the learner’s capability. Good teachers knowwhat their learners can do on their own and what they can do with guidance and direction; namely, engaging learners’within their ‘zone of development’. As learners mature and become more competent, the teacher’s role changes, andover time, teachers offer less direction and give more responsibility as they progress from dependent learners toindependent workers.

My recessive mode is Social Reform, also not a surprise.

I think this was a useful tool for discussion.

Backward Design

We started with the difference between backward (adjective) and backwards (adverb). Then we got onto the actual focus of the presession. It was very useful.

Backward design that you are designing backwards.

Course design is like soccer/football
Clear goal
Simple, but not easy
Kicking ball into net is really complex

Teach people how to play soccer, varying levels of difficulty
Look at it from player, spectator
Begin with the end in mind. –Stephen Covey

How do we measure success?
How will we measure success?

That is backward design.

Choose textbook ? lecture over book ? use visual aids ? powerpoint ? test
Then send them out assuming they know exactly what to do.

Content ? activities ? assessment

Design with a clear objective in mind… measurable objectives.
How will we measure and assess their learning?

Target identified, acceptable evidence THEN choose learning activities

Identify desired results (essential questions) ? determine acceptable evidence ? plan learning experiences and instruction

Teaching to the test is GREAT, if it is a good measure of what the students should know/believe…

Id desired results:
Big ideas?
Specific understandings?
Predictable misunderstandings? –point of word count…
Essential questions? How do we make it intriguing? How do we make it seem relevant?

Determine acceptable evidence:
Performance tasks? –changing oil, not leaving any parts over
Evaluation criteria? –solid rubric
Student reflection? –help them look back on what they’ve learned, apply knowledge and tie it together
Other evidence? –quizzes for retrieval practice, cumulative exams…

Plan learning experiences and instruction:
Content consumption
Small group discussion
Direct observation
Hands-on interaction
Virtual interaction
Design and prototype
Try and fail. Try and fail. You learn something from it. It’s a learning activity.

Introduction? find examples of good introductions (from student papers?)

What do we really want them to do/know?

Thesis on Facebook…

In doing backward design, we need to think like an assessor.

B&P= come up with what I really care about them learning—that writing/communication is essential for any job and the better writers they are, the better they can do their jobs (and live their lives—writing clearly is important for many other out-of-job experiences…)
Then start with examples of when/where/how that is true.
Back this up with case study experiences/quizzes that are about how to use the information in the chapters.
Connect the writing they are doing with the end of being better x’ers, which is their goal.

Linguistics = idea will be to introduce them to linguistics and all the different aspects of what that means and how these very different areas could impact/improve their lives
Spend more time on the interesting stories and apply those through the work we are doing.
How can linguistics improve their writing? Their teaching? Their reading? Their personal lives? Their care for their children? For their parents?

112 = understanding what credible, educated arguments are—proof = writing credible, educated arguments on variety of topics
stress that

003 = writing skills needed for everything…

We are presupposing some amount of motivation.
How have you made goals for this class?

As a presenter, be positive about our students’ motivation.
I supposed there were things you were willing/able to change.

Make It Stick

Went to a faculty presession on this topic. Four folks who have attended a reading group on the book Make It Stick and who have begun implementing the ideas.

These are the main points they had up on the PowerPoint:
(with my comments and questions in parentheses)
Not all practice is equal.
Mix up your practice.
Embrace difficulties.
Avoid illusions of mastery. (Don’t just read again and again.)
When the mind has to work, learning sticks better.
Don’t rely on what feels best.
Effortful learning changes the brain.
Making mistakes and correcting them advances learning.
Learning is hard.
It’s not what you know but how you practice.
Learning is stronger when it matters. (How do you make it clear that it matters?)
Use testing as a tool for learning.
Delayed, detailed feedback yields better long-term learning. (How do you get the students to read this? Or do you do something else?)
Sleeping between study sessions improves retention.
Reflection is a form of retrieval practice.
To learn, retrieve.
Design the work the students do, not what your lectures are going to say.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

These are my notes on their talks:
Not going to fix everything you’ve ever taught. Book about learning. Start with understanding how students learn. Lots of studies included in this book. Lots of data.
We are practitioners.

Not all practice is equal.
Lots of folks cram. Evidence shows cramming works, but not in the way you want it to. Students who cram retain 50% of information 2 days later. It is not a long-term solution.

A lot of the practices we use are ineffective.
One that doesn’t help is re-reading.
Re-reading is inefficient AND counterproductive.
When we re-read, we develop an illusion of mastery.

Active methods of studying.
Cornell method for notetaking… not simply underlining, but interpreting them—putting them into your own words.

The people who practiced once a week (not all in one day) were far better.
How to implement? Most people go over the syllabus on the first day; emphasize the most important parts. Second day have a quiz on syllabus. Then come back and have a quiz again.

Learning: acquiring knowledge and skills that are readily available from memory so that you have them to use in future situations

Learning requires a core reservoir of information (memory). You still have to have a repository of info.
Learning is an acquired skill.
Most effective strategies are often counterintuitive.
Focus on what the students are doing—rather than what you are going to say.
Is our goal that the students know the material long term? Often that’s not what happens. We test what they know over x and then we go on to next chapter.

We said “here’s the book and we’re messing with you”…
One example of many practices we changed:
Changed our reading guides to something like Cornell notetaking… lot more reflective…

For retention, there is a level of difficulty.
Quick/fast/easy learning dissipates.
NYTimes article on importance of memorization. Comments… interesting. Memorization is okay; we need that.
Without the memorization, there is no foundation of prior knowledge. You’ll have to learn vocabulary words for a new language. You can’t start building a building from the third floor.

Techniques: retrieval practice
Repetition doesn’t necessarily lead to long-term retention.
Quiz yourself. If students don’t quiz themselves, they overestimate how well they know the materials. Going through and retrieving the information “interrupts forgetting.” Act of retrieving changes memory itself and makes it easier to retrieve.
When mind has to work, the learning sticks better. “Just enough time to begin forgetting” and then reinforce again.

How long should I space out the practice? Long enough to begin the forgetting process.
Sleep on it. Take a nap.

Rather than mass cramming, practicing before class, space it over a week –look at their names 2-3 times a day.
Flash cards.
Quizlet—online resource to create quizzes

Low stakes quizzing helps the students significantly.
We create a quizlet that the students put together over learning each other’s names.
Canvas is marvelous when it comes to quizzing.

Maybe you don’t want to do the same thing over and over again…
Varied practice is one of the foci of the book.
You need to have a variety of tasks that your brain is doing. That helps with the little bit of forgetting, come back to it, repeat…
8 year olds, throwing beanbags into bucket—practiced 12 weeks
How would you teach mastery of this?
One group never threw the beanbags into 3 ft… They’d have 2 and 4 ft buckets.
The people who had never thrown a 3 ft shot beat the pants off the people who only practiced that.

We transitioned from presentation/lecture and then quiz.
We have introduction at end of class.
Then they read.
Then next class we give rest of discussion.
Here’s where we were, here’s where we are going, and here’s what we are doing today.

When we try to solve a problem, we feel uncomfortable if we haven’t seen how to do it. Trial and error. If you pose the problem before you explain, and they work on… They start trying to connect to things they do know. They learn more from the fresh thing (the effort), even if they make errors. In the process they have learned and changed their memory.
We must provide corrective feedback.
Errors are important and integral to the process of learning.

Talk about: Learning should be difficult. Making errors is important/good.
Before everyone failed. Then talked about learning difficult. Next time, the group who had that discussion succeeded, while the others did not.
Babies fall down all the time. You’ve made hundreds, thousands of errors—but now you can walk.

“The better you know something the more difficult it becomes to teach it.”

Students don’t have models or they are faulty.
But we do want them to get to the point where they have mental models.

Why does it matter? We have to up the significance of what we are doing.
Why is it important? Explain the so what. Put it in a bigger context.

How do you respond to failure on an exam? If whole class did poorly…
Think about our assessments and what we are trying to accomplish with those.

Performance goals = goals that validate what student knows
Learning goals = goals that see what students have learned/are learning

Confession

Begin with the end in mind. This is a truism. Begin with what you want to accomplish and you are more likely to accomplish it.

Some history
I have always wanted to be a teacher and have been a teacher for a good portion of my life. My teaching experiences range from toddlers to senior adults, from biology to rhetorical history, from homeschooling to public university. I have been teaching, in one form or another, for 39 years.

Over the last six years, I have had several mid-life crisis periods. I have wondered if I am a good teacher, if I should have done something else with my life.

I have sometimes despaired because, despite my concerted and diligent efforts to be the best, I am not the best teacher nor the most beloved (which somehow somewhat equates in my mind).

New Beginning
Each semester offers me as a teacher (and our students) a new beginning. We can start over and be all that we can be or at least make a new attempt.

“Summers Off”

Summer is a time when many academics do not teach. For some of us, particularly adjuncts, that is a time of financial hardship. But even for adjuncts without paid instructional work, and certainly for those in full-time positions, no teaching does not mean we have the summers off.

Academic work is judged on teaching, publications, and service or publications, teaching, and service–depending on the type of institution for which you work. Either way publications are an important part of the equation. Even community colleges, given a surfeit of applications, use publications to determine who to interview and hire.

Since teaching is a (sometimes more than) full-time job, work on publications is often shifted to the summer and Christmas break. We research and teach during the school year and write and submit over the summer. Or we revise and resubmit over the summer.

This summer, I have two book chapters, an article R&R, and a book to finish.

I also have to prepare my tenure and promotion portfolio.

No teaching does not mean I have summers off.