Category Archives: ESOL

Workin’ with My Students

This past week, I have incorporated some new strategies in my class.  To begin with, I’m having my students choose and bring in some short articles, songs, short chapters of a book, etc. to use to practice their vocabulary words and discuss topics that interest them.  Added on to that, I’m having my students actually write up the discussion questions for the articles they choose in order to discuss things that are relevant to their perspectives rather than just mine.  Now, no student is ever excited about more work, but I think they’ll get the hang of it.  Plus, this will give the opportunity to think about a text they’ve chose in more detail and also let them practice their vocab.

Next week, we’ll also start using the essays we write in class as grammar/essay teaching tools.  I’ll pull mistakes from their essays as examples to correct during our grammar lessons and also provide anonymous copies of their essays to discuss how to improve them.  I’ll also be writing essays from now on with my students.  Not to provide good examples:  I don’t want to be setting myself as the end-all-be-all expert, but I am trying to develop a sense of community in class–and I’m a member of that community. 

While high school was not something I particularly enjoyed and I can’t remember to many life-lessons, there’s always been one that has stood out in my mind.  When I ran cross-country (that’s right, for all you people who know me, I actually participated in a sport), no matter how many miles we ran and no matter what crappy running activity we were assigned–and mind you this is miles upon miles–our coach always ran with us.  I’ve always respected him for that, and it has generally been a rule-to-live-by in my classes, ESOL or GED.  I never ask my students to do something I won’t do myself, and generally, I model every activity first.  I’ve found that all my students are more willing to take risks if they see I’m willing to participate and risk making a fool of myself first.  Activities usually work better that way.  We’ll see how these  work and how long they last, but it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

 

Kolter

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No English, No Work

This week all of my classes started back up.  As it always when we have a break, my students attendance would not be called great.  I’m not sure what the problem is, but they never ever seem to get there on the first day or the second even.  Heck, sometimes I’m lucky if I see them within the first three weeks.  Either way, the week went off without a hitch, but I did get a sad revelation on the first day of my AM ESOL class.

Before we went on break (so, three weeks ago) my student had got hired at a local convenient store.  They interviewed her (key point is that they interviewed her) and told her that they’d hire her once she got her social security number from the government.  Well, when she did they did hire her but for only five days.

On her fifth day, my student was stocking the shelf and a customer came up to her and asked where the produce section was.  The problem is that she didn’t understand her, and because of this, after they had interviewed her and spoken to her on numerous occasions, they fired her.  First of all, I want to know what kind of person goes and complains to a manager that one of his or her employees couldn’t speak English.  With all the ridiculous (and ,in my opinion, bigoted) hype of illegal immigration in this country, I can’t believe someone actually went and complained about someone who was trying to work (and learn English) legally in this country.  She went through the right steps; she’s just trying to make a living.  She worked in a human resource department in her country.  And let’s be honest, a shelving position isn’t that demanding. 

The second point:  you’ve spoken to her.  If you felt her English was up to snuff, why hire her in the first place?  Why make someone go through that.  And, she speaks rather well.  I mean she won’t be take turns on the presidential debate circuit, but with a little patience and understanding, she can definitely be understood.  The only thing that I can think of was the person must have been completely insensitive and had absolutely no experience working with or talking to people from a different country. 

To me, (completely my own opinion) when things like this happen I tend to wonder why people would want to immigrate here from another country.  Sadly, she’s more understanding than I am.  Maybe she’s just used to it and that kind of treatment.  If that’s the case, then, it’s a sad, sad day for this country.

Kolter

A New Year

The upcoming program year is almost upon us.  While most of Project Learn’s classes will start the week of September 15, my classes will start after Labor Day.  While of course I enjoy teaching my classes, I do have some reservations as the first day slowly approaches.  It’s not that I don’t want to see my students.  And…it’s most certainly not that I’m not looking forward to teaching. 

Last year, I implemented some strategies in my classroom that I think were really successful.  The problem for me is that they’re beginning (okay, not beginning but begun) to feel pretty stale.  I need to find some way to revamp them into a new way to motivate and energize my students because if I’m sick of them, there’s not doubt that my students are close behind–if they haven’t already arrived the before me.  Luckily, I have a couple ideas for the upcoming year.  But because I’m somewhat superstitions, I’ll won’t tell you much about them until I implement them.

Wish me luck!

Kolter

Tick Tock

Over the past 3 1/2 years I’ve been working at Project Learn, there has always been one constant in my classrooms:  my students are always late.  Generally, my classroom is pretty relaxed and I try not to impose too many rules on my students.  Usually only two:  ask questions when you don’t understand and have fun.  This has basically worked in all my classes, GED or ESOL; I value the relationships I develop with my students.  My rule of thumb has basically been “they’re adults; let them regulate themselves”; however, it has done nothing to help their tardiness (I generally don’t like that term–reminds me too much of high school). 

Now, you could be thinking if their only a couple of minutes late that’s not too bad…and you’re right.  Heck, I’d be estatic if it was only five minutes.  But an hour and a half?  Classes only last 2 1/2 hours.  I mean why even come.  We’ve discussed this problem more times than I’m willing to admit in the office.  And to be honest, we do have a punctuality rule; I just haven’t been enforcing it.  I’d rather not to.  Deep down I just want them to realize it’s important, and a great deal of students do.  But as Rick has said time and time again that we’re not teaching them to value it.  If we allow them to come in whenever they want, are we showing our students that there is value in what we’re teaching them?  From three years of experience, I’d have to so probably not.

So…this week, to my students dismay, I’ve actually started enforcing our punctuality policy (with my own little caveat).  Now they can only be late three times in a session.  Summer’s working in their favor:  they can be late three times in a month.  But that’s just a trial.  Starting this fall, they will only be allowed to be later than 10 minutes three times throughout September to December.  After that, if they’re late, I won’t let them in the classroom.  Some of you may thing this is still to liberal, but I think it’s a good start.  I doubt that I’ll ever get too much more strict than that–I do my best not to be too fascist.

There hasn’t been a riot, and my students seem to be coming earlier and back from break a lot sooner.  However, we’ll see how long it lasts.

Here’s hoping.

Kolter

GED and ESOL: Lots of Work and Extra Trouble

Recently, I asked one of my students to describe the difficulties of attending both a GED and an ESOL class.  While I imagine that we can all understand that GED class is difficult enough (how many of us really want to see what our score would be on the GED Math test?) but add that it is being taught in a second language and that adds a completely different level of difficulty.  I’ve inserted her response below.  Hong is a Chinese student who attends both my GEN Y GED class and ESOL classes.

HongI have been taking GED class and ESOL class almost two months.  These are two different courses.  The GED course helps students who do not finish high school to complete their high school education.  The ESOL course helps people who speak other languages to learn English. 

In GED class, almost all the students are Americans;  English is their first language.  Sometimes I don’t understand what they are talking about.  Each class my teacher teaches me some new words.  He explains the new words’ meaning and lets us make some sentences.  I need to write an essay each week.  I think that’s very helpful for me. 

The ESOL course places special emphasis on words and expressions for everyday use and speaking.  This course gives me more of a chance to speak with other people in English.  In ESOL class, we read newspapers aloud and we often learn something new.  I enjoy my GED class and ESOL class.

**FYI:  Hong and I sat together and corrected some mistakes before this entry was published.

End of the Year Testing

Like most people, I don’t think I’d list testing in my students top 5 recreational activities.  Heck, I don’t even think it’d come close to top 10.  Would any of us put it into our top 100?  However, it’s easy to understand how progressive testing is an integral part of the learning process.  You see, we don’t give grades, something that I completely support.  Really, in many ways (and of course I say this even though I’m royally miffed if I don’t get A’s in my grad classes) grades are arbitrary anyway.  Instead, students are recognized for their progress.  There isn’t that pressure to make sure you get the “right” grade; they simply worrying about practicing applying the material.  Honestly, I think it’s more conducive to learning.  But…the problem still stands how can you convince students it’s important to do it.

Of course, there’s always an easy line:  “It’s mandated by the Ohio Department of Education”, but that’s not always the easiest sell, and anyway, progress testing is really all about the student.  While not always the most exciting activity, progress testing provides students with a way to get excited about their improvements.  It’s a tangible evaluation of all their hard work and also gives them the ability to set goals and come up with realistic timelines.  And even though I explain this to my students every time, it’s often a bear to get them to do it.  Or at least it is for my GED students.

It’s easy to get my ESOL students to test.  I just tell them that they have a test on such and such a date, and they show up.  Heck, if I haven’t seen them in a while I’ll just send them a letter and stating in large font, “You have an English test on August 4th and more often than not they’ll show up.  Crazy I know.  Even I’d probably ignore it.  But there’s a lot more importance, I think, that is attached to a teacher’s request than in our culture. 

It also should be noted that most of their conversation tests last, at the most, 15 minutes, where GED students could last up to 2 hours.  Okay, there’s a slight difference there, but some of my students take reading tests (an hour long process) and when I make an appointment they’ll always show up.  Now, time has taught me not to even let my GED students know we’re going to test.  I’ve tried it in the past, and those days are by far the worst attended days.  The next class, you couldn’t imagine all the excuses.  I could take it if they were at least original, such as I had emergency brain surgery because I lost all my memories before I was 10 or I had to go the vet because all of my pets starting spontaneously combusting.  Now, I’ll give points for originality.  However, it’s always some lame claim of being sick or some emergency appointments.  Sometimes I feel like all they do is huddle together in some dark corner of the library and agree to the basic excuse formula.  At least, I know what to expect.  I guess I should be happy for small blessing, because students often say some of the craziest things that inevitably always trip me up.  Really, I’m usually speechless once or twice in every class.  At least it’s entertaining.

I imagine there’s really no good answer or way to go about it.  I’ll keep trying things until I find the one that really resounds with them.  I just hope I don’t have to resort to bribing them.  And if that’s the case, I’ll probably need a raise.  Any suggestions?

Kolter

A Tour at the Akron Art Mueum

Students in front of the Akron Art Museum

A few weeks ago, one of my ESOL students asked if we could take a trip to the Akron Art Museum.  Now, since we don’t have buses, I am sometimes nervous about going on field trips (Plus, perhaps insanely, if I drive, I worry about being liable), but since the museum’s just across the street, in this regard, it couldn’t be in a better location.  The problem then became all about money.  As you probably understand, not all of Project Learn’s students can afford to pay the $7 entrance fee, and since I don’t have a degree in Art History and skipped a few too many class in Intro to Humanities, I figured we’d probably need a tour guide to make the trip worthwhile and educational.  But this would only add to the amount my students would have to pay.  But luckily, the museum offered to provide students, staff, and volunteers with a free tour and admission. 

All in all, the trip turned out to be a great success.  Eleven of us (ESOL and GEN Y students, one volunteer, and I) attended, and one of my GEN Y students even brought a friend and her family.  The guide was great, and I think that everyone who attended it enjoyed it.  My ESOL students got to practice their English, and my GEN Y students learned quite a bit about Art History.  I’d like to thank the Art Museum staff for their generosity and services they provide to the community and for all the help you’ve given our students.