Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Asking the Questions Right

ECC's Spacious Hall 
Exactly a week ago, several colleagues from our dept. participated in the fall PD Workshop hosted by the CATESOL's San Diego Chapter down at the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) of the Continuing Ed of SDCCD. A couple of the breakout sessions I went to had a common theme of asking all the right questions.

Dr. Virginia Loh-Hagan, a professor, author, and reading expert, spoke about the academic need for students to focus more on the text that they are reading. Why? She explains thus:
Text-based questioning is an essential skill set for teachers...since it is through text-based questioning that we level the playing field so that all students can be successful and gain both knowledge and skills. When we ask robust questions that require reasoning based on evidence in the text, we ensure that even those students who may not have privileged experience outside school can be successful in meeting the high [academic] standards.
Dr. Loh-Hagan advocates against the traditional teaching method of accepting the "right" answer of a student and then quickly moving on because this practice "leaves many students behind." Instead, teachers should engage all students "by conducting a whole-group instructional read-aloud, with discussion along the way - and not waiting until the end."

Further, questions that ask for personal responses should be avoided because they "draw students away from the actual text and [favor] personal stories which cannot be opposed or argued against." In lieu of the usual text-to-person-connection-type of questions, better ones invite the students "to examine their otherwise unchallenged assumptions" and guide them to go back to the text to form opinions that are text-based arguments.

As well, we should push for higher-order thinking skills in our questions. A question like "Who are the main characters?" is not on par with one that asks for a comparison or contrast between an important character in a text and another character in another text.

Dr. Loh-Hagan's insightful criteria for text-based questioning and practical examples were greeted with a big round of applause.

Perhaps not coincidentally, questioning was also one of Richard Weinroth's most favorite methods for teaching writing. In his ESL class, Mr. Weinroth delivers his prompts by dictation, but he adds his own clever twist. His prompts are in the form of questions, and when his students follow his questions, their writing becomes so much easier to manage. The questions also facilitate peer interviews when the assignment requires writing about another student.

The moral of the story here? Good questions generate good answers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Great Way to Bridge the Gap Between Book Learning and Real-World Learning

The latest issue of the "Grammar Teaching Newsletter" published by Cambridge University Press has this neat piece showing how easy it is to connect the grammar book learning with the real-world grammar noticing. Although the downloadable worksheet deals with modal verbs, the idea is applicable in teaching and learning other language points. Here is the link to the resource article:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Colleague Publishes New Book

Suzanne Woodward has just had her second resource book published. It is titled Conversation Activities to Really Get Students Talking (ISBN:  978-1-4575-2865-1; Publisher:  Dogear Publishing).

This is a book of conversation activities. The first chapter contains activities (frameworks) with examples, but a teacher can make up her own examples to talk about a specific topic. The other chapters contain activities on specific topics which can be used as is if the level is appropriate to the teacher's class, or the ideas can be used with questions or examples more appropriate to the level of the class.

The book is also available through any bookseller (Barnes & Noble, and Amazon), for example, or if several people want to order, Suzanne says she can get copies from the publisher. Congratulations are in order for our very creative colleague.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Did You Know...

that students no longer need to present a picture ID to check out materials at both the San Marcos and Escondido libraries? As long as the students know their ID number, they are good to go.  The library mentioned that they may bring up the students’ profile and ask them for their address to verify identity. Hopefully, the removal of this obstacle will get students to check out more books. Many thanks to Gary for bringing this news to our attention.

A Display in the Library

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Drama in ESL

(Posted on behalf of Sharon Hightower. Read to the end to find a surprise offer from her.)

My journey to the world of ESL was a circuitous route that started when I began hosting international students. Back then, we called them foreign exchange students, but I guess the term “foreign” has become politically incorrect. Nonetheless, they came from “faraway places with strange sounding names,” and the gypsy in me was intrigued: no – more than that – I was entranced.

I also wanted to host students because I knew I was raising my children in a lily white suburb much like the one I’d grown up in and I wanted to expand their horizons. I knew that travel broadens a person, but I suspected having “international” guests might be an education as well.

My very first exchange student was from Italy – Guiseppe, although he introduced himself as Joseph. He was shy and not at all what I’d expected. Nor was he much like the rest of his group who were flamboyant and outgoing. Although we visited all over, from Hollywood to TJ, he shared with me much later that his favorite time was sitting in our den watching TV. Years later, I had the pleasure of visiting him at his home in Turin – or Torino – where I was treated like long lost family. He took me to Rome where a friend of his, who introduced herself as a Roman, took us on the most amazing bicycle tour of the city where we saw all of the tourist sights and much that wasn’t in the guidebooks.

My very first female exchange student was from Japan – Kyoko. She was as fragile as a traditional Japanese doll, yet she was very high-spirited and fun to be around. She too traversed up and down the coast with us, and I also had the pleasure of visiting with her in her home outside of Osaka. Her mother and a couple of sisters took me on a wonderful tour of the northern mountainous region of Honshu. There’s nothing quite like seeing a place with a native as your personal tour guide.

I have hosted many exchange students over the years which, as I mentioned, helped open the door to a career in teaching, but it was one student in particular who showed me the value of drama in the classroom. And he did so directly via a non-stop, do-not-pass-go epiphany.

He was a Japanese student and he taught me that drama was an effective teaching tools years before I knew anything about teaching. He was young, about 18, and his name was Hideaki. And he was terribly, terribly shy. By then I was volunteering in the classes, and I felt so bad for him. He never raised his hand. He almost seemed to cower in his seat always near the back.  Even at home, he was reluctant to say much and hardly ever joined in any of our family activities even though my son, John, was almost the same age.

After a week or two on a hot July evening, I found myself not particularly excited about having to dress up three teen-agers and myself and go to the summer Halloween party the school was giving for the exchange students and their families. And I was getting impatient. My daughter and I were ready long before the two boys who were ensconced in the downstairs bathroom where – it turned out – John was busily transforming Hideaki into some kind of motor cycle tattooed gangster type. “Come on, you guys!” I said knocking on the door. And I had just turned away from the door when it flew open and someone jumped out with a karate kind of yell and landed in a grasshopper pose and darn near scared the daylights out of me. Brandishing a rubber knife he lunged at me and growled menacingly. “Hideaki?” I whispered.

When we got to the party, Hideaki’s classmates did not recognize him – not because his make-up job was so effective, but because he was in character. He was just not himself. No longer the shy, introvert, he went around greeting his friends and talking with their families. It was so crazy. Then, when the music started, he was among the first to ask a girl to dance. Can one use the word vivacious for a boy? He was “ON.” And his classmates were stunned. No one could believe that this was the shy almost backward boy who’d been in class that very morning.

I was amazed. And the most amazing thing was that the change was long lasting. The next morning at breakfast with the make-up off and the music only a memory, he was talkative and engaged. He spoke to everyone. He asked about making plans for the week-end. He was changed – like the caterpillar that becomes a butterfly, he had shed his cocoon. And though I wouldn’t realize it for some time, I was changed, too. I had learned a lesson that would last a long time.

Several years later, a former colleague of ours, Penny Bernal, and her friend, Lonny Burstein Hewitt, took four classic plays and rewrote them for the ESL student. And I ran into Penny this summer. It seems they’ve now combined the four plays into one book named Cool Classics and she graciously gave me a class set which I would like to share with you. They’ll be in the tutoring center later this week. And if you’d like any help getting started, just let me know.