Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Curriculum Alignment

An important goal of our CDCP Noncredit Certificate of Completion program (i.e. our NESL 301 to NESL 304 sequence) is to get our noncredit students into (better) employment or a college major.

At recent statewide faculty forums organized by the Board of Governors Task Force for Jobs and the Economy, it was pointed out that a topic missing from the thread of structured career pathways is how to align basic skills curriculum, including ESL, with workplace skill requirements. ESL faculty at the listening events expressed frustration that current ESL curriculum still feels a bit too irrelevant.

Not coincidentally, some more academic-oriented ESL departments of community colleges have sought to bring their ESL curriculum in alignment with their English counterparts. LA City College is one such example. Dr. Lane Igoudin, who teaches at LACC, has just published an article in CATESOL News to describe a few strategies for aligning ESL with English. Click here to read more.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Do the Right Thing by Investing in Others

Could money buy happiness? Spending it on others might well be the answer as the benefits are mutual. Such is the gist of this TED talk I watched recently.
A year-old Atlantic monthly article, How to Succeed Professionally by Helping Others, further suggests that those who empower others also help themselves succeed professionally. See the last vignette about Allen in particular. Talk about positive interdependence!

These two resources have obvious implications for student engagement and retention as well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

From Spoken Language to Academic Writing

How to teach our Generation 1.5 and other ESL students to stop writing the way they talk for the academic world? At a recent teaching conference, our colleague Jorge Villalobos identified a smart way that focuses on modifying vocabulary, especially those ubiquitous qualifiers (e.g. basically, a lot, etc.), repeated words, and reporting verbs.

In the latest issue of a Cambridge newsletter, author Nigel Caplan offers another smart way: use more adjective clauses. His article can be accessed here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Involving Learners Before They Quit

Between trends that future generations will insist on solutions to accumulated injustices and problems and intellectual capital for knowledge creation will become the primary value in society, 160 educators, including a sizable entourage from our dept., gathered on Sat. for Palomar's second annual active learning conference.

Keynoter Dr. Alan Daly of UCSD got everyone started by equipping them with a positive attitude. He opened with an activity where participants asked someone they had not known before for his or her strength. He wanted all people to be part of a connected community that cares about each other, learns from each other, and thinks outside of the box in order to effect changes for the common good.

Our very own Katrina demonstrated a system where she divided her students into random groups by using color index cards and facilitated a process of developing group tests to exchange with other groups. This testing method will not trigger a negative reaction from the students because there are no trick or mean questions from a teacher.

Jorge Villalobos, who now teaches ESL 102 as well as English 50 and English 100, shared his own way of engaging his generation 1.5 student writers, who typically don't see the differences between spoken language and academic writing and couldn't care less about learning grammar and usage. He came up with a nicely-worded 5-rule strategy set to help his students develop their own awareness of the need to write clearly and concisely. Unlike Katrina, Jorge divides his students into groups in a very strategic way when they do peer reviews. A group will be designated to look at grammar, another group at punctuation, still another at meaning, etc. Members of a group are chosen based on their demonstrated strengths or needs.

Suzanne Woodward, another ESL colleague and a popular presenter, showed participants three new ways to force students to do reading homework and then engage with their classmates in the next class period.

Question Exchange 
Upon reading an assigned article as homework, students must write a question on an index card. In the following class period, the teacher can collect the cards and pass them out randomly for answers. Or students can mingle and ask and answer the questions. With each new partner, they exchange the cards they have after their Q and A rendezvous. A variation of this activity is for the students to create two cards - one with the question and the other with the answer. In the classroom, the teacher collects both cards from all and redistributes them for a matching game.

Three Questions
This is an activity that is totally different from the one above. Students are to write three different questions on their cards:
  1. factual comprehension question
  2. opinion question
  3. extension question, i.e. one about something not in the article read, but related to the topic
In the next class, the teacher puts students in groups, collects the cards from each group, and redistributes them to a different group for answers.

Students write a summary of what they read. In class, they turn in their individual summaries to the teacher, then get into groups to rewrite a group summary without referring to the original article (or their individual summaries, which have been turned in). They then must negotiate with group members regarding what info to include and what to leave out. Both individual and group summaries receive points.

Angela and Sheri also presented about our student mentor program.

What the participants learned were ways to motivate and empower our students so that not only will we not lose them, but they will become confident enough to take responsibility for their learning at school and beyond.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Free Materials for Financial Literacy

If you are looking for free materials to teach financial literacy, just click here. The URL is Some of the downloadable materials even come in Spanish.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Using Mindfulness Techniques in the Classroom

Professors Ranjeeta Basu and Jennifer Jeffries of CSUSM shared several contemplative techniques at a teaching conference on their campus on Friday.

Why Am I Here?
This is a deep reflection practice, most suitable as a semester opener. You instruct your group to close their eyes, then take deep breaths, and think about their answer to the question, "Why are you here in your seat at this moment?" After a while, you ask them to think deeper, with this question, "Why are you really here?" After another while, you ask them to think even more deeply - "Why are you really, really here?" The whole self-reflection process takes no more than 5 minutes total. You then instruct your group to slowly open their eyes and, if they want, find a neighbor to share their answers. To wrap up,  invite volunteers to share their answers with the whole class. It is OK if people do not want to share their answers, say, at the deepest level, for whatever reason.

Study an Object
Prof. Basu, who teaches international trade and wants to drive home a key concept, enjoys giving this attention-strengthening exercise.

You start out by telling your students to study an object. It could be something on them, in their pocket, in their purse, around the room, on their desk, etc. You tell them to examine it very carefully, even using all their senses.

Then, you tell them to close their eyes or use "soft eyes" and focus on the mental image of their chosen object. You then help them to connect to the object by asking questions slowly and providing ample time for silent answers:
  • Who gave it to you? Did you give it to yourself by buying it at a store? Did someone give it to you as a gift? Why? Where? Do you remember what happened that day?
  • Who made this object? Can you see a real person at the beginning of the production line for this object? Is it a man, a woman, a child? What is the surrounding like?
After you finally instruct your group to slowly open their eyes, invite them to share. By the way, Prof. Basu's point for her class is that international trade is not about goods; it is about people.

Body Scan
This technique shows how you can concentrate your mind. You instruct your students to close their eyes and slowly put their mental focus on a bottom-up journey by following your verbal cues. First, they focus on their toes, then their arches, their heels, their shins and legs, their hips, their abdomen and lower back, their chest and upper back, then their fingers, their lower arms, their upper arms, their shoulders, their neck,  their head, and finally the top of their head. I think as an added benefit, this could be a fun activity for our lower-level students when they learn the vocabulary of the body parts.

A Couple Minutes of Silence
This simple technique works to bring the class to the present. We know students have to be here, not in the past, not in the future, but here with both their mind and body in order to be learning.

A Love Affair
Ask your class, "Have you ever been in love?" Some would chuckle. Some would feel embarrassed. Some would say yes. Some would say no. But you tell them it could be love for anyone. You then tell them to close their eyes and imagine that person that they have been in love with or they would like to be in love with. You should see smiles on their faces. You then ask them to share their feelings. Invariably, you will hear such positive emotions as excitement and passion. You then ask them to transfer that love to your class, pointing out that one cannot learn anything well without passion.

Just Like Me...
We have true compassion, but in charged situations, we often resort to our habitual patterns in life (complaints, confrontation, etc.). For example, when a student accuses you of unfair grading, you can control your own emotional reactivity by starting your thought process like this, "Just like me, the student doesn't want to be humiliated in front of others." You will then be able to offer to sit down with her to go over the rubrics and where she really fell short with her, along with a second chance for her to redo her work. Your approach is one without a lowering of standards but with empathy.