What My Adult ESL Students Ask to Be Evaluated on and The Challenges in It For Me

About half way into the past semester, I asked my students what they wanted to be evaluated on.  Certainly, I had my objectives for their learning, the department and the college had their own lists of core abilities for all courses, and the state and federal governments had their standards for student success. But, I wanted my students to discern what they collectively thought should be emphasized in my class. They made a list of five major areas of focus for the semester.

1. Daily classroom participation: This is a catch-22 situation for the students because, while they don’t want their lack of attendance to jeopardize their grades, they want their participation to count toward their success. They clearly know that getting regular feedback on their communication is vital to developing their English skills as is, then, their daily attendance.  My challenge is to get them to come to class daily by providing them with a variety of stimulating learning activities, opportunities for daily achievement and success, and ownership of their education. It is also my challenge to make my course content accessible to the students regardless of their attendance and to offer them the opportunity to participate in ways other than face-to-face when necessary.

2. Interpersonal skills: This the students define as their ability to work in class individually, in pairs, or in small groups, respecting the rights and needs of their classmates and the instructor. My challenge is to clearly guide the process for each of the situations while providing the students with the opportunity to develop awareness of cultural, educational, and learning norms and differences in our student population.

3. Problem-solving skills: The students highlight this as a critical factor for success in the classroom and out. They define this skill as how students resolve their study issues, including completing their daily work, making up work/tests due to absences, getting information (including handouts) they may have missed, using study buddies, email or instructor office hours to get the extra attention they need to reach their targeted goals. My challenge is to help the students set their goals, clarify my standards and expectations, and work with the class on developing good study strategies and troubleshooting options.

4. Use of technology: I use Blackboard as a course management tool as does most of my college. I require that my students use it to access the course syllabus, weekly and daily coursework, handouts, and extra resources. Additionally, students take their tests on Respondus Lockdown Browser, a custom browser that locks down the testing environment within Blackboard. I communicate regularly with the students via Gmail. I also use other applications such as Audioboo, Facebook, Glogster, Twitter, VoiceThread, and YouTube. The students know the importance of technology in the workplace and they are discovering its value in their learning. My challenge is to have online tutorials for the technology I teach thereby enabling students to review at home what I’ve taught in class, and/or to get the instructions if they are absent. (I am aware of the fact that some of the savvier students are tired of assisting the others with the same technology issues day after day.) I also need to help the students become more technologically independent by setting stricter deadlines for achieving and demonstrating their competency on the different programs we use.

5. Last, but certainly not least, the students want to be evaluated on the English competencies outlined in their syllabus and course outcome summary. My challenge is to to offer a variety of projects allowing for different learning styles in which the students can creatively practice and demonstrate a higher level of English skills.

Interestingly, these students’ focus points align very nicely with our college’s core abilities (http://facultynet.matc.edu/erd/pdf/syllabustemps.pdf):

  • Communicate effectively.
  • Collaborate with others.
  • Respect diversity.
  • Demonstrate responsibility.
  • Think critically.
  • Use technology.
  • Apply math and science.

What do your students want to be evaluated on? It is a great discussion to have with them.

Part Two: A Rubric for Evaluating Student Performance and Objectives

Part Three: Students’ Standards for Instructor Evaluations

10 Reasons Why I Blog

Why do I blog?

1)  I blog to reflect on what I’ve done with technology in my ESL classes.

2)  I blog to record what I need to remember the next time I try doing something similar.

3)  I blog to share with my colleagues across the country and the globe what has worked for me as well as what hasn’t.

4)  I blog to let those who are attempting to incorporate technology into their ESL classes know that we don’t have to be  technology whizzes or experts to use it; we just need to have the will and the determination to see it through and make it work.

5)  I blog to make my school colleagues aware that all of this doesn’t come as easily for me as they seem to think it does.  I spend a lot of time trying to learn about what is available and how to use it in ways that are beneficial for my students.  I also make a lot of mistakes as I’m starting.  If I can figure it out, they can, too.  It’s not a special talent; it’s a desire.

6)  I blog to let others know that there are ESL and IT teachers worldwide who are willing to answer our questions if we just send them a tweet!

7)  I blog to share with my friends and colleagues something important that I have learned about using technology in my classes; I’ve learned that asking my students a technology question or allowing them to come to my rescue from time to time is not a sign of weakness. Yes, I go to class prepared, and yes, I work out the glitches I’m aware of before getting in the classroom.  But, if something does go awry, and a student helps me out of my jam, allowing that student to shine is a wonderful thing, not a sign of weakness on my part.  Also, by my students recognizing that I believe in lifelong learning, risk-taking in my learning, and forgiving myself my mistakes, I hope I am teaching them something even more important than English.

8 )  I blog because I want my students to write, and I want them to teach their children to write and their grandchildren to write.  I want my students to know that what I ask them to do is important enough for me to do it as well.

9)  I blog to remind myself and others that we are not islands in this field.  There are always new ideas, new tools, and new challenges, and that by encouraging new and seasoned teachers to work together, sharing ideas, developing new methodologies, and improving our craft collectively, we make our profession stronger and our students, wherever they are, better prepared.

10)  So, why do I blog?  Surprisingly, because I have learned to love blogging!  It is as fun as it is challenging.  I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction when I complete a post.  It provides closure for me in one area of my teaching and learning, and allows me to go on to try something new.

So this is why I blog.  Why do you blog, or… why don’t you?

In Language Teaching, Silence Is Golden!

Using silence as a technique for improving student communication and language development has always been important in second language acquisition.  Too many of us get nervous when our students stop speaking, and we jump in to fill in their blanks or to give them ideas to “energize” their train of thought.  Or, we allow other students to “help” their classmates by finishing their answers for them.  All of this does more harm than good; it creates too much “noise” to allow our pensive students to formulate their thoughts.  We have to teach our students not to fear our “teacher” silence but to understand that it is our way of respecting their right to think before answering, and of showing our confidence in their ability to respond to our question in the target language. Perhaps the students will communicate that they do not know the answer, or that they themselves have a question about what we are looking for.  But, their responses will be in the target language, and that is the main goal.  Teacher silence is golden.  It demonstrates trust in our students’ ability to learn to use their new language as well as trust in ourselves knowing that we are leading them on the right path to that learning.

Here is a link to an article by Jason Renshaw on his English Raven blog  that takes the “silent” strategy one step further.  I hope you will read it,  follow up by reading his second article,  Another Example of Enjoying the Silence…, watch the interview with Dr. Andrew Finch, an expert on ESL/EFL pedagogy and author of several ESL textbooks, and read the linked article  by Darren Elliot.  The discussion that ensues with ESL/EFL teachers worldwide is very stimulating and thought-provoking, and actually quite exciting!   Perhaps you will want to add your own thoughts!  Afterward, you may feel as I do, as though I was just lucky enough to have experts come into my home and share their knowledge and love of teaching ESL with me.

Guest Post 1: Dr. Marco O’Brien on The Lesson of Icarus and Fast Food Learning

Educational institutions and education decision makers are expressing a growing concern about the parity and overall value of online courses and degrees. The National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology (NCSPP) members, argue that some of these online courses and degrees should not be accepted.

Some days ago I attended the faculty meeting at a prestigious graduate school. The admissions committee expressed concern over how to evaluate online courses presented on students’ applications. I argued that rather than reject online courses the admissions committee should ask the applicant for evidence that the course/s meet the educational criteria required. The support for accepting the course is more difficult when the course reflects clinical or experiential work.

There is no doubt that online courses are increasing in number. Also, there is a real need being addressed by these online courses. A guide when addressing the differences between online and on-campus courses is to understand that in education, good learning involves the dynamic interaction between the teacher and students. This interaction will have a formative impact on the mind, character, and physical ability of the student. As a coordinator and a catalyst, the teacher is key when designing a course in the absence of physical contact with students. Some alternative processes and overall strategies which enhance the dynamic interaction of the teacher and student are requisite.

Good teaching makes use of the knowledge and experience of the teacher, the interest of the student, and of the content being learned. Online courses have the challenge of distance. The value of education in a university that offers quality, online courses can be compared to a food restaurant. The university’s gourmet online courses make full use of the teaching technologies by increasing the dynamic interaction between the teacher and the student. Learning takes place and the student learns content along with the ability to think differently. Online courses which limit interactions between teacher and students to reading the textbook before completing assignments and quizzes, become cookbook teaching with fast food learning; a student may gain content knowledge with little or no incidental learning.

At the same time, if online instruction relies solely on the growing technological tools without increasing regard for the quality of the teaching, a student’s incidental learning may be out of reach. When I think about online courses, and in particular the teaching side, I am reminded of Icarus’s experience. If the teacher’s giddiness with emerging technology like Blackboard and Google gadgets, gets out of hand, that teacher may forget the importance of the dynamic interaction between teacher and student, and fly—too close to the sun.

Daedalus fashioned two pairs of wings out of wax and feathers for himself and his son. Before they took off from the island, Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun, nor too close to the sea. Overcome by the giddiness that flying lent him, Icarus soared through the sky curiously, but in the process he came too close to the sun, which melted the wax.

Marco O’Brien, Ph.D. is a faculty member at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) and the Wisconsin School of Professional Psychology (WSPP). He has taught psychology courses, is in private practice, and does research in psychology, education and cultural diversity.  He has taught online courses for approximately ten years and has completed some research comparing factual and incidental learning differences between on-line and on-campus students (http://oncampus.matc.edu/obrienm/Technology/documents/essays_articles/Study_synopsys_narrative.pdf) that may be of interest.