Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

More Review, More Repetition

by AJ

Learning Spanish is helping my teaching. As a language learner, I readily recognize the need for lots of repetition. I just finished the last chapter of "Las Puertas Retorcidas". In a standard Spanish class, Id quickly be pushed into another book. In traditional school, its always more more more. These classes are typically concerned with speed and breadth of coverage. They try to fit in as much new vocab and as many new grammar rules as possible in a limited amount of time. As a result, the student is exposed to many concepts, but acquires very little actual language.

Rather than rush ahead, I plan to spend another couple of weeks thoroughly reviewing Las Puertas Retorcidas. By "review", I mean I will continue to listen to the audiobook, continue to read along with the audio, and continue to review words/phrases that havent quite "stuck" yet. I want to feel a sense of master over the material before moving on.

As children, we naturally take this approach. I can remember my Mom reading Dr. Suess books to me constantly... the same ones. I must have heard "Green Eggs and Ham" over 100 times. Then, of course, I started to read on my own. I followed the same approach, often reading my favorite books every single night.

It was the same with movies I liked. When the original Star Wars first came out, I saw it 13 times at the theatre! Then I bought a record and book for the movie.. and would listen and read along over and over and over again.

In middle school, I read Tolkein's The Hobbit three times in one year, and all the rest of The Lord of The Rings.

This kind of repetition helps us absorb the language.... including new words, new structures, new phrases.

Yet, as "serious" adult students and teachers, we often shun this kind of repetition. We are often obsessed with quantity-- more books, more tests, more word lists. Its a shallow approach that yields weak long term results.

And so, Im steadily building more repetition and review into my classes. I keep a new vocab/phrase wall in class... which holds up to 300 words. Every day I review the most recent 20-40 items,... and occasionally review all of them.

Many items come from using the movie technique. When using movies, not only do I show each scene at least three times, I often will re-show long sections. For example, today we re-watched the first 45 minutes of About a Boy. The students had already "studied" this section, and we'd already reviewed the new items from it multiple times. But still, they benefited from once again seeing all this new language in context.

Its common in language education to think of children as being more gifted language learners than adults. Its often assumed that there is a genetic or mental defect that makes language learning more difficult for older students.

But I dont think this is the case. Rather, I blame the teaching and learning approaches favored by most adults. Its not that adults can't learn languages well, its that they have let pride, ego, fear, shyness, or other hangups cause them to abandon the learning strategies that work best.

As Dr. J. Marvin Brown wrote, "You dont need to learn languages AS a child, you simply need to follow the approaches USED BY a child".

San Francisco, CA

Friday, May 26, 2006


by AJ

I feel like Im slowly building momentum with my Spanish studies. In the beginning I found it difficult and somewhat frustrating. But with the current approach Im using, Im enjoying it more and more. I feel a sense of empowerment as I gradually understand a little more each week. And I feel no stress because at this beginning stage, Im focused solely on reading and listening. No pressure to speak or write. That will come later, after Ive absorbed much more of the language.

Essentially Im using the approach recommended by The Linguist. Here is my typical daily schedule:

40-60 minutes of Listening
10 minutes of reading
10 minutes review of vocab/phrases

When I listen, I usually do the following:

First I review the last 5-10 chapters in Las Puertas Retorcidas. These are chapters that Ive already read and listened to previously. Usually Ill listen to them again, each day, 1-3 more times.

Next I listen to the day's new chapter. After one listening, I listen and read at the same time.

Then I find the words/phrases I dont know. I use the word list & translation to find their meaning if its not obvious from context. I write down these words and review the list a few times.

Then I listen to the chapter repeatedly for the rest of my daily listening time. I put my ipod on repeat... so the chapter plays over and over and over again. As long as I can, I listen intently... often reading along at the same time. When my mind starts to wander I take a break. But later in the day I will pop in the earplugs and repeat listen.

Sometimes this is done with concentration. Sometimes its more background listening as I walk around.

I now have two more chapters left in the book. Once I finish it, Ill probably take a couple of weeks and listen to the entire book each day... reading along when possible.

Then Ill move on to other material.... probably Teresa Sanchez's SSL podcasts!

San Francisco, CA

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Repeated Listening Power!

by AJ

The final piece of the puzzle. The Linguist has shown me what was missing at AUA's "Listen First" (ALG) Thai program. They were close. Very very close.

But what they missed was the power of REPEATED listening. At AUA we listened for hours everyday. The content was fun and interesting. But the problem was there wasnt enough repetition. Every hour, a new set of teachers came in with a completely different topic. I enjoyed the classes, but progress was painfully slow. So slow that I eventually gave up (after 600 hours of class time).

With my current Spanish study, and with The Linguist, you not only listen a lot.. you listen to the (exact) same content over and over and over again. Ive listened to some chapters of "Las Puertas Retorcidas" at least 35 times... maybe more.

At first I thought this would be boring. But its not. Why not? First, the content is interesting to me. Its a ghost story that I find enjoyable. Second, I love the repetition because each time I understand a little more. Therefore Im eager to listen again and keep improving. Its very exciting to listen for the 30th time and understand almost everything... then remember how I could barely understand anything the first few times. Of course, eventually I will move on to something else. Ive only got a few more chapters left in the book.

Then Ill find something else and read it a few times, then listen and read at the same time, then listen, listen, listen, listen, listen repeatedly... 35 times, 50 times, however much it takes to understand (without total boredom :)

So my advice to language learners is this: Focus on listening,... and LISTEN TO THE SAME CONTENT MANY MANY TIMES (30-50 or more). That repetition is very powerful. It will improve your comprehension. It will improve your speaking. It will improve your grammar. It will improve your vocabulary.

If only Id known this when I was in Thailand. I would have taped an hour or two of class... then listened to that recording repeatedly. This approach would have dramatically increased the power and efficiency of AUA's method.

Oh well. At least its working now, with Spanish.

And damn, it feels good!

San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Linguist System

by AJ

Ive had a chance now to play around with The Linguist's system and Im impressed. I think its a great way to learn a language.

As a tutor/coach, my job is to lead group discussions (using Skype) and also to have short 1 to 1 conversations with students. I like Steve Kaufman's philosophy... he considers encouragement to be the number one job of the coach. In other words, he recognizes that emotional factors are THE biggest obstacle to success. An optimistic way to put this is-- a great attitude is THE key to language learning success.

In addition to leading discussions, Ill also be correcting/rewriting student's essays. This approach reminds me of the "focused rewrite technique" used by Dr. Ashley Hastings. The idea is that simple corrections are not helpful because they provide very little input. Therefore, the teacher not only corrects mistakes, s/he replaces the mistakes with CORRECT PHRASES OR SENTENCES that are common to proficient native speaking writers. Its a very small and simple distinction, but important. Important because the student not only learns what was wrong, but also learns how better to say (write) what they were trying to communicate.

The Linguist encourages students to save these new phrases and review them often.. thus absorbing them into their knowledge base.

Though all of the above are nice features, truth be told, its the teacher-less aspects of the system that most impress me. Students can, at any time of day or night, access a huge library of reading and audio material. This material is seamlessly connected to an online dictionary. While reading, the student needs only to highlight an unknown word in order to find its meaning (in both English and their native language).

Furthermore, the student can then, with one click, save this word to a personal database. This database saves not only the word, but multiple examples of the word in context. These examples are drawn from material the student is reading or already has read.

All of this reading material is also available in audio form... which students can download to an MP3 in order to listen repeatedly throughout the day. At home on the computer, they can review their saved words and phrases, choose & read new material, save new words/phrases, and then download the new article's audio file.

The Linguist gives the student maximum learning for their time and effort.

As such, I think Im more excited to join as a Spanish student (coming soon) than as a teacher !!!

San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 22, 2006

Illusory Comfort

by AJ

As I slowly progress with Spanish, Im beginning to understand the appeal of grammar-translation for so many students. In a nutshell, grammar study is comforting. It gives one the illusion of understanding and mastery.

When I first studied Spanish.. way back in High School.. I did "very well". In other words, I got straight A's. I got A's on all the tests. Everything was very clear: Know the grammar "rules", memorize the chapter's vocab, cram for the test. No ambiguity. After a year of this, I had virtually no understanding of spoken Spanish, nor could I speak it or write it. But hey, I had good scores on the tests.

My current approach to Spanish is much messier. There is a lot of ambiguity. As I listen to "Las Puertas Retorcidas" there are many words/phrases I dont understand. Even when I review these phrases, I often have trouble "hearing" and understanding them.. even after many repeated listenings of the same chapter. If you gave me a test now, I might not do very well.

And yet, I feel Im making more real progress. Each week, my understanding does improve a bit. Old chapters now seem pretty easy. I "hear" more words and phrases... and I understand more of the overall meaning. Ive gained more of a feel for different verb tenses, reflexive verbs, prepositions, and direct/indirect pronouns. I cant really explain that improvement in terms of grammatical rules. Im not yet ready to put that greater "feeling" to use in speech or writing. But I notice it when I read and listen. I "get it" a little more.

In a much more general sense, Ive also noticed that Spanish is sounding a little less alien to me. It still seems like it will never seem "natural",... but it seems far less different and "other" than it used to.

These are promising and encouraging developments.

But they are vague and ambiguous. They lack the neat simplicity of mastering a single grammar rule on a standardized test. Grammar-translation may be piss-poor as a learning approach,... but it does provide students with a comforting illusion of logic and neat, linear progress. That, I imagine, is its primary appeal.

San Francisco, CA

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Vital Importance of Listening

by AJ

In many traditional language courses, listening is neglected. Great emphasis is put on memorizing grammar rules. A great deal of reading is done.

In communicative classes, speech is also emphasized. But for some strange reason, listening is rarely stressed.

And yet, in my opinion, listening is the most VITAL part of learning a new language. Listening is how babies initially learn their native language. Listening is where speaking ability comes from. Listening is (mostly) how you rewire your brain for the new language.

Yes, we all want to speak. But speaking is an outgrowth of input-- reading and listening.

Therefore, I always advise my students to LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN as much as they can outside of class. I encourage them to download podcasts from ESL pod (and others). I encourage them to buy a DVD of a TV show they like... and watch the episodes again and again and again.

Happily, this is not just a case of "do as I say and not as I do". In fact, listening takes up the bulk of my Spanish study efforts. I also read a fair amount... but listening is by far the activity that I spend the most time on.

Up until recently, I have not been nearly consistent or intense enough with my efforts. However, over the last two weeks Ive increased the time I spend listening to Spanish.. and Ive suddenly noticed a big jump in comprehension! Im understanding far more of the content... the recordings no longer sound like a long stream of gibberish.

I should note that when I say "listening" I mean repetitive listening. You need to listen to the same content many times. The first time you listen to something, you may not understand much. But if you read the same content and find the meaning of unknown words... then listen to that content multiple times everyday.. you will find that you rapidly begin to understand it.

Once that happens, something else magical happens. A few of the words and phrases begin to stick in your brain... with no effort. This has just begun to happen with me. Im walking along and suddenly a Spanish phrase from "Las Puertas Retorcidas" pops in my head:

"Te lo suplico", "ayudame", "dame tu mano", "me pongo de pie", etc...

Steve Kaufman of The Linguist has this to say about Listening:

"All forms of listening will help you improve your listening ability. However, it is best to listen to the same content many times. This way the new words and phrases will become a part of you. If you are also studying new words and phrases in our system, you will start to notice them while listening. Soon you will be able to use them. They will become a part of you.

If you do a little bit at a time, you will be surprised how quickly it adds up to an hour. Remember that the time spent listening replaces time in a classroom. You have more freedom if you take your listening with you. This is more useful than a lot of classroom study. Listen often to content that you basically understand. Read the texts from time to time. Also make sure that you review the words and phrases that you have saved. Then listen again."

Good advice.

San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Linguist

by AJ

I am now an English coach with The Linguist and am very excited about it. The Linguist is an excellent system for learning English (and in the future, other languages).

The Linguist offers a huge library of authentic English content (reading AND listening) combined with an online dictionary and powerful tools for saving and reviewing words & phrases. The Linguist also offers a personal tutor (me!), internet discussions with a tutor (group or one on one), and writing analysis and training.

I think this system is far superior to traditional English language instruction.

For a free trial, visit my Linguist page and click on "Start Trial Now".

When creating an account, add my email address (ajhoge(at)gmail.com) as the referrer.

Good luck!!

San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Spanish Update

by AJ

Just thought Id provide another update on my ever-so-slow Spanish learning efforts :)

At the moment Im working through a book called "Las Puertas Retorcidas" (The Twisted Doors)... Ive mentioned this book before. Im now almost 3/4 of the way through it. I fell off the wagon last week, but am back on my chapter per day schedule. Typically I listen to the previous 5 chapters a few times,... then I listen to the new chapter for the day.

After listening to it, I read it and look at the word list in order to learn the new words. I then listen and read at the same time... several times. Then I might back up and listen to 4 or 5 chapters again, including the newest one.

In this way Im slowly moving through the book. Its a pleasant story, so it doesnt feel like too much work.

As a supplement to Las Puertas Retorcidas, Im also listening to the Espanol Para Todos (Spanish for All) podcasts. So far Ive listened to two of them... following the basic approach above (listen, then read, then listen & read).

After getting encouragement from Steve Kaufman, Im trying to relax and not put too much pressure on myself. After all, when training for a marathon, consistency is the key!!

San Francisco, CA

Corrections, Suggestions, Confidence

by AJ

Correction is a touchy subject in teaching. Most teachers.. AND STUDENTS... believe it is a necessary thing. Teachers believe they should correct mistakes and students often state they want their mistakes corrected.

Of course this seems logical. Feedback helps us to learn, adjust, and improve.

But correction is a very, very, VERY tricky thing. Unfortunately, most of the time it does not have the desired effect. Rather, in my experience correction usually results in diminished confidence, with little to no improvement in accuracy. After a few corrections, the student becomes paralyzed by an obsession with mistakes. They begin to closely monitor every utterance.

Correction can also disrupt communication if the teacher is constantly interrupting the students speech. This produces a very artificial communication situation.

Correction, however, is not only an issue in English language teaching. Its a huge issue in management. When, where, and how should we "correct" people we work with?

In my view... very rarely and only under specific circumstances and in a certain way. In general, Ive found it is much more powerful to catch people doing something right. Genuine praise.. and a genuine focus on strengths.. is a far more powerful approach. By focusing on strengths, you build the person's confidence. You build their enthusiasm. Confident and enthusiastic people work harder, take more initiative, take more risks, and improve faster.

Confidence building is the number one priority of the teacher and the manager. Youve got to help them find effective strategies and then encourage them as they learn how to implement them. Typically, I ignore most mistakes. I obsess over successes.

However, there does come a time when correction can work without undermining confidence. Correction can work with people who are top performers... your most confident team members. These people are risk takers and they arent afraid of failure. They are often open to, or eager for, constructive advice.

But even so, you must be careful. Too much correction done in the wrong way can quickly produce resentment or undermine confidence in even the best performers.

With these folks, I prefer to use the "Captain Picard" (of Star Trek) method. If you watch the show, youll see good examples of how to correct someone. When Picard makes a correction, he does so directly... making sure the person understands that it is the specific performance (and not their general ability) that he's correcting.

But he doesnt stop there. He always finishes with strong, genuine compliments. For example, "Im disappointed with your performance on this task. You need to put in more time and plan more carefully. You are a tremendous officer who is admired by the crew. You are doing a fantastic job overall and I couldnt do without you."

In an English class, the same approach works. When correcting confident students, always keep it very specific and ALWAYS follow the correction with a genuine strength... ie. "In this case, you need to add 'the' before the noun. Your pronunciation is excellent and your speaking is very clear".

I know this will seem like overkill to some, but believe me, it makes a difference. We must understand that the greatest barriers to fluency have nothing to do with linguistics or theories. The greatest barriers are emotional and attitudinal. Students give up because they feel frustrated, incompetent, lost, or foolish.... not because they fail to master the past perfect tense immediately.

Therefore, its imperative to attend... in fact, to over-attend to students' emotional and attitudinal well being.

San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 15, 2006

Not To Be Underestimated

by AJ

As Tom Peters say, certain people just have leadership power. These are the people who walk into a room and immediately increase the energy and enthusiasm of everyone inside. They may or may not be extroverted, or dramatic,... but something about them is encouraging and uplifting.

Of course, we all know people who are exactly the opposite (somehow these people always end up in management)-- people who have a knack for deflating enthusiasm, discouraging passion, and sapping energy.

In teaching we employ a lot of jargon and nonsense about our roles. But our most profound role is probably quite simple: Inspire people to keep going.

I was reminded of this by a Skype conversation today with Steve Kaufman of The Linguist.

He didnt say or do anything overtly dramatic. And yet, after talking to him I felt a surge of enthusiasm for studying Spanish. I felt encouraged. I realized I could do it. He inspired me to keep at it. He's one of those gifted leaders that Tom Peters talks about.

Isnt that the first and best role of a teacher? After all, the student must ultimately do the work. THEY must learn the vocabulary. THEY must connect with the language and culture. THEY must put in the hours, days, months, and years of reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

We can help them find effective and efficient strategies. But most importantly, we can encourage them to be their best. We can build their confidence. We can ease their frustration. We can fire their enthusiasm.

The rest is up to them.

San Francisco, CA

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Teaching" Speech

by AJ

This week Ill will start to "teach" speech to my advanced students. "Teach", however, is an inaccurate word. When I teach students speech, I do it in much the same way I would teach native speakers. That is, I dont focus on pronunciation drills (minimal pairs, etc..) or other sorts of rote activities.

In fact, I rarely focus on linguistic factors at all. Rather, I teach the class as a public speaking class. My focus is on affective factors and presentation skills. We talk about how to prepare a speech, how to deliver a speech, how to make verbal communication more clear and effective.

In terms of preparation, I teach them the Dale Carnegie approach-- which is to NEVER use a script. Students prepare for a speech by having lots of conversations about the topic. By doing this, they gradually grow comfortable talking about the topic. They figure out what ideas they want to communicate... which stories pack the biggest punch.. and where communication may break down. I usually have them talk about personal topics they know very well (thus no need for "research"). Eventually, the student gives a two minute speech standing in front of the class.

At this point, my emphasis is on natural conversational speech. No memorized lines. No scripts. No notes of any kind (for short speeches). When I give feedback, I always focus on strengths and usually focus on their delivery. Did they seem relaxed and natural (even though they are most likely nervous)? Did they talk to us in a conversational way? What were the strong points of the speech? What went well.. what was clear... what was powerful... what held our attention?

The interesting thing is that by doing speeches in front of the class, most students actually improve their normal conversation. Why? Im not sure. But I think it has to do with confidence. Public speaking is scary as hell, even for native speakers. Once they realize they can deliver a strong speech in English.. standing in front of a group of people.. their confidence grows. Suddenly a normal conversation doesnt seem so intimidating after all.

And so this week, we (well, they :) will start giving speeches!

San Francisco, CA

The Teacher's Role

by AJ

This was my first week teaching the advanced students... and it went fairly well.

However, I find Im constantly thinking about one important question-- how can I maximize time spent in class... and use class as a spark to fire the students self-learning efforts.

In other words, what is the purpose of the class? These students are all advanced. They are capable of reading and listening on their own. Do they really need a teacher at all?

The honest answer is no. They dont NEED me.

I think thats an important point for most teachers to acknowledge, especially those teaching adults. Weve got to let go of this idea that we are somehow responsible for the students learning. We are not. There is absolutely no way you can make a student learn.

Whats more, if a student relies solely on classroom instruction... they will almost surely fail to learn the language. Class is not enough.

In the past, I thought of classroom instruction as the main component of language learning... and self-study activities as supplements. I now think the reverse. Self-study has got to be the central component...

I see the classroom as a means of community building. Its a place to recharge, to get encouragement, to share learning strategies, to play with the language in a relaxed environment. The teacher is a nice supplement, a resource tool who can answer questions and provide quick clarifications.

Another thing the teacher can do is to encourage self-discipline and effective learning approaches. Perhaps our best service is to teach the students efficient ways to use their language study time. Ive been devoting more and more time to this kind of activity. I often print blog posts from Steve Kaufman or Stephen Krashen or others.... then discuss the ramifications of their ideas to language learning.

Specifically, Im working to undermine their dependence on textbook-based classroom instruction... and instead point them towards authentic materials such as books, comics, newspapers, podcasts, audiobooks, TV shows, movies, conversations,.... This week we read Steve Kaufman's article about the ipod revolution... and discussed his assertion that the ipod could make traditional instruction obsolete.

There is a role for teachers. Hell, even Michael Jordan had a coach. But our role is dramatically shifting. Increasingly I see my role as that of a consultant or strategist.... Im much more concerned with helping my students maximize their own learning efforts than "giving" them every bit of English they need.

In the end, theyve got to find it themselves.

San Francisco, CA

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Tech Tutor

by AJ

I just found another great podcast for students that are learning English... its called The Tech Tutor

Check it out!

San Francisco, CA

Laughing English

by AJ

A couple of folks have recommended a new ESL site called Laughing English. Its a nice resource for teachers and a place you can post your own activity ideas. Check them out.

San Francisco, CA

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Bit of a Rut

by AJ

My first week with the advanced class went fairly well. Nothing special, but nothing terrible.

Its the nothing special part that bothers me. My rule of thumb is always to strive for dramatic difference... to go beyond ordinary. This week has been ordinary.

In truth, Ive hit a wall with teaching. Ive been grinding along doing the same things for a month or two now. I havent had any great ideas in a while. This is a situation that frustrates me. Its much like having writers block. How do you break out of such a rut?

One way is to talk to other teachers and professionals. For example, I got a shot of enthusiasm from the CA TESOL conference. But while other teachers are a good source of support, I find they arent usually a good source of innovation.

For innovation, its best to go outside.... WAY outside.. your field. What I need to do is start reading like a fiend and start reading in weird, fascinating, challenging fields. Ive got a Gregory Bateson book sitting on my desk unread. I could explore books on brain science, motivation, making presentations, selling, design, art, etc.

I feel compelled to do this because of a gnawing feeling I just cant escape. I feel Im not yet reaching my potential as a teacher. I feel good, but not great. I feel only a tad above ordinary, which is boring as hell.

And nothing frustrates me like boredom.

San Francisco, CA

Time, Energy, & Money

by AJ

Ever since starting my current job, Ive been stuck with a dilemma. Im teaching between 17 to 20 hours per week (in class hours). I consider 20 to be my maximum. Beyond 20, I find I lose energy and passion quickly. Under 20 and Im able to pour myself into each class and (most days) do a good job.

The problem is, Im paid hourly. For six months, Ive been just scraping by financially. Ive resisted the urge to look for another job because I love the school Im at. Ive tried to add a few more hours by doing projects like the school newsletter & social calendar... but honestly dont particularly enjoy these activities (and have therefore not done a very good job with them).

So now I debate with myself-- do I stick with this job, which I love, and resign myself to no paid vacation, no health insurance, and no extra money (for travel, for instance). Or do I seek a higher paying one (or more hours) with the likelihood that Ill enjoy it less and be less passionate in the classroom. Do I go for quality & freedom (as I have now) or do I go for more money (quantity)?

Its not an easy choice. But I suppose it cant hurt to send out resumes and test the waters.

San Francisco, CA

Monday, May 08, 2006

Advanced Class Day One

by AJ

Today went better than I expected. It was a relaxed day. Much of the beginning of the class was spent chatting and getting to know the students better. While doing this, I was also gauging their level.

After our chat, we made individual learning goals (I did mine with Spanish). I asked students to create both linguistic goals (ex. learn 10 new words each day) and also functional goals (use English to pass a job interview). Once students wrote their goals, we shared them one by one and I wrote them down. I then posted my list on the wall, to remind me of each students goals.

Im happy to say that all of their goals are compatible with my methods. Vocabulary (especially idioms/slang & academic), pronunciation, and essay writing were the three goals that seemed to predominate.

Vocabulary is no problem. Ill be reading the newspaper with them most days.. which should supply a wealth of vocabulary. If that proves too easy, Ill get more academic texts off the internet.. or from my own book supply. As for slang and idiomatic English... Ill be using movies again. We started "About a Boy" today. Its fairly easy for many of the students, but by moving quickly I was able to give them about 10 new phrases... and a good discussion topic.

Pronunciation is a bit trickier. Ill be working with reading aloud and movies.. encouraging them to mimic me or the characters in the movie. Ill also be encouraging them to make good use of their time at home by listening, listening, listening, and listening some more. Ill also work on oral presentation skills with this class. Theyll be giving regular mini-speeches to the class.

Essay writing will grow out of the newspaper articles. Ill used the focused re-write method: students will write a very quick first draft. Then theyll edit their own work. Then we'll pass the essays around, and each student will help to edit. As they come to me, Ill rewrite key sections using standard, clear, concise English.

Tomorrow I plan to address group dynamics issues.. particularly the issue of making sure quieter (or somewhat lower level) students get plenty of opportunities to participate. Otherwise, we'll launch into the basic routine.. starting with vocab review, then 30 minutes of textbook, then the newspaper, then mini-presentations, then "About a Boy".

San Francisco, CA

Saturday, May 06, 2006

"Process Discussions"

by AJ

Next week I begin a new class. Ive found, through experience, that its important to have a lot of discussions in the beginning. By "discussions", Im not talking about language conversation activities.

Rather, its important to discuss what will happen in the course. This is a period of communication and negotiation, in which the students and teacher together agree on goals, approaches, ground rules, etc.

Some of the topics I intend to broach:

* Individual Learning Goals
Ill have each student write about their individual English learning goals. This may be in terms of language specifics (learn 20 new words per day) or in terms of what they hope to do with the language (successfully pass a job interview in English).. or both. Once students establish these individual goals, I ask them to share them with small groups, and then the class as a whole. I also meet with them individually to discuss their goals.

* Discuss My Approach
I like to be up-front about my strengths, my weaknesses, my preferences, and my approach as a teacher. I want them to understand what I do and why. I usually bring research articles that discuss/support my approach, read them with the class, and discuss their implications. I dont try to convince them that my way is the best way... only that what I do is not based on a random whim.

* Discuss Their Learning Styles
Every student is different,.. so its important for the teacher.. and other students.. to understand each other. For one, this helps me predict possible problems (ie. a grammar-translation maniac is going to struggle with me, and vice versa) and address the issue head on.

* Discuss Group Dynamics
I like to have direct and frank discussions about class dynamics. I address the issue of dominant and quiet students, and tell them up front that I will strive to give every student opportunities to communicate. I let them know that this sometimes means that I must stop dominating students... and encourage quieter ones. I ask for their help to ensure that everyone gets to participate.

All of this takes time. I used to worry that it took too much time. But Ive found that time spent doing this in the beginning saves a mountain of time and aggravation down the road.

San Francisco, CA

Friday, May 05, 2006

Teaching Advanced Students

by AJ

After 6 months of teaching the low-intermediate students at my school, I will move on (next week) to teach the advanced class. I always find such shifts unnerving at first. You get into a certain groove with a class. You adjust to their level. You establish rapport. Things start to click and everything becomes more effortless.

Monday, Ive got to start all that over again. From what I hear from other teachers, the advanced students are VERY demanding-- strong personalities, more prone to complain, more challenging to teach. Ive got to establish rapport from scratch.

Ive also got to develop new approaches. Quite obviously, advanced students require a different approach than those at a lower level. As usual, it will probably take me at least a month to experiment, fail, reassess, etc... until I find things that work with them.

Initially I will try the following:

* Regular focused re-writes
Ill have students regularly write essays on various topics. Then we'll pass them around and edit them. Ill re-write key sections in standard American English. We'll then discuss the edits... and the topic in general.

* Lots of Free Voluntary Reading
Ill probably use the newspaper as daily reading & discussion practice. My idea-- each student will choose an article and read it. They'll then, alone or in small groups, work on any new vocab or grammar they dont understand (by asking each other, asking me, consulting a dictionary, etc.).

Each student will then give a short presentation about their article... summarizing both the overall story, and the new language learned from it. Following the presentation, they'll lead a short discussion about the topic.

* Regular Presentations/Mini-speeches
Almost every day I intend to have each student give a short mini-speech. Ill start with the Dale Carnegie "There I was..." approach, then expand from that as their abilities and confidence grows. I intend to use a lot of the activities I recently used with my very successful "Oral Proficiency" course (see previous course).

* Movie Technique with more complex Movies
Ill continue to use the movie technique, but will probably use more challenging material than "Friends". The first movie Im thinking of using is "About a Boy". I watched it recently and the vocabulary is a bit more complex than the usual movie/TV show.

* Book Club
I used a book club approach successfully at Thammasat University, and intend to give it a try again with this new class. Basically, each student chooses their own book... reads it... then gives a short presentation about it. I may have them write about it too. Ill probably devote 20-30 minutes of classtime for book club reading.

These are just my initial ideas. In addition to these, I intend to spend the first week having many conversations about their learning goals, my teaching style, classroom dynamics, etc....

San Francisco, CA

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Great Day

by AJ

Yesterday my "English Oral Proficiency and Presentation" class gave their final presentations of the semester and all I can say is, "WOW"!!!!

As I watched each student present, I thought back to their first few speeches of the semester. What a difference. So much more poise. So much more confidence. Their speech was much more natural... In fact, several students put me to shame... I found myself taking notes in order to improve my own presentations.

This kind of day makes teaching great. Its incredible to see your students make progress.. to be a part of that growth. Its a tremendous feeling. I love it.

These presentations taught me something else. When you get all that grammar-translation crap out of the way and stress communication, great things can happen. Great things! These students were lucky because the course description focused solely on making speeches and presentations. No textbooks. No linguistic study at all.

And yet, throughout the semester, they improved their speaking ability. They did so by focusing mostly on affective factors: confidence, relaxation, natural conversation (no scripts), relaxed body movements, and the use of audio-visuals. In short, they focused on communication-- specifically... on increasing the clarity and power of their speech. They all succeeded.

But as happy as I am, its hard for me to claim much credit. I did very little work in this class.... every week the students made presentations while I watched. I gave a few strength-based, positive, encouraging comments.... and thats about it.

In other words, the students did all the work, and reaped all the rewards.

San Francisco, CA