Archives for posts with tag: EFL

…and we’ve circled back.

This quarter, I’m teaching reading, and in some ways this is my actual dream. I love reading, and I’m still really excited to share this love with my students.

But we’re back to the baby-bird syndrome, something that I noticed in my grammar class during the first quarter (it’s now the third quarter).

In Grammar, I’d figured out that the way to wean the students from relying on me to directly spit my pre-chewed knowledge into their mouths was through self-directed companion worksheets. I made worksheets that they used to dig through the text to figure out grammar points on their own, and then they practiced mostly on their own.

When we went over the material, it was a lot of them telling me the treasures they’d found and me tweaking their understanding of the rules.

With reading, I suppose I haven’t quite found my groove, and I worry that it’s negatively impacting my students. I’m still in the trenches, and I’m doing my best to give them engaging material, to activate their schema and to practice what we’ve learned–but things don’t really seem to be sticking,

a fact that is definitely reflected in their test scores.

For a couple weeks, I had students doing silent reading in class every day, and we went over the tests together as a class. This seemed to result in a positive uptick in test scores, but I was worried that I wasn’t spending enough time on explicitly teaching everything in the course plan (we have course plans that detail the subjects/skills we should cover each week).

So, for a couple weeks, I dialed back the silent reading to once per week and stopped covering the tests in class.

This has resulted in a noticeable downswing in test scores. Of course, there’s also the chance that I’m not doing the right kind of practices, but to me it looks like the reading skills simply aren’t sticking.

So I think we’re going to go back to plan A–more silent reading, more discussion of plot for The Giver, and more explicit correction in errors. We still have two more quizzes for the quarter, and I’d like to see students’ test scores come up again before the final exam.

The students have told me that reading is getting easier for them, but I’m not seeing it reflected in an academic context and I’d like to.

That’s all, for now.

“I’m not like a regular teacher. I’m a cool teacher”–Me.

Life is mostly a lifelong exercise in turning the things that work against you into positives (sorry to wax philosophical). In my case, I know one of the things could work against me is my apparent youth.

I am 29 years old, and I teach at a university. I am definitely not the youngest professor here, but I’m young enough to have been asked in my interview how I would handle students who saw my youth as a way to undermine me in the classroom or as an instructor.

I wish I had known then what I know now, because I would have told my potential employers that if you wield it right, youth is a powerful tool that can connect me to my students.

In some ways, I feel like I have to tread lightly. I must be ultra fair and ultra consistent. When saying no, I fall back on my college’s policy a lot.

In others, my youth makes me extremely approachable, and I play this up in the classroom. As a result, students tell me about the latest trends; those trends then make their way into classroom materials, where students are usually amused/pleasantly surprised to have a teacher who is kind of sort of “in the know.”

This brings us to social media, that new hot ish that everyone is talking about. In my university, I am on the social media committee, so our team runs the university facebook and twitter pages, as well as the university snap chat.

After months of harassment, I have also given in and given my students my personal snapchat, and in exchange they have given me theirs.

It’s a given that social media is a great tool to boost communication, and a simple google search of social media in the classroom will give you pages and pages of results with both lesson plans and scholarly research.

The article Study of Social Networking Usage in Higher Education Environment states that social media was found to be useful in quickly disseminating information. It also found that participants were likely to use social media for entertainment, task assignment, exams and class rescheduling (Falahah and Dewi Rosmala, 2012).

I’ve added my students to my Snapchat account, and they’ve also had me create a Chubble.

Since then, the environment in both of my classes has noticeably improved. It is more warm in the classes–more personal. There are more jokes. In some ways, this has resulted in a more rowdy classroom. But in others, I’ve actually noticed an uptake in marks (correlation does not necessarily mean causation, but I think it’s worth noting).

In a language classroom, as a foreign language teacher, I am a novelty. And to be fair, they’re also kind of a novelty to me too. Our connections are forged through curiosity–a desire to see and show. My students want to see how I live, and they want to show me how they live. This is particularly powerful with some of the shier students–the ones who are quiet in class, or who seem disinterested. The tiny communications that we have outside of class show me more of their interests and allow us to have moments of connection. Although I never put anything they tell me into class material directly, knowing their interests, their senses of humor and the places they frequent all help me to create class materials that are just a bit more personal and that much more engaging. The students don’t want a whole lot of attention–they just like knowing that their teacher is available. That I care.

As a sidebar, since I have been using Snapchat, both the students and I have found that it is a much more easy and direct way to stay in contact. So far, my students have not abused this–they only use it to ask things that are (in their mind) urgent.

And I use it for things that are (in my mind) urgent as well. The other day, I made a mistake in their notes. Once I discovered the mistake, I wrote it on the board, snapped it with a little joke and sent the snap to every student on my list (all of them minus one or two). I was happy and excited to see them opening and screenshotting the note I sent.  If I had sent it via blackboard or Engrade, it would have fallen into the “teacher I didn’t get” abyss. With snapchat, the problem was noted and solved immediately.

In conclusion, I wrote this reflection to say that I have enjoyed using social medial with my students purely to be social. Students feel more invested in me and I feel more invested in them. This has had only positive results; (I am not an idiot) I am careful with what I post and we all enjoy the extra communication and connection.



A couple days ago, EdWeek published a blog entry about students’ mistakes–how they make them, and how the way teachers handle them can be helpful or harmful to the student. Although it seems the writer was drawing from his experience with younger, first language students, I still drew a lot of parallels to my experiences teaching English as a Second Language.

The gist of the article is that when we as educators rush to fill the gap of empty space where a student is struggling to find the correct answer, we leave him/her with several negative impressions:

  1. that if you’re quiet long enough, someone will swoop in and provide you with the right answer
  2. it’s not OK to struggle to find the answer
  3. you don’t have to take an active role in your own learning–it’s voluntary
  4. you don’t have any responsibility in this situation; just shut down and I’ll save the day.

I was immediately transported to my MA Tesol days, where we spent at least a couple of weeks discussing the pros and cons of various forms of error correction. Of course, recast was the lowest of the low–lock it in the closet for its ineffectiveness. We also have explicit feedback, which can sometimes fail to produce modified output; clarification requests (which I’ve actually had a lot of success with in getting students to “fix” their errors); metalinguistic feedback; elicitation; prompts; repetition; and translation (Rezaei, S.; Mozaffri, F; Hatef. A, 2011).

As a teacher, I often weigh in my mind the best ways to point out and correct errors to my students. I tend to have a lot of success with the “just pausing” level of elicitation, where I leave a gap of silence and let them work it out on their own. I teach Level 3, which translates to intermediate(ish) in a lot of cases, and at that level they have the ears to hear when things don’t quite sound right, even if they don’t always have the skills to form the perfect output–yet. In the same vein, I have found that repetition (combined with a bit of strategically placed inflection) also helps students to hear that what they said “sounds funny” and actually does result in uptake.

Still, in the classroom, as the Ed Weekly article said, we can’t help but to “feel” for our students, right? They’re kind of on the spot and they’re searching for the right word or answer…the clock is ticking..everyone’s eyes are on that ONE girl…and it almost becomes more merciful to just go ahead and supply the answer instead of letting them slog through the mental quagmire.

In my classroom, I often find students racing each other to supply the missing words and broken links, no matter how many times I remind them that I’m the teacher. I’m teaching in Qatar right now, and I think it could be related to the culture–here, it’s very big for students to “help” their friends (as opposed to it being some sort of competition between students, I mean).

In any case, we can all pretty much agree that when we race to provide the answers for students it doesn’t do them any favors–those answers don’t even stick as well as the ones students reached all the way back into their minds and dragged to the front do.

I know that going forward, I will definitely keep the Ed Weekly article in mind when I’m handing students’ answers, and I will try to foster a classroom culture where I encourage students to allow space for mistakes and for thinking. It is, after all, simply a part of the learning process.


Rezaei, S.; Mozaffri, F; Hatef. A; Corrective Feedback in SLA: Classroom Practice and Future Directions. International Journal of English Linguistics. Vol. 1 No. 1.; March, 2011

What do you do when you and your supervising teacher have completely conflicting pedagogies?

I am teaching English in South Korea right now, and I am firmly rooted on the affective learning side: that students do better when they enjoy themselves; that language processing happens with greater automaticity when the walls (and all that noise that comes with the walls of “i hate this/i’m not good at this) are down.

There is research to support my point of view.

Krashen’s Affective Filter Hypothesis, if you like to err on the side of Krashen, states that comprehensible input ( language that is juuuuuust above a learner’s current level) will not turn into acquisition (you won’t grasp and hold and internalize and use the language you were just exposed to) if it is filtered out before it reaches the brain’s language learning facilities. And in this case, the things that could filter it out are low self-esteem, anxiety, etc. 

Additionally, the Center for Applied Linguistics cites Rubin (1975) in suggesting “that good L2 learners are willing and accurate guessers; have a strong drive to communicate; are often uninhibited; are willing to make mistakes; focus on form by looking for patterns and analyzing; take advantage of all practice opportunities; monitor their speech as well as that of others; and pay attention to meaning.”

Although research has shown that it’s difficult for a language learner to be truly uninhibited, things like “positive self talk,” practice, and authentic language situations can combat their language inhibitions.

I think these factors are strongly effected by affective factors. In many language-learning environments, people find themselves afraid to use the language they’ve acquired because of fear of making mistakes or discomfort. However, I think that a comfortable classroom environment coupled with naturally engaging tasks can “get students talking.” I am a teacher who doesn’t care what you talk about–just say it in English. 

I believe that my job as a Native English Teacher is not to provide students with an Academic class–it’s to provide them with a learning environment that facilitates conversation. From there, it’s my job to do my best to help students understand rhetorical and semantic conventions of conversation with an American Native English speaker.

My coteacher, however, believes that language learning can only be achieved through blood, sweat, and tears. At least, that’s what I think she believes since every time I propose an idea she wants it to be more academic. She can’t see the point in teaching English through purely enjoyable activities. It must be difficult.

Now at this point, there are some things to consider. Whereas I am a linguist fresh out of graduate school armed with all my theories, my coteacher is a woman who has been teaching EFL for 17 years. Plus, she actually learned English in a foreign language environment, to the point where she now has achieved automatic processing of academic and conversational English.

On the other other hand, my coteacher is the exception for EFL students. I’m sure that she must have been a highly motivated English Language Learner to have reached this degree of acquisition. Many of our other students are competent English test takers and fairly decent English writers, but when I stop them and ask them what they’re looking at in the halls, that is when they freeze up.

What I’ve learned as a teacher in my four-month stint, however, is that difficult for the students pretty much means difficult for me. Tedium for them means tedium for me. A class they hate = a class I hate.

And who benefits from a class everyone hates? Especially in an environment that is supposed to encourage language flow and language processing with a Native English speaker? 

I’m not quite sure how to articulate this to my supervising teacher, but after reading up on it a little more, I am more confident that there is a method to my language-teaching pedagogical madness. Any thoughts?