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Category Archives: teaching

Two to look at

Students of ESL or EFL will find much to use on Real English. There is also an associated blog.

realenglish

The next is an Australian educational blog that came my way. It has much to offer teachers, especially but not only those dealing with very young students. I commend the ESL page, not merely because I get a mention but because it points to some excellent resources beyond ones I have so far noted. The literacy page is also very good.

rampantred

 

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Top 100 Language Blogs – Lexiophiles

I can’t say I was displeased when I received an email pointing to Top 100 Language Blogs – Lexiophiles because English/ESL has been listed there — at #75. I strongly recommend your browsing the list as some very interesting blogs may be found there.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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101 Ways to Cope with Teaching Stress | Smart Teaching

Here’s one for the teachers. It arrived via an email from one of the people involved with the US site on which it appears.

101 Ways to Cope with Teaching Stress | Smart Teaching

  • Stop smoking: That little buzz you get from a cigarette may calm you down temporarily, but the nicotine that’s blowing into your system will actually make you jumpy and over alert. In the long run, that’s not good news for your stress levels.
  • Minimize your caffeine: Teachers may thrive on coffee breaks, but consider cutting back to just a couple of cups a day. Even better would be to substitute at least one cup of coffee or soda for green tea. The tea can boost your immune system and contains less caffeine than coffee.
  • Eat breakfast: Eating a good breakfast not only boosts your metabolism, it also keeps you focused so that you’re more productive throughout the entire day.
  • Snack right: It’s easy to grab whatever snacks are in the vending machines or school cafeteria, but it’s also important to eat right while you’re at school. Physically, a diet of fatty, greasy foods will make you feel weighted down, bloated and tired, while your emotional state may be at risk too if you feel guilty about wrecking your diet.
  • Set realistic goals: As a teacher, it’s easy to get caught up in saving your at-risk students from failure or sponsoring every club each semester. Set realistic goals for yourself and you’ll be able to find a less stressful balance.
  • There’s your first five, and I’m afraid I passed only one. I won’t say which one. 😉 Too late for me now, but maybe some of you can profit from the advice.

    What’s more, a lot of it could be called “101 ways to cope with HSC stress” — so even students may care to look.

     

    Yes, there is a problem!

    I received an email the other day; naturally the first part I find very pleasing. 🙂

    I thought about creating an ESL blog for my students, but now conclude that this is not necessary as your site does it all. I passionately support all your ideas on this site and applaud your remarkable work. I am an ESL/English teacher in a … non-selective independent high school. Even though I graduated with HD from my uni ESL program five years ago, I have been using my scales and teaching ESL for only the last year and I am overwhelmed with the learning needs of my students. I am from a NESB [myself], but I do not speak the first language of the students.

    My school is currently going through a learning support review and I would like to seek your wisdom. The school has found that students entering from language colleges cannot cope with the demands of our curriculum. Some students have learning difficulties as well as a language barrier. What type of ESL delivery has worked best at SBHS?

    Well, I doubt how much wisdom I might have, but I am glad this site has met a need.

    To take the last part first: SBHS no longer has an ESL teacher, and I am retired aside from the odd job here or there, and some tuition work, but even when I was ESL teacher as SBHS we didn’t confront problems of the kind the writer mentions, as there were no overseas fee-paying students at the school and only very occasionally did someone come from an Intensive English school to us. Mostly they had already been a few years at least in an English-speaking educational setting. There were some students who had been speaking English for three years or less, however, who fell well within the five to eight years normally required to attain adequate levels of cognitive academic language proficiency.

    The writer is correct in saying that some “students entering from language colleges cannot cope with the demands of our curriculum”. I base this on my tuition work rather than on my work at SBHS. It does seem that there is a mismatch between the levels students from some private language colleges attain and the basic level needed even to function in a mainstream school environment, which I would say has to be at least Australian ESL Scales 4; 5 or 6 in some subjects, even in HSC English ESL, if a decent result is to be gained. I should add that many private colleges do an excellent job, and the NSW Intensive English schools for state school students are particularly good.

    Some schools have good ESL support structures; one that I know of actually runs its own ELICOS classes for newly arrived overseas students, affording limited or phased participation in mainstream classes until the right level is reached. Others have sufficient numbers of overseas students to allow targeted classes in mainstream curriculum designed for those students in many subjects, while others rely on traditional forms of ESL support such as regular presence of one or more ESL teachers in various curriculum areas, and cooperative planning of work units with the students’ language needs consciously addressed.

    There is an ESL strategy document available from the NSW Department of Education that gives many good pointers, but how effective a particular school can be depends on the human and other resources it can afford. You probably know it but here it is: English as a Second Language: Guidelines for Schools (PDF).

    One thing is for sure. Some schools may have, I believe, gone into the overseas student business, which is very profitable, without being fully aware of the social, logistical and educational issues involved.

    When I was at SBHS I tested all new students, gathered information about them, and assessed their needs from an ESL viewpoint. This material was shared with classroom teachers. Particular cases were discussed with teachers. Some students were interviewed and given some additional tuition in some cases. With some classes I visited in various subject areas, participating in some lessons. Sometimes teachers would refer certain issues to me. This blog in its original form was a way of reaching more students than I could personally.

     

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    More good educational/English Studies blogs

    Just had this email:

    I am a regular reader of your English/ESL–and more! blog and I have found your site to be an inspiration. I am a teacher of high school English at Katikati College in New Zealand and I have been blogging for about nine months…

    So I checked them out. I suggest you do the same.

    This one is for Year 13 students (New Zealand):

    katikati2

    This one is for other years, the majority of students at Katikati College.

    katikati1

    Students here will find many relevant articles and links.

     

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    English/ESL honoured

    I am really pleased about this. Go to Creating a Community of Writers Using Technology and you will find details of a March 7, 2008 Conference in Grand Rapids, MI.

    Activity 3 (30 min.): Show examples of blogs and evaluate how well they would add to the community of writers in the classroom; teachers can follow links while facilitators show the link on the screen.

    Thanks, people. Have a good conference!

     

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    Legitimate concerns about writing rubrics

    There is no doubt that some criterion-referenced assessment procedures and related documents such as the Australian ESL Scales can be extremely useful; one example of the latter in use comes from The New England (NSW) Girls School. A “cut-down” form I use myself is here, and it has proven very accurate.

    However, there are legitimate concerns about the use of writing rubrics. See for example The Trouble with Rubrics by Alfie Kohn (ENGLISH JOURNAL March 2006 — vol. 95, no. 4).

    Once upon a time I vaguely thought of assessment in dichotomous terms: The old approach, which consisted mostly of letter grades, was crude and uninformative, while the new approach, which included things like portfolios and rubrics, was detailed and authentic. Only much later did I look more carefully at the individual floats rolling by in the alternative assessment parade — and stop cheering…

    Consistent and uniform standards are admirable, and maybe even workable, when we’re talking about, say, the manufacture of DVD players. The process of trying to gauge children’s understanding of ideas is a very different matter, however. It necessarily entails the exercise of human judgment, which is an imprecise, subjective affair. Rubrics are, above all, a tool to promote standardization, to turn teachers into grading machines or at least allow them to pretend that what they’re doing is exact and objective. Frankly, I’m amazed by the number of educators whose opposition to standardized tests and standardized curricula mysteriously fails to extend to standardized in-class assessments.

    The appeal of rubrics is supposed to be their high interrater reliability, finally delivered to language arts. A list of criteria for what should be awarded the highest possible score when evaluating an essay is supposed to reflect near-unanimity on the part of the people who designed the rubric and is supposed to assist all those who use it to figure out (that is, to discover rather than to decide) which essays meet those criteria…

    I worry more about the success of rubrics than their failure. Just as it’s possible to raise standardized test scores as long as you’re willing to gut the curriculum and turn the school into a test-preparation factory, so it’s possible to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to give an assignment as long as they’re willing to accept and apply someone else’s narrow criteria for what merits that rating. Once we check our judgment at the door, we can all learn to give a 4 to exactly the same things.

    This attempt to deny the subjectivity of human judgment is objectionable in its own right. But it’s also harmful in a very practical sense. In an important article published in 1999, Linda Mabry, now at Washington State University, pointed out that rubrics “are designed to function as scoring guidelines, but they also serve as arbiters of quality and agents of control” over what is taught and valued. Because “agreement among scorers is more easily achieved with regard to such matters as spelling and organization,” these are the characteristics that will likely find favor in a rubricized classroom. Mabry cites research showing that “compliance with the rubric tended to yield higher scores but produced ‘vacuous’ writing.”…

    Maja Wilson has written a book on the subject: Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assessment . The fact it won a NCTE James Britton Research Award attracts me, and the chapter I downloaded looks very promising indeed. The gist of her argument may be seen here:

    So if you really do want to think about what rubrics, for all their uses, might miss, and whether what they miss could after all be very important, I suggest you follow these ideas and keep thinking…

    See Maja Wilson (PDF) Chapter One

    RELATED

    Right-wing education critique is historically inaccurate and perpetuates myths on my personal site quarrels about some relevant issues. It was written around the same time as this post. Teachers may be interested. As the title indicates, it is a bit of a rant…

     

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    Literacy controversies

    When you have been teaching as long as I have, and all up that’s over forty years, you should become immune to recurrent panics, usually political, media-driven, or coming from “educationists” with an axe to grind. But you don’t…

    The latest tea-leaf reading and teeth-gnashing has followed the publication of the PISA Report 2007 (PDF). I posted on that here. Recently too we’ve had the Australian Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2.

    However, there are, as always, many reasons to think about how we teachers could do better. Young People Seen Losing Love of Reading by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo appeared in the November 19 edition of the US online magazine Teacher Week.

    American youths are reading less in their free time than a generation ago, a statistic that bodes poorly for their academic performance, job prospects, civic participation, and even social well-being, a report by the National Endowment for the Arts says.

    Increasing use of electronic media is largely to blame for a decline in pleasure reading among young people, says the report, released today. But the failure of schools to instill a love of reading is also a contributing factor, according to endowment Chairman Dana Gioia.

    “The study shows that reading is endangered at the moment in the United States, especially among younger Americans … and not merely the frequency of reading, but the ability to read as well,” Mr. Gioia said in a telephone conference call with reporters before the report’s release. The emphasis in many schools on bolstering reading skills and preparing students for tests, he added, is insufficient for nurturing an appreciation of reading.

    “This functional approach to reading,” he said, “is not adequate to instill a lifelong love of the subject.”

    In a subsequent online ideas exchange a number of US teachers made suggestions, many of them similar to ideas you might hear in staff rooms or at conferences here in Australia. (By the way, in all those international comparisons, whatever it is they measure, Australia still outperforms the USA in literacy.) For example:

    Claudia, a secondary teacher:

    I have watched this conversation with interest, because for the past several years I’ve taught nothing but an elective, “Reading for Pleasure,” at my high school. We started small, one section per semester. Now, we run 12 sections, and could fill others if we had the teachers. In my school, there is a strong culture of reading—our media center is active and kids talk about their books. For the first nine weeks of this semester, 131 students in my classes read a total of 269,157 pages. (This includes books for English classes, not necessarily for pleasure.)

    My class is designed to share books with students, and to give them a place and time to read, uninterrupted by other demands. Then, everyone writes about what they’ve read. I read with my students every day (tough gig, I know), and I respond to every entry, as a fellow reader.

    I’ve noticed the same ‘dip’ in interest among our students that others have noticed. Over and over in their literacy autobiographies students tell me how much they loved reading in elementary, and then “something” happened. They can’t even articulate what it was. I wonder how much can be attributed to new demands on kids’ time, new interests, or peer groups that may not value reading. I spend lots of time in class talking about books, fiction and nonfiction, young adult, classics, popular adult fiction. Once kids learn (relearn?) what they like, they DO read for pleasure, because they have the power to choose what they read.

    I want to throw one more idea into the mix. Nowhere in all these articles do I see a serious acknowledgement of the reading kids do the most: online. I would argue kids are interacting with text much more often than the “experts” think when we factor in computer use.

    What do you think of this whole question? How do you encourage reading? How widely do your students read?

    If you are a student, what is your attitude to reading? Do you think you are “good enough”? What do you read? How often?

     

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    Email about the Educational Testing Service

    This arrived this morning.

    Hello,

    Because you write about ESL and learning the English language, I thought you and your readers might be interested in the Educational Testing Service’s [link] new TOEFL Tips & News feed [link]. TOEFL Tips and News is a free way for students to keep updated on the latest TOEFL developments, share English learning tips, and receive helpful insights from ETS on how to pass their exam.

    Here are some recent headlines from TOEFL’s Tips & News:
    • What Should You Read to Build Your Reading Skills?
    • How To Recognize a Pronoun Instantly
    • By 2008, seats for TOEFL iBT will increase by 80% in China

    You can subscribe to TOEFL Tips & News by visiting the ETS website. Please help us tell students about ETS’ newest educational tool by copying and pasting this code to your blog: Subscribe to TOEFL Tips and News from ETS.

    We appreciate any help you can offer to spread the word!

    On ETS see Wikipedia.

    The Educational Testing Service (or ETS) is the world’s largest private educational testing and measurement organization, operating on an annual budget of approximately $1.1 billion on a proforma basis in 2007. ETS develops various standardized tests primarily in the United States for K-12 and higher education, but they also administer tests such as TOEFL and GRE internationally. Many of the assessments they develop are associated with entry to US tertiary (undergraduate) and quaternary education (graduate) institutions…

    ETS has been criticized for being a “highly competitive business operation that is as much multinational monopoly as nonprofit institution”.

    Due to its legal status as non-profit organization, ETS is exempt from paying federal income tax. Furthermore, it does not need to report financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission…

    It is worth looking at their free magazine Innovations.

    See also Fairtest.org.

    The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) Works to end the misuses and flaws of standardized testing and to ensure that evaluation of students, teachers and schools is fair, open, valid and educationally beneficial.

    Australian connection

    According to the Summer 2007 issue of Innovations, ETS produced the Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey used in Australia. I have a post on that here.

     

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    ADHD, etc

    I really am not an expert on this, but I have certainly encountered examples during my teaching career. Quite often, especially early on, I probably did not handle such people well either.

    I was prompted by tonight’s 7.30 Report to write a post on Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder. The report showed strong neurological evidence that this disorder, which is still subject of much controversy, really is a physical thing.

    A world first study conducted by University of Melbourne researchers has identified a new area of the brain, linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children. Researchers have discovered a significant lack of activity in a region at the back of the brain, which underpins a child’s ability to manage stress. The finding points to a biological basis for the controversial condition rather than problems of inadequate parenting or poorly behaved children, or even diet as the primary cause of difficult behaviour. The findings could lead to better diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, which affects up to five per cent of primary school aged children…

    There are links to video interviews and to further stories on the 7.30 Report site.

    Some issues are discussed in this UK article: Socio-educational and Biomedical Models in the Treatment of Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder and related Neurobehavioural Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence, and their Implications for Adult Mental Health by Ian N Ford BA DMS FRSH.

    …We would suggest that there is evidence to support the existence of AD/HD as a neurobiochemical disorder ( or a spectrum of related disorders ) which has a significant impact upon children and adults, affecting their ability to function effectively in a variety of situations, social, intellectual and in education or employment.

    These individuals respond best to pharmacological and behavioural treatments, yet traditionally such treatments have been kept as a second tier if not a last resort. One can say that there is not an ” objective clinical test ” for AD/HD and that the diagnostic criteria used are inadequate, inconsistent and confusing. But then all one has to do is read a few sets of notes from a Child Guidance Clinic to wonder if explanations of behavioural problems as due to ” sibling rivalry ” or whatever stand up to similar examination.

    It is easy to criticise American doctors for prescribing Ritalin without proper investigation, and to blame the increase in diagnosis of neurobehavioural disorder as an attempt by parents to seek a ” disability ” that explains why their child is not academically gifted. However, one has also to question whether the British establishment has got it right either…

    An American psychiatrist, Dr D B Henley, has posted a number of mp3s on the subject (and others) here, and this YouTube as part of a continuing series “It’s a Brain Thing.” It’s 30 minutes long.

    There are other stories on the ABC site including Meditation helps kids with ADHD.

     

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