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Who's getting it?

Hello colleagues, Today in my beginning ESL class we did an activity on reading want ads with a focus on the abbreviations that are often used, e.g., F/T = full time, P/T = part time, exp. = experience, etc. I hesitated a bit to do this activity since I thought it might be too difficult, but I decided to go ahead with it. We worked through the ads and the abbreviations together as a class. Several students readily called out answers and seemed to fully comprehend the language.

Then students worked with a partner or small group to answer specific questions about the ads, such as which job requires experience, which job is in the morning only, which job pays more than $7.25 per hour-- and so on.

As I circulated around the class, it quickly became clear that my initial concern about the activity being too difficult was well founded. While the vocal students who had been calling out the answers when we were working as a whole class were having no trouble, about a third of the students were pretty lost. This was clearly important formative assessment information for me, and I paired up those who were struggling with a more advanced student to offer support with the activity..

Good lesson for the teacher! I can't assume everyone is getting it! I need to be sure to allow every student to demonstrate understanding.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoPs

Comments

JaymeAG's picture
Ten

Hi Susan,

One of the things I love most about the LINCS CoPs is how safe this space is for reflective moments like the one you just posted. I know you are in fine company. In my experience the vocal, head-nodding participant effect can skew any facilitator or instructor's  perception of comprehension. (My dad once told me that he passed a UCLA French class by smiling whenever the teacher smiled and frowning whenever she was displeased.) 

I'm a huge fan of using the non-verbal comp checks (answer cards, hand signals, drawing out, etc.) but sometimes the timing in a lesson or workshop  tricks me into thinking I can skip it. And truth to tell, even when I do a thorough comp check and see that learners have grasped the concept, language, vocab, etc.,, once they move into the task the new context of that task and its language can throw them off. And then I realize I needed task modeling and comp checking of the task. (Face palm moments abound.)

Still, I like that you could use the task as the comp check/formative assessment and adjust from there. Maybe that is something to consider as we think about the good struggle. Letting learners try to make sense of the content and task and then support them when they demonstrate the need for support.  Just a safe little reflection of my own. :-)

Kat Bradley-Bennett's picture
Ten

Jamie,

What an apt reflection. I think that practitioners (myself included) may be too quick in wanting students to "get it." Giving them some time to struggle with the content and then provide support as needed really challenges them to dig into their schema and their logic skills. I, too, am a fan of non-verbal visual cues, such as Yes/No/I Don't Know cards, etc. and I've watched learners struggling with content, looking around at others' responses with the cards and ending up with the IDK card. Maybe they feel pressured to come up with the question more quickly. Letting them know that they can take their time might provide a measure of relief as they work out the answer.

Just my two cents.

Kat

Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Thanks so much for this comment, Kat! I agree that allowing time for the struggle is definitely worth it. I can acknowledge that I am often tempted to step in too quickly. Another aspect of this is to allow students to support one another -- instead of looking to the teacher. Doing so, not only helps students to 'get it,' but also helps to build and sustain a sense of community in the classroom.

Comments are welcome!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoPs

Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Thanks for your comment, Jayme! I was happy to share this experience since I know how common it is. We teachers often assume way too much -- which is why thinking carefully about how I'm going to know students are getting it is so important.

Using color-coded cards is a great idea for quickly assessing who's getting it. As I get to know this new group of students, I'm learning which students usually need extra scaffolding and support and which ones often do well on their own.

Comments from other members on ways to effectively assess 'who's getting it' are welcome!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoPs

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

Susan, your lesson on abbreviations in a Beginning class is a very good example of what often appears to be a problem, which can be solved by pairing up as you did.

I have found that in any Beginning class there are always those who have already studied or learned some English along with people who know little or no English. Pairing is one way to set up this kind of class.

At the same time, it is important to provide a text with all the lessons to be covered for the first 6 months, I believe. That way people can do “homework”, and, during the class, time can be dedicated to doing the homework, again in pairs.

Now, of course, more and more classes are being equipped with computers so that the teacher can spend time with those who need some help. Actually each teacher can set up a Facebook page with all the lessons available to the students.

Paul

Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Hi Paul and all, Yes, pairing up is absolutely an important strategy not only for beginners, but for learners at all levels. In this instance, I was lucky to be able to pair up students with another person who spoke the same language, so that individual could help clarify the task.

I love your idea of making the lesson materials available to learners online. Facebook is a good way to do this since so many learners already know how to use Facebook.

I'm sure several members are using Facebook or other sites as a class website. We'd love to hear about members' experiences.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Assessment & AELL CoP

rwessel51's picture
One hundred

Another option for distributing content to learners over the Internet is a blog. I don’t have an example of one that can be used with learners (I have begun one but it is  “under construction” and has no content), but I can share as an example a similar one I set up for tutors that is a bit further along.

If you go to http://www.shoreliteracy.org/tutorBlog/?p=498, you will find several videos I created from online materials on the USCIS website to load onto the smartphone of a learner who wanted to take the citizenship test. Aware that these videos could be useful in the many situations in my region where Internet access is unavailable, I also uploaded it to my program’s tutor blog for other tutors to access and download. There is no reason learners with Internet access could not do the same.

To create the video, I copied and pasted the text from the USCIS site into presentation software slides, exported the slides as a series of JPEG “photos,” imported the photos into Windows Movie Maker, merged them with the audio from the USCIS site, and then created a movie.

Doing it this way also had the advantage of allowing me to customize the materials for my locality. On the second video (AMERICAN GOVERNMENT B: System of Government), note how I was able to modify the answers to questions 20 (1:54 -- 2:07),  23 (2:36 -- 2:49), 43 (8:48 - 9:02),and 44 (9:02 -- 9:17) to reflect the elected officials from my program’s part of Virginia. (And, as I was reviewing the video, I realized I need to redo Question 47 (9:44 -- 9:59). 

A few other possibilities are using blogs to create podcasts with associated text, separating the audio from the video for use on MP3 players, etc. when learners no-longer need to read along with the text, and so on.

I need to add that I did this under the provisions of the Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code, Circular 92
(http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#105)

§ 105 . Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works37
Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

If you plan to modify materials from the Internet like this, including works of state and local governments, make sure you have permissions to do so.

Paul Rogers's picture
One hundred

SUSAN, yes, we can develop all the lessons we need online and for free. I created sites on WIKI SPACES, WIX, and PUMAROSA, and then Facebook is like the classroom. Recently I added WhatsApp, and now I have to learn about Podcasts and Blogs!

Most of my lessons are also available via Mobile devices.

At the same time, I am a strong believer in good old-fashioned books, and have written appropriate texts for my students to bring home.

I believe that creating a curriculum this way will attract students. Those who cannot attend classes regularly will have lots of opportunities to catch up.

Students can become teacher’s assistants or tutors.

The teachers’ role changes to include that of a guide, coach, mentor, and reference librarian.

Most students like to read, and with material online they can read all the time. Plus songs are popular, which can be viewed on YouTube with the lyrics.

In this type of classroom there is a variety of activities and lessons that will increase people’s attention.

I hope that more and more teachers are able to convert their classes so that they can take advantage of all that is available.

Paul

 

Karen O's picture
First

Hi there!  I definitely agree that pairing up stronger students with other students with lower skills can be a great strategy.  However, I would like to add that it's a strategy that can be overused.  I think it's important to remember to give enough individual attention and challenging material to the stronger students. They need ample opportunity to grow as well.  I think it's a good idea to balance different-level pairs/groups with similar-level pairs/groups.  Similar-level pairs/groups can be helped to develop their skills through differentiated materials and activities.  BUT! Please don't get me wrong, different-level pairs/groups definitely have a place in any classroom.

 

Susan Finn Miller's picture
One hundred

Hi Karen and all, I concur that we teachers need to think strategically when pairing and grouping students. These decisions will depend on the learning goals, the particular task and the needs of the students. There are times when independent work is best and times when working with a partner or small group is better. We also need to consider the language background of students and group/pair students with the same language background for some activities and--if possible-- with different language backgrounds for other activities. Other factors such as interest and personality also need to be considered when pairing/grouping students.

As Karen notes, it is also important, at times, to group students based on their levels, so the higher level students are working together and the lower level students are working together. Thank you for making this valuable point, Karen.

Working in pairs definitely has benefits as shown in research at the Portland State Adult ESOL Lab School. Kathy Harris reported on pair work in this Focus on Basics article, "Same Activity, Different Focus." Members are invited to check it out and share their thoughts.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL & Assessment CoP