Category Archives: *Evaluating ESL Students & Giving Feedback

• An Early Course Correction: Making Sure You Are Evaluating Your Students’ Writing Accurately Before It’s Too Late

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This posting is directed specifically to teachers in these categories:

  • You have experience teaching ESL Writing, but you have been assigned to teach a new level.
  • You have just been hired to teach in an ESL program and are assigned a Writing class.
  • You have been teaching an ESL Writing class for a few terms, but this term you have some students who have “unusual” writing characteristics.

Imagine that it’s the third week of the term. You just picked up your students’ first writing sample (e.g. a paragraph or essay) and are starting to mark/evaluate them. (See Most Effective Technique for Marking Grammar on Essays to Develop Self-Editing Skills)

You start with Adey’s essay and soon some questions come to your mind:

Next, you read Naomi’s essay and wonder about this:

  • She uses complex sentences, but sometimes her grammar breaks down, especially word forms. Would these kinds of mistakes disqualify her from passing to the next level? How “perfect” must a students’ grammar be to pass?

Another student, Dante had this characteristic:

  • His ideas seemed quite simplistic; he doesn’t develop them with enough details. What is the expectation for students passing to the next level concerning idea development?

Help is on the way!

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• Pain-Free ESL Speaking Placement-Testing Process: Reliable, Time-Efficient and User-Friendly

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(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your colleagues.)*

At first, all the teachers wanted to administer the oral test for placing students into one of the four levels of conversation classes. But that enthusiasm waned once they discovered what this commercially-made placement test would entail.

Two major problems with many speaking placement tests (commercial and in-house)

1)  The testing process in labor intensive. The scoring rubrics are onerous, ineffective and require time-consuming training.

2)  Rather than just focusing on the skills being developed in speaking/conversation classes, the interviewers have to evaluate several peripheral aspects of speaking at the same time.

A Speaking Placement-Testing Process That Addresses Those Problems.

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• Avoiding Writing-Teacher Burnout: Save Your Time And Energy With This Effective Method For Giving Specific Feedback.

Many teachers mistakenly believe that spending their precious time and energy writing long comments at the end of students’ papers is what Writing teachers should do.  As one instructor wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “I am an English professor, and responding to student writing is what we English professors do…For 25 years, I have diligently, thoughtfully, and fastidiously written comments on my students’ essays. In my neatest hand, I’ve inscribed a running commentary down the margin of page after page, and at an essay’s conclusion I’ve summarized my thoughts in a paragraph or more.”

This instructor decided to stop writing comments on her students’ paper after she came to this realization: “Most students seemed to spend little time taking in my comments on their papers. They quickly skimmed, looking for the grade, and then shoved the papers into their bags.” Her solution: Instead of writing comments, she decided to meet in her office to discuss her students’ papers one-on-one.

For most ESL Writing instructors, meeting with students in their offices is not a realistic option. At the same time, writing long comments at the end of papers is often a waste of time and energy, just as that professor discovered.

It seems that there are two approaches to giving feedback to each student

General Feedback Approach

Part of problem with giving general feedback at the end of an essay is that the comments tend to be so generalized that there is little for students to apply to future writing assignments.  For example, here is what one teacher wrote:

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• Enjoyable and Effective Awareness Activity for Changing ESL Students Classroom Behavior

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Most ESL students don’t do goofy things just to irritate the teacher. Usually, they are unaware of how they are coming across or not aware that they are acting differently from the other students or even what is expected of them.  These are some of the habits students tend to bring to our classes:

  • Chronically arriving to class late
  • Text messaging during class
  • Not paying attention
  • Chatting with classmate
  • Not participating in a group
  • Calling out answer before others get a chance
  • Sitting in the back of the room day-dreaming
  • No eye contact to teacher or classmates in a group
  • Speaking own language in a group
  • And more

To circumvent these habits and help students develop an awareness of expectations, in the two most recent ESL programs that I’ve taught in, we included some skits during our orientation of new students or during a workshop for students after the term had started. Not only did the students seem to enjoy them, but also we noticed far fewer students coming to our classes with these behaviors.

Here is how we did it.

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