(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
A student, Tim, once came to my class all excited and asked me, “Hey David, wha ya gonna do di wee-en? I wanna gedouda taw.”
I was pretty sure that he was trying to say something in English, but I had no idea what it was. After repeating the sentences several times, he became embarrassed and decided to write them down. “What are you going to do this weekend? I want to get out of town.”
He told me that the teacher in his previous class was doing lessons on reduced forms of speaking and had encouraged them to use them when speaking. So this student whose pronunciation was often hard to understand because he tended to drop final consonants of words (e.g. wee = week / taw = town) was being encouraged to do something that would make him even harder to understand. Crazy!
How to work with reduced forms. (Handout exercise included)
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.
Fortunately, there is another option for Writing teachers.
A much more practical and yet effective way to provide specific feedback
One day, a colleague, Sarah, who was relatively new to the ESL teaching field, told me about two grammar questions that one of her students had presented to her. (*If you are curious, you can see the questions and my explanation at the end of this posting.) She said that after class, she had spent quite a bit of time searching for answers on the internet but to no avail. Finally, she decided to ask me.
It turned out to be a fun interaction and a kind of puzzle for me to solve. On my drive home after classes that day, I realized that I was feeling great, but I didn’t think that there was any specific reason for it. A while later, I happened to come across some research that perhaps explained my exuberant emotion. And it had nothing to do with it being a Friday.
I once interviewed for an ESL teaching position at a school in Switzerland. I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place to live and teach for a couple of years. The type of courses and the type of students that I would teach seemed like a good fit for me. On top of that, it included free housing.
Fortunately, during the interview, I asked a question, and after hearing their response, I immediately knew that teaching there would have been a disaster for me.
During the interview, I answered the typical questions that they asked. Then near the end of it, the interviewer (director) asked me if I had any questions, so I asked, “What are you most proud of about your program?”
The interviewer answered, “We believe that one of the greatest features of our program is how much time students get to spend with their teachers. The teachers’ housing is right next to the student dorms, so there are lots of chances for students to interact with teachers outside class and in their homes. The housing location also makes it easier for teachers to supervise students outside class.”
I enjoy interacting with my students in class and when I run into them outside of it, but I was certain that I would quickly burn out under those conditions. The next day, I withdrew my name for consideration.
A positive impression I got after hearing the answer to that same question
During an interview at a different program at a college, I asked the same question, “What are you most proud of about your program?” That time, I was very impressed by the response. The interviewer said that ESL program is considered an integral part of the college. In other words, unlike ESL programs on many other campuses, this one is not separate from the rest of the campus. In fact, the ESL instructors are even encouraged to serve on college committees.” That clinched my decision to accept the position when it was offered to me.
Two more important questions to ask when you are being interviewed