Category Archives: *Teacher/tutor training

“What would you say if you were interviewing for an ESL teaching position?” (A question from a reader)

job interview

When I’m on a search committee, while we are interviewing an applicant, I can’t help but start thinking about how I would answer the interview questions myself.  It’s actually a good values clarification exercise (although perhaps best not to mentally practice it while interviewing someone).  So I appreciate Kevin’s question.

Instead of writing out a script of what I would say, I’ll explain what I would include, in general, in my response to some of the more commonly asked interview questions.

Question 1: What is your philosophy of language teaching and learning?

Everything that I do in my classroom is based on the premise that language learning is about skill development. Speaking, writing and reading a second language involve using skills. And just like learning other skills, for example, driving a car, playing tennis, or learning a musical instrument, ESL students need focused practice to develop their language skills.

The teacher’s role in helping students develop their skills is to find or produce activities that will engage students and that are at the right level of challenge for them.  The teacher is like a coach, setting up and introducing the practice session and then stepping back and being ready to offer support and guidance.

Also, just like when developing any skill, when learning a language, students should be given opportunities to make mistakes and to learn from them in a non-threatening environment.  This means that the teacher needs to relinquish being the center of attention.
(For more about this, see Introduction to Teaching ESL: Student-Centered Approach)

Question 2: What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing ESL teachers?

I think ESL teachers often have an image problem.  Their image of a teacher is someone who stands in front of the class talking to the students and conducting the lesson with all the students’ eyes on him or her.  In fact, I recently heard a teacher say that she felt like she wasn’t earning her pay if she wasn’t in front conducting the class.  So the challenge is to break this image and realize that our job is to engage students in developing their language skills and for this to happen, the teacher has to stop being the center of attention.  Teachers are doing their jobs when their students are learning how to write better by actually writing in Writing class, or read better by reading in Reading class and by speaking in Conversation class. Students will actually progress faster when the teachers are on the sidelines giving support.

This doesn’t mean that teachers should never talk to the class as a whole. But we should realize that we are still good teachers even when, or especially when, we are not talking and when students are engaged in an activity.

Question 3A: Let’s talk about how you teach conversation skills.  What is your approach?

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The Eyes Have It: Keeping Students Focused During Group Work

Eyes image

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

I once had a colleague who was feeling distraught because her students didn’t seem to take group work seriously.  Her students tended to chat instead of doing the task and often finished early without completing it.  She asked me to observer her class to see if I could come up with any suggestions.

Within a few minutes of observing her class, I was reminded of a social psychology study that seemed related to her situation.  As you read the summary of the study below, you may wonder how this could be connected to ESL students working in groups.  Bear with me.

The study

The Psychology Department at Newcastle University conducted this interesting study using their coffee station.  There was a sign above the coffee station:

Smaller coffee station screenshot

As you can see, it operates on an honor system.  For the 10-week study, researchers taped a picture of flowers for a week over the coffee station and then switched to a picture of a pair of staring eyes for a week.  They continued to alternate these pictures each week.

This is where it gets interesting

During the weeks that the poster of the eyes was staring, coffee and tea drinkers contributed almost three times as much money as in the weeks that the flower picture was on the wall.  What’s so amazing is that it was just a PICTURE of eyes, not an actual person, which seemed to make people more honest.

The researchers conducted a similar study to see if the flowers or eyes pictures could motivate people to clean up after their meals.  In that study, the number of people who cleaned up doubled when the eye picture was present compared to when the flower picture was.

How this social psychological study is connected to teaching ESL

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A Question From a Reader: “Mario is supposed to study.” What is the Verb? Is “to study” an Infinitive?

Questions

Somehow, I managed to teach ESL for over 10 years before I learned what this is.  The expression “is supposed to” is called a semi-auxiliary verb.  In the sentence in the title, “study” is the main verb.

The expressions below are all called semi-auxiliary verbs.  They are followed by the main verb.

  •  (have) to
  •  (be) supposed to
  •  (be) able to
  •  (be) going to

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One of Best Uses of an ESL Program’s Funds—And a Giant Help to Teachers.

Reading Journals

This is one of the best things we’ve implemented in programs where I’ve taught for three reasons:

1. It has helped students improve their reading and writing skills, and grammar, and vocabulary.
2. It adds NO EXTRA WORK for teachers.
3. It costs relatively little money.

As most teachers in the field already know, one of the best ways for students to improve their skills is to do more reading.  (See A True Story to Motivate Students to Read More a detailed example).  However, adding more reading assignments usually means more work for the teacher—in the form of worksheets or quizzes or  feedback in some way—because students need to be held accountable for actually doing the assignments.

Here is the Perfect Solution

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EASY Needs Analysis for What ESL Teachers Should Teach (Needs Analysis) Part 2

Interview 2 students

In general, teachers can lose credibility in the eyes of their students by asking them what they want to learn.  The teacher is the professional in the room and should know what the students should study.

However, there are situations in which former students’ insights can be valuable.  Surveying these students about what would have been helpful for them to have learned in our classes from their new perspective can give us an awareness of students’ needs beyond our classrooms.

Example of needs-analysis surveys of former students

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Most Important Process that You can do for Yourself, Your Students, Your Program (Part 1)

interview

This process will give you, your colleagues, administrators, and most of all, your students great confidence in what you and your colleagues are teaching your students.  It will serve as a legitimate basis for the goals and outcomes of your courses.

This empowering process is called a needs analysis.  It is one of the most important things I have ever done as a professional, and I’ve done this everywhere I’ve taught.

And on top of all that, it can be stimulating and rewarding to do.

In brief, a needs analysis in an ESL context means finding out what skills students will need in order to be successful in the future.  The future can be the following term when they will be in the next level of a program; it can be when they finish their ESL instruction and will be in college courses (e..g. English Comp); it can be when they are traveling abroad; it can be when they enter the workforce.

These range from simple surveys of a small group of former students to more involved interviews with college instructors.

How to find out what skills students need to know once they leave our course or our program

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Students’ Positive Responses to this Teacher Technique

success

          “I feel proud of myself when I see these.”

         “They are helpful because I feel that you are encouraging me and understand what I’m writing.”

These are two of the comments students wrote in response to my survey question: “On your essays, I underline in GREEN words, expressions, sentences, ideas, details and examples that were good.  Are these GREEN underlines helpful to you?”

Most Writing instructors like to give students positive feedback on their essays in addition to indications of where they have grammar mistakes or where they have content problems.  These positive comments often are in the form of a message at the end of the essay.  However, there are a few problems with giving feedback in this end-of-the-essay manner.

First, it takes time and extra mental energy to write these in a style that will be meaningful to students.

Second, they are usually too general to be of much use for students to apply to future writing assignments.

And third, it requires the teacher to write with clear handwriting, something that many of us don’t have a talent for.

In one program, on their essay rubrics, they now “include a section where students can earn points for successful language use rather than being strictly penalized for only misuses.”  This is admirable, but it (1) involves extra work and calculations for the teacher and (2) doesn’t specify exactly what the student did successfully in the essay.

The technique of using green underlines is very user-friendly time-wise and energy-wise for the teacher to use. 

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