Thoughts on: Using Facebook in an ESL Class

Reflection

As part of my degree-qualifying research, I have decided to implement instruction in my ESL class this summer that uses Facebook as a means of facilitating discussion outside of the classroom as well as promoting English as in International Language and hopefully allowing my learners to gain a sense of autonomy and agency when it comes to their English learning.

I’m interested in exploring what my learners perceive as the value and challenges to using Facebook in their English education. I’m also interested in learning whether using Facebook in an ESL class can promote learner-to-learner communication outside of class as well as values associated with the English as an International Language paradigm (EIL) that seem to be associated with learner goals in an Intensive English Program.

So far, we have discussed how people use Facebook (and other social networking sites) in various contexts. We have also examined language samples from various Facebook posts and discussed the nature of language on Facebook. In addition, we have had a couple class discussions revolving around the issues of privacy, appropriate social language, and using social networking sites in education. While it’s been interesting to hear the perspectives of my learners, I have come to realize that conducting research is much more difficult than I had originally expected it to be. At the very least, it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me.

That being said, I feel optimistic that I will be able to glean some useful information from this endeavor, and my work will serve as a learning experience for myself and perhaps, someday, others.

 

 

Thoughts on: Formatting the lesson

Reflection

During my practicum experience, every new lesson fit a format designated by my mentor teacher. The format of every class sort of followed a general “present grammar point, structured practice, less structured practice” format. I understood this format to mean that we were slowly releasing students to use the language structure freely after providing structured practice activities that elicited the target language and presenting the grammar rules explicitly. I think this way of presenting the material worked well in the grammar class context, but I’m not so sure it works as well in a reading and writing class context.

With my current students, a certain amount of explicit rule instruction seems necessary most of the time, as they are at quite a low-level of proficiency. However, I sometimes find myself wanting to reverse the “instruction, structured practice, free practice” format to allow my students to try to extrapolate the language structures and rules by first experiencing the structures in context.

For example, we have learned about the parts of a basic paragraph over the last few weeks, and I asked my students to write a paragraph about a trip they took (we are also learning the simple past tense this week). First, I asked the students to write sentences that could be in the body of their paragraph in a shared Google Document. Each student had to write at least five sentences. After they were done writing, I asked the students to help each other correct mistakes in their sentences (mostly grammar and mechanics). After everyone had a number of detail sentences completed, I gave each student a copy of an example paragraph someone wrote about their trip to Chicago. We examined the topic and concluding sentences and created a title for the paragraph together. I gave this paragraph to them in the hopes that they would use the basic format of the paragraph as a guide for their own writing. While we had already covered the general “rules” regulating how to make topic and concluding sentences, this example paragraph was an explicit example of the sort of writing I was expecting them to produce.

We will go over their first drafts tomorrow in class, so I’m anxious to see how well they used the example paragraph as a guide to their writing.

When it comes to my own continuing education on how to be an ESL teacher, I think examining the ways I’ve formatted my lessons (in whatever class I’m teaching) and how effective or ineffective the lessons were with regard to the format is important. I think one lesson comes up every time I try to draw any conclusions from my teaching: teachers must be flexible and willing to adapt to their learners and each educational context. It seems to me that this is the most important skill new teachers can learn during their teacher education programs. Being flexible and able to adapt to new teaching (and learning) contexts can mean the success or failure of the students involved and the teacher’s own continuing professional learning. It almost seems that every other skill can be learned as you go, as long as you are able to seek out the support and resources you need to adapt your teaching to your students and the classroom context.

 

TESOL 2013: Day 4

Reflection

Identity and Language Learning Across Time and Space, Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia

This session by Bonny Norton was something many attendees were looking forward to, and she didn’t disappoint. Her talk focused on research Bonny and some¬†colleagues are doing in Uganda. Their research examines how technology can change the identities of the learners and teachers in an EFL setting. The guiding assumption of the research is that identities change over time and space, for both learners and teachers. Our identities are shaped by what is possible in the future. A critical definition of identity assumes multiple identities across time and space within one person, which deviates from the traditional definition of identity that assumes more polarized attributes (introvert/extrovert, good/bad, etc).

A guiding question during this session was:

What is the learner’s investment in the language and literacy practice of the classroom or community?

If investment is constructed socially, both the learner and the teacher are responsible for learning and language is a social practice. With the more rigid, traditional view of identity, the teacher is responsible to impart knowledge onto the learners. This view of identity seems to mesh well with a technologically-driven society where learning is not confined to the classroom. While Uganda differs from the United States and other more developed nations with regard to the types of technology and resources that are available, the ideals associated with social constructivism still seem to be present. Even with limited resources, students are invested in the digital.

Bonny showed a picture of a keyboard that a student had fashioned out of clay. While not functional in the way that we typically think of keyboards as being functional, the clay keyboard acted as a transition into actual digital tools. The imagined communities of the student that created the clay keyboard, those communities in which the student hopes to belong in the future, include digital tools. If we are to help learners reach their potential by acknowledging their multiple identities and their desires for the future, we need to give them the language associated with their imagined communities.

Take-aways:

  • Technology, however basic, can make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
  • “When you communicate, you think your own English.” (as opposed to rote memorization)
  • Learners’ relationships to each other and within their communities change through the use of technology.
  • World Englishes allow learners to be unashamed to speak (even if it isn’t “The Queen’s English”).

Some questions to consider:

  • How have the technological changes influenced literacy and language?
  • How do you democratize knowledge flows with limited resources?

 

How Interactive, Practical, and Fair are Teacher-Made Assessments?, Stuart Landers, Missouri State University & John Thorpe, WestEd

This session was a review of the theoretical issues guiding teachers as they create language assessments for their learners. Having just come out of my required assessment course with Andrew Cohen, the theoretical portion of the presentation was interesting, but redundant. For teachers who hadn’t just gone through a semester-long course on assessment, it was probably a nice refresher. The practical aspects of assessment presented included a brief examination of example test items.

The characteristics of test usefulness that teachers should keep in mind while designing assessments for their learners include:

  • practicality–is the assessment worth the time, effort, and money it takes to administer and score?
  • reliability–is the assessment consistent and dependable? (both among students and raters)
  • validity–is the assessment measuring what you want it to measure?
  • authenticity–is the assessment asking learners to complete tasks with language that would actually be used?

What Teachers Learn from Professional Development: Two National Perspectives

This session was about an ongoing research project that looks at the available professional development opportunities for public school English teachers in Chile and Turkey. The researchers examined what opportunities were available, what was the teacher uptake resulting from professional development attended, and how did uptake influence practice in the classroom and student outcomes. The session focused on the second question of teacher uptake from PD opportunities attended.

The study was implemented on a scale that I can only imagine: 1,101 respondents and 3,345 PD events in Chile and 2,960 respondents and 8,945 PD events in Turkey. The data was collected between 2008 and 2011 via online questionnaires distributed by the ministries of education in each country.

While the presentation was interesting and it gave some insight into what it means to take on a research project of this magnitude, I think the main take-aways from their findings were:

  • The number of years of experience a teacher had did not influence how valuable the teachers perceived PD to be. Teachers of all experience levels found value in almost all PD experiences.
  • “What I think I can use drives what I think I learned.”
  • The job of PD events is to create environments in which teachers can take away practical information. This information is reflected through the teachers and does not directly reflect the topics of PD events.

I think the findings of this study highlight what it means to be a teacher: every day consists of adaptation and practical application of theoretical and planned activities. Just as there is a difference between what a teacher plans to teach and what students learn, there is a difference between what PD events seek to teach educators and what teachers bring back to their classrooms.