Saturday, 26 July 2014

Revisiting Fluency and Accuracy in Vocabulary and Grammar Teaching

This year’s TESL Toronto Conference (TOSCON 14) welcomed an impressive line-up of guest speakers and educators from different parts of the world to share valuable insights and expertise in a variety of Adult ESL pathways. At the conference, I had the pleasure meeting Chuck Sandy, the founder and a board director at iTDI, who, among other great things that he is involved in, motivates ESL teachers to join the community of educators passionate about collaborative professional development.  I was also given a chance to attend an online course “Revisiting Fluency and Accuracy in Vocabulary and Grammar Teaching” with Scott Thornbury and Penny Ur – a unique opportunity that could not be missed.

Below, I’d like to share a few thoughts triggered by the ideas discussed during the course:

        Teachers and learners are highly aware of the importance of vocabulary acquisition. There is always a learner who would suddenly stop while trying to express an idea and say that he or she does not have enough words to proceed with it. There is always a teacher in the staffroom grumbling about learners asking too many questions on words that they encounter in a new text and looking for the most creative ways to make vocabulary work as self-directed as possible. While working on their listening, speaking, reading or writing, learners will need a minimum number of words to be able to start applying the strategies and skills required to achieve a competence and successfully complete a task.  Grabe and Stoller (2011) advise that a beginner reader will need a minimum of 500 words to be able to apply reading strategies and skills effectively while a study by Hue and Nation (2000 in Schmitt, 2008) suggests that learners need to know as much as 98-99% of the lexical items in a text to be able to understand its meaning. Thus, vocabulary instruction is the foundation of the learners’ success on language tasks and needs to be integrated in the classroom activities, implicitly or explicitly, pre- or post-task, teacher or student-led, as much as possible.
         Working with adult ESL learners who are illiterate in their first language and acquire new vocabulary orally through speaking and listening activities (since these learners do not read or write in their native language they may not be able to look up the new words in a dictionary and record the meanings for further practice - things that their literate counterparts would naturally do), I have to be particularly innovative and efficient in designing vocabulary review activities. Penny Ur introduced a valuable tool (I would call it a teacher’s checklist; see the picture below) to apply while planning vocabulary review work in pre- or post-task phases. 

              While planning vocabulary review or extension activities it is recommended to consider 6 features of effective vocabulary learning such as validity (learners are busy using the words and do not waste their time on puzzling out and searching), quantity (the number of items is level appropriate), success-orientation (learners are slightly challenged (i+1) but not overwhelmed by the task; there is enough support and scaffolding for them to succeed and there are conditions for learners to build their confidence while noticing their own success), heterogeneity (activity can be easily adapted at different levels and therefore is suitable for a multilevel class), interest (learners are engaged in meaningful, relevant and real-life oriented tasks), and simplicity (the teacher’s preparation time is reasonable and instructions are clear and simple). Following these steps will ensure that vocabulary review work is both meaningful and successful.
              The ideas introduced by Scott Thornbury about the perceptive character of fluency and that fluency and accuracy are naturally intertwined have triggered a few thoughts on how to enhance the fluency work in the adult ESL classroom. 



Apparently, the research has not discovered universally applicable, objective measures of oral fluency (Segalowitz, 2010) and, therefore, we assume that fluency falls into the parameters of the impression created by the speaker being able to produce a speedy discourse without any obvious hesitations or pauses; accurate enough for grammar mistakes not to be noticeable or obfuscate the meaning; precise and efficient in use of vocabulary and idioms with adequate level of sophistication. With this in mind, I remembered quite a few instances when I advised learners to be promoted to the next level but they hesitated or delayed their promotions due to the fact that they believed their speaking skills were not good enough for the change. However, I knew that they would only benefit from more complex interactions. I used to think that it was merely a confidence issue that could be remediated by motivation and encouragement (externally) but now I believe that it is also a matter of learners' awareness (own perception - internally) of what fluency is, their own abilities and more importantly progress over time. Therefore, recording learners’ spoken interactions and playing them back with the view of analyzing learners’ own performance (certainly in a very delicate manner, possibly privately, individually or in small groups if the level of comfort allows) and identifying areas of progress or work to be done could definitely enhance learners’ awareness of their own current situation and hopefully nurture that confidence and decision to advance in their language learning endeavours. It is quite a delicate work but with the teachers’ guidance and clearly defined, appropriate objectives could become an invaluable fluency awareness-building tool. 

A few more things...

I have highly enjoyed the course. Besides the thought-provoking content of the live online sessions, Scott Thornbury and Penny Ur designed a series of engaging and interactive tasks for participants to complete before and after each session. They considered and valued each contribution and ensured that there was room for discussion and collaboration. I'd like to thank the iTDI team Chuck Sandy, Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto and Steven Herder for their support during the course. I would also like to thank TESL Toronto Conference Organizing Committee (TOSCON 14) led by Tyson Seburn and Tania Iveson for their outstanding effort and dedication to bring the ESL world to Toronto.


References:

Grabe, W. and Stoller, L.F. (2011) Teaching and Researching Reading, 2nd edition, Harlow: Longman.
Schmitt, N. “Instructed second language vocabulary learning”, Language Teaching Research, 2008. [Electronic] Available online at: http://ltr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/12/3/329
Segalowitz, N. (2010) Cognitive Bases of Second Language Fluency, London: Routledge, p.39.



Thursday, 5 June 2014

A screenshot away from your own perfect worksheet!

Have I ever told you how much I love technology!? Well not the technology per se but the powers it gives teachers to create, experiment and share ideas and experiences. Over the months of my PBLA (Portfolio Based Language Assessment) implementation saga I have created hundreds (including countless revisions) of pages of tasks, checklists and other portfolio related paraphernalia:))) One of the reasons behind designing my own materials rather than selecting from the existing ones is that looking for something specific may take unreasonably long time. I do not mean to say that it is worthless: I usually find lots of great ideas instead of just one I have been looking for provided I have a bit of extra time. There are a few things that I have learned along the way and would like to share with you.  

Images can essentially enhance materials designed for adult ESL learners with literacy needs. However, we have to be mindful of the amount and quality of the images included in the teacher-made materials. The role of pictorial representation is to support the text not to replace it! Images need to be selected and used in a balanced way to scaffold a “reading path” for learners but not replace the need to read the materials. Overloading learning materials with pictures may result in learner distraction and may create  a situation in which reading words is unnecessary. On another note, images may convey different meanings and associations for different people. An image of a hospital (often used for healthcare representation in a needs assessment activity) or tent (camping in the woods) or a poppy (Remembrance day for some) may be perceived very differently by a local instructor and a refugee learner from a troubled part of the world. What I have learned while working with pictures is that reading images is a skill and itself and, not often but still, we may need to teach learners to navigate pictorial information especially if culturally or historically bound.  


In a worksheet I look for two things: a “reading path” to enable adult learners with emergent literacies to succeed on the task and real-life applicability. Teachers and learners are often constraint in time (life happens outside the classroom; learners need to grasp as much as possible in the shortest period of time to start living a fuller life in their new homeland), therefore every moment and every word counts in the classroom. Think real life! Does this worksheet feature the tasks or the language our learners are most likely to encounter in their daily lives? For example, in a lesson about Canadian provinces and territories, consider the form learners may encounter them in real life. Most probably, they will occur in the form of the abbreviations used on Canadian addresses, newspaper or television news and weather forecasts. Therefore, it will be most valuable providing learners with materials that will enable them to decode Canadian provinces and territories from the abbreviations used by Canada Post. To design such a worksheet we can use Google maps. Just type in a place or an address you would like to retrieve (e.g., a school near Toronto, Ontario or Canada Service near Winnipeg, Manitoba, or Public Library near Regina, Saskatchewan), choose a location and take  a screenshot of the address to use in the worksheet. Look at the screenshots below, similar image captures can be easily used to teach learners to navigate a Canadian address, scan for cities, provinces, postal codes, build a bank of sight words (library, school, ministry, Service Canada, etc.), recognize commonly used abbreviations, and many others. After completing paper-based tasks, as an extension activity, we could also ask learners to check these addresses on Google Maps. 





#1


#2


#3


A consistent use of the same images could be an avenue to develop learners' awareness of language skills and tasks and enhance their efficiency in organizing and filing their work in portfolios. My two favourite free open-source websites are pixabay.com and openclipart.org 

Free Images - Pixabay 

Once you create something that you think is worth sharing do not hesitate to do so. Remember that often a worksheet that looks perfect on the screen or on the paper may not be as functional in the classroom. The best materials are those that have been tried and tested in learners’ hands and reviewed or revised accordingly. A wonderful video tutorial on how to design learning materials for adult learners with low literacy has been created and shared by Shelley McConnell. To watch, click below.
Best Practices for Making Worksheets for Low-Level ESL Literacy Learners



You can take a screenshot easily using your laptop (command+shift+4 on a mac). Do not forget to rename and store it appropriately if you think you might need to use the image again. I also like to use Evernote ( if you are not familiar with it, check it out, it is great for things like bookmarking, taking screenshots, editing screenshots, saving the images, sharing your resources) and it also allows us to slightly edit the screenshots and add any additional elements such as text or arrows (I have been using an Evernote tool called Skitch to take screenshots and edit them).



If your adult literacy learners are smartphone users (unfortunately in my class we have only two smartphones and one of them is mine), a great way to crowdsource language material is to ask learners to take pictures of the texts they encounter outside the classroom (an idea I borrowed from my PBLA mentor aka coach) and set a day when you could regularly work with and review materials crowdsourced by the learners. If your learners do not use smartphones, just ask them to bring in any flyers, notices, correspondence, make a copy (whitening out any private or confidential information) and similarly address these texts on a regular basis on a certain day. I am sure it can easily become the most cherished practice by the entire class. 

Language Experience Activities are a great way to build learners’ awareness about their learning and provide opportunities to think back and reflect on it. Take pictures in class while learners are working on learning activities (e.g., a reading/writing/listening task; group/pair/individual work), but do not forget to ask them for permission and explain what you are going to do with the pictures. In about two weeks, invite learners to review the work that they have done in the classroom by projecting (I’d say about 5 pictures on Google or Powerpoint presentation slides; it will enable you to add text and create a reader) and eliciting learner input about what they see and remember from the pictures, how they felt while working on the activities, whether they enjoyed them, etc. Help learners make correct sentences to express their ideas and record them in a log. Create a reader for learners to revisit it afterwards. Enjoy!

A few extras...


Google Maps

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Portfolio Based Language Assessment in the ESL Literacy classroom: on to the implementation


Since I started my training as a PBLA Lead teacher in January 2014, I have been busy exploring different ways of enhancing PBLA with the ESL Literacy learners. Learning about it turned out to be a journey of self reflection about my teaching beliefs and practices. Along the way I discovered that PBLA for me can not be anything else but instructional philosophy. While struggling to incorporate PBLA component into planning, curricula, agendas, schedules, I realized that it wasn’t the right place to start: it starts deeper than planning, it starts with my understanding of teaching and learning, my belief in its powers and importance for the learner. I have also come to understand that I won’t be able to and most importantly I do not have to for the best interest of the learner foresee everything. Instead, things will be happening in the classroom beyond my lesson plans and I will be right there to let them take us to new horizons.

I am certainly no stranger to PBLA. The difference is that now I approach it with more confidence and dedication: before I would plan to incorporate different parts of the PBLA within instruction but now I start with it to plan the instruction (hope it still makes sense:)). I am about to proceed with the implementation stage of the PBLA training. I decided that I will be sharing the resources that I develop during this process with my colleagues on my blog and Tutela. 

In the beginning of the year, we (my learners and I) tried to work on better learning management skills by setting up personalized binders. Therefore, the learners in my class already have their own binders and are familiar with the filing system. 





However, as you can see from the pictures taken sometime in September, the binders that we have established are a bit different in content from learner portfolios. Since now is the beginning of the new term for LINC classes, it is perfect timing to revise our binders and set new parameters for their content. I looked at a few samples of Learner Portfolio Inventories available on Tutela and put together an inventory that would best suit my learner group and my teaching style. It is available below. As an ESL Literacy practitioner, I am trying to be very consistent in terminology and symbols that I use for learning management. Pictorial representation that I use for skills, categories and instructions are reappearing on different  materials including inventories, check lists, learning logs, tasks and worksheets. I hope you will be able to see it once there are more samples to share. For example, we have been using the following coding:


About Me
Reading


Writing
Numeracy

I was able to use these lovely images courtesy of http://pixabay.com/ - an outstanding resource of free images.

The first step in the implementation process is the Needs Assessment and Goal Statement, therefore below there are links to my Needs Assessment package. They can be used as samples to create your own materials adapted to the needs of the learner group. I often revisit materials used in class to redesign and change them according to my observations. It is a part of professional development and growth. My methods are changing, I find new ways, I look at things differently, I discover things that I might have not been able to see before. 

To sum it up, there is a quote I discovered on Facebook that perfectly describes my experience with PBLA for ESL Literacy:



My Resources:




Friday, 21 March 2014

Fluency and confidence in reading

I’d like to share  an engaging reading activity we have been enjoying recently: a word snap game.

Learners work on developing a sight word bank of personal information form cue words (e.g., first name, last name, address, date, signature, postal code, phone number). Sounds dull?! Not anymore!!! Each learner has a set of personalized flashcards (cue word/personal info). They display the flashcards in front of them on the desk (either side, it depends what is being practiced) and have to identify the word as quickly as possible when the teacher or a classmate calls it out and raise it in the air. This activity has proven to be a great way to develop the speed and sight word recognition at the early stage of reading instruction. 




While working on this activity I have been thinking on the ways to create more opportunities for learners to read with speed and confidence. In this post I’d like to brainstorm a few ideas. Your input is more than welcome.

Developing automaticity

Automaticity in word recognition is an attribute of fluent reading. However, automaticity is developed over time through massive exposure to reading that is not always possible or is the case with adult ESL learners. Indisputably, learners must be encouraged to read as much as possible in class and outside the classroom, but in our context when learners easily get tired and often do not have extra time at home due to family responsibilities, more realistic ways need to be considered. An efficient practice to develop automaticity often used in the ESL Literacy classrooms is word-recognition exercises. 

Word recognition exercises

These are fairly easy to design: teachers pick up some key words from the text (usually three per story) and line them up with the words similar in spelling or misspelled words. Students are asked to identify and circle the target word. What I have not done yet, but look forward to trying out, is timed word and phrase recognition exercises. I think that by introducing the timing feature will allow literacy learners understand that reading involves rapid recognition of words. I hope to engage learners in keeping the records of their progress and allow them to repeat the same exercises over time to notice the difference. 

Vocabulary

I think that both pre-teaching vocabulary explicitly in the pre-reading phase and discovering new words and their meaning while reading the text are desirable. 

Pre-teaching vocabulary

Show a picture then elicit the word, then try to elicit the spelling of the word using fingers or by drawing a number of lines corresponding to the number of letters in the word on the white board; when the word is written invite students to read it out loudly; if necessary model the pronunciation of the word. When the students are able to read and spell the word without assistance, elicit some simple sentences with this word, also using fingers or drawing lines/boxes on the white board. Invite learners to read and copy the sentence in their notebooks. Once the new word is introduced in this way it is added with a matching picture to a set of flashcards that students have to match as a part of their morning class routine. At the same time, the word with the picture can be added to the word wall, or word book, or word ring, anywhere where students may repeatedly access and review it.

There is a video recorded by my Japanese colleague Mikako featuring a similar technique: Vocabulary for Literacy

Word labelling activity 

In the early stages of reading instruction, try to select the stories with one or more pictures featuring the content, and use the pictures to teach target language by labelling different items on them. 
I think that it is best to use word labelling activity in the final stage of vocabulary instruction when learners can label the vocabulary items with more comprehension and confidence.

Creating a word rich classroom

Try to set a word wall but do not overwhelm learners with it add or update words on it. I would suggest displaying the most common/relevant/important words for students to review. Remember, once it is up on the wall, there will be learners using it. 

Create word rings (I picked up the idea from the ESL Literacy Network) and personalized flashcards. Today is so easy to print out all sorts of customized flashcards (quizlet.com). Set a practice of working with whole class sets and personal sets. I usually give my students envelopes to elite their names, date, topic and store their flashcards.















Read-aloud

Despite the decades of criticism of the reading-aloud practices, I think it is a very useful practice in the ESL Literacy classroom if used meaningfully. A small remark should be made here, what ESL literacy learners tend to do is to read aloud to themselves or to the teacher more often than practice silent reading. Therefore, silent reading is often an indication that the learner has developed the ability to read independently. However, this limitation of the literacy learners should not be confused with a carefully guided activity of reading aloud or repetitive reading. I have been using reading-aloud with my learners and would like to give a few suggestions to make it meaningful in the classroom. Dedicate the first hour of the class to reinforcement reading activities (e.g., students in pairs, small groups or one to one with the teacher work on reading the stories aloud and giving feedback or making corrections where appropriate). As ‘progress in reading requires learners to use their ears, as well as their eyes’ (Williams), encourage learners to listen to texts including listening to the teacher, recordings, and a classmate. It can be easily done when learners are working in pairs with a stronger reader, or read while listening to the teacher in small groups or as a whole class activity. Today’s technology allows teachers to record their readings as fast as in a couple of minutes and use these recordings in a variety of ways in the classroom. Students in my class often ask me to record a story that they want to learn and post it on the internet (on our class blog). During the time in the computer class they enjoy reading while listening to the soundtracks over and over again at their own pace. An example what you can do with a blog and soundcloud is here: My Home

Re-reading

Another practice that I have been using that proved to be successful with the learners is re-reading the stories over a period of time. I have re-written  quite a few stories that have been covered in class on craft sticks (one story consists of 10 sticks/sentences). Whenever learners are tired or want to relax they can retrieve a set of sticks and work with a story that is familiar to them instead of attacking a new reading. I have noticed that students particularly enjoy working with sticks both alone and with a partner. It is said that rereading familiar texts is one of the best ways to develop reading fluency that has been often ignored in L2 reading classrooms (Grabe and Stoller, 2012). Each time the students are offered the opportunity to reread familiar texts they get additional fluency and vocabulary practice. 



Creating opportunities for success

Do not forget that the most important thing is to provide opportunities for learners to experience their success. Do not aim for quantity, instead let learners work with the texts that are familiar to them so they can enjoy reading fluency and comprehension and thus sustain their motivation to learn to read. Let them enjoy their achievements in reading and keep track of them!!!

Friday, 14 February 2014

Building confidence in the ESL Literacy classroom



DEAR ESL  INSTRUCTOR: HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!!!



ESL literacy learners in both separate programs and mainstream classrooms come with a great need for motivation, developing self-esteem and confidence as a result of a poor previous learning experience or the pressure by surrounding mainstream learners who master reading skills much quicker.




In this post I am going to talk about some activities that I have been using in class to build the confidence in the ESL Literacy learners.



Authentic tasks


Offering learners authentic tasks to practice in class gives them confidence in the world outside the classroom. Calling in sick is one of our favourite activities. It can be adapted in lots of different ways such as calling the doctor’s office, the government’s office, the bank, pizza delivery, and a friend. All you need is an authentic dialogue and two phones. After having practiced it enough times in class in pairs, groups, with the teacher, individually, etc., the learners are ready to make a call. One student finds a quite place outside the classroom and then calls a classmate. In the beginning, there is a lot of confusion, hesitation, dropped calls, but gradually I can see how their confidence grows, the class feels with laughter and excitement. I ask them to call the office every time they miss a class. I believe it is a great way to motivate them to use the skills that they learn in class.





Songs - Good morning

The idea to use songs came from the observations I made while learning nursery rhymes with my daughter. I noticed that my own reading fluency of nursery rhymes improved while singing them. I have also come across a couple of articles saying that sing- and read-along activities are beneficial for improving reading fluency. I did not want to go with nursery rhymes as I personally think that many of them are so complicated even for me:) ... and also not to give my fragile learners a wrong impression that they are treated as children. However, my daughter and I have a favourite youtube channel where I find my inspiration: CHILDRENLOVETOSING So, I decided to adapt some of our favourite songs to the adult audience. This way, now we are singing songs thematically. Our first song was “Good morning”. You can see the handout here. I understand that not everybody may be keen on singing. Therefore, I approach it very cautiously. I think that for my class ideal is introducing one new song every month or two. We practice once or twice a week, half an hour each time. This has become one of the activities that is filled with happiness and enthusiasm. Together with my class, we have discovered that we sing better if we move our bodies. I have also noticed that singing songs in class is also a fun way to introduce metaphors, develop abstract thinking and an initial awareness of language and culture. We have learned about "shiny grins", "a thousand things to share", and "I can't wait for the day to begin". While listening to students practicing the song, I realized how singing alone can improve their ability to retain sight words, read with speed, connect words, chunk, feel the rhythm of the language. It didn’t take long to see it working. When learners got a new hand-out with the phone conversation, the first phrase they noticed and identified was “Good morning…”. Singing also works so well for demonstrating students that there are stressed and unstressed words, weaker and stronger forms! “I’ll be home for Christmas” is just perfect for it. Try it out!!!



Personalized reading lists - snaps

This is an idea I picked up from our placement student Kalim. We all know that students read better the words they understand. One way to boost their reading confidence is to make a personalize list by eliciting the words that they already know. It could be a list for each student or a list for the whole class. The teacher can easily type them in a bigger font and print out for each student. Learners can review their lists in the morning upon arriving to school.  A fun way to practice sight word recognition is a “word snap activity”. Print out individual words or short phrases on flashcards, place them randomly on the table, learners sit or stand around the table, they have to touch/grab/point to the word pronounced by the teacher or a classmate ASAP. 

Spelling words

Learners often ask for spelling practice. But not all of them can spell the words. There is one way that we have been doing short dictations on a regularly basis. When learners have practiced target vocabulary long enough to feel comfortable pronouncing it, I am doing a small dictation exercise (max 6 words) on the sticky notes. I attach a sticky note right on the hand-out with the text, story or just a vocabulary list. I also have the words previously written on the board. I do not ask them to cover anything or not to look in their texts. Quite the opposite in this class! During the dictation, some of the students will retrieve the spelling of words from their memory, others will be able to find them in the text, a few will look at the whiteboard. I am happy when everything of these happens. I think that it is much more important to be able to find necessary information in the text than to remember the spelling. A step forward would be asking a student to choose and dictate the words to class. When I tried peer dictation for the first time I was surprise with the word choice the lead students made. Their word choice was much broader and included more complicated words that I would ever ask them such as “the”, “wonderful”, “off”. Learners in my class showed me that they are not afraid of challenging words. 



Feedback for learning and teaching

It is a common practice to check learners’ listening/reading comprehension with YES/NO questions. We usually do it in a whole class feedback sessions.  Learners responses give me an understanding where we are at and what is still needed. It all sounds good in theory but in practice we have to consider a couple of things to set an efficient activity. In the whole class sessions students may get conditioned by other responses (the brainstorming effect), they may be inhibited by the outspoken ones, be afraid of giving a wrong answer, or disengage and daydream. When we started working on this kind of YES/NO comprehension check, I decided to use coloured paper circles attached to craft sticks similar to traffic signs (red is NO/ yellow is NOT SURE or MAY BE, and green - YES). When I ask students a question they all have to raise the colour according to their understanding. There are no right or wrong answers here. They are free to say “NOT SURE” as many times as possible. This way I know each student’s level of comfort with the target material. I will also hope it is the first step in teaching them to express their opinion. 



Utilizing students as resources - peer tutoring

I am a huge believer in the power of learner autonomy and self-directed learning. At the ESL Literacy level, these are the milestones of learner’s progress. I also know that we can not expect learners to know how to learn by themselves especially in some particular contexts and cultures. The good news the research has been telling us is that metacognition can be trained through strategy instruction. Once the learners enter my classroom the strategy training begins. I start with socio-affective strategies: I teach them how to work with a partner, the value of pair or group work, I try to show them how helpful they are to each other and gradually identify learners ready to become peer tutors. The best part about utilizing learners as the instructional resources for one another is that it is a fantastic confidence building tool. For example, different learners at different stages of ability can successfully tutor other classmates. I have  a student who can not read but she knows the alphabet very well and can read the keywords associated with each letter, so each time I have  a new student in class without ABC knowledge she is my first resource: the chief ABC tutor.  Needless to say how proud she is to be the one. It gives her confidence in her own abilities and her role in class. I have also noticed that I often do not have to ask her to tutor: when she sees that someone needs help with the ABC’s, she just jumps in and as the result of strategy training does it in a very unobtrusive way. There is another student with multiple challenges, but a couple of days ago working on a simple exercise where students needed to handle change in Canadian money (numeracy), she happened to be the only one very good at it. I have immediately assigned her to be the peer tutor. As a result, the level of her confidence in class has grown exponentially. And of course, those who have been successful in using a range of learning strategies, I am hoping to train them to provide peer assessment and support that triggers learning.







What have you been doing to build confidence in learners? Please share your wisdom!!!




Saturday, 25 January 2014

Words on grammar...



There are many differences between ESL Literacy and mainstream ESL. One of them is that majority of ESL literacy learners do not have any previous grammar learning experience to build on. This certainly poses a number of difficulties and questions in grammar instruction to learners with interrupted or no formal education. Two questions that particularly have interested me is WHEN and HOW to teach grammar in the ESL literacy class?

According to Tricia Hedge, the timing and practice of the grammar acquisition is influenced by the idea that the 'intake and eventual automatization will only occur as and when students are ready'. It is also said that the 'premature practice can actually confuse rather than facilitate the intake of grammatical features'. Therefore, I personally support the arguments such as in Ellis in favour of 'delaying the teaching of grammar until learners have developed a basic communicative ability'.

While working with the ESL literacy learners and observing teacher trainees in my program, I have noticed what works and what doesn’t in grammar teaching. It is a fact that explicit grammar instruction is not something that Literacy teachers should begin with. I think that the best way to approach grammar  in this context is to start with developing learners’ ability to notice language features in written or spoken texts, in other words, gradually build their language awareness. I am usually very optimistic about  my learners’ potential to notice some similarities, differences and salient features of the language while reading as I believe that we are born with the natural ability to acquire grammar.

So this is how grammar discovery (at least an adaptation of it) looks like in our classroom. While learning to read, learners are exposed to a great deal of comprehensible input which, according to Stephen Krashen's hypotheses, is responsible for both fluency and accuracy. Although I am a huge believer in Krashen's theories about 'comprehensible input i+1', I do not support DE-emphasizing 'explicit learning of rules'. When the students develop the basic communicative ability and show the first signs of readiness to learn grammar, I proceed with the grammar discovery approach and top it up with the explicit teaching. I consider a good practice to provide additional explicit explanation of the grammar rules to reinforce the acquisition and benefit those who were not able to comprehend the form from the task.

Another question here is how the teacher knows that the learners are ready to acquire grammar. I know that this is a good time to proceed with grammar when students start noticing particular language features. For example, they notice and point out that 'he' refers to male gender, 'she' is used with female gender and 'they' refers to both in plural, or students start pointing out and asking each other about the difference in “I go...” and “she goes”, etc. As soon as tit happens, I design tasks focused on the form noticed by the learners. Usually it is a one page hand-out based on the story that we have been reading in class and focused on a particular language feature. Here you can see some examples. I also try to provide an opportunity for learners to revise grammar during hours in the computer lab. I used a combination of Quizlet flashcards for studying and Google forms for production. Some examples can be seen here: Possessive Nouns; Am, is, are; Personal Pronouns. All students enjoy the flashcards and learn from them in different ways (this is an advantage of the computer class; they can learn at their own pace and in their own ways). Certainly, not all of them are able to fill in the forms (the advanced can), but we are are working on it.

I think that grammar discovery approach is not only appropriate but also useful for beginners. Provided that the learners are ready, they will be able to compare or contrast different structures, notice the difference and similarities and come up with a grammar rule by themselves. I believe that ESL Literacy learners need to start reading to learn as soon as they start learning to read.

More ideas regarding some techniques that I have been using in class are in pictures below. These are just some ideas that can be used with a variety of topics. Let your imagination go wild!