Thursday, November 4, 2010

Teaching & Learning

Last night was the third week of my adventures in teaching ESL in Chinatown. The students go to class on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. There are six teachers, 3 for each evening and we rotate as lead teacher. I teach on Wednesdays. I taught the class last week. I wouldn't say I did a great job, I floundered most when it came to getting them to participate, they may have known the answers but hesitated to respond. Not a unique problem for teachers in general from what I understand.

I try to be a good assistant teacher when I am not teaching, making sure the students are on the right page, checking their answers in their workbooks, I don't just sit in the back of the room until it is time for group work. My Cantonese has helped a little, last night M. spoke too softly for them and I understood them when they said they couldn't hear her, later they were saying that she was going too fast. It was M.'s first teaching experience and I thought she took the criticisms well and adapted. Afterward she was asking me about this and that, I reassured her the best that I could. I have found that even experienced teachers question themselves after a class, it seems to be endemic to the profession.

I am teaching the Beginner class but they know a certain amount of English already, they can read along in the book, most of the time their pronunciation is understandable and they seem to know much of the grammar and a fair amount of vocabulary. As soon as the teaching strays from the book however, they are lost it seems. They struggle holding a simple conversation. When we read a passage from the book and the teacher asks why did this person do this or how could he have handled that situation differently they either don't understand or can't articulate the answer in English.

I can seriously relate to my students because I too am learning a foreign language. I know a lot of Cantonese but struggle with expressing myself in the language. Even if I know all the words and know the proper syntax backwards and forwards, I have difficulty conversing casually. It is something I am working on more lately. My tutor and I are working on conversation, if I don't know a word in Cantonese I say it in English but then go right back to Cantonese. Later she teaches me the word I didn't know. She says I am doing well, I still think I speak too much in English but I do feel that I am progressing.

Another thing I am doing is drilling vocabulary and example sentences via the Anki flashcard system. I had heard about it on Sheik's forum but I didn't really understand how it worked until another Cantonese student shared his flashcard deck with me. Since then I have created two decks of my own, one is exclusive to what I have learned from my tutor and the other is a mix of things I have learned from various resources. I try to review each deck for 10 minutes a day, not necessarily all at once. Right now I am adding materials so I am spending even more time on this, depending on how much time I have. I am trying not to add just words but phrases and sentences that will reinforce grammar or syntax. However, there is no hurry to add more to my decks, the deck that was shared with me has almost 2500 cards, it will take me awhile to get through that.

Back to teaching-I do teach at my job as well. It isn't the main part of my job, but because we are continuously short staffed at my job I teach some of the bibliographic instruction classes. This is my 3rd semester doing this and I am finally feeling more confident in this role. I have gotten some nice compliments from the teaching faculty I have been working with and even had one of my colleagues ask to adapt one of my handouts for her class. She is a more experienced teacher and a very good one so that made my day. Then she told the head of the department about it and he commented about it to me, telling me to make sure I put it in my professional portfolio. That made my week.

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