Lessons TESOL Refresher

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This is how our TEFL graduates feel they have gained from their course, and how they plan to put into action what they learned:

J. K. - Japan said:
In total, I have learned to rethink purpose and variation in the classroom. As teachers, everything we do must be purposeful because it has an effect on the classroom environment, attitudes and motivation, effective understanding, perceived and/or real fairness, a balance between what skills are presented, how students understand their role and the teacher’s role, and participation. All of this affects learning. So, the teacher’s attitude toward teaching and interacting in the classroom is paramount to creating the right environment suitable for learning. When creating lesson plans the activities, resources, and main points should all flow back to the main goals and objectives for the lesson. All lessons, no matter how formal or informal, should have an objective. Lessons should also include a consideration for various approaches, skill sets, materials, comprehension checks, and activities. The more varied things are in the class the more balance there is and the more interesting things are for the students. Classroom management is very important. Teachers should be fair, consistent and treat students with respect by avoiding deliberate shaming and favoritism. There are many tactics to try to maintain a good learning environment. The most important thing is for the teacher to think about potential problems, classroom setup, teacher attitude, seating arrangements and the like in advance so that problems may potentially be mitigated before they begin. When problems do occur, it is most important to keep a level head, maintain rapport and student confidence. Classroom management is one of the most difficult things to maintain and can be somewhat unpredictable. However, where possible, teachers should prepare for different circumstances and think about classroom management in advance. The teachers’ assumptions in the classroom matter as well. Teachers should not go into the classroom thinking that students have a certain, set, uniform level, background, or vocabulary base. The level of the students and weaknesses, along with strengths, should be determined early on in order to design course material geared specifically toward the group as much as possible. This was particularly helpful in getting me to think critically about student levels and how to begin to identify them. Using different methodologies can be applied depending on student personalities or the lesson. This will give me varied approaches to keep things interesting and/or relaxed. I plan on using a combination of concepts from presentation, practice and production (PPP) related to Harman’s straight arrow approach, communicative language learning, task-based learning, and community learning approaches when developing lessons within a framework of Harman’s ESA. However, I will also consider the applications of other methods such as drilling students to maximize my options in my tool belt and be reactive and flexible to the realities of the classroom. I also learned that “less is more” when writing a lesson plan. It should be easy for others to understand and not scripted out. This is because lessons need to be adaptable on the spot and are not meant to be used as a script in the classroom. I also learned that knowing your learner is very important and change how information may be presented because of key differences. Learners can be young learners, adult learners, learners who do not have the Roman alphabet in their L1, and learners who do. Learners in the classroom can be mono-linguistic or multi-linguistic. They can be business workers or just students. Their goals, motivation, learning styles and behaviors are all generally different. In thinking about how they differ, I can guess as to where the problems may arise and how and why they may arise in the classroom. If I know that much, I will be able to begin to chart out possible solutions before the class even begins in order to provide the best learning environment, content, style and topics. Similarly, learner levels can differ even in the same classroom. Therefore, I must understand the level and speed of the students so that I can forecast any issues, make appropriate pairings/groupings, and provide extra support and/or activities for certain students to do. I have really gained a lot from thinking about the best way to design a lesson to balance the engage, study and activate stages in the lessons and the possible combinations of stages to maximize feedback, re-study if necessary, and expansion activities. In the past, I may have chosen to skip the engage stage, but students are truly disinterested in the material to be learned and perhaps they do not have time to switch over to the english language. The engage stage can be used to introduce a topic with discussion if related, but it does not necessarily have to relate directly to the lesson because it is activating the language and getting the students to begin to think or get interested in listening/speaking/reading/writing in the L2. I learned how to appropriately present information in the study stage with explanation of new vocabulary and grammar being as visual as possible for lower levels, but also helpful for the upper levels. Gestures and visuals are interesting and make explanation and understanding quicker and easier. Teachers should make a strong effort to limit teacher-talking time by making explanations and instructions concise and easy to understand with examples and modeling. This is so that students get to use and practice the language as much as possible. This takes careful planning and preparation on the teacher’s part. I shall think carefully about what role I play at every stage of the lesson plan and change my role as needed during the lesson (model/assessor/prompter/monitor/organizer/participant/manager). I shall also employ ways of prompting students to allow them time to find their mistakes and make changes, refraining for feeding answers to students. This will help with their real learning as well as inspire them to take control of their own learning. I will do this in a way that will motivate them, rather than frustrate them. To do this, I hope to prompt students well and judge the difference between when they need thinking time and space, prompting, or answers and then more practice. One way to do this in written work is to have a editor shorthand that students are made familiar with and use that to get students to think about their mistakes first and try to correct them. Teachers should also balance addressing reading, writing, listening, and speaking, striking a balance between the four skills. All are important for students to understand and be able to produce language. Thus, in as much as possible, I will try to include a little of each for all lessons. However, one day may be more intensive than the next depending on the lesson objective. Pronunciation should also not be ignored and the use of IPA can be used along with demonstrations and a diagram of the mouth, nose and vocal chords to teach this. I plan on putting in pronunciation practice when students have trouble with known words, are learning new words, or as vocal exercises. We practicing stress and intonation with rhythm when doing conversations and sentence practice during drills. I learned basic teaching tips as well. For example, using the learners L1 in the classroom is counter-productive to students learning and using the language. So, this is to be avoided. Proper use of the blackboard/whiteboard and space helps students understand notes and streamline the way things are done and recorded by the teacher in class. Consistency in both written and spoken information will help students understand more quickly. Teachers also need to be sensitive to students’ feelings and personal situations as to not overwhelm, embarrass, punish, or exclude them. When teaching vocabulary I must think about how to show students how it is spelled, pronounced, used in a sentence and if there are any changes to the word or words in the same sentence. Rather than just teaching vocabulary in a list, time should be set aside to teach how to use vocabulary appropriately. When I use a course book, I plan on thinking about the unit tasks and conversations therein and analyze whether or not the vocabulary list is appropriate for the lesson and the students rather than rely solely on the list in the book. The same goes for teaching grammar. I will be sure to teach the question, positive, and negative forms of target grammar structures. And, when using a course book, I will be sure to check to see if the uses are taught or if there is needed grammar support that the students need to complete tasks or activities that the book lacks. I will also be sure to take it slow through the grammar points and not try to tackle too many structures in one lesson. I will also try to teach grammar points in comparison so that students can see and understand the differences between tenses. As there are differences between written and spoken language, I will be sure to point that out and ask for those differences in their speaking and writing. When selecting material, I plan on maximizing variety and striking a balance between what the students need to work on and their interests while considering the appropriateness of the level. Whenever possible, I plan on asking students to personalize dialogues and discussions as well as building in time for free conversation to use the language, but also allow students to control the flow of conversation in a way that interests them. In choosing readings, for example, I can find readings that use grammar points and vocabulary we have worked on in a subject matter that interest the students. If I have a room full of soccer loving students, soccer articles or sports articles may be of interest. Where one student may not be interested in that, I can choose a different kind of reading (like on music) for the next assignment. This way we have diversity in sources/topics/themes as well as covering some of the student’s interests. If the course’s goal is to teach them about the world in english, I could still apply a similar approach finding articles, listening activities or discussion topics that can overlap with interests as much as possible. When possible, I will also introduce authentic material that is at an appropriate level (teachable to their level) as to motivate and encourage the students. I also plan on capitalizing on the real variety of the english language in all of it forms (different kinds of conversations, writing styles, and reading materials). This variety makes the classroom more interesting, but it also arms the students with more skills. I learned that flexibility is a must and that teachers should react to their students needs as much as possible through the lessons. Therefore, lesson plans should not be treated as set in stone. If students do not understand something, have a good natural flow of conversation going, and the like I will not stop in the middle of any of that in order to push through the lesson plan. Lesson plans should be re-worked on the spot to adjust to the classroom situation and subsequent plans should also be responsive to any changes as well.