The last two weeks have included a total of six articles or textbook chapters for my Methods for Teaching Literacy in ESL at USD. Included in the readings were chapters two and three from Teaching ESL Composition by Ferris and Hedgcock. Also included was chapter 20 from Brown's Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy on how to plan a lesson, Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe, Teaching for Meaning and Understanding - A Theory of Underlying Theory and Research by McTighe and Seif, Section D Instructional Practices from the RP Group's Basic Skills as a Foundation for Student Success in CA CCs, and chapter 9 and 10 from Larsen-Freeman's Techniques and Principles in Language Teaching.
Chapter 2 from Teaching ESL Composition is focused on extensive reading for the development of both reading and writing literacy. It points out that both skills are essentially the same or at least highly dependent on one another. A good reader will be a better writer and a good writer will be a better reader. I believe this to be very accurate and this will affect my future pedagogy very heavily. I plan to include as much English reading as possible in order to "flood" students with input and various models of acceptable English usage. I know from Krashen's Input Hypothesis, polyglot Steven Kaufmann, and my own experience with reading voraciously that reading extensively greatly contributes to literacy and do not know of a more efficacious way of helping students become independent and capable English users. This reading was the most valuable and memorable to me as it connects and explains what I have already believed to be true and therefore has a much stronger connection to myself than the rest of the readings.
Chapter 3 from Teaching ESL Composition covered syllabus design and lesson planning. It focused on creating goals, objectives and a needs analysis in order to shape the course schedule and lesson planning. This related to heavily to what I know about strategic planning in business or lifestyle design and because of the common language made the material easy to digest. I really like the logical flow of each component and cannot wait to actually plan out a real course in the future. I will definitely refer back to this resource when I tackle the real thing. For now, it is a great way of thinking meta-cognitively about the classes I am in and observing. I am beginning to ask much more frequently why a teacher is doing something and what the hopes are for the class or activity.
Brown’s chapter on lesson planning essentially provided me with a template to follow in lesson planning. I love templates. Not because I like to copy them exactly, but it takes much of the cognitive strain away from reinventing the wheel. I also believe that with exposure to many different templates, you can associate a common theme and pattern and begin to develop your own. It makes beginning the process much easier and acts as a model. I am now actively looking at my lessons through this template, similar to the meta-cognitive analysis of my classes I mentioned in the previous paragraph. It all just acts as one window which you can look through to see a new perspective on class design.
The Understanding by Design article focused on a three step process: desired results, evidence, and learning plan. This is considered “backwards” design by the authors, but to me just represents a logical approach to teaching. A business executive would not spend money on a project without the desired results and methods of measurement in mind. A personal trainer also would not “spend” client energy on a workout without the desired results or ways of ensuring desired outcomes were measurable. Why should teaching be any different? I do think that learning is much more difficult than the two previous examples in that measurement can often be much more problematic. Business is measured in dollars and exercise is measured in weight on a bar or time to completion in conditioning. These are highly quantitative and education is not always so easy to convert to numbers. So while I do firmly believe in measurement (absurdly so in most cases), I do think there is more room in learning for simply exploring and “strolling” about a subject. That is not to say a desired result is not expected, just that manifestation of learning can be delayed or offset by many factors. I believe that thinking about measurement is something that will drive me crazy in a good way for the rest of my career. I also hope that measurement in my mind will never be confused with testing, as judging and measuring abilities in a student does not have to be done with a formal standardized test.
Teaching for Meaning and Understanding was exactly what its title implied. Teachers should focus on teaching that leads to greater understanding and meaning for students so that it can transfer to real world applications and experiences. I could not agree more. I find more and more that teaching students how to ask questions, monitor their own understanding, and think critically about source information is far more important than facts. Ideally, I would like to use this approach to teaching at all times in the classroom. However, I find that in some cases students are reluctant to engage in this type of pedagogy because they are not interested in the class material and simply want to move on to another subject. This is where rapport and meaning are very important. Mike Rose stated in Lives on the Boundary that teaching is about romancing the students and that most failure was the result of social, not intellectual reasons. I agree with this. There are very few things in life that are inherently meaningful. It is up to the teacher to make them meaningful to the student through a “romance” with the subject.
Section D Instructional Practices discussed the basic skills and techniques that teachers should implement in their practice. The last three sections stood out the most to me. These sections were stated that faculty should routinely share strategies, closely monitor students, and provide comprehensive student support. The most meaningful quote explained, “A key finding of this study stated, “Students who find something or someone worthwhile to connect with in the postsecondary environment are more likely to engage in educationally purposeful activities during college, persist, and achieve their educational objectives.” (3)” (p. 51). This directly relates to the ideas of Mike Rose referenced above. It appears more and more clearly in my mind that becoming someone a student finds worthwhile as an individual, rather than just a teacher, is possibly the most important aspect of my future job as an educator.
Finally, chapter 9 of Techniques and Principles of Language Teaching discussed communicative language teaching or CLT. “One of the basic assumptions of CLT is that by learning to communicate students will be more motivated to study a foreign language since they will feel they are learning to do something useful with the language.” (p. 130) This idea of useful or meaningful connects immediately to the article on teaching for meaning and understanding. Doing anything without a strong purpose is very difficult to persist in. If a student does not see meaning, purpose, or that I as an educator am worthwhile to listen and learn from, the entire process becomes wasted. Therefore, focusing on the function of language (i.e. communication) is more important in the overall picture than drilling form through grammar practice. This will be how I hope to situate all my future classes. By utilizing goals, objectives, CLT methods, meaning, purpose, and being a person students see as worthwhile to learn from, I hope that the time spent in the classroom will be valuable and enjoyable for all.