Thursday, 31 October 2013

Decoding Assignments for ESL Students

Every semester we hold a Project Complete program to allow students to catch up on their work before midterm report. I am asked to help ESL students who have fallen behind on their schoolwork. Why have they fallen behind? They don't understand what to do.

In split-level classes, it is difficult for teachers to address the needs of all learners. Students new to Canada and the English language need more one-on-one instruction and modified assignments.

Here's an example of how I helped an ESL A student complete a grade 9 geography task to create a brochure for a Canadian national park.

1. Chunk the assignment. The research was in three parts. I only asked the student to look at one part at a time.

2. Highlight key words. Reduce the text.

3. Use Google Translate and Google Images to decode vocabulary.

4. Next, we went on to the Parks Canada website. I had to guide the student on how to use the features and navigation tools. Make the student read short pieces of text. Don't let them depend on you to do all the work. The one who does the work does the learning. Let them struggle with something they can handle.

5. Use "speak" functions for longer texts.

6. Print PDF fact sheets. Show which paragraph each answer is found in, otherwise the amount of text is overwhelming.

7. Still too much English? Ask student to highlight the words they DO know. For example, to complete the landform section, ask the student to highlight familiar vocabulary in the geography paragraph. Next, the teacher underlines two or three new and important words in pencil. Have the student look up the meaning of the words by using Google Images. Once he or she understands the word, the student can highlight it.

8. When the chart is complete, start transferring info to a brochure template on Publisher. Using Publisher or other computer programs will probably require further instruction. For example, you should show the student how the layout of a brochure works. Page 1 is on the same side as pages 5 and 6.

9. Print off a draft of his or her brochure.

10. Check against expectations. It is important that the student is involved in this process.

11. Edit with the student. Talk about why changes need to be made.

12. Student makes corrections and goes home happy once he or she has completed the task.

Note: This assignment took two days to complete. The next day, the student's teacher reported that the student wanted to try to complete tasks on his own even when she offered to help. He learned that he CAN do it!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Human Bubble

After teaching two uncooperative grade nine classes about using databases, my colleague made an interesting observation: Is this generation a bubble in human development? These kids have grown up with the internet without parental guidance and supervision because the internet didn't exist when the parents were young; parents didn't understand what the internet was all about.

Did the same bubble happen with the printing press? Television?

Image credit:
Giant Bubble. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. Web. 26 Oct 2013.

Googlers, Databasers & Bookies

"I'm so sick of students using Google!" a teacher said to me.

"How about letting them discover if it's the best way to find information for an assignment?" I replied.

In this instance, it was an English class of 30 that came in. I divided them up into three groups: Googlers, Databasers and Bookies. Each group had to find the three best essays in their allotted medium on Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper". It is important to note, there was no assignment attached to this task. They were to spend two hours simply searching for great essays.

The class also given a Best Resources chart to fill out to record their progress, as well as three sticky notes. After they had filled out the chart, they were to reflect and record their observations on their resources on a sticky note and put their observations on a "+" "-" and "!" chart. What were the advantages of their resource? What were the disadvantages? What did they learn?

Some of the groups needed mini-lessons:
  • The Bookies on how to use the library catalogue and the Dewey Decimal system to locate a book.
  • The Databasers needed help accessing the databases and narrowing their focus.
  • The Googlers felt that they didn't need any help at all.
Which group finished first? Whenever I've done this task, it has alternated between the Databasers and the Bookies. It was interesting to observe that the Bookies always worked collaboratively and that each class concluded that the databases were the best place to look for information on this topic. Surprisingly (or not), the Googlers had the hardest time finding good resources. They were always the last group to finish because they did not know how to use the advanced search options in Google. The group got stuck retrieving commercial sites selling essays or university-level work from Google Scholar. I've suggested to students that they may enjoy learning how to become a Google Power Searcher... for free.

Students discovering which resources are the best by themselves...priceless.

(It is important to note that the point of this exercise is NOT to show that Google is bad. It is simply to find out which resource is the best place to find information on a given assignment. For example, I have had other results for students doing a science project.)

Image credits:

DR. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (2003) - MYERS, MIKE; BRESLIN, SPENCER; FANNING, DAKOTA.Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. Web. 8 Oct 2013.

Google Logo. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. Web. 8 Oct 2013.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

"Your Teacher Loves Wikipedia"

OK, this lesson isn't what you think.

Anthropology students had to look for information on a social scientist, e.g., Richard Lee, Sigmund Freud, in order to write a CV for them.

I told them to use Google and Wikipedia to get their information. Both the students and the teacher were shocked.

Here's my justification:

Your Teacher Loves Wikipedia (Click on the heading for slideshow & notes)

But the assignment didn't stop there. The students then had to network in the role of the social scientist they had researched. Ultimately, they had to find which other social scientists they could work with.

At first, I thought this task was a lot of busy work for content that could be delivered more simply: That is, give them a few chapters to read and then categorize the scientists. Instead, their teachers thought this exercise would make the task more interesting for the students.

But here's where the surprise came in: Content isn't what the students are learning. Where the students struggled was picking out what was relevant for the CV. It became a reading and critical thinking exercise. These skills were what they were learning.

Students also learned - in one boy's words-: "The internet sucks." He found six different sources: three stated that his social scientist was kicked out of school; three said he left school because the school was shut down. Learning is more effective if students figure out this unreliability problem on their own.

The teacher saved the day by asking the student, "Do you need to include his elementary school years on his resume anyway?"

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #9)How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Louise Penny's best. A newcomer should read some of her previous Gamache novels in order to understand the backstory. I started with Bury Your Dead and managed. I love how both Bury Your Dead and How the Light Gets In celebrate Quebec winter. Louise Penny amazingly incorporates Quebec past and present into the plot of two intertwining, tension-filled crimes.

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Sunday, 20 October 2013

Alice Munro Country

Travels through Munro Country: Bayfield, Wingham, Port Albert and Goderich. Inspired by "Where Alice Munro found her Stories".

Ceiling ornament

Shipwreck Chart of the Great Lakes

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Looking for Clues

"Think of yourself as Sherlock Holmes and you need to search for clues and you have a feeling whodunit." -Alison Head providing the metaphor for research

Works Cited:

Head, Alison. "What Is It Like to be a College Student in the Digital Age?." OLA SuperConference. Ontario Library Association. Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto. 31 Jan. 2013. Address.
Jones, David. "Sherlock Holmes". N.d. Photograph. Haiku Deck. Flickr. Web. 10 Oct. 2013.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Employing the Easter Egg

The other day I was thinking about gamification -specifically, how to apply game elements to education - and I remembered how I "tricked" my nephew into reading. He was at the cusp of reading a few sentences independently, but he was stubborn. He did not want to try to sound out words on his own.

I devised an Easter egg hunt with a difference. Instead of simply hiding chocolate eggs around the house, I bought some hollow plastic eggs that opened. Inside, I put a clue to the location of the next egg. With each egg, I included a small dollar store trinket.

I thought my nephew would have been more interested in the prizes, but instead he demonstrated that he was motivated by something intrinsic instead. After he had found all of the eggs, he wanted to do the hunt all over again, with the clues only. There was something about finding the next piece to the puzzle that propelled him to keep on reading. He did not resist sounding out the words; in fact, he wanted to figure it out for himself.

This game continued for many years. Eventually, the clues turned into riddles to get him to predict and think more critically. Now a teen, he wouldn't say no if I offered to do an Easter egg hunt again.

Image credits:
Coloured Easter Eggs. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica Image Quest. Web. 4 Oct 2013.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Childhood fears, memories, and the belief in another hidden world. A backwards glance at one's past. The power of story. A good antidote to my last futuristic read, Neuromancer, where the spiritual side of humanity is lost.

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