Grading in IEPs

Bird by Bird is book about writing by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.  In it, Lamott tells a story that has resonated with me when I think about grading.

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
— Anne Lamott
 Flickr User: moosejaw2

Flickr User: moosejaw2

As I've been reading more about writing, I'm finding advice that is useful to the dreaded task of grading.  Turns out, teachers and writers have a good deal in common: they need to carve out time to do their work.  I know that as a teacher, it's critical that I monitor student progress by providing timely feedback and grading, but it can feel incredibly tedious and mechanical.  As a more creative person who eschews schedules and routine, it can be challenging for me to keep up with all of the work that my students submit.  It's easy to procrastinate on grading, and then as the papers continue to pile up, it can seem overwhelming to dive into the mess.  Although taking it "bird by bird" is useful, another quip that seems even more relevant is:

“The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
— Mary Heaton Vorse

That's it. I think this will be my secret to grading.  I'll just sit down. And, when I sit down, I'll sit down to do it. I will apply the seat of my pants to the seat of the chair and I will grade.  I'll set a time, keep myself from distractions, stay uncomfortable, and aim to do it every.single.day.  It's important, and I'll feel so much better knowing that I have a handle on it.

How do you stay on top of grading?  Any tips or tricks?  I'd love to hear them!

Gamification in the language classroom

Gamification in the language classroom

As I consider the start of new classes this summer, I am thinking of ways to gamify my class. Last year, Deborah Healey spoke to several ESL instructors at the University of Oregon and urged us to think of ways to incorporate gamification into our lessons.  While this idea is so compelling and intriguing, it can be a little overwhelming to think about overhauling a well-established grading system to take this step. Not to mention that teachers and instructors often need to adhere to current systems and syllabi for accreditation purposes.  

However, there are ways to incorporate some aspects of gamification into any class.  We can work to add games to regular activities.  For example in my classes, instead of asking students to answer comprehension questions, I often cut up the questions into strips of paper, put those strips in a cup, ask students to roll a dice or use a spinner to select who will go or what question they will answer, and then award points to students for answering these questions.  

Read More

What motivates students?

What motivates students?

This past semester, some of my colleagues and I at the Intensive English Institute participated in a book club.  We read a wonderful book---What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain (2004). I had actually started to read this independently, and then I realized how much better it would be if I could relate it to language teaching by discussing it with others in the TESOL field.

Several chapters gave me lots to chew on---but one area that I'm really still puzzled about is student motivation.  Bain points to the research of Deci, Richard, and deCharms that suggests that if students suspect any sort of manipulation due to external reward, they might lose interest. But, at the same time, he mentions that without external motivation, intrinsic fascination might also diminish.  According to Bain, the most successful educators he has worked with aim to avoid extrinsic motivators and instead work to develop intrinsic motivators for students. 

Read More

Documenting student results using pre-tests & post-tests

ZhaoHong Han, my Second Language Acquisition professor at Teachers College, was the first teacher I ever had that showed data to support her students' progress over the course semester.  It made a lasting impression on me, and since then, I've tried to do the same with my students.

At the beginning of the term in my Reading 100 class, I give pre-tests for both reading and vocabulary.  During the last week of the semester, students take the same test again.  Then, after the results are scored, I give them the results of the whole class and show the students' individual progress (anonymously, of course).  This is pretty easy to set-up in an excel spreadsheet to make a simple graph to display.  Students are always so pleased to see evidence of their learning.  I make a big deal of it and make sure to acknowledge their hard work.  I also emphasize how the small score increases are actually quite significant. (And they are--the test is quite difficult).

Read More

Incorporating Reading and Writing in Chats

I think that one interesting way to incorporate reading and writing into video chats would be to have a shared reading, perhaps a news article related to a current hot topic to be read first.  If reading controversial news stories could be assigned before the chat, students would have to recall their reading and talk about the text, which we know helps aid in reading comprehension.  Students could also have the reading in front of them and they could reference while chatting.  Of course, the reading material would have to be carefully selected to ensure that it was interesting and could prompt a good deal of discussion.  I also think that using video chat as a way to form a sort of book club could be a great use.  Maybe prior to chatting, sections of an assigned book could be read and students could be asked to write reflections on those assignments, then they could use asynchronous CMC to share reflections with one another.  They would already have some indication on how their chat partners were responding to the text before interacting in real time.  I think that activities like these could really focus the learning and help ensure that students remain on task.