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!

Icebreakers for ESL

Icebreakers for ESL

Each semester, as I think about breaking the ice with students, I get a rush of excitement mixed with panic.  It's time to pick out a new icebreaker, and so I start searching.  I have to say, each semester I diligently look for new ones to use.  Some that I find are attractive, and seem as if they will work in my given context, but without fail, I rely on my old favorite.

This ice breaker never lets me down, involves almost no prep, and always gets students engaged.  I first learned of it from Dave's ESL cafe when I was teaching IELTS test prep classes in New York.  As much as I sometimes think that I should change things up, I just can't tear myself away from using this one.

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Building rapport in the language classroom

Building rapport in the language classroom

Establishing rapport is something that we spend a good deal of time talking about in K-12, but it is less frequently discussed in higher education settings.  At the college level, it can be difficult to prioritize building rapport when there is so much content to deliver with few contact hours.  But, as we know, building rapport is critically important. In fact, Young and Shaw (1999) said that students and teachers agree that "empathy with students needs" is one of the important factors which contributes to effective teaching. 

According to the IDEA Report to Faculty Members, the following four items combine to demonstrate what instructors do to build rapport.

# 1. Show students that they have a personal interest in their learning
# 2. Identify steps students can take to help them answer their own questions
# 7. Elaborate on the feedback given to students to explain ideas behind their criticisms of student academic work
#20. Invited interaction with students outside of class (office visits, phone calls, e-mail, etc.)

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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.  

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Cumulative Review Game

Cumulative Review Game

As the school year winds down, many are probably searching for ways to remind students what they have learned.  I know that I was just a few weeks ago.  In addition to wanting to show students how much progress they made, I wanted to have students think about all that they had learned, but it was important to keep such a review student-centered.

Of course, there are the old standards, Jeopardy and Password.  These have been pretty successful in previous semesters.  But, this May, I was searching for something different. I needed something else--the class had entered in January with virtually no English.  After speaking to Maggie Courtright, my reading component leader, I had a solid plan for a review lesson.

Do you remember the game Outburst?  Well, this happens to lend itself very well to the language class.  It might actually work in several content areas. 

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