Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday's Torch Story

You must stick to your convictions, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.
~ Denis Waitley

Our discussion question this week was about animals - if you were an animal, what type of animal would you like to be and why?

Modesta would like to be a dog, because they don't have to work and all they do is eat and sleep.

Enriquetta would like to be a butterfly, because they are pretty and can fly.

Irma would like to be a turtle, because they move slowly, can swim, live a long time and every turtle has it's own house.

And Reina explained that she is very happy to be a human, but if she HAD to be an animal, she would be a dove, because doves symbolize peace.

The one sad thing about breaking my class into small groups for the discussion question activity, is that I only get to hear the answers from some of the students... ;)


I did get to use my new toy - the programmable, interactive spinners - for a regular verb conjugation activity. At the last minute, I scaled back and only did 2 tenses - simple past (add "ed" to the end of the verb) and simple future (add the word "will" in front of the verb). That turned out to be a good decision - it was plenty challenging enough for my students.

I picked those tenses, instead of the simple present tense, because the present-tense conjugation of regular verbs requires a change for the third person (he, she & it) only - you have to add an "s" to the end of the verb. That seemed a bit more complicated.

I'll review the past & future tenses next week and then add present tense to the activity next week.

You know, one of my guiding principles in teaching this class is to try to make as many connections as possible between the new language (English) and the language that they already know (Spanish). So, for example, I gave a simple definition of verbs (action words) and then reminded them that verbs are words that change, depending on WHO is doing them and WHEN they are being done - and I gave a couple of examples in Spanish.

Finally, I "reminded" them that Spanish has both regular and irregular verbs, and that this is true in English too - and that we would only be talking about regular verbs in that lesson.

I was so proud of myself for building all those bridges between the new material in my lesson and things that (I thought) they already knew and understood...

Until after class, when I was talking with Ana, and I discovered that she had no idea what I meant by "regular and irregular" verbs in Spanish. And she is easily in the top 25% of my class, with regards to both her ability and the amount of formal education that she has completed in her home country.

I still think that my basic plan is a good one, but it looks like I'm going to have to be more on guard against making too many assumptions...

Photo credit: jimwhiteheaducsc


Anonymous said...

Just be careful of going too far the other way and not taking it for granted they don't understand anything.

MD said...

Ah, this is not intended as bashing US or UK education, but many well-educated people (outside my job, where everyone knows linguistics) look utterly blank when I mention basic concepts I learned in my ESOL classes, like countable nouns, clauses, coordinating vs. subordinating conjunctions; they often confuse tense names and mis-identify passives. And truly, I am speaking of things that I learned in my "pre-intermediate English" class.

Conversely, when I was studying Ukrainian in school, I remember that we had to learn a lot of conjugation rules for nouns etc., which seemed totally silly - "of course everyone knows that, what is this fuss with learning which word endings to use when". Our education in Ukrainian and Russian was a lot more formal than most of what is typical in writing guides here, but still I don't think I know as much about concepts in Ukrainian grammar as I do in the English or French grammar.

So I think it is not an issue of having a lot of education, it is an issue that if you only know a single language, many grammar concepts may not "stick" and make sense even if taught in school.

When teaching my mom, I eventually found comparisons with Ukrainian useful, but mostly when she got to intermediate level. First there seemed to be a lot of learning to look at English and see abstract patterns, not just individual instances; and then being able to look back at Ukrainian and analyze it like that. And mom started with better grasp than many people I know of what parts of speech and formal sentence structure are in Ukrainian...