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Author Topic: Grading Your Language  (Read 829 times)

Calach Pfeffer

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Grading Your Language
« on: January 29, 2015, 07:15:12 AM »
So I was thinking this morning about how much of a language teacher I am not, and it occurred to me, pretty much literally for the first time ever, to try imagining how one might actually teach a language. It seemed semi-obvious that the first step is to identify levels of language, rank them from easiest to hardest, perhaps also identify signature achievements associated with each level. (And it seemed to me perhaps the IELTS bands did a reasonable job of that.) And then I imagined one would create lessons to go with the levels. Now, lessons seemed easy enough as an idea. The tools seem obvious: lecture, controlled activity, feedback, freer activity, and so on. But then I got to wondering about that peculiar peculiarity of language teaching, that if you're not proficient in the students' first language, you use their second language to teach them that second language, and I wondered: how do you grade your language? How do you make sure you're using language the students' grasp? What self-monitoring has to go on there?

This is probably relatively straightforward for an actual language teacher, but it boggled my mind.

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Tree

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Re: Grading Your Language
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2015, 10:26:42 AM »
In general you are asking questions related to course design. Ostensibly this should be thought out by the department chair, but what seems to happen is that there is a textbook series with numbers on it, and the department knows a guy who knows a guy who sells them, so the students start on book one and work though the series.

There are a number of frameworks. I like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Why? Because I use it for myself. Each level is marked off by specifying a number of situations where the student can manage. In the end there is no real way to demarcate, it's all just lines in the sand, what is fluency, etc....

When I first arrived in China I had no language ability past 多少钱, and I work at a technical college, so I had to really break-down my language. I use "So...." as a lead-in about twenty times a lesson, and unconsciously teach my students "Are you ready? --> Yes, I'm ready."

Speak slowly, and clearly. Use short sentences in the beginning. Simple past, simple future, and present continuous are your friends. Keep the preposition count low, and if you must be sure to mime. One clause sentences, or two if you use some well intoned conjunctions. Pause between your sentences, let their brains catch up.

If you pay attention to what you say you'll notice habits - teach them patterns you want them to know such as "Use your own words." This last one in particular is good for judging comprehension because it forces them to take your words, mentally translate into Chinese, then back into English. If what comes out is close enough to what you wanted to say at least that one student can explain using L1 to the rest of the class.

Additionally, I found that many of my students' reading ability far outstripped their listening, so I put the target language on the PPT, and keep a blank word document open as well. Thus if I say something they don't get, I can type it out. After they get it, go back and delete what you wrote, then be sure to bring it up a few times that lesson and in the next to ensure the concepts stick. These sentences get more and more complex as time wears on, usually beginning with "get in pairs" "make a conversation" into "two students will speak and a third will judge - listen carefully because I will be grading all three of you." Extrapolate thusly, etc.

It's fun. I enjoy teaching skills. It can be rewarding at best and absolutely demoralizing at worst - just like a lot of other things. No timid souls a la Roosevelt.
The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.
- Jung

Calach Pfeffer

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Re: Grading Your Language
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2015, 02:00:55 AM »
I'm still boggled.

Then I suppose measuring how well you're communicating depends on knowing what you wanted to communicate. Sharpening focus so much in a classroom that only the planned lesson goes ahead. I suppose that's a test of a teacher: if you don't want to work out how to effectively communicate this or that, you're probably not a teacher of this or that.

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Tree

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Re: Grading Your Language
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2015, 05:09:00 AM »
I dunno - I haven't much in the way of official training, although thats something I hope to shore up in the next year. So any properly trained teachers can correct me, but the way I see it is that teaching a skill is one part tour guide, one part mother bird. You need to know where you want your students to end up, and predigest all the material so you can slow down or speed up depending on comprehension. Planning, thinking things through, thinking on your feet, when to let the class get off-topic and when to pull it back.

I enjoy it. I'm an orchestrator. It's exhausting, but I've done other jobs and this is the one that keeps bringing me back - literally. I was working full time in the States and decided to cut my salary by 60% to come back and live this lifestyle. Now just gotta get the MA so I can do this job in Korea...
The greatest and most important problems of life are all in a certain sense insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.
- Jung