“I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
―Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Principal author of the Declaration of Independence and Third U.S. President
Every year Americans celebrate the Fourth of July in honor of the Declaration of Independence and the eventual birth of the United States. I find it a delightful conversation piece in my classrooms for many reasons. After all, students from other nations are often eager to learn more about the history of the United States. Additionally, discussion of principles like independence, freedom and democracy always sparks engaging debate. This year, I’ve assembled some great resources to supplement discussing Independence Day in the classroom.
For instance, the July edition of the Easy English Times, edited by Lorraine Ruston and published by Betty Malmgren, features several American-themed pieces including the front-pager “Symbols of America.” There are also a few pieces on immigration and presidents. Of course, I’m also pleased to see an excerpt from Compelling Conversations on page 6 on American Culture.
With respect to the Fourth of the July, I found American historian Kenneth C. Davis’ TedEd, “What you might not know about the Declaration of Independence” thought-provoking. It’s a great conversation starter on the topic of freedom and if all Americans truly obtained it in 1776. Davis, the best-selling author of “Don’t Know Much About History”, clearly follows Frederick Douglass’ classic “What the Fourth of July Means to American Slave.”
One final resource I like is the Constitution Center, and its section on the Bill of Rights. Conversation about the Declaration of Independence opens a door to its followers–the Constitution and the subsequent amendments. Though not specifically for ESL classrooms, the activities, particularly the “Creating Your Own Flag” one, balance the celebration of patriotism and diversity.
How was your Fourth of July weekend? How will you discuss independence, freedom and the history of the United States in your classroom?
How can you encourage your advanced ESL students to develop their speaking skills and tap their interest in our rapidly changing world? Create compelling classroom assignments that respect their intelligence, engage their curiosity, and model great speaking skills. Let your students be hunters, gathers, and presenters of new information to their classmates!
Adding a homework assignment that requires ESL students to go the “ideas worth sharing” website at www.TED.com accomplishes all these goals. For the last four years, I have asked both college and international graduate students to select a short TED.com video, watch it, and prepare to share their impressions in class. Since many students have evolving English language skills and the course is an advanced oral skills class, they just take notes. What’s the title? Where was the lecture given? Who gave the lecture? Date? How did they open the presentation? Was their a significant quote? What sources were orally cited? How would they rate the video on a scale of 1-5? Why did they choose this TED video? Why do they recommend we watch it too?
Students will often watch several TED videos before choosing a favorite one. This advanced ESL homework assignment seems to capture their imagination as they explore the TED website. The next day, students discuss the TED video that they selected in small groups of four. Afterwards, I ask for “brave volunteers” to share their impressions – i.e., review – with the class. Usually everyone wants to present so we extend the lesson to a second class where I videotape all the presentations. The class sessions are always illuminating, engaging, and surprising as I learn more about students, their interests, our evolving world, and their English language speaking skills. This democratic speaking skills activity creates an atmosphere where “everybody is a student, and everybody is a teacher.” Result: the entire class creates compelling classroom conversations!
As the old American cereal commercial used to say, “try it – you’ll like it” – at least with more advanced English students!
Like so many other English teachers, I begin teaching with student interests and habits in mind. Of course, I also want to take them from the old and familiar to new and unfamiliar while improving their English language skills. You Tube remains a powerful classroom tool to achieve that goal.
I’ve used YouTube to have students research job interview tips, stress patterns, pronunciation problems, and informational interviews. The results have been consistently positive as I have students write concise video reviews and email me their reviews for homework before the next class.
Then I slightly edit the reviews, watch the videos and add my own comments in blue ink, and combine the reviews into a single document that is emailed to all class members. “Use or lose” I say, but here are the reviews from your classmates. Result: almost every student watches every video recommended and spending far more time on the topic than I could allocate in class. It’s both popular and quite effective.
Do ESL teachers want a more democratic classroom? Perhaps the workshop description discouraged English teachers, the title seemed too bold, or the other two dozen workshops held at the same time appeared more practical.
Techniques and Methods for a More Democratic Classroom
A more democratic classroom encourages student speech, features student created content, allows student choice of assignments, reflects student interests, and includes peer evaluations. Democratic classrooms create autotelic students where we learn by making good mistakes. Handouts.
For whatever reason, my CATESOL workshop on “Classroom Techniques and Practices for a More Democratic Classroom” only attracted around 20 ESL teachers – and a few left early after taking the 12-page handout of reproducible lessons. Yet the ESL teachers who stayed asked good questions, shared examples to support my thesis, and several expressed gratitude. Consider me basically satisfied.
Several other CATESOL presenters also lead workshops and shared materials and techniques to incorporate the internet, radio, and other authentic materials into ESL classrooms. While few other presenters used the word “democratic”, many other ESL professionals noted the need to be “student-centered” and include “critical thinking.” More and more English teachers, even the pseudo-Luddites, have become aware of teaching potential of 21st century technologies – and the ability to tailor instruction to individual student needs.
I still wonder, however, why the idea of a more democratic classroom where students hunt and gather their own source materials to develop their language skills seems strange to so many English teachers. To me, it seems absolutely natural to guide students toward becoming self-directed, or autotelic, learners. Here are three handouts that I shared at my CATESOL workshop on Friday toward that goal. Use or lose. You choose.
Please select one radio segment, based on a personal essay, and read by writers. Find a story that resonates with you. Listen carefully. Take notes. Fill out the worksheet below. You will be asked to share your selection with classmates in both a small group and the entire class.
This I Believe Title:
Who is the author?
What’s the main idea?
Why did you choose this podcast?
Did you hear any new words or phrases?
Who do you imagine is the audience for this podcast? Why?
Please circle the appropriate overall rating 1-10 (10=BEST)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Getting Job Interview Advice from YouTube!
Please find an YouTube videoclip that helps people successfully interview for jobs – in English – that you would like to share with your classmates. Watch the video, take notes, and review it for your classmates.
Please describe the video.
What interview tips did the video provide?
Where do you think the video was produced? Why?
How practical did you find the advice? Why?
What was the strongest part? Why?
What was the weakest part? Why?
Who do think is the target audience for this video?
Who makes the rules? Who chooses the rulers? Can citizens peacefully replace ineffective, unpopular leaders?
Yes, we can!
In the United States of America, voters enjoyed their opportunity to hire and fire their President. People voted, machines counted the votes, and millions of people around the nation smiled, laughed, and felt hopeful again. Senator Obama, as so often, captured the power and beauty of the peaceful transfer of power in his eloquent speech Tuesday.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. “
Barack Hussein Obama (1961- ), President-elect of the United States
What a patriotic quotation celebrating freedom! Cara Fulton, at www.maestrousa.com and ESL maven, suggests adding Obama’s quote to the list of great quotes and next edition of Compelling Conversations. Cara, who helps students develop the full spectrum of English language skills, sees the power of Obama’s election as a celebration of America. Reka, another friend and ESL teacher is addingexcerpts from Obama’s speech to her oral skills course for international students. (Note: Reka watch the two times – back to back – on election night.) Americans, across the country, felt united in a shared moment of hope and pride.Our system, the democratic system, still works! Voting counts.
We are coming back – to our ideals, our citizens, and our best traditions! The United States, the first nation explicitly created on enlightenment ideals, will become an inspiring 21st century nation.
This surprising election seems like a very teachable moment. Immigrants and international students can rest assured that they made the right decision to come to the United States. English language learners around the world should feel the enlarged possibilities that come with our strange tongue. European sceptics and Arab critics should candidly reassess their prejudices about Americans and the American government. After all, Obama – the son of an international African student and an adventurous Midwestern scholar – has just won the Presidency of the United States. Where else could that happen?
ESL teachers, especially in the United States, can and should celebrate this democratic tradition in our classrooms. Immigrants, refugees, and international students – in the United States and other western democratic countries – often understand the power of democracy on a deeper level than many jaded Americans. The passion of students for good government, justice, and voting will lead to an engaging discussions. Let’s give students a chance to speak up in our classes, and marvel at the election of Obama.
Who gets to speak in class? Whose ideas count? Who chooses the assignments? How do students receive feedback? Do students have a chance to conference with their instructors? Can YouTube be a valuable source for homework assignment? Do you want your students to become self-directed – or autotelic – in their studies?
Here’s a quick checklist that ESL teachers that I created for a recent CATESOL workshop called “Techniques for a More Democratic Classroom”. My core assumption remains that giving students more opportunities to literally speak, write, and share their insights leads to a more engaging, dynamic, and valuable classroom experience. I will write more on this topic in a few days, but here are some questions to consider.
Who do you currently teach? How would you describe the students?
What are some of their personal interests?
How can student interests be better incorporated into the curriculum?
Which assignments do students currently choose? Which seems most successful? Why?
What are some benefits of greater student participation?
What are some risks of greater student participation?
Do you want to increase the number of choices students make?
What critical language skills can be taught by tapping into their interests?
How can you tweak current material to better individualize instruction?
What internet resources can you use to augment the current curriculum?
Which exercises or activities do you find most successful in your classroom?
What decisions do you keep as your prerogative as the instructor?
Will your students become self-directed learners?
How can you encourage that possibility?
How can you create a more democratic classroom?
What are some obstacles to a more democratic classroom?
How does technology encourage a more democratic classroom?
“Education is a kind of continuing dialogue and a dialogue assumes, in the nature of the case, different points of view.” Robert Hutchins (1899-1977), former President of University of Chicago and educational philosopher
Do you agree? Disagree? Why? Feel free to let me know.
I’ll post an article in a few days outlining some of my thoughts and sharing some materials.