TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

Reflective Journal: Three Weeks in China

This is my third week teaching in Hefei, China. I’m journaling a lot these days -reflecting on the rationale behind my lesson plans and their implementation and trying to understand the way I perceive students are participating and learning from our time together in class. I think I needed these initial three weeks to feel more grounded in my view of this curriculum I’ve created and I’m fine-tuning as I go. 

During those 7 weeks I had to prepare to come here, I was really worried I wouldn’t have enough materials and I’d be stuck without the ‘comfort’ of an office stocked with books and resources. Not having a textbook as the backbone for these classes was scary at first! I’m glad to say that in reality, not having a textbook to follow has been a blessing in disguise. I am able to be creative, think about what really suits my students and my teaching style, adapt materials around me, and set our own agenda! Having a textbook would not allow me to do this. Of course, I’m not coming up with everything from scratch. I use 4 different books from the Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers and I also use some books for speaking (and listening) activities. In addition, I’ve been starting to adapt articles from the web and create my own materials by using Ted Talks or texts from NPR and the BBC. Again, the challenge here is the fact that these are multi-level groups and I need to learn how to work with students who are beginners and others at an advanced level all in the same classroom. One strategy I’ve used so far is assigning different types of questions to check for comprehension. I’m also trying to be very deliberate about the way group work is conducted in class.

Anyhow, here are some thoughts about what has not worked as I expected, what has worked well, and what I still need to improve or figure out. I’m hoping that by comparing my expectations to what’s actually happening, I might be able to learn more about my teaching and the needs of a program such as the one I am working with right now. Any suggestions or comments on these reflections will be greatly appreciated! Teaching in a new scenario can be a pretty lonely act and I do much better when able to socialize ideas and teaching plans.

Original curriculum includes:

-Weekly themes or topics so that all materials and activities are connected by a common thread.  

-Daily routines to aid classroom management, which I anticipated would be an issue in these large multilevel classes (22 and 35 students ranging from A1 to B2 under the CEFR*)

-Project-Based Learning to motivate students to be autonomous learners, creative, and practice expressing their own opinions. 

-Task-based learning with differentiated tasks according to the students’ level.

-Self-evaluations in the form of individual learning contracts for students to set their own learning goals and take responsibility for their learning.

How has it worked so far?

-The weekly topic worked well the first two weeks. For Week 1 we did “Getting to Know Each Other and Asking Questions.” Week 2 was “Learning Styles and Diversity.” This week, however, I felt as if I still had work pending from last week and I couldn’t figure out what the theme should be. The students are still practicing how to ask questions, and revising learning contracts. I’ve also had 3 periods less than usual. In addition, today I spent a whole period showing students how to navigate through our class websites and how to check their grades on Engrade. This was my test day to learn how to use their computer lab. In conclusion, there is no theme for this week. I worried at first, but it’s not really an issue since I’m learning what works best. I’m still planning on having a theme next week (family matters? food? spending habits?) but what matters the most to me now is that students have a clear understanding of what the expectations are of them as students in an academic setting in the U.S.

-The daily routines have been a great help to save time in class and help students become more organized. Since here in China they use lots of workbooks in class, students are not used to taking notes or having a dedicated notebook for class work.

I have not done the ‘exit tickets’ I envisioned at first (not enough time!), but I do write new vocabulary each day and keep a log for myself so I’ll remember to recycle it in future lessons. I need to find a good way to briefly review what we’ve done in class each day. Currently, students are keeping a vocabulary log and writing sentences to practice using these words. I still need to incorporate them in larger tasks, but it’s hard to tie it all together in something coherent. For now, this is their default homework if I don’t assign anything else. I will continue to evaluate this vocabulary log strategy, but for now at least provides a way to practice the language we’ve used in class and it is a set routine we have. Each day I take 10 index cards with the students’ names each day and check those notebooks only. That helps manage my time with these large groups. Another routine I have been very consistent about is writing objectives and activities on the board each day. I ask students questions about the objectives and hope this is a reminder for them about the rationale behind class activities. I’d like for them to realize that there is always an immediate purpose for everything we do in class.

-I have not been able to start our projects, but plan to introduce them next week. Again, I think I needed these first three weeks to get a good understanding of who I’m working with and what resources are available. This week I finally got a computer room for both groups. That will make a big difference in terms of having time to do research and conduct Project-Based Learning (PBL) in school.

-We have done lots of task-based learning (TBL) and very little language without a communicative purpose. However, I need to plan more authentic tasks.  

-I don’t know if the self-evaluations are really working, but students have written down specific things they think they should do in order to make improvements in their English language skills and study skills. We revised these today with my younger students and will be writing new learning contracts and doing a more formal self-evaluation in two weeks. More about whether this is working or not then!

All right, this is a long blog post. If you are still reading, please know that I really, really value all and any feedback I can get!

Will be checking in again soon…

Laura Adele.

1. CEFR = Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

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