Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Tell Tale Heart


Monday, October 29, 2007

Yahoo, the mid-terms are marked - and there were no major disasters! Phew! I noticed that the students really get quite worked up at mid-terms time. People start to worry a lot, and they get nervous and stressed out. I feel kind of bad putting my students through this. The funny thing is that when I was a student, I never felt nervous during exams. I guess I just kind of accepted them. In the EAP program, when I first started noticing how worked up students get over the exams I started trying to think of ways to lower the stress. The way I thought I could do that was by being as explicit as possible about what is required for the exams. I really wanted the students to feel that there was a method to the mid-terms and they way that the exams are marked, rather than feeling like they (the students) are being buffeted about by forces beyond their control. What I mean is, too often, it seems like the students felt that the process of being evaluated on the mid-terms is random and arbitrary, when actually, we try to reduce the abitrary nature of the grading as much as possible through rubrics and collaboration between the teachers. At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory. Anyway, the mid-terms are over now, and there is only half a semester left. I guess mid-terms are going to be stressful no matter what we do. I guess part of the problem is the nature of EAP itself. When I was teaching ESL, there were really no consequences. If the students weren't able to write an essay in English, it never really was a big deal, as long as we had lots of fun during the process of learning how to write an essay. But now, here in the EAP program, the consequences are really high. I mean, if the students don't pass, they don't get to go on into their faculties for regular studies. Also, there is the added bonus of being able to skip the effective writing exam if the students get a B+ in the writing course. Anyway, all this adds up to major consequences that you don't normally have in a regular ESL course. S I G H. I miss taking students to the zoo and having homework which involved deciding which animal was the cutest one at the zoo and drawing posters depicting just how cute it is. Now, it's all about transitions and adverbials . . .

However, one day all my students will be engineers, scientists, doctors, and teachers. I guess that's more important than picking out cute animals at the zoo . . .

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The 2007 Alberta Teachers of English as a Second Language Conference is over! Wow, I never knew volunteer work could be so much like . . . well, work! You see, I was the Publishers’ and Exhibitors’ Committee Co-Chair, which basically means that I was in charge of getting the publishers to the conference, helping them while they were at the conference, and then sending them away happy at the end. That meant that I had to be at the conference at 6 am on the Friday of the conference to help the publishers set up, and I didn’t leave the conference until 7 pm that night. That was a 13 hour day. I was totally exhausted by the time I got home. On top of that, I also ran a workshop on blogging on the Saturday of the conference. It’s hard to believe that I have been blogging for almost 4 years already. I first started blogging with my students in April 2004, and I haven’t stopped since then . . . I think I have also done about 10 presentations and workshops on blogging since I started as well.

Anyway, the conference was actually kind of fun because it was great catching up with teachers from all around the province. The only problem was that the timing of the conference wasn’t so great. It fell this year right in the middle of mid-terms for the EAP program at the University of Calgary. This meant that I had to abandon my students on Friday so that I could be at the conference. I hope they did okay. I’ll be seeing their exams on Monday . . . fingers crossed.

Actually, I’m really glad that it’s mid-term time. This is a great time for us all to take a moment and reflect on how the courses have been going so far, and there is still time to make a change in direction if necessary. I think I’m going to focus on getting some feedback from the students after mid-terms about what we can do to maximize their language learning in the last six weeks of the program. In fact, if any students have any great ideas, don’t be shy to comment on this blog!

As for the teachers who came to my workshop last Saturday, thanks very much for coming. It was a pleasure sharing my experience and blogs with you! Please keep in touch!

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Ogopogo is the name of the moster that lives in Lake Okanagan beside Kelowna. But don't worry . . . I didn't see him (or her) while I was in Kelowna. I guess I spent too much time at the college. I got to visit Okanagan College on Friday to talk about ESL programs, and how our EAP program at the University of Calgary compares to their ESL program at Okanagan College. It was really interesting to visit another institution and talk about what is going well for us, as well as some of the pitfalls. Right now, Okanagan College is evaluating their ESL program, and they asked my PhD supervisor to go to their college and chat about what they are doing. I was lucky enough to get invited along by my supervisor so that I could sit in on the meetings.

The part that was the most interesting for me was the discussion about the validity of ESL programs, and how to establish that validity. By validity, I mean, are we really doing what we are saying we are doing. In my case, that means, is the EAP program at the University of Calgary really preparing students for undergraduate studies and raising students English to a level high enough so that their relative problems with English won't be the cause of failure in University. Does success in the EAP program mean that students are likely to be successful at University?

I guess if we want to know that, first of all we need to know that what we are teaching and what we are testing are the same things, and that they are all relevant to the academic English language proficiency needed for undergraduate studies. Are the appropriate language, concepts and strategies being covered in the EAP program? The curriculum would need to be checked against the final exams.

Next, it would be good to check what we are doing with another accepted method of assessing language ability. That would mean carrying out a study in which students who graduate from the EAP program take another accepted test and we compare those marks to our marks. That could mean seeing if students who pass the EAP program also pass a TOEFL test, or the like.

After that, it would be nice to know what is happening to our students once they get to university. We could do that by checking on their GPA's one year, three years, and upon graduation and comparing those scores to their exit scores from the EAP program.

If we did all that, I think we could be fairly confident is saying that yes, the EAP program is preparing students well for university (that is if all the results are positive).

Anyway, those are the kind of things we were talking about in Kelowna. Fun stuff!

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I'm so proud of my students. Everyone is blogging really hard right now. Phew. I think we had kind of a shakey start this semester. However, I hope from now on that everyone is going to blog a lot. I guess the reason we had a shakey start this semester is that I totally left it up to the students to start their blogs. I guess I'm trying to test their "independent" learning skills. Actually, most of the students were able to do it no problem . . . but with others it took a little prompting :-)

Anyway, now everyone is blogging!

Hmmmmm . . . I wonder if anyone wants to come to my office hours today. You see, somebody threw a rock through my back window at my house. Can you believe it? I didn't even wake up when it happened. It happened last Saturday night, and when I woke up on Sunday morning, there was glass all over my back room. I couldn't believe it. It is a pretty big window too - about 4 feet by 4 feet so it is going to cost me around $500 to get it fixed. I'm so annoyed because it is not like I am a rich person living in a rich person's house. Not that I'm advocating throwing rocks through the windows of rich people, but at least they could afford to get their windows fixed. Ah well, I guess I'll have to eat less Swiss Chalet take out chicken this week. I even called the police, but there was nothing they could do to help me because they said it is basically impossible to catch the people who through the rock through my window. They did ask if I had any enemies . . . I wonder which student might be mad at me!