Thursday, February 28, 2008

Recently, I carried out an activity in my class that I like to call the “compliment sandwich”. Here are the questions I asked:

Top Bun:
Something I like about the EAP 3 Writing Class
General advice I would give to my EAP 3 Writing teacher
Something specific I wish were different about EAP 3 Writing
How I would make my wish come true
Bottom Bun:
Something else I really like about the EAP 3 Writing Class

While the students had some very valid comments on class size, table shapes, teacher personalities and the time table, I thought I would focus in this blog on the specific comments the students made that related to the EAP 3 Academic Writing and Grammar curriculum. I also thought I would leave out summarizing the compliment part (the bun) of the sandwich. However, I would like to say thank you to all the students who took the time to give me some compliments and brighten my day! It was good to know that some of you like my shoes. Anyway, what you will find below is a synopsis of the important points the students made from both classes of EAP 3 (lectures 1 and 2)

The students provided some interesting feedback for the writing and grammar class. First of all, students are looking for more flexibility choosing their own topics for the writing assignments. This could mean, choosing their own topics for the term papers, or finding new topics that could be added to the topics in the textbook. Some of the students felt that some of the topics were boring and that because the topics were boring, this sometimes made the class boring as well.

Students are also looking for more feedback on their writing assignments so that they can fix their mistakes and perfect a piece of writing before they move onto the next assignment. Thus, the students would like grammar errors not only pointed out in their essays, but also identified so that the students know exactly what their weaknesses are. The students felt that more specific comments on their papers would contribute to greater learning.

Additionally, the students would like to find a balance between writing and grammar instruction (some want more grammar, and some want less). However, basically the students are specifically looking for instruction that will lead to direct improvements in their writing. One example that was mentioned was that students would like to learn more about writing effective introductions and conclusions. While studying skills such as effective introductions and conclusions, the students would like to see a large number of clear examples they can learn from and use as models for their own writing. They would also like to see samples of essays from past semesters that earned top grades, and samples of essays from past semesters that failed. They could then compare their own writing to those essays and identify the gaps between what they are doing and where they need to be.

Along with finding a balance between writing and grammar, the students would like to spend more time writing in class, as opposed to doing the writing assignments strictly for homework. By writing in class, the grammar the students study can then be immediately applied to their writing. In other words, the students would like to see the grammar topics covered in class feed directly into the grammar they need for their writing assignments, and they want the chance to practice it in class. By covering specific writing skills and having grammar instruction to support those skills, the students feel they would be better prepared to analyse their own essays for mistakes. Students would also like more instruction on how to find the errors in their essays and learn how to fix these errors themselves. This means, the grammar curriculum needs to be flexible enough to react to the grammar issues that are arising in class. In other words the problems identified through the writing assignments would be addressed by the grammar instruction.

A final theme that came up more than once in the compliment sandwiches was the time the teachers have for students outside of the regularly scheduled class time. The students have a strong desire for more individual instruction, more time for questions, more personal advice for each student, and for more help after class. This could mean having more office hours, or simply making the teachers more accessible after class. Students indicated that they wanted help specifically from their writing instructors, and didn’t want the writing centre to replace being able to see their own teachers.

Phew, I think this is one of the longest blogs I have ever written! However, I really got a lot of interesting feedback from the students, and now I am trying to think of what I can do to enrich the learning experiences of each and every student enrolled in EAP 3. What I would like now is some more positive advice on how we could address the issues raised in the above blog so that we can put into practice some of the things the students would like to see changed in the EAP 3 curriculum. Feel free to make comments!

P.S. I still love the writing centre!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I forgot!!

I forgot . . .

I was also an usher for Cineplex Odeon Theatres in 1992. That was a great part time job. I got to see all the movies I wanted to see for free. I could also get free passes to movies for my friends. On the other hand, the uniforms we had to wear were humiliating (burgundy polyester blazers), and once I really embarrassed myself. All the new ushers were told that during the course of each movie, they had to do a "screen test" which involved going up to the big screen at the front of the theatre right in the middle of the movie, and putting your hand on the bottom right hand corner of the screen and feeling it to make sure it didn't get too hot. Needless to say, I only did this once. The audience yelled at me, and the screen itself was totally cool. Gosh, I was stupid!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy Reading Week

It's reading week, and all of my students are working hard on their term papers that are due next Monday. I can't wait to read them. I have just finished marking the mid-terms, but I will save comment for a later blog . . . . . . nothing to worry about though!

As for me, I am now officially 38 years old. It was my birthday last Sunday. I can't believe that I am already 38. Since I started teaching full time, I have had 8 birthdays. Amazing. Even more amazing is that I have had the same job for such a long time. Before I became a teacher, I used to change my jobs quite regulary. In order, going backwards from teaching, here are a few of the jobs that I have had before the year 2000:

Flea market vendor (on and off from 1992 - 2000)
On-line antiques dealer
Pub manager
Magazine editor / graphic designer
Barnwood furniture carpenter and marketer
Purchaser for a large oil and gas company
Owner of a souvenir / food shop in Eau Claire Market & Chinook Mall
Assistant for a British important shop and company
Real Estate agent for Royal LePage
Customer Service / Marketing Agent for a tablecloth and linens company
Salesman for Futureshop
Computer assembly technition for an electronics company
Snack shop manager
Activities monitor for the ESL program at the University of Calgary
Bookshop clerk for WHSmith / Classic bookshop
French tutor
Cook for Dairy Queen
Waiter in a Chinese restaurant

I wonder if I missed anything out there . . . gosh that's a lot of jobs. Basically, that lists what I did roughly from 1988 - 2000. As you can see, not many of those jobs lasted more than a year. Now, what is my point for all of this . . . I guess my point is that it took me a while to "find myself", but once I had found myself I stuck with it. Now look at me . . . I love my job, and I'm pretty happy. Or at least I will be happy until I read all of the term papers . . . . just kidding!!

Monday, February 11, 2008


Today in class, we have some good grammar questions! Sam asked me a question about “although” and “but” and it really demonstrated to me how hard it is to explain English grammar sometimes. I mean, because I am a native speaker, I can feel what is correct and what is incorrect. However, to articulate why something is correct and why something is sometimes incorrect can be very difficult. Because of that, I often want to say to my students “trust me – I can feel that this is correct” or “just memorize the difference”, but I know that can be very frustrating for my students! Anyway, I have spent a few minutes thinking about what Sam asked me in class, and this is what I came up with.

The adverbial “although” means the same thing as “despite the fact that”. We use “although” at the beginning of a clause which contains information that contrasts in an unexpected or surprising way with information in another clause. For example:

Although it was raining, we went for a walk.

If it is raining, it is surprising that we went for a walk. The walk happened despite the rain. You can also feel that first it was raining, then we went for the walk. We cannot say this:

Although we went for a walk, it was raining.

If we went for a walk, it wasn’t surprising that it was raining. We probably already knew it was raining. The rain did not happen because of the walk. The rain was not an unexpected result of the walk.

Now let’s try but:

It was raining, but we went for a walk.

The coordinating conjunction “but” emphasizes the joining of two contrasting ideas. In the above sentence, you can feel that the two ideas contrast with each other. As a result, you can flip the sentence around.

We went for a walk, but it was raining.

You can add “but” to either of the clauses, but you can’t add “although” to either of the clauses. The coordinating conjunction “but” joins together two equally contrasting ideas. The adverbial “although” does not join together two equal ideas – one of the ideas is an unexpected result of the other clause.

Phew . . . that was hard! I hope that clears up the difference between “although” and “but”. If anyone understood my grammatical explanation, I’d really love some feedback!

Thanks for the great questions in class!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Textbook Trauma

Well, here it is, only February, and I’m already thinking about what textbooks to use in September. The worst part about picking out textbooks is trying to figure out the exact level of textbooks to match the level of the students in EAP 3. If the textbooks are too easy, they won’t prepare the students for university. However, if the textbooks are too hard, then the students won’t learn anything because they will be struggling too much with the material. There’s that, but then there’s also the fact that there seem like millions of different textbooks available. Some are good at one thing, but others are good at other things. The problem is that none of the textbooks seem to be good at everything.

I guess my dream textbooks would be textbooks that covered everything that we need to cover in class, had lots of Canadian content, and weren’t too expensive for the students. Having just those three criteria, however, still doesn’t help me because I don’t think there are any textbooks that fulfill all three of those requirements. s i g h . . . what to do . . . .

Anyway, this is turning out to be a really boring post all about textbooks. I wonder what my students think of as the ideal textbooks . . .