ESL journeys

cartoonI’m taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming to make a few insightful comments about teaching ESL.

Erving Goffman once wrote: “Not then, men and their moments. Rather, moments and their men…” (Goffman, 1967) I wholeheartedly concur with regards to teaching ESL.  Any day, you never know what semantic rigmarole you are going to get involved in.

In grad school, I had a great teacher named Carolyn Fuchs, and she always said that prescriptive grammar has its limits in the ESL classroom. Better to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Better to do bottom-up rather than top-down instruction.

I’m not sure this is always the best approach, however.  There are some times when the students are just not saying anything. Many or most of Asian learners are going to be in the silent period for a while, and that has a lot to do with the fact that they were subjected to top-down for a considerable period of their education. (No one can argue that the scarves that Chinese girls must wear to school is aimed at having them express their individuality!)

So back to Goffman, the teacher is merely a conduit for the moment.  It is not about “him” or “her” exactly. It is trying to create the right moments for learning. And all of the lesson planning is going to try to make the right conditions for that. Like building a fire, it is better to get kindling to set it ablaze. You have a better chance  at getting a roaring fire that way. You just really can’t shove the lesson plan down the students’ throats. (If it isn’t working, it isn’t working.)

Some of my readers may wonder why I think there is any overlap between  my comments on “eslteacher576” & YA fiction. Actually, I think this stuff stimulates the creativity that is so vital in the classroom. If not for them, then at least for me. I am well-aware that it is not about me. It is about student learning. I am often humbled with how little I can actually get my students to do.

If there is any takeaway, this is it: “Methods mork; teachers work.” Unless you’re ready to put in the work, the results are going to be harder to get.

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