Sunday, May 3, 2015

TESOL Teaching Reading & Writing Online Course Week 2

Below are my discussion forum posts for this week:

These are my takeaways from the readings on strategies for teaching reading online:

It is interesting that “most of the text on the Internet is expository. Being able to read such text requires familiarity with its concepts, vocabulary, and organizational format…. Because of technology, our definition of reading has changed to include websites, e-books, e-mail, discussion boards, chat rooms, instant messaging, and listservs.” My comment: However, unfortunately, in many adult education ESL programs, the texts and writing assignments are more of a personal narrative nature. Implementing the CCRS for reading will be a first step toward ensuring that the reading and writing we have our students do is more related to real-life reading and writing tasks.  This is something I need to work on, as I mentioned in another post.

“Strategic readers of print text… tend to use a set of comprehension strategies (Dole, Duffy, Roehler, & Pearson, 1991; Pearson, 1985)….Paris, Cross, and Lipson (1984) concluded that students can be taught about the existence of reading strategies through informed direct instruction. Duke and Pearson (2002) suggested that a model of comprehension instruction should include explicit description, modeling, collaborative use, guided practice, and independent use of the selected strategy.” 

My comment: Because I realize many of my students’ need for this explicit instruction on reading strategies and modeling of it, that’s the reason I have most reading tasks completed in class, not online.

Figure 1 and 2 in the article were very helpful; however, the examples of online reading strategies in practice did not include any of the explicit teaching/modeling. In each case, independent readers were applying the strategies without instructor presence. I was still confused about how to explicitly teach reading strategies online, until reading about the phases of Internet Reciprocal Teaching. However, from my understanding, this explicit teaching of reading strategies (Teacher-led instruction phase) for online reading involves face-to-face instruction. I don’t know how this would be conducted in a fully-online course. Screencasts? Anyway, when I reflect on my practice, I realize that I do phase 2 and 3 most of the time.

I completely agree with the suggestions / value of the techniques of building/activating schema, using visuals and realia to pre-teach vocabulary, and provide written prompts for discussions based on readings.

However, I disagree with this suggestion and would never do it myself: “One way to scaffold for ESL students who can read in their native language is to provide access to the text in their own language prior to reading in English. Pre-reading in the native language will help ESL students to build the schema that will allow them to better understand the English text.” My comment: In my opinion, there are two problems with this technique for scaffolding reading: 1) if students need to read the text in their native languages, the text is too difficult for students’ current level of reading ability in English, and 2) it is a lazy way to teaching (my personal opinion – no offense intended!). The only time I can imagine using this technique is in an EFL situation in which all students share the same L1, and the purpose of the course is just to pass some English test (like in a lot of countries where English is just a book language, not taught for real communication) in order to move on to the next level of education.

It was interesting that “…results in retention are triggered by picture + text annotations, whereas pronunciation, video, and audio glosses seem to correlate negatively with reading comprehension…” My comment: Lesson – steer clear of online reading tasks that have too much media; they may overwhelm students.

“…good CALL programs should make best use of visual elements and multimedia glossing, as well as generate students' participation. The programs should be interactive, allowing the students to make choices. Also, they should consist of a wide range of different types of exercises in which students not only choose the right answers but also type in answers.”
My comment: This is good to know, especially about including a range of question types and student responses to go beyond guessing and into deeper critical thinking, which cannot be judged by multiple-choice questions.

Online Tools for Vocabulary
I read the article eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary. The information was not that new but good reminders. Here the takeaways for me from the article:

Teaching words, morphology, and word origins is an important component in any vocabulary learning program. It is also necessary to provide multiple exposures to the word in different contexts and to teach word learning strategies, such as using context clues, cognate information, and deciding when a word is important to know and remember. 

My comment: From my experience, students can be fooled by false cognates, so while cognates really help some students (speakers of Romance languages mostly), I more often point out false cognates (attend v. assist, molest v. bother, wrist v. doll – many funny stories over the years due to these types of words…)

Direct vocabulary instruction is essential, but research indicates that students with well-developed vocabularies learn many more words indirectly through reading than from instruction. 

My comment: This is an interesting point. Perhaps we do too much pre-teaching of vocabulary at the higher levels of ESL. I have noticed that a lot of ESL textbooks are designed to really go in-depth with the vocabulary before the reading. I usually reverse the order by having students just read first to get the main idea of the article and then do the vocabulary afterwards unless there is/are (a) word(s) that I know for sure that students do not know and is essential to understanding the text. However, even then, I model with a real-aloud and stop at those words – usually some student can give an intelligent guess at what the word means, which is what we usually do in real-life reading tasks, anyway, right?

The tools I use most often for teaching vocabulary are the following:

Images and personal or student anecdotes / stories on PowerPoint slides.

I really like Visuwords and Snappywords (basically the same) for students to see semantic relationships between words. Also, Instagrok (has an app) is awesome because it’s like these two sites, except it includes Web content, images, and video content. Check it out!

SpellingCity (with an app) – I use this site more often when I teach intermediate, not advanced classes. I think everyone knows this one by now. It creates audio dictation sentences for word lists you enter.

Quizlet (with an app) – also probably familiar to everyone. It creates audio flashcards, games, and quizzes from vocabulary words that are entered. You can select user-submitted definitions, enter your own definitions, or even enter cloze sentences for matching.

PowerPoint games (Jeopardy, etc.) for review of vocabulary

My college provides all students with a free screen reading software (Read Write and Gold), which also has glossing capabilities. I haven’t had students use it in a while, though.

I have never used concordances or corpora, but I like the ideas in the book New Ways in Teaching Vocabulary (TESOL Press), such as having students find collocations or use corpora.

Finally, I like to teach idioms related to themes / reading topics. I use anecdotes and images on PowerPoint slides. Then, at the end of the term, students work together to write dialogs using some of their favorite idioms from the term. They digitize their dialogs on Dvolver (animation site) or MakeBeliefsComix or StoryboardThat (comic strip sites) or make student-produced videos. They love it! I have also used this approach with phrasal verbs.

My students most often use dictionary / translator apps they have on their smart phones to learn vocabulary independently, but for those who request extra vocabulary learning opportunities, I refer them to A.Word.A.Day email / listserv, which sends a vocabulary word a day (never used it myself, but it looks cool).

Learning Chocolate is great for beginning ESL (which I haven’t taught in years);Games to Learn English looks fun.

A great way to assess vocabulary is with cloze exercises, as we all know. Two sites that I have used and that make this easier to do are LearnClick (better) and Cloze Test Creator (OK).

A site that was recommended to me last year but that I have yet to try is VocabKitchen. Has anyone heard of it? It looks amazing, according to the descriptions: It has a social reader. The social reader lets you share text with a class and watch how they interact with it in real time. You can see which students are reading a text and which words they are selecting, all updated instantly and without the hassle of creating student accounts. It also has a Vocabulary Profiler: A vocabulary profiler is a tool that checks if a piece of text contains words from a vocabulary list. The profiler shows matches in two ways. Matched words in the original text are given a different color, or you can view a list of all the words in a table organized by level. You don’t need an account to use our profilers.

I have been looking a lot at apps, because more than 90% of my students have smart phones. A Web-based tool and app that I think is awesome for vocabulary is Memrise. Teachers can create their own courses, and students can add their own “mems” – mnemonic images to help them visualize and remember vocabulary. The way the site/app is set up follows brain research on learning and memory: that repetition and quizzing at strategic spaced intervals increases the chances that something newly-learned will be retained in memory. Also, I really like the app Illustrate (also on Google Play for Android). It’s a video dictionary that teaches vocabulary through animated stories. There are not activities, however, but it would interesting to explore how it could be used for pre-reading vocabulary preparation.

The tools I use most often for teaching reading are the following:

Video with conversation questions, listening/viewing guide questions, and discussion questions as pre-reading activities to introduce the topic and some vocabulary – I usually find videos on YouTube. When I can’t find a good video, I find an online slideshow or create my introductory PowerPoint slideshow.

When using online reading materials, I most often find newsworthy or high-interest reading passages on the Web (in general, not from ESL-specific sites) to use or modify for use in my classes. Whenever I see something online that may be used for my classes, I bookmark it (“curate”).

I look to the ReadWriteThink site for a lot of vocabulary and reading activities and ideas.

As for ESL/ABE/Literacy-specific sites that I like to use, my department subscribes to The Change Agent, which has some accompanying Web activities. Some of my colleagues like to use the Marshall Adult School’s Reading Skills for Today’s Adults site, which has great activities, but to be honest the life-skills reading topics are a bit boring for me.

I can’t wait to use Newsela and News in Levels, both of which have current news pieces that are accessible to ESL students, more often.

I have created a few lessons based on essays from NPR’s This I Believe, which has audio for some essays and transcripts, so that listening can be integrated, as well.

Finally, Awesome Stories is a great site for nonfiction and biographical reading materials, too.

My instructor's feedback to me on this week:

Week 2 Checklist
X Discuss: Strategies for Reading and Vocabulary
Discover: Online Tools for Reading and Vocabulary
Brainstorm Word Clouds
X Reflection
X Wiki: Lesson Plan Activity for Vocabulary
X Wiki: Lesson Plan Activity for Reading
X Wiki: Online Tools for Vocabulary and Reading


Thank you for your contributions in Week 2.  You have completed all Assignments and I thank you for your extensive comments and input.  As always, you bring so much new and valuable information to the course and many helpful resources and strategies to share with others.

Your wiki site has some excellent vocabulary and reading resources, including  Lingro, Newsela and Rewordify.  You can keep adding as you find other technology tools for these skill areas.  Many times the best resources are found when we are informally searching.  

Your lesson plan topic, Symbolism, provides an engaging topic that incorporates many useful online resources and instructional strategies.  I especially like your Symbolism handout and the prediction activity. Task 5, Create a personal seal, is an excellent way to personalize learning.  I look forward to the further development of your lesson plan.

Thank you for your continued participation in the course.


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