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Elizabeth Claire's E-News

March 2013 E-News from Elizabeth Claire

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Contents of the March E-News:

Students Who Feel Smart Learn Faster

Contents of March's Easy English NEWS


Students Who Feel Smart Learn Faster

Whether it was because we moved three times, my mother had to go to work, and my father was buried overseas, and I was confused, or I was just a slow learner, I don't know. I do remember a great deal of anxiety in first grade, not knowing the other students, not passing inspection (in those days, teachers did a daily health and cleanliness inspection with stars for those who passed), having no idea what I could do about my uncombed hair, my missing handkerchief and my often dirty fingernails.

By the time we moved again and I was in my third first-grade class, I had picked up reading basics. I also now lived with a grandmother who had the time to braid my hair and show me how to clean and cut my fingernails. Watching the other students struggle with Run, Spot run, while the sounds and meanings were now obvious to me made me feel smart. Instead of frowns from a teacher, and negative self-comparisons with classmates, I shone, and I couldn't wait to learn more and started tearing through all the books on the classroom shelf. Nothing succeeds like success goes the old aphorism.

It's all the affective filter that Stephen Krashen talks about for language learners. When the anxiety is high, language input just doesn't stick. The language teacher's job is to lower anxiety, while keeping the lesson challenging enough for satisfaction with learning to take place. This can be difficult to achieve for all students in an ESL class where the ability levels are usually mixed. (I have never in my 40 years of teaching encountered a homogeneous ESL class.) Students who arrived later could have the distinct impression of being at the bottom of the class, and the lowest on the totem pole. This is potentially anxiety-provoking and students can internalize a sense of "I'm not smart. English is too hard, I'll never learn," which raises the filter...input doesn't register easily.

I noticed that my beginning students would suddenly develop a new burst of confidence and energy and smartness when a new entry-level student arrived in the class...Suddenly it was clear to the previous bottom-of-the-class students how much they had absorbed that the newcomer was now beginning to learn. Moving up to the middle of the class lowered their anxiety, made them feel smart, and suddenly they were learning faster. In many cases, they helped the newcomer.

At the time of noticing that, I wondered how this mechanism could be supplied...you can't always have new, lower-level students wandering into your class. Certainly working in groups, reviewing lessons so they "take" before going on to new lessons can help.

Careful construction of teacher-made tests instead of book-made or standardized tests can help. I always felt that tests were made to let me know how well I was teaching, not how well the students were learning...I deliberately made tests that would have the first questions easy so students could feel smart.

I dreaded the effects that being required to take regular standardized tests had on my students. I had to get them to understand that the tests were going to be way too hard and they should not feel bad about not knowing the answers. I mimed having a blindfold over my eyes and choosing an answer willy nilly so they would have a model of what to do when they couldn't read a question or its answers. We had to have group therapy after the standardized tests as the students felt so wrung out and disappointed in themselves.

I love it when teachers write to me and tell me how joyful their intermediate students are when they first get Easy English NEWS. "It's a newspaper, and I can read it!!" The requirement I give myself is to remember my second year of learning Spanish...what kinds of sentences could I read? And take each English sentence in the articles I wrote, and turn them into second-year level difficulty. No passives, very few subordinate clauses, short sentences. It's very time consuming. While I can research and write an article in an hour, it may take several hours to make it easy to read. I usually have to go over an article four or five times to get it right. There actually is never enough time each month to bring every sentence down to that level.

It's easy to make something difficult and it's difficult to make something easy.

Carry on!

Elizabeth Claire


Contents of Easy English NEWS for March 2013

Obesity: America's Fastest-growing Health Problem

Paying Taxes-Part I Understanding a W-2 Form

Events in March covered in Easy English NEWS:
    • Women's History Month
    • Drop Everything and Read
    • Daylight Saving Time
    • St. Patrick's Day
    • First Day of Spring
    • Passover
    • Easter
Dr. Ali: Your Health: What Causes Obesity? (You thought you knew, didn't you?)

Ask a Speech Coach: Distinguishing the sounds ah and ae as in hot and hat.

America the Beautiful: Antelope Canyon

Heroes and History:
Insects, DDT, and Rachel Carson

At the Movies: "Life of Pi"

Plus our regular features: This Is Your Page (readers' stories),  Funny Stuff, Idioms, the Crossword Puzzle, Let's Talk About It, and Word Help.

For March's Cloze exercises, click here.

For March's Short Answer tests, click here

Click here for the FREE 24-page generic "How To" with 9 reproducible graphic organizers.

Elizabeth Claire books on Kindle:

  • ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part One ($0.99)
  • ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part Two ($0.99)
  • ESL Teacher's Activities Kit Part Three ($0.99)
  • Kristina, 1904, the Greenhorn Girl ($4)
  • Voices of Our New Neighbors Volume One ($0.99)
  • Voices of our New Neighbors Volume Two ($0.99)
  • Voices of our new Neighbors Volume Three ($0.99)
  • English Language Learners in the Mainstream Class (from Classroom Teacher's ESL Survival Guide) ($3.99)
  • What's So Funny? An International Student's Introduction to American Humor. ($0.99)
  • Phonics for English Language Learners? What the ESL Teacher Needs to Know $0.99)
Click here to see these books at the Amazon Kindle Store at my website


© Elizabeth Claire 2013.
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