What do you do with students in crisis?

If you haven’t heard about the flooding in Thailand, here’s a link you should check out.

I’ve got a student from Thailand whose family was affected by the flooding.  They lost everything.  Tonight, after class, she asked me, “How can my family lose everything in one day?”  Because of her visa, she can’t go back home, not that she has a home to go back to.  My heart breaks for her.  I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be separated from your family at a time like this.  And to have to focus on classes when your mind is clearly thousands of miles away.

She told me how frustrated she was that she can’t do anything.  I find myself feeling pretty frustrated too.  I wish I could do something for her, but I can’t.  I have to keep teaching because there aren’t any floods here, because the other students aren’t dealing with the loss of their homes and concern for their families.

So, I guess I’m wondering what to do with a student who, quite understandably, isn’t exactly going to be on top of her game in class.  How do I, as a concerned human being, show my support while still, as a teacher, maintaining my academic expectations for her?  Has anyone written a book on what to do when someone’s world falls apart?  Will anyone share that book with me, please?

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Beginning a service learning project

One of my coworkers and I met on Friday to discuss bringing service learning into our program.  We want to start small and see where things go.  Our plan for now is to do a one-time, holiday-themed project with our students.  We’re planning to collect coats and other winter outerwear to donate in the weeks before Christmas.  My writing students are going to put together a flier for the project, her grammar students are going to edit the flier, and we’re going to set up a booth on campus to promote our project.

We hope to expand this next session into a bigger, longer project with more classes involved.  We’re presenting the idea to our faculty tomorrow – I hope everyone else is as enthusiastic as we are about this.

New tech projects!

And here’s what I’m trying out this semester…

I’ve switched my class website from Google Sites to Blogger.  Saw some other teachers on Twitter who use a blog as their website for students, and this seemed like a really good idea.  My students will be able to subscribe to the blog, so there’s a better chance they’ll actually visit the site.

I created a Youtube channel for my students.  I’ve put together a lot of videos for my students over the past few years, and I started thinking that it would just make sense to start putting everything in one easy-to-find place.  So, Youtube it is.

I’m passing the video-making torch to my students.  I’m going to try to get my speaking students to make videos this session which will be posted on my Youtube channel (yes, that was a misplaced modifier, and yes, I was probably the only one who noticed such a glaring grammatical error in my own writing, but whatever.)

I’m making writing and reading classes all Google docs, all the time.  It’s so much easier to collect assignments this way, and the students like it. (I don’t know if that’s a project exactly, but again, whatever.)

Here’s to another session!

Thoughts on this session

My traditional write-up of how my classes went with ideas for improvement; also my thoughts on giving each class a portfolio assignment worth 25% of their final grade:

Intermediate Speaking/Listening: This was a huge class (22 students).  That’s just a little ridiculous for a speaking class.  Several students commented to me last week that they felt the class was often out of control.  “It’s not your fault,” they assured me, and I knew that class was out of control for all of the teachers.  But maybe it was my fault a little.  I wish I had organized that class better and tweaked my speaking activities so they were less chaotic.

The portfolio assignment was: in the words of my students, “so-so.”

Advanced I Reading: Advanced is a misnomer for this level in our program.  I think they must say that to make the students feel better.  I don’t know if it works or not.  I think this class went well.  I was tempted to overwork them, as I always do with reading classes, but I think I held back this time.  I introduced the unit on poverty both globally and in America, and they gave short presentations on a charity they had researched.  This was one of the best units I’ve ever created.  I’m giving myself a pat on the back for this one.  I will definitely be using the materials I created again.

The portfolio assignment was: great.

Advanced II Writing: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  This is a bit of exaggeration (nothing was THAT bad in this class), but my writing class definitely had its highs and lows.  The high: canceling class on Fridays for conferences.  So worth it.  I’m just always going to do that from now on.  The low: organizing the blog.  It was the first attempt at the blog, so my expectations were not high.  But it was a lot of work for the students with very little pay-off.  I couldn’t get the other teachers to plug the blog in their classes, so hardly anyone read it.  But, I asked my students for suggestions on improving the blog, and they had so many fantastic ideas.  I was excited to see that even though the assignment didn’t go so well, they still had a lot of passion for it.

The portfolio assignment was: too much (since they had to do the blog as well).

My grade for Engrade

This session, I switched up gradebooks and checked out Engrade.  Here’s my brief review:

What I liked:

– It was easy for me to set up an account, and it was easy for my students

– Very intuitive interface

– Easily allows me to do weighted grade categories and add extra credit assignments

– Provides a spreadsheet of grades and students for each class that can be edited without having to leave the page and go to each individual assignment page

– Students can send me a message related to a specific grade/assignment, or I can write my own comments for the students under a specific assignment

– Students get an easy-to-read report of their grades

– Provides a class grade average at the bottom of the gradebook, which was extremely helpful

What I didn’t like:

– I couldn’t find a “student view” page for me so that I could see my student’s grades as they see them (perhaps this exists, but I just didn’t find it?)

– Requires a unique ID number for each student. I understand the reasoning behind this, but it’s really tedious, especially when you’re teaching international students, and just entering their names takes a long time.

And that’s it.  Those are the only things I didn’t like, and to be honest, those are minor quibbles.  Overall, it’s a fantastic gradebook and it’s free, which makes it even better.  It has all kinds of great features I didn’t use, like creating online quizzes, flashcards, and wikis.  I feel like I could just host my entire class on this site, instead of having a separate class website and online gradebook.

My grade for Engrade: A

Service learning with ESL students?

In college, I took a service learning course.  It was a literature course centered around the theme of “the odyssey” in literature.  We read “The Odyssey,” of course, along with other literary works depicting journeys (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Cold Mountain were my favorites).  For the service part of the course, we volunteered at a local juvenile detention center.  We spent one hour a week with adolescent girls who were already headed down the wrong path in life.  I was apprehensive about the project, but I quickly discovered that I really enjoyed it.

It’s an old cliche that “life is a journey,” but for me growing up, I always imagined it to be one filled with possibility and excitement.  I was raised to believe I could be or do anything I put my mind to.  For so many of these young girls, no one had told them that they could choose the road they traveled down.  No one had let them dream.  That class didn’t just open my mind, it opened my world.  It made me realize that I wasn’t just fortunate to have food to eat and a roof over my head; I was blessed to have people in my life who recognized and encouraged my potential.  I would do something significant with my life someday because no one had ever told me that any other possibility existed.

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” — Albert Einstein

I’ve forgotten a lot of what I studied in college, but I remember what I learned from that class.  And I remember because, for once, education wasn’t restricted to the four walls of the classroom.  Education became much bigger – both more challenging and more exciting.

I teach students now who take English classes as a means to an end.  They didn’t come to the United States to study English; they came here to study business or engineering or nursing.  My class is yet another obstacle in the path of their ultimate goal.  They ask, “Why do I need to take this class?” And if all I’m teaching them is how to identify topic sentences or form adjective clauses, then I don’t have an answer to their question.  But what if the language class became more than that?  What if the language class became a portal for meaningful communication? What if I could show my students the value of the language in connecting with and helping others?

A colleague mentioned to me her interest in adding a service-learning component to our curriculum.  I love the idea.  I would love to know what others have done.  Please share if you’ve ever tried this with your students.