Saturday, January 1, 2011

What I learned from teaching adult ESL

What I learned from teaching adult ESL:

•  The Teacher-tainer works with adults just as much as does kids.
Teacher-taining is another expression for teacher-entertainer, the ability to make learning an entertaining show for your students. Employing humor or dramatic expressions, the teacher-tainer is not only for y
ounger students. Adults appreciate a bit of this too.

• Games and tactile tools on occasion, are still enjoyable teaching tricks to use for them and variation helps break up monotony.

•  Adults like being challenged but you must always gauge how much is too much.

•  Avoid homework as much as possible.

Truthfully, no adult likes being treated like a kid. Well, at least not in an obvious way. Adults are kids at heart and like to have fun but they've also learned tolerance and the fact not everything needs to be balloons and clowns. As a student taking Korean language classes I don't appreciate homework either,
so I my parents' pain. Whenever I've doled out homework, there have been groans and no one follows through on them. What do you do when your whole adult class hasn't done their homework? Punish them? Make them stand in the back of the class? No, you feel like an idiot teacher.

Thus, as adults I leave the take-home part of learning up to them. If a student is really driven to learn, they will find their own ways to practice outside of class.

• Have them practice dialogue with each other a lot.
Speaking in front of the class is an occasional tool but the preferred method is within the safety of their own partnerships. They will enjoy that much more. I know I do.

• Don't be afraid to pick on students for answers.

This is helpful if you have a non-participatory class. But if the person you pick doesn't know the answer, you can ask for a friend-volunteer to help bail them out or give them the answer.

• Try your best to read your students' silences and blank expressions.
Adults are hard to read. If adults don't know something or are having difficulty, there can be a tendency for them to grow even more silent and generally there aren't any head nods when you ask them. When my adult students didn't respond to my questioning or grew too silent, I took that as a cue to repeat or expound a topic until I got the AHA! look from them.

Korean adult students will try not to make direct eye contact when answering you
You're at the board explaining a concept and you ask if there's any questions and there's silence. You may see everyone looking down and think-- Do you even want to be in my class??? Suddenly, frustration. You feel like your students don't understand the content or aren't listening to you. Fear not-- this is a cultural thing.

On the last day, it finally arose that the students had difficulty making direct eye contact with me. Koreans have been taught that direct eye contact is aggressive. To look an elder or person in authority directly in the eye is to be disrespectful. whenever they've responded to me, they've often looked down or away.

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