“PS-10” is the short code name used for the ten week pre-sessional programme at the University of Sheffield. This is the second summer I have spent working on the programme, and already the taught component is 50% complete! Time flies when you are having fun… In fact, time flies so briskly that this poor little blog has been quite ignored of late – other than my recent post of a more personal nature, My first veganniversary. Previously promised posts -e.g. the one about the pronunciation auction activity I did recently – are STILL in the pipelines and will make it out in due course. Honest. Meanwhile, here is are a few snapshots of life as a pre-sessional teacher at Sheffield Uni (from most recent to earliest), as half-way through a course is as good a time as any for reflection…
Friday 24th July
1245-1300 Impromptu 1-1 tutorial
One of my students has had health issues but is back on the course now, managing to attend most lessons. This student already has an unconditional offer, so exam grades are not an issue. If he wanted to, he could stay off classes with doctor’s permission, but he wants the full benefit of the learning opportunity so he is persevering. I love the motivation! Of course I wasn’t going to refuse him a tutorial at the end of the lesson today, even though I had to delay my weekend ever so slightly ( 😉 ). The main focus of the tutorial was his project, and I was able to give the necessary guidance – there was even a bit of a light bulb moment when we talked about using reporting verbs to show stance and structure arguments. Being able to help and the amount of appreciation shown at the end of it was incredibly rewarding. I have to admit, I love my job!
Thursday 23rd July
09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 – Listening Skills for my third group.
I am teaching listening as my second skill again this year – so in addition to teaching my tutor group writing and project work, I teach them and another two groups listening, once a week each, for 3hrs with a half an hour break mid-way.
This morning, the content topic was Leadership and the strategy focuses were using spoken punctuation to identify important information, note-taking using linear notes and using linear notes to reconstruct what the lecturer has said. For the skills work, the key text is Oxford EAP Upper Intermediate. I accompany this with my own materials, which top and tail my classes with review and reflection, as well as encouraging them to think metacognitively (i.e. about the why of what they are doing) at various points throughout the lesson. It’s week 4 and out of 13 students, only a handful have got updated strategy tables with them. I gave them these strategy tables in Week 1, to help them keep track of the strategies we are learning about each week. This is to avoid out of sight, out of mind syndrome – it would be far too easy for students to forget about previous learning amidst all the new information that is thrown at them from every angle on a regular basis, but the strategies accumulated need to be remembered and used alongside new additions rather than forgotten. Nevertheless, I get them discussing and remembering what we did in the previous lesson, while making a mental note to use some class time towards the end of the lesson for table completion.
The lesson takes learners through recognition and use of spoken punctuation (the latter useful for their presentations) and use of linear notes. I use the final extract as a challenge/progress test. (Not a stressful kind of test, just an opportunity for them to measure their own progress). I also use it to take them through the planning-monitoring-evaluation process championed by Vandergrift and Goh in their fantastic book Teaching and learning second language listening: Metacognition in action. The idea is that before students listen, they decide which strategies they are going to use; during listening, they monitor their use of the strategies and after listening they evaluate their strategy use and take forward what they learnt. In the end, this is something they should be doing independently, but at this point in the course, I encourage discussion and collaboration, to scaffold it. Following the listening, I ask them to discuss again and evaluate their strategy use. Once they have done this, I explain the rationale behind the process. Both this group and my Tuesday group seemed to recognise the value of it and despite the uphill struggle of the strategy tables, I feel – in both lessons – that their response to being taken through the process and discussing the rationale behind it is a little ‘lightbulb moment’. One that has been built towards over the last 4 weeks. I would love to work with students over a longer period – 8 taught weeks is a very short space of time for listening skill development – but nevertheless hope that although students can only improve so much in the short space of time that is PS-10, I can give them the tools to help themselves improve more in the long term.
(I also did this lesson with my tutor group today (Friday) and in the last part of the lesson, following the final listening extract challenge. I again encouraged reflection and evaluation, and once they had discussed amongst themselves, invited them to share their reflections with me. There was a lot of subsequent discussion and comment sharing, and of course I was able to empathise with their experiences because of having attended a presentation in Italian during the academic year, while I was in Palermo. So I know how testing it is trying to take notes in a second language (especially as my level of Italian is definitely lower than theirs of English!). So I reminded them that note-taking is a skill even in your first language, and in a second language there is an added level of difficulty, and shared my own experience of doing it in Italian. They seemed to really appreciate that, and the whole discussion process was a very positive end to the lesson.)
I really must revisit the planning, monitoring, evaluating process with all three groups next week and in the following remaining three weeks of the course too.
13.45-15.15 – Social English
Social English is a class for students who have met their department demands with regards to test scores and so have unconditional offers. Thus, instead of doing USEPT (proficiency exam) preparation classes, they join a Social English class. The lovely thing about these classes is that they are very flexible, so the ‘syllabus’ is negotiated between the teacher and the students. Today, in response to a request last lesson, we did a pronunciation lesson. I introduced the chart to them Adrian Underhill style. (Something I learnt/taught myself how to do during my Delta!) There were some lovely lightbulb moments e.g. when they recognised what their mouths were doing and how it changed between sounds (lips spread to narrow and flat to sticking out, mouth open to closed etc.), as well as how this is reflected in the chart, and when I got them to glide between the monophthongs to find the diphthongs and then showed them the symbol on the diphthong side of the chart. They also really enjoyed taking turns in using the chart to sound out their names (and I got to learn how to pronounce them properly!).
As far as their onward study is concerned, this will help them when they come to look up words in the dictionary, as they will be able to use the phonemic script to understand the pronunciation. We have done a lot of vocabulary work recently, academic vocabulary, so in future lessons I want to forge links back to that.
As usual, they thanked me at the end of the lesson, and told me how useful it was. They tell me how much they like these Social English lessons and how useful they are fairly regularly, which is nice! I suppose that is part of the joy of a student negotiated ‘syllabus’ that doesn’t need to cover all four skills etc because they get that in their morning classes.
Sunday 19th July
Yes, it’s the weekend. A lovely relaxing one too. Over the course of it I come across my Cusenaire rods which had been in storage and start wondering about how I could use them in EAP. My ideas so far include using them as part of a pronunciation review game, for the learners in my Social English class to quiz each other on the word stress of the academic vocabulary we have been studying and also as a means of illustrating the given-to-new structure that much writing takes and that I touched on with my tutor group last Monday in Writing class. Watch this space…!
Wednesday 15th July
09.15-10.45; 11.15-13.15 Project Class
I have my tutor group once a week for Project class, every Wednesday for three hours (with a half-hour break mid-way as usual). Over the course of 8 weeks, this course strand guides students through researching and writing a 2000 word project. This year, we gave them titles while last year they had to write their own, saving a good chunk of time that could usefully be used on other things! On the 15th July, in the first half of the lesson, I started by plugging my laptop into the project in order to briefly show them how Evernote works as a note-taking/organisation tool (and offered help between now and the end of PS-10 for if they ran into difficulty using it). Then, I had them sharing the sources they had had to find, read and highlight useful elements of for homework. They had to justify their highlighting, explaining why the article and in particular the highlighted parts were useful for their project. The idea is that this process of explaining what they have read, in their own words, requires deeper reflection and understanding to take place first, in the reading process. They knew that they would be doing this, of course, to encourage that focused reading to take place.
It also paved the way for what we focused on after the break, during which class I would be observed. While they shared and discussed sources, I went round and spoke to them individually, in order to see the project outlines that they had also produced for homework and talk through these with them. This enabled me to make sure they were on the right track and set up for the next stage of homework – producing detailed outlines where their arguments were matched to the supporting evidence/sources they had found to back them up.
After the break, we did a lesson on in-text citation. This started with the students creating mind maps of what they already knew and then looking at some definitions and filling in the missing terms – i.e. review. (Being continuing students – i.e. students who have already done some studying at the ELTC and so they have had some exposure to much of what we look at -the ideal scenario is to build on existent knowledge as much as possible.) The terms were things like paraphrasing, quoting, reference list, bibliography, plagiarism. Then, we looked at some example use of a source and they identified if it was appropriate use or not and why, and if not, how to make it appropriate. Having done all this, we were ready to turn back to their sources, which I used as a means of looking at use of reporting verbs and how they can show writer stance. (E.g. if I use the verb ‘claim’ to introduce something a source says, chances are that not long afterwards, I plan to refute it with another piece of evidence, one which supports my stance.) This involved a process of identification/underlining and discussion (is this fact or not, what does the author think about it? etc), with me going round and working with pairs, ensuring they understood what they had found. Once we had done this, I got them to summarise a chunk of text that they had highlighted as useful for their project in one sentence in their own words – paraphrasing to capture the meaning rather than paraphrasing word for word – and then choose a reporting verb that reflected what the evidence was and how they felt about it.
At the end of the lesson, I asked them how they felt about their projects and they said they felt a lot happier at this end of the lesson than they had done at the beginning of the morning. So, for me, although not a perfect lesson by a long way, it was a successful one. This was reflected in the observation feedback pertaining to the second half of the lesson, where in the overall comments, the suggestions for improvement were prefaced with “A few minor points in an otherwise excellent lesson: …” . It is nice to be appreciated, by my students and the people I work with alike.
Wednesday 8th July
13.45-15.15 Project Standardisation
Normally we don’t have anything scheduled on Wednesday afternoons – we finish after the morning class. This is time we can use to catch up on marking and planning, but also the time in which developmental workshops and standardisations are organised. The students, meanwhile, attend a lecture (which forms part of the discussion at the beginning of my listening classes, as part of homework is to take notes during the lecture and practice using the strategies…).
In this standardisation session, we are taken through the new criteria for grading projects and then look an example with grades given, followed by discussing in groups and giving grades ourselves. This is vital, of course, as then we are all on the same page when 26,000 – odd words of projects rain onto us in week 6 (first draft) and week 8 (final submission) of the course.
We will have further standardisations for presentation assessment and USEPT assessment in forthcoming weeks on Wednesdays.
09.15-10.45; 11.15-12.45 Writing Class (and first meeting with new tutor group)
The first meeting with a group of new students can be slightly nerve-wracking on both sides. This year, I have returners so I start teaching directly on Monday. (New students do registration on the Monday and only start classes on the Tuesday) They turn out to be a lovely bunch of people. Mostly Arabic speaking, from various Middle Eastern and North African countries, as well as one Chinese and one Japanese student. (Interestingly, this is a completely demographic to last summer, where I had all new students and all but about 2 were Chinese!) Once the ice has been broken through some getting to know you activities, there’s no looking back and we get stuck in to analysing essay titles. Having taught the material in last year’s pre-sessional course, I already feel a lot more comfortable using it (as a springboard). The lesson goes well and seems to augur well for what lies ahead. 🙂
22nd June – 26th June
09.15 – 16.15 (with half an hour morning break, one hour lunch break and 15 mins afternoon break, daily Monday – Friday) Induction
We get a whole week of induction before starting work on PS-10, so it is pretty thorough! One of the authors of EAP Essentials, Jenifer Spencer, does input sessions on teaching EAP, then of course there is all the nuts and bolts organisational stuff (syllabus, timetables, overview of course components and assessment) as well as a fair smattering of tech sessions, where we set up our accounts and learn how to use things like MOLE (Sheffield Uni’s branded Blackboard) and Google Drive. As a returner, there are some sessions where I have the opportunity to join a break-off group, where we discuss the same topics as in the main room, but with more emphasis on reflection and discussion than input. These are really motivational and useful, and help me get back into the EAP zone after an academic year of general English. I think maybe the best thing about being a returner is that instead of EVERYTHING being new, there is so much more familiarity. It makes life SO much easier.
On the final day, the Friday, we see where we will be teaching and our temporary staffroom. This year, I have actual classrooms rather than lecture theatres – yippee! We aren’t required to stay on site till a given time, so we can go home to use the remaining time for long-term lesson preparation. (The added bonus of this is that home has windows! 😉 ) It’s nice being treated like a professional adult in this sense, being trusted to do what needs to be done.
(What a relief! I hear you say… 😉 )
I am really enjoying this summer and, being a returner myself (just like my students – except it’s the PS-10 I’ve done before rather than other courses during the year!) I feel a lot more confident with what I’m doing. This, in turn, gives me the confidence to be a lot more hands on with the students and more responsive to their needs. My students are appreciative and think I’m doing a good job, the people above me are supportive and think I am doing a good job, and my colleagues are lovely and friendly too. Week 6 and 8, when we have all the projects to feedback on (6) and grade (8) will be a bit stressful, but that’s ok – it’s temporary rather than the norm so it’s manageable. One thing I am also enjoying is being able to have a genuine work-life balance. I’m able to get out on walks, do yoga, play my clarinet, see friends, relax and read, as well as work. I don’t finish the week feeling utterly destroyed physically and mentally. I can cook at home during the week. I actually feel rested by the end of the weekend and ready for the week again. Really lovely. I will make the most of it while this summer lasts! 🙂