Five brief forays into lesson planning

Although lesson planning was an important component of my instructor education,  it seems that I’ve been missing out on quite a few opportunities to enhance my students’ learning.  Listed  below are five of the elements that interested me most, and which I will be incorporating into my future lesson planning.

1.  Planning Approaches, Tips, Techniques and Tools

Here’s a link that incorporates Gagne’s “events of instruction” into an e-learning platform

I chose this website because it offers straightforward, classroom-ready tips on incorporating Gagne’s nine steps into effective lessons.  These tips would work in a regular classroom as well as for e-learning.   A featured interactive video called “Broken Co-worker” is sure to engender a lively discussion about appropriate behaviour in the workplace and allow for a dynamic introduction to a lesson on “soft skills”.  There is also a link to information on building an interactive program. I want to incorporate more use of technology into my lessons, as my students need to feel comfortable using computers before entering their programs.

2. Assessment (Formal and Informal) and the Role of Feedback

This is a link to The Impact of Assessment on Student Learning

This article examines how assessment impacts student learning.  I chose it because it has some interesting information on how our assessment choices affect our student’s attitudes.  Bigg’s Model of Constructive Alignment is introduced, which focuses on the importance of consistency with learning outcomes, learning strategies and assessment tasks. Author Chris Rust advocates continuous assessment with, “…plenty of formative feedback at regular intervals”. (Rust, 2002, p. 149)  He differentiates between shallow and deep learning, which can be informed by assessment choices.  As a result of reading this article, I intend to work on better alignment of outcomes, strategies and assessment.

3. Selecting Instructional Processes & Strategies

This link will take you to short demonstrations of a variety of instructional strategies.

On this website, adult education instructors demonstrate several instructional strategies and explain the rationales behind them. I chose it because instructor Duane Lambert gives detailed information on how he structures a lesson (pre-teaching, teaching and closure) and provides strategies appropriate to each component. Lambert introduces terms I haven’t come across before, specifically “bell work” (work students can do before the class has formally begun) and the Frayer model of vocabulary acquisition, both of which will be useful in my classroom. Lambert recommends varying strategies to ensure all learning styles are accommodated. I will specifically make use of his pre-teaching strategies.

4.  Learning Taxonomies

This site outlines the value of the affective domain in boosting student learning.

This article outlines reasons for including Bloom’s affective domain to our instructional tool kit. Because the affective domain speaks to our emotions, we see how decisions we make in order to motivate students, manage our classrooms, and communicate with students can impact them on an emotional level. I chose this article because it supports the creation of a positive learning environment, and because it attempts to solve the mystery of why some students don’t seem to learn as well as they could. I’ll use these ideas when reviewing whether or not my lesson delivery has been effective.

5. Creating a Positive Classroom Climate or Learning Environment

Follow this link for some interesting perspectives on creating a positive learning environment.

This article was chosen because it provides a very thorough outlook of the elements that should be taken into consideration when creating a positive learning environment for adult students. I was particularly interested in the worksheets provided to support instructors in planning strategies to deal with negative or disruptive influences in the class, such as argumentative students and “ramblers”, in a respectful and positive manner. Tips for dealing with a diverse group are also offered. I plan to use this information to create a classroom atmosphere that is safe, inclusive and challenging to participants, and which fosters an effective and positive learning environment.




Let the games begin!

Anyone who has ever been asked to delay dinner for a few minutes so someone can get to the next level of a computer game knows how very compelling those games can be.  Imagine teaching a class that engenders that kind of dedication.  Apparently we can offer classes that capture the excitement and motivation of computer games, just by incorporating the rules of game design into our teaching practice.

It’s called “game-based learning” or “gamification” and in 2012, it was targeted by the NMC Horizon Report as one of the key trends in education.  The report identifies why computer games are so appealing to players of all ages and genders.   Players have “…the feeling of working towards a goal; the possibility of attaining spectacular successes; the ability to problem solve, collaborate with others and socialize…” (Johnson, Adams & Cummins, 2012, p. 18)  As described, game-based learning aligns pretty closely with we have learned about the requirements of adult learners.    Add digital literacy to the mix, and you have a strong focus on skills that will prepare our students for success.

What does this mean to an ESL classroom?  Are English language teachers now required to add “games master” and “game designer” to their collection of instructional roles?  To a certain extent, possibly – but it’s important to look at the needs of an individual class, and the individuals in the class, to determine how gamification would be of most benefit.  Young, international students probably already play games on their own time.  Because they may have grown up playing computer games, they may find the pace of face-to-face learning in a classroom environment slow and not supportive of the way they need to learn.  Immigrant students, and older students  may not have the digital native’s short attention spans or familiarity with computers, but they can still benefit from the principles of game-based learning.

In his TED talk on “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley”, Sir Ken Robinson likens the education our children are getting to doing “low-grade clerical work”. (Robinson, 2013) He’s talking about children specifically, but he is also referring to a passive learning experience, which can be detrimental to the education of children and adults alike.

In her article, “Gamification for ESL Teachers”, Deborah Healey describes gamification as, “…using game elements in non-game contexts to motivate and persuade.”  (Healey, 2013)  Healey notes that ESL teachers have long-used communicative activities (or games) in their practice, and asserts that studying the components that make computer-based games so compelling will serve to “…improve learner motivation, collaboration, and willingness to spend time practicing.” (Healey, 2013) Healey goes on to give some examples of what ESL teachers routinely do in the classroom and how they fit into gaming mechanics. For example, what a game designer might call, “Community Collaboration” is known as “group work” in an ESL classroom.  “Points” are what we might call “grades”.   The gaming element “Cascading Information Theory” is the component of curriculum design where the instructor starts with a measureable outcome and works backwards, breaking the information to be learned into manageable chunks.  (Healey, 2013)

The trend towards gamification of curricula reflects an effort to make learning more meaningful to our students.   Other trends echo this sentiment.  For example, the move to portfolio-based language assessment gives students the opportunity to test their language proficiency in a holistic manner, and in many cases to have some choice in the tasks they select for their portfolio.

In the end, there’s no need for all of us to learn code and design our own games.  Even the most technology-resistant can incorporate game mechanics and use some games that are already available on the internet.  “Free Rice” is an example of a vocabulary game any student can play, in class or in their own time.  Players correctly guess the definitions of words, and each correct answer puts ten grains of rice into a bowl.  The rice is donated by the game provider.  Students can compete with each other and themselves for higher level scores and the number of bowls of rice they donate.  I’m going to use Free Rice levels as an accomplishment to be fulfilled in an assessment portfolio.

Someone who is not a teacher may think that these two important trends will lead to a more relaxing time for instructors.  On the contrary, they just indicate a further move away from the teacher-centered classroom and towards a curriculum and teaching methodology that is more relevant to our students’ learning needs and preferences.

Healey, D. (2013). Gamification for EL Teachers. Retrieved 28 November 2015, from

Johnson, L., Adams, S., & Cummins, M. (2012). Game-Based Learning. The New Media Consortium. Retrieved 28 November 2015, from

Robinson, K. (2013). How to escape education’s death valley. Retrieved 28 November 2015, from

Here is a link to Free Rice

Changing roles of teachers in the ESL Classroom

Years ago, when I first started teaching, I attended an in-house professional development workshop given by a colleague who had been teaching for decades.  She was very excited about the idea she was presenting to us, and had spent a long time researching and preparing.  In the middle of it all, it dawned on me that she was talking about student-centered learning, something that was a given when I took my TESOL training at VCC.

In light of what I have been studying in the PIDP 3100 program, and recent research on topics such as the flipped classroom and gamification, I have to reflect on my own trajectory as an instructor.  Have I kept up to date enough?  Are my own ideas about teaching outdated and in desperate need of an overhaul?  Have I become a dinosaur?   Bearing in mind that a teacher’s most important function is to support the learning of students, it follows that there should be continuous exploration and examination of how best to do this.  Part of this reflection would be a good, hard look at the instructor’s role in the classroom and how it is impacted by changing technology and industry best practices.

The greatest change in the fifteen-plus years that I have been an ESL instructor has had to do with technology.  Because this PIDP 3100 program has been fully on-line, I have been continuously challenged with new ways of being a student.  Navigating the Moodle platform and creating this blog have taken me outside my comfort zone as a digital tourist.   This is a reflection of a new reality in classrooms these days.  In Canada, at least, students and instructors alike must be prepared to embrace technology.

For ESL teachers, this will be felt more acutely in classrooms where instructors are dealing with immigrants and older students.  International students generally come prepared with their electronic devices and a better knowledge of how to navigate them that I likely ever would.  For immigrant students, however, introducing the basics of digital literacy is often necessary, and must be incorporated into an ESL program.  When I first started teaching, the school where I worked had a computer lab, but there was no internet.  At that time, “literacy” had a very specific meaning and was related to pre-beginner level students who were not literate in their first language.  The word literacy has now been expanded to include digital and cultural literacy, and as ESL instructors, our role has expanded to introduce or enhance our students’ skills so they can participate in an increasingly tech-dependent classroom.

According to an article by A. Syam Choudbury, traditionally a teacher is viewed as someone who is, “…the organizer and controller of all classroom activities, but also as the evaluator of the learner’s performance.”  (Choudbury, 2011)  In 2015, this is still true, but the meaning of each word and the method by which these tasks are fulfilled has changed.  The teacher is still responsible for planning the curriculum and activities, but “control” of a classroom has shifted.  While an instructor may set a task to be in line with expected outcomes of a course, it is more likely that students will contribute and collaborate, often reaching their own conclusions instead of sitting passively.  The means by which students are assessed has changed to include more holistic assessments such as a portfolio in place of standardized tests.  Measurable outcomes are in the form of “can do” communication-based statements, rather than separate testing of reading, writing, speaking, grammar and listening.  In the late nineties, the “U-shaped” classroom was standard in most ESL classrooms, a throwback to more teacher-centered times.  Nowadays, most classrooms are configured into pods, to facilitate easy conversation and collaborative task-based learning.  The teacher’s role has shifted from “all knowing” to “facilitating”, encouraging students to make realizations on their own.

The ESL teacher is becoming what Vygotsky described as, “…a true facilitator of learning for the language learners, guiding them through dialogic communication as they co-construct knowledge with the teacher.”  (Vygotsky as cited by Choudbury, 2011)  In addition to being more in line with the ruling ideas behind andragogy, this better reflects the process by which we learn our first language.  Realizing this ideal in an ESL classroom is a work in progress, but one worth pursuing.