Tag Archives: reading

ESL: One Semester Gone

7th December 2011

16 weeks. 16 weeks have gone by since I frantically began a new semester teaching a totally new class/subject: ESL Reading and Writing. The program at my university was undergoing changes, and I was hired to a full-time position right as the semester began. I am a super-organized teacher, so the last-minute prep was really taxing. Books didn’t come in until several weeks into the semester. The other teacher and I were at our wit’s end trying to be prepared for these students.

But let me tell you, once I calmed down and realized that teaching writing is teaching writing, and hello! Teaching reading? Heck yeah. I took it in stride. It was an incredibly challenging semester, but it was also extremely rewarding, and for the first time in many years, I can honestly tell you that I love my job.

The students? They came from China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, and Brazil. They are a variety of ages and cover a whole spectrum of jobs – doctors, attorneys, accountant, architects, radio hosts, entrepreneurs. The relationship I had with these students was so different from the traditional instructor-student connection. I had each student for 10 hours a week and also spent time with some of them outside of class. Almost every student was dedicated and prepared to work intensely toward their goals. I have never been more impressed and so grateful for a group of students.

Even with the rough start, we quickly settled into a routine, working on reading Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and writing on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We read several books together and had some really great discussions. In fact, even though most students claimed to hate reading, several asked when we could continue when we were in the middle of a book. 🙂

As for me, I also learned quite a lot, as an individual and a teacher. It was difficult, at first, to slow my speech and search for synonyms and antonyms spontaneously. Seriously. Try it sometime on the spot. Your mind goes blank. Having to search for words and new ways to explain words was a challenge. As a teacher, I was a bit overwhelmed at first. I thought I would have to approach instruction in a totally new way. No. I simply had to modify. These students are so intelligent and were very eager (for the most part) to soak up every lesson. What I had to realize is that confidence is the most important skill for a teacher. I know how to teach students to write and read. I just needed to trust myself to do that.

One of the most fun parts of teaching ESL? Halloween. As a college instructor, holidays come and go without comment. These students had so many questions, specifically about Halloween. Do I have to give out candy? What if I don’t have candy? Why do the kids say “trick or treat”? I had a ball creating articles about the history of Halloween in the States. I brought in treats and got more into the holiday than I ever have in the past.

The Latin students were amazed when I could pick up on what they were saying and sometimes (roughly) answer them. The Arabic students were so generous and patient in teaching me parts of their language as well.

So…thank you guys. Thank you so much for such an amazing semester. I care for each of you so much and will miss those of you returning to your home countries. I appreciate you trusting me and encouraging me as your teacher. Be safe, and be well.

Hasta luego.

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To the Naysayers

29th November 2011

I truly pride myself in finding books I think students will really enjoy, and mostly I’ve been very successful, though I think I’ve remarked in the past that when it comes to short stories, students always seem to enjoy the ones I’m not sure they’ll like. As for novels, I include some surefire hits: Persepolis, The Book Thief. Students almost universally enjoy these, and I am always pleasantly surprised by the comments I get during and after reading them.

ESL is a whole different story. First, I’ll be honest: it is super difficult to find material that works for them. ESL readers work according to vocabulary count, which I understand is similar in lower grade levels. Therefore, I cannot simply bring any book into the classroom and expect it to work. This means lots of rewriting articles and creating questions to go along with the readings.

When it comes to readers, I have a very limited supply so far, a bio of Martin Luther King, a couple of Oxford ESL original titles, a bio of Helen Keller, Swiss Family Robinson (a condensed and ESL version), and a very slim volume of Washington Irving stories. Let me tell you, I was worried. Big time. I knew traditional students would pitch royal fits when faced with these stories, and I have to say, I wouldn’t blame them. These aren’t particular favorites of mine, especially in these versions.

However, I couldn’t have been more off base. The most popular thus far? Swiss Family Robinson – by a vast majority. I never thought they would like it, but even my advanced class looks forward to reading it. In fact, these students who 100% told me they hate to read, ask frequently when we’ll be reading in class.

So this is a side note to me, as a teacher: Don’t be a naysayer. Don’t project your feelings on a book. Let the students decide, and they might just surprise you.

For you non teachers out there, the lesson is similar: Take a chance on a book. You might really enjoy it and wonder what took you so long to pick it up.

It’s such a basic lesson, but I think it’s one that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. It also brings up an interesting question: How do we build up these prejudices against certain books?

The Europa Challenge

11th July 2011

In my pre-book blogging days, I will freely admit I paid no attention to publishers whatsoever. I just read, looked for my next book, read, looked for my next book… rinse and repeat. I don’t regret it. Reading, and reading and blogging about what you read, are very different.

As a blogger, I have become much more conscious of publishers, imprints, and independent publishers v. The Big Six. At BEA, this was further reinforced, and one publisher’s booth to which I kept returning was Europa. At BEA, the New York Review of Books and Europa stood out in terms of their iconic, consistently well-designed covers. Plus, Europa publishes translations – books we don’t traditionally see in the States! This is something to be excited about, so I’m pleased to join in The Europa Challenge, a celebration of the publisher.

Thus far, I just finished my first Europa book, An Accident in August by Laurence Cossé (watch for the review this week). In addition to that, here are the other books I either have lined up or plan to line up for the challenge to meet the Europa Ami level:

You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik (I always use this phrase because I think people overuse the word “deserve” so it hooked me with the title alone)

The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky (talk about HOT! this one has made its rounds around the blogosphere)

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé

Everything Happens Today by Jesse Browner

Check out Europa’s site. See any titles (or covers) that interest you?

jenn aka the picky girl

Are we on the same page?

15th June 2011

I am in the middle of reading Hotel Angeline on my Nook, and I’ll talk a lot more about it later. Right now I just want to discuss something Nancy Pearl says in the Foreword:

No two people read the same book, even when it appears to be identical, with the same author, same cover, same publication date, and same pagination.

And that’s a good thing. Pearl boils down in one sentence why we read and blog and talk about books and have book clubs and sometimes get angry because other readers don’t agree with us and bond with readers who do.

Personally, I really really like when readers leave comments saying they really enjoyed a book I did not or liked an aspect of a book I didn’t think worked at all. Heck, I don’t even always agree with myself, as you can see from this post about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series.

Why is reading such a unique and individual experience? I’m a 30-year-old white girl who boasts Cajun and Native American roots, who lives in Texas, votes Democrat, and really likes to drink wine (and some beer). I have siblings, and my parents are still married. I am single and childless. I own my own home and love to decorate it. I have a dog. Though there may be some of you saying to yourself, “well idn’t that special” – why yes, it is. Because though the composites may be similar, there is no one person out there exactly like me… at least, that’s what my momma always told me.

Who we are informs our reading choices, preferences and experiences. As Robertson Davies says (and Nancy Pearl quotes), “Reading is exploration, extension, and reflection of one’s innermost self.” If we did all look at one book in the exact same manner, there wouldn’t be a whole lot of room for discussion. Instead, we meet one another on our respective journeys, reflecting what we have seen and discovered in a work. The book we see, read, or listen to is different for each one of us.

Pearl also points out that even if we re-read a book, it’s slightly different because we are different. Tonight on Twitter, I talked to Matt from A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook. He was talking about really enjoying Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead. I picked it up in high school and loathed it, but I trust his reading tastes, and I thought of Pearl’s words. Twelve years have passed since that skinny, naive girl picked up The Fountainhead and set it aside. The slightly overweight, much more informed me may stick with it a bit longer. Life has happened in 12 years.

What I enjoy about this blog and hope to foster in some small way is the space for readers with different sensitivities, cultures, backgrounds, families, careers, and lifestyles to comment and discuss books, a bookish life, and how words inform their own lives. Your comments and our discussion broaden my own life, and honestly, that’s why I read in the first place.

So, are we on the same page? I hope not. Talking about books would be much less interesting if so.

jenn aka the picky girl