Judge orders ESL classes

Here’s one idea for boosting enrollment at your local community college:

A judge known for creative sentencing has ordered three Spanish-speaking men to learn English or go to jail. The men, who faced prison for criminal conspiracy to commit robbery, can remain on parole if they learn to read and write English, earn their GEDs and get full-time jobs…

“Do you think we are going to supply you with a translator all of your life?” the judge asked them.

The four, ranging in age from 17 to 22, were in a group that police said accosted two men on a street in May. The two said they were asked if they had marijuana, told to empty their pockets, struck on the head, threatened with a gun and told to stay off the block.

How would you like these students in your class, though?

Keeping children quiet in the classroom

Two of my adult classes are at elementary schools. Some of the moms bring their pre-schoolers to class. It is always a challenge to keep them quiet enough to have an effective class. If the moms aren’t watching them, they disturb the class. If the moms are watching them, they keep the moms from paying attention to the lesson. In spite of the challenges, my students are quite motivated and they persevere.

I have been told I can not be responsible and the parents must be responsible for the children, yet, I seem to be the only one who is capable and willing to decide that a particular activity–like one child bonking another over the head with a plastic bottle–must be stopped, or that the noise threshold has been exceeded and must be scaled back before I lose my voice. Not having children of my own makes it harder, I imagine, to make judgments. Still, I have discovered some of the things that work or don’t work.

Doesn’t work:

  • Stickers. If children have access to stickers, you will be cleaning them off of chairs, tables, the floor, and places you didn’t know your classroom had places.
  • Foods with sugar. Show me a kid with Froot Loops in front of them and I’ll show you a kid bouncing off the ceiling.
  • Play Dough. One day I brought four colors of play dough. By the end of the class there was one color–gray. They also managed to get play dough in the caps of the colored markers.
  • Coloring books. This actually worked for a while. I bought four coloring books at the dollar store. Then one day all the coloring books disappeared during the class and never turned up again. Pages can be torn out one by one so each child can have one to color. They can take it home, or give it to teacher to staple to the bulletin board at the end of class.
  • Toys that beep. Do I need to explain this one? Yes, parents bring toys that beep into the classroom. Don’t get me started on the subject of cellphones.


  • Crayons. One classroom has a bucket of crayons (ice cream size bucket) that the kids are pretty good at sharing. Some other crayons from the dollar store (made in China) didn’t color and weren’t worth the money.
  • Individually xeroxed pictures to color. The coloring book doesn’t disappear because it’s at home so you can make more copies. The kids don’t have a lot of choices, they can choose one picture or two or both to color. The adults don’t have to spend time helping them choose and tearing a page out of a book.
  • Cards. I had some with Care Bears and the alphabet. They got colored on a bit but were still a big favorite. Maybe good for a half hour.
  • Videos. If you have access to a VCR you can play a cartoon with the volume off. Requires someone to bring the tapes and someone to take time away from the class to play it. This one didn’t last too long.
  • Food without obvious sugar. Parents in one school have access to the kitchen and sometimes bring fresh milk and snacks. It’s hard for kids to sit for so long without eating.
  • A small table in the back of the room for activities. Sometimes two or three kids can play quietly for a long time at the table. It helps if the table is positioned so the children sit facing away from the class.

If you can only do one thing, get a bucket of crayons and some scratch paper, or several xeroxed copies of two or three pages from a coloring book.

Posted in Education, EFL, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL, Women. Comments Off on Keeping children quiet in the classroom

No, you may NOT hit a child in my classroom.

I thought I had seen everything in my classroom. We are far away from the main campus, so we can pretty much do what we want.  Food not allowed?  No problem in my classroom. Children not allowed? If the moms want to learn English , they have to bring the children.  Keeping them from disturbing the class requires endless patience and more than a little experimentation.  But worth it. When you educate the mother you educate the whole family.  Or so I tell them. I even have a mom that breastfeeds in the classroom.

But today there was something new.  A new student , trying to keep her small child quiet, hit him. Of course there was no question I could not keep silent about this, but I froze, and in a split second tried to remember everything I knew about dealing with this on the employment level.

There was the neighbor who told a cryptic tale about someone–a “mandated reporter”–who had reported child abuse but some unnamed dreadful thing had happened as a result, and that person would never make such a report again.  Then there was the day working in a public agency when I was sitting at my desk and suddenly became aware of one of the City’s Finest standing behind me. A co-worker had witnessed a client hitting a child and, slipping away from his desk, had gone to the administrator’s office and called the police. The mother had thought nothing of it at the time, but as the discussion progressed, it was revealed that she herself had been abused as a child and was now horrified to realize her own role in perpetuating the abuse.

So what did I actually witness in my class?  Was it abuse?  No.  It was playful, but meant to control the child’s behavior.  But why hit a child gently if they do not understand you can also hit hard? It was a pattern, and I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg without knowing how much was under the surface.

What was my own legal obligation?  This state has a law about “mandated reporters”, that is, people who are required by law to report any child abuse they witness or risk losing their jobs.  I don’t know if I am a mandated reporter, but probably not.  Children are technically not permitted in the classroom, so technically I never see children as part of my job. But there are all kinds of people running around that building who are definitely mandated reporters, and this mom would eventually run afoul of them if she didn’t figure out another way to manage her child. I could help my student understand American culture and law without appearing to make any value judgments.

A class discussion ensued where I tried to get a basic Spanish vocabulary to talk about what was going on.  What was the Spanish word for hit?  How do I explain “illegal”?  I could certainly explain the awkward situation it place me in to have something illegal go on in my classroom when children were not even permitted there in the first place.  The student had to leave early, so as she left I asked the other students to help think of ways to help her. The other students tell me hitting children is common in Mexican classrooms.  Mexican teachers will also pull the children’ hair.

But in my classroom, no one is going to hit any child, even symbolically.

Links for teachers of English as a second language

The following links have been recommended within the community college system:



Cultural Awareness


Mozaik Magazine explores racial and multicultural issues with its online magazine and extensive archives.


Comparing Cultural Differences: Mexico with Canada & the United States


Multicultural Pavilion–a detailed and thorough list of resources and links about varied cultures and the effect on education. This is mostly a K-212 resource, but the information is useful for adult classes.


Minority Literature/Multi-cultural Resources-Poems, stories and criticism from many cultures


Center for Multilingual, Multicultural Resources.This site is oriented especially toward adult education.


Culturegrams. these are four page summaries of history/culture for msot of the countries fo the world. Only a sample is online. The others need to be ordered.


Cultural differences: Are we really that different? a thought-provoking article from someone who has had genuine experience.


Working on Common Cross-Cultural Challenges. A summary of the major impact points in cross-cultural communication.

Professional Associations Related to Adult Education

(some have continuing education cpu’s)


Teachers of English to speakers of Other Languages. an international organization for ESL and EFL tachers at any level (K-12, adult ed, higher ed.), with state and local chapters throughout the world. anual converntion in the U.S. or Canada, other professional develop[ment activities, journals, materials, job bank for members and more.


Illinois TESOL-bilingual Education. The Illinois state affiliate of TESOL, for people involved with ESL or bilingual education at any level. Annual statewide convention, other professional development activities, newsletter, job bank on the web for ESL, adult educators and others.


Commission on Adult Basic Education. COABE. A national organiztion for adult educators. Annual convention, newsletter, and other professional development opportunities.


Illinois Adult and continuing Educators Association IACEA. Affiliated with AAACE; Illinois organization for anyone involved with adult education. Annual convention, legislative advocacy for adult ed.


American Association for Adult and Continuing Education. AAACE. An international organiztion for adult educators. Annual convention, journals, materials.


Adult Numeracy Network. ANN. A national organization for adult education math teachers. Annual convention, newsletter.


National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. NCTM. A national organization for math teachers at all levels. National and regional conventions, journals, materials and more.

Some ESL links for students

These website sites are recommended within the community colleges system for students of English as a second language.



www.myefa.org Companion site for English for All videos




www.internet4classrooms.com/learn_eng.htm (vocabulary practice)


Posted in EFL, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL. Comments Off on Some ESL links for students

Potato-shaped asteroids guide my horoscope for the week–is this Pluto’s fault?

The world has not been the same since Pluto got demoted from planet to asteroid.

A few months ago I put a horoscope button on my right widget column, mostly so it would be easier for me to check my horoscope. The site doesn’t provide the code, so I had to save their horoscope symbol to disk, then upload it to wordpress with the link attached to it. Not an artistic endeavor, but it got the job done.

Here is my horoscope for this week:

Due to a rare conjunction of three potato-shaped asteroids in your astrological House of Productive and Forgivable Gaffes, you have cosmic license to make a lot of really cool mistakes. I’ve gathered some witty remarks you can invoke to disarm anyone who might be critical of your messy experiments: (1) “You’re just jealous because the little voices are talking to me and not to you.” (2) “When I have to choose between two evils, I enjoy picking the one I’ve never tried before.” (3) “Do you have a clear conscience? A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.” (4) “I don’t suffer from insanity. I enjoy every minute of it.”

So what is this supposed to mean? After you get done laughing, of course? Potato-shaped asteroids? Since when do potato-shaped asteroids figure in a horoscope?

The Jordan Times used to have a really great horoscope for learning English. Every week I would bring my copy of the paper to class and my English conversation students would pick their horoscope out of the paper and read it to the class, adding a little to their vocabulary in a fun, and therefore easy to remember way. Even the devoutly Moslem in the group found no offense if the horoscopes were read with the understanding that it was for entertainment only. Allah is to be worshipped and not the stars.

Oh, but this horoscope button….I do so look forward to whatever jolt away from the mundane I will experience from it each week, and I suspect they are also quite serious about guiding your life.


Related posts:

~A new widget button: Astroweather

Passive Voice Gains Support

The most heated East-West argument I ever participated in was over grammar concept called the Passive Voice. The scene was a hotel in Amman, Jordan; the event an educational convention for teachers of English as a second language. The combatants: American native English speakers teaching English in Jordan who insisted the passive voice in the English language was undesirable and to be eliminated versus Jordanian Arabic-speaking administrators who insisted cultivation of the passive voice was a sign of deep educational achievement. As a fairly educated American specimen,  I had done enough exercises in advanced English composition courses changing  passive voice to active voice to know that active voice is one way to make writing clearer, more accurate and  less ambigious.  Among Americans at least, overdoing the passive voice is a sure sign of the novice.

Now in the hotel, an eighty-year-old American English teacher explained the scourge of Passive Voice more eloquantly.  Suppose you take the sentence: “Taxes were raised.”  The sentence has no subject, but it is still a complete sentence. That’s because it’s in passive voice. But to Americans it’s a very unsatisfactory sentence, becauase they want to know WHO raised taxes. In fact, that’s the only interesting part of the whole sentence, and why is it left out anyway????? The Passive Voice smacks of evasion.

Now that I have had time to look up passive voice and its correct usuage, I can say the two occasions where passive voice is appropriate is (1) the subject of the sentence is not known and (2) the subject of the sentence is not important. The classic example for both of these is a newpaper review of a play. It may not be known who is producing a particular play and it is certainly not important to the public.  The author of the play, the main actors, the theater, and the quality of the performance are all much more important bits of information.

This week I have run across more public uses of the passive voice. In the Friday-Saturday edition of the Jordan Times: “The war was triggered after Hizbollah fighters crossed Israel’s northern border, killed three soldiers and returned to Lebanon with two captured Israeli soldiers.” The war was triggered. Finally I can understand the Arab love-affair with passive voice. How else could an Arab publication frankly discuss the events of the war. On the American side, this week U.S.Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, in reference to the firing of  8 US attorneys, said “Mistakes were made,” echoing the late President Reagan when he commented on the Iran contra affair when the U.S. secretly sold weapons to Iran to raise money for the clandestine anti-Sandanista rebellion in Nicaragua.  Passive voice to the rescue.

Posted in Arabs, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL, Government. Comments Off on Passive Voice Gains Support

Are we developed yet?–more staff training

Oh good, more staff training. On rather short notice this time, but there’s nothing like getting paid to think about something you’re going to do anyhow.

Here’s what I learned from staff development three weeks ago:

1. Bring food for your students. Have a bag with some kind of snack and pass it around. The students will start bringing food too. This really works. I got a huge 99-cent bag of animal crackers and found a package of napkins in one of the classroom file cabinets. These students do come straight from work and I know my class is competing with the thought of a hot meal.

2. Put your tables in a vee with an aisle down the middle. You can’t do this if you have those little bitty desks, but in two of my classes this is working very well. The students are facing the front instead of each other, they are more engaged, but can still practice with each other, and there is space for me to walk around the tables and check their work.

3. Ask students about their goals. Do they want a better job? a GED? a university degree? Or do they want to be able to talk to their grandchildren who only speak English? Don’t know yet if this helps, but perhaps they will think I’m responsive to their input. Perhaps I will be more responsive to their input.

4. Give tests. I was annoyed at something else today, so I decided to implement this one right away and gave a pop quiz. Haven’t evaluated this one yet, but basically seems good because it means the students do something instead of the teacher doing something.

Oh, yes, there is usually a food budget for these shindigs which puts you symbolically at a nicer place in the food chain than you really are.

Posted in Education, EFL, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL. Comments Off on Are we developed yet?–more staff training

OMG, the grant application deadline is WHEN? oh, right, no problem…

So this week you just got a new textbook you get to teach for the first time, you found out you’re teaching that odd class in a remote location with less than a week to prepare, the dean will be around tomorrow to see if you’ve got all the names written in your attendence book, you haven’t written your syllabus yet, you’ve been talking to students about their goals and there are some special purpose funds that fit right into what you want to do this semester? And the deadline for grant applications is approaching quickly…

First you need a bunch of links. Here is the site with the most complete listing of links on the web. Some of the examples funded grants are no longer on line, but there is still a lot of info there.

By skimming a succession of articles, I was quickly able to focus on what I want to accomplish with the grant and how to present it, the typical formats, and the typical reasons grants are rejected so I can watch for pitfalls. Then some very specific advice. Find out what exact format is required by your specific organization, get a copy of some successfully funded proposals, find a second set of eyes to proofread your paper, and present yourself in simple but formal language.

Okay , I’ve got all the stuff in hand and the blessing of my program coordinators as well. Ally Ooop.

“Academic Community” and the Food Chain Reconsidered

I really prefer spy novels–something like Helen McInnes, who mixed Nazis with art dealers and always managed to kill off a good number of the good guys. Or Graham Greene. Oh, yes, Graham Greene. The genuine real-life British spy. Travels with my Aunt, hilarious. Our Man in Havana, about a fake missle report by a Cuban vaccuum cleaner salesman who need some extra cash, published six months before the Cuban missle crisis. The copyright page made me laugh out loud. Unfortunately, the first Graham Greene novel I ever picked up was The Human Factor, which I still don’t like, so it was another twenty years before I picked up another one of his books. Oh, and there was the creepy The Silent American about the early days of Vietnam. Creepy for its glimpse of the Vietnamese mind as well as the British mind. Having lived in a former British protectorate, the British/American relationship is always interesting to explore. But of course it’s only fiction.

Somtimes though, I venture out of my favorite rut and pick up some other genre. Like the time my folks were staying in a house owned by a couple where the wife was a romance novel addict. Two basement rooms were devoted to the bookshelves full of Harlequins. My brother and I read a new romance every day, just like eating popcorn, mostly because there wasn’t anything else to read. The plots were all the same. Girl meets Bad Boy in a mansion. Falls in love but realizes it’s impossible because of his character. They fight and he admires her spunk. Discovers his character is okay after all becasue he loves his mother or somesuch. Lives happily ever after.

This week I picked up a whodunit, Margaret Maron’s One Coffee With. A Sigrid Harald Mystery. This one got me on the first papragraph:

Few institutions of higher learning are content that their faculties do nothing but teach. In the name of “academic community,” Administration arranges committees, faculty-student teas, receptions to meet the newest trustee, and interdisciiplinary seminars. Departments that submit to this nonsense unquestioningly are rewarded with buildings of their own or, at the very least, whole floors of contiguous classrooms and well-furnished offices.

In every college, though, there is always one department that doesn’t give a damn for academic community, that adopts a laissez-faire attitude toward Administration’s extracurricular entanglements and subsequantly finds itself jammed higgledy-piggledy into the college’s leftover spaces.

Of course you know this department will have the murder that will occupy the rest of the novel’s pages. My department is more like the first one, and will probably never have a murder mystery, or for that matter any other kind of mystery.

As I listened to the president’s remarks this morning over a bagel and designer coffee for the second time in a week, I pondered the dean’s remarks from yesterday. If you’re here for the money instead of becasue you love the students, then you don’t belong here, he said. Tonight I checked online for the direct deposit amount from the last week of fall semeter and concluded that was very true. Then I pondered my lack of health insurance and prescription benefits, the 25 hour weekly limit on teachers’ hours, and the emphasis on socializing with other faculty. Yes, indeed I do love my students. That is what keeps me going. Some day when I have a completely different life, I will look back on this semeter of staff development, trays of firsthand free food, and hours in the classroom with nostalgia, and perhaps wish I could live these days again.

Posted in Education, EFL, English as a Foreign Language, English as a Second Language, ESL. Comments Off on “Academic Community” and the Food Chain Reconsidered