Both last week and this week, attendance in my adult ESL classes has been really bad. It has been worse in my morning class than in the evening one, but it hasn’t been great either time. I know that my students — most of them at least — have had valid reasons for missing class, reasons that have nothing to do with me or the class itself. But I can’t help but be a little frustrated. In the morning class I have ended up working with students in a grammar workbook, tailoring it to their own individual needs. In the evening, we have been spending more time on grammar, teaching and practicing it more overtly than I normally would.
And I think that is the source of my frustration. I feel like I am abandoning my more content approach to teaching English. I don’t see a lot of value in focusing on grammar in isolation from real usage. This week I planned to have students work on a webquest. Instead we are working on verb tenses.
The students, though, are quite happy with the way class has been this week. At least that is what they have told me. I think they like the concreteness of it. They know that they know what it is that they are learning. In the morning class, one of the students is a low beginner, and she is happy to have a book to work in. She can work on it at home, and then I can look at what she did the next day in class. In the evening, my students are intermediates and they like the verb tense work because it is refining what they already sort of know. We drill it until they get it. I am using English Banana materials for this – sentence strings and verb tense reviews. It seems better to me than traditional grammar book work, maybe because I can more easily work it into my style of teaching.
This verb work is really part of Purland’s You are the Course Book method, but it is the part I had been glossing over a little. I hadn’t been sure how to incorporate it really. But now that I have used the materials, I can see that they can easily be incorporated into the class as I am presently doing it. It is very well thought-out, it seems, and the results from my students this week have been very encouraging.
So I have learned a lot from these two weeks. I have learned that I have to be more flexible in the way I teach — allowing more time for some of the traditional grammar activities that students expect in a class. And I have learned how to use the materials that are part of the approach I decided to adopt for these classes. I have been reminded of the need to have my bag of tricks always at hand because you never know when you are going to have to scrap the plan for the day and do something entirely different.