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Midterm Qualms

February 28, 2010

Next week, we have our midterm exams and then spring break follows.  I feel some trepidation with each of my classes.  This feeling comes from students not succeeding as I want them to, which in turn leads me to re-examine what we did and wonder how I could have done better.  I am teaching the advanced reading class, a class that I rarely teach.  I pulled out my PowerPoints, updated as many as had time for, and taught the classes.  I tried a couple of new things, but now I feel I haven’t used class time well to have them work on reading.  Part of my frustration comes from the fact that most students don’t do the work in their books so we have to do the exercises in class, but that partly may be my fault since I don’t always give exact assignments.  Doing the exercises in class isn’t necessarily bad, but we don’t get through as much as I would like.  However, more than worrying about how much we do, I worry that I haven’t provided the correct guidance for the students to improve their reading. 

In my low intermediate class,  I bring in word scrambles I make using the site Teach-Nology.  I have also used word searches and a crossword puzzle though the crossword puzzle proved more difficult for the students.  I use these at the beginning of class because it takes me a little time to get set up with having to come across campus from another class and then having the computer take what seems like 5 minutes (though it is probably shorter) to get up and running.  Fun things to do and my students seem to enjoy doing them.  However, their midterm involves identifying the correct word to fit into a sentence.  While I am giving them exercises that focus on the form of words, I haven’t given them practice on the words in sentences.  The textbook does some though, so maybe that will be enough preparation for the test.  Maybe I need to remind them of the exercises that already exist online for the vocabulary practice either provided by the textbook makers or that I wrote in earlier semesters.  I also put some of the words on Quizlet, but not all the words nor necessarily the words that will be on the test.

But putting aside worrying about the test for the moment, I wonder if these exercises really help them learn vocabulary in any deep way.  Vocabulary words in different meaningful contexts seem more appropriate, but this isn’t feasible if the textbook doesn’t provide a good part of the support.  Writing paragraphs or adapting readings besides being time consuming makes the materials feel artificial. 

My students do pretty well on the content aspect of their paper, but they are find correcting grammar errors difficult.  Last class, as students were doing practice paragraphs where they write a paragraph and bring it to me to mark errors for them to revise, I thought maybe I should do something like this with their next out of class paragraph.  I would have them bring the paragraphs printed out to class where I would use a highlighter to mark grammar problems on their papers and then they could revise the papers before they finalize them.   

I saw a story about an online teacher on the PBS News Hour site about an Salman Khan an online teacher of math and science whose videos have proven helpful for many of the students.  I watched a couple of the videos and found them easy to follow.  He posts the videos on his website, and they can be found on YouTube.  I keep telling myself I would like to do something like that, but the videos I have tried haven’t come out the way I would like, but I have gotten ideas from his videos.  Maybe…

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