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Biiiig project

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Joined: 05 Dec 2003
Posts: 28
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

PostPosted: Thu Dec 02, 2004 3:43 pm    Post subject: Biiiig project Reply with quote

Hi folks, I'm teaching in a software company, and after a year with the same small groups, everything is starting to fizzle out.

I can't find any appropriate textbook courses (far less with appropriate structure and accompanying testing to keep motivation up) so in order to keep the whole thing going smoothly I'm going to write a four-level course (plus a total beginner mini-course to prepare for the elementary level) based on industry vocabulary and issues. If I don't, I know I'm going to go crazy Shocked

This is a pretty hefty undertaking, and I wondered if anyone had written full courses before? I'll be taking time out of work to do this, and hiring in a sub to fill in, otherwise I'll never get it done. I reckon there's about 3-4 months minimum of solid work. Any advances? As I'm a kind chap, I might be persuaded to share the end result on my website (good grief, everyone's making a website here Rolling Eyes ) Can any one give help/advice or maybe even some materials?
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Joined: 31 May 2004
Posts: 144
Location: SE Asia

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 1:04 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

First time writing a course?

My advice is to do the speaking and writing areas first - they'll take the shortest time and are straightforward.

For listening, don't skimp on quality, look for a good recording studio. Keep the audio on MP3 so you can deliver it on CD or put it on your site. For reading materials, you can do 'R & C' (research and copy) or ask permission from the publishers to use the material. Use the readability stats on Word to check for consistency in the level of difficulty.

You can get good photo material from the online clip-art site (make sure it's the official one, or you'll be bombarded with ads).

Finally, you'll need to have it moderated by someone else, because you'll make more mistakes than you think.

hope this helps


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Joined: 05 Dec 2003
Posts: 28
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

PostPosted: Fri Dec 03, 2004 7:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I tried replying earlier but the internet ate my message Sad

Thanks for good ideas, some of that hadn't really crossed my mind.

Yes, more or less first time writing a 'proper' course. I've done intensive residential courses before, but those were more just collections of exercises for conversation. I never had that much time to devote to the process before. This is the first time writing a course from absolute zero level to (hopefully!) a reasonable level of fluency. I just find courses and textbooks totally inadequate, and with my packed timetable, I find planning lessons 'on the fly' just ends up with me losing track of everything and going in circles. Testing? What's testing...

Or maybe I'm just a bad teacher Smile

I can see this course branching at intermediate level, as I have two main audiences- programmers and telecommunications people.

My biggest problem is organising the material while I'm working on it- I'm not the most organised teacher/computer user/human being ever to have crept out of the primordial gunge.

My plan is to have everything online in a database as I work, that way I can also hopefully get feedback as I go. Any such input will be hugely appreciated, even if it means ripping everything to shreds and saying, "start again."

Illustrations will be no problem- there is no shortage of high-quality clipart CDs here. For sound I'll begin by stealing simple stuff in MP3 format from the Reward course CD ROMs. After that, a dictaphone. Maybe if it all miraculously comes together well, I'll go for a recording studio. I have a whole academy of acting students for that Very Happy

I didn't know about the readability function in Word- I'll need to play around a little to get the hang of that, but it looks handy.

Moderation... ooooh yes, that will be needed.

Time to get on with the job and stop talking about it! Laughing
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Joined: 06 Jan 2004
Posts: 533

PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2004 7:08 am    Post subject: Self development as a teacher.... Reply with quote

Hey bobs.

Your situation has rung a bell in my memory.

Unsatisfied with the material offered to me as a beginning teacher, I began early on in my career to write a better ESL book. A bit like the mouse-trap, if the old one works, why make a new one?

After years of filling note-books with schemes and lists and exercises, experimenting with my classes and searching the available material, I realized one day that I wasn't really writing a book at all, but rather developing as a teacher. All available material has its value, depending on the work situation. And, in the end, it's all based on the good old verb "be". As some of us have commented in "Business English" threads here, what is the use of teaching "Business English" if "English" has not been dominated? Any good, thorough exercise book will serve a creative teacher in getting students to learn and use English. I've been using Grant Taylor's "Learning" and "Mastering American English" textbooks for twenty years. They were written back in the late '50s, and though vocabulary like "hat" "tie" "cigarette" and "ashtray" are not very current or politically correct fifty years later, they are easily replaced with "MP3", "software", "war on terrorism" and "Excel". Twenty years ago my students recognized instantly the Susan Vega songs that were my cloze exercises, now a days many have never heard "Tom's Diner" in their life, and yet that song has not been phased out of my material bank. Some things, like structure, pronunciation even cultural references are universal and never phase out.

I don't mean to discourage you from writing your "book". What I want to say is, perhaps you are on the same road I was years ago, that is, making of yourself the most flexible, useful teacher to any group you come upon, having the vast resources necessary to do your job well and help students achieve their personal goals in studying ESL. The notes you make now will be your personal references in the future.

Good luck.

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Joined: 05 Dec 2003
Posts: 28
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2004 4:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks revel Very Happy

Yes, you're absolutely right. I try to do that with the existing materials- following the structure but substituting the reading texts, exercises, etc. with something more 'appropriate'. However, my goal is not exactly to write a 'book' as such, but rather to have all those alternative materials collated into a complete set.

There is a real lack of motivation among a lot of the students in the company, groups are small and attendance is sporadic, which makes it difficult for me to justify their failing tests. In the course of a year, only one of twenty students has completed a course and shown measurable progress. Other groups have gone most way through their courses, but have attended so few lessons and paid so little attention that there's just no point in giving them a test.

The management doesn't believe in 'progress testing', and doesn't even see the need for prepared lessons, or for long-term planning. They think all the students have to do is 'talk', and they will learn English. They want a level test based on 'knowledge of synonyms' in order to decide who has the best English.

I'm hoping that there will be a positive psychological effect in knowing that a complete course has been tailored to their needs, where they can see the relevance of materials to be covered, they know that they are working towards a test that has been approved by management. It will also let me work with a second teacher.

The chaos I'm working in now is the legacy of the last teacher who had either some secret syllabus in his head for each student, or just randomly picked a lesson topic out of thin air each time. I suppose that approach is okay for a few lessons, maybe a few months, but it was impossible to work together with him, as I had to guess what the students hadn't covered recently.

He has now left, and I have a very packed timetable of students that keep jumping from one group to another, dropping and starting lessons again without warning, and new students who keep appearing. My head is spinning- I'm not the most organised teacher ever to exist, but in the current situation I'm running flat-out just to keep from going backwards- getting organised is my number one priority.

That done, I'll be in a better position to tell people that there will be no group-hopping, and no sympathy if they fail tests. I can also tell them that when only one student turns up for a group lesson, we'll cover the material intended for that lesson until I'm happy they've done enough work, rather than trying to stretch the material out to fill the time left.

Well, that's the plan!

Thanks for the support, I hope you won't mind me drawing on your experience (a bit more extensive than mine Wink ) in the very near future- there are a lot of issues that I really need some sage advice on!
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Joined: 18 May 2003
Posts: 1377
Location: San Francisco, California

PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2004 5:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah Bobs12, your situation becomes clearer, if more complex. I can't help but wonder if the problem is not with you or your students, but with the management of the company in which they work. I have also done some work creating a syllabus for a company that wanted their line workers (mostly immigrants) to be better able to interact with their supervisors and co-workers, and to more fully participate in workplace meetings and activities. My colleague and I taught three separate courses at different times for this company. The students were told to attend class at a certain time every week. They all showed up at that time prepared to do whatever was planned, showed a lot of enthusiasm, and (we think) made some progress. The "final" section of one of the classes was to have them take the supervisor and manager on a tour of their work place area, explaining the machines they used, how they worked, what they did, etc.

In planning activities and a syllabus, I was lucky to have a great colleague to work together with. I think what we accomplished was far more than either of us would have been able to do alone. We started by making a calendar with a square for each day we were going to teach the course. In our case, it was once or twice a week. We thought of the subject matter, divided it up into segments, and put them in the calendar. We did the same with whatever we were teaching at the time--it could include grammar, pronunciation, speaking, listening, vocabulary, computers, or cross cultural items. I don't know what kinds of things your company wants you to cover, or why the students are supposed to learn English (it is, of course, different when the students are in an English-speaking country.)

Do they have to use their English in business? Do they speak with customers? Is it a means to better pay or a better job in the company? What is their incentive? Do they get paid for attending or are they just allowed to come on their own time? I think if you had some better management support, you might be able to plan better.
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Joined: 05 Dec 2003
Posts: 28
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

PostPosted: Sat Dec 04, 2004 11:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not sure I can offload all the blame on the management, although I'd like to Wink I guess someone more experienced/more organised in my position would make a better job of the situation.

These guys, in theory, are all required to speak English. The company does software outsourcing, and their business is conducted with the USA and Europe. Speaking English well enough to communicate with clients is a pre-requisite of being a project manager, which means shorter flowers and more honey.

The annoying thing is that I used to get people coming for lessons who already spoke perfectly good English, and as a result had money to burn and some time to kill. With some of them it was as if they were coming in and saying 'okay Mr. Bigshot, teach me something I don't know...' So I did. Anything they didn't understand- "but I don't need to know that." Anything they already understood- "I already know that." As someone recently put it, the attitude was, "I don't know what I want, but it's not this."

Though I've got rid of those tpyes, the attitude seems to remain among a lot of the rest.

Apparently they don't need technical English. When I was trying to convince the manager that he had to take a part in setting goals, the only sense I could get out of him was that they just needed to expand their vocabularies. now there's a typical Russian reply for you.

They know all their terminology, so they need general English to be able to make small talk with clients. That's all fine and well, but small talk takes up a few seconds at the start of a teleconference, or meeting. The manager came back with the explanation that Yuri doesn't make very good small talk, but he has no trouble talking about technical stuff. The fact that only about 10% of the programmers and managers can pronounce 'software' without saying 'softwarry' doesn't seem to be of any concern (I can't teach it out of them anyway, it's set in stone. The best I can do is tell them how funny it would sound in Russian, but nobody takes the blindest bit of notice of anything).

I can't figure out for the life of me what they expect me to actually do! Laughing

The students attend these classes, take time out of their work schedule, and pay for the pleasure. I can't understand why they bother really. Right now, I wouldn't come to study in any of my classes if I was paid.

Level of support from the rest of the company is poor too- I decided to meet the boss halfway on his vocabulary obsession, and asked the project managers to send me a number of email conversations or ICQ logs that I would extract the essential vocab from to present in a test. One guy responded.

Your system sounds great- very simple and efficient. I wish the guy I worked with had been more committed to the job.

Ah well, I'm rambling now. Time for bed. Thanks for lending an ear folks, and g'night Smile
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Senorita Daniels

Joined: 22 Dec 2004
Posts: 202

PostPosted: Wed Jun 08, 2005 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If your students don't need technical English, why don't you change the class to more of a reading club? You could assign a book to read, maybe a chapter or two before each class. Then you can discuss it in class, without the technical language they work with every day. The shift in focus might help bring in more students.
OR maybe they could help you write dialogs or stories for your books. The oppertunity might encourage the others to come to class.
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Joined: 05 Dec 2003
Posts: 28
Location: St. Petersburg, Russia

PostPosted: Tue Jun 21, 2005 10:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've actually left that place now, and bizarrely a lot of employees left after me. The whole place seems to be grinding to a standstill.

Strangely, I had already tried exactly what you said. I announced the exact same thing - a reading club - over the company email, about 20 people replied instantly saying, 'yes, I'm interested', I set everything up, got books for the different levels... and three people came.

I then moved on to a different approach - translating short stories from Russian to English, then writing or homework on the same theme. Some approached it with gusto, others just plain refused to do an iota of work outside the classroom.

I came to the conclusion that they were all just waiting to catch me off guard, then jump on me and gouge my English out with a rusty spoon. It would probably be served that day in the canteen, still raw and dripping blood...
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