Monday, February 23, 2015

Happy Year of the Wood Goat

When I ordered four lunar new year treats from a nearby restaurant, I wrongly assumed they would all be ready-to-eat. But the taro cake needed to be pan-fried. I was floored when a staff member of a different department offered her time and their kitchen to slice up and fry the taro cake then bring it up to us on a plate. Not a day goes by that I don't remember how fortunate I am to work with people like J in an environment where you'll never hear anyone say, "That's not my job."

Students brought dumplings, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame balls, glutinous rice balls rolled in something yummy, black bean cakes, fruit salad, sticky buns, and more. The koi cake you see in the picture was purchased.

The prior week we had guests from LINC One whose instructor was playing chaperone on a field trip for Black History Month. I was in need of material that would both appeal to the seniors and be comprehensible to the level one students. Once again, The Westcoast Reader came to my rescue. We used the lesson about Lunar New Year from the Special Days and Holidays book, including page ten from the Word Games and Puzzles book (see their sidebar) so we could all find out about our respective animals in the Chinese Zodiac.

After reading the text and working with the vocabulary, we played "Find Someone Who" with a BINGO card I created. This all took two days (four and a half hours of classroom time). I was thrilled when two of the LINC one students, given the option on day two of watching a movie with other students, chose instead to come back to our class!

Did you do anything for Valentine's Day, Family Day, Lunar New Year or Black History Month? I would love to hear about it if you did.


Coming Next Week: Why and how I use Total Physical Response (TPR) and how you can, too.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

How to Make a Classroom Bank Machine

The wisest thing I've ever done to help my literacy learners become comfortable with an ATM--something they had indicated via our needs assessment was important to them--was build an ATM from a cardboard box. Fortunately for me, all our students use the same bank, making the resource hunting part of this unit easier for me.

To give students lots of scaffolding for this lesson, we spent a week working with Fatima Goes to the Bank and the following week building our skills with the vocabulary needed for just ONE type of transaction--a withdrawal. These are words such as savings, chequing, select, and receipt. You'd be surprised how manageable these screens can be if you help students learn to scan for the words they DO KNOW while ignoring the big ones they don't know. For example, out of "no more transactions," they can find and understand "no more."

After learning how to withdraw and getting lots of practice with the simulated screens in class, the learners requested that we repeat the entire process with the deposit transaction. So that took another week. We combined it with learning to write cheques. After writing each other $20 cheques, those cheques were what we put into our deposit envelopes.

I found this unit on using an ATM to be very successful. Students learned that they needn't be intimidated by all those options on the screen as long as they can scan and find the option they need. By working with TD Bank's online Green Machine tutorials* and the classroom ATM that had been modelled after those screens, students got to the point of knowing exactly which question was coming next. Not only that, but learners had a lot of fun taking turns standing behind the cardboard ATM to flip the screens and push the bank card, receipt and money out through the proper slots while the student customer stood facing the "machine," ready to receive each one in turn.

Of course we also talked about ATM safety points, such as protecting your PIN, not counting money until you're in a private and safe place, where and when NOT to use an ATM, and other safety concepts.

Finally, we took photos of ourselves using the classroom ATM and built a story book around the process. That was our reading material for the following week, providing lots of recycling of the same words and concepts.

What you will need for a classroom ATM:

  • a cardboard box from your local liquor or grocery store
  • a utility or exacto knife
  • card stock on which to draw the keypad (or my photo of it printed out in colour)
  • packing or duct tape
  • ruler
  • markers
  • a life-sized print-out of a bank card to paste below the card slot (direction must match ATM)
  • one presentation portfolio or lightweight binder with enough plastic sleeves to hold all your screens
  • one copy of my editable ATM screens (Literacy - Banking and Money)
  • classroom money (at least four twenties)

  1. Insert 8.5 x 11" screens for a given transaction into the plastic sleeves in the same order in which they appear on the Green Machine.
  2. Use strong tape to affix one cover of the binder to the top of the box in such a way that the plastic sleeves hang down onto the face of the ATM and can be flipped back out of the way one at a time.
  3. Use a ruler to sketch out then a knife to cut four slots: one for the bank card, another for the receipt to come out, a slot for deposits, and a large bottom slot from which the money can emerge. (Study a real TD Bank ATM so you know where these slots really are.)
  4. Paste the picture of the keypad or draw a PIN pad on a separate piece of cardboard and place it in front of the machine or attach it like a fold-out flap.
Voila! You have a classroom bank machine.

Also very helpful in teaching ATM use at any level are TD Canada Trust's own screen-by-screen tutorials and GCF's ATM, an interactive simulator. Or check out this Canadian ATM simulator.

Please do let me know if you end up using any of these ideas. I would be so happy to know it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Listening Boot Camp (Week Two)

This week was the real test of the students' understanding of and investment in the new ideas around putting aside L1 and electronic (bilingual) dictionaries in order to focus more completely on improving listening and speaking skills.

I felt we had spent enough time building the toolbox, but the question remained: would they use those tools? I felt more determined than ever not to let conversation time turn into the same disastrous scene as always--with me running around trying to police the violators of the NO DICTIONARIES and NO L1 rules.

Here are some things I did to ensure a better outcome:

  • Made the text as simple and short as possible given the students' objectives. (It's a multilevel class with some functioning at CLB 2/3 in listening.) 
  • Gave them the text the day before so the dictionary addicts could look up unknown words that night. 
  • Explained to them how it made me feel when they used their first language during conversation time. I compared myself to the coach of a bike race team who has planned a wonderful route through gorgeous hilly countryside for the team to practice for the Tour de France. How do you think the coach feels, I asked them, if one cyclist sneaks off and catches a ride to the finish line in a buddy's car? What's the goal--getting to the finish line first, or practicing cycling? They got it and nodded in agreement. 
  • Offered to let them spend ten minutes with dictionaries, L1 allowed, before the dedicated conversation time, during which the strict rules would come into force. They wanted that prep time. 
  • Reminded them of our tools, pointing to the little coloured posters hanging around the classroom with gambits such as, "How do you say _____ in our language?" and "What does X mean?" 
  • Told them that policing them is not fun for me. They are adults and policing them is not my job. They can police themselves and each other. They agreed. 
And? It worked. For the first time since assuming the role as their instructor, I witnessed not one single instance of a student reaching for the bilingual dictionary or speaking his or her first language. That lasted a good half hour. I don't dare hold my breath and think it will necessarily happen a second time without a repeat of almost all these reminders, but at least I know that problems of this type in the past were caused in great part by my failure to prepare the students to succeed.


I welcome ALL respectful comments, suggestions, typo corrections, or reports on what you had for lunch. :)