Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Practice Between Lessons

The question is, how to get a learner to practice between lessons? Mary Pelzer, Literacy Network tutor, asked me that one because she and her learner don’t get to meet very often lately. She would like for her learner to get practice between lessons.

Hi Brian,

K__ changed jobs a couple of months ago and is now working the evening shift everyday. I can't commit to a weekend schedule and her schedule doesn't really permit that either. The upshot is that we have had few regular meetings in the last couple of months. I did mention that she might want to request another tutor who can meet with her in the mornings during the week, but she didn't really want to change tutors. She is doing very well, but I am concerned that she will not progress and may even regress since she and her family do not speak English at home. I have given her assignments and suggestions to listen to the radio to keep training her ear, but without face time she probably doesn't practice enough.

Well, you have my sympathy—a changing schedule makes for a tough situation, doesn’t it?
You spoke of the need for her to get more practice, and you had creative ideas for how she can get more listening practice. You asked for suggestions. Here goes:

1. Bring her in to Literacy Network or to a local library to practice using Rosetta Stone learning software. Her house is slightly closer to the Alicia Ashman library, which has a laptop learners may use, than it is to Literacy Network, which has two or three working computers in its language lab.

2. Assign her specific programs to listen to on the radio or watch on TV, ones that work for her schedule. Good ones include NPR's “This American Life,” which is also available as a podcast, which leads me to suggestion number...

3. Use the internet. I notice that she has e-mail. The LitNet blog has an entry about how to use VOA’s “Special English” programs to let ESL learners hear slower, clearer than normal broadcasts on line, when schedules permit.

4. Follow up. Discuss. Ask her questions about what she listened to. It’d be a good idea if you listened to the programs first, so you had something to talk about. “This American Life” is often very provocative and moving—sometimes hilarious. Talking about it can be a lesson in itself.

5. Writing. Give her unstructured assignments between your actual meetings. Letters or e-mails with casual conversation about the day’s events can help her get practice. You can guide the conversation by asking questions. Not all writing has to be academic and corrected. Writing for communication helps a learner get practice, and teaches tutors where a learner’s weaknesses and strengths lie.

I hope that I haven’t given too many suggestions or gotten off the topic you had in mind. If you want to continue together, using your telephone, internet and snailmail seem like nice ways for you to continue to serve as Kamala’s native guide to the language. How does that seem to you? Thanks a lot for your care and concern for Kamala. I appreciate that you want her to have the best learning experience. I had fun trying to answer your questions.
Best regards

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