Learning through stations: It isn’t just for Kindergarten

Adults teaching adults can benefit from strong teaching practices in other contexts. Today I led a workshop for adults who teach ESL to new Canadians in volunteer community settings, usually housed and sponsored by churches. The event was the Spring Training for ESL Cooperative Ministries http://eslcooperative.ca/. I presented a session with the above title, based on a class I had prepared for university pre-service teachers. The room was set up with five stations and each participant was given the instructions to choose whichever station they wished to start at and move at will around the room, in no particular order and with no requirement to complete all five stations. The participant traveled with a two column worksheet on which they were asked to reflect after each station: what did I learn at this station? How could I incorporate this in my ESL classroom?

Here is a list of the five stations and some of the insights the participants gained.

*Artistic expression: Using the small square of watercolor paper provided, participants would use watercolor crayons to paint a picture to describe how they were feeling. Afterward, they were to share their painting, their choices of colors and images, with another person at the station.

Here the participant gets to experiment with a mode of expression that is very kinesthetic and artistic. There is choice in color and image as well what aspects of the painting one chooses to describe. Watercolor crayons are user-friendly, but they also provide blurrier lines than drawing, which takes away the element of precision and encourages students to take risks.

*Props: On the table lay an assortment of interesting objects: a fur hat, an Ikea catalogue, an hour glass and a die. Participants were asked to write a short paragraph story based on one of the props.

This activity once again provides choice in which object to choose. The students’ imagination and language level determines the direction the story will take, but there is no prescribed direction. There is room for creativity, humor, cultural knowledge and risk taking. The stories can be shared through read alouds.

*Poetry reading: Participants were asked to choose a poem from the book Eenie Meenie Manitoba by Robert Heidbreder. This book of short, humorous poems on Canadian themes lends itself well to this activity. Another student uses a stopwatch app on a smart phone to record the length of time it takes to read the poem once. Then the reader rereads the poem, attempting to beat his/her previous time.

This activity is set up with choice and engagement in mind. The student is motivated to increase read aloud fluency through the use of the stop watch and a humorous poem, yet the participants may need to discuss how fast is too fast?

*Twitter: Participants at this station are asked to create a tweet about the workshop. Those that don’t have Twitter accounts are given a 14×10 grid to plan out their 140 character tweet.

This station usually attracts a healthy mix of Twitter users and the curious. The latter group learns what hashtags and mentions are and has the chance to find out how others use Twitter. The 140 character limit encourages precision and creativity and the grid takes away the fear factor for those who don’t have a smart phone in their pocket.

*Signs and Symbols: Participants at this station find a Bingo with pictures rather than numbers. Their task is to explore the meeting space to find these signs and symbols, sharing with others the meaning or location of those which are more difficult.

This activity encourages collaboration and getting to know the meeting space. Each culture has specific signs and symbols and some are universal. The resulting discussion draws upon the personal and cultural knowledge of each participant as experiences with signs and symbols are shared.

As evidenced by the engagement with the various stations, this workshop effectively demonstrated how adults can interact in activities at stations. The resulting discussions are a welcome addition to ESL classrooms where newcomers are sometimes shy to talk.

The long road to publication

Today I had the pleasure of opening an email that read “We are delighted to say that we would like to accept your revised paper”. Music to my ears. As many academics experienced and emerging can attest, rejection in publishing is something to get used to and perseverance is the key. I would also add humility. This article, on the linguistic landscape of a bilingual school,¬† looks at data that I gathered during my Ph.D. research and decided not to include in my dissertation. It was great data, but I had too much for one dissertation and I am glad I didn’t try to make it all fit. Right after I finished my dissertation I worked in earnest to get it written up. I read Wendy Belcher’s “Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks” and followed it pretty closely. I tried to make my writing a social endeavor, but few people around me are doing similar work. My first reader was a friend who is a strong writer. Springboarding from her comments, I revised and sent my article to the external examiner for my dissertation. His strong theoretical background helped me strengthen my argument and pointed me to additional literature in environmental print in elementary schools. These steps delayed my initial submission, but saved me from outright rejection. The first review took just over a month, but the revisions were plentiful, so they took me three months. Most of the time was spent putting myself in the shoes of the reviewer who objected to my methodology. Once I could see exactly where my lack of clarity had led him/her astray, I knew how to respond to his/her comments. The second review did not take long and this time the review was split. I still hadn’t satisfied the one reviewer, but the new one liked the article. At this point I was very discouraged. Do I continue with this journal and face this reviewer or take my article to another journal with the hopes of encountering someone more open to what I had done? After all, my article is improved. I consulted with two academics I admire and the advice that was most helpful was “look, they could have rejected it outright, so they must see merit in the article”. So, I took some time to get back into the mindset of the first reviewer and then, in my first break in teaching, I did a concentrated period of writing daily until I was able to submit a second revised article complete with snappier title! (The second reviewer wanted a snappier title, so I held a contest in one of my classes for students to come up with a snappy title based on the abstract. The winners got books to help them as future teachers and I had a blast reading the submissions). So, today, just a month and a half later, I got an acceptance. Now I enter a new world. While I have had peer reviewed articles accepted before, this is my first international journal so I suspect I have a lot more learning ahead of me.

Update: The article with the snappy title is –

Dressler, R. (2015). Signgeist: Promoting bilingualism through the linguistic landscape of school signage.  International Journal of Multilingualism, 12(1), 128-145, doi:10.1080/14790718.2014.912282