Sky-High Attendance in 6 Quick Steps

Study after study has proven what we teachers know instinctively: Empty chairs can’t learn English. Early findings suggest something to do with neuroplasticity. I kid, but really, before we can even begin to talk about methodology or outcomes or any of the stuff we come to the TESOL Blog to learn more about, we’ve first got to fill those seats and keep them full.

Like health, attendance is all about planning ahead, yet too often do we only think of it looking backward, when problems have already arisen, when it’s often too late to do much about it. Just like our health, we want to adopt a forward-thinking mindset and take preventative measures.

In this post I’ll share six tips to keep attendance high for the duration your course.

1. Anticipate Barriers

It’s important to anticipate the likely obstacles to attendance at the very start of the course, and then to walk your students through some solutions. This can be part of the intake process, an orientation, your first class, or all three. There are a lot of ways to go about this, but here’s one that we have used as part of orientation day at my program:

Start by arranging students in groups of four to eight and ask them to brainstorm reasons that they might miss class. Childcare, work schedules, transportation, sickness, weather. After about 5 minutes, reconvene and record their answers on the board. Then guide students through the process of sorting out valid reasons for missing class from not-so-valid reasons (of course, what constitutes an acceptable excuse will vary from program to program). Then assign each group one of the more common barriers that you see in your program, and give them time to brainstorm some solutions to that barrier. Then have groups share. This can be verbal or on the board, or you can even encourage them to put together quick skits.

In my program, one common reason for low attendance is an unstable work schedule, so one group of students shared the language that you can use to ask your boss to adjust your schedule. They also proposed a solid backup plan: a letter from the program coordinator to their boss (we regularly write such letters and have found that they often help).

2. Establish Accountability

Also at the start of the course, it’s essential to convey to students what you expect them to do if they do need to miss class. I recommend a call or email to the teacher (or the office, if that’s an option at your program). If you’d rather not give your students your personal contact info, you can easily set up a Google Voice number specially for this purpose. I’ve seen some teachers use the first 5 minutes of class to have students call or text their friends who have yet to arrive.

3. Follow Up

Making follow-up calls is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do to keep up attendance numbers (and persistence!). Some programs will call after the second consecutive absence; at mine we try to call after each absence, with great results. Except in the case of chronic absenteeism, these calls aren’t disciplinary or reproachful. They’re a friendly check-in: Good morning, Sofia! It’s Rob from your English classes. I just noticed you weren’t in class yesterday. Is everything okay? Will we see you on Monday? Great! Thanks!

4. Do the Math

Data is an important tool when it comes to attendance. At a minimum, you want to be calculating each student’s attendance over the course of the semester. But doing this alone, you’re still looking backward at attendance. I recommend keeping a running attendance rate for each student, and a simple spreadsheet equation is an easy way to do this. This way you can warn students as soon as their attendance dips into dangerous territory, giving them plenty of time to recover. With just a little more work, any spreadsheet app can turn your numbers into charts to help students visualize how their attendance compares to that of their classmates and to your expectations.

Another idea worth exploring is to have students calculate their own attendance periodically. This keeps their awareness up, drives home the idea that attendance really matters to you, and can even easily be turned into a friendly competition. Moreover, it introduces some important math skills and the language that comes along with it, which is increasingly important in adult ed programs.

5. Be Consistent

We as teachers can have a tendency to slip just as much as students. Putting off our follow-up calls, making an exception just this once for a particularly apologetic student, threatening consequences without following through: We can always rationalize these little slippages at the time, but we need to remember that they have a cumulative impact on attendance.

6. Use Projects

There are plenty of pedagogical reasons that teachers are talking about project-based learning. It’s got all kinds of benefits to student affect and outcomes. But one of the less-talked-about effects of project-based learning is boosted attendance. Collaborative class projects not only increase motivation, they organically bring about the social accountability and responsibility that can get your students out of their warm beds, off their comfy couches, and into those wonderful donated molded plastic unpadded desk-chairs that squeak and threaten to give when you sit with the gum underneath and the…

from TESOL Blog


Everyday with ELLs!

Teacher See Teacher Do

Hello everyone,

April over at Teacher Say Teacher Do has a great freebie to download and I wanted to share it with you!

She made a colorful visual one page reminder for teachers of the most effective strategies to use when working with second language learners.

Click here to go to her Teachers Pay Teachers store  and download your free copy today!

Happy Teaching! 

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

Scaffolding Instruction!

Hi everyone!

Welcome!   I would like to look at scaffolding in instruction.  What is it?  How do we do it?

When teachers break learning into smaller chunks and give students temporary support, structure and tools to work with each of those chunks, we call this scaffolding.   Scaffolding starts with high temporary support and then gradually support is taken away.  Scaffolding includes a variety of essential techniques that helps move the learner toward higher levels of understanding and independence when learning.  Scaffolding can be used in a broad range of content areas and grade levels.  Let’s look at a few of my favorites.

To access and build common background knowledge begin with a shared experience:

       a video

       a shared reading

Graphic Organizers:

       Venn Diagrams and Double Bubble Charts to compare and contrast information

       Mind Maps help show relationships, note taking and book summaries

       Flow charts to show processes

    Rubrics that show what is expected on an assignment

Question,Task or Cue Cards:

·      Teacher made cards given to students that frame a topic or subject.

·      Target and signal words and vocabulary lists with definitions that are content specific.  Provide lists of transition words and conjunctions.   Add new words to the lists as you use and discover them.

·      Topic or content sentence frames that students must complete.  Use sentence frames to  Use sentence forms and sentence starters to support the use of complete sentences in writing and spoken discourse.  Use these for both whole group and partner discussions.

support written ideas. Begin with simple sentences and build to compound sentences.

Provide visual word walls – add new words as you go along.


What are some of your favorite scaffolding techniques?  Which do you find work best with second language learners?

Happy Teaching!

from Fun To Teach ESL – Teaching English as a Second Language

Pronunciation Perspectives Part 2: A Video Conversation with Tracey Derwing

In a recent post, I shared portions of my video interview with Dr. Tracey Derwing, coauthor of Pronunciation Fundamentals: Evidence-Based Perspectives for L2 Teaching and Research (Derwing & Munro, 2015). Here, I bring you more from that interview, focusing on Derwing & Munro’s early work together and how they went about writing their new book.

I received my copy of Pronunciation Fundamentals just last week, and I can already say this: Derwing and Munro have achieved what seems to elude many. That is, they’ve written a book that communicates their message accessibly and, well, humanly (and therefore humanely, especially if you are a graduate student who will read this book not by choice, but rather by assignment). Indeed, this is a book that should be assigned reading in TESOL education programs.

KTwPronFundamentalsAs Derwing explains early on in the interview, Pronunciation Fundamentals delivers a central message through its 10 chapters, namely, that the time has come for teachers of English to stop teaching for native-like accuracy and instead teach for intelligibility and comprehensibility. (Intelligibility is how much the listener understands of the speaker’s speech; comprehensibility is how much effort is required to understand that same speaker. For more on these concepts, read my related post.)

Like reading her book, listening to Derwing is a pleasure. She reflects on the ideas that intrigued her most during the early part of her teaching career. We get to see how living and working with authentic passion can lead us into the unexpected. In Derwing’s case, she was interested in teacher-to-learner comprehensibility (i.e., how some of her colleagues were more easily understood by their L2 students than other colleagues) at a time when pronunciation research was mostly limited to spectrograms and room-sized computers.

With one simple question, Derwing dispels the myth that teaching pronunciation is inherently an attack on the learner’s identity. “How can you express who you are if no one can understand you?”, asks Derwing, making a case for pronunciation instruction as a matter of professional ethics.

What does this mean for teachers? For one, it means we need to rethink the way we talk about accent with our students. We all have accents, and we all achieve greater and lesser levels of intelligibility (and comprehensibility) throughout a given day. (Think caffeine, think fatigue.) Accents cannot be “eliminated” any more than we can “not have” a temperature. What we can do is help students expand the repertoire of their speech patterns to more effectively reach the listening expectations of the people they speak with most. Note the human component here: It takes two to communicate.

It goes without saying that you should get your own copy of Pronunciation Fundamentals, but let me ask: With what you’ve read and heard here, what are you left thinking about? No doubt you’ve got a few good comments and questions worth sharing.


Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2015). Pronunciation fundamentals: Evidence-based perspectives for L2 teaching and research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

from TESOL Blog

Debunking 5 Myths of U.S. Immigration

The Republican Presidential campaign has added fire to the discussions about immigration in the United States. In this blog,  I would like to review some of the immigration myths that are propagated by politicians and offer resources backing up the facts on immigration. It is my feeling that the anti-immigration rhetoric by candidates for president of the United States will affect the learning environment that ELs encounter in our schools. ELs need a supportive school community in order to succeed in school, and anti-immigration sentiments may affect this. It is our job as ESL teachers to learn the facts about immigration and defuse some of these misconceptions in our schools.

MYTH #1: There is a huge increase of the number of immigrants in the United States.

FACT: The number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States has declined from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.3 million in 2013. According to Homeland Security, of the more than 41 million foreign-born people living in the United States in 2013, about 30 million were naturalized citizens, permanent residents, and legal residents. Of the 11.3 million undocumented immigrants, about 40% entered the country legally and then let their visas expire.

MYTH #2:  Immigrants are responsible for high crime rates in the United States.

FACT: According to a special July 2015 report by the American Immigration Council, immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than native-born citizens.  Incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population, according to the Justice Department. The American Immigration Council presents statistics in its 2015 report to show that high immigration rates are, in fact, associated with lower crime rates.

MYTH #3: Immigrants take jobs from American citizens.

FACT: According to the Immigration Policy Center, there is little connection between immigrant jobs and unemployment rates of native-born workers. Better education and an aging U.S. population have resulted in a decrease in the number of Americans willing or available to take low-paying jobs. Immigrants and native-born workers do not frequently compete for the same jobs. Immigrants are more likely to be employed by the service industry, while native-born workers are more likely to hold jobs in management, sales, and office occupations.

MYTH #4: Immigrants come to the United States for welfare benefits.

FACT: According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal benefits programs. They can not receive Social Security benefits,
Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, Medicare, or food stamps. Even most legal  immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for 5 years or longer, regardless of how much they have worked or paid in taxes.

MYTH #5: Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get benefits, including free education for their children.

FACT: All immigrants pay taxes every time they buy gas or purchase other items that are taxed. They also pay property taxes when they buy or rent a house or apartment. (Schools are funded mostly by these property taxes.) A new 50-state study, Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions, by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, finds that the 11.4 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States collectively paid $11.84 billion in state and local taxes in 2012. Since undocumented immigrants don’t have the benefit of welfare programs, the ratio between immigrant use of public benefits and the number of tax dollars they pay is consistently favorable to the United States.

from TESOL Blog

Critical Thinking About Technology: An ELT Activity

Our world is awash in new technology. New electronic gadgets, new smartphone apps, and new forms of social media abound. But which of these will stand the test of time? And how do these dazzling technology innovations compare in significance to those of the past?

This was the critical thinking and speaking task that I recently asked my advanced adult ELLs to tackle as a prelude to watching a series of TED Talks and YouTube videos about technological innovations ranging from 3D printing to a windmill build from scrap materials by a 14-year old in Malawi .

In groups of three, I asked my students to think about the long sweep of human history and to come up with their own list of 10 technological innovations that they deemed to have had the greatest impact on humanity. I then asked them to examine each item on their list, and see if they could agree within their group on how to rank those innovations, with #1 being the absolutely most significant, #2 the next most significant, and so on until they reached #10.

Making their initial lists of technological innovations turned out to be relatively easy for members of each team to agree on. Much harder was to reach consensus on how to rank the various items on their list in terms of significance. This task provoked extended arguments as students challenged their teammates and tried to persuade each other why one technological innovation deserved a higher (or lower) ranking.

Here are the initial lists my students created and posted on the white board for other teams to examine:

Rank Order Group #1 Group #2 Group #3
#1 Electricity Alternating current Telephone
#2 Internet Internet Computers
#3 Computer Cars Light bulb
#4 Wheel Boats Wheel
#5 Radio Wheel Steam engine
#6 Telephone Satellite Printing press
#7 Airplanes Printing Airplanes
#8 Batteries Smart phones Automobiles
#9 Light bulb Airplane Oil refining
#10 Motor Phones Flat iron

The lists were fascinating in both their similarities and their differences. In order to take advantage of these differences, I rearranged the groups, so that now, each new group of three consisted of a representative from each of the original groups. Their new critical thinking and speaking task was to examine the three lists, notice any significant differences, and cross-examine each other about the differences. Why, for instance, did Group #3 leave the Internet off its list? Why did Group #1 not consider the printing press to be a Top 10 technological innovation? And why did Group #2 consider satellites and alternating current to be so significant?

Finally, as a whole group, we looked at what was missing from the lists. No group, for instance, included any medical advances on their list. I challenged them to fill in some of the gaps, and students nominated penicillin, X-rays, and anesthesia as major medical innovations.  Interestingly to me, no one mentioned any of the major technological innovations in the field of warfare (the invention of gunpowder, the modern rifle, or the atom bomb).

Together, we made a list of some of these missing innovations. I put the students back in their original groups and asked them to decide whether they wanted to change their original lists in any way to incorporate any of these additional innovations. If so, which items on their original list of 10 would they remove to make way for one of the “missing” innovations? And how, if at all, would that change their initial rankings?

All in all, this activity provided well over an hour of critical thinking and speaking practice. How do you use ranking activities to promote critical thinking and debate?

from TESOL Blog