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Michele DuBarry - ESL

Michele's Teaching Style  

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I teach skill development within a contextual framework and focus on critical thinking and academic language development. I always try to focus on the learner and take on the role of facilitator, and, I attempt to hand over power to students so that they develop independence and take responsibility for their learning. However, my teaching style changes and evolves depending on the subject and the student group.

I attempt to accomplish a constructionist approach in syllabus design and classroom methods in a community college composition course for non-native speakers of English, to make the class as student-centered as possible, offering rubrics and guidelines for activities and assignments. I rarely lecture in the traditional sense. I may inductively present a lesson on, say, paragraph structure, but then, students work together to construct meaning on their own, moving from identification and practice to production. Also, students choose their own essay topics within the framework of the content requirements, work together to assess and critique each other’s work, and present a portion of a novel to the class, writing the section’s vocabulary list and comprehension quiz. These students are moving toward an advanced academic proficiency in their language development and in their behavior as students, with me as their guide. John Seely Brown, the cofounder of the Institute for Research and Learning, and a prolific writer and speaker in the fields of business, technology and education, ( has suggested that we learn well in collaboration, and when we view learning “as an opportunity to produce and share knowledge rather than to merely consume” (in Fernandez, p.3). I feel this often happens in my classes as I continue to learn from and with my students.

When I teach a contextualized grammar class, I move toward a model of “guiding sagely," in a multi-phrase approach. Many of these students are long-term immigrants, orally proficient learners, who have been using nonstandard linguistic forms for so long that these incorrect forms have taken hold. These learners, whose reading skills in English are low, operate primarily on an oral/aural basis, writing down what they hear. They require intense modeling from me, both oral and written; thus, I often have to give them answers. However, instead of correcting their grammar errors for them, I teach them strategies and offer resources for correcting error in their own writing, which is key for their academic and professional success. They finally come to construct meaning for themselves about the time, place, and use for a standard English.

  • Students discover how to learn.
  • Students develop strong peer relationships.
  • Students develop independence and begin to trust themselves.
  • Teachers are often surprised with student outcomes and learn new ideas from students, requiring teachers to "think on their feet."
  • Many non-native speakers, especially international students, have culturally-based educational expectations that are different from those in the U.S.; they have always relied on authority for answers.  These learners balk at peer-to-peer work, and need time to develop trust in their classmates and themselves.
  • Teachers need to allow themselves to “let go,” to hand over power to students for their own learning. Some cannot do this, however.
  • For group projects and peer-to-peer work to have the desired outcomes, a teacher using a constructionist approach must have forethought and complete a lot of structural work behind the scenes.

These are the classes I’m considering placing online, but I still require the tools that can “amplify the social life of learning,” as Brown states (in Neal, 2008).  Brown suggests that knowledge has two dimensions, the explicit [concepts] and the tacit [know-how] (Learning, Working and Playing in the Digital Age). While I feel fairly confident in the former, with a solid grounding in pedagogy and classroom experience, I lack the latter, but I know I’m on the right track in going to the Web. Brown feels that the web does three things: It forms a culture that “honors the fluid boundaries between production and consumption.” It eases the capability of those in authority to interact with others and act as “mentors” or “advisors” for students, and, thirdly, the web provides “infinite reach,” far beyond one’s region to access resources formerly unattainable (Learning, Working and Playing in the Digital Age). This is of vital importance to me because in developing their English language skills, students shouldn’t always rely on me as the authority, but find their own resources to develop independence. Because I want to truly meet my students where they are-- in the digital age-- I struggle through, confident in constructionist theory and practice, and the belief that e-learning is the way to go.

Five Questions for John Seely Brown. Interview by Lisa Neal Editor-in-Chief,eLearn Magazine. Retrieved February 18, 2009.

Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age. Speech for the 1999 Conference on Higher Education. Retrieved February, 10, 2009.

Moodle and Social Constructionism: Looking for the Individual in the Community. Posted July 15th, 2008 by Luke Fernandez, Weber State. Retrieved February, 17, 2009.

email Email: Michele DuBarry
Phone: 408.864.5577
Office: LC138/F61a

Hours: Tues & Thurs TBA & by appointment

English as a Second Language

Student Success Center/ESL Readiness


Last Updated: 2/18/09