My course content
My first unit in this course (upper intermediate academic preparation course (level 5a) at YUELI) is on North American education. This week, I decided to focus on reading, critical analysis of texts, writing argumentative essays, and incorporating quotations in essays. I decided to choose five related readings for my class to read and analyze. I have made my choices based on three principles: authentic, academic, and argumentative pieces of reading. I wanted the students to read authentic academic readings because that's what they will be reading when they enter university. The readings that they had to read for this week included: "Claiming an Education" by Adrienne Rich, "When Being Best Isn't Good Enough" by Linda Mathews, "Teach Knowledge, Not 'Mental Skills'" by E.D. Hirsch, "Improvements Needed in Science Education, say Experts" by Art Chimes, "American Youth Failing Geography" by Jeff Swicord, and "We Should Cherish Our Children's Freedom to Think" by Kie Ho. I chose these reading because I wanted my students to be aware of several different issues that surface when one thinks about education: women and education, knowledge-based education vs. skills-based education, access to post-secondary institutions, and educational reforms.
The first assignment was to read "Claiming an Education," discuss the reading in groups, and write a summary and critique of this article. Then the students read "When Being Best Isn't Enough." They worked in groups and were asked to decide whether the admission policies at American universities are discriminatory or not (objective vs. subjective) towards visible ethnic minorities. After the discussion, we also talked about relevant vocabulary words and phrases that were useful. For the following day, the students read "Teach Knowledge, Not 'Mental Skills'" and "We Should Cherish Our Children's Freedom to Think" - two articles that discuss the benefits of teaching knowledge vs. teaching skills. The students had a discussion on whether educators should focus on teaching knowledge or skills. In addition to the readings, students also listened to a lecture that discussed the organization of universities and teaching methodology of North American school system.
Throughout the week, students have also done exercises in writing summaries and writing critiques. I had two separate handouts on summarizing strategies and on writing effective critiques. While reading the texts, I emphasized two skills: building vocabulary through lexical approach (chunks of language) and looking for evidence (quotations, numbers, observations, facts, etc.) used by writers to support their argument. Towards the end of the week, after the students have become familiar with several argumentative pieces of writing (readings), we talked about the organization argumentative essays (refutation) and different strategies to incorporate information/evidence from various sources into one's writing.
When preparing for this week, I decided to have one theme (education) so that the students can become familiar with this topic in-depth. I also decided to make my weekly units resemble mini research projects. I did that because I want them to become familiar and comfortable with the process for their final assignment. I have scaffolded the activities and exercises so that this first week students have been exposed to the basics of reading, looking for evidence, critically evaluating the evidence, and responding to a selected issue. I have left in-text citation, referencing, and language for later weeks because I did not want them to be overwhelmed with information. I noticed that for some students the amount of reading and the number of exercises was a bit overwhelming, so I allowed some to hand in their assignments later. I purposely gave them a lot of readings to analyze so that they become familiar with the topic. I wanted their final written assignment to be an in-depth analysis of the topic, and the background knowledge found in the readings/lecture to help them compose an interesting assignment.