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Qatari Teaching Assistant’s Observations of American ESL Teachers

By Al Maha Al-Merekhi

(Republished with permission from the – WATESOL Newsletter Summer 2022)

As a teaching assistant at Qatar University, I had the opportunity to continue my higher education. Georgetown University was my first destination to improve my English Language Proficiency in order to obtain an M.A and Ph.D. in the field of politics. During my nine-month study at the ELC, I was incredibly impressed with the teaching methods that the ESL teachers used.

Even though I am teaching in the political field, observing how the teachers use different strategies by combining technology with teaching, distributing the students into groups with various tasks, and usually using a flipped learning approach motivated me to write down notes about every single detail.

These methods will be significantly beneficial soon in my academic career as a professor after obtaining my M.A and Ph.D. since the educational system in the local universities in Qatar still uses a teacher-centered approach to teaching methods.

In other words, they use one-direction discussion lectures in which a professor gives a lecture, a student takes notes, and a student does not participate or say much. Thus, observing the U.S classroom learning process brought me to a new concept, especially to me, in the teaching world, which is a learner-centered classroom culture.

Take grammar classes, for example; the professor uses various types of technology while teaching English grammar classes, such as Google shared documents named “shared class notes.” The professor shares the link with the students to follow up on the exercises that were preprepared by the professor and divided by student names in tables or sometimes by groups.

The main point here is to make students involved in the education processes by practicing and receiving feedback immediately through the comment section in the google docs, and that allows everyone to read the professor’s comments and their peers’ progress. Also, interacting with peers and the teacher through group discussions while using “KAHOOT” to answer grammar questions by using the application on the students’ smartphones or by the website on other devices.

In the same class, the professor used a flipped learning approach, which takes place through three stages, starting with the teacher providing the students with the material that will be taught in the next class, and the student preparing by reading these materials to participate in class activities, then the second stage begins during the class when the students practice and applying key concepts with the teacher feedback, lastly, the third stage comes after the class by the students when they check their understanding and extend their knowledge.

Another method used in the professional reading and writing class was the “Diigo website,” which provides a great tool for highlighting and commenting on pdfs. The professor used this approach to let the students differentiate between the vocabulary, verbal phrases, pronunciation, and grammar; it was significantly helpful, especially for the students when they were asked to collect vocabulary from the chapter in pairs for the rest of the class.

Meanwhile, the professor here used google docs to allow students to create worksheets full of new vocabulary with definitions and examples for each new word. Moreover, this approach made it easier for both students and professors when it comes to studying or reviewing for the quizzes and tests due to the annotation strategy. Also, it was easier for the professor to create the questions for the test.

There is nothing better than experience. During the communication skills classes, students had the opportunity to experience conducting their own mini-classroom as peer educators, where every two students chose a topic from whichever discipline they preferred, presented a video about the topic of the lesson, and made worksheets for the class to engage the students in the learning process of Self-education as well as enhancing effective communication skills with other students.

Providing such an opportunity for students is valuable of showing the creative side of each student and their abilities to create their own ways of effective learning, which opens the horizon for other teachers to know the weaknesses that must be improved to provide an educational environment that suits the needs of students.

There is no doubt that education is the key to success for any society; therefore, seeking a high-quality education is the most effective way to achieve one’s life aspirations. Being a student in the U.S classrooms was a great experience that encouraged me to plan to extend further in the next few years for the higher education degree stages in order to transfer new knowledge and incorporate modern educational methods into the teaching methods in my country. This will make an additional significant leap in the quality of university education in Qatar. It is one of the most important goals that I seek to achieve in the near future.