Saturday, March 29, 2014

TESOL International Convention: 2014 / Day 1 Report

I have returned from the TESOL International Convention: 2014 in Portland, Oregon. It was a whirlwind of a time with many great presentations, opportunities to network and see my position in this field.

Wednesday 3/26 Keynote Speech:
The opening keynote speech was presented by Surin Pitsuwan, from Southern Thailand and who has served for the United Nations among other prestigious positions. His speech was very moving and revealing of the changing times in the instruction and use of the English language.

He talked about how language study is a human experience and it involves more than just teaching the language but what goes on between people. Also, he talked about the group ASEAN and that the language they use to communicate across cultures is English, pointing to the importance of English as a Lingua Franca.

But it was his take away point that was most important, that of as teacher's we have a duty to teach more than just the language but to help students communicate effectively within the English speaking world. We are "training future generations" and should "unleash the power of the common language".

Indeed, it was a great opening to a convention with many diverse topics to learn and with a lot of diversity in the house.

My focus for the convention seemed to gravitate towards grammar topics and a certain demographic of students (Middle-Eastern).

Exploring Grammar Across Disciplines for Rapid and Sustained Success
Presented by: Rachel Ramey & Barbara Russell

Description: “Rules: memorize and repeat” is the grammar mantra that has led to a gap between acquisition and production. Make grammar immediately accessible by using the Explore, Define, and Extrapolate model. Participants leave with a variety of proven activities and materials to support their personal implementation in ESL/EFL classrooms.

The presentation given here was definitely an eye opener to ways one could teach grammar and get students and teachers to unpack the content in a more meaningful way. They talked about how it is important to teach grammar in a way that creates "dendrites" which means pretty much that you make connections with students. For example, instead of just teaching the word "blue, blue blue" and saying it and that's it, you connect it to say another word..."blue sky, blue bird...". Basically make connections for students and they'll retain it better.

The above photo shows an example of grammar diagramming where you essentially have students break down the parts of sentences to their parts of speech, which allows them to see more of the connections. I thought this would be an excellent activity for my students and one that could also help me in the process. I think the above example is diagramming with a chart but it can also be down in the following way: Website source

Where are you going?
What were you reading this morning?
Whose bike were you using?
May I postpone this assignment?

I definitely need to look more into this as I can see this being a good tool in the classroom.

Another point they made is to give students a grammar task (breaking it down, finding the use and rules) as a group before presenting it to the whole class. This allows students to work together to unpack the grammar and also find their own meaning and connection. Then the groups can present it to the class or the instructor leads everyone with a discussion on the grammar point.

They also made a final and really good point is that to "sit there until they get it". Meaning don't always just pop in with saying "it's an adverb or it's using the past perfect tense", instead get them to realise these points on their own with some instructor coaching, of course.

Overall, I found this presentation to be well organised and full of useful information.

Addressing Academic and Cultural Adjustment Needs of Iraqi Students
Presented by: Tudy Boldin, Beth Ernst, and Eva Copija

This presentation was probably one of the more enlightening ones and deals with the intersection between learning English and cultural adaptation. They talked about how they have a high Iraqi student body at their school and the scholarship program that these students come on. But mostly they talked about the struggle that they see from these students that they feel comes with living far from home and in a new culture.

The scholarships Iraqi students come on are funded by the Iraqi government and there are some restrictions that apply. For one they must stay for a whole 5 years and not return home during that time. Also if they do fail they must repay the scholarship. So they said this creates a lot of stress in the students to feel like they can't fail and creates a lot of over achievers in their classes.

So far I have not taught any Iraqi students, but I have taught quite a number of Saudi Arabian students, as you know. Therefore, I was attending this talk to make some connections and also here some insights on this emerging group.

They did a survey of their student body to find out what was going on with their students, their priorities, cultural adaptation and transition. However, they didn't really survey students on their conceived notions of American culture or the academic scenarios they were newly a part of. So at the end I asked them about this and they were excited by the topic and considered it for their future survey.

Overall, I took away a sense of the struggles students have living and learning in America when they come from a culture such as in Iraq or in other cultures from that area of the world. For one these students are used to living in a society where there are people always around and their family is right there to help them. So coming to America, where in most cities people just commute from their house to wherever and the streets can seem empty, is probably a shock to them.

Yet, what I did find interesting was when they talked about student's relationship to culture shock and someone in the audience mentioned that this term might just be too western and that their experience might be something entirely different. Certainly, something to think about.

Obviously, I liked this presentation and mostly found myself using the information and skills I learned in my current program to synthesise what I was being told.

Developing Projects Related to Your Course's Textbooks
Presented by: Erica Harris, Ursula McCormick and Julie Vorholt

Description: In this practical, hands-on workshop, IEP instructors describe the development of successful project-based learning utilizing classroom texts, and demonstrate examples from their high-beginning to advanced classes. Next, participants collaborate in small groups to create similar projects based on guided criteria, ending in plenary discussions.
This was a workshop where they gave a presentation first and then we got into groups. I wish I had attended more workshops, but oh and learn.

Here we learned about project-based learning and that getting students to learn outside the textbook is a great way to be engaged. They told us that first when looking at the text (as the source) we should "notice the gap" or what's missing that we could have students expand upon. Then from there we can build a project based assignment. It certainly takes a bit scaffolding but is possible.

They asked us to get into groups by selecting a student level and creating a project-based assignment off a sample text they gave us. I chose the "beginner level" group and have to say it went okay but could have been better. I feel like there is a tendency in this field to situate the lower level students with lower level materials. Sure you don't want to burden low level students with something that would be linguistically difficult, but in my opinion there really aren't any levels. In this case, I think you can give any group of students, no matter what their level, fundamentally complex projects or assignments if you just adjust the scaffolding and prompts that you use. For example, the same project for an advanced class could be used for a lower-level if you scaffold more and just have more prompts and "fill in the blank" activities.

In essence, though I do like the concept of project-based learning and it can incorporate digital tools that students probably already use today.

Poster Sessions Thursday 3/27

I did manage to look at the poster sessions on Thursday and found an interesting mix of topics and presenters. One person who was presenting a poster on teaching Japanese students about the concept of World Englishes had no clue what English as a Lingua Franca was and so I suggested she take a look into that. Otherwise I found the poster sessions hard to get into as people gathered like crazy around them and trying to talk to the presenter was a challenge.


That basically sums up my Thursday experience at the convention and with a lack of good sleep I was ready to hit the hay. I think in essence I learned a lot from this experience and what to do next time I go. I will report on what I saw and learned on Friday in my next blog post, followed by a good little tidbit about Portland, which was a fun city to visit as well.

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