Thursday, October 30, 2014

WAESOL 2014 Conference - Wrap Up

As you might recall, last year I presented a Teaching Tip at the WAESOL Conference. This year I didn't because it was actually very stressful to do that, and I would rather present on something with someone that I'm really passionate about. Anyway, I still attended this year's conference and tried to pick presentations I thought would be most beneficial to my future job hunt and position.

I didn't make it to hear the whole Keynote speech, but I heard it was pretty insightful.

I. Cultivating relationship between non-native and native speakers through writing
Mary Browning

I picked this one because it captivated my attention as I feel in IEP programs ELL students are often enclosed in their program and invisible to the rest of the campus. So this was actually a panel presentation with three presenters. They each talked about tools they have been using to cross the bridge between ELLs at their school and native speakers.

One person's program was to create a pen-pal writing situation. Where students passed along a notebook writing to each other. At the end of the semester a party would be held so the participants could finally meet each other. They said that this has been really successful on so many levels. For one it helped the native-speakers understand the ELLs on campus and also helped them encounter non-native English speakers for the first time (especially important in more rural campus settings). For the ELLs they were able to express themselves more freely in the language and get to know their local culture better.

I did attend another session later on that happened to have the same speaker, where she said she does the same thing but now digitally through Canvas. It seemed to still be a success but I think the effect of seeing a notebook is a little bit better.

I might consider doing something similar if given the opportunity. Another speaker talked about how they created a writing class that purposefully included NNES and NES students so that they could interact with each other. This was also found to be a success and reflective exercises showed that students enjoyed this.

Overall, I think I have to remember the interactions that happen in these programs and whether or not we are promoting exclusivity on campus by having IEP programs and what we can do to have our students interact more with the wider student body. Just cause you have diverse populations on campus, doesn't necessarily mean "diversity" is occurring.

II. Handwriting for success: Helping Arab students improve their orthography
William F. Gibson & Emily H. Van Dyke-Morris (ACE Language Institute at SPU)

This was the highlight of my trip to the conference. Why? Because it seemed to address real exemplified issues these students have with writing. It definitely helped me realize that we have forgotten that writing in English is an actual skill, especially if you are coming from a language whose orthography is quite different. We have seen that Arab students tend to write over the lines on the paper, and that they merge words together, forget to capitalize..etc. Also it's not just Arab students but other students have similar issues.

They suggested going back to the basics and having students practice writing the letters (in cursive) with practice sheets and practice paper. They showed us the NALA Better Handwriting for Adults Packet which you can get here. I highly recommend downloading it and printing it for students.

You may think that teaching adult students to write their ABCs in cursive is a bit childish. Well, take into consideration that a perspective like that is one we have, because that's when we learned it. For Adult students teaching them how to write will have so many benefits to their writing production it is a good place to start. Also, I feel students will have "Ah-ha" moments when they go through the exercises.

Some benefits would be more flow of ideas so writing faster will improve. Ability to organize their thoughts better and an overall better experience for the reader.

I'm definitely a fan of this presentation which seemed to cover its bases and present very useful information.

III. Creating communicative assessments: True indicators of student achievement
Mari Bodensteiner and Michelle Burkhart (WWU)

I really wanted to get in some assessment learning because I feel that is going to be a challenge when I start teaching full time, so I was excited for this. However, I don't think it really helped me much. I mean I understood that we need to get away from handing students fill-in-the-blank exercises and have them communicate their answers differently, but I wasn't sure I understood really what to do.

However, I liked their mention of using authentic assessment and to access students higher order thinking abilities.

There was some disagreement in the room that if we ask students to speak about the reading exercise they just did that now we aren't assessing their reading, but rather their speaking, to which a lot of the room disagreed (including myself).

My qualms with this is though, that students may experience fatigue with this kind of assessment because it isn't what they are used to or expecting. They may just want the "test" and to get it done and over with. Considering a lot of IEP programs have a lot of reading and writing, throwing more at them might be overwhelming. I asked if this has been successful for students from their perspective and was told they are still working those things out. In that case I would consider a blended approach to this kind of assessment.

It also reminds me of something I have been thinking about lately and that is why do most IEP programs not track student's homework or assessments beyond the "big stuff". If students have 6 classes in a day and each class ends up giving them a writing assignment, can we really expect our students to complete all of them with enough energy? That is why I think each student should be given a portfolio to track what homework they are doing, and that teachers should share (in some form) what homework they are giving out. Perhaps this can be done digitally or on a shared board in the office. If I know that most of my students have writing homework assignments I'll consider dolling out something different, so I know they will have enough energy for it. I think this kind of accountability system would also show students we understand their perspective and we are holding ourselves accountable for the amount of homework we give out. I recently heard from new IEP teachers that their students constantly don't have their homework or turn it in late. Punishing them will only go so far, what kind of system can we put in place to fix this?


As you can see I'm starting to create a dialog in my head about the challenges ahead in my profession. I don't know for sure whether I will teach in an IEP (Intensive English Program) here or not, but I'm pretty sure it's possible. I do know that I hope to get job interviews in this sector so that is why I'm thinking about these issues and what I would say in response.

The last presentation I attended was about using Canvas in the classroom or technology with students in Online learning situations. But by then I was very tired and couldn't get into it. CALL, MALL and other tech-teaching is a constantly evolving paradigm. I don't know if there is a right or best way to approach it. I think students would just mostly like their learning to be easier, smoother and probably more fun and if technology can do that than good!

Overall, the conference was inspiring and I went home with a lot more insights than last year. I would love to get into the profession now and work up my own background to present at future conferences. Till then...

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