Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Technology in the Classroom

It's been a while since I have posted, but that doesn't mean I'm not pondering the mysteries of teaching.

Working as a full-time instructor has been physically and mentally demanding. Today's composition teacher had better prepare for eye strain, as the reading, commenting, and revision processes have all become primarily electronic. Aside from the physical drain, I am enjoying making use of the technology available in my university context. Here are a few of my best ideas:

1. Google Documents--I'm using this Google Software in a variety of ways.

My favorite use of Google Docs is for peer review and group conference. Every time students finish a first draft, they are put into groups who will read each other's papers and make comments that are then discussed during a group conference mediated by me. The benefit of Google Docs is that during a lab day, students can create and share the document even if they aren't finished. This means no late papers--a benefit for students and for me. When the due date arrives, I can simply download my copies to comment on and send back to the students over email. Peer reviewers can comment directly on the Google Doc, so that they can agree or disagree with each other, adding multiple perspectives to the same draft. The multi-person commenting also provides examples of effective feedback for novice reviewers. Furthermore, as long as I ask student to share the document with me, I can monitor the peer review process and provide accurate peer review points. My supervisor and I decided that I should not comment in the shared Google Doc for several reasons: 1) may intimidate reviewers, 2) may embarrass the writer, 3) Google Docs are fluid documents that are always changing, and I want to have a copy of what I asked the student to revise.

Another way that I am using Google Docs is for attendance on computer lab day. I create and share a simple table with two columns, name and answer to a question, to serve as my attendance for the day. Students fill in the information and I project the document on the class screen. I can ask about any interesting answers, and students are accountable for contributing.

I use a similar format for collecting information about what topics students have chosen for their projects. That way I can monitor the writing process from very early stages. I can also form groups of students who have similar topics.

Finally, the idea I want to revise more--group brainstorming. I've used Google Docs to help students pull out evidence from a dense reading. We were working on a rhetorical analysis, so my table had three columns: ethos, pathos, and logos. All students had access to the document, so I asked them to look for evidence of these appeals in the article, and when they found something, they should quote or paraphrase it in the document. In about 10 minutes, my class had generated about 15 examples in each category--an impressive and efficient brainstorm. Students responded positively to the group brainstorm because they were able to see if they were on the right track or not. They asked to do a similar activity for other projects.

2. Though it's not as collaborative as Google Docs, I also use Microsoft Word track changes and comment functions. During our lab day, I have students pull up their drafts, then rotate to the computer next o them to leave comments. It's another mode of peer review that takes advantage of the computer lab.

I hope to further refine these techniques next semester because I want to see collaborative writing have a larger space in my classroom.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Beginning of a New Semester

In my new office, coffee in hand, I am once again so grateful to be a teacher.

Every day, I get to do what I love--learn about English and the world through the eyes of my students. My new job as composition instructor is proving to be a fantastic application of my TESL degree. I teach two sections of composition for students already enrolled in the university (mostly native speakers), and one section of students who are in the top level of the intensive English program. My supervisor has has recognized my TESL training and assigned me to be an interface person between the IEP and the university's writing program. I help to coordinate the teachers who teach composition to IEP students.

I'm enjoying the change of pace with the native speaker sections, but I still have a soft spot for teaching ESL students. My teaching has changed so much from two years ago, when I also taught native-speaker composition. I now feel like I am able to build activities and assignments that are meaningful for students, rather than just doing group work because I heard it was good. I see an improvement in the way I give directions, the way I open and close class, and the way I interact with students who might be disruptive in class. The master's degree in TESL taught me the importance of planning and classroom management, which are relevant in all classrooms.

That's not to say that there aren't a million mysteries of teaching that I haven't begun to figure out. Here are a few that I'm thinking about:

1. Making small talk before class.
2. Corrective feedback during class activities. Both linguistic and content-focused.
3. Balancing student choice (motivation) with in-class scaffolding opportunities.

One success story to report: I gave my students the choice of two articles to analyze. Then, during a lab day, I set up two Google documents for students to work on collaboratively, one for each article. In the rhetorical analysis, students are examining how an author uses ethos, pathos, and logos, so I included in the Google Doc a table with ethos, pathos, and logos  in the top row. Students then documented examples they had found in the document, sorted by appeal. Within 10 or 15 minutes my students had collaboratively brainstormed 20 good examples. They even had side comments with some disagreement and discussion about the effectiveness of certain examples. I loved seeing my students work together, talk, and critically think about the articles. Plus, students have unlimited access to the document as they are drafting. Even students who had a hard time understanding how to analyze can use the Google Doc as a guide to get started. Highly recommended!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Full-time ESL teaching

Since I last posted, I've experienced TESOL in a new way. I'm now teaching a full load of courses (16 contact hours per week). I'm teaching my standby class, an intermediate-advanced academic listening and speaking course. We are using Lecture Ready 3, a book focused on the listening skills and strategies needed in the university. I really like this book, although I do supplement vocabulary and pronunciation instruction. Clear Speech is an invaluable tool even in advanced courses. Because I've taught this course before, I'm spending less time brainstorming what to teach, and spending more time figuring out how to best teach it. I'm developing our vocabulary logs from last semester into a multi-modal learning tool that includes podcasts. A colleague and I hope to present this idea at TESOL 2014 in Portland. Fingers crossed.

The other half of my teaching is going to a class I've never taught. A very low-level listening and speaking course. My two students are false beginners, and it's been a real challenge for me to figure out how to approach the needs of this very small group. Luckily, I'm using Clear Speech and Top Notch (Fundamental Level), which has an incredible library of supplementary activities and ready-made worksheets. Once I figured out where to find everything that comes with this series, I found that I was able to plan lessons much more easily.

Full-time ESL teaching is my dream job, but it has many challenges. Time management is crucial when teaching, meetings and other teaching obligations compete for your 40-hour workweek. I'm trying to break the cycle of grad school weekends and take a breather so that I can return to the classroom on Monday refreshed and energized. I know that teaching is not necessarily a 9-5 job, much less limited to the 40 hour contract, yet, I do wonder how successful teachers maintain a work-life balance and still contribute to the field in ways besides teaching.

I'm enjoying the full-time challenges, and looking forward to learning more about the variety of teaching experiences available to ESL teachers.

Monday, May 6, 2013

WPA Outcomes for Freshman Composition

In thinking about my experiences as a Freshman Composition TA at NAU, I have been thinking about the WPA outcomes: rhetorical knowledge; critical thinking, reading, and writing; processes; knowledge of conventions; and composing in electronic environments. This is a set of principles to guide writing teachers in preparing university level writers to be successful throughout their academic careers.

Link to the WPA outcomes

M.A. TESL in Review

I've just submitted my final assignment toward my M.A. TESL degree. It feels great. This degree has been bootcamp for two years, but what a rewarding experience! I wanted to make a list of the courses  and remember some of the most important things I learned.

Fall 2011

  • Foundations of ESL Teaching
    • Affective factors in language learning
    • Communicative Language Teaching (CLT)
    • TBLT, CBI
  • Intro to Language and Linguistics
    • Phonology
  • Teaching Assistantship Practicum (ENG 105)
    • TESLers vs. Creative Writers
  • TESL Practicum (German TA)
    • Affective filter
    • Teacher proficiency in CLT
  • Professional Development
    • Keep the resume short and sweet

Spring 2012

  • Sociolinguistics
    • Sociolinguistic relativity
    • Speech acts
    • Discourse analysis
  • Grammar
    • Everything!
    • Relative clauses
    • Corpus linguistics
  • Listening and Speaking Methodology
    • Pronunciation
    • Technology
  • TESL Practicum (Course for visiting scholars from China)
    • Co-teaching

Fall 2012

  • ESL Assessment
    • Reliability, Practicality, Validity
    • Item writing
    • Raters
    • Item analysis
    • Test development
    • Time management
  • Reading and Writing Methodology
    • Vocabulary is king
    • Reading fluency
    • CBI
  • Teaching Assistantship Practicum (Program in Intensive English)
    • Teaching styles
  • TESL Practicum (Discipline-specific Writing Support)
    • Course development
  • Professional Development
    • Flesh out the resume

Spring 2013

  • Curriculum and Program Administration
    • Course design and development
    • Pronunciation Lab project
    • Leadership
  • Computer Applications in Linguistics
    • Technology is the future
    • Google Docs
  • Leadership Skill Development
    • Styles
    • Strategies
    • Techniques
    • Writing prompts
  • TESL Practicum (Volleyball-based Instruction)
    • Leadership
    • Classroom management
    • Couse development
    • Comprehensible input

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Teaching English to Young Learners

Due to my growing interest in getting future employment in K-12 ESL/EFL teaching, I attended a TESOL virtual seminar this morning on Teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL). I was very impressed by Dr. Joan Kang Shin's presentation. It was easy-to-follow, informative, and inspiring. She and a colleague just released a book called Our World. The book looks vibrant and practical. I'm going to check it out!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Course Development Project

Together with my colleagues, I developed a course to improve intermediate-advanced students' pronunciation. In the document below, we take readers through the course development process. I'm very proud of this project--a wonderful capstone to the MA-TESL.

Pronunciation Lab

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reflections a month from graduation

While reading a chapter in Christison and Stoller (2012), I remembered something that has gotten lost in the shuffle during my MA-TESOL: language learning is hard--and a little scary.

I was acutely aware of this during my first semester at NAU because I was a TA for German 101. Having to tap into my own anxieties as a language learner, as well as my insecurities as a new teacher made me empathetic to language learners. Yet, here I am, a month from graduation, and reading this passage made me realize how far student affect is from my mind on a daily basis:

"The very process of second language learning places students in high-stress situations, thus creating the potential for crises to develop" (p. 108).

In my own experiences as a language learner in Austria and Cambodia, I experienced this high-stress feeling every day. The frustration that accompanies not being able to express yourself clearly the first time (or second, or third) can be overwhelming, annoying, and demotivating.

The point of this entry is for me to never lose sight of the challenges of learning a language--not necessarily linguistic, but affective. Especially in an ESL context, students are under a lot of pressure just going about their day-to-day lives. I'm setting a challenge for myself to remember this, and to not lose my admiration for the courage it takes to be an international student.

Monday, March 25, 2013

TESOL 2013: A first timer's experience

I attended my *first* TESOL conference this year.  I learned a lot about attending a conference on this scale.
My colleague, Sarah Snyder, discussing our poster with an attendee

 Here are some things that I would do again:
  • poster presentation
  • volunteer at a PCI
  • gave out business cards
  • had a few copies of my resume
  • scheduled interviews
  • made an attempt at networking 
  • brought business casual clothing
  • stayed relaxed about travel plans—changes happen
  • brought protein bars
  • drank Starbucks (part of "the lifestyle")
Here are things I want to do next time:
  • stay downtown
  • sleep more
  • aim for 3-4 sessions a day
  • attend/volunteer at more PCIs
  • go to an interest section meeting
  • no laptop--too heavy
  • journal more
Overall, a great experience for a job-seeking grad student who is invested in this field. There were so many interesting people and presentations. Glad I could be a part of TESOL 2013.

Skype Presentation for CALL Class

I gave this short presentation on March 25, 2013 in Computer Assisted Langauge Learning class. The topic is Skype.

Link to the Google Presentation here:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Philosophy of Teaching

I am a language teacher, and an English as a second or foreign language teacher specifically. My philosophy of teaching is based on current trends in TESL methodology, as well as my personal beliefs about leadership and teaching. I believe that as a teacher, meeting students' needs is my top priority.

To begin, I believe that students should have as many chances as possible to encounter and use language in the classroom. Whereas traditional methodologies have teachers as the center of the classroom, I strive to create student-centered classrooms in which students maximize English use with classmates. In addition to being student-centered, my classroom exemplifies the ideals of communicative language teaching (e.g., interaction and focus on meaning) through activities in which students are required to use English to complete activities and tasks. It is important to me that these activities and tasks are relevant and useful for students, as well as somewhat authentic to the situations that students will face outside of the classroom. I design tasks with clear goals in mind, and I make directions as clear as possible to help students be successful.

Current trends in the TESOL field, as well as theories of language acquisition are also important to my teaching philosophy. Gass and Mackey’s (2007) interaction hypothesis informs my teaching in that I seek out ways to increase interaction in my classroom because I believe that it fosters language learning. Feedback is one of the teacher’s most powerful tools. I believe that as a teacher, I should praise students for good contributions and be cautious, yet honest, when correcting students. While I think that developmental sequences, as proposed by Krashen and others, are useful in thinking about what is teachable, it’s clear that many variables affect language learning, not the least of which are individual differences, such as aptitude and affective factors. My teaching philosophy considers the complete learner as a human being and tries to meet the many and various needs that students have.

I believe that curriculum is a program-wide philosophy of teaching and learning that provides a framework for all teachers and administrators to help students work toward goals. Deciding how to best meet course objectives and how to test whether students were meeting the objectives is an important part of my role as a teacher. In the same vein, reliable, practical and valid assessment practices are critical for student success. Selecting and developing assessments is a vital role for all teachers.

In addition to my philosophy as it relates to the classroom, I believe that it is important for teachers to connect with students. Getting students involved in extracurricular activities contributes to overall positive morale at an institution. Students gain a sense of belonging from these types of groups that they simply don't get in a regular classroom. Especially when teachers and students are involved in the same extracurricular activities, a unique sense of camaraderie and trust is formed. I think that building these connections is crucial for long-term student and program success.

Overall, my philosophy of teaching is influenced by the education I received at Northern Arizona University during my MA-TESL studies, as well as the experiences that I have had working in differing teaching contexts. Meeting the needs of my students through careful daily planning, attention to the bigger picture, and giving students the opportunity to belong guide my decisions as a teacher.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013


Nation and Macalister's List

For Curriculum and Program Administration class, we are reading Nation and Macalister's (2010) Language Curriculum Design. They proposed the following list as principles for language teaching. These are things I want to keep at the forefront of my mind as I continue my language teaching career:

  1. Frequency: teach what occurs frequently
  2. Strategies and autonomy: learners should be aware of and monitor their own learning
  3. Spaced retrieval: recycle and revisit wanted items
  4. Language system: generalizible features of the language.
  5. Keep moving forward: progressively cover material, skills, and strategies
  6. Teachability: teach material when learners are ready
  7. Learning burden: make effective use of previously learned information
  8. Interference: teach material so that learners are least confused (i.e., master hot before introducing cold).
  9. Motivation: get learners interested and excited
  10. Four-strands: balance between meaning-focused input, language-focused learning, meaning-focused output, and fluency activities
  11. Comprehensible input: substantial extensive input for receptive practice
  12. Fluency: activities where learners can use what they know, both receptively and productively.
  13. Output: push learners to produce in a range of discourse types
  14. Deliberate learning: include language-focused learning in sound system, spelling, vocabulary, grammar and discourse areas
  15. Time on task: use and focus on the target language.
  16. Depth of processing: learners should  process material deeply and thoughtfully
  17. Integrative motivation: cultivate favorable attitudes to target language, culture, teacher, etc.
  18. Learning style: provide opportunities for learns to work in ways that suit their individual style
  19. On-going needs and environment analysis: the course should be based on continuing assessment and consideration of the learners and their needs, as well as available resources
  20. Feedback:  feedback helps learners improve their language use.

This is a great list because it is comprehensive, yet manageable with 20 items.