Between Terms

Reflection, Teaching Goals

It’s been a REALLY long time since my last post, years actually. But, here I am. I’m on a break between semesters right now, and I think it’s as good a time as any to get back on this blogging horse.

I went to TESOL Convention in Toronto earlier this year, and one of the most memorable moments for me was meeting a couple online contacts from Winnepeg. One thing I’m missing right now in my professional life is the maintenance of these online relationships.

That being said, I think it’s important to consider what my goals are here. Why write? I think one of my primary goals with this blog is to promote my own professional reflection. It’s easy to go day to day, week to week without stopping long enough to really consider what has been successful in my classroom.

As I go into the new fall term next month, I have a couple goals I’d like to focus on. First, I want to optimize how I integrate student learning outcomes into speaking rubrics in my listening and speaking course. I’ve sort of developed a method for integrating the outcomes, aligning the outcomes with things students demonstrate, but I want to explore how others do this and see if I can’t improve how I go about it. Another goal is to continue to explore and implement activities in the classroom that allow my students to use English outside of class as much as possible. I not only want to encourage the use of English outside of our class, but I want to facilitate engagement with our learning outcomes and hopefully create an environment where students can direct their learning, at least with regard to this aspect of the course. I’ve done it with higher level students in the past, but I’m excited to see if I can make it work for a lower level class.

Remaining relevant: Skills for the 21st century student (and

Reflection, Technology

Wowzers! It’s been quite a while since I’ve taken the time to create a post. While my brain is constantly reflecting on my own teaching and different aspects of education, I have been preoccupied with specific educational endeavors, namely: my final Plan B paper and teaching portfolio to finish my degree. I still have some revisions to work on, but I hope to defend near the end of January. :) I’m also between semesters right now, and I’ve kind of taken up non-teaching activities to relax and enjoy my time off. I started making a quilt, and it seems to be shaping up quite nicely!

Now, down to business. I came across this post by Tom Whitby in my RSS feed the other day, and I think he raises some interesting and salient points about the use of technology in education. Tom suggests:

It may be time to shift the discussions to what we need our kids to learn and how they will implement that learning in our culture, and continue to learn, as the life long learners, which we, as educators, supposedly strive to make them to be.

The discussion about whether instructors should use technology in their teaching has been happening as long as technology has been around. I imagine educators and administrators discussed whether it would be beneficial to use individual chalkboards with students when that was the cutting-edge of technology, and the discussion will undoubtedly continue as new technologies that can impact they way students learn is developed. However, Tom explains:

The skills that educators are emphasizing more and more are skills of: curating information, analyzing information, understanding information, communicating information in various forms, collaborating on information both locally and globally, ultimately, creating information for the purpose of publishing and sharing. These are the goals of 21st Century educators. These are also the today’s needs of industry, business, and banking. Many of these skills are also needs of artists, writers, and musicians. Even politicians could use these skills, which are apparently lacking in a majority of our current leaders.

Now that we have seen how the needs of society have structured the needs of skills for students, and now that we have seen how the needs of education have structured the changes in methodology to address those skills, we now need to consider the best way to deliver access to information for curation, analysis, understanding, communicating and creating.

This might be debatable, but it is my perspective that the role of teachers, in any discipline, to prepare students for the world they will be part of and communities they will live within after leaving our classrooms. It’s important to remember that students leaving our classrooms are not necessarily entering the same world that we entered when we left the classroom so many years ago. Which leads me to believe that instructors also need to remain connected to the outside world for themselves as well. How can instructors adequately prepare students for a world that they themselves do not understand or participate in? That’s not to say that teachers need to be experts in every field or realm of society, but to have a basic understanding of social and professional communities as they exist can only benefit instructors and students.

I think Tom sums it up nicely when he says:

If we are educating our children to live and thrive in their world, we cannot limit them to what we were limited to in our world. As things change and evolve, so must education. As educators we have a professional obligation to change as well.

This is also true for adult learners. It is my opinion that remaining relevant for our students (and ourselves!) should be a primary professional objective. Since our students will most likely be required to effectively employ skills related to technology (the abilities to curate, collaborate, communicate, critically think, and create), instructors should practice these skills as well. When considering the use of technology in your classroom, it could be useful to integrate these essential skills into the learning objectives and consider whether or not your lesson adequately prepares students to use these skills after they leave your classroom. Both teachers and students should be lifelong learners who critically evaluate new technologies and aren’t fearful of employing them to be more effective learners or members of professional or educational communities.

MinneTESOL Conference


pcw logo



It’s that time of year again! The MinneTESOL fall conference is quickly approaching. If you’re in Minnesota (or the surrounding states) on November 8th and 9th, you should consider attending! The conference and pre-conference events will change venues this year to the DoubleTree Hilton in Bloomington, MN. Parking is free!

The pre-conference workshops and a special movie event will be going on Friday evening (see flyer below). Saturday will be full of excellent ESL/EFL-related talks and sessions. Registration is open, and you can register for both the Friday and Saturday events all at once!

Spread the word!

Pre-Conference Workshop Flyer


If the link for registration above isn’t working, copy and paste this into your browser:

Ed Jam Twin Cities


Here is a great professional development opportunity if you’re in the Twin Cities area (or will be for these days).

According to their website (and a personal contact involved in the event coordinating), Ed Jam (Education Jam) is a 48 hour event where people from various fields come together and basically have a giant brainstorming session that will take ideas from conception to prototype. The goal of the event is to address the achievement gap in education in Minnesota.

Basically, it’s a non-partisan, design jam in which participants will develop specific action for closing the achievement gap for students in the Twin Cities.

I feel like I can’t really do it justice. Just visit their site and register if you’re at all interested in participating, sponsoring, or just seeing what it’s really all about. It’s the first of its kind, and it should be a pretty cool experience.



Thoughts on: Using Facebook in an ESL Class


As part of my degree-qualifying research, I have decided to implement instruction in my ESL class this summer that uses Facebook as a means of facilitating discussion outside of the classroom as well as promoting English as in International Language and hopefully allowing my learners to gain a sense of autonomy and agency when it comes to their English learning.

I’m interested in exploring what my learners perceive as the value and challenges to using Facebook in their English education. I’m also interested in learning whether using Facebook in an ESL class can promote learner-to-learner communication outside of class as well as values associated with the English as an International Language paradigm (EIL) that seem to be associated with learner goals in an Intensive English Program.

So far, we have discussed how people use Facebook (and other social networking sites) in various contexts. We have also examined language samples from various Facebook posts and discussed the nature of language on Facebook. In addition, we have had a couple class discussions revolving around the issues of privacy, appropriate social language, and using social networking sites in education. While it’s been interesting to hear the perspectives of my learners, I have come to realize that conducting research is much more difficult than I had originally expected it to be. At the very least, it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me.

That being said, I feel optimistic that I will be able to glean some useful information from this endeavor, and my work will serve as a learning experience for myself and perhaps, someday, others.



Thoughts on: Connected Conferences (or lack thereof)

Reflection, Uncategorized

This post has been in my draft folder for a far too long, and I think it’s about time to sit down and bang it out.

In the last couple of years, I have come to embrace social media as an invaluable tool for my continuing education and participation within the field of ESL (and education in general). I use Twitter every day, although I don’t have a smart phone, so I check it a few times a day instead of getting constant updates. I blog (obviously) about my experiences in the classroom and within my own profession. I subscribe to blogs and websites and read them on an RSS feed daily. These tools have become a part of my daily professional life, and as I venture out into the field and attend in-person professional development opportunities as well, I feel excited to blend the two experiences.

I recently attended the International TESOL Convention and Language Expo in Dallas, as well as a local Minnesota Writing and English Conference in Bloomington, MN. While I wrote about my experiences at these PD events in previous posts, I wanted to write this post about the lack of connectivity via social media present at these events. There were thousands of educators and professionals at the convention in Dallas, and while they had a TV set up in a central area of the convention center, there were probably less than 20 people tweeting about their experiences during the convention. Why was social media present but so under utilized? I understand that many people have yet to embrace Twitter as a legitimate channel for online professional learning, but I was really surprised at the lack of participation and discussion via Twitter at the event.

By the Twitter feed at TESOL.

I have been to a grand total of one international convention and three state-level conferences thus far in my career, and I have noticed a few things about the way social media outlets are utilized by event coordinators and participants:

  1. Participants seem to be situated along a spectrum of social media participation that extends from not connected at all to 100% connected and participating. It seems that conference participants fall at one of those two edges of the spectrum, rarely in the middle.
  2. Not only do larger conferences seem to understand the potential benefits of utilizing social networking sites during such events, but they also use them more effectively.
  3. Different fields have different feelings about using social networking sites for professional development. For example, the first thing a group of web designers discussed while planning a local event was getting a Twitter account up and running. While within the field of ESL (at least in Minnesota), those in charge of events (MinneTESOL) are unconvinced of the benefits (however, there are a few subgroups within the MinneTESOL organization that have embraced Twitter completely).

I guess I’m just unimpressed with the degree to which the field of ESL has embraced this new (sort of) technology. Change takes time, especially in education, I guess.

Thoughts on: Professional development

Reflection, Teacher Support


I have been thinking a lot about professional development, and in an attempt at pinning down exactly what “PD” means to me, I’ve written a list of qualities of effective PD (from my perspective) and the reasons one might seek PD experiences. My ideas are my own, but the prompts are from Pursuing Professional Development: The Self as Source by Kathleen M. Bailey, Andy Curtis, and David Nunan.


Ingredients in Professional Development


What factors promote professional development as a lifelong process? What elements are necessary for it to occur?


  • Context & teacher-centered topics: Effective professional development (to me) means that the topics being explored are of immediate interest to the teachers involved in the PD and applicable to the immediate educational context in which the teachers find themselves. I sometimes wonder if institution-lead PD events are really effective, as they might not reflect the concerns or interests of the majority of teachers forced to partake in the PD event. We recently had a PD event centered around creating effective assessments. While I found the topic to be of mild interest (I can always have more practice creating truly effective language assessments), I felt as though assessments were not of primary importance to many of the teachers in attendance. However, the topic may be one of those that you do not realize is of primary importance until someone shows you how ineffective your assessments have been. And while theory can be interesting, PD events should involve practical applications and examination of actual teaching and learning within the immediate context in order to be truly meaningful.
  • Open and trusting collaboration: Effective professional development must entail a certain level of open-mindedness and trust among the collaborators participating in the event. As a novice teacher, I sometimes feel that there is a power imbalance among teachers of varying levels of experience. Of course the instructor who has been with the institution for ten years has more knowledge than I do! However, I think that for professional learning opportunities to be really effective, everyone must enter the experience with a mind open to learning. Novice and expert teachers alike can learn from the experiences and insights of shared during PD events.
  • Goal alignment among collaborators: While this is not necessarily needed for successful professional learning, it seems that teachers would best benefit from learning and PD events that focus on common goals among teachers. With regard to the assessment PD event recently held at my institution, the primary goal of all collaborators was to gauge how effective our assessments were in measuring achievement of our program learning outcomes. While not all the teachers were concerned with their ability to assess language skills, I do think it was beneficial for the whole group to discuss ways in which we have been successful as well as ways in which we have been challenged to assess language skills in relation to program learning outcomes.


Why do it?


Reasons for pursuing professional development.


  • to acquire new knowledge (content)
  • to acquire new teaching skills (method)
  • to build relationships among colleagues
  • to adapt to changes in your teaching context
  • to stay relevant with regard to teaching techniques and technology
  • to gain a better understanding of the field as a whole
  • to maintain positive attitudes toward the teaching profession (moral support)
  • to empower your voice within the field


Thoughts on: Formatting the lesson


During my practicum experience, every new lesson fit a format designated by my mentor teacher. The format of every class sort of followed a general “present grammar point, structured practice, less structured practice” format. I understood this format to mean that we were slowly releasing students to use the language structure freely after providing structured practice activities that elicited the target language and presenting the grammar rules explicitly. I think this way of presenting the material worked well in the grammar class context, but I’m not so sure it works as well in a reading and writing class context.

With my current students, a certain amount of explicit rule instruction seems necessary most of the time, as they are at quite a low-level of proficiency. However, I sometimes find myself wanting to reverse the “instruction, structured practice, free practice” format to allow my students to try to extrapolate the language structures and rules by first experiencing the structures in context.

For example, we have learned about the parts of a basic paragraph over the last few weeks, and I asked my students to write a paragraph about a trip they took (we are also learning the simple past tense this week). First, I asked the students to write sentences that could be in the body of their paragraph in a shared Google Document. Each student had to write at least five sentences. After they were done writing, I asked the students to help each other correct mistakes in their sentences (mostly grammar and mechanics). After everyone had a number of detail sentences completed, I gave each student a copy of an example paragraph someone wrote about their trip to Chicago. We examined the topic and concluding sentences and created a title for the paragraph together. I gave this paragraph to them in the hopes that they would use the basic format of the paragraph as a guide for their own writing. While we had already covered the general “rules” regulating how to make topic and concluding sentences, this example paragraph was an explicit example of the sort of writing I was expecting them to produce.

We will go over their first drafts tomorrow in class, so I’m anxious to see how well they used the example paragraph as a guide to their writing.

When it comes to my own continuing education on how to be an ESL teacher, I think examining the ways I’ve formatted my lessons (in whatever class I’m teaching) and how effective or ineffective the lessons were with regard to the format is important. I think one lesson comes up every time I try to draw any conclusions from my teaching: teachers must be flexible and willing to adapt to their learners and each educational context. It seems to me that this is the most important skill new teachers can learn during their teacher education programs. Being flexible and able to adapt to new teaching (and learning) contexts can mean the success or failure of the students involved and the teacher’s own continuing professional learning. It almost seems that every other skill can be learned as you go, as long as you are able to seek out the support and resources you need to adapt your teaching to your students and the classroom context.


Thoughts on: Using Google Drive to facilitate writing workshops


Over the last couple of weeks I have used Google Drive to facilitate writing activities during our day in the computer lab. We have one day per week in the lab, and the students always seem to have a little extra pep in their step when we use the computers in class. At the level I’m teaching, the students have just moved past writing simple sentences and are working on improving their basic paragraph writing. We have written paragraphs together in class and they’ve written paragraphs on their own as homework, but I thought it might be interesting to utilize Google Drive during our lab time to allow students to practice typing and formatting their paragraphs while also having the opportunity to interact with other students’ work by giving and receiving feedback online.

Allowing students to work on their paragraphs in real time while the teacher or other students provide feedback seems to have brought a larger awareness of their writing and each student’s writing process. It’s interesting, as the teacher, to watch students write their paragraphs in real time to see how which aspects they focus on first and which aspects of writing are sort of after-thoughts. One student I have likes to type all his sentences without capital letters and punctuation, and he goes back and adds them later. Other students type everything and then format the paragraph (double-spacing and indenting) at the very end of their process.

Google Drive

Google Drive (Photo credit: Doroty cielu)

Through Google Drive, I am able to highlight mistakes easily (usually in yellow) without necessarily divulging what kind of error they have made. The students are usually very apt to correct the mistakes immediately, and they often do not need further instruction. I just delete the highlighting once it’s corrected. There are occasions where students do not understand what kind of mistake they have made, and during these instances, either myself or another student is able to explain their ideas in the chat bar on the side of the document.

With regard to the chat bar, my students said they found it quite difficult to ask questions of other students via the chat. However, they seem to be improving, and I can’t help but wonder if that simple communication is helping their basic reading comprehension skills. All of these thoughts are based on my own intuition, not research, so I’m saying this with a hint of skepticism. Since engaging in the “no talking, use chat” method of feedback during these activities, my students seem to slow down and take their time reading the feedback that they receive, whether it’s from me or another student. While giving feedback on student writing, I was able to highlight mistakes or areas of interest and add comments on the side that give further explanation. For some of our activities, I asked students to type their paragraphs the day before we were in the lab so they could work with my feedback on our lab day. I’ve been rather amazed at how quickly they are picking up the language used in the feedback. Even if they don’t understand every word in the feedback, they are almost always able to understand and make the appropriate corrections.

In addition to typing full paragraphs and doing peer review online, we have done a few activities where the students have to work together to type simple sentences as well. Today we did an activity where students were asked to write sentences about someone’s schedule, answering the question, “What is she going to do?” We have been focusing on using the “be going to” construction to talk about the future tense, and this activity was meant to provide an opportunity for students to write sentences using that construction while reading information from a calendar. They were also supposed to focus on using the correct preposition before dates and times (at 4pm, on May 9th). The students were split into two groups of three students each (yes, my class only has six students this term). Each student had a copy of the same calendar, but each student had different events on different days of the month. Each student had to write three sentences (one for each even on their calendar) and then the students could work together to correct any mistakes they might have made.

From my perspective, students were more easily able to notice mistakes that others had made during this activity than they typically are when we work with pencil and paper. Once again this is based on my intuition and perceptions, but perhaps this is due to the fact that each student was working in the same document, and their own sentences were right next to those of the other students. If one student felt confident in his writing, and he saw another sentence that didn’t fit the construction pattern, he was likely to highlight the mistake. Once again, there were instances where mistakes were not noticed by the students and I highlighted them in the text.

After our Google Drive tasks, I had a brainstorming/discussion session with the class about how they feel about using Google Drive for these types of writing activities. I asked them to think of things they liked, things they didn’t like, things they thought were easy, and things they found difficult about using Google Drive. After the discussion, these are some of the ideas we came up with:


  • students can work together
  • students can help each other write
  • students can practice spelling
  • students can correct friends’ sentences
  • students can open Google at home
  • teacher can correct mistakes and answer questions via chat
  • students can joke between friends on chat
  • each student had his own color when typing
  • students can work together from hom


  • writing changes quickly
  • we had to make a rule about waiting to edit until everyone was done typing (so students weren’t correcting unfinished sentences)
  • some students found it difficult to know where to save files & where to open them (navigating files)


  • making sentences
  • asking questions


  • asking for help with spelling (How do you spell….?)
  • using chat was more difficult to communicate than using voice

My students all said they enjoyed the activity, and while I can see them getting bored with any activity implemented too often, their level of involvement and motivation did seem higher than more typical writing workshop activities.

I can’t help but feel that the students may also benefit from the exposure to Google Drive, as our particular university has recently adopted Google Apps quite extensively (from email to the cloud). It seems very likely that they will encounter such programs in their future education, whether that is at our current location or another American university.

Through these activities facilitated by Google Drive, I feel that my students have gained some valuable experience in giving and receiving feedback. Working on these activities has also focused our attention on the language being used and the language forms we’ve been covering in class. One of our class learning objectives for this term is to be able to read other students’ writing and respond (in a basic way with teacher support, and I think these activities have allowed us to achieve that learning objective.

Thoughts on: Sharing Information


I came across this post by Tom Whitby today, and it sort of made me smile. The post amounts to a well-written rant about the online culture of information exchange and sharing. While just about every social media tool allows users to participate at varying levels of actual participation, there is something to be said for taking that step into contributing to the discussion by sharing pre-existing information of interest or information straight from your own brain.

When I look back at my own relationship with my personal learning network, I realize that I spent the first year or so only participating passively, receptively via my RSS feed. I didn’t use my Twitter account yet, and I didn’t blog about my experiences in academia. However, I was reading posts of interest and building my subscription list. I was also tagging and saving posts of interest via Diigo (which I found to be a valuable archiving tool). About a year into what I now realize was my unguided attempt at self-directed professional learning, I began sharing articles I found on my RSS feed with the Twitter #esl community. I slowly began following fellow educators after I sat in on a #ellchat Tweetchat session. It was my first experience with the synchronous use of Twitter, and I was hooked. After some fumbling around with netiquette conventions, I found myself interacting with Twitter followers and freely sharing information I came across via RSS feeds and other sources.

While lurking is an acceptable form of social media use, Whitby is onto something:

If we are to benefit from the Internet as a profession or a society we need to feel an obligation to be more than takers. We need to be makers and exchangers as well. We need to keep the exchange alive by not counting on the few, but by involving the many. We need to believe in the premise of Share and Share alike.

One of the best things about collaborating and learning online via social media is the fact that both novice and experienced teachers have a voice. It can be kind of daunting or scary to think that people will read and judge you based on what you share online, but when it comes down to it, your voice is only as loud as you make it. Everyone has something to say, and even novice teachers should not stifle their voices in fear of reproach.