MinneTESOL Conference


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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: 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.

TESOL 2013: Day 3


Subconsciously Held Bias: Exposing the Myth of Racial Colorblindness, Aram deKoven, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Aram deKoven was one of the invited speakers at the TESOL convention, and his session was held in the convention center arena. The session focused on how the human brain reacts to priming, based on several different studies across various fields. The presenter contended that while explicit racism has become less common in our society, implicit racial bias has become more of a concern. The whole presentation was based on the idea that the “subconscious is a powerful cognitive force and subconsciously-held biases affect how we act.”

The presenter showed the results of various studies where people were primed to react in certain ways in relation to gender, race, and other socialized conventions within our society. For example, deKoven spoke about how within the field of music, men were considered naturally superior to women, and this was proven by the predominantly male population of orchestras. However, in an attempt to take gender bias out of the equation when auditioning musicians, institutions took to auditioning musicians behind a screen where their gender could not be surmised. The result of this practice was that orchestras became almost split down the middle when it comes to gender.

The issue of social responsibility in the classroom is something that I have to admit I haven’t considered all that much. This presentation brought the need for awareness and reflection in teaching to the front of my mind. What implicit biases do I hold, and how are they affecting my actions in the classroom? It seems clear to me that teachers hold a great amount of power and influence over their learners’ educations, especially with young learners. With such power comes great responsibility. I think the  primary take-away from this session was that people, educators in particular, should look at themselves with open minds, reflect on their practice and beliefs, and realize that the human brain works in weird ways. While we may not hold explicit bias toward one group of people or another, we may very well have implicit, socialized biases that we are not always aware of.

Creating Global Citizens: Socially Responsible Educators in ESL Classrooms

  • Kip Cates, Tottori University, Japan– Overview of global language teaching, teaching with global education
  • Shelley Wong, George Mason University– The Dream Act: Global Citizenship for Social Responsibility
  • Kevin J. Martin, Virginia International University, @kevinjmartin_ — Social responsibility in the classroom (and curriculum)
  • Earlene Gentry, Fulbright Commission (retired), Egypt– Social responsibility in Egypt (revolution)
  • Rob Clement, Sohar University, Oman– Social responsibility issues (bullying & classroom violence)

I stumbled into this session when another session I was going to attend was cancelled. I was pleasantly surprised by the session. Perhaps I had been primed to accept issues of social responsibility in education as being of major importance (from the deKoven session earlier in the day) because I felt a particular affinity for the issues discussed in this session. This session was the Social Responsibility Interest Section educational session, and Kip Cates started things off by giving an overview of global education. Being new to the idea of social responsibility in language education, I found this overview particularly interesting. According to Cates, within the realm of global language teaching there are two branches of a dual syllabus: language teaching and global education. Global education includes: world regions, world themes, and world issues. The goal of global education is to bring the world into the language classroom and take students out into the world. By treating our students as global citizens, and educating them as such, both teachers and students are able to gain a broader perspective of themselves within the framework of a global community.

I think the primary take-away from this session was that language teachers have an amazing opportunity to build a community of language teachers around the world. There are issues that people do not want to talk about, but there may be a place for controversial issues within the global language classroom, especially with adult students who wish to be part of a global community. Once again, I think it’s key to remember that our learners are at the center of our pedagogical/andragogical decisions, and we should include topics and materials that will benefit our learners’ experience within their global communities.


Incorporating Peer and Self-Assessment to Enhance Retention, Lisa Leopold, Monterey Institute of International Studies

This session definitely had some practical applications. While it was research-based, Leopold presented her findings in a way that could be useful for teachers. The session focused on using peer and self assessment in a writing class. The presenter focused mainly on peer feedback, although self-assessment was touched on briefly. With regard to peer assessment, benefits and challenges were examined and different modes of feedback were discussed more in depth. The modes discussed included both synchronous and asynchronous written and oral feedback.


  • Certain modes of feedback may be more suitable for different assignments.
  • Students found value in all the modes of peer feedback.
  • A combination of synchronous and asynchronous peer feedback may benefit the most students.
  • Involving students in the feedback process may give them a greater sense of ownership in assignments.

Overall, it may be useful for writing teachers to consider a variety of modes when assigning peer feedback. Each group of students is different, so once again it is imperative for teachers to consider the needs of their unique group when designing tasks.

TESOL 2013: Day 2


7:30am– Making Room for Fluency Training in Reading Instruction: Fredricka Stoller and William Grabe, Northern Arizona University

I was surprised how energizing reading fluency activities could be so early in the morning. I think this session proved to be the most practical of all the sessions I attended during the convention. Since returning to class, I have implemented regular reading fluency practice activities. I think the activities are sort of a fun warm-up activity, and the students are able to see their reading progress in a short period of time (if they read the text more fluently after the first reading). We’ve had some great conversations about pronunciation and vocabulary through these activities, and while those aren’t the target benefits, they are benefits of the fluency tasks.


10am– CALL Academic Session: Gaming and Language Learning


  • Deborah Healey, University of Oregon– Overview of immersive game-based language learning research
  • Rick Rosenberg, U.S. Department of State– Introduction to Trace Effects
  • Jeff Kuhn, Ohio University–Elements of gaming and how it can be implemented in the classroom

This CALL interest session was interesting, however, it felt a bit like an ad for Trace Effects. The theory behind gaming in language classrooms was quite interesting, and Jeff Kuhn’s presentation had some good points about how gaming has changed over the years. With more powerful operating systems, game designers are able to create different essential experiences for users, every game does not need to target “the reptilian” part of our brains with explosions and shooting and killing. There are games that create a variety of emotional responses, and these experiences can be harnessed in the (language) classroom. In addition to essential experiences, the possibility space is also important for creating user autonomy and a more personalized experience within a game. For example, one is able to deviate from assigned “missions” in games like The Sims or Grand Theft Auto and simply explore the gaming environment. Overall, games can allow students to make meaningful experiences using the target language.

While the implications for K-12 language teachers seems obvious, would gamification be effective in an adult language classroom as well? My views on this are not based on research or the literature, but I think with my own current adult learners, games could provide an opportunity for them to focus on meaning rather than form and create a collaborative environment within the game. However, in an academic setting, is it appropriate to take class time playing games, even if they are in the target language?

Take-aways from this session:

  • Gaming has the potential to create a collaborative, constructivist environment for learners to create meaning in the target langauge.
  • Not all games are created equal.
  • Specific learners should always be considered when deciding the most effective method to implement gaming.


1pm– Re-examining Writing Assessment Rubrics in the Classroom

  • Deborah Crusan, Wright State University– Overview of issues with rubrics
  • Lia Plakans, University of Iowa– Development of rubrics & critiquing rubrics
  • Paul Kei Matsuda, Arizona State University & Jill Jeffery, University of New Mexico– How is the concept of voice expressed in writing rubrics (high school and post secondary levels)
  • Miyuki Sasaki, Nagoya Gakuin University– Rubrics from EFL (Japanese) perspective (student “organizational” skills)

This session was a good refresher regarding the evaluation and creation of rubrics for writing assignments. The panel discussed issues that included how teachers determine the weight given to grading criteria within a rubric. There was also discussion about the demands of grading written assignments. For this aspect of assessment, Deborah Crusan quoted this Atlantic article by John Tierney Why Teachers Secretly Hate Grading Papers. The article does a great job of presenting issues that must be faced by instructors every time they give written assignments to students.

Some of the main take-aways from this session include:

  • rubrics mirror what we value in composition
  • teachers should be accountable to their students
  • rubrics need to measure what needs to be measured, not what can be measured

Some questions to consider when creating or evaluating rubrics include:

  • Does your rubric reflect course curricula, lessons, and assignment?
  • Does your rubric match up with your view of language and the purpose of the assignment?
  • Does your rubric align with the task and the kind of language produced in the task?
  • Does your rubric fit with student ability and range of performance?
  • Can your rubric be easily and consistently used by students and teachers? (inter-rater reliability)


3pm– A Professional Reading Group for EAP Instructors, Joanne Millard & Beata Piechocinski, York University, Canada

This session focused on the YUELI (York University English Language Institute). In response to a previous TESOL presentation, the presenters implemented a sort of reading group for instructors at their program as a professional development measure. The reading groups met twice per 16 week term and discussed various academic articles related to relevant topics. The whole group voted on the topic and articles to be examined, and the leader of the discussions (full-time instructors took turns leading) chose two of the articles to be discussed at the meetings. Participation in the reading groups was voluntary, but they could be used to fulfill part of the mandatory professional development hours each instructor needed to complete each year.The discussions started with the articles read by the staff, but according to the presenters, the discussion turned to practice rather quickly.

Take-aways from the session:

  • Leadership is required for the reading group to continue each term.
  • Instructors valued the opportunity to discuss theory and practice with peers.
  • Through these discussions, professional developmental objectives required of the instructors could be fulfilled in an observable way. Teachers were able to express how they had benefitted from the discussions.
  • The discussion sessions acted as a sort of support group for the instructors involved.

I found this session particularly interesting as I have been thinking a lot about professional development opportunities. The whole endeavor (creating a reading group for instructors) seemed like an easy enough process if only someone volunteered to take the lead. I have recently been wondering if there exists any sort of reading group via social media for interested professionals to discuss relevant academic materials within their fields. I am currently unaware of such discussions within the field of ESL or education in general. The only thing that comes close might be the scheduled Tweetchats like #eapchat, #edchat, and #edteach. These sorts of conversations have the same flavor as the reading groups implemented at YUELI, but they typically do not entail pre-reading by the participants.

I would be interested in implementing a similar reading group PD program within my own institution. I think instructors could really benefit in their own practice by being up-to-date on current academic literature within the field, interacting with peers outside of level meetings (that usually entail logistical planning, not theoretical discussion of issues), and the reading group could create an environment of support within the workplace.


4pm– Using Corpora in Effectively Treating Lexico-grammatical Errors in ESL Writing, Dilin Liu, University of Alabama

This session focused on using corpora to address lexico-grammatical errors made in ESL writing. The presentation was based on research done by the presenter in which ESL learners were given a questionnaire that contained error correction exercises. Half of the items were to be completed by the participants alone, and the other half of the items were to be completed with the help of COCA (Corpus of Contemporary American English). The participants had been trained to use the corpus in their English courses. They were familiar with the search functions and had practice using COCA to answer questions in their homework. Upon completion of the error correction tasks, participants were asked to self-report whether COCA was useful in helping find and correct errors. The types of errors included: collocations, use of prepositions, word meanings, register information, use of articles, and subject/verb agreement. The participants found COCA most useful for finding and correcting errors in collocations and least useful for dealing with errors related to article usage.

Of the two sections of the measure, the learners performed significantly better on the items in which they were allowed to use COCA. This was true of all the types of errors except for errors related to article usage. The items in which participants were allowed to use COCA had a higher rate of correction as well.

Take-aways from this session:

  • Corpora (like COCA) may be a useful tool to give our learners if we want them to be independent learners.
  • Identification of error types is necessary for successful treatment of errors with corpus.
  • Articles are tricky to deal with, regardless of access to corpora data.


Google Reader is Shutting Down

Image representing Google Reader as depicted i...

Image via CrunchBase

I was saddened to learn that Google Reader will no longer be available after July 1st of this year. Over the past couple years, Google Reader has been the cornerstone of my online engagement. When I started using Google Reader, I subscribed to blogs and articles that interested me personally, that did not necessarily pertain to my teaching or networking. However, when I started grad school  a year and a half ago I slowly built my RSS feed into a collection of voices from around the ESL field. Before I embraced Twitter, I relied solely on Google Reader to provide for me a steady stream of information and insight. Even after I became a Twitter addict, I start my social media engagement every day by checking my RSS feed on Google Reader.

I hope that the powers that be decided to revamp Google Reader and roll out something new to take its place because I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet.

Here’s a pretty good article about the shut down from The Huffington Post.

Let the search for a Google Reader replacement begin!

Some Thoughts on MOOCs…


Independently of the collapse of the Coursera class earlier this week, I had been thinking about the efficacy of MOOCs. I am enrolled in my first MOOC (also a Coursera class), and I’m finding it to be somewhat less beneficial than I was anticipating. While the content is interesting, and I had hopes of engaging in meaningful discussions about the use of technology and the philosophies behind technology use, my expectations have fizzled out for a couple of reasons.

The first thing I find unattractive and very inefficient is the sheer number of participants in the class. Yes, “massive” is part of MOOC, but there is really something left wanting when each discussion forum has 2,000 posts about the same topic. How many times can the same thing be said? Is it really worth posting to the discussions if your thoughts have probably already been posted at least a dozen times? While the discussion forum allows a large number of people to discuss topics at length and break off and have smaller discussions (should you choose to do so), the whole thing reminds me a scene where rats are scrambling for the last piece of cheese in an inescapable hole in the ground. PERHAPS WRITING YOUR THOUGHTS ON TECHNOLOGICAL DETERMINISM IN ALL CAPS WILL MAKE IT STAND OUT ENOUGH FOR PEOPLE TO READ AND COMMENT. Then again, it’s 1,500 posts in, so it will probably never be looked at, let alone commented on and engaged with.

There may be something to gain from simply observing the discussions that other people have on the forum, but the more I tried to interact with the subject and participants, the more irritated I became.

With regard to the failed Coursera class, I came across this interesting blog post by Debbie Morrison that addresses some other issues that face the MOOC community. The analysis is very thorough and thought-out, and there are some great resources for further reading on the topic of MOOCs and online education.


#EAPchat: Does gaming have a place in the EAP/university curriculum?


I have taken part in a couple Tweetchats since the advent of my Twitter obsession, and I have to admit that I’m quite taken with how easy it is to collaborate with so many people in such an easy medium. I’m so thankful for Tweetchats (like #edchat and #ellchat), but I’ve been disappointed at the lack of discussion within the adult ESL field. Where are the voices of teachers in universities and community centers?

Alas, I have found #eapchat! I have high hopes for the discussion today, and I hope to engage with some people interested in English for academic purposes via Twitter.

I will attempt to summarize the chat this afternoon, but further discussion and a summary can also be found at the #eapchat blog.