Shifting Gears

Conference Planning

Ok. I’ve failed to maintain this blog as well as I’d like in recent months (years…), but I feel like I’m starting to get to a place where I can actively reflect on my teaching as well as think critically about my other professional development endeavors.

Things have been a little crazy lately. I got married last weekend, so the last few months have been rather busy with preparing for that. Since that’s finally done, I feel like I have a little more time and energy to put into my professional growth.

I’ve been working with some colleagues in MinneTESOL and the Minnesota Department of Education to organize our fall Minnesota English Language Education (MELEd) Conference. The conference is a merger of the MDE spring ESL, bilingual and migrant education conference and the MinneTESOL fall conference. This is the second year for MELEd, and it’s looking like it might be a big one. We have two stellar keynotes this year: Andrea DeCapua and Stephen Krashen. In addition, we have tons of great concurrent sessions that will happen over two days.

I really enjoy working with the conference planning for a couple reasons. First, being involved this heavily in the MinneTESOL organization allows me to network with tons of people in the field of ESL. Through my work this year, I have been able to meet and spend time with professionals across various interest sections. It’s really nice to get a broader perspective of the field and our profession. Also, planning the conference allows me to satisfy my desire to organize. The whole planning process has been a lot of work, but it’s so satisfying to work through issues as they arise.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a great co-chair this year, and I’m grateful for her leadership and guidance as I take on the leadership role next year. I feel like we’ve worked really well together, and we’ve done a lot of work to organize materials and make them available for future conference organizers. Google Drive has been such an asset! I don’t know how the previous organizers kept it all together without it!

I’m hoping to write more about my experience in conference planning over the next year.

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.

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: 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.

MNWE 2013 Conference: ESOL Supersession/Workshop Overview


The Minnesota Writing and English Conference (MNWE) was seeking a larger ESOL presence at their annual gathering this year, and I decided to offer a proposal for a presentation/workshop. I presented yesterday to a room of about 18 people (including all the other presenters in the supersession) about using social media to facilitate professional learning, especially in the context of novice teachers making the transition from graduate school into the field. This was my first official presentation, and I have to admit I was a little nervous as it got closer to the conference. I bolstered my confidence by reading this article on the Brain Pickings blog about public speaking. The post itself describes the work of George Plimpton, but I found a couple of the points extremely helpful as I prepared for my presentation.

As I prepared for the conference, I sometimes felt like this:

There were moments of doubt where I thought things like, “why would anyone want to hear what I have to say?!” and “I’m just a grad student…” But after going to the TESOL Convention in Dallas and seeing many presentations on various topics, I realized that even more experienced teachers and academics probably have these thoughts. Until I went to TESOL I doubted the need for a discussion about the use of social media in the field of English education. I will delve into my thoughts on the value of connected conferences in a subsequent blog post, but it was obvious by the lack of social media interaction at the international level convention that there are tons of teachers in the field who have yet to explore and experience the benefits (and challenges) of using social media to build their personal learning networks.

I felt like the presentation itself went quite well, and I felt comfortable talking to this room of strangers. However, I encountered a couple issues that I think I will have to consider more closely if I intend on making future presentations of this nature:

  • The topic of social media in conjunction with professional learning can be approached from various positions of expertise (or lack thereof). It was hard to gauge how familiar the audience would be with social media in general, and how basic or in depth I should make my presentation. Upon a very informal survey of the audience, almost everyone raised their hands when I asked if they used some kind of social media for personal use. I can imagine almost all of those users were referring to Facebook. When immediately asked who used social media for professional purposes (with students or with other professionals) only one person raised her hand. I went into the presentation with the idea that the audience would have some general notion of what social media tools could do for them (in any capacity), but based on the fact that only about 10 people (including myself and the event account) were tweeting during the international TESOL Convention, I predicted that few people would be actual users. I was right. In light of this reality that I keep stumbling upon at in-person PD events, a couple questions come to mind:
    • First, how can people within the field who have experienced the value of using social media tools to facilitate professional development express this value to colleagues who have not ventured into the realm of social media?
    • Also, while I have felt supported and feel like I’ve gained confidence and insight through my use of social media tools, it is quite difficult to try to quantify or measure these outcomes. Without a satisfactory method of measuring how the use of social media can influence professional learning or student outcomes, is the use of social media something that is worth exploring? I feel like it is, but I can hardly give justification for the endeavor that amounts to something like, “I just feel like it’s a really good thing to do.” Tom Whitby recently wrote a blog post that explores this question a little bit further.
  • While there is a substantial educational presence on social media outlets, it may be useful to relate the specific tools to specific subdivisions within the field of education and ESL. I’m finding that there are far more K-12 voices than adult ESL voices on social media venues. How can I promote the practice of utilizing social media for adult ESL educators if there is not much of a current presence online? I think there is great value in interacting with all educators, but sometimes I wish there was a larger presence of educators within my subdivision of the field.

Overall, the presentation experience was valuable, and I would do it again if I had the chance. I would also plan to present less information in the allotted time, as I was rushed at the end and didn’t have much time for actual discussion of the issues.

After my presentation, there were six other presentations related to ESOL issues:

The Impact of Audiovisual Material on the ESL University Student’s Note-Taking and Writing Performance, Jun Akiyoshi, Younghoon Kang, and Ayami Murakami–MSU, Mankato

Reading: The Missing Link in Writing, Yue Qin–University of Regina (Canada)

English Writing of Non-English Majors at Tertiary Level in China, Jun Wu–Anui University (China)

Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center, Renata Fitzpatrick–Carleton College

Building Academic Literacy for the Transitions to College: Connecting Writing with Social Science in a Learning Community for First-Year Multi-lingual Writers, Robin Murie–University of Minnesota, Duluth

Concept Mapping in First-Year Writing Courses for L2 Students, Kira Dreher–University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Here is are the slides from my presentation.

TESOL 2013: Day 4


Identity and Language Learning Across Time and Space, Bonny Norton, University of British Columbia

This session by Bonny Norton was something many attendees were looking forward to, and she didn’t disappoint. Her talk focused on research Bonny and some colleagues are doing in Uganda. Their research examines how technology can change the identities of the learners and teachers in an EFL setting. The guiding assumption of the research is that identities change over time and space, for both learners and teachers. Our identities are shaped by what is possible in the future. A critical definition of identity assumes multiple identities across time and space within one person, which deviates from the traditional definition of identity that assumes more polarized attributes (introvert/extrovert, good/bad, etc).

A guiding question during this session was:

What is the learner’s investment in the language and literacy practice of the classroom or community?

If investment is constructed socially, both the learner and the teacher are responsible for learning and language is a social practice. With the more rigid, traditional view of identity, the teacher is responsible to impart knowledge onto the learners. This view of identity seems to mesh well with a technologically-driven society where learning is not confined to the classroom. While Uganda differs from the United States and other more developed nations with regard to the types of technology and resources that are available, the ideals associated with social constructivism still seem to be present. Even with limited resources, students are invested in the digital.

Bonny showed a picture of a keyboard that a student had fashioned out of clay. While not functional in the way that we typically think of keyboards as being functional, the clay keyboard acted as a transition into actual digital tools. The imagined communities of the student that created the clay keyboard, those communities in which the student hopes to belong in the future, include digital tools. If we are to help learners reach their potential by acknowledging their multiple identities and their desires for the future, we need to give them the language associated with their imagined communities.


  • Technology, however basic, can make the familiar strange and the strange familiar.
  • “When you communicate, you think your own English.” (as opposed to rote memorization)
  • Learners’ relationships to each other and within their communities change through the use of technology.
  • World Englishes allow learners to be unashamed to speak (even if it isn’t “The Queen’s English”).

Some questions to consider:

  • How have the technological changes influenced literacy and language?
  • How do you democratize knowledge flows with limited resources?


How Interactive, Practical, and Fair are Teacher-Made Assessments?, Stuart Landers, Missouri State University & John Thorpe, WestEd

This session was a review of the theoretical issues guiding teachers as they create language assessments for their learners. Having just come out of my required assessment course with Andrew Cohen, the theoretical portion of the presentation was interesting, but redundant. For teachers who hadn’t just gone through a semester-long course on assessment, it was probably a nice refresher. The practical aspects of assessment presented included a brief examination of example test items.

The characteristics of test usefulness that teachers should keep in mind while designing assessments for their learners include:

  • practicality–is the assessment worth the time, effort, and money it takes to administer and score?
  • reliability–is the assessment consistent and dependable? (both among students and raters)
  • validity–is the assessment measuring what you want it to measure?
  • authenticity–is the assessment asking learners to complete tasks with language that would actually be used?

What Teachers Learn from Professional Development: Two National Perspectives

This session was about an ongoing research project that looks at the available professional development opportunities for public school English teachers in Chile and Turkey. The researchers examined what opportunities were available, what was the teacher uptake resulting from professional development attended, and how did uptake influence practice in the classroom and student outcomes. The session focused on the second question of teacher uptake from PD opportunities attended.

The study was implemented on a scale that I can only imagine: 1,101 respondents and 3,345 PD events in Chile and 2,960 respondents and 8,945 PD events in Turkey. The data was collected between 2008 and 2011 via online questionnaires distributed by the ministries of education in each country.

While the presentation was interesting and it gave some insight into what it means to take on a research project of this magnitude, I think the main take-aways from their findings were:

  • The number of years of experience a teacher had did not influence how valuable the teachers perceived PD to be. Teachers of all experience levels found value in almost all PD experiences.
  • “What I think I can use drives what I think I learned.”
  • The job of PD events is to create environments in which teachers can take away practical information. This information is reflected through the teachers and does not directly reflect the topics of PD events.

I think the findings of this study highlight what it means to be a teacher: every day consists of adaptation and practical application of theoretical and planned activities. Just as there is a difference between what a teacher plans to teach and what students learn, there is a difference between what PD events seek to teach educators and what teachers bring back to their classrooms.


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.