MNWE 2013 Conference: ESOL Supersession/Workshop Overview

Reflection

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

Reflection

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.

Take-aways:

  • 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 2

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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.

 

TESOL 2013: Day 1

Reflection

I arrived in Dallas this afternoon and made my way to the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown. Both the hotel and the weather are amazing. We’re staying on the 20th floor, which I think is the highest I’ve ever stayed.

After dropping off my bag, I headed to the convention with my cohort (3 other ladies in my MA program with whom I’m staying during the convention). We checked in, got our fancy name tags, which I put my Twitter handle on, got our complementary convention bags with huge event catalog, and headed to the opening general session speaker.

The speaker was John Hunter, whom I had not heard of, but he is an award-winning teacher who focuses on helping children reach their full potential. His talk was called Solving for X: Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Essentials, and it focused on his World Peace Game in which students try to solve real-life problems through collaboration.

The main take-aways from the talk include:

  • Learning takes place in the tension between love and fear. As in, students are able to create meaning and knowledge when they are presented with challenging tasks that they are interested in.
  • The purpose of the World Peace Game (according to the students who engaged with the lesson) is to express compassion; everyone has to think of everyone else and then themselves if they want problems to be solved.
  • Students eventually realize that they are not playing the game against each other, but they are playing with each other against the game.
  • Failure is ok. Within the support network of the classroom, students learn to accept the presence of failure and move past it in their problem solving.
  • Every student has the potential to be really awesome. (Those are my words.) If you treat students as such, they are more likely to live up to their potential.

Here’s a video of Hunter’s TED talk.

 

Thoughts on: What it means to be a connected professional.

Reflection, Teacher Support

With the advent of the Google Reader closure and my impending departure to the TESOL Convention in Dallas, I am wondering what exactly it means to be a connected professional. I suppose the definition varies from field to field, but within the field of education and ESL, more specifically, there are a few things I think define a “connected professional.”

  • Engaged in conversation. Whether online via micro-blogging sites like Twitter, or in person with your immediate co-workers, being engaged in conversation seems to be a key part of the definition of a connected professional. With technology in mind, Twitter and other social media tools allow teachers to be engaged in multiple conversations simultaneously without needing to be in the same geographical area. While I’m partial to these tools, the good-old traditional conversation with co-workers should not be overlooked. After all, you are serving the same population of students, and communication is very important to understanding and meeting your population’s unique needs.
  • Open to new voices. One of the best facets of utilizing social media with a world-wide learning community is that both experienced/expert teachers and novice teachers can interact and learn from one another. It is my opinion that a truly connected professional is not only open to new voices in the field, but also varying perspectives. All that being said, it can be easy to fall in with an online crowd that agree in perspective (on whatever matter) with yourself. A necessary challenge to being connected and actively participating is to not only expose yourself to new voices, but to engage with them in an amicable and exploratory way.
  • Makes connections between conversations and their own practice. Connected professionals may be bombarded with a constant stream of input with a variety of perspectives, but it is their job to take the information and perspectives presented online and implement them appropriately in their own classrooms. If everything goes back to serving our students, an effective connected professional must take some of what she learns from other voices and reflect upon her own practice. While my perspective would state that varying degrees of participation may indeed contribute positively to an educator’s professional identity, there are voices out there that deem any interaction online not taken and implemented in the classroom as meaningless. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on how best to implement what is gathered from learning communities and implemented their practice. I simply propose that students must always be kept in mind.

It seems clear that simply having a Twitter account or subscribing to an educator’s blog does not make one a “connected professional.” While online, social media tools may be invaluable to a teacher’s self-directed professional development, they are ultimately just tools to be used by the professional. How we use them is what really matters.