TESOL Thoughts

Reflections on Teaching and Learning

English as an International Language: Global Perspectives (Guest Post)

Earlier this year, I posted a collection of highlights from #TESOL16 written by fourteen teachers (including yours truly). There is something special about sharing this space with other teachers in different parts of the world. I now have the honor to do that again through a post written by a special guest blogger, a current Arkansas Tech University graduate student, Charla New. In her post, she discusses different perspectives on the use of English around the world. 

Charla’s post led me to wonder: Do most teachers of ESOL consciously think about the English variety they teach? What lies behind the choice to teach (or learn) any particular variety? 

Understanding why we make these choices and learning about our options should help us gain a more global perspective. Thank you, Charla, for bringing up this important topic!

As the language for global business, scientific, maritime and aeronautical communications, English is the worldwide lingua franca. One in six people speak English, 80% of the world’s computer-stored information is in English, four of the world’s top five largest companies speak English as their primary language, 54 countries claim English as an official language, and 80% of business communications worldwide are in English.

However, ELL classrooms still emphasize British, American, and ‘standard’ Englishes. I propose instructing English as an International Language (EIL) instead. EIL is the concept of English as a global means of communication in numerous dialects, not only the sacred Queen’s English or the mythical ‘standard English’.

Worldwide non-native speakers of English outnumber native speakers three to one. With such an enormous lead on natives, I believe non-standard English variants should have more prominence in the classroom, and not only for statistical reasons. Students needn’t know English only to survive in English speaking countries, but they need it to survive in the world.


“A Half Globe” by Stephan Khun

Connecting classes globally is possible in ways now that weren’t in the past. With technology, bountiful websites and social media, our options are limitless. To implement EIL we must start with ourselves and analyze our teaching philosophies and goals. What do we expect from ELLs? Ought they conjugate past tense verbs in newscaster accents, or should they place communication and problem solving first? What should we stress to students as most important in language learning?

As instructors, we mustn’t fret the small things: news caster pronunciation, phonetic perfection, using the third person singular ‘s’ with 100% accuracy. Most native speakers don’t know the difference between past participles and antecedents, so should we drill and over-empathize such nuances to our ELLs? Is that really authentic?

Exposing ELLs to EIL benefits the students both academically and civically. Bringing classrooms together over international borders exposes students to new cultures, lifestyles and world viewpoints, building empathy and broadened global perspectives.

EIL exposure causes a learner-ego boost, with the realization that native-like English is not our goal. Students should observe that people around the world speak Englishes that don’t necessarily sound like ‘standard’ English. This simple realization may encourage shy, unconfident ELLs to speak out rather than fall behind in oral skill development due to a misplaced sense of discontent.

The last, most pressing reason for EIL implementation comes from a result of the world shrinking, technology bringing the population closer together, and our world’s major threats growing bigger and more worrisome: climate change, mass poverty, terrorism, and nuclear weapons. The need for teachers to foster an effective, broad minded, empathetic generation is more important than ever. Communication skills are crucial for a brighter future.

I encourage instructors to explore two websites: elllo.org and ePals.com. Both serve as excellent for pulling examples of EIL and connecting classrooms globally, culturally and linguistically.

For a full webinar of ePals :  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fuAvJSZd7o&index=2&list=PLNzpshBBvP_BzuD28IHWQmNYJ41jWvG0R)

List of One Minute Videos of EIL speakers: (http://www.elllo.org/video/V1201.htm)


Author Bio

Charla New is currently a graduate student at the Arkansas Tech University English Language Institute. There she has taught level 2 Speaking, Listening and Reading. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and ESL education and currently peruses an MA in TESOL to graduate December. Having studied abroad in Central America multiple times, she holds a passion for Spanish, language learning, and cultural exchange.




On Writing and Being a New Doctoral Student

Choose the best word to complete the sentence.

Writing is a __________ act. (challenging, frustrating, rewarding, freeing).

Starting this blog post with a trick question. Truth is that at any given time this year, any of the words in parentheses could have described how I felt about writing and why it matters in my life. And while this year I have written very little on this blog, the fact that I finally began my doctoral studies has led me to examine many of my insecurities about writing and learn a lot about myself. If I hadn’t cared about about having a list of present participle adjectives in my gap fill sentence at the beginning of this post (hint to mild ODC here!), I would have also added an option reflecting what perhaps many of you know already but is worth saying: writing and embracing learning is certainly all about self-discovery. And it can get ugly sometimes when our perfectionism and insecurities come pay a visit. I know it has for me, so here I am. Sharing as a form of curing and attending to those unwelcome visitors.


Being a new doctoral student feels like…

… I am welcomed to join a conversation that has been going on a while at a fancy party. I am attending the party in order to bring back ideas and contribute to day-to-day activities, and sometimes I do not know how formal or informal I should dress. Also, at this party, sometimes it is assumed that I would know what people who are not at the party have said, so I have to keep asking someone or finding out what was said before so I can stay in the loop. When I do join, I am not sure if what I am saying goes in line with the ongoing discourse, of I am allowed to make a new point. The best thing that has happened to me is meeting people who have been at the party a little longer and are willing to guide. Talking with other newcomers who are also at the party helps when we are trying to figure out what is happening around us.


Organizing thoughts and coming up with tricks to make writing work looked like this recently.

Some questions I have had:

How does a theoretical framework become strong? What’s the difference between a theoretical framework and a model? And a construct? Oh, and it is very easy for me to get distracted by subtle differences between words. Part of this learning process involves paying even more attention to nuances between different words in order to make sure I am really saying what I mean.

But most importantly, I wonder, what can I do to make sure all this fancy talk at the party translates into the kind of daily  chatter that influences how learning takes place at our schools?


Learning, writing, and accessibility

I wish that for every paper I write, I would also write a two-page summarized version that could be appealing to any teacher. I will never forget when, in a great course offered by iTDi, Stephen Krashen brought up the need to make research and academic work accessible to everyone. And expensive papers and journals plus lengthy papers are definitely not something we have the time or money to afford in our already busy teacher lives. In his class, anything we wrote could not be longer than two pages. While it would be really difficult to make this work in our academic world, I would like to try always writing a shorter and more accessible version of what I write in any of my classes.

Acknowledging tensions and bridging the gap between teaching and research is at the heart of it all, and this quote, taken from a book by two of those party-goers I got to (figuratively) meet earlier this year, paints a good picture of the gap.

“In any applied discipline there is an inbuilt tension between the needs of researchers, who are looking to develop robust, precise theory, and the demands of practitioners, who would like to keep that theory sufficiently imprecise to meet the requirements of actual practice in varied environments” (Dörnyei and Ryan, 2015, p.167).


I will continue because…

…by embracing this challenge I grow both personally and professionally.

…researching and writing implicitly addresses self-doubt and frees my ideas while giving them a place to exist.

…there are not enough women doing research, and I want that to change.

…I believe our daily teaching practices become richer if we connect them to a larger world of questioning, looking for evidence, and analyzing the answers to our questions.

So far this year, I have taken three nine-week courses, written six papers, and summarized many articles. If I stay on my current path, I have ten more courses to go before my dissertation work begins. But who’s counting, right? I will say that tracking my work does help me stay motivated when I feel like I am not capable of doing what it takes. I am learning to celebrate these small accomplishments and let them recharge my energy for the road ahead.



Dörnyei, Zoltán; Ryan, Stephen (2015-04-24). The Psychology of the Language Learner Revisited (Second Language Acquisition Research Series) (p. 167). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.







14 Teachers Walk into a TESOL Convention…


Fourteen teachers walk into a TESOL Convention in Baltimore. They listen to keynote speakers who inspire and surprise, go on school visits, revisit an old issue from a new perspective, learn from each other at the Electronic Village (EV), meet old friends, give presentations, make new friends, begin networking, question everything, or meet a teacher whose story has a lot to say about our field.

Three weeks later, the conference is over and they are back from their zombie-mode post-conference blues. They have caught up with grading and everything else (because it’s possible, right?). Now these 14 teachers meet again online to share a thought about their time at #TESOL16, a conference insight, a summary of a session that impacted them. Something about the TESOL Convention that made it memorable.

I have met most of these teachers at TESOL Conventions, in grad school, or my Twitter PLN.  Many of them know each other online as well. It is moving to witness how teachers of ESOL are so willing to share, to reflect, and to engage with one another. These short posts represent some of that collaborative spirit, and I hope you all enjoy learning about #TESOL16 through their words.


Adriana Picoral – On Beliefs

Courtney Elizabeth King – 1st Time TESOL Attendee

Elizabeth Killingbeck – Making Screencasts Work

Jose Torres – Networking

Kevin Berry – Getting My Professional Feet Wet

Kimberley Kreicker – K-12 Perspectives at TESOL

Laura Soracco – EV and Social Responsibility

Matthew Noble – Deconstructing Conferences

Omar Longus – Meeting Saiful

Rob Sheppard –A New Perspective

Shaeley Santiago – Linguistic and Cultural Origins

Victor Tam – Inspired by Andy Curtis

Wilma Luth – Connections

Zhenya Polosatova – Highlights and Learning

Reading One Question at a Time

Teaching reading at any level brings its own unique challenges. Aside from choosing an interesting topic, we have to be concerned with the text complexity, i.e., vocabulary and grammatical structures present in the text. However, teaching intermediate and upper intermediate students brings another challenge: assessing student comprehension and higher-level skills, such as their ability to make inferences and think critically. Students also need help understanding the questions they are being asked, and I have recently begun to focus more on helping students unpack reading questions.

I’d like to share with you an activity that I’ve enjoyed doing in my reading classes since I learned about it at the ORTESOL conference last fall. The presentation was given by two teachers from the American English Institute at the University of Oregon, Karen Ulloa and Amy Griffin.

In this activity, students work in pairs to read and answer questions, one at a time, about a printed text that has been broken up into paragraphs and distributed around the room, e.g., taped on the the walls. The fact that students get questions one at a time is important because this allows them to focus on understanding the question well, and it gives them a chance to receive teacher feedback on each question. Students can also try to work on the question again without just being told the answer, which happens often in reading activities involving the whole class.

Planning this activity begins by selecting the text you would like students to read in class. I find that choosing something that can be broken up unto cohesive paragraphs works best. This is important because you will want students to be able to answer questions from a paragraph that stands on its own. In other words, you don’t want students to have to have read the whole text to be able to answer a question about a particular paragraph.

Here’s an example using text from one of my favorite resources as a teacher, DreamReader. This is a site designed by two teachers in Japan who share free, high-quality, reading materials with questions, vocabulary worksheets, and recorded audio.


  1. There are traditional records for competitions such as weightlifting or the longest time spent playing video games. Guinness World Records used to publish records for smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating but they have stopped because they are afraid that this is unhealthy for people.  Guinness World Records also publishes facts such as the highest paid actor (Johnny Depp), fastest jump rope (Megumi Suzuki), and the smallest country in the world (Sealand).  Many records are also about the youngest person to do something.  There is also a record for the person holds the most records such as Ashrita Furman of New York, who held 100 records in 2009.


Q: List one fact and one opinion found in paragraph 5




For a fifty-minute class with my intermediate level class, I write about 12 questions. Including a brief vocabulary and context warm up activity, these many questions will take up all of the class time.

To make the activity a bit competitive and easier for you to manage, you will want to photocopy each set of 12 questions on different colored paper. So if you have 7 pairs of students, you will need copies of your questions on 7 different types of colored paper. Once you’ve copied them, cut the questions in strips and give one question at a time.



Each pair of students will always get questions printed on paper of the same color. Since students will work at a different speed, keeping questions separated by color is helpful so you don’t end up giving them a question they already answered. In the picture above, you can see how I have all questions divided into two. The top row had questions students had already answered, and the questions on the side hadn’t been given to students yet.

The best part of this activity is that when students come up to you with the answer to their question written on their question strip, you are able to give them specific feedback on whether they got it right or what they are missing. I’ve also noticed that I get more questions from students who might otherwise quietly not understand the reading questions and just copy the answer from a partner. Perhaps this is because they’re asking you about it only in front of their partner as opposed to the whole class.

I’ve only done this activity a few times since last fall, but each time I’ve done it, students have been engaged and have worked well with one another when it comes to discussing the answer to each question. In my current teaching context, this activity also gives students a chance to practice answering questions similar to the ones they will be asked on high-stakes tests, which should make the formative assessment practice more valid.

Let me know if you try this activity in class and how it goes! Also, if you have any questions about the way it’s done, or would like for me to share some materials, send me a message in the comments sections. I’ll be happy to help!






“Native and Non-Native Language Speaker” Labels: A Flawed Dichotomy

Disclaimer:  The use of the terms Native Speaker and Non Native Speaker is broad and one on which there is ample research. This post is very personal (not academic) and does not cite research because it is meant to show my current thoughts and reflection on the matter. I do plan on conducting research on this issue and writing an academic piece in the future, but I wanted to publish this reflection on my blog now for anyone who might be interested in my view on the labels currently used to categorize English language speakers.


Photo by Tom Waterhouse on Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


I am not trying to be politically correct here, but continuous use of the words “native speaker” by professionals in our field needs to stop. We have got to find a more accurate and inclusive way to refer to English language speakers because the native speaker (NS) and non-native speaker (NNS) dichotomy is flawed, and in my view, a disservice to everyone involved in English language learning and teaching.

First of all, why do people often use the labels “native speaker” or “non-native speaker?” I’ve listed some of the common reasons that come to my mind. Feel free to add others in the comment section if you’d like.

  1. To identify English language speakers who are proficient in their language use.
  2. To signal correctness over language use, e.g., identifying accurate language use on whether a “native speaker” would say/pronounce/use X language item in X way.
  3. To clarify when someone has acquired English as an additional language.


So why do I believe these terms should not be used?

One does not need to be a native speaker to be a highly proficient English language user. English is a lingua franca, and the majority of English speakers in the world did not learn English as their first language. In fact, so-called native speakers comprise the minority of English language users around the world. If we want models of proficient speakers, we do not need to consider nationality or language learned at birth –both factors which do not guarantee proficiency anyhow. My own identity as an English speaker can serve as an example here. English and Italian were my first languages. When I was six years old, I spoke both as fluently as any child would. However, I left the US at a young age and did not get a chance to use English often. When I came back to the US at seventeen, I had to take ESL classes and certainly did not fit in the “native speaker” category. Am I a native speaker now? Does it even matter? Personally, I prefer the term multilingual. Calling anyone a non-native speaker signals a lack of something. There is this otherness implied that does not sit well with me. Why define someone’s language skills by what they are not, especially when even being a native speaker can represent so many different language uses?

This brings me to the second point. While often people want to know how a native speaker would say something –assuming this would be the correct language use- many people who learned English as their first language might use varieties of English that are not acceptable in different contexts. Think of regional differences in the way English is used. That inside sensor telling someone that an expression or way to use language “just sounds right” only goes so far if we have a global perspective in mind.

Finally, some may say that the point in using these terms is to clarify when someone learned English later on in life as opposed to learning the language as a child. But I’d like to ask you, why should that matter?

Truly knowing a language involves much more than merely learning how to speak, read or write as a child. As an English teacher, knowing the language involves awareness about the way we acquire language; this is what helps us make better decisions when we plan our lessons. Our passports, skin color, or how we learned the language as children does not have an impact on how well our students learn; however, you would be forgiven for not thinking this if you took a look at ads looking for unqualified English teachers from certain nationalities. This is where inequity and exclusion are most blatant when it comes to the use of NS and NNS labels in our field.

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 11.03.27 AM

Employment ad posted on esltecherrecruitment.com. Retrieved 1/26/16.


Each time we equate the terms native speaker with proficient speaker in an academic setting, we are doing a disservice to English language learners and the many proficient English language teachers who at one point were English language learners themselves.

When I attend an event for English teachers and I continuously hear the presenter referring to NS grammar use vs. ESL grammar use, I have to wonder where I fit in the conversation. What about English teachers who learned English as adults? Where is their “grammar use” represented in this dichotomy?

When students are told they should interview native speakers to practice English or visit a native speaker tutor, there is an implicit message conveyed that proficient non-native speakers will not be as helpful. That is simply incorrect. In fact, a person who speaks English as an additional language might be a great model of a successful language learner for students.

I am aware that these terms will be around for a while. However, I think it is our job to stop using them, to call out discriminatory job ads, and to ask colleagues and others in our field to reconsider their use of these terms. There are so many alternatives, e.g., proficient English language speaker, bilingual, multilingual speaker. How about embracing one that is more accurate and inclusive?

If you are interested in learning more about this subject, I highly recommend checking out TEFL Equity Advocates. On their site, you can find a collection of anti-discriminatory statements shared by both governmental organizations and prominent professional groups in our field.









Embracing Simplicity and Growth

Winter quarter begins in a couple of days, and I currently find myself reviewing notes I took at the end of Fall quarter. Each time the quarter begins, I set specific personal teaching goals and review my most recent teaching experiences. Last year, my goal was to be more organized with all the paperwork and materials I used and developed. Last quarter, my goal was to take less time to grade and give feedback. I’d be lying if I said I’ve accomplished all of my goals without any hiccups along the way, but I’ve learned that the best way to move forward is to do a little each day. Big changes don’t just happen overnight, but having these personal goals gives me hope that eventually my current challenges will all become easier to deal with.

The biggest lesson I learned last quarter was to focus on what I can do and to be flexible about making curricular changes as the quarter moved along. Fall quarter was challenging because not only did I implement an English composition course I designed over the summer, but I also started teaching at two colleges and had two more classes in addition to the writing course. A few weeks into the term, I found myself questioning everything I had planned for my classes and wondering how my students felt about the class content, the activities we were doing in class, and their assignments. I wanted to get their feedback before it was too late to change the way the course was carrying on.

This is where the big aha! moment took place. Based on an activity to gather student feedback I once read on Mike Griffin’s excellent (and entertaining) blog, I asked students to tell me anything related to the course that they wished stopped, kept happening, or wanted to see happen. I got student feedback on colorful papers: green for “keep doing”, yellow for “consider stopping”, and red for “stop doing”.

Reading through my students’ incredibly useful feedback, I confirmed many of my own observations and made immediate changes to the program. I also realized that sometimes I was being too hard on myself. The ego plays dirty tricks like that. Not all learning is about us, and my students were enjoying the subjects and learning in spite of my worries.

The most obvious of all student feedback came through comments telling me to slow down. To try to cover less and manage time better. And I’ll admit it. I struggled teaching 50-minute class periods after coming from having the same group of students for almost 4 hours every day. My takeaway? Less is more. I started planning fewer exercises and class activities but allowing students more time to delve deeper into their class work. This quarter, I plan to focus on what is truly essential in terms of learning. There always seems to be too many objectives to cover with the time we get in Intensive English programs, but “covering” language points and skills is not the kind of teaching that conduces to learning. Having a chance to explore, ask questions, and revisit language does promote learning.

While the perfectionist in me also constantly needs to be reminded to be kinder and forgive myself for making mistakes, I know that growth comes from being persistent, not beating yourself up, and revising what you’ve done. This time, as I finish planning the initial stages of my course, I am adding fewer assignments than I would normally incorporate. I will assume my students need more time and plan extension activities for class tasks instead of brand new tasks. I will continue to get their feedback as the course moves along, and I’ll make changes as needed.

Slowing down when there is so much to do is hard, but in the end, learning is more about having an opportunity to practice and less about “getting through” class content.

Wish me luck!

Grassroots language technology: Glenys Hanson, esl-exos.info

Although I had not heard about “grassroots language technology”, I found this interview of Glenys Hanson inspiring. Read more to find out about her views on EdTech in ELT and get some of her recommendations.

EFL Notes

“Grassroots entrepreneurship” was listed as one of four characteristics that ELTJam says1 one can use to understand the current so called ed-tech movement and/or revolution. The others being money, disruption, polarisation/controversy.

Amongst the examples they gave of such entrepreneurship initiatives was Marie Goodwin2, a teacher who wanted a platform to help kids with reading3. The grassroots language technology series is trying to show that many teachers are doing similar, probably much smaller and mostly non-commercial, projects.

Our next person in the series is Glenys Hanson, @GlenysHanson, who I first met on an online pronunciation course. Many thanks to Glenys for sharing her experiences.

1. Can you share a bit about your background?

Glenys: I’m from Wales but I’ve been living in France for nearly 50 years. I was an English as a foreign language teacher at the Centre de linguistique appliqué, Université de Franche-Comté…

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Reflections on a Sessions at TESOL 15 (Pt. 1): Grammar and Writing

This will be the first of three blog posts on sessions I attended at the TESOL convention in Toronto last month. While this first session focuses on grammar and writing, the next two will talk about linguistic heritage and the use of story telling in language learning.

Each time I attend TESOL or other ELT conferences, I like to go to a session addressing a specific issue I may be dealing with in class. I have been teaching beginners since last September. Hoping to get some guidance in writing at this level, I attended a session titled, “The Grammar You Need for Academic Writing”. While I believe it is a bit of a stretch to think of beginning English writing as academic writing, the session promised to demonstrate how ELLs could learn fundamental grammar structures applied to writing through the use of a grammar card created (and sold) by the presenters. I often shy away from exhibitor sessions, but seeing that there were no major publishers behind the grammar card mentioned before, I decided to attend and learn what it was about.

Screenshot 2015-04-06 08.19.37

I often find myself looking for simple ways to teach sentence structure, but being uncertain about how much is too much meta language or how explicit the grammar instruction should be. While I believe in following a more inductive approach to grammar (and providing lots of meaningful language), I know many learners like to have charts or visual aids with rules or tips.

The presenters of this session, Eileen Cotter and Henry Caballero, started out by giving us a free foldable laminated card titled “Building Sentences”. The chart comes with a free workbook that anyone can download at www.grammaryouneed.com, and I encourage you all to check it out and see if your students could benefit from doing some of those exercises. The chart itself is quite affordable compared to many ELT materials out there, and I would say that it’s design should make it durable.

The “Building Sentences” card includes explanations on parts of speech with examples for each category, an illustration on sentence formation highlighting those parts of speech, some explanations related to the mechanics of writing, and examples related to clauses and question formation. There is a lot being referenced in the foldable chart, but I found the color coding and visuals to be helpful in making it easier to follow. Of course, the ultimate test would be to see if my students found the illustrations easy to reference.

Something that caught my attention earlier on during this session was that the presenters described themselves as faculty at a community college who simply needed more resources aside from their textbooks. I know many of us can relate there. However, a teacher next to the presenters also said that he had stopped using their grammar book and was relying on using the “Building Sentences” as his main resource in class. Now, while I often wish I could follow a content-based class and rely less on sometimes disjoined topics presented by three different textbooks, I am not sure how I would approach a writing class at the beginner level by using exclusively a reference sheet. I imagine we would need lots of personal examples and set topics to explore through reading and listening. But if I were to teach just a writing class, how to do so without a textbook? While this was not something brought forward by the presenters, I did wish the chart or the workbook included topics that conduce themselves well for writing production at the beginners level. Setting an appealing and appropriate topic for my students to write about is a common challenge for me when I design writing assignments.

Some of the suggested uses of the “Building Sentences” card were as a self-check for students after writing an assignments. I can envision students using it to better understand teacher feedback, e.g., “What does the teacher mean by clause?”. The workbook is also a nice addition for explicit practice on grammar issues, but I would like to see some research as to how (or if) this type of practice does transfer to less controlled writing assignments.

If you were to have a grammatical reference chart for writing, how would you use it with your students? What is your approach to learning grammar as it applies to writing?

Assessing Listening and Speaking Online

I like to assign homework for students to practice their listening and speaking skills, but it is not always easy to track whether they completed the assignment. Most of the time I teach more than 10 students, and finding ways to assess everyone’s listening and speaking skills in class is not easy since it’s time consuming, and very hard to hear everyone during the limited time we have. Online tools, such as Voice Thread and EdPuzzle, can help us track student progress, foster interaction, and provide additional practice.

If you haven’t tried Voice Thread or EdPuzzle, I recommend you open an account and watch a few of the introductory videos. Both of these sites are quite intuitive, but one recommendation I have is that you always plan a detailed training session for your students. As much as some of us in EAP (or other areas of ELT) would like to think of our students as digital natives, training students in how to use online tools can make the process go much better for everyone involved.

Screenshot 2015-03-27 09.52.47

Think about a lesson you’ve taught for which you’d like to ask students to produce a spoken text. It can be a presentation using a specific grammatical structure they’ve been learning in class or new vocabulary. It could even be the students’ introduction at the beginning of the term, which gives you a chance to assess the students’ speaking skills while you get to know them. If you ask students to give presentations using a Power Point or other tool, consider using Voice Thread instead and collect all their Voice Thread links. You could share them with classmates and ask them to comment on specific presentations in lieu of presentations in class. I have a blog where I put the students’ Voice Thread links, but you could also email a document with the links or upload them on your learning management system if your school has one. Depending on your class objectives, you can watch them, comment, and ask students to modify their Voice Thread “slides”.

For listening practice and assessment, I’ve enjoyed using EdPuzzle because it allows you to take any video from YouTube and other online sources and crop just what you need. Listening becomes interactive for students because you can embed comments on videos, add open-ended and multiple choice questions, and even add spoken commentary on different parts (or all) of the video. The best of all is that if you want to, you can easily create a class and track the students’ participation and progress.

If you would like to see some examples of how I’ve used both Voice Thread and EDpuzzle in class, check this Google doc I created for my presentation at the Electronic Village Technology Fair at TESOL in Toronto. If you have any ideas on how to use these tools, please feel free to add them to the final slide of the presentation so others can benefit. Enjoy!

Noticing and Naming

Disclaimer: This post represents my views and not those of my employer. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll notice that this is not my usual tone. However, I’ve been letting many thoughts accumulate in my head over the past few months and this rant was born out of those bottled up reflections. Posting in hopes of engaging in a constructive dialogue for change.

Lately, I have been noticing a strange reoccurrence in my everyday life. About a month ago, a friend was driving behind me, and I noticed that one of her headlights was out. Since then, every day I notice at least a couple cars driving around with a broken headlight. I swear I had never noticed this before. What’s happening then? It can’t possibly be that all of the sudden there are more drivers out there with broken headlights. Can it? Most likely what’s happening is that all of the sudden, a personal experience has made a common occurrence more salient in my every day life. You might be wondering how this relates to teaching, so let me explain in what will be my first rant on this blog, which is also turning 2 years old this month.

Image from blog.unum.co.uk

Image from blog.unum.co.uk

I’m fed-up with teachers of ESOL who teach as a last resort and despise their job or do the minimum amount possible, photocopying old worksheets and reenacting the same lesson plans for the past X amount of years. These are the same folks that are usually complaining about everything the administration does and everything students don’t do. I wish these teachers would finally write their great novel and leave teaching for those who actually enjoy doing it. At the very least, I wish I didn’t encounter coworkers with this mentality as often as I have.

I’m fed-up with the lack of recognition and low wages most ELT teachers make around the world. I’ve heard colleagues say before, “I’m just an ESL teacher” to colleagues in other fields. Why do we belittle our work? It sure doesn’t help create a better work environment, recognition, and pay when many jobs around the world only require teachers to be “native-speakers” and/or white. But what we do matters and we’re the ones in charge of making it so. We don’t “just” teach ESOL. And if we’re in this field because we care about what we do, perhaps it’s time to start standing up for ourselves.

I’m fed-up with comments by fellow “experienced” teachers who seem to think that wanting to try something different is just a naive attitude by a less seasoned teacher. Last October, I remember mentioning to someone that I would love to implement project-based learning in my classroom to deal with what I thought was a very demotivating context in which we use different textbooks for everything we do in class. Her response was, “I remember feeling that way when I started teaching. Things change.” Can’t think of a more condescending way of talking to a colleague. I might have had a bit of an indigestion that day because I’ve been chewing on those words for a while. Experience or age is not what drives our desire to change the world around us, and I believe we start doing that by implementing small changes to our immediate environment. This fellow teacher’s comment has reinforced my desire to flow and be in a constant state of exploration. I will not let years of teaching experience make me turn into a predictable teacher, delivering worksheets and exercises from a book in lieu of spontaneous conversations and lessons based around topics which are relevant to the lives of those in my classroom.

I’m also fed-up with professors in the academia who write or speak from their “radical” pedestal and tell us all how superficial most ELT blogs are, how “the man” is exploiting us by selling us textbooks and training courses for teachers, and how we should just ditch everything, and start a name-calling contest on all the famous ELT professionals out there. How about embracing doable and small ways in which we can make big changes to the way we develop as professionals? How about focusing on ways in which we can subvert the publishing industry and use what they’ve put out there for our advantage? As much as I’d like to see this happen, not all of us can run and create teaching cooperatives and ditch our textbooks tomorrow. How can we work on a less alienating alternative?

I’m fed up with administrators and marketers not listening to teachers or conducting the necessary research before selling courses that will not deliver what has been promised.  If we all know it’s highly unlikely that students can go from knowing zero English to being ready for academic classes in 4 semesters, how did marketing get its way to sell these expectations to students and their parents? We’ve set ourselves to failure by having unrealistic goals from the get go, and then we wonder why our students and teachers are demotivated.

And finally, I’m fed-up with the lack of collaboration and collegiality in my ELT world. I know this sounds judgmental, but honestly, if you are resistant to learning and to change, perhaps teaching is not the place to be for you. How can we motivate our students to learn if we are not motivated to learn from them and make changes to our teaching approach? In my utopic world, teachers would always have a built in space to reflect and discuss what’s happening with their students, share their insights, and grow together professionally. Unfortunately, this is hard to get in face-to-face interactions at workplaces. But why? Is it just me who feels this way?

As I keep noticing all these metaphorical broken headlights each day, I want to now move to action and do something about it. Perhaps some of the drivers I see going around with broken headlights don’t know their light needs to be replaced. Maybe they know it and don’t care. Regardless, I can’t stop each one to tell them. Fortunately, in teaching, I can try a small daily action to help myself and those around me have bright lights and drive along roads that encourage learning. To be precise, in my world this means I commit to speaking my truth, to following my words, and to putting myself in uncomfortable new situations if this means my students, colleagues, and I can grow and  be part of the change and learning environment we wish to see. Sometimes noticing patterns and feeling fed-up is the first step to change. What are you fed-up with?

May 2015 be a great year of change for all of you!

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