This website uses cookies. A cookie is a small piece of code that gives your computer a unique identity, but it does not contain any information that allows us to identify you personally. For more information on how TESOL International Association uses cookies, please read our privacy policy. Most browsers automatically accept cookies, but if you prefer, you can opt out by changing your browser settings.

Affiliate News: February 2010

Affiliate News (October 2009): Report on TESOL Conference and English Language Fellow Program in the USA

by User Not Found | 11/10/2011
Report on TESOL Conference and English Language Fellow Program in the USA

Ubon Sanpatchayapong, President-Elect, Thailand TESOL

This report is on my participation in the 43nd Annual TESOL Convention and Exhibit in Denver, Colorado (March 24-28), and the training I attended at the English Language Fellow Program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC (March 29-April 5). As one of the 18 educator recipients (others were from such countries as Burkina Faso, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Peru, Russia, Senegal, Turkey, and Vietnam) of a travel grant offered by the Office of English Language Programs, Department of State, to attend the events, I aim to highlight sessions of the convention I took part in and the training activities I participated in, as well as the enlightenment I received from this trip. The report starts with a brief background of the grant. Next, I describe the convention venues, orientation, sessions, the training in Washington DC, the visits to international schools and the Center for Language and Education Development (CLED) at Georgetown University, and the tours I had the opportunity to take. I conclude with my personal opinions about this program.

BACKGROUND OF THE GRANT

It was the first time the Office of English Language Programs at the Department of State offered grants to educators from around the globe to attend the TESOL convention and participate in English teacher training. This year, two cohorts received the support. The first program ran from March 16 to March 29, 2009, and the second was scheduled from March 24 to April 6, 2009. The grant covered round-trip airfare to Denver, TESOL membership, convention registration, and per diem for hotel, meals, transportation, and grantees’ medical insurance. The purpose of this sponsorship was to provide the grantees with the opportunity to attend presentations and visit exhibits that would be beneficial for them and their work in their home country. In addition, the grantees could meet professionals in English language education and training from across the world. They would get different ideas about ELT, exchange expertise, and network for future collaboration in research and professional development.

Convention Venue

As a global association for English language teaching professionals, TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc.) has a mission to “develop and maintain professional expertise in ELT and learning for speakers of other languages worldwide” (TESOL Program Book, p. 9). The convention in Denver, entitled Uncharted Mountains, Forging New Pathways, was shaped “according to the impetus and charge of the theme and in response to the leading interests and concerns of all TESOL’s members (Pre-K-12 teachers, instructors of adults, university researchers, and teacher educators, for example)” (p. 2). It consisted of 6 plenaries, 45 feature sessions, more than 45 regular concurrent sessions, and open storytelling and poetry gatherings as well as business and professional development meetings. TESOL has its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. More than 9,500 educators worldwide attended the 2009 convention. Among these participants were approximately 100 TESOL affiliate associations.

Orientation

Before the start of the convention, the program staff from Georgetown University gave us an overview of the TESOL convention and related activities, such as the U.S. Department of State International Networking Exchange and its English Language Fellow Program Networking Event. They familiarized us with the convention venue and sessions. Useful tips for getting the best out of the convention as well as the TESOL planner provided at the orientation proved to be helpful. Likewise, the preregistration helped us make a good plan to choose sessions appropriate for our background knowledge and work.

TESOL CONVENTION IN DENVER: SESSIONS I PARTICIPATED IN

I joined three main sessions: panel of leaders, affiliate events, and concurrent sessions. As a panelist for the Affiliate Colloquium, I gave my views of the status of the ESL profession and professionalism in my context. My talk covered three domains: brief history of ELT in Thailand to give general ideas of theories and practice, the role of my workplace in developing and maintaining professionalism, and the role of Thailand TESOL in professional development, research, and cross-cultural collaborations in ELT.

I sat in on a number of affiliate meetings and workshops (e.g., “Distinguishing TESOL’s Professional Identity,” “TESOL Today: Central Ideas, Critical Issues, Changes in Focus,” and “Getting Started, Getting Published with TESOL Book Publications”) with the aim of exchanging organizational experience and commitment with the committee board and TESOLers. Also, I wanted to understand TESOL’s work and the diverse needs of TESOL’s members including cultural factors that can affect professional understanding and cooperation. Finally, I wanted to know how to get TESOL’s grants and how to write for the association publications.

Because there were a lot of concurrent events, I chose sessions relating to my research project (project-based teaching and learning) and the work I do at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thailand TESOL, and the Office for National Education Standards and Quality Assessment in Thailand. Thus, I attended sessions dealing with the following areas: language and culture, teaching techniques, assessment, training, leadership, second language learning processes, and professionalism in the United States.

Language and Culture

I learned from “ the Power of Stories to Create Community” by Jane Hoelker from Qatar University that using stories based on culture enhances understanding of diverse beliefs and language use. Moreover, these sorts of texts can help reduce misunderstanding and discrimination among people of multicultural backgrounds. Then a colloquium entitled “Uncharted Terrain-Challenges and Changes in the Professional Development Landscape” by four speakers—Richard Boyum from India, Andy Curtis from Chinese University of Hong Kong, Mary Lou McCloskey from Design Educo, U.S., and Suchada Nimmannit from Thailand—addressed the trend of 21st-century ELT. ELT educators and learners need to be alert to the impact of today’s innovations and technologies, such as the Internet, e-learning, and weblogs on English language teaching and learning worldwide. Likewise, this awareness could help educational institutes design syllabi and prepare learners for the changes and future career varieties. Next, one poster session called “Student-Directed Learning Through International Club” was interesting and useful in that it suggested the use of an international students club as a language and cultural learning alternative, through which students could learn English and share knowledge with international counterparts. For example, American culture and occasions such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter could be implemented in the club activities. Excursions to important places in the United States, such as the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, and historic venues, could be included. Then after the trips, students might be assigned to write a report or make an oral presentation to share their experience and knowledge with their class.

Teaching Techniques

I looked forward to attending the session by Prof. Fredricka Stoller because I was familiar with her research. Unfortunately, it was cancelled because it overlapped with the other workshop she took part in. I then visited one poster session on “A Collaborative Project Provides Opportunities for Authentic Communication” by Meredith Kemper and Sara Streiff-Vena from the University of Central Arkansas. The presenters employed their own six steps of project work to enhance the four integrated skills of learning among their international students, who took short courses with them. Students did the project of their choice in pairs (I do a similar project with my students but in groups of three). The two presenters claimed their students were eager to learn because the course was intensive and because they learned that doing the project enhanced authentic communication. Interestingly, they enjoyed the tasks. The end product was an oral presentation. The assessors were teachers and peers. According to the presenters, teachers evaluated each pair’s progress throughout the project, and the teacher’s role was mostly a facilitator, mentor, and assessor, which corresponded with what I found out from my study. Meredith told me that their project was flexible in terms of the length of time at each step. This meant they would provide more time if students needed it, but students had to give them sensible reasons for the change or time extension, which again was similar to my experience.

Next, I visited “Creating Writing Assignments That Encourage Critical Thinking” by Caroline Linse from Queen’s University in Mexico and Aisling O’Boyle of Queen’s University in North Ireland. The presenters used hot issues to motivate students to write. They argued these topics were controversial and therefore challenged students’ ideas and interests. Students in their classes preferred to write on issues they were interested in as well as issues contemporary to their age and lifestyle.

Assessment

I was able to attend a poster session entitled “Developing Detailed Rubric for Oral Presentation Assessment” by Nina Ito and Christopher Mefford from California State University, USA. These speakers suggested that apart from assessing student fluency and accuracy in speaking at the oral presentation, evaluation should address suitable body language, reaction to the audience, and sensible answers to the questions. On top of these, application of media, such as PowerPoint presentation, video clips, and animation, could be counted.

Training

I attended “Providing Basic Training for Novice, Volunteer ESL/EFL Teachers” by Lynn Henrichsen from Brigham Young University, U.S., because I wished to apply the idea from this session to the training we might give to our novice teachers at my Faculty and to new volunteers for Thailand TESOL. Lynn said that new teachers could learn teaching professionals from experienced and successful teachers. They should always improve their teaching by doing what worked well with their students. They could also learn from their colleagues (e.g., sharing the ideas, teaching tools, and techniques). Success in this career is also based on individual enthusiasm to learn more and be alert to new things and the changing world. It would be useful and encouraging to novice teachers in an institute that accepted them if that institute could give them an orientation and training before they started work.

Leadership

“Leadership in Challenging Times” was a colloquium run by five speakers: Denise Murray from Macquarie University, Australia, MaryAnn Christison from the University of Utah, Neil Anderson from Brigham Young University, U.S., David Nunan from the University of Hong Kong, and Kathi Bailey from Monterey Institute of International Studies, U.S. These legendary professors mainly discussed changes in the world that affected leaders of many fields, including the field of education. The changes mentioned included modern technologies, politics, and the lack of professionals in the area of ELT. On the grounds of these phenomena, leaders in education have to understand the changes in order to be able to adjust themselves, their teaching approaches, and their research. In addition, they have to work collaboratively with others in the field to keep pace with the changing world. Through these attempts, they will be able to improve their professions and contribute to world ELT. Hence, leaders have to be alert, enthusiastic, far-sighted, and well-planned to “maintain professional expertise in English language teaching and learning to speakers of other languages worldwide” (TESOL Program Book, p. 9).

Second Language Learning Process

Janet Zadina’s (University of South Florida, USA) “Language Learning and the Brain: Creating New Pathways” was a plenary session. It focused mainly on the speaker’s research findings about how part of the brain, related to learning of the mother tongue and second language, worked. Dr. Janet presented very interesting illustrations of the brain, the functions and reactions of each part, highlighting the human ability to acquire languages.

Professionalism in the United States

I learned about the situation of teaching as a career in the United States from a forum called “Big Steps and Small Steps: Making Progress on Employment Issues” run by Carmen R. Roman-Murray from City College of San Francisco. She was accompanied by three other speakers who were once unemployed. The speakers shared their experiences as “the unemployed” and how they struggled to get help from communities and the government. One successful way they suggested was to get together to make their voices heard by the government. They also recommended joining an organization to create a stronger force. At this forum, I gave out my dean’s business cards to a number of interested teachers regarding a job at my university.

WASHINGTON, DC: AT THE TRAINING

This part is divided into two sections: the workshops and the visits to an association, five schools, and a center at Georgetown University.

The Workshops

After the orientation for cohort two in Washington, DC, Dr. Alison Mackey from Georgetown University gave us a talk about “Research on SLA (Second Language Acquisition) and Bilingualism for Language Teachers: Addressing Myths and Misconceptions About Children’s Second Language Learning.” Alison said that it was beneficial for a person to speak a second language because it can help him or her to communicate with a lot more people efficiently. Communication builds up a person’s confidence in speaking and understanding interlocutors’ multicultural backgrounds. In terms of learners, a number of myths have misguided the area of second language learning. For instance, many think that learners who start learning a second language at a very young age will be more successful than those who study the language when they are older. In Alison’s opinion and from her own studies, she found that an older learner could be as successful if he or she had high motivation, determination, an opportunity to use the language, and the need to communicate. Another example was the myth of a child’s confusion when he or she got exposed to a bilingual environment. Some adults were afraid children would not be able to distinguish one language from the other. In fact, children’s language acquisition is amazing because they can easily shift from one language to the other if they have to respond to each. Alison pointed out some bilingual families allowed their children to watch a lot of TV hoping that their kids would learn the language from TV programs. On the basis of her research, Alison argued this was not absolutely true. Children, however, could learn a second language or even their mother tongue while listening and talking with their siblings.

Alison said that a positive attitude toward every language was constructive ground to be a good language teacher. She believed that classroom language teaching could be a success if a teacher implemented motivating texts contemporary to the learners’ age and lifestyle. Teachers have to prepare lessons according to students’ need and career path. Therefore, a language classroom should be fun, motivating, and challenging. Games, songs, and colorful pictures could be used to encourage students to learn and to have fun.

On March 31, four professors gave us a lot of interesting information about teacher education in TESOL. First, Prof. Brock Brady, director of American University’s TESOL Program and president-elect of TESOL, gave us details of courses at American University. Then, Dr. Jorge Osterling from George Mason University provided us with a lot of information about American society, which he said was genuinely international because Americans migrated from all parts of the world. According to Dr. Jorge, English used in the United States is considered a national language, but it is not an official tongue in all states. Interestingly enough, statistically 96 percent of Americans speak good English. To Dr. Jorge, ELT also involved politics. Next, Dr. Jeffrey Connor-Linton showcased applied linguistic courses and research in this field at Georgetown University. Last, Dr. Melinda Martin-Beltran from University of Maryland at College Park provided us with information on English language studies, how to prepare for it, the labor market, and the influence of modern communication and technologies.

On April 1, Dr. Sandra Gutierrez presented a teaching theory called sheltered instruction observation protocol (SIOP) developed and used by researchers at the Center of Applied Linguistics (CAL) at the University of Maryland. This approach aims to maximize teaching all subjects. There are eight steps: preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery, and review/assessment. This teaching principle required two teachers to coteach each class.

Program and School Site Visits

After the workshops, we went to two different sites: an association and the international schools to observe real situations based on each workshop we attended. The first place was the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in Alexandria, Virginia. It is a nonprofit association established in 1943 to give services to ELT educators through seminars, conferences, and trainings. The ASCD issues two newsletters annually. Apart from these, books on academics, research articles, teaching tips, and more are produced there. According to the information on its Web site, the association has 175,000 members in 119 countries. Interested teachers may get more information atwww.ascd.org.

The first international school visited was the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School. It is a school for adult learners opened in 1970. The school was named after its founder, Mr. Carlos Rosario, who is Spanish American. The purpose of this school is to serve the needs of its community, where Spanish is the first language for the majority of the students in the school. These students are learning English as their second language to increase their possibilities of success in the United States. It is called a charter school because it receives public funding. However, the school has flexibility in implementing curriculum and policies based on its own founding charter, rather than strictly based on curriculum created by the government. Thus, the school is able to provide education not provided by the traditional public school system. Students’ ages range from 20 to 80 years old. They may be housewives or working people. Whatever job students want to do in this community—cook, a computer support specialist, or a nurse or nursing assistant—there are courses tailored for them. In one class, three teachers—two professionals and one assistant—take care of approximately 25 students. No school fees are charged because the government supports the community’s well-being and quality of life.

As visitor educators, we were sent in pairs by Georgetown University staff to visit two classes before noon. At the reflection, each pair gave feedback to the school principal and teachers and listened to their answers and explanations.

The second international school was the Lab School of Washington, which is a private day school for students with learning disabilities and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “More than 80% of these exceptional students are funded by the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia” (Smith, 2003, p. xi). The school was set up in 1967. It applies integrated arts and academic club method to be central to the curriculum to “heighten students’ sensitivity and awareness” (p. xi). Integrated arts and the academic club method are “a way of teaching and learning history, geography, civics, science, archaeology, and literature through the use of all the arts forms.” The Lab School of Washington provides education from elementary grades to K-12.

Francis Scott Key Elementary School was third. According to the school leaflet, most students are American and Spanish (45-46%). The rest are Asians and Africans. I found out from the meeting with the school principal that the parents’ association is very strong. At this site, parents are involved in syllabus design and school activities, and they also provide the school with financial support.

The next visit was to a bilingual school called Oyster-Adams Elementary School. Five school student leaders led four groups of us to different classrooms, where students were studying math, science, physical education, arts, and English. At the time we visited the school, they were preparing for a fund-raising event at which students’ works are sold to the parents through an auction.

Sugarland Elementary School was the last international school we observed. This school employs the SIOP model in all classrooms as well as its working system. We observed classes and shared experiences among the cohort and with the school staff and parents. This school, like the rest of the schools we visited, was neat, clean and well-organized. Also, their security system was tight and serious.

At CLED, we formed a group of three to observe two classes. In the first classroom students were taking an advanced course named Academic Communication Skills. This course focused on speaking. When we observed this class, students were doing a leading discussion. The discussion lasted 15 minutes. We were informed that most students had presented their topic. Therefore, only two took their turns in this period. I am going to quote one student’s discussion topic, which was “Eating Dog Meat,” as a sample leading discussion. First, the student wrote four questions on the board:

1. Is it culturally accepted in your country to eat dog meat?

2. Are you against dog meat as food? Would you eat it?

3. Do you think it should be prohibited to eat dog meat all over the world?

4. Some people think eating dogs is similar to cannibalism; what do you think?

Next, he asked each friend (seven of them) for opinions and in the end, he expressed his own.

The second class my group observed was a course for low-intermediate entrepreneurs. The teacher used a commercial text in class and got students involved in summarizing, note-taking, and discussion. Then the teacher explained some points such as grammatical rules and pronunciations to correct students’ mistakes. Teacher also gave students more examples on the use of vocabulary and English expressions to make students understand. Most of the mistakes were in the area of spelling, the use of prepositions, pronunciation, and tense. These mistakes are also common in my class.

Another very memorable time was a visit to Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Michelle Rhee is a great supporter of changes and school development.

When we visited theBureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, we got a lot more information from the English Language Fellow Program on how to write for the forum, contact the program, and join their projects.

In addition to the educational tours, we also had the opportunity to visit several historic monuments and buildings. On April 4 and 5 we visited many sites, including the White House and the Lincoln and Vietnam War Memorials, and observed the cherry blossom events. We also attended the National Theatre to watch Chicago, the musical.

OPINIONS ABOUT THIS PROGRAM

I gained a lot from this program. First, I now have a lot more friends, with whom I can network regarding conducting research and holding seminars and conferences. I can also visit their institutes to exchange expertise and offer assistance. Second, I got diverse perspectives in a broad variety of issues: knowledge in language and culture, teaching techniques, assessment, training for novice teachers, leadership, second language learning processes, and professionalism. At the training, I learned about SLA and its myths, which made me confident in the second language teaching I have been doing, in that I could apply theory into practice in my context, and that each language is unique. As a language teacher, I have to be aware of the language’s culture and myths to avoid misunderstanding. Third, I learned from each school I visited how significant a syllabus design was to make language teaching and learning a potential tool to disseminate knowledge to develop learners’ learning skills and intellectual productivity. Fourth, I felt that SIOP was interesting and applicable to international schools in Thailand. As an assessor, I may be able to suggest it to those schools I will evaluate in the future so that they will have something new and useful to try or conduct research on. Last but not least was the enlightenment I got from trips to different places and the theater. I enjoyed them, and I was happy and relaxed when leaving the United States.

However, there is one thing that I want to suggest for the future. Based on my experience, it would be very useful if cohorts could get opinions, presentations, and discussions that are presented on papers posted on an electronic discussion board. These ideas and some summaries of the workshops are very useful to our work because they varied and are very inspiring. I am sure a lot of critical thinking was reflected in those events, and a historical record of them would remind us of valuable points of view to make use of in our teaching and learning as professionals.

To me, this program was a great success. Each schedule was well-prepared and organized. I gained international experience through the discussions with my friends in this cohort; I exchanged ideas and even family stories with them as well as learned about their interesting cultures. The health insurance provided for all of us was very thoughtful. It made me feel secure and happy, and I owe a lot of people my sincere thanks and appreciation. Thus, first and foremost, I want to thank the Department of State and RELO in Thailand, and especially John Scacco and Nina Logsdon at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, for their help and support. I am deeply appreciative that both John and Nina took time out of their busy schedules to help me contact the Department of State and Thomas Bryan and to give me kind advice about accommodation and transportation and contact people in Denver and Washington, DC. Thank you so much everybody in those two places for everything.

My special thanks go to all the guest speakers and schools who joined this project to give us talks and inspiration. I feel grateful to you for giving me knowledge and a better understanding of international school systems and American education values. All of you have my profound respect and admiration.

I want to thank my friends in cohort two, who gave me support and ideas. I feel very fortunate to have met all of you, to have shared the time and expertise with you, and to have your kind friendship.

To all of you who have worked on the program’s academic component and logistics, I am profoundly grateful for the welcoming session, advice, orientation, and your companionship and assistance. Without the great spirit of hospitality, we would not have gained what we have had today; neither would we have felt safe and happy throughout the training and the stay in the United States.

Tommy, I owe you immeasurable thanks for your efforts to help us, be with us, and share with us your own precious time, and, on the last day, for kindly seeing us off at the airport. Thanks so much for everything, for which I am still indebted to you.

REFERENCES

English Language Fellow Program. (2009). Exchanges. Retrieved April 12, 2009, fromwww.state.gov/education/engteaching/fellows

Smith, L. S. (2003). The power of the arts. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks.

TESOL Program Book. (2009). Uncharted Mountains, Forging New Pathways. The 43nd Annual TESOL Convention and Exhibit, March 26-28, 2009, Denver, Colorado.