Volume 28:1 (March 2009)

by User Not Found | 10/25/2011
In This Issue...
  • Articles
    • Developing Listening Skills in the Language Classroom: A Progressive, Holistic Approach to a Technology-Based Curriculum
  • Reviews
    • Discovering Fiction: An Introduction
    • Book Review of Taking Off: Beginning English
  • News From EFL Settings
    • Reading Skills of Arab Language Learners: Reflections from an EFL Classroom
  • Computer Technology
    • What If Technology Fails?
  • Community College Concerns
    • Aprender Haciendo – Learn by Doing
  • Member Stories
    • Clara Lara Terrero
  • Announcements and Information
    • TESOL Strategic Plan
    • Position Statement on Academic and Degree-Granting Credit for ESOL Courses
  • About This Community
    • TESOL ESL in Higher Education Interest Section
    • Call for Submissions
    • Call for Book Review Submissions
    • Call for Computer Technology Submissions

Articles Developing Listening Skills in the Language Classroom: A Progressive, Holistic Approach to a Technology-Based Curriculum

Heather Torrie, heather.torrie@gmail.com, and Michelle Fiorito, michfiorito@yahoo.com

At a time when technology and computer-assisted language learning (CALL) curricula are mainstream in the ESL/EFL classroom, it is increasingly important to ensure that lab time and integration of media and technology are utilized purposefully and effectively to develop academic language skills, and not simply as a parking lot for students. Bearing this in mind, to facilitate language acquisition in a CALL-based curriculum, there must be principles and criteria that guide the development and decision making of activities and assignments (Larsen-Freeman, 2000).

In this article, we outline several task-based activities that contextualize our criteria and principles for developing listening skills, and that can be adapted to courses in other skill areas as well. They are well-structured, utilize technology and media, typically involve pair or group work, and include concrete tasks that engage students in meaningful communication. To contextualize these principles, we have outlined several task-based activities, or workplans designed to further the development of language skills (Breen 1987).  Many of our workplans integrate the use of online discussion board and chat features provided by Course Management Systems (CMS), such as Blackboard or Moodle.  Alternatives to a CMS are email providers, blogging websites and other online discussion boards.

Below we describe five different technology-based activities.

1. Student-Led CALL Activities
Though there are a multitude of student-led activities, one that we have found successful is where students play the role of teacher, delivering a fully controlled 30-minute lesson for their peers. They access authentic media and online material, develop pre/post-listening questions, and lead a class discussion. Such activities enable and teach students to think critically about content in order to build and deliver a communicative “lesson,” while allowing them to focus on material that can be related to their discipline or in which they are interested. We suggest this activity first be modeled by the instructor so students have a reference when tasked with their own lesson to create and facilitate.

• Media-Based Student-Led Presentation: Student pairs sign up for presentation dates, and in a lab use the Internet to find a 4- to 6-minute audio or audio/video passage, which can be a video clip or simply audio. Prior to their presentation, they create a mini-quiz, based on the listening passage, that consists of five to seven questions (main idea, detail, and critical thinking) and bring copies of their quiz to class for their peers. On presentation day, students lead a 30-minute activity with prelistening questions to get peers thinking about their topic. They then play their passage to listen for main ideas, encourage note-taking, distribute their mini-quiz, and assign partners to collaboratively answer questions. Students replay the passage if peers are unable to answer questions and, finally, review answers aloud to ensure comprehension, calling on peers to share answers. Typically, thoughtful discussions related to video content naturally transpire, and students gain a sense of ownership for their quiz questions and their chosen topic.

As an example, one successful activity our students did was on the topic of dating. Two students showed a video clip found on YouTube entitled “First Date – How to Avoid the Conversation Dead Zone” (http://www.buzzle.com/articles/first-date-how-to-avoid-the-conversation-dead-zone-video.html). After a prelistening discussion on dating, students passed out a quiz with questions such as “At the beginning of the video, what questions do the emcees talk about?”, “What’s the most important thing you should keep in mind when you are dating?”, and “From the video, do you think the emcees are very experienced in dating? Why or why not?”

For a simpler variation, students can simultaneously create and post to Blackboard selected listening activities for each other to complete, which can be done during lab time. This allows them to apply their creativity and interests in helping one another learn during class.

• Multithreaded Media-Based In-Class Listening Activity: During lab time, students are assigned a time limit to find a short listening passage on the Internet and create a set of questions about the content, including critical thinking, inference, and details. They post the title of their passage, the URL, and their questions to the CMS discussion board. The remainder of lab time is spent completing assignments created by peers, and as a final step, checking peers’ answers and responding with feedback on correctness gives this activity a full sense of student ownership.

2. Media-Based Summary and Reaction Activities
An effective media-based activity to develop students’ ability to summarize, synthesize, and think critically involves listening to a short passage from the Internet, such as a current news event, short documentary, science/research report, or interview, followed by producing a written or orally recorded summary and personal reaction.

The benefits of using media and the Internet to find listening passages are that the material is current, is authentic, models natural behavior of the modern generation (e.g., watching online videos), and is chosen by students on topics in which they have an interest, all of which increases motivation and interest level.

• Written Summary and Reaction to Online Content: Students listen to an assigned or self-selected passage from the Internet and after multiple listenings and note-takings on passage content, create a written passage or oral recording. For example, students could write or record two paragraphs: a summary paragraph of the passage content that must include only main ideas (to develop the ability to distinguish between main and detailed ideas) and source information (to develop in-text-citations skills/knowledge), and a reaction paragraph stating their overall reaction to the ideas, describing how the content relates to their background knowledge/experience with supporting examples, and concluding remarks.

An optional “add-on” activity is to use audio or written summary/reactions in subsequent activities. For example, students could summarize different passages on the same topic each week, and write a reaction paragraph or give a presentation synthesizing thematic similarities, contrasts, or interesting aspects across passages.

3. Media-Based Research Activities
Structured media-based research projects enable students to perform extensive research while increasing motivation through utilization of the Internet. The degree of structure can vary, depending on the level and time constraints; for instance, topics could be assigned or self-selected. Some topics that have worked well in our ESL classes include the life of an author or well-known politician, factors leading to animal extinction, and social or government ideologies.

• Interactive Online Research Project: In pairs or individually, students use the Internet to research their topic on Web sites containing listening passages and video content. They take notes based on a guideline sheet provided by the instructor. The guidelines for what to listen for can vary from very strict to more open. If working with a partner, students then compare and discuss their notes and synthesize key information. The final step is to prepare a presentation of the highlights. This can be a brief or more developed PowerPoint presentation.

If you want to take the activity one step further, the research presentations can be videotaped and used in subsequent tasks. For instance, presentation videos can be uploaded onto Blackboard. This allows students to view each other’s videos and write questions to ask the original speaker, or develop quiz questions for other students to answer based on the presentation content. Alternatively, students can write a written summary of the presentation and post it to the discussion board.

4. Online Chat Activities
Worksheets with guided listening activities can provide structure to lab sessions. In its simplest form, a listening worksheet might include the URL for a listening passage and a set of questions to answer, and can become more communicative and interactive if students use chat rooms to discuss their answers; using online chat is often more engaging than simply doing a worksheet and comparing answers with a partner.

Though several options are available for chat programs, one that allows the instructor to be inside each chat room in order to monitor student conversations is most effective. Most CMSs offer chat features; other options include iChat, Google Talk, and Yahoo Messenger.

Structured Listening Activity Using Online Chat: For this activity, the instructor creates a worksheet for students to complete (including listening URL links and questions) and uploads it to Blackboard for students to access. Next, one chat room is created for every two to three students, and they log into this room to discuss answers and complete worksheets. Instructors should enter the chat rooms to monitor student conversations and ensure they are on task, such as making suggestions to refocus students or comment on grammar and vocabulary use.

5. Media-Based Transcription Activities
Requiring students to listen to and transcribe what they hear helps them listen for details, but can be a tedious process. However, using media from the Internet (such as youtube.com) can make this activity more engaging.

• Transcribing Online Listening Material: After listening once for main ideas, students listen again and transcribe the entire passage word-for-word. They can compare their transcription with a partner, and finally with the original transcript, if available on Web sites. Students can analyze their transcripts by finding new vocabulary words or writing a personal reaction describing the difficulty of the listening passage.

A well-designed CALL curriculum to develop L2 listening skills is often overlooked in language learning. Presumably, this pedagogical gap tends to occur because of the strong emphasis many academic institutions and language instructors place on the development of language skills that are considered more productive (e.g., writing and speaking).

However, the CALL-based activities suggested in this article not only are structured and sequenced to promote interaction with media, technology, and peers, all of which increase student motivation and interest, but also engage students in tasks that require them to utilize, and therefore develop,productive and receptive skills. Thus, we believe such activities reflect a progressive yet holistic approach to the development of listening skills as well as all critical thinking skills, as they are performed in a technology-based environment and embedded in meaningful and communicative contexts.


Breen, M. (1987). Learner contributions to task design. In C. Candlin & D. Murphy (Eds.), Language learning tasks (pp. 23-46). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Michelle Fiorito is teaching academic EFL/ESL in Winter & Spring 2009 at Universität Ulm and Universität Stuttgart, and has been an instructor at Purdue University Calumet’s IELP since the program began in 2007. She has also taught English for academic purposes at Truman College/City Colleges of Chicago, Roosevelt University, and University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research interests include integration of media and technology in the language classroom, theoretical linguistics, and cultural studies.

Heather Torrie currently teaches academic listening and speaking in the English Language Program at Purdue University Calumet. Before that, she taught English listening, speaking, and grammar at Brigham Young University. Her professional interests include skill integration, computer-assisted language learning, and program evaluation.

Reviews Discovering Fiction: An Introduction

Ethan Joella, ejoella@alb.edu

Kay, Judith and Rosemary Gelshenen (2008).  Discovering Fiction: An Introduction.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

For college ESL instructors who are fans of Discovering Fiction 1 and Discovering Fiction 2, another outstanding Discovering Fiction text joins the family.Discovering Fiction: An Introduction is a perfect reader for a summer remedial ESL program or a lower-level ESL semester reading and writing course.  For those not familiar with the Discovering Fiction reading series, this is the ideal text to serve as a sample of what these readers can do.

Discovering Fiction: An Introduction, much like its sister texts, gives pre-intermediate students the opportunity to experience American culture and become acquainted with classic North American authors such as Twain, Crane, Poe, and Hawthorne. All the books in this series cover one adapted or simplified short story per chapter, accompanied by pre-reading activities, comprehension exercises, and writing topics. Each chapter also focuses on a specific ESL grammar trouble spot, a literary term (such as plot, conflict, and theme), and an explanation of idioms and expressions found within the story.

The text is also divided into four units with each unit consisting of three chapters that comprise a specific thematic unit:  1. Making Choices; 2. The Role of Fate; 3. Mystery and Fantasy; and 4. Close Relationships. All the stories in each unit relate to the theme of that unit, and at the end of each unit there is a unit review section that focuses on grammar and vocabulary review. There are also comprehension review exercises. 

Some examples of stories covered in this text include  “One Thousand Dollars” by O. Henry, “The Pace of Youth” by Stephen Crane, “The Mask of the Red Death” by Edgar Allen Poe, and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Through these adapted stories, instructors have the benefit of exposing pre-intermediate students to these authors in a more simplified writing style.

The Discovering Fiction series is a high-quality series that gives instructors and students a superb opportunity to practice a wealth of language skills (reading, writing, grammar, discussion and idiom practice) while still covering classic North American writers.  Discovering Fiction: An Introduction is a welcome addition to this family, and it adheres to the high quality seen in the earlier texts.  It is obvious that Kay and Gelshenen have razor sharp insight their target students and their subject matter.

Ethan Joella is assistant professor and director of ESL at Albright College in Reading, PA.  He holds several graduate degrees including a MA in Writing, a MFA in Creative Writing, and a MS in psychology.  



Book Review of Taking Off: Beginning English

Catherine Johnston, cjohnston@clark.edu

Fesler, S. H., & Newman, C. M. (2008). Taking off: Beginning English (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Though there are numerous texts useful for teaching beginning ESL at higher education institutions, it is not usual to rely on just one source. Adding self-crafted phonics coverage to a picture dictionary curriculum, layering grammar points onto life skills, and supplementing a multiskills text with the required learning standards material and EL/civics themes are common practices at this level. However, Taking Off: Beginning English has solid potential as a core text in need of only minimal supplementation, particularly if used with its literacy workbook counterpart. It has many teacher-friendly features and pedagogically sound content, but it stands out because of its accommodation of literacy students, inclusion of EL/civics content, and standards-based material.

Consisting of a dozen 16-page units (plus review sections after every three units), Taking Off has an international, age-diverse cast of characters to guide adult students, and perhaps slightly younger ones as well, through introductory matters such as using and responding to classroom commands, describing physical appearance, and completing medical forms. It uses graphic organizers, grammar charts, and other visual aids thoroughly; the plentiful illustrations and photographs would probably make supplementation with a picture dictionary obsolete.

Among the text’s most attractive teacher-friendly features are its numerous appendices. Consulting these appendices would help teachers plan and organize their courses. There is also a listening script, and on the back inside cover there is a CD track information chart indicating which tracks on the CD correspond with the pages of the text. Vocabulary lists arranged by unit help teachers know what to introduce or review and help students know what to anticipate or recall. There are helpful indices on the alphabet, each of the four skills, grammar points, learning strategies (such as group work and learning logs), supporting skills (such as forms, matching, and charts), and topics (such as cultures, employment, and health). There is also a scope and sequence at the front of the book, which allows both students and teachers to find their way through the text and its components.

Like many popular multiskills texts, Taking Off emphasizes communicative competency. Speaking and listening activities are central to this goal. Strategically placed communicative activities in every unit require students to use their new grammar and vocabulary conversationally. Guided speaking activities facilitate application of new language concepts via partner work. In addition, portions of the units encourage students to develop autonomy: Lessons called What do you know? concluding each unit allow students to synthesize information they have encountered, and Learning Logs provide an opportunity for students to track their own mastery of the unit’s life skills, vocabulary, and grammar.

Clearly, Taking Off is a skillful handling of a learner-centered balance of introductory skills. Its themes are relevant to low-level adult learners: alphabet, numbers, introductions, personal information, physical appearances, family information, household matters, calendar, shopping, restaurants, leisure, weather, community sites, health issues, jobs, transportation, and the like.

Most beginning texts move swiftly across grammar and vocabulary territory not easily navigated by students unequipped with first-language literacy. However, Taking Off accommodates these students by offering a separate literacy workbook with specific attention to letter formation and introductory phonics. The workbook could also be useful for students who are, in fact, fully literate in first languages if those first languages utilize alphabets that are logographical or non-Roman; these students may require additional practice with alphabetics. “Research suggests that all English language learners, regardless of the type of L1 literacy in their background, need direct teaching in the English symbol system and in English sound-symbol correspondences” (Burt & Peyton, 2003). Furthermore, students who are already literate in a Roman-alphabet language could be confused by familiar letters making new sounds in English. Thus, all students can benefit from focusing on phonics. Students “need to know that English does not have the same level of correspondence between sound and written form that other orthographies or spelling systems do” (Burt & Peyton, 2003). The basic phonics in the literacy workbook and its CD accompaniment serve as a self-explanatory and systematic introduction to the English sound-spelling system.

Taking Off also succeeds in meeting the challenge of including EL/civics in beginning curricula. Because many schools have a mandatory or otherwise important civics component, teachers of beginning students must include community and work content in their low-level classes. It is not always easy or logical to link true beginning material with an EL/civics theme. Taking Off helpfully incorporates realia or realistic contexts, including not only the typical (and useful) want ads, basic applications, and personal checks, but also events and items such as potluck dinners, garage sales, weather forecast maps, and grocery coupons.

A glance at the comprehensive scope and sequence reveals a strong tie to standards-based content. The scope and sequence maps out the text’s relevance to CASAS (Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment Systems), EFF (Equipped for the Future), LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) Course Outlines, and Florida Adult ESOL Syllabi. The reading passages are designed to introduce critical thinking skills that students will need for standardized tests. Because of such testing, listening reviews are formatted to acquaint students with standardized test question types and answer sheet structure.

Taking Off introduces the topics that beginning English language learners need to know. It is well organized for teachers and students, and it facilitates communicative competence through careful presentation of and practice with the four skills. In addition, the close attention given to phonics and alphabetics, the inclusion of EL/civics content, and its association with learning standards make it an excellent choice for beginning students in higher education.

Ancillaries include the Taking Off teacher’s edition, workbook, literacy workbook, transparencies packet, and character cards.

Burt, M., & Peyton, J. (2003). Reading and adult English language learners: The role of the first language.  Washington, DC—online article. Retrieved September 20, 2008.

Catherine Johnston is a full-time ESL instructor at Clark College in Vancouver, WA. She has also worked as a CTESOL teacher trainer and as a materials writer and editor.


News From EFL Settings Reading Skills of Arab Language Learners: Reflections from an EFL Classroom

Ruhina Ahmed ruhi.ahmed@yahoo.co.in

I have been teaching English at the foundation level in Oman Medical College; Muscat, Oman for over two years. The college offers two courses: a seven-year program leading to the M.D.,  and a 4.5 year program leading to the B.Pharm. In both programs, the first year foundation program consists of English courses in reading, writing, grammar, study skills, and scientific terminology, and from Year 2 onwards, all courses are in English only. OMC is affiliated with the West Virginia University School of Medicine, USA, which provides the curriculum. 
The foundation program is offered to help Arab students who come from Arabic-medium schools, where English is taught only several hours per week. Not surprisingly, these students are weak in all the traditional skill areas (listening, speaking, reading and writing). Our aim through this program is to help the students become independent learners in English. In this article, we focus specifically on our experience teaching reading.
Clearly, reading is a crucial skill for all students. At the academic level, students read texts for specific purpose, and. it is only when they have understood a text that they are able to complete tasks related to it. Early on, we observed that the students were practicing the skills taught only in the classroom. Beyond the classroom, they were uninterested in reading any material in English, academic or not (e.g., magazines and newspapers).

In the academic year 2006 -2007, seeking material that would resonate with these pre-medical students, my department decided to use an autobiography titled “The Taste of Patience”. originally written in Arabic and later translated into English. The author, Mohammed Al Araimi, had an accident which confined him to a wheel chair. This incident changed his life, and he was inspired to share his experiences. Each week, the students were asked to read a chapter, and then submit a written summary. We did not teach summary writing explicitly, as our focus was not on writing but on having them read something in English. The result of this experiment was encouraging in that that the students’ summaries were quite good, indicating that they had understood the content of the book. However, since the book was originally written in Arabic, we could not be sure whether students may have read  the Arabic version instead of or in addition to the English one.

In Spring 2008, we selected Book 4 (high intermediate) of “Weaving It Together” by Milada Broukal (Heinle and Heinle, 2003) as our course book. This book has a useful and interesting Internet activity at the end of every unit. Students are expected to research one of a series of suggested topics and discuss it with the class. We made a small change and asked the students to write about rather than discuss these topics. For example, the theme of Chapter 1 is artists, and the first reading is about Frida Kahlo, a North American woman artist. At the end of this chapter, the Internet activity lists a number of artists; the students select one and find information about his/her life and art.

We conducted this as an in-class activity in which the students researched the artist they chose and wrote a brief summary of his/her life and work. As the students’ reading skills are poor, they sought different ways to complete this assignment. Thus, some cut and pasted information from different readings, without connecting the ideas. Others simply copied the text on Google Translate and then read it in Arabic. It was disappointing to see this happen as the aim of our activity was completely lost. We wanted them to read in English, whereas they preferred to translate and then read in their native language.

However, my department did not lose hope and has continued its efforts to help the students. Next, we tried something different. There are two popular weekly English language weekly newspapers (“The Week” and “Y”). which we find very interesting and informative. Upon our request, the college asked the distribution agency to keep copies of these two weekly newspapers in our foyer, so that the students can read them. Sadly, I have observed that I rarely see any student reading these newspapers or even just glancing through them. They clearly prefer to read anything in Arabic.

In Fall 2008, we used Weaving It Together Book 2, which is aimed at the High Beginning Level. In this book, the theme of Unit 6 is Inventions, and the reading in this unit is on Cornflakes. It discusses the Kellogg brothers, the inventors of cornflakes. The students found the reading interesting and enjoyable. After I finished teaching this reading, I found an interesting article about cereals in “The Week” (November 26, 2008). It discussed the advantages of eating different types of cereals and things we should keep in mind when buying cereal. I felt that the article was interesting and could easily be associated by the students to the reading which we had finished recently. So, I took and pasted the original article in my classroom and encouraged students to read it. Unfortunately, however, no one bothered to even look at it, let alone actually read it.

As can be seen from these examples, the students clearly lack the interest and motivation to read in a foreign language. There are a number of likely reasons for this. The most important is their background: these students come from remote areas which have practically no contact with English. They are accustomed to Arabic-language media and prefer to watch Arabic channels rather than English ones. Another likely, and related, reason is that they come from Arabic- medium schools where English is taught only a few hours per week. Therefore, they are more comfortable in their mother tongue than a language they have less contact with. Students’ command of English is weak, and it is easier for them to communicate in Arabic, thus reducing their motivation to read, write, and speak English. I remember students complaining that when they tried reading newspapers, they found difficult words which made their effort disappointing.

As English Language instructors, our aim is to help students overcome this problem and to value the importance of learning English. One way we might do this is by helping our students to have a strong foundation in vocabulary by using word lists such as the Academic Word List. In this way, students will feel more confident. Another way we can help students is by bringing articles from newspapers or magazines. We should be careful about our selection of articles and choose ones which will interest the students. Also, we can create some activities based on newspapers. I feel the students will find this appealing. I know instructors find it difficult to go out of their way and search for articles and other readings as they are occupied with completing the course on time. But I am confident that these ideas will prove beneficial to these students.    

Ruhina Ahmed has an MA TESL from the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL) Hyderabad, India. She currently teaches English at the foundation level to pre-medical students in Oman.


Computer Technology What If Technology Fails?

Alan D. Lytle, tesolcomptech@hotmail.com

I have to teach how? Rethinking our teaching

Veteran teachers remember a time when the overhead projector was “the thing to have” in their classroom; with its orange grease pencil and rolling plastic sheet over a bright light, they could easily write information or draw pictures for the students to see. Also, it was always a pleasure for the students to be granted permission to write an answer on the overhead’s film. It was cutting-edge and expensive.

Then along came the personal computer with simple DOS programming. Everyone wanted a programming class so as to learn the “computer language” to enable them to write the codes necessary to make the computer calculate equations, produce “computer-processed” papers, and so on. Again, the cost was enormous, and the technology was protected under lock and key.

The next evolution was the gopher, the predecessor to the Internet and the search engines. One could access a computer server and file, seeking out words, phrases, or documents, then produce a list of where these documents were held or how one might obtain these pieces of information (Jupitermedia Corporation, 2009). In one fell swoop, access to information went from thumbing through a library’s card catalogue to making a few keystrokes. Voilà! The information was almost instantaneously retrievable.

Today, with the ubiquity of Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, the Internet, online catalogues, and so on, many teachers and students are facing the very real concept of information overload. The buzz word these days is “technology enhancement.” However, once a form of technology has been introduced to the general population, it is already obsolete. In the technology field, this concept is called “planned obsolescence” (Wikimedia Foundation, 2009) and it greatly affects how we access information and present it to our students. If teachers are not careful, technology can easily become something that we depend on too much, at the sacrifice of good teaching. Rather than being a teaching and learning enhancement, technology can become a form of dependence and can cause our teaching to suffer. If we sacrifice our teaching to technology, instead of finding a balance, then we hurt our students more than help them.

Many new teachers have grown up using technology as students themselves. It’s just second nature to them, while many veteran teachers and “tech-curious” teachers have to go through training to use the technology available to them in their schools and classrooms. Bombarded with new technology, often just after they have gained some proficiency in a previous “2.0 version,” they now they have to learn the “2.1 version” with its discreet changes, icon moves, function additions, function deletions, and function mergers. There is a constant learning curve that doesn’t slow down; if anything, it speeds up and becomes increasingly steep. Always, these veteran teachers (and even many new teachers) are “just there,” grasping but not quite reaching the goal when they are told that the professional standards now include technology usage (International Society for Technology in Education, 2008)—standards against which these teachers will be evaluated.

They wonder how they will catch up with the constant evolutions of technology and do everything that is required on a daily basis to teach their students. When they are told that they have to integrate technology into their teaching, many teachers ask, “I have to teach how?”

Fill your bag of tricks so that it travels lightly, and always have a backup plan

Whether or not teachers realize it, when they graduate and receive the diplomas that qualify them to teach, they also receive a “bag of tricks”—something that is individualized to each person. This bag contains activities that they have seen work, activities that they themselves have designed, activities that they have seen not work (as well as the ones they designed that didn’t go according to plan), and bits and pieces that they can reconfigure to address the need of a particular student or class. The trouble is that quite often, teachers, new and veteran alike, forget about this bag and constantly reinvent the wheel. This takes a great amount of time and energy and, if not monitored, can lead to burnout.

Our bags of tricks need occasional spring cleaning. By nature, teachers are collectors; in fact, we’re packrats! We have to learn what to keep and what to throw away, what will benefit our students and us and what won’t, what can be infused with technology and what is technology-exclusionary. Besides, if something worked well once, that doesn’t mean it will work well again. Every tech-enhanced lesson has a non-tech-enhanced equivalent. Call it the yin and yang of the tech world—two sides of the same coin. Not all teachers have access to technology enhancement. Not every concept needs technology enhancement. If we force it, the use of technology becomes fluff.

Tech might be fluff

All the computers, LCD projectors, Internet access, PowerPoint slides, and Excel spreadsheets in the world are fluff when they are not used appropriately. Quite often, our students are much wiser than we give them credit for. When not used correctly, our “tech fluff” is nothing more than a “smoke screen,” and our students see it. When we use technology, we truly need to question whether or not it will enhance the learning experience for the students. That’s the key: enhancement of the educational experience. Having all the CDs, DVDs, Web sites, and so forth that our texts include won’t make a difference in the learning experience of our students if we, the teachers, don’t consider the worth of these pieces of technology.

We also make a dangerous assumption if we assume that all of our students have access to technology. More and more, this is becoming true; however, it’s not exclusively true. For example, for the current fall semester, I have a student who has never used a computer before. When I designed a laboratory exercise for the students to accomplish over the week, one particular student was too embarrassed to admit to not being tech-savvy. When it came time to turn in the assignment for credit, the student simply didn’t. After class, I questioned the student as to why the assignment wasn’t done, and I got my answer. I had ASSUMED! This was a huge mistake on my part. Had I simply asked myself the question of alternative access when creating the lab assignment, I could have avoided the embarrassment that this student suffered. This was a lesson well-learned on my part, and I’ve been teaching for 19 years! Just like learning styles and multiple intelligences, students come to us with different technology styles and technology intelligences.

What makes a good teacher or a great teacher? “Retro-thinking” our teaching

This is a really good question, and I’m not sure that it is completely quantifiable. By “retro-thinking” I mean not only looking forward to where the profession is going but also looking backward and borrowing from what theories/practices worked well in the past. It isn’t actually an evolutionary process as that means a changing of something to a better process or product. “Retro-thinking” keeps the “original” and adds the “new” to make a modified form.

The profession can come close to identifying good teaching, but there is always that bit of the “inborn teacher” that escapes measurement. As educators we are always aiming at the next level, just as we hope our students will; however, there are degrees of achievement, and there are good teachers, and there are great teachers. Good teachers and great teachers can “retro-think,” adapt, incorporate, and create modified techniques that incorporate technology as a useful tool rather than as the major form of delivery, making it the fulcrum of the teaching/learning process. As I said before, technology cannot be fluff; it must be an enhancement and another way for students to access information.

I’m reminded of a student teacher who wanted to include video in a lesson. However, there was a tech-glitch. When the video was started, the sound would not work. Of course there was a moment of stress for the student teacher as the students waited for the lesson to begin and for the method of delivery (technology) to work. After a bit of time trying to fix the problem, the student teacher decided to show the video without the sound. This is perfectly acceptable as long as there is a purpose; however, the student teacher was not skilled in “immediate invention” and missed a “teaching moment.” Because there was no backup plan in the event the technology did not work, the student teacher could not proceed smoothly. The video was shown, then dropped. The student teacher did very little with it other than show it to the class. The “technology dependence” of the student teacher had prevented a quick, onsite restructuring of the lesson for the students’ benefit. Quite a few things could have been focused on, even without the sound. The class could have practiced descriptions, narration of the story, or prediction of what would happen next, all incorporating grammar and pronunciation and the skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. I return to the idea of a bag of tricks that one can borrow from to “design on the spot.” Granted, an inexperienced teacher will be flummoxed when the slightest thing goes wrong; it just goes with inexperience. However, new teachers are the very ones who should be taught how to “wing it,” how to be immediately creative, and how to always have a backup plan. Sometimes, that’s when the best teaching occurs and what ignites the best ideas. Upon reflection, I’m quite sure that all of us can remember at least one instance, if not more, where we had to think on our feet because of some unexpected technology glitches. Failure (or perception thereof) need not remain failure; it can produce success. After all, Edison didn’t find the correct filament for the light bulb until his 1,001st try. When asked about his 1,000 failures, he responded that he hadn’t failed, simply that the world know knew 1,000 ways not to build a light bulb (ThinkExist, 2006).

Having to “retro-think” our teaching is not taking a step backward. It’s borrowing the best from the past and incorporating it into the discoveries of the future. This is how we grow—not from our successes but from the ideas that we don’t think succeeded. In essence, they are the very ones that require us to think and question, thereby reaching for levels that we couldn’t see before.


Good and great teachers can teach with a stick and some dirt to write in, and failure is quite often success in disguise. We just need to see it: in ourselves, in our students, and in our teaching. Maybe the “inborn,” nonquantifiable teacher in each of us is what allows us to see these successes. Whether by experience, creativity, immediate invention, or the use of technology, we, the teachers, are the conduits through which knowledge passes. How we impart our knowledge to our students depends on our individual styles. No matter what, though, we should always remember that technology is an enhancing façade for our field, but good teaching is and will always be the foundation of our profession.
There’s a wonderful quote from Goethe that, I believe, perfectly summarizes the core concepts of the teaching process and the fluff that might be incorrectly used technology enhancement: “In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister” (In the stripping away, the master shows him/herself; Goethe, 1802/1994). Stripping away the extraneous and using simple, straightforward, well-planned teaching is what it’s about. A good teacher can teach with a twig and some dirt to write in.  Everything else (overhead projectors, LCD projectors, computers, SMART boards, etc.) is the icing on the cake.


Goethe, J. W. von. (1994). (1802). Natur und Kunst [Nature and Art]. In C. Middleton (Ed.), Goethe’s collected works (Vol. 1, p. 164). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Surkamp. (Original work published 1802). Retrieved February 24, 2009, from http://books.google.com/books?id=LGDW6Df_y_gC&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=%22In+der+Beschrankung+zeigt+sich+erst+der+Meister%22&source=web&ots=7XxOeqteMT&sig=40ZnPwx5a4QxarimNKw9fxbFZQU&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=9&ct=result

International Society for Technology in Education. (2008). National educational technology standards. Retrieved February 24, 2009, fromhttp://www.iste.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=NETS

Jupitermedia Corporation. (2009). Gopher. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from http://webopedia.internet.com/TERM/g/gopher.html

ThinkExist. (2006). Thomas Alva Edison quotes. Retrieved February 24, 2009, fromhttp://thinkexist.com/quotation/we_now_know_a_thousand_ways_not_to_build_a_light/174628.html

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2009). Planned obsolescence. Retrieved February 24, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence

Dr. Alan D. Lytle, the teaching director of the Intensive English Language Program at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, USA, has a background in second and foreign language education (ESL/EFL, German, and French) as well as 19 years of ESL teaching experience at all levels, in academic-preparation programs, conversation programs, English for special purposes programs, and topic-specific programs.


Community College Concerns Aprender Haciendo – Learn by Doing

Craig Machado, CMachado@ncc.commnet.edu

I recently returned from Honduras as a visiting Fulbright Senior Specialist in TEFL/Applied Linguistics. My assignment was to work with the English faculty, Centro de Idiomas, at Zamorano University-also referred to as Escuela Agricola Panamericana- to help them update and revise their curriculum and make plans to expand the number of hours students study English.

Zamorano is a well respected and widely known agricultural school in Latin America and draws students from all over the region; it has a very diverse faculty and staff, including current president Ken Hoadley from the United States. Scholars frequently visit Zamorano, an attractive school in a lush and fertile valley outside Tegucigalpa, to conduct research and/or give lectures to a student body of over 1000.

One of the unique aspects of studying at Zamorano is the way in which practical experiential learning, called “aprender haciendo,” or learn by doing, is integrated into the curriculum. Students must tend growing plots, work in food technology plants, oversee aquaculture ponds or practice forestry, for example, alongside their classes. Students may also apply for internships abroad as part of their course of study (a recent student completed 3 months on a kibbutz in Israel) and some go on to do graduate work (Louisiana, Texas and Florida are popular destinations in the States).

The school has desired since its inception almost 60 years ago to graduate students truly bi-lingual in Spanish and English; however, because of the intense nature of the curriculum, hours for English study have been limited-usually no more than 3 per week. Students entering with little or no English preparation cannot attain the coveted bi-lingual status which is seen as a major advantage in today’s global economy.

The work I did involved creating institutional syllabi for the program’s English language levels, developing student learning outcomes and faculty teaching objectives and getting the program to think about how to do ongoing program assessment. Because of a heavy teaching schedule (18-21 contact hours a week) English faculty did not have the time to carry out projects such as these even though they knew that they wanted to make changes and offer classes that had more academic content, such as a research writing module or an intensive reading and discussion module (with an option to read a full-length novel, in addition to scientific/technical articles).

There is potential for advanced English students to get much more contact in the language by attending lectures in their major areas in English, but the administration is not sure how to implement such a plan requiring bi-lingual faculty. Administration and English faculty were receptive to the idea of linking a general curriculum course like sociology or economics with an English writing/discussion class. Both options will be explored more in the months to come. I was also able to get the American Embassy to provide class reading sets of the novels Like Water for Chocolate (Esquivel), Walking Stars: Stories of Magic and Power (Villasenor) and Tuesdays with Morrie (Albom) to replace very dated English readers and in the first two instances, to appeal to Latino students who have very little time to read anything other than course major materials

I was very grateful to the Fulbright Commission for giving me this opportunity and I encourage all to apply. The Specialist awards are short term (unlike traditional Fulbright awards that last one or two semesters) and require a lot of intensive work; however they offer one the chance to see a new culture and interact with counterparts in other institutions.

Craig Machado is ESL program director at Norwalk Community College. In 2005, the program was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English for outstanding work in the area of developmental English.


Member Stories Clara Lara Terrero


In my life trajectory I have lived in different communities. I was born in 1963 into a large working class Dominican family. My father was a carpenter and my mother cooked in a hospital. Even though our socioeconomic status was very low, education was always regarded as important when I was growing up. My mother taught me that it was education that would help me to participate in the material resources of our community and to become a respectable member of society. Therefore, I put myself through college while working in blue-collar jobs. As a teenager – and thanks to my brother in law, James Shrefler and his mother, Virginia - I lived in the United States before I came to Spain with my Catalan husband, who is a medical doctor and a dentist. I have lived in a Catalan village for twenty-one years, and my four daughters (18, 14 and 7 year-old twins) were born in Catalonia.

I have always asked myself a number of questions regarding society’s rules, and the more insights I gain into social relations and social power, the more curious I am about whether other teachers share the same experience. My interest in this topic comes from my own experience as an immigrant from a Latin-American country to the United States and then as an immigrant in Catalonia. These experiences have brought up questions about language ideologies, identities, stereotypes and prejudice. I have always asked myself why some language varieties are more valued than others, what there is to gain or to lose by aligning with social rules and accepting the position in which I am placed by others, and whether it is worth it to contest those rules and so on and so forth. Since language has always had an impact in my life, I seek to answer these questions. This is how I became interested in the field of critical discourse analysis, particularly in the process of “languages considered normal” and identity construction in terms of language use in different countries.

For me, race had not been an issue before I went to New York and saw how the most diverse country was divided by the color of your skin. Being a migrant almost all my life I have had to conform, adapt, or negotiate society’s rules, beliefs, assumptions and common sense in different places. That is, society says: “if you want to become a legitimate member of this group, you have to speak the official language with a legitimate accent”. What is curious is that I used to align myself with these rules by saying: “yes, I don’t speak well”, and because of the human need to belong to a group, I took the risk of losing my culture, my customs, traditions, and my mother language. Furthermore, there was no guarantee that at the end I was going to be accepted, because what happens is that once you think that you are ready to move to the center of the social wheel, the rules move away by saying: “ weeell, you still have an accent” and I would go back to the original place where mainstream thinking had positioned me. This has been the case for me in Catalonia as well as in America. However, the results of my own research reveal that my education, my economic attainments and my job at a university were capital I could exchange for respect and honor. Now life is just a game I play knowing that “this too will pass”. A win– win negotiation during my daily interactions. “It’s perfect! (LOL)”, say my students.

I worked as an English teacher in different academies in the Dominican Republic but it was not until I came to Barcelona that I realized that as a teacher I had the right to social security and paid vacations. I speak English at work but I speak Spanish and Catalan at home and with my neighbours. I also speak Italian and German fluently. In my free time I travel a lot with my family to our place in the Caribbean, which I like to share with family and friends (www.mareslasterrenas.com), play tennis, do yoga and eat out. Although I have developed a passion for my research, I cannot imagine myself out of a classroom. It’s still my ultimate goal, it’s my identity, and it’s my life.

Clara Lara Terrero is a PhD candidate in linguistics applied to the teaching of English from the Department of Language Philology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. Her research interests include identities and L2 teaching and learning, as well as bilingualism and its social theories. She has taught EFL at all levels in the Dominican Republic and Spain.


Announcements and Information TESOL Strategic Plan

Increase non-convention revenue by 10%
Achieve the following membership targets
Increase retention rate by 1.5%
Establish a media response capacity
Develop a plan for recruiting and training new TESOL leaders as well as increase the diversity of  leadership

At its October 2008 meeting, the TESOL Board of Directors approved the 11/08-10/11 three-year Strategic Plan that, in conjunction with TESOL's Mission Statement and Values, guides the many activities of TESOL. The plan builds on TESOL's 11/05-10/08 Strategic Plan.

GOAL:  Increase non-convention revenue by 10%


• Develop strategic marketing plans for current products and services
• Expand current catalogue of products and services
• Enhance education program offerings to be more revenue producing 
• Leverage partnerships to support association 

GOAL:  Achieve the following membership targets


• Recruit 100 non-ESL teachers over next 3 years
• Increase underrepresented area by 1.5% over next 3 years
• Increase US affiliate members by 2% over next 3 years
• Increase non-US affiliate members by 2% over next 3 years
• Increase by 200 student enrollment over next 3 years

GOAL:  Increase retention rate by 1.5%


• Employ differentiated marketing
• Increase membership benefits/incentives

GOAL:  Establish a media response capacity


• Increase TESOL’s visibility to the press
• Identify the key English language learner issues on which TESOL wants to be the “go to” association

GOAL:  Develop a plan for recruiting and training new TESOL leaders as well as increase the diversity of leadership


• Expand and strengthen the Leadership Development Certificate Program and related leadership development efforts
• Expand and strengthen current mentoring programs and develop new initiatives to support mentoring
• Develop new initiatives to engage and recruit a more diverse pool of leaders, especially younger members/leaders


Position Statement on Academic and Degree-Granting Credit for ESOL Courses

Courses for English language learners in academic institutions are often mischaracterized as remedial and are not always acknowledged for full credit and/or count toward graduation. These policies and practices fail to recognize that ESOL courses are standards-driven content courses, similar to and on par with other subject matter, such as language arts or foreign language courses.

TESOL advocates that institutions of secondary and tertiary education develop policies that identify those ESOL courses that will be credit-bearing upon successful completion and/or satisfy academic equirements for graduation purposes and that these institutions grant such courses appropriate credit hours. Second, TESOL encourages institutions to examine, and revise as needed, their guidelines for eligibility for participation in or access to programs at their schools that are driven by academic course requirements that do not recognize ESOL coursework as credit-bearing courses. These guidelines for
eligibility may currently exclude English language learners from participation. Finally, testing opportunities should be made available that would allow English language learners to receive equivalent credit for appropriate coursework upon demonstrating mastery of expected content and/or skills.

Approved by the Board of Directors October 2008

About This Community TESOL ESL in Higher Education Interest Section

The ESL in Higher Education Interest Section advances effective instruction, promotes professional standards and practices, influences and supports policies of TESOL and other associations, determines needs, and considers all other matters relevant to ESL in colleges and universities.

HEIS Community Leaders 2008-2009

Chair     José A. Carmona  
 Chair-Elect   Shawn Ford
 Immediate Past Chair  Denis A. Hall
Assistant Chair    Kim Hardiman  
Secretary   Diane Silvers
E-list Manager    Guy Kellogg  
Web Manager:    Guy Kellogg
Newsletter Editor      Maria Parker       
Membership Coordinator   Tracis Justus

2008-2009 Steering Committee Members-at-Large

 2007-2010   Sheryl Slocum
 2007-2009   Goedele Gulikers
2008-2011   Alan D. Lytle

Newsletter book reviews editors: 
Maria Ammar mammar@frederick.edu and Linda Barro barrol@eastcentral.edu
Newsletter computer technology editor: Alan D. Lytle, tesolcomptech@hotmail.com.
Discussion E-List: Visit http://www.tesol.org/getconnected to subscribe to HEIS-L, the discussion list for HEIS members.

Call for Submissions

Get involved—consider contributing to our newsletter!

Please consider submitting an article for the August-September issue.

HEIS News welcomes articles that apply to classroom situations and that focus on ESL/EFL pedagogy, second language acquisition, academic literacy, language assessment, applied socio- and psycholinguistics, advocacy, administration, and other related areas. Given the newsletter's electronic format, authors are encouraged to include hyperlinks.

Submission Guidelines
Full-length articles and brief reports should

• be no longer than 1,500 words
• include a 50-word (500 characters or fewer) abstract
• contain no more than five citations
• follow the style guidelines in the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (APA Manual)
• be in MS Word (.doc) or rich-text (.rtf) format

Please direct submissions and questions to Maria Parker at mgparker@duke.edu.

Note: It is not necessary to have an article complete and ready for submission to contact us! Please feel free to get in touch at any stage of the process. We are happy to answer any questions and work with you in developing or refining a topic. 

The deadline for submissions to HEIS 28-2 is June 30, 2009.


Call for Book Review Submissions

Book reviews are always a very popular feature of the newsletter. Book review guidelines are below. To request or suggest a book for review and for details, including submission deadlines, please contact 
Maria Ammar at mammar@frederick.eru or 
Linda Barro at barrol@eastcentral.edu

Submission Guidelines
HEIS News welcomes reviews of scholarly books and textbooks dealing with English teaching, applied linguistics, second language acquisition, language assessment, or other disciplines as they relate to ESL or TESL instruction in higher education settings. Anyone interested in writing a review for HEIS News may choose a recent book in the field and contact the editor for approval. Reviews will be considered for publication based on the quality of the reviewer’s evaluation and description of the book, and the book’s relevance and importance to the field.

Reviews should
* be 600-900 words in length
* include a 50-word (500 character or fewer) abstract
* include a 75- to 100-word bio of the reviewer
* follow the style guidelines in the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association, Fifth Edition (APA Manual)
* be in MS Word (.doc) or rich-text (.rtf) format

Go to http://www.tesol.org/s_tesol/seccss.asp?CID=174&DID=1644 to read a sample book review.



Call for Computer Technology Submissions Computer and information technology are a growing part of our professional lives. The HEIS News Computer Technology section welcomes articles and reviews of Web sites or other materials that use technology in ESL/EFL teaching, applied linguistics, second language acquisition, language assessment, or other disciplines in higher education settings. Please contact the Computer Technology editor, Dr. Alan D. Lytle, at tesolcomptech@hotmail.com with your suggestions, ideas, or questions or to receive information on submission deadlines.