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Showing posts from 2016

Curriculum Coordinator as Teacher Advocate

I've been in the field of education (teaching & learning) since I was a preschooler at the age of four. For most of this time, I have been a student. It's only been in the last 18 years that I've been in the role of a teacher and 4 years that I've been in an administrative role that supports teachers. So I've seen teachers in many contexts from different perspectives, and my favorite teachers have been and still are English and foreign language teachers (social studies teachers come a close second). It seemed such a fun job when I was a student, and for the most part it turned out to be a fun job as a teacher. However, the pay is quite modest and even low for foreign language teachers who can get a full-time gig. I know why I and my friend-teachers do it, but why do others do it? I have my assumptions, so I read Why We Work to confirm my assumptions and to learn something new. I didn't expect the author to describe my line of work that much, but he did.

ELT Fears: Automation!

I am fascinated by science and the future, and that's what got me reading Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. by Jerry Kaplan (Yale University Press, 2015). On page 151, I came across the paragraph above, and the first sentence is written in a way to confirm the fears of many teachers, especially technophobic teachers. In the second sentence, Kaplan casually connects the terrifying notion of being replaced with the flipped classroom. Instructional designers and administrators now prefer to call this flipped learning, which has become an industry of its own. See
Flipped Learning  Yes, please visit! As of this writing (web designers love to redesign the sites every 6 months or so), "academic subjects" is at the center of the main menu. Guess what is the first academic subject listed? English/ELA. For old school English language teachers, ELA refers to English l…

What Is So Great About Extensive Reading?

I'm collaborating on a research and development project for integrating extensive reading into intensive English programs. After the initial review of the most recent literature, I was quite surprised at the overwhelming positive effects of extensive reading on reading proficiency, comprehension, and motivation. Although I'm still skeptical, I'd like to share the findings with you.

I looked at 17 articles published since 2012. Although this may not seem like much, 3 of these articles were meta-analyses, which investigated a much larger quantity of studies on extensive reading. Only one was not relevant to intensive English programs, bringing it down to 16 articles. Many of these articles came from the 2015 discussion forums in Reading in a Foreign Language. The majority of those discussion forum articles were not empirical studies, but they went in depth answering "What constitutes extensive reading?" After summarizing these answers, this blog post covers the res…

The Sociocultural Turn 10 Years Later

One of the more influential TESOL Quarterly articles I have read over the past decade was Karen E. Johnson's "The Sociocultural Turn and Its Challenges for Second Language Teacher Education." It helped guide me during the early stages of my doctoral dissertation. I'm revisiting now because it relates to my current position, and I wanted to see if Dr. Johnson's concerns are still valid ten years later.
Theory/Practice Versus Praxis From my perspective, the theory-practice dichotomy is still quite prevalent in teacher education. I have entered discussions with our faculty on what should stand at the core of our ESL curriculum, which I perceive as research in applied linguistics or informal research in teaching and learning. I see this more as a applied linguistics-education dichotomy as research is on both ends, but education is more steeped in practice.

Johnson recommends praxis as a solution to this dichotomy because it "is more suitable for the preparation …

Designing an English Language Program for Engineers

In my current job, I am helping our program design an academic bridge program for conditionally admitted undergraduates students to the university's mechanical and civil engineering programs. I am just in the early stages of designing, conducting a needs analysis with the department heads and reviewing literature on engineering English, which is a branch of English for Specific Purposes.  After conducting a brief literature review on articles published since 2012 on English language programs for engineers, a few major patterns arose.

Image from Needs Analysis Some papers (Kim, 2013; Mohamed, et al. 2014; Paci, 2013; Porcaro, 2013) recommended conducting a needs analysis before designing the curriculum. This is common sense for those like me coming from a background in instructional design.  Porcaro (2013) provided the most details regarding how to proceed with a needs analysis for this purpose, although his…

Self-Directed Professional Development at an Intensive English Program

I am interested in teacher agency the extent to which English language teachers seek out professional development on their own.  After nearly a year as curriculum coordinator at an intensive English program (IEP) at a regional public university, I have informally observed my faculty colleagues' approaches to professional development as a prelude for a more formal study I may initiate in the following year.  This blog synthesizes my observations with Dr. Jackie Gerstein's blog User Generated Education, specifically her post on self-directed professional development at

Acknowledging Differences Dr. Gerstein's blog seems to be mainly aimed towards K-12 educators of all disciplines, whereas my interest is specifically focused on English language teachers (ELTs) but broadly focused on ELTs in many contexts, including public and private K-12 schools.  For this blog pos…

Flip That Grammar!

An experienced teacher should be able to know their strengths and weaknesses.  Although I don't enjoy teaching grammar, I'm not bad at it.  However, I know that enjoying teaching a subject can make you a more effective teacher because your enthusiasm can positively affect students' engagement.

I've been effective at teaching verb tenses this term, but then I noticed that the curriculum called for about an hour of class time to review articles.  I have never had great success teaching articles, perhaps because there's no instant reward to this.  It takes students a long time to master articles (if you don't believe in fossilization), and the more time spent on explaining articles and their usage, the less effective I become as a teacher.  Because students have already learned articles in a previous class, I found no risk of flipping this one class and do some informal action research.

Before Watching the Videos After wrapping up the previous unit, I told the cl…

The Process of Curricular Change

Last month, my attention was brought to an article recently published in TESOL's IEP Interest Section Newsletter, "Navigating Curricular Change in a Postmethod Program: Negotiating Roles and Expectations" by Erin O'Reilly, who works upstate from me at the University of Illinois. Their IEP has undergone a similar process of curricular change as we are experiencing at Southern Illinois University.

The need for curricular change became clear for accreditation purposes. Both of our programs needed to align student learning outcomes (SLOs) across levels and skills. The biggest difference between our programs is that they had experienced teachers with administrative oversight of one skill area whereas we had experienced teachers with administrative oversight of two to four levels. In this sense, Illinois may have had an easier process to align skills across levels whereas we had a clearer understanding of SLOs representing the three major tiers of levels.  For both our pr…

Taking Student Praise

If there's one thing I find difficult to do as a teacher, it is taking student praise.  This is example of a humblebrag, a newer word in the English lexicon. The truth is that I was raised in a household where praise was restrained and mainly reserved for achievements that clearly exceeded expectations. Actually, I find it more difficult to give praise than to receive praise because of this upbringing. It took me a few years to praise students who adequately met my expectations.

Student Praise Last term, I had a very rewarding experience teaching English to a relatively small but dedicated group of students. This combination of class size and student motivation helped me meet the linguistic, academic, and cultural needs of each student more effectively than in most other classes. Most of the students preferred this extra attention to their needs and skills, but there was one that didn't want me to get to know his learning and studying strategies too well. 

I had two very high…

The Shawnee Hills IEP Camp

Last month, we (the Center for English as a Second Language) hosted the Shawnee Hills IEP Camp at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  I blogged about how we were able to organize and host it in a previous post.  As mentioned in that post, we followed the EdCamp model and shared our professional learning with IEP faculty and staff from the University of Southern Indiana and from Southeast Missouri State University.  Our program (CESL) was also hosting English language teachers from Panama, who also attended the Camp.

Starting early at 8am in the morning, we had a very good turnout with around 65 of the registered 70 participants showing up.  Above is a picture of some of the earlier attendees mingling over our sponsored and catered breakfast from yummy Cristaudo's Bakery of Carbondale.  They have always been a dependable and popular caterer at CESL events.
Pictured above is a couple of our faculty members with our Panamanian visiting students/teachers. We were grateful to ha…

Selecting Online Videos for Listening Practice & Assessment

I was inspired to write this post because of the complications with my program's current practices with using online videos to help students develop their listening skills and to assess their listening skills. I've had conversations with my current and previous classes, which range from the intermediate-mid range of English language proficiency (as a whole, not just listening) to the lower advanced range. I initiated these conversations as a result from my first class at the program (our highest level for students intending to enroll in undergraduate courses), in which the majority of students complained about how difficult and inappropriate the online videos were compared to their expectations and academic needs.

In my current and previous classes, I performed a low-stakes informal (not controlled well) experiment with their full knowledge that this was an experiment.  I compared my students' reactions to videos from TED Ed to videos from the Sci Show You Tube channel.  I…