Reader Response Journal

English for Specific Purposes: Negotiating Needs, Possibilities and Promises by Salas, Mercado, Ouedraogo and Musetti

This article draws on the four authors’ varied experiences teaching English for Specific Purposes,  to provide a basic overview of the types of things instructors need to take into consideration when designing and teaching an ESP course. They stress that there are many different types of ESP, which they see as being on a spectrum, with individually tailored courses that are designed to meet the students’ specific communicative needs in line with their professional objectives on one end, and courses that offer basic communication instruction with a bit of specific vocabulary or thematically chosen readings on the other. In designing ESP courses, they encourage instructors to do research into the exact types of communicative tasks their students will be expected to perform in their professional environments, and to tailor the course to those objectives. The suggest the RAFT framework, to analyze the role, audience, format and topic for these interactions. Identifying these, in the context of the students’ needed language tasks and probable interactions, is the first step to ESP course design. Next, they explore methods of instruction, arguing that ESP teachers should mix and match the methods that best fit their contexts and that these methods should be chosen strategically and purposefully to help their students achieve the identified goals. They stress the importance of having concrete goals and deliverables so that students feel they are making progress. They also encourage teachers to adapt materials and utilize the internet, especially for self-study resources and practice. Next, they explore needs analysis in more depth, encouraging teachers to ensure that they have enough time to proper assess students’ needs before undertaking a course, although they acknowledge that there are often logistical limitations on the amount and depth of needs analysis a teacher can realistically do. They encourage teachers to work in teams and stages to collect and analyze the material they need to design a new course, and they encourage teachers to be upfront with their employers about how long this takes to do well. They also focus on the importance of authentic assessments, in line with the students’ actual professional tasks, and encourage backward planning off of the types of final assessments that show students abilities to communicate realistically in their workplaces. They conclude by encouraging student participation in the needs analysis process and by encouraging teachers to be upfront with their students about the level of individual tailoring and specificity they can expect from the course.

I enjoyed this article as a basic refresher/overview of ESP. I’ve taught ESP in the past, in a context where the expectations of the school were, for the most part, more on the English for Basic Communicative Purposes side of things. Next fall, I’ll be teaching ESP again, and I’m hoping in this new context I’ll be in a better position to carry out a full needs analysis, and to focus on more authentic tasks in my classes. This article served as a good reminder of the type of things to think about when starting out in ESP.

Salas, S., Mercado, L. A., Ouedraogo, L. H. & Musetti, B. (2013). English for specific purposes: Negotiating needs, possibilities and promises. English Teaching Forum, 51(4), 12-19.

Professional Update

June 2017 Social Responsibility Interest Section Newsletter

My first issue as editor of TESOL’s Social Responsibility Interest Section Newsletter, TESOLers for Social Responsibility, was published today! You can check it out here.

I’m really proud of the work that my co-editor, Anasasia Khawaja, and I did to put this together. The SRIS newsletter hadn’t been published for a while, so we had to start from scratch to get it up and running again. It’s great being able to collaborate with other TESOLers doing important work, and I love that as an editor, I get to draw attention to areas that I think are important and build a conversation. This is particularly important during the current political climate, where many of us feel alone and helpless as we watch awful development after awful development come out of Washington. Anastasia and I remarked to each other several times about how powerful it was to be working on this, to feel like we’re contributing to the betterment of the world.

This issue has four articles, on text selection for diverse students, race and linguicism (my article!), creating inclusive classrooms for LGBTQIA students and a skype tutoring program for women in Afghanistan and Nepal. This is the post-convention issue, so all of the articles relate to the 2017 TESOL convention in Seattle. The first two are reflections, which use Sherman Alexie’s keynote and Shannon Tanghe’s session on linguicism as starting points to discuss larger issues. The second two are written by presenters, summarizing their own sessions. Overall, I think they cover a broad range of issues and really highlight the diversity within the interest section.

It was also really interesting to write my own article for the newsletter. It’s called Addressing Linguicism and its Racial Implications in the Age of Nationalism, and it covers my response to a session I attended called Addressing Linguicism: A Classroom Simulation Activity presented by Shannon Tanghe, last year’s TESOL Teacher of the Year. I think linguicism is an absolutely crucial issue, but it’s often overlooked in favor of other -isms, particularly those that people feel aren’t under people’s own control. While, yes, you can learn new languages, linguistic prejudice is often directed at people on the basis of their non-native status, which absolutely is not something under personal control. In addition, linguicism is often used as a more socially acceptable cover for racism. While Tanghe didn’t focus on the racial implications of linguicism, for me, they are absolutely central to how I think about both linguicism and race within TESOL. So my article describes her simulation activity and the ways it led me to reconsider my own teaching practice, as well as the connections between race- and language-based discrimination. I also offer some suggestions for both classroom teachers and teacher educators on incorporating activities that raise awareness of linguicism and its racial implications for their students. If you read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to email me or leave a comment here.

Next issue’s theme is Identity, Inclusion and Advocacy, so if you’ve got something to say on those issues, check out our call for submissions and get in touch! Submissions are due August 1, 2017.

Reader Response Journal

Approaching the Grammatical Mass/Count Distinction from a Multimodal Perspective by Derek J. Brown

This is a really interesting short article about how Brown used multimodality to help his Japanese students process the varying ways English groups nouns (and by extension the things they represent) as objects (countable) versus substances (mass/uncountable). Working within a framework of grammar as choice, Brown views the process of determining if a noun is mass or count as a representation of socially constructed understandings of the world, which vary across cultures and languages. Using transmediation, the process of representing meaning across different modes of communication, he helped his students understand the ways mass/count distinctions are constructed in English, and the ways they can vary across situations. For example, depending on the context, the same object can be considered a block of metal, a weight, or simply metal. Factors that influence these distinctions include boundedness (whether the edges/shape are important), internal composition (whether it’s homogenous or not), conceptual integrity and arbitrary divisibility (whether adding or removing more of it changes our perception), perceptual conspicuousness (whether we focus on the similarities or differences within a group) and interaction (what it’s used for). Realizing that his students needed to first understand these different elements of constructing meaning, before they could reliably construct their own assessments of an item’s mass/count-ness, he devised a series of multimodal activities, that, through the process of transmediation, allowed his students to recognize and discuss their underlying conceptions. First, he gave students a list of words and had them draw visual representations of them. The countable nouns, like apple and car, most yielded similar drawings, while mass nouns, like water and coffee, had much greater variability in how they were represented visually. Next, he presented his students with 26 objects, spanning both mass and count nouns, that varied in terms of their size, shape and function, and also crossed boundaries (like including sand, gravel, small stones and rocks). The students used a checklist to classify the relative importance of each item’s boundedness, internal composition, conceptual integrity and function, which helped them sort the objects into countable and uncountable categories. They discussed how Brown would classify the objects as a native English speaker, as well as how the same item could be classified in different ways depending on which features were deemed most important. Lastly, he had his students draw visual representations of different pieces of furniture, and used colored lines to code different features. Then they grouped different items together and used the colored lines to determine whether the grouping was covered by a plural (like chairs), or needed a mass noun (like furniture). This led to the students being able to discuss and examine their conceptualizations. In Brown’s words, “Students had opportunities to see language not as a series of grammatical “equations” that must be memorized and calculated, but as something that can be interacted with, altered, and created.” (p. 606).

This was a really interesting article for me, because I had an entire unit devoted to the mass/count distinction (with food as the topic) with my ninth graders this year, and I definitely realized as I was teaching it how blurry some of the boundaries are (watermelon, for example, can be countable when whole, but becomes a mass noun if it’s cut into cubes). I think using both visual and tactile modalities would really help students understand the underlying thought processes that lead to the nouns being used the ways that they are. I’ve also always been a big fan of multimodality and embodied cognition and seeing how these were realized in actual classroom was useful and inspiring for me. I’m definitely likely to use some of his approaches if/when I teach mass/count nouns next.

Brown, D. J. (2015). Approaching the grammatical mass/count distinction from a multimodal perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 49(3), 601-607.

Reader Response Journal

Empowering Teachers Through Professional Development by Alice Murray

This is a pretty basic, straightforward overview of types of professional development that teachers can engage in. The techniques covered include reflective teaching, keeping a teaching journal, keeping a collaborative journal, analyzing critical incidents, peer mentoring and peer coaching, teacher support groups and teacher support networks involving teachers from multiple schools, local and national teachers’ associations, collaboration between associations, international associations, and workshops and conferences. Murray also notes that reading (or writing) articles is perhaps the simplest form of professional development, but doesn’t elaborate. She uses an example of a teacher in Senegal who maintains a vibrant teaching practice in difficult circumstances because of her commitment to ongoing professional development, to illustrate the impact of these types of practices, and she provides examples from her career for many of the techniques she outlines. She also includes an appendix of advice from the Association of Teachers of English in Senegal on things to consider when starting a teachers’ association.

This is not an article I probably would have read on my own, but as part of the fellowship I’m in here in Ecuador, we have professional learning communities where we meet once a month to discuss teaching. As part of each meeting, we all read an article and use it as a starting point for discussion. As we near the end of our fellowship, one of the other teachers suggested that we read this article and reflect on our professional development throughout our time in Ecuador. The formal professional development components of the fellowship have been the monthly PLC meetings, maintaining a “teacher action plan,” which is an ongoing list of strengths, challenges and goals, and monthly-ish webinars, most of which have been focused on globalization, intercultural communication and international development, rather than teaching and education. We also each complete a fellowship project, which is pretty much whatever we want it to be, to present at our end of service conference. (Mine was a classroom research project on the effect of using multiple intelligence-aligned activities in a unit with my seventh graders.) Reflecting on the PD components of the fellowship has given me a much clearer sense of what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, I’ve been part of two different PLCs during my time here. The first worked much better for me than the second, because it was smaller and much more tightly focused on the month’s theme. We also gave ourselves a time limit for the meeting and separated social time from working time. In contrast, the second group is larger, more social and less focused on the theme, which makes it less effective for me. In addition, I’ve realized that I don’t like the monthly goals of the teacher action plan, so I have also been setting my own goals, using the same format I did during the internship component of my internship. (Murray doesn’t list goal setting as one of her professional development activities in and of itself, but several times throughout the article she mentions the importance of goals in relation to the other strategies.) I’ve been setting longer term goals in the six competency areas of my master’s program and working on them simultaneously, rather than setting one goal per month and not having them overlap. (In case you’re curious, the competency areas I set goals for myself in are 1) language, 2) culture, 3) learners and learning, 4) teachers and teaching, 5) self and others and 6) educational institutions, communities and professional life.) I’ve also found the webinars to not meet my needs, since they are not focused on teaching or education. Instead, I’ve been reading articles independently (and, starting in April, documenting them on this blog), which allows me to target my areas of interest. I’ve also been doing some of Murray’s other suggestions, such as being involved in the TESOL international organization and presenting at conferences. All in all, between this blog, setting and reviewing my six personal goals, conducting my fellowship research project and my writing/editing/presenting work within the field of TESOL, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good ongoing professional development routine worked out for myself.

Murray, A. (2010). Empowering teachers through professional development. English Teaching Forum, 48(1), 2-11.

Reader Response Journal

“I May Be a Native Speaker, But I’m Not Monolingual”: Reimagining All Teachers’ Linguistic Identities in TESOL by Elizabeth M. Ellis

In this article, Ellis explores teachers’ linguistic identities, beyond the NEST/NNEST dichotomy, which she argues simplifies teachers’ experiences of language, since it focuses exclusively on English. In the NEST v. NNEST mindset, NESTs are presumed to be monolingual and NNESTs are presumed to be bilingual, deficient in English and often speakers of the same language of their students and the dominant model of teaching English in English hides teachers’ other language skills. Ellis elicited personal linguistic narratives from 29 English teachers in 7 countries that contradict these constructs. She found that many of the so-called NESTs were in fact multilingual, with varied language learning experiences that sometimes included being able to speak the same language as their students to a high degree of proficiency. In addition, teachers who were perceived as NNESTS not only had broad linguistic repertoires and varied language learning experiences, they also often considered themselves to be native speakers (sometimes with a caveat about their accents). Ellis draws on traditions such as bilingual life-writing (memoirs such as Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation), plurilingualism (a European approach that takes a broader view of linguistic repertoires than multilingualism, by acknowledging various levels of competence, attrition and relearning across the languages an individual knows), and the move towards recognizing the learner’s L1 as both a learning tool and an important aspect of their identity, to establish a place for teacher’s multilingual learning experiences as an important aspect of their teaching and teacher identity. She envisions a world where teachers will regularly be asked “how rich is your linguistic repertoire and how can this be deployed as a pedagogical resource?” instead of whether they are a native or nonnative speaker or which variety of English they speak (606).

For me, this article was particularly relevant, because I am a multilingual native English speaker, and I often feel like the rest of my linguistic repertoire gets erased or is invisible to my students. I’ve been using much more of a plurilingual approach to teaching here in Ecuador, where my classes are of necessity a hybrid of Spanish and English. But it was only last week that one group of my students thought to ask me if I speak anything else (which I do, to varying levels of competence). I really think that for students to see their teachers as language learning role models is really powerful, and I wish more teachers would include their language histories when they introduce themselves to new classes. For example, I don’t know how any of my previous language teachers learned their languages and I don’t know if any of them spoke languages beyond English and what we were learning. I think that standardizing the “what is your linguistic repertoire” question as part of the hiring process would be really beneficial. I remember when I first arrived here how frustrating it was that my principal just saw me as a deficient Spanish speaker, rather than a multicompetent user of many languages. As a native English speaker, my L1 is valued, but this experience gave me a sense of the frustrations that I hear my NNEST friends talk about, where they are defined by what they aren’t, rather than recognized for the skills and abilities they do have. I really hope Ellis’ ways of conceptualizing language repertoires catch on within the field, and that differentiating childhood home languages from current dominant languages and accounting for both circumstantial and elective language learning experience becomes more common. I know that they languages I speak benefit me hugely as a teacher, and I think that these experiences should be valued throughout the field. By doing this, we can move away from valuing nativeness as the most important factor in a teacher’s linguistic identity, and start creating more accurate and less biased ways of talking about teachers’ language backgrounds. This would also open the way for more plurilingual classroom pedagogy and structured reflection on past language learning experiences as part of teacher training programs, which would better serve our students.

Ellis, E. M. (2016.) “I may be a native speaker, but I’m not monolingual”: Reimagining all teachers’ linguistic identities in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 597-630.