Feeling blessed by a keynote speaker

At the 2016 TESOL, my colleague Anne, who used to be president of NNETESOL, was at a session by a woman who will be our next keynote speaker. She didn’t intend to make a unilateral decision. We were both trolling sessions to find someone who might be interesting to our audience here in the Northeast and who would be willing to come for the tiny honorarium we are able to offer.

Some TESOL affiliates are well connected and funded, with the biggest names in our business serving as active members on the boards. Some attract thousands to their conferences and command a pretty hefty ticket price to raise sufficient money for board members to stay overnight at the conference hotel where they hold their multi-day conferences that have sit-down dinners.

We don’t have that. We’re little. And “cute,” as a colleague once described us. We have between 150-200 people who come to our conferences. And it’s not always easy to find volunteers to serve on our board.

So when Anne walked up to Judith O’Loughlin and asked her if she would consider maybe coming to Vermont to speak at our tiny conference, she said she would do it. Anne tried to let her know that she was just floating an idea, but Judy just said, “Yes. I’ll do it.”

Anne was shocked.

She came back to our hotel room and said that she wasn’t sure if she had good or bad news, but our keynote had been found. It would only be bad if as incoming president I didn’t like her pick. There should be a committee to find our speaker. And discussions. And votes.

But this was simple. And I couldn’t be happier. I knew I had heard her name before, and then, when I sat down at my desk, I realized that one of my recent acquisitions, Academic Language Accelerator (Oxford University Press, 2010), was sitting right by my computer screen, with her name on it.

At TESOL 2017, I attended one of Judy’s sessions–she had lots to choose from–just to say hello and let her know how grateful we were that she was coming, to put a face with the name. After the K-12 day sessions were nearly done, Brenda Custodio, who presents often alongside Judy, asked if I would go have dinner with them before my flight left.

Of course, I said yes.

And we have had long, interesting conversations ever since. On Facebook. On the phone. In emails.

Usually I see our keynote speakers as people I normally would have no chance ever talking to, of ever befriending. They are on a different social level. But I have to say that I have been so blessed to have had Judy walk into my life and into this conference. She is a wealth of knowledge and so incredibly inquisitive and thoughtful. She listens. And she has a big heart.

I forwarded her a dilemma that a teacher here in Vermont was experiencing, and then she set up a facebook chat with her to talk about the issues further. Such dedication! She doesn’t owe us any more than the conference time, but here we are, building bridges and sharing materials.

It’s what I got into this for.

Her most recent book, with Brenda, is on Students with Interrupted Formal Education, a topic that is taking up a lot of my time as of late. So we have much to talk about.

So without further ado, I’ll share with you what you could look forward to at our next conference. Be sure to keep an eye out for early registration mid- to late-August. I’m so looking forward to hearing her speak! And I hope to see you there.

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Judith B. O’Loughlin will be speaking on Writing to Persuade: Teach Argument with Fiction and Nonfiction Texts

Compare/contrast essays were developed on observations of two or three, objects, events, or characters, and required the writer to list and order important factual and observational information. Students generated lists, placing information on two or three intersecting Venn Diagram circles. Students discovered similarities between the individual items and listed them in the overlapping oval. Synthesis of information provided evidence of similar and different evidence, did not go as far as persuading the reader, nor was an argument for a choice, position, or procedure.

Moving from compare/contrast to persuasion and argument students engage in higher order thinking skills, particularly analysis and synthesis. Although students often practice persuasion in their daily lives—through bribery, flattery, or reverse psychology, as Brandi Clark suggests in Should We Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late? (Hyperion, 2014), they are not frequently asked to analyze the elements of persuasion, nor practice persuasive writing.

Persuasive writing begins with a thesis statement. Students need to list and describe reasons to support the thesis statement. Each reason should be supported with facts or specific examples. The conclusion should support the thesis statement and bring together the facts and evidence to support the thesis.

It is important to provide ELLs with models of well-written examples of persuasive writing. Authentic children’s literature, particularly picture books, provides excellent examples of persuasive writing, including the visuals that support persuasion. From simple stories, such as the Pigeon series to the wolf’s version of facts in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (1989), to a sophisticated Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.(2007), to Faithful Elephants ((1988) and other well-written picture book literature, teaching persuasion is possible because of the language and illustrations. The presenter models persuasive writing, with well-crafted picture books. Handouts include persuasive writing templates and book list.

For her breakout session, she will be presenting on resilience and how important it is for students new to the country. If you look at the definition of the word, google says it’s “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” In the book that I showed you above, chapter four is all about the importance of resilience in learning. And that’s what she’ll be talking about after the keynote.

Get to know our keynote speaker: 

Judith B. O’Loughlin, M.Ed., an independent education consultant, has more than twenty-five years experience as an English, ESL, and special education teacher.  She has taught ESL at the K-12, adult education, and graduate levels in university endorsement programs and as an eCoach for pre-service candidates in The Ohio State University “Transition to Teaching” grant project.

As a consultant,Ms. O’Loughlin focuses on standards-based curriculum, instructional strategies, differentiated instruction for newcomers, and collegial collaboration for ESL and mainstream co-teaching. She is a certified WIDA Consultant in Standards and Assessment, as well as a Pearson SIOP Certified Trainer.

Ms. O’Loughlin is the author of the Academic Language Accelerator (2011, Oxford University Press) and the co-author of Students with Interrupted Formal Education: Bridging Where They Are and What They Need (2017, Corwin), as well as chapters in several edited series (Information Age, Corwin, TESOL). She owns the website http://www.newcomer-ell-services.com/ and manages newcomer and SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) Facebook pages.

Ms. O’Loughlin was the 2015 CATESOL Sadae Iwataki Service Award recipient and named one of the TESOL “50 at 50” recognized leaders in the field.


Beth Evans is president of NNETESOL.

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