By Nicole Decoteau, NNETESOL’s Social Media Coordinator
As a the ESOL Program Director at New England College, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the International TESOL Conference each year; however, I know there are many many ESOL teachers who don’t get funding opportunities. So, I wanted to share some nuggets of great information I learned for those that could not attend.
“Supporting Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center” — As a current student, I was able to save a considerable amount on the conference fee this year. So, I took the opportunity to spend that money on a full-day pre-session institute titled, “Supporting Multilingual Writers in the Writing Center.” Even though my college doesn’t have a designated “writing center” I felt this would be a great opportunity for me to get tips to bring back to adjunct composition instructors and tutors. For the last few years, I have searched for some means of giving monolingual colleagues an experience that closely relates to the an ESOL student’s experience writing in English, but I had yet to find anything truly effective until this workshop.
- Give the writers 5 minutes to respond to a simple prompt. Ours was, “The (insert institution here) should raise the hourly pay rate for writing center tutors.”
- On the instruction page, list these “new rules for writing”:
- Put the letter “a” at the end of all nouns used as subjects.
- Put the letter “b” at the end of all nouns used as objects.
- Put all prepositional phrases in front of the verb.
- Add a comma between two verbs with the same subject.
- Do NOT use the words money, pay, salary, or earn in your sentences (these restricted words would change based on the prompt)
- After being given time to write, we discussed the ways in which the rules were restrictive to our writing process. It was really eye opening.
One of the best parts of the International TESOL Convention is the ability to walk amongst the various vendors in the expo hall. This year I found some really neat new apps (paid and free), placement tests, and books. I wanted to share a few of those here:
- en.news is 2-month old app from WeSpeke and CNN news. It’s a free site, and according to the developer will always stay that way. The app takes CNN news articles and “converts” them, within 15 minutes of publication, to language that is more accessible to ESOL learners. Utilizing the Collins Dictionary, students are able to push and hold on unknown words for instant definitions that they can then send to a notebook for later studying. There are also about 10 prescribed words for each article that students are quizzed on. To complete a lesson, a student must answer about 10 questions, which are currently skimming/scanning type text-level questions with the hope of developing inference-based questions in the future. Currently, there is no option to create a classroom, so teachers are mostly using this as supplemental language practice and asking students to screenshot their completed lessons/points page to show that they are interacting with current events via the app.
- Extempore is a new app that allows teachers to assign reading/listening/watching prompts and then asks student to record themselves responding to the prompts. The teacher can then respond via voice or text. This seems like a nice app for those with hybrid/online classes, or those that want their learners to have more practice speaking outside of the classroom – perhaps in an EFL environment. It is, however, a paid app at about $9 per student.
- The New Michigan Test is a placement test with high reliability (0.953 with +1 being perfect) and low cost – the lowest I found at the conference – at $5.95 per test with a minimum order of 25 tests that are good for one year. If you don’t use all 25 in a year, no worries! As long as you purchase 25 more tests, you’ll rollover those not used. This a internet-based test, which allows for flexibility in test taking location. However, there are no writing or speaking components; Michigan’s rationale being that those types of productive language tests can be more easily administered by the staff directly.
- Duolingo is getting into the placement test game as well. These tests are $49 per student, but they do test speaking and writing. They also offer an online proctoring service, which is one major reason the cost is higher, which would allow institutions to send the test to students in other countries and still be certain that the student applying to their school is the one taking the actual test. I was a touch skeptical of a popular language learning app crossing over into placement tests, but the reliability score for this test is quite high: 0.96 where a +1 is perfection. It definitely seems worth checking out if you’re interested in finding a new placement test.
- The Grammar Answer Key by Keith Folse is a collection of 100 short explanations of very common ESOL grammar questions. For over 10 years Dr. Folse has been compiling “hot seat” questions, several of which appear in his teacher’s guide Key to Teaching English Grammar to English Language Learners, that instructors all over the world have been asked and may struggle to answer, particularly native speakers who think, “It just sounds right.” This short little guide is a great companion for instructors who want an alternative to trusting Google when they don’t know how to explain a grammar point.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of interesting take-aways, and I encourage you to go onto the convention website, select the “schedule at a glance” button, then “browse and search the convention program” followed by the “Agenda” tab and finally “full schedule” to peruse the sessions. If you find something that looks interesting, check to see if the presenter has uploaded their presentation/handouts through the website. Most presenters are happy to answer questions via email as well.