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Report from Rocky Mountain TESOL 2003

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New Age Meets Cultural Diversity in Denver
Report from Rocky Mountain TESOL 2003

Whether your Colorado memories are sparked by John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" or Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way," Colorado TESOL's 27th Annual Fall Convention and Exhibition at the Radisson Southeast Denver Hotel and Convention Center would have really taken you back. This meeting also brought together Arizona TESOL, New Mexico TESOL, Intermountain TESOL and was the 19th Rocky Mountain Regional TESOL gathering. More than 700 people attended the two-day meeting in Denver on November 7th and 8th this year.

Silversmiths joined book vendors at CoTESOL 2003Rocky Mountain TESOLers are a little different from the rest of us. There is a peacefulness in their eyes. They live near some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Some of the session titles convey a sense of the uniquely "New Age" flavor of TESOL practiced out here in the west: "Teaching Freire in Workplace ESL Settings," by Kate Goodspeed (Emily Griffith Opportunity School); "Socio Theory, Systemic Change and Teacher Preparation," by Honorine Nocon and Mark Clarke (both of the University of Colorado-Denver); "Synthesizing Individual Difference Research," by Ann Conway (Peace Corps), Martha Denney (Colorado State University), Eileen Mattingly (Coverdell World Wise Schools) and Patricia McGuire (Western New Mexico University); "Consciousness-Raising Strategy and Grammar Development," by Rama Munajat (Ball State University); "Stumbling A Mile in Our Students' Shoes," by Maggie Pike (South Middle School-Aurora), Patty Coleman (South Middle School-Aurora), Sherry Keck (Middle School Teacher) and Mary Madera (Douglas County High School).

Friday's Plenary Speaker was Dr. Andy Curtis, who spoke on "Leadership and Management of English language programs in times of challenge and change." Dr. Curtis, Director of the School of English at Queen's University in Ontario, Canada, believes that two important themes today in ESL are: management of change and innovation, and caring educational leadership. Other considerations, he said, included being one of the only senior managers of color in his organization, being one of the only males in an otherwise all-female workforce; and being non-North American.

Carolyn Graham memerized and rejuvenated everyone at her Saturday plenary

Saturday's Plenary Speaker was Carolyn Graham, who chanted and spoke on "The creative classroom: Jazz Chants, music and poetry for language learning." Ms. Graham described how she was inspired to create jazz chants originally when the singing she did in New York City night clubs developed a unique sensitivity to the rhythms of everyday conversations she would hear on the subways and streets commuting to her day job as an ESL teacher at New York University. "Keep it simple...and focus on meaningful phrases rather than grammatical forms," she told the overflow audience at Saturday's plenary.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was "Letting Our Learning Inform Our Teaching," by Peggy Hull (Dodge City Community College). Ms. Hull explained lessons she has learned from her recent experiences learning Spanish (including an educational trip to Mexico) and applied to improve her understanding of how to best help her adult ESL students learn English. "The most important thing I gained from studying and teaching language simultaneously is compassion," she said. "We all space out sometimes, overuse dictionaries, can be reluctant to talk, and tend to chit-chat in L1."

While emphasizing the importance of authentic communication activities for language learning, Peggy Hull also sees a legitimate place for drills, which, according to her should NOT be for more than 10 minutes at a time, NOT be used when the focus is on meaning, NOT just involve repeating things faster and faster, and NOT require students to process several rules at once. When used appropriately, explained Ms. Hull, drills provide a bottom-up approach which is great for focusing on discrete points, drills help students to memorize paradigms and drills can add variety and fun.

Peggy Hull explains how she applies insights from her own language learning in her ESL teachingAnother area in which Peggy Hull's Spanish-learning experience has informed her English-teaching practices regards composition skills. "What helps me write in L2?," she reflected. "Knowing how to write in my language; making use of teacher comments and corrections to formulate rules; teacher paraphrasing of awkward passages; Microsoft Word's 'Insert Comment'; and immediate feedback." Corrections, she warned, can be a waste of time if students don't find them meaningful. Ms. Hull gave as an example the practice one of her long-ago Spanish teachers had of completely rewriting her journal entries in perfect Spanish and never giving her back the original drafts.

A recent trip to Mexico gave Peggy Hull new insights regarding the second language acquisition process. "I learned far more out of class than in class," she reported. "As an experienced language learner I really appreciated the one teacher who allowed me to plan my own learning program....Outside of class I could choose the focus of my learning." She further noted that "my focus acted as a filter for input...focus on one aspect (meaning, pronunciation, structure, or semantics) blocked input for other aspects." Another important aspect of learning in the target culture of the language being acquired, according to Ms. Hull, is socio-cultural activity. In Mexico, she enjoyed reading to someone, playing games with neighborhood children, talking with mothers, traveling, attending mass, shopping and people watching.

Peggy Hull spoke of the benefits of "hanging" in Spanish, too. "While people-watching," she remarked, "it's fun to just sit back and notice things." Some of the things Ms. Hull noticed were new words and structures, body language and turn-taking, mouth and tongue position, the music of the language, and gender differences.

Reflecting on her own experience learning Spanish, Peggy Hull also asked herself, "What has hindered my language development?" Her answers: 1) teachers who pounce on every little error; 2) memorizing vocabulary out of context; 3) speaking English in class; 4) translation (reading in L1, writing in L2); 5) biased materials on controversial topics; and 6) out-of-control discussions.

Ms. Hull encouraged members of the audience "to continue learning languages, to reflect on your learning through the lens of SLA theory, and to apply your reflections to your teaching." She shared some of the implications (see below) she has realized from her own reflective process.

Implications for Instruction, from Peggy Hull's PowerPoint Presentation

One of the high points of this year's Colorado/Rocky Mountain TESOL Convention was the Awards Luncheon and Annual Business Meeting. The highest honor given at each year's event is the Gladys Doty Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Profession, this year presented to Nancy Storer, Assistant Director of the University of Denver's English Language Center. Dr. Storer has taught ESL for more than 25 years, in Romania, China, Malaysia and the United States. She served Colorado TESOL as its 12th President (1987-1988) and afterwards for a number of years as its Executive Secretary. On the national level, Dr. Storer has been a TESOL Board member, a member of the TESOL Nominating Committee and Chair of the TESOL 2000 Convention in Vancouver. She is also a site reviewer for the accrediting institution for Intensive ESL programs, Commission on English Language Program Accreditation.

Gladys Doty, for whom the award is named, taught at the University of Colorado in the 1960s and early 1970s, and was the 1963-1964 NAFSA Region II Chair. In 1978, Gladys Doty was President of the University of Colorado Retired Faculty Assocation. In 1985, a book she co-authored about the Colorado State Capitol Building, "Under the Golden Dome," was published in Boulder. In an ESL MiniConference Achievement Profile interview, Betty Azar said that when she was first thrown into an ESL classroom at the beginning of her career she was influenced by Gladys Doty, who had co-written "Language and Life in the U.S.A." (Harper & Row, 1960) and "Writing English" (Harper & Row, 1965). This research information about Gladys Doty was contributed to the ESL MiniConference by Barbara Sihombing, Longman ESL Representative and long-time active member of Colorado TESOL.

"I believe this is what Colorado TESOL's Gladys Doty Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Profession is all about," said Barbara Sihombing, in introducing this year's recipient, Dr. Nancy Storer, "the positive influence of one professional on others, making the path a little smoother--and broader and longer." Nancy Storer received the Gladys Doty Award this yearThe Gladys Doty Award is for research, publication, professional presentations, leadership, public service and assuming an active role in educational advocacy, explained Ms. Sihombing. "Nancy Storer is a wonderful choice for this year's award because of her numerous and varied leadership contributions both at state and national levels."

Barbara Sihombing's comments on behalf of Nancy Storer included personal insights based on their relationship through CoTESOL over a number of years. "Nancy displays some of the best qualities of an ESL professional," said Ms. Sihombing. "First, she loves to eat ethnic food. This is just one indication of her deep interest in other cultures, languages and people. We have clocked a lot of hours in Indian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Hungarian, Chinese, Mexican and other restaurants. There is a world of interesting food out there, and she intends to investigate it."

"Secondly, she has a sparkling and sometimes wicked sense of humor. Where would any of us in this profession be without a sense of humor? When I have worked with her on various projects, from presentations to CoTESOL conventions to the national TESOL convention, she has brought laughter when we most needed it."

"Ask for a show of hands of people who have laughed with Nancy, and you will see a sign of her leadership ability: her ability to connect with others and to help herself and others keep their perspective even during trying times."

"Nancy also forms fast friendships with many of those she works with. Her warmth and loyalty make it a delight to cooperate with her. It also helps her draft her colleagues into volunteer positions before they know what hit them. 'You won't really have to do much of anything,' she says soothingly as she adds your name to the list. No wonder her own name has been added to nominating committee lists so often."

"Finally, Nancy upholds high standards: for herself and her profession. She is dedicated and works hard for the betterment of the field. When I asked her why she did the site visits for CEA, knowing how demanding and draining they were, for no monetary compensation, she replied that she considered it free professional development for herself as well as a volunteer service for other institutions."

"Nancy Storer believes in striving towards higher standards in the field, and she knows she has some skills to offer that can help to get the job done well. She has had a positive influence on others in the profession and on the profession itself, and has done some serious road construction to make the path smoother, wider and longer. She deserves our recognition for all of her generous and skilled efforts."

Jayne Leshinsky, Kansas University grad, author of Authentic Listening and Discussion for Advanced Students (Pearson)The long drive to Denver from Hays, Kansas, to participate in the Rocky Mountain TESOL Convention was worthwhile in many ways. After Carolyn Graham's session, I found myself forming jazz chants in my head while engaging in conversations with other conference-goers. After Peggy Hull's talk, I was motivated to start looking for a language learning challenge beyond my lifelong experience with Spanish: what is it like to start learning a brand new language? That's the question we have to come to grips with if we are going to be empathetic, effective ESL teachers. I enjoyed great conversational exchanges with teachers from Garden City, Denver and many, many other places. I saw Jayne Leshinsky, whom I had studied with at Kansas University, where both of us completed Masters degrees in TESL years ago. She has spent the past two decades achieving success as a teacher, administrator and author (Authentic Listening And Discussion For Advanced Students, Pearson Learning Group, 1995). I met other Kansans who had relocated to Colorado, including Paige Progar-Jaumann, now Coordinator of the Global Business Communication Program, Division of Continuing Education, in the International English Center at University of Colorado at Boulder.

Larry Fisher, Executive Secretary, CoTESOLI shared ideas with about 40 teachers in a session on early interventions that I led, and came away very charged up and ready to go.

Larry Fisher, Executive Secretary of CoTESOL, and this year's Convention Chair Linda Kowal, Program Chair Alan Miller and President Bruce Rogers, really know how to put together a great learning conference. My hat's off to them.

Report by Robb Scott, Hays, KANSAS

2003 ESL MiniConference Online