Since her landmark paper, "Tradition and Revolution in ESL Teaching," presented
at the 17th Annual TESOL Convention in Toronto, in March, 1983, Ann Raimes has
been a driving force for change in ESL approaches, particularly to the teaching
of writing skills. ESL MiniConference Online is pleased to present her comments
from a recent interview.
Some Ann Raimes links:
Keys for Writers (Houghton Mifflin) (2002)
Grammar Troublespots : An Editing Guide for ESL Students (Cambridge)
Out of the Woods: Emerging Traditions in the Teaching of Writing (1991)
The Texts for Teaching Writing (1988)
Tradition and Revolution in ESL Teaching (1983)
An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Ann Raimes:
What is your main ESL activity now? What are your
principal projects, and what is on the back burner?
Hunter College has lost most of its ESL courses-Board of Trustees policy to do away with "remedial" courses in CUNY's four-year colleges. We still offer a few courses, mostly geared to passing an ACT writing test. So I teach these ESL courses and every year I teach a grad course in "Rhetoric and Composition" to prospective teachers in our MA program. Mostly, though, I teach freshman and upper level writing courses, which are not specifically ESL, but because Hunter is an urban public college, many of the students have ESL backgrounds-maybe 50% or more. Right now I'm involved in designing and teaching a "hybrid online" writing course using Blackboard. We have some class meetings, and some online projects. All the course materials are online and the Discussion Board is heavily used. It's a ton of work-much more than a regular course. But a new challenge is always good, especially after 30+ years in the classroom.
On the back burner are always all my writing projects-several Houghton Mifflin handbooks for writing courses in various editions and Cambridge U Press ESL writing and grammar books-all needing continual updating and revision.
How did you start your ESL career? Who influenced
your decision? What were some important formative
experiences in the early stages of your development?
I sort of slipped in sideways. I was teaching German at Cornell and then U. Mass in Amherst, and realized I enjoyed teaching language rather than literature. I had previously taught ESL in England (7 hours a day, 5 days a week-"Open your books at page 72" kind of approach) and saw the possibilities. So I gradually got more and more into ESL. Then I was teaching at the New School in New York City and was asked to supervise new language teachers and teach a teacher-training course. That was in 1967 and I've been in the teaching of ESL ever since. I got into writing when I went to Hunter College in 1971 and so began my two career loves: ESL and writing.
What are the four or five language/culture backgrounds
with which you are most familiar as a teacher? Which
ones are you familiar with from the perspective of a
language learner yourself? What insights have you
gained in how to meet the needs of English learners
from these cultures and language backgrounds?
Lots of dead languages in my background: Latin, Anglo Saxon, Middle English, Old High German, Middle High German . . .! Over the years, I've studied the structures of various languages without ever learning how to speak them. A few years ago I took a Japanese course to put myself on the other side of the classroom as a language learner rather than teacher. It was salutary. I remember learning how to count: one, two, three etc. and feeling proud of my accomplishment. Then to my horror I found out that that was only one of many systems. Japanese uses different words for counting different objects: cylindrical, flat, and so on. I remember feeling a great sense of "Oh no! They can't do this to me," something akin to how our students feel about used to + simple form and get used to + -ing. "But why?" they wail-understandably.
If you had to give three pieces of advice to a
new ESL teacher, what would they be?
If a student asks a question you can't answer (and they will), never try to fudge it. You'll just get flustered. A defining moment in my teaching career came when I found I could say with confidence: "I don't know but I'll find out." Alternatively keep a grammar book or handbook and a dictionary in your classroom and say: "Let's look this up together." This instills good learning habits in students.
Keep a lot of mini-lessons handy on useful points, such as the difference between few and a few-preferably something light and engaging. They come in handy for the day when a lesson ends before you expect it to and you need a filler. And they provide variety.
At the end of a class, reflect on what went on. Keep a little notebook and write in it very briefly and very quickly what you think the students learned, what worked well, and what didn't. And add a reminder about a new approach to try.
What do you see as the most important issues
facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?
The Internet as source of use of English and for examination of how English is used: how we can use it to help our students;
English-speaking countries and their political roles in conflict, determination of boundaries, war and peace-all those things that force us to consider our political role as language teachers;
Getting across the idea of Standard English, what it is, and who determines what it is: Whose English are we teaching and what do we expect students to do with what they learn?
Interviewed by Robb Scott
2002 ESL MiniConference Online