Achievement Profile: John Fanselow
An Eye for the Details of ESOL Teaching
Professor John Fanselow is the president of International Pacific College,
in Palmerston North, New Zealand. For much of his career, he has been
closely associated with Teachers College, Columbia University, where
he served as Chair of the TESOL department and developed TC's M.A.
in TESOL program in Japan. Dr. Fanselow served as president
of TESOL in 1981-82. ESL MiniConference Online is grateful for
the time he devoted to the following interview.
Some John Fanselow links:
International Pacific College (New Zealand)
Contrasting Conversations: Activities for Exploring Our Beliefs and Teaching Practices
Talking shop: John Fanselow and Chris Candlin on the first TESOL-IATEFL Summer Institute, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press (1988)
"Let's See": Contrasting Conversations about Teaching (1988)
Breaking rules - Generating and exploring alternatives in language teaching, Longman (1987)
I Didn't Do Well in High School English (1983)
What Kind of a Flower is That?--An Alternative Model for Discussing Lessons (1982)
Bilingual, ESOL and Foreign Language Teacher Preparation: Models, Practices, Issues (1977)
The Treatment of Error in Oral Work (1977)
On Tesol '76, co-edited with Ruth H. Crymes (1976)
Breaking the Rules of the Classroom Game Through Self Analysis (1976)
The Responses of Ninth Grade Spanish-English Bilingual Students to Four Short Stories (1974)
Read and Look Up
An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with John Fanselow:
What is your main ESL activity now? What are your
principal projects, and what is on the back burner?
My principal projects in ESL now are reprinting a book of
dialogs with Japanese teachers about language teaching for
Chinese English teachers. The project involves some rewriting
to use examples from classrooms in China rather than in Japan,
changing the names of the teachers who participate in the dialogs
from Japanese names to Chinese names.
I hope to produce a CD of the dialogs which will be
attached to the book jacket so that teachers can use
the book for personal language development as well as
for personal professional development.
The name of the book is "Try the Opposite," and was originally
published only in Japanese by a Japanese publisher called
SIMUL International. It has been reprinted in English and
Japanese by the 450 student body college in NZ that I am
now president of.
Another project is to write up an article on differences
between working with teachers in an MA course and working
with the teaching staff of a college. I am responsible for
professional development at the college I am president of.
There are many differences between working with teachers
in an MA course and those on the job.
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 started my ESOL career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in
Nigeria. A person from the British Council in Nigeria
used to visit schools to provide advice to teachers.
This person, John Rogers, introduced me to all the methods
books out at the time, with a concentration on the British
books by people like Michael West, F.G. French, A.S. Hornby,
I was at a teacher training college in Nigeria and part
of my duties in addtion to teaching ESOL to the teachers
was to supervise them during their practice teaching experiences
in local primary schools. I knew nothing of the curriculum
and so spent a great deal of time observing teachers in
detail. Each primary class had two streams. I would
take notes during my observations of the teachers teaching
the same subject in each stream in the morning. In the
afternoon, I would share my observations. Each teacher
did something slightly different and I would suggest to
the other teacher that he try the different technique. In
this way, each teacher expanded the range of behaviors
and techniques used.
I subsequently was invited to train Peace Corps Volunteers
at Teachers College, Columbia University. Again, my focus
was on observing and sharing differences. In a way, that has
been what I have been doing ever since.
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?
Re being familiar with different language or cultural
backgrounds I have been observing teachers in detail in
New York City schools and in Tokyo schools for a quarter
of a century. I also have observed classes over a five
year period in Africa, particularly Nigeria, Somalia,
Togo and Senegal. Time at Summer Institutes in Barcelona
has provided some exposure to ESOL classes in Barcelona
as well. And for the past few years, I have been
observing classes in Palmerston North, New Zealand
at various levels, but mostly at the college level.
I have gained few insights about differences re cultural
groups except to say that the way students are treated
obviously affects how they act. Changing the treatments
no matter what the backgrounds can have profound changes
on the way students act. Generalizations about cultural
differences to me lead to a lot of prescriptions about what
we should and should not do. In a way, such prescriptions
have an outcome different from their intention. Their
intention is probably to be sure we deal effectively
with students from different backgrounds. In effect, they
probably limit what we do with different students and so
deal less effectively with a range of students.
If you had to give three pieces of advice to a
new ESL teacher, what would they be?
Three pieces of advice to new ESOL teachers would be 1. believe
nothing you read about what you should and should not do in your
teaching; 2. believe nothing you read or hear about what your
students can and cannot do; 3. audio and video tape interactions
in your classes and observe and analyze the interactions from
as many perspectives as you can, over and over again, making
changes in the interactions and observing the different
consequences. (This is kind of three and one-half pieces
of advice rather than three.)
What do you see as the most important issues
facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?
The most important issues facing ESL/EFL or ESOL teachers
today have to do with the separation of actual teaching
exchanges from the labels we use to discuss teaching. The
gaps between the meanings of labels such as real life language,
practice, brainstorming, role-playing, etc. and what communications
actually take place in the classes is profound. The idea that
we can discuss what we do by using labels and without looking
in detail at what in fact we do is the greatest issue in
the entire teaching profession, not just in ESOL.
Interviewed by Robb Scott
2002 ESL MiniConference Online