Annual ESL Mini-Conference Sparks Interest

In mid- to late June the call went out to invite ESL teaching professionals to join the core staff at ASPECT/Manhattan College and help us handle an influx of 200 new students that would land at our school the second half of July.

First, friends of ASPECT and some of our best former teachers still living in the greater metropolitan New York City area were contacted. Many responded warmly and positively, signing up for a nostalgic several weeks back together with colleagues here.

Then the word went out on the TESL-JB listserv: "Are you on summer break or thinking of taking a trip to New York City? ... We have excellent teaching/learning resources, a communicative curriculum, friendly, professional teaching colleagues and highly motivated young adult and adult learners from all over the world. Hone your craft with ASPECT this summer."

That listserv message made it onto several important alumni lists, including the School for International Training and American University's TESOL program. And soon the phone calls, faxes and e-mails began pouring in. The end result has been an amazing array of individual styles and many opportunities for sharing teaching techniques even in the midst of ASPECT's hectic summer-group sessions. Here are some of their answers to a few questions about ESL teaching.

Please describe how you came to be an ESL teacher.

Lao Anthony, ASPECT ESL teacher since October, 2000: I came to be an ESL teacher through the help of a friend of my father's.

Natalya Brook, ASPECT teacher and UCPS adviser since February, 2001: My high school teachers influenced me and being a second-language learner myself has had an effect on me.

Matthew Deters, a TESOL graduate of the University of Illinois: I did an M.A. at the University of Illinois and started teaching in Korea six months later.

James Hart, holder of a TESOL certificate from American University: Tutoring privately in high school first sparked my interest; then, I pursued and received my certificate.

Crissy Miller, linguistics graduate student at the University of Iowa: I took a linguistics class as an elective during my sophomore year of college. The teacher discussed ESL in passing; I started to volunteer as a tutor; I changed my major.

David Papier, TESOL graduate from the University of Michigan and two-time Fulbright scholar: At the University of Michigan my linguistics professor encouraged me to take TESL courses, and the ELI offered me a summer teaching post, which I enjoyed.

Jackie Sandberg, a full-time teacher in the New York City public schools and former ASPECT teacher: I fell into it after quitting my job in computer graphics at Lord & Taylor. A friend of mine was working at Rennert Bilingual and told me they needed subs there. I was hooked from the start and learned quickly that I enjoyed working more with people than with machines.

Leah Scalese, Fordham University graduate student in TESOL, and an ASPECT ESL teacher since May, 2001: I spoke with career placement people at my undergraduate school and was led to a woman who had experience in TESOL, based on my interests and skills.

Curt Tomao, an ASPECT teacher since April, 1998: A friend mentioned my tutoring and occasional teaching could be useful in ESL. I applied to Berlitz and started in 1989. I was attracted to teaching since childhood, and family members recommended that I become a teacher.

Ilona Vinklerova, an ASPECT teacher since October, 2000: I have always loved English, even though it is not my native language. I studied English at Palacky University, which prepared me to become an ESL teacher. We had great native speakers, some of whom have influenced me a lot. I learned many teaching methods, their pros and cons ... and, in addition, we had to do compulsory teaching, which gave me an idea of what I was getting into.

Please describe one or two people who have strongly influenced your development as a teacher.

Ilona Vinklerova: The person who has enormously influenced me was my high school English teacher, whom I admired a lot for her great knowledge, intelligence and, last but not least, her teaching style. She somehow knew how to explain things in such an easy and understandable way that everyone always left the class knowing something, even those students who were not so crazy about learning English.

Curt Tomao: Tim Ashford, the methodology director at Berlitz, especially helped me with one-on-one strategies. Leslie Lauretti, an academic director at Rennert Bilingual and at ASPECT, especially helped me with group strategies.

Leah Scalese: I volunteered with a middle school ESL teacher, and she was very creative. I learned a lot about her creative methods. One of my very good friends who is just entering the field always encourages me and listens to my ideas.

Jackie Sandberg: Diane (last name?) gave some workshops that really inspired me and helped me bring Focus on Grammar alive with lots of unconventional activities that get the students up-active and involved. I don't easily feel comfortable and uninhibited as a student, but I did with her because of her playful and nonjudgmental manner.

David Papier: Carlos Yorio at the University of Michigan was my adviser for my M.A. studies. He gave me many valuable tips while observing my classes; he also lent me his teaching materials. H. Douglas Brown, also at Michigan, was my TESL professor. He encouraged me to experiment, to borrow ideas freely and adapt them for my own use, and to remember that language is a human, social phenomenon, not used in a vacuum. Helen Aron, Union College, gave me many practical pointers which I have used in my teaching for 25 years.

Crissy Miller: Maureen Burke, department head at the University of Iowa and an expert in the field; she is my professor and future boss. Marilyn Fehn, literary coordinator at Kirkwood Community College, Iowa City; I was an ESL tutor for her students.

James Hart: My linguistics/structure of English professor, Robin Barr, was very inspiring and her classes solidified my interest in linguistics and languages.

Matthew Deters: The teaching of my pronunciation instructor, Wayne Dickerson, was excellent and inspired me to focus on pronunciation. The criticism of English teaching by Robert Phillipson has also motivated me.

Natalya Brook: One of my professors at Queens College, Gita Martohardjono, and also Dr. Newmann, the coordinator for all ESL student teachers. I can also say Audrey Levine, a music teacher.

Lao Anthony: Mrs. Robinson helped me to get my foot in the door with the Board of Education in 1992.

Please describe one or two activities or lessons from your current classes that are turning out well.

Jackie Sandberg, advanced integrated skills: For a warm-up, I like having them read their horoscope from the Post because they're short and have lots of good idioms and expressions. The students read them outloud and restate them in their own words. Then we guess the meanings of some vocabulary.

James Hart, intermediate & high intermediate grammar: Creative activities, making posters, poems, songs, etc... Activities using authentic materials that interest them.

Crissy Miller, advanced integrated skills: For the "Bridges Across Generations" unit, I made role-play situation cards where everyone took different roles and acted them out. For example, a family tries to decide how to spend $25,000, or a child negotiates with his/her parent for a raise in his/her allowance.

David Papier, high intermediate & advanced grammar: I break the students into small groups and give them a problem to solve, along with useful vocabulary and appropriate phrases of agreement, disagreement, etc... The aim is for them to use their English and their general knowledge, to compromise sometimes in arriving at a group solution. Another activity is to take the students on a neighborhood walk, pointing out common objects on the street and also sounds. We make a list of these and use them in various ways in class. Most things I do seem to go over well with the students.

Ilona Vinklerova, high intermediate & advanced grammar: The activity I am going to describe involves reading, speaking, listening skills and vocabulary. It takes basically the whole 90 minutes. You can take any four articles, for example from the newspaper, which you give to students who are divided into four groups. Each group reads a different article. Students read the text, answer questions about the text and deal with any vocabulary that you underline for them in their article. Every student in each group has to have the answers and know the vocabulary since they will be divided into new groups. One student from each group rejoins with others to make a new group. Then each student shares his/her article. When they finish talking, they exchange texts and any new words should be explained by the student whose article it was. When they finish, a whole class discussion follows about the articles. Students can ask any questions and the teacher makes sure everybody understands the new vocabulary. This activity works very well since it involves many skills and is very dynamic.

Leah Scalese, proficiency and advanced integrated skills: Activities in which students role play situations, using grammar or new vocabulary we have been working on. For example, with three or four students, each person must use five modals in a skit and then perform it in front of the class.

Curt Tomao, proficiency grammar/listening, speaking: Information gap (due to "interference") skits on the phone. Students supply appropriate questions, based on the kind of information missing.

Lao Anthony, high intermediate integrated skills: One activity that my conversation class did was to ask non-ASPECT students to give adjectives describing Americans. We walked outside and the students randomly asked a number of people.

Natalya Brook, advanced integrated skills: We have had a lot of group discussions and debates that are working well with both classes, since students really like to talk in my advanced classes. I am also very proud of all my students in the voice class. They are great! Thank you for the hard work!

Matthew Deters, advanced grammar: This is my first experience teaching grammar and using a textbook. The students really like it.


Cheyenne Adams, Erin Abrams, Laura Boutwell, Mark Reich, Gabriel Skop, Charles Parish, Anne Racanelli, Heather Gately, Martin Perl, Marie Dundon


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