LA Conference Fuels Stipend Awardee’s Enthusiasm
for Next Step in Teaching Career

May 19th, 2015 | By | Category: Conferences, Regional
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Ian Baecht

By IAN BAECHT

—I was fortunate to attend workshops that informed my current practice and that also anticipate where I may be heading in more academic realms when I participated in the April 25 LA Regional Conference at California State University, Los Angeles as an awardee of the CATESOL Education Foundation Regional Conference Stipend. I am at a pivot point in my teaching career, moving from a largely communicative language teaching (CLT) background gained in five years working in Japanese high schools, to my current work teaching ESL to adults at a private language school in San Diego, and just beginning my MA at San Diego State University with the intention of moving into EAP and ESP contexts in universities.

Both Kangning Shen’s session dealing with the teaching of idioms, and Arusyak Sargsyan’s session explaining the use of art and literature as vehicles for fostering holistic acquisition experiences in students, reminded me of the importance of multimodal learning in CLT and beyond, as well as underscoring the pragmatic use of authentic popular and “high” cultural materials as inviting catalytic tools that should be used more in the classroom. As I further define my own practice, I absolutely do not want to lose sight of my own passionate connection to the arts, both high and low, and their efficacy as practical multifaceted points of departure for my students to explore.

Shen’s research-based presentation pointed out that native speakers use more than 6,000 idioms weekly, and this prevalence, coupled with the tension between their literal and idiomatic meanings, causes students great confusion in both interpretation and facility of use. Given that idioms are culturally specific artifacts, Shen gave examples of classroom lessons using video (sporting events, sitcoms), audio (popular songs), and pictures as sources of idioms and access points for exploring authentic idioms in use. Although it would depend on level as to how explicit preinstruction should be, the goal of Shen’s lessons is to have students be able to apply the idioms they learn in short dialogues or writing. In the discussion that followed a teacher asked, “How do we know what idioms to teach?” By using current pop cultural music and televisual references, we can be assured that these particular idioms are alive and in the culture now, and that they are parts of English that our students not only need to know but need to know how to use.

Sargsyan’s presentation advocated for the use of more classic texts, visual art, films, and even the news to assist acquisition of English. She emphasized that students can use something such as a painting or an authentic literary text as the starting point for exploring and using English in an integrated holistic manner. Through observation, students have the opportunity to discuss, decipher, understand, and construct knowledge. The generation of questions allows students to explore their interest, involvement, and engagement, and to analyze the object or text and enter into critical dialogue. The teacher’s role in all of this is to guide observations, the generation of questions, conversations, discussions, analyses, interpretations, and ultimately a synthesis through activities such as storytelling through writing or skits. Sargsyan’s goal in this approach is to foster a sense of belonging, positive attitudes to the new culture, shared values, strengthen identity, and most important, to support learner autonomy.

Having become familiar with their work through the third and fourth editions of The Apple Book, it was a special treat for me to attend both Donna Brinton’s and Ann Snow’s presentations. Snow’s lecture in particular gave me clarity and a framework as I head into the field of EAP writing and reading. It was notable that both speakers highlight the importance of research as the informative ground for praxis in an engaged, current pedagogy. This is exactly the kind of vibrant, alive attitude that is fueling my enthusiasm as I grow as an educator. The conference, for me, achieved its transformative goal to inspire innovation in my own process and development in a distinctly timely way. I am quite grateful that I was able to attend.

San Diego ESL teacher is embarking on a master’s degree at San Diego State University.

 

 

 

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