Why do I get so ambitious sometimes?  I got this great idea a few days ago to have my students write a group essay using Google Docs.  Trying to get my students to learn how to write an essay is going to be a monumental task, so I thought practicing as a group first would be a good idea.  They’re having a lot of fun with the topic (they’re writing descriptive essays about weird houses I found on the Internet).  But Google Docs may not work so well.  I took my students to the lab yesterday and they all set up Google accounts and they uploaded their work into Google Docs.  For some groups, everything went really well, and for the others…disaster.

Has anyone used Google docs in the classroom?  Ever tried a group essay?  Any suggestions?  I’m always amazed at the simple technology my students can’t understand when they spend most of their free time online.– Ashley


Now, back from New Orleans, it’s hard to believe that this was my first TESOL conference.    As much as I’m a true “prairie girl” as Ashley calls me, I loved the excitement of N.O. with its rich history and southern charm.  Some highlights of the city:

—-The ghost tour in the French Quarter and visiting the voodoo shop with the signs: “Don’t touch the altar!”   “Seriously, DON’T touch the altar!!”  “REALLY, you will have very BAD luck if you touch the altar!!!”

—-A trolley ride through the Garden District with the lovely old homes, huge oak trees, and the remains of Mardi Gras beads still hanging from power lines.

—- Trying to ask the cute waiter at a British restaurant what “Spotted Dick Pudding” was. (O.K. this was after two free drinks at the hotel’s Happy Hour).

—-Knowing that teachers in the ELP had as much to offer as the presenters I saw.

Looking through the TESOL Convention Program Book was overwhelming, so I tended to only study the next half day in advance and choose from those presentations.  It seemed that what caught my interest was in two main areas:

1.) very practical ideas for teaching the different skills of listening, pronunciation, and reading

2.) ways to raise social awareness in the classroom.

Some key ideas from this mixture:

—There are more basic rules about stress and intonation than I was aware of that can be taught to ESL students with simple and real life practice techniques.

—Going from an oral culture into a written culture affects so much of how some of our students write, beyond ways I had ever thought about.

—We no longer should have the designation of native or non-native English speaker (paraphrased from keynote speaker Alastair Pennycook).

—What excites teachers and students and motivates learning often has to do with our human need to be creative.

—Just because students seem uncomfortable talking about an issue doesn’t mean they aren’t inwardly longing to discuss it.

—Five elements one institution found necessary for a productive discussion group:

access to all information, rejection of hierarchy, common commitment to logic, free of coercion, and rule of law.

—Those of us who know English have a financial resource, while those who want to learn English face a financial burden (also paraphrased from Alastair Pennycook).

—-One of my favorite sessions was “Social Justice Language Teacher Education” and lasted two hours with six different presenters.   For one of these, a university professor and a public school principal in Hong Kong read parts of e-mails to each other about establishing a classroom for high school children with special needs in a system that rarely had such a thing.  In another one, a woman from South Africa read aloud some of her students’ poems.  Many of these students were studying English as a third or even fourth language and some had no adult in the home, due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in that country.  I was able to buy one of the poetry books that she sells in South Africa.  There are brief bios of the students included and Ellen Conroy found this quote from Themba Kula, “I love those who are positive about life.  I like this world and it is like a big classroom where experiences are your teachers and ideas are your test and the answers are up to you.”

A poem by Judge Love

Do I have to lie about my mother?

Tell me that when I was a small boy

I used to wait in a bus stop every weekday


wait for my mother and help her with

purchases and parcels.

And that on SUNDAY we used to get together as a family

and eat a Sunday meal.

and that before I go to school I fill my pocket bags with fruit?

Taken from:  Thebuwa, Poems from Ndofaya Lamula Jubilee High School, Soweto

After the presentation, I spoke to Denise Newfield who helped compile this book.  I told her that I also wrote poetry and was moved by the poems she read.  She said she would convey this to her students, who would be very happy to hear this.  (In 1984, during Apartheid, I briefly worked with a social worker in South Africa, teaching ESL to children who couldn’t go to school as their parents were illegal workers on farms.)

Another great highlight was watching a live readers’ theatre performance based on classroom research, “Queer as a Second Language.”

If you’d like to hear more about any of these topics, come see me.  I’d love to discuss these ideas.

Above all else, being at the conference reminded me that what we bring to the students beyond what they could get from a book or a computer is a sense of our common humanity.   As teachers in the 21st century, may we never forget that.

Hi everyone-

TESOL was great; New Orleans was fabulous, and we’re sad to be back home.  But, we learned so much great stuff that we thought it would be really fun to make our next research potluck about the research we actually want to do as teachers!  I was completely convinced during the conference that our teachers have so much to contribute to the field.  We are doing really interesting things in our classes, and we should be out there sharing what we’re doing.  So, for our next potluck, we’re going to share with you what we learned at TESOL and what research we’re passionate about.  And we want to know what you are excited about.  Wouldn’t it be great if we got the whole faculty involved in presenting at conferences?  We’ve got so many great teachers!

Date to be announced, but it will likely be held at Jenell’s house.  I hope you all can make it!– Ashley

Waiting for a streetcar

Just got back from NOLA

Finally home… I am exhausted but happy at the same time. The last several days in New Orleans have been quite an experience! There were interesting TESOL sessions, yummy food, and gorgeous weather. 🙂

There are a lot of thoughts, observations, and ideas I would like to share with you here, but today I am going to talk about just a few.

1) Remember Ashley mentioned a session on using blogs in writing classes presented by Kristina Scholz, an MA TESL student at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ? (See Ashley’s post on March 17th).  Her presentation was indeed fantastic! She shared six blogging activities that a writing teacher can incorporate in his/her class. Here are some helpful links:

Six Blogging Activities for Practicing L2 English Writing — Here you will find the PowerPoint Presentation and the handout
Kristina Scholz
SAMPLE BLOG & Student Blogs

I won’t say more here–see for yourself!

Oh, and here is a photo of us with the presenter:

2) At another session I went to, the presenter, Cristin A. Boyd from San Jose State University, San Jose, CA, was talking about strategies for teaching paraphrasing and summarizing.

Her ideas you can find here:

Paraphrasing and Summarizing Activities

3) One of the most interesting sessions for me was Challenges of English Writing Stemmed From Cultural Differences by Mimi Doyle from Hanyang University in Seoul, Korea. Though the presenter conducted a survey to find out what kind of difficulties Korean students experience, I believe we can use the findings to better understand our ELP students, the majority of whom are Chinese.

The presentation looked at the survey data trying to find out what kind of challenges, stemmed from the culture, students experience when writing, so that ESL instructors can better help these students with their problems.

1) It is critical to plan some in-class time to brainstorm when assigning writing;

2) Since the students tend to focus on local issues, teachers need to help their students understand the importance of global issues (content and organization) rather than certain words / prepositions/ articles as they will not distort comprehension.

3) Individual conferences are important (Anticipate the problems caused by difference of culture in writing!)

I will stop here for now. Pictures are coming. 🙂


After the EXCELLENT (no surprise) talk by Nero today, Ellen and I toured ourselves around the other bustling parts of New Orleans we have not yet been to.  So from 3pm-9pm we were out and about (feets are feeling owwww!).  I am too tired today to summarize the talks that I went to so I will instead, post some lovely pictures of New Orleans, and of course, pictures of our DELICIOUS food we had at Muriel’s in Jackson Square.  All of the pictures posted are from today ONLY.

Enjoy the pics 🙂




Afterwards, I talked to Julia about the talk on Updates from the Hill, and she gave me a little update about California, just for those who are interested. She said Dem’s in California tried to make it so that voters could choose whehther they wanted 1-tax increase and no more cuts on edu, or 2-no tax increase but continued cutting on edu.  Republicans are moving to block residents from having a say.  However, the effect on universities in California is if #1 goes through, Ca universities will not be cut as much but if #2 goes through, Ca universities will be cut more.  So regardless, universities in California are in a terrible condition as exemplified by UCDavis, which experienced a 50% cut in their ESL program.

Poor country..