Thursday, May 21, 2020

Does your English need a boost?

May 21, 2020 Heather

Sign up for online Zoom coaching sessions with me to work on your speaking or writing skills. I have a master's degree in teaching English (MA TESOL) and 15 years of teaching. As an English coach, I can help you:
  • Feel more confident speaking English
  • Learn natural expressions and commonly used vocabulary
  • Work on pronunciation issues that are problems for you
  • Look more closely at grammar trouble spots that arise in your speaking  
Small Group Sessions (usually 4-6 students)
We focus mainly on spoken English. 2 hours/week for one month. Affordable prices. Contact me for more information about the latest session.
Individual Coaching Sessions (just you!)
If you prefer one-on-one sessions, we can schedule something that works for you. In these sessions, we can work on anything you need - speaking, writing, listening, or grammar. Price varies, depending on your needs. Talk to me and we can make a plan that works for you!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Getting into Gear: Summer Scavenger Hunt

April 18, 2018 Heather
Spring semester is nearly over and we are getting into gear for our summer sessions here in the English Language Program. One activity that has worked well is the On-Campus/Off-Campus Scavenger Hunt. I developed this with my coworker, Tatjana Mulina, a couple years ago for a short-term summer course we were teaching. I modified it for last summer and it was a blast. In pairs or small groups, students are sent on a mission throughout campus and the surrounding community for about three hours to collect as many items and information pieces as they can.

Objectives: Practice scanning (signs and written information) and speaking skills (asking for information) in an authentic context; also, becoming more familiar with the campus and community

Results: It was fun to see the kids running back all sweaty from their labors in the summer heat, running around campus. They were really excited to show me all their documentation, including photos, brochures, and even an official printed estimate from the tire shop on the corner (one of the items asked how much a new set of tires cost). Apparently, the employees there were very friendly and helpful. Such a great experience to have our students interacting with native speakers outside an academic setting.

Download a copy of the scavenger hunt and adapt it for your campus.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Professional Development: Power Statements

April 13, 2018 Heather
Over the past couple of months, I have been volunteering as a facilitator of a support group for employment skills. In this group, participants who are looking for jobs meet together to polish skills such as resume-writing and interviewing. One of the topics we have been addressing throughout the course is called "power statements," statements which highlight a skill or quality you might have, coupled with a specific example and result as support. In this post, I thought I would share a few that I have written as I've reflected on my own qualifications as a TESOL professional.
  • Creative. What I enjoy most about teaching is the freedom to create new lesson topics, ideas, and teaching methods. Among my favorite endeavors has been developing engaging hands-on STEM activities - for example, physics simulations, building flashlights, and consumer testing the absorption capacity of diapers - to serve as springboards for writing and speaking assignments. As a result, students learned relevant academic vocabulary, which they applied in authentic contexts; they were more engaged and better prepared for their mainstream studies.
  • Enthusiastic and Approachable. I love talking with students, both informally, but also public speaking. In addition to giving numerous presentations at TESOL and Illinois TESOL conventions, I recently returned from a recruiting tour in Taiwan. There, I was able to meet with many wonderful students and teachers at several of our partner universities. Speaking to students at Huafan University, Fu Jen Catholic University, and the entire College of Management at National United University was especially thrilling.
  • Strategic Planner.  As part of our ELP team, I spearheaded our efforts to create written program development and review (PDR) plans, including the design, implementation, and documentation of those PDR tasks. This helped lead to 5-year CEA accreditation for our program. From an instructional angle, I played a major role in realigning the writing curriculum to better meet the needs of our students after matriculation. My contributions included designing units for process and lab report writing and source integration. Because of these additional units, students are now better prepared with higher overall grades and increased engagement.
  • Flexible. Over the past few years, it has been necessary to accommodate low-level students into courses that are not quite appropriate for them. However, with adaptation of my materials and a lot of individualized attention, I have successfully managed multi-level classes. At the end of the semester, the majority of those low-level students end up improving their skills enough to pass. The key here has always been individualized caring and rapport.     
  • Collaborative.  One of my favorite things about teaching in the English Language Program at PNW is the opportunity to work together with other likeminded professionals. One example illustrating my collaborative efforts is how I worked together with the other skill coordinators in streamlining our reading, writing, and listening/speaking final exams to create a solid testing bank and rotational schedule.    
  • Analytic. While numbers clearly aren't everything, statistics and scores can be helpful if used correctly. As testing coordinator, I implemented test analysis for reading and writing tests to track achievement of student learning outcomes and inform test revision.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Midterm Reflections

October 27, 2017 Heather

In our program, part of our midterm evaluation procedure includes having students complete a self-evaluation form, where they approximate how much their skills have improved during the first half of the semester and what their goals are for the second half. Part of this is to help us as instructors better meet their needs, but another important objective is to get the students thinking about what efforts they have put into their language development and what initiatives they can take on their own. For the sake of consistency and practicality, we have developed in-house forms for this purpose - one for each skill and level. It has a list of common class activities, which students can rank as being helpful or not helpful, and a list of skills that they can select as goals to work on.

This semester (and I think I've done this in the past on occasion as well), I assigned them a written response, allowing them to reflect in a more holistic way - and in writing (since this is a writing class!). I also gave them the evaluation form to fill out, but told them that it was just to serve as a springboard, to give them ideas on what they can say in the course. The writing prompt I gave them - for a total of 10 points - graded on completeness/thoughtfulness of their answers - simply stated the following:

Write a paragraph (200-300 words) answering this question: How has your writing improved in this course so far? What are your goals for the second half of the semester? Give specific details and examples.

I was quite pleased with the results. Here is an example (unedited) reflection that I felt was fairly representative of my students, and demonstrated some good introspection:
Now I think my writing improve a lot because I know some skills of writing; for example, I can support my point by writing some examples, which improves the depth of my essay. Meanwhile, I learn how to cite an article and how to summarize the article. As for grammar, I believe that there are less mistakes of my grammar than before. However, I think I can improve more. In the first half of semester, I just did extra grammar homework and revised my essay by myself. I did not go to the Writing Center or ask help for my American friends. For this reason, I set some goals for the second half of the semester. First, I will reduce my grammar mistakes by revising my essay every time and doing some grammar practice. Second, I should write more details of my support for the essay so that my article is richer. Then, I need to pay attention to the topic because topic is the most important thing when you write. If you deviate from the theme, your grade will be low. Finally, I should practice my conclusion, so I decide to go to the Writing Center and ask help for my American friends.
Overall, I felt that assigning this reflection (done during classtime, held in the computer lab), was much more productive and effective than the simple form. I hope to continue this type of midterm reflection.

Student Research Projects: Can I make it work?

October 27, 2017 Heather

I'm developing a new elective course for students who are in our ELP Pathways Program. This means that students are taking one or two ESL classes in our program concurrently with one or two mainstream university courses. Generally, these types of students are more advanced and need opportunities that challenge them.

The answer: Project-based learning. Specifically, a research project. Now, I feel like a lot of us tend to roll our eyes when the topic of research papers has come up in professional development meetings. It's just such a mammoth project, requiring a lot of hand-holding. High school students cringe at the thought of digging through "sources" at the library, feeling baffled at why they can't use Wikipedia for all of their material. Writing research papers largely invoke the feeling of unauthentic busywork that is simply not relevant.

But, then again, most of them want to go to graduate school. In my master's program, we had to write a thesis. Surely, there is some value in helping students to go through the process of inquiry, even if we do skip the official "paper" part of the research.

The Assignment
In groups of two or three, I had students take the following actions:
  1. Select a topic within the general context of sociology/human behavior - altruism; collectivism vs. individualism; big data; cyber bullying
  2. Synthesize background information from a video link I provided with an article they found online - Skill: Summarizing and synthesis
  3. Formulate a research question - Skill: Embedded questions to state research purpose 
  4. Produce a written research proposal, outlining their research plan - Skill: Writing a report, proposing action and defending decisions
  5. Collect data through surveys and interviews - Skill: Grammar, listening/speaking
  6. Analyzing data in order to reach conclusions - Skill: Critical thinking
  7. Present results in a Power Point presentation - Skill: Appropriate grammar/writing to effectively convey research on slides; presentation skills
  8. Critically evaluate other groups' project designs/conclusions - Skill: Critical thinking, speaking, grammar 
As we worked over the course of six weeks, this project went turned out extremely well. It gave us the chance to work on and apply skills learned in other classes -- summarizing sources, embedding questions (The purpose of this research was to determine whether there was a difference in attitudes...), giving conclusions and reporting survey results, presentation skills with graphics ("As we can see in this graph,"), academic vocabulary (implies, suggests, concludes, etc), and group discussion skill.

What Students Said: Oral Reflection
At the end of the project, I had each student record a 4-5 minute reflection, answering these prompts:
  1. What did you learn from this project, and how did it benefit you?
  2. What did you contribute to your group's project?
  3. What would you do differently if you were to do the project again?
  4. How well did your group work together as a team? Discuss strengths and weaknesses.
I chose to have them do the reflection orally because it was one additional facet of language use - the monolog. I didn't grade it on pronunciation or grammar, because the object here was content. And I purposely did not give them a lot of time to prepare or script what to say. In this way, their reflection was more natural (as opposed to the report and presentation). Therefore, it made the assignment more authentic for the students.

Here is one excerpt, illustrating some things the student learned in general:
I learn a lot from this project. First, know the importance of cooperation. I had more ideas when I listened to my partner’s ideas. Second, I can ask Americans questions without bashfulness. And I improved my oral skills. Third, I learned that when I do a presentation, I need to face the audience instead of looking at the Power Point because it might make people think you didn’t prepare good for the presentation and it is not respectful.

A second excerpt shows the a more natural (and unscripted) summary of her project, as well as what she learned:
From this project, I’ve learned the internal and external reasons for deviant behavior, such as bad parenting, education, and social situations, and the teenage brain. Parents will influence their kids very well. However, from the project, I have noticed that the teenagers’ brains are active when they are young, so it is easy for them to do something wrong. I have learned how people think about youth deviant behavior. They think it’s annoying, but they can understand it.  Teenagers are still young. Everyone will do something wrong, so they can understand it. And I learned how to control youth deviant behavior, so they don’t do something wrong.

I have known the importance of teamwork. We finished this project together. I believe we could complete our project better with teamwork. Because when we have a problem, we can deal with that problem together, so it will be more easy for us to solve this problem than only one person.  In this project, I interviewed two young adults and sent out an online survey to twenty young people. We did the Power Point together and we did the questions together. If I am able to do this project again, I will interview more people because in this project, we only interviewed four people. Not only students, but teachers and professors. However, it was a little hard for us to interview older adults because all of my friends are students. In my opinion, our team worked well together because we could communicate with each other and share our own opinions.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Teaching Source Integration in Advanced Writing: Common Challenges

October 26, 2017 Heather

After teaching advanced writing in our program for many years, I've spent a great deal of time on using outside sources, particularly summary, direct quotation, and paraphrase. We all know the challenge it is to help students realize the importance of correctly citing sources in order to avoid plagiarism. Because they often lack the language skills to write about technical topics or anything outside of familiarity, students tend to turn to the Internet for information, ignorantly copying/pasting. Getting a handle on how to correctly punctuate, complete with the author's name, and some kind of transitional introduction (According to Jones, "Bla bla bla.") can be a huge learning curve for some. Then, we push them to apply the same skills, only with the added burden of paraphrasing something in their own words - all the while maintaining the original meaning and making a grammatically sound sentence.

So, most of my instruction is spent on the thing mentioned above. But I've started noticing something. My students had other challenges. I was happy if the quote looked good, or if the paraphrase indeed looked different from the original. Then, while grading, I started to see that often, their quotes and paraphrases lacked significant integration. They seemed plopped in there. Sometimes, students ended a paragraph with a quote, just dropping it off right there.

My interest was now sufficiently piqued, so I began a large-scale review of student samples to see how widespread the problem was. Here are my notes:

1. What is the learning objective, and how do we currently seek to achieve it?

SLO: Students will be able to correctly quote, paraphrase, and cite outside sources according to MLA style

To meet this objective, instructors have generally followed these steps:
  1. Taught format and citation (e.g. how to punctuate a quote, how to introduce a quote using “According to…” or “Smith says,…”, how to cite page numbers, how to put a sentence in different words
  2. Given students practice responding to a quote (e.g. a famous quote) to practice integrating it into the writing
  3. Providing students with a reading passage relating to a particular argument essay topic, from which they can choose an appropriate quote to use as support for their idea
  4. For further practice and implementation, requiring students to find quotes/information from Internet sources to support their argument and/or give specific detail to a process description

 2. Weaknesses Noted
Students of varying abilities in other areas of writing (grammar, organization, support, etc.) all seemed to struggle with integrating the sources appropriately and effectively into their writing.
A. DQ/P often are not integrated with the sentences before and/or after. Or, the student attempts to integrate the DQ/P, but there is still a wide gap in ideas (e.g. the DQ and surrounding sentences are on the same topic, but the DQ is quite a bit more specific, but the student fails to make a clear enough connection)
B. DQ/P are not clearly explained, leaving the reader to wonder what the original source truly meant and whether or not the student understood the meaning of the source
C. DQ/P does not fit stylistically/grammatically (e.g. using a quote that includes imperatives)
 3. Analysis of Writing Samples
Passages from student writing samples, including a direct quote and sentences both before and after the quote, were examined for the three areas of weaknesses explained above. Generally, one sample per student (who completed the assignment) in the class was included in the analysis to provide a holistic picture. Below are some samples to illustrate:

Students who start thinking searching universities to complete their studies have to start thinking to improve their personality. According to Taft in his article, “Students who travel overseas learn how to embrace diversity, rather than fear or oppress it.” So, students studying at university must also learn how to adapt with people. They must adapt to different nationalities and different religions. So, that will help them in their future job… 
 Weakness A:
The student is attempting to connect the quote to her point about developing personalities. But the sentence immediately following simply gives a general paraphrase. Here, more could be said about the diversity students will face, rather than simply saying that “they must adapt.”
Many students want to be a graduate in order to get a good job, which does not mean that everyone wants to do their program abroad. Taft says, “One reason that students do not study abroad is that it is a luxury today – it is not accessible to everyone.” Studying abroad increases cost of living according to the country chosen. Today, many countries have good universities, yet those countries’ currencies also have greater value than many countries. Middle class students who want to study abroad in a good university cannot afford the amount. 
Weakness A:
The introduction of the quote is quite abrupt and unexpected. The student does attempt to discuss the relevance of the quote afterwards, but does so in a round-about way, taking several sentences to get to the point.
The first step, advertising, is truly important because it’s the first meeting point for both companies and applicants. Martin said, “Put more of the focus on what your company can do for potential employees, and you’ll attract candidates who better fit your needs.” To be specific, advertising needs to include a writing about the job description that precisely says about the information, such as salary, work time…
Weakness A, B, C:
There is little connection between adverising the position and the quote (which is about writing job descriptions). The transition “To be specific” is used incorrectly, as it is actually leading to a more general topic; again not really connected to focus of the job description. The student may not have truly understood the quote and how Martin’s suggestion would actually look like.
Most employers need to write a job description to describe what kind of job they have and what kind of people they want. As Martin said, “Put more of the focus on what your company can do for potential employees, and you’ll attract candidates who better fit your needs.” According to Martin’s article, job descriptions are the companies’ faces to candidates. If the employers do not write the job descriptions carefully, they will miss the best employees who fit their jobs.

Weakness A and C:
First, there should be more connection from the first sentence (general comment on job descriptions) and the DQ, which focuses on redirecting the focus of the job description. Second, the sentences after the DQ do not shed much light on the quote, simply repeating the main point. The DQ also is imperative, which needs some integration to make the grammar fit more smoothly. (To employers, Martin suggests, “….”)

 4. Discussion
From these samples, it seems that only 2 of 24 included effective integration of a direct quote. For more familiar topics, such as study abroad, students all seemed to understand their selected passage, but were not able to adequately connect it to their ideas. Often students should have made more of a transition from general to specific, or vice versa. For example, a student above wrote that study abroad is helpful, after which he/she quoted the article giving a very specific advantage. The student would have more successfully integrated the quote by adding an additional sentence or phrase suggesting the advantage that will be more fully explained in the quote.

With less familiar topics, such as the product life cycle and employment, some students experienced additional challenges in understanding the passage and also being able to integrate it grammatically and stylistically. For instance, in the hiring assignment, the focus is on the process more than advice, so students need to learn how to introduce an imperative or quote only part of the passage so that it will fit together better.

5. Recommendations

Instructional suggestions:
  • Show students more examples of not only a correctly formatted quote or paraphrase, but a set of sentences in which they are effectively integrated; also show less effective examples (such as the ones in this document)
  • Help students understand the purpose of using direct quotes or paraphrases/summarized information in various types of writing. For instance:

o   Statistics or anecdotes to provide evidence for an argument
o   Providing specific facts and details from a credible source or person to clearly illustrate how something works or well-known theories in the background section of a report or a process essay
  •  More work with bottom-down, intensive reading. As ELP reading courses focus on many different types of reading skills, including main ideas, there still needs to be more sentence-level work. This can be done in the writing class as well. Students need to learn to examine a passage before putting it in their paragraph by asking questions, such as:

o   In other words, what is the author trying to say here? (this question should be asked even if the intention is a direct quote)
o   What does this tell us about ____?
o   Does this sentence have the same idea as my ideas in my essay?
o   Is this sentence more general or more specific compared to the point in my paragraph (or the sentence I want to add the quote after)?
o   So, what? What are the implications? Why is this important?
o   What are the consequences of this idea?
  •           Give students direct quotes/paraphrases to practice integrating, rather than requiring them to spend too much time searching for sources on their own

Monday, April 17, 2017

STEM Resources - "Practical Engineering" Youtube Channel

April 17, 2017 Heather

I stumbled across this Youtube Channel called, "Practical Engineering," videos by Grady Hillhouse. They seem really applicable, engaging, and accessible. My next project is to develop some STEM-based vocabulary and writing activities using some of these videos for my classes. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


March 21, 2017 Heather

I'm a big picture person. In my work, I am always looking ahead and trying to make things better, and I feel most productive when managing long-term tasks and projects (i.e. getting beyond the daily grind). See my article on time management to understand my thinking here. Below I have highlighted a few of the initiatives I have taken in the past few years that highlight what I most enjoy doing. Many of them have now been taken over by other individuals, as I have moved on to other projects.

Training video for peer mentors. The ELP mentor program, in which domestic undergraduate students work as peer mentors in ELP classes, has been in existence since 2008. During that time, instructors have faced some challenges in helping these mentors to understand and fulfill their role in the classroom. For example, many mentors are unsure of how to approach students and engage them in conversation. I decided to create a video in which I would demonstrate how a mentor should act. With the aid of coworkers (in handling the camera) and iMovie, I put this video together, which was then shown in one of the mentor training sessions.

Orientation video and quiz. I put together a set of video segments (by filming my colleagues and myself) for students who may have missed the regular ELP program orientation. Students who arrive late due to visa issues are provided a link to the page where they can view the videos and answer "quiz" questions. Their results are sent back to me so I can verify that they did the activity. I just used iMovie for the editing and Google Forms to create the online quiz presentation. Below is a screenshot of part of the quiz.

In-Service workshop: Testing - Vocabulary-in-Context Items on Reading Tests. After attending a colloquium on testing, I began thinking more about our reading tests and the item types. I wanted to make the tests more consistent and to provide clearer test specifications. This turned my focus to our vocabulary-in-context items. Having created a lot of our tests myself, I became aware of the fact that sometimes we simply select words in a passage that seem unknown to our students and use them for vocabulary-in-context items. However, they may or may not actually have sufficient context clues to make them valid items. In Fall 2015, I suggested to our reading coordinator that we plan a workshop for our next in-service to train teachers on this and also look closely at some of our reading midterms and final exams. View the slideshow I created to facilitate the workshop here

Writing Workshop: Personal Statements and Resumes for Grad School Applications. Some of the course review feedback we received as part of our program review plan indicated there was some interest in help with writing graduate school applications, specifically personal statements. As this is not part of our course objectives for writing, I offered to conduct a special workshop outside of normal ELP class time to specifically teach this type of writing. I designed it to be a two-session workshop: The first day, I gave information, guidelines, and samples to go over with the students, and the second day was more of a hands-on session in the computer lab. I asked a couple fellow writing teachers to come in and help to give individualized feedback. Overall, it was a success and I hope to continue this in future semesters.

Test Specifications. This was a major project for me as testing coordinator in the academic year of 2014-2015. After receiving training at the LRC Testing Colloquium on test specifications, I returned eager to implement what I had learned. Collaborating heavily with the skill coordinators, I drafted test specifications for reading and writing exams. These included detailed item specifications and passage characteristics. For reading, I developed an initial bank of three standardized midterms and three standardized final exams for each level. As a program, we would then cycle through the tests each semester. For writing, I compiled all prompts into a bank for teachers to draw upon and worked with the writing coordinator to draft midterm and final exam templates that gave standardized directions and formats.

ELP Citizenship Award. In past years, we struggled to help some of our students rise to the expectations of our American university culture. It was clear that some of these students did not have the academic readiness, maturity, or motivation to succeed. I had the idea to recognized whatever good student behavior we did have in order to focus attention on how students should behave. Initially, I took it upon myself to coordinate and advertise this among our students and staff. Teachers would nominate and decide together on a recipient for each level, based only on citizenship, leadership, and participation (not academic achievement). I asked the program director to present the award at our final dinner at the end of the semester, and the recipients would give an acceptance speech. From the beginning, the ELP Citizenship Award has been a positive aspect of our project.

ITBE Convention Tech Showcase. After attending (and presenting at once or twice) TESOL International's Electronic Village & Technology Showcase), I thought we could do the same at our affiliate conference. In fact, I became the Vice-President of Illinois TESOL for the 2010-2011 year, which made me chair of the 2011 annual convention. As always, I wanted to find ways of making the event even better. I instigated the addition of a Tech Showcase component to our conference, allowing presenters to use just 20 minutes to highlight an effective technological tool. This worked wonderfully, and ITBE has continued to include this type of session.  Chairing the convention, by the way, is another example of my passion for big projects!

ITBE Link electronic format. Another contribution I made while on the board of ITBE was as newsletter editor. Previous to my appointment, the newsletter was still being published in PDF format, emailed as an attachment. I worked closely with our web hosting company to utilize their e-publication platform in revamping our newsletter, the ITBE Link. See the fruits of my labors (newsletters from Summer 2013 - Spring 2016).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Orientation Video & Quiz

March 10, 2017 Heather
Last year, I put together a set of video segments (by filming my colleagues and myself) for students who may have missed the regular ELP program orientation. Students who arrive late due to visa issues are provided a link to the page where they can view the videos and answer "quiz" questions. Their results are sent back to me so I can verify that they did the activity. I just used iMovie for the editing and Google Forms to create the online quiz presentation. Below is a screenshot of part of the quiz.