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World Language Teacher Summit 2023: Shared Essentials
By Linda Rasmussen
Introduction In my first official year of US school-teaching, while making last-minute worksheets, a more experienced teacher advised me, “If you do it right, it’s always like the first year.” Thus, continuing life-long learning, this ESOL educator of over 30 years attended the “Back-to-School & New Teacher World Language Teacher Summit 2023,” an online video conference. Nineteen recorded presentations were available this July 17-21, and interaction with the presenters was only available by sending questions on Facebook during each of the presentation periods. Teacher-presenters explained how students need to speak as much and as soon as possible from the broader perspective of “world languages,” as well as English. Doing so also implied the value of input by listening. Getting to the essentials, the seminar’s language teachers further agreed upon students’ need to learn to communicate, just as the concept of learning how to learn is recognized. The entire seminar emphasized how to teach communication, activate listening, and generate speaking in a Second Language (L2). The Summit topics, “Back-to-School & New Teacher,” were most directly addressed by the presenting world language teachers Sherry Sebesta and Allison Wienhold, (neither in ESOL).
~Applying the goals of learning to communicate, activate listening, and generate speaking an L2~
Sherry Sebesta (https://worldlanguagecafe.com/about-sherry/) is a high school French and Spanish teacher who also taught elementary students and adults in community centers and at after school programs. Her M.A. is in Spanish, and she has a store at Teachers-Pay-Teachers (TPT). Ms. Sebesta presented “First Week Lesson Plans to Get Students Speaking More All Year.” Although reminiscent of the “don’t-smile-until-Christmas” teacher, Sebesta’s energy and use of structure just resounded. Her goals begin with “establish control and take the lead.” She wants her students to have “a mindset of success” and engage in “intense communication.” From her communication methods, Sebesta wants her students to leave their first class period in thought, as she prefaces, “Prepare to have your minds blown.”
Ms. Sebesta begins courses by teaching rules and procedures that require valuable language components, such as how to excuse oneself to the restroom. This teacher has even streamlined introducing the goal of staying in the target language. She demonstrates speaking the L2 (Spanish, for example) in the classroom but steps out into the hall and speaks the majority language (i.e., English in this case). Although ESOL teachers might not be able to use that technique, we can be silent while allowing L1’s spoken for the first 5-10 minutes of class, and then start English-only use as we face the class and begin a lesson.
Sherry Sebesta outlined her first 5 days of class, in her presentation and details more through subscription to her website World Language Cafe. Her version of activities, such as Get-Acquainted BINGO, serves several purposes: by getting to know their classmates -- in the target
language -- students find others with whom they can collaborate, possibly learn from, and make further connections. Sebesta’s language focus and activities vary somewhat per class levels, but the basic contents are here.
Day 1 “Hi, what’s your name?” “My name is . . . . “ plus numbers 1-6 with oral exercises, TPR, and a dice game.
Day 2 Review practice of day one oral content, plus “Nice to meet you” and “See you later” plus numbers 7-12.
Day 3 Review practice of the prior lessons, adding “Who is that?” and “That’s . . . . “ along with possibilities like “How are you?” with answers using basic adjectives of “I’m hot/cold/tired/nervous.” Then, the possibility of a pop quiz is discussed to motivate students. Numbers 13-20 are introduced and practiced, as are a few verbs in TPR and “with humor and cognates.” Also, study of object names begins and students are assigned to attach label names to objects at their homes.
Day 4 Review again; then on to numbers 20-100 with practice in games. Sebesta names six classroom objects as she passes each to a student who repeats the names and passes the same objects to the next student, and so on around the class. Next, one selected student leaves the classroom while the others “hide” one of the objects. The selected student returns to ask “Do you have it?” and “Does (name of another student) have it?”
Day 5 Students take the pop quiz, check each other, and Sebesta announces that no grade is recorded, but students have learned the procedure. Speaking practice begins with reviewing language features and the addition of “What do you like to do?” (since the weekend is coming). To answer the question, students illustrate activities with drawings or pictures found in magazines or online and conduct a sort of “Show and Tell,” with vocabulary appropriate to levels. The day and week end with a video clip of a country where the target language is spoken, about which there might be discussion.
Accordingly, the first day of the next week begins with 20 minutes of “What did you do on the weekend?” This set process clears the path to active learning and communicating.
Allison Wienhold, also on TPT and her own website Mis Clases Locas, is a middle school and high school Spanish teacher, as well as a Program Associate at University of Northern Iowa. Although her content resembles Sebesta’s, Ms. Wienhold described methods more like Community Language Learning (CLL) and Language Experience in her presentation, “First Weeks of School: Proficiency, Procedures, and Positive People.” Wienhold sometimes referred to “people of the class” and emphasized that students “must get to know each other for comfort,”
(i.e., lowering the affective filter). For example, this teacher builds community with “Find Someone Who . . . “, similar to “Get Acquainted BINGO. The questions are answered by lower level learners only with each others’ names while advanced groups include verbs and do extension activities. Her student-centered techniques are often part of a whole strategy. To empower students, Wienhold’s “I Can Statements” stop the claim “I don’t know (anything).”
Later, some “I Can” statements are posted on a bulletin board as goals and objectives. Like Sebesta, Wienhold varies strategies to incorporate repetition, scaffolding language development by repeating techniques with adjustments for different levels of learning.
Both Sherry Sebesta and Allison Wienhold advocate teaching by engaging students in communication and language-rich activities that embed repetition and can adjust to goals for different levels of proficiency. Other presenters during the Back-to-School & New Teacher World Language Teacher Summit were in TESOL but were not able to offer the comprehensive strategies that these two language teachers did. No matter. General aspects and goals are shared across learning all languages. Sometimes we might benefit from recalling that ESOL is communication, not just English grammar and vocabulary. Keeping in mind how “foreign” language teachers – which some of us are virtually -- successfully lead students in isolated classes might keep us grounded, even where the target language is abundant. Diversely, teachers of all languages have knowledge and ways that can benefit each other, and broadening perspectives is valuable in professional development.
Questions and comments for writer Linda Rasmussen may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, although she is now an ORTESOL Board Member-at-Large. Along with 7 years in this organization, Linda has over 30 years in teaching ESOL to PK-12, adults, higher education, and English for Special Purposes, internationally. In PreK-12, Linda holds TESOL certification in Missouri and Texas, where she earned her B.S. in Ed. and M.S. in Library and Information Science, respectively.
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