The TESOL Symposium Facilitating Learning Through Student Empowerment: An Overview

Editor’s Note: The symposium papers discussed in this blog posting are available in the TESOL Resource Center. Just click on “Find a Resource” and then in the top dropdown menu, choose “White Papers & Live Events.”

The TESOL Symposium “Facilitating Learning Through Student Empowerment” was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 15 November 2012 in partnership with the 36th PRTESOL Convention and the 11th Central American and Caribbean Basin Regional Conference. This one-day symposium provided English language educators the opportunity of collaborating and interacting with colleagues and empowering learners in becoming professionals in their fields. Presentations by Dr. Kimberly Johnson and Dr. Charles Hall focused extensively on how we as educators can facilitate learning through empowering our students.

In the morning, Dr. Johnson’s presentation on collaboration and peer mentoring partnerships provided opportunities for teachers as equals to reflect on their teaching and learning outcomes in a nonevaluative manner and within a shared context and purpose.

She elaborated the basic process of peer mentoring, which includes the following steps:

  1. Preparation and training
  2. Teacher self-assessment and goal setting
  3. Pre-observation and observation tasks
  4. Observations
  5. Post-observation discussions and next steps
  6. Final reflections

In the afternoon, Dr. Johnson showed how to put into practice a peer mentoring partnership, which began with defining peer mentoring and what an effective mentor is. Participants described the key characteristics of effective mentors. Then they evaluated themselves in terms of ineffective and effective listening behaviors they may possess. Afterward, participants practiced active listening techniques and determined and evaluated the experience of listening and being listened to.

In the pre-observation phase, educators practiced another self-assessment and reflection to implement learner-centered instruction. The goal setting and observation task stemmed from the self-assessment tools in the learning-centered teaching checklist adapted from Parrish (2004). Later, participants brainstormed what effective teaching looks like, shared their experiences, and developed and discussed an observation rubric-checklist.

In the final reflection, small groups discussed thoughts that they might remember or share with a colleague, the value of the peer mentoring process in their own context, and finally, the questions that are still pending about peer mentoring.

Dr. Charles Hall’s presentation dealt with English for specific purposes (ESP). In the morning he emphasized

  1. Identifying students’ needs
  2. Building needs into a curriculum and materials
  3. Helping students master the skills
  4. Assessing the impact of our work as teachers both in education and the work environment

Dr. Hall claimed that before we can get our students ready for the workforce, teachers have to know what the workforce needs and wants. He asks us to inquire: Who is learning ESP? Who is teaching ESP? Who is organizing ESP? Who is the target group and who is paying?

The afternoon session entailed the answering of the following question: What is English for? The audience had a myriad of answers. The next question that was discussed was: Why am I here? Once more there were varied answers.

He emphasized the fact that we never stop learning: “I am not the expert, but I can learn. It is not a teachers’ nor a learners’ center, but a learning center.” He made a point of assessing the programs and what their roles are.

According to Dr. Hall, English is one language and it has many forms. It is also English for a different world. In addition to speaking, listening, reading, and writing, cultural skills should also be taught. Dr. Hall affirmed that ESP is a curricular process with teaching, assessing, and redefining.

About Maria Antonia Irizarry

Maria Antonia Irizarry
Maria Antonia Irizarry is a professor and coordinator of the Graduate TESL Program at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). She holds a bachelors degree in TESL from UPR, a master's degree in TESL, a master's in education in the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language, and a doctorate in education in languages and literature from Columbia University, USA. She taught in New York public schools and at Essex County College in New Jersey, and was associate superintendent of schools in Newark, New Jersey. Her commitment to TESOL has been unwavering. She is a past member of the PRTESOL board of directors and served the organization as president in 1988. She is a frequent presenter at regional and national activities and has offered her expertise to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Chile, Dominican Republic, and Panama, among other countries.
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