TESOL 2015: Focus on Speaking Sessions

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TESOL 2015 Convention Blog Post

Some days, I wish I could switch places with my students, and spend the day soaking in knowledge about language.  (Then again, I’m sure some of my IEP students would love to skip ahead in their careers and become instructors!) The TESOL convention allows me to be a student for 3 days.  Each year, I look forward to brushing up on teaching skills, catching up on the latest research, and meeting new colleagues.

Almost all of the sessions I am attending this year are related to speaking.  Over the next few days, I will post about the five most interesting and pertinent sessions I attend.

How to Help Students Guess How to Pronounce Written Words

I’ve been using Judy Gilbert’s Clear Speech books for years, so I was excited to attend her presentation entitled “How to Help Students Guess How to Pronounce Written Words.” She discussed the reasoning behind the concepts presented in her books.  Traditional spelling methods are often ineffective because English spelling is not strictly phonetic.  Gilbert suggests we count the number of vowels in a syllable to decide whether the vowel has an alphabet or a relative sound.

I also appreciated that she set priorities for teaching basic pronunciation. Interestingly, Gilbert said the first priority is teaching students to say alphabet vowels.  Students can be empowered by the ability to accurately spell words out loud after a miscommunication.  The next priorities are vowel discrimination, spelling rules, and sentence emphasis.

A Controversial Session: Considering Prejudice and Professional Interactions

At times, we need to teach our students sentence structures and intonation patterns that convey politeness.  This morning, I attended a session to learn about encouraging oral participation, but left pondering how we as professionals can be more conscious of the way we speak to each other in professional situations.

At the beginning of this session, several audience members barked orders at a presenter because she wasn’t using a microphone.  Later, when she displayed a prompt asking which ethnic group we felt most uncomfortable with, the overwhelming majority of the 10-15 commenters chose to use a belittling tone to question whether or not she should have given them such a prompt instead of replying to her question about how the prompt made them feel. One audience member said this type of prompt is inappropriate for ESL teachers, because all ESL teachers have already dealt with race and ethnicity issues and do not feel uncomfortable with people of other ethnicities. I was dismayed to hear a marked difference between the respectful tone that audience members usually use during sessions and the angry, defensive tone that I heard during that one. I also noticed only one person of color spoke up during the heated discussion, and that several people left early.

The presenter was a person who is a nonnative English speaker, Asian, and a woman. At lunch, a colleague and I discussed how we wondered if the harsh treatment she received was a response to one of these characteristics. Does the act of choosing TESOL as a profession preclude ethnic prejudice and shield us from the responsibility of further examining our attitudes? As members of a professional international organization that strives to help students from all backgrounds to thrive, how can we ensure that all of our members are truly welcome to participate fully in events, and that controversial topics can be discussed freely? The answers to these questions affect our relationships with our coworkers, colleagues around the world, and most important, our students.

My first two days at the TESOL convention have been full of connections with new people, exposure to innovative ideas, and fresh questions to consider.  I am looking forward to tomorrow!

About Farrah Littlepage

Farrah Littlepage
Farrah Littlepage holds a master’s degree in TESOL from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She has taught English at the high school, adult education, and university levels. Her main interests are pronunciation, collaborative learning, technology use in the classroom, and working with ITAs. Currently, Farrah is a lecturer at the University of Missouri in the Intensive English Program and the English Language Support Program. She is enrolled in the TESOL Online Teaching Certificate Program.
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