EdTech in ELT: Video Games in EFL and ESL
Recent research has shown that using video games for language learning can lead to more efficient mastery of competencies, and that it can improve retention. If you like the idea of trying out video games with your ELLs but are intimidated, or if you just want to learn more about it, Dr. Broady takes you through the background and the basics, and provides you with many resources to get you started, including resources for using video games for content-based instruction, assessment, and learner differentiation.
Children of all languages and cultures are drawn into the realm of digital realities. Often, adults see games as a leisure activity: the opposite of learning and achieving. Some even see gaming as a waste of time.
But lately, we have been learning more about how games develop skills in users, and about how such skills can be translated into classrooms. In fact, there is evidence that gaming can develop mastery of materials and competencies and build social skills, and that they can be a way of formative assessment for teachers (see SRI International, n.d.).
It may be daunting to use games in your classroom if you have no knowledge about the basic elements of gaming. The focus of this EdTech in ELT edition is to address gaming concerns, to help you learn more about the genre itself, and to show you the potential of gaming for English learning.
The Framework for English Language Instruction and Learning
For the sake of this article, English language instruction is defined as a process that requires a lot of practice in an authentic and communicative real-life context. In this context, students should have ample exposure to wide-ranging and challenging communication using language in the most natural way to communicate and to learn English along with content disciplines. English instruction should be stimulating and engaging with peers while pushing learners a little beyond their current developmental levels.
In general, English lessons should be fun and enjoyable, connecting with students’ backgrounds and interests. Learning should be a social activity shared with others. Language should be used for real communication.
Learning Potential in Digital Games
How do video games fit into the above English framework? Let me make a case for the inclusion of video games in English classrooms by sharing some ways of describing gaming. In “Designing Mobile-enabled Game-based Experiences,” Villar (n.d.) provides guidelines for games, such as that they:
- focus on developing specific skills;
- work on a single task that resembles a real-world situation;
- have concrete, achievable, and rewarding goals;
- have students do something with the content afterward;
- include different levels of difficulty as students work toward skill mastery;
- reinforce a practical, real-world need or skill; and
- allow for replayability, utilizing and practicing other skills.
In analyzing these guidelines, it is apparent how much they interface with best practices of communicative English language learning principles. These guidelines describe a focus on real-world tasks, scaffolding and recycling concepts and skills, pushing learners slightly beyond their highest skill level, and using a highly authentic context.
Still in doubt? Here are some more facts:
- Learning a new task produces a demonstrable increase in the brain’s gray matter in mere weeks (Zichermann & Cunningham, as cited in Bhasin, 2014).
- Gaming results in better retention: Games vs. text-based knowledge, when tested immediately after the instruction, are likely to have similar results, but when tested days later the game-based knowledge is better retained (Zichermann & Cunningham, as cited in Bhasin, 2014).
- Games can provide students with the ability to experience problems in a real-time and authentic way (Keeler, 2014).
- Games challenge learners at their skill levels. Many games are progressive. They increase the difficulty with student mastery. (Devaney, 2014)
Language Learning Uses for Games
Video games have the potential to link the English language to content instruction. Many games teach discipline-specific skills while using the English language. Shapiro (2014) explains that game-based learning “forces students to apply knowledge in a contextualized way, it creates an interdisciplinary learning experience where subject-specific knowledge is used in a context that requires diverse applications.” He goes on to say that “Video games can be used as tools that encourage students to apply class content in contextualized ways.” Here are a few games that can be used for or as a complement to content-based instruction:
- BrainPop Games by Subject: BrainPop provides games focusing on a number of subjects, such as science, social studies, engineering and technology, and math.
- SnapThought: This is a tool to use with the BrainPop games, which allows, among other things, teachers to build specific prompts into a game.
- GlassLab's SimCityEDU: Pollution Challenge!: This game, for Grades 6–8, aligns with a number of standards and aims to address 21st-century skills, science, and English language arts.
- Edutopia lists some great content-based games to get started with, along with some excellent additional resources.
Games for Formative Assessment
Game can act as a great form of formative assessment; they provide student performance data to teachers while students still enjoy the gaming process. According to Rufo-Tepper (2015), “assessment tasks…offer valuable ways to unlock the instructional power of games and support a student-centered learning environment. Teachers can create game-related performance tasks that are as interesting and engaging as the game itself.” Some good games for use with assessment can be found on My Educational Technology Blog.
Games for Learner Differentiation
Because games are available with many different features and tasks to users, they also hold the potential to address learner special needs. Teachers can accurately search the Internet for games that align to their students’ challenges, thereby offering a fun and engaging way for learners to perform in class and learn content. The website Talking Dictionary provides several games for student differentiation via gaming. (Although they are mainly recommended for dyslexic students, they hold great promise for other areas of student needs.) Here are a few other games for learner differentiation:
- Jeopardy Style Custom Review Game
- Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
- Galactic Mappers
- Create your own custom games at Teacher Gaming Network
A Great Game for Language Learning: Minecraft
Gaming allows for authentic and open-ended creation of new situations. This kind of exploration is often done in teams with other gamers/learners. One example of such a game is Minecraft. Since its launch in 2009, Minecraft has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide (Rock, n.d.). Rock (n.d.) explains that “this game is an open-ended ‘sandbox’ that doesn’t come with instructions, so the gameplay is confusing — but that’s what makes it irresistible. Kids are forced to explore — first in the game, then out of it.” And she goes on to say:
To figure out what to do next, they’ll need to read sites such as Minecraft Wiki, where they learn to build an intricate maze of mine shafts or design their dream house. Slowly, they begin to see what’s possible, and develop skills of observation and perseverance Regardless of the task, teamwork is a key part of the experience.
Teachers trying to learn about Minecraft can access servers and resources in their own countries to find out more about the game in their own language first before embarking on reading instructions in English. Teachers in the USA can provide ESL students with access to materials in their home languages to transition into English. Here is a list of all countries (more than 100) with Minecraft servers, including links to the servers. Minecraft now offers free versions of the game to schools and has even expanded into China.
It is easy to see that Minecraft is a game that connects learners worldwide. ESL students can connect with their families’ heritage culture and language. EFL students, on the other hand, can connect with native-English-speaking countries to seek partners and instructions.
Gaming to Create Teacher-Student Connections
Using games can offer teachers and students ways to create something new while negotiating the creation with each other—speaking, listening, reading, and writing throughout the process. Again, such activities provide English classes with authentic communication for a real purpose. One teacher and his students built close connections with each other while using the game Minecraft to build an online school (Marsh & Spiller, 2015). Minecraft, in particular, is providing a powerful way for students and teachers to connect. One educator put it perfectly when he said, “It's a powerful moment when you take something kids love and are passionate about, and you bring it into the school day, and you say, ‘Show me what you can do with it’” (Herold, 2015).
I hope that the discussion of game features and characteristics in the context of authentic and communicative English language learning provides you with the motivation to explore some of the resources and to consider the addition of gaming to your English classes. Below are some resources to help you get started. Game-based learning holds the potential of connecting with our students’ world while creating better English mastery. In summary, games and English lessons are perfect companions.
Resources Providing Educational Gaming Professional Development
- Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning - Theories, Methods, and Controversies: online presentation
- Using Game Mechanics & Game Elements in Learning Games: white paper, free download
- Getting Started With Game-Based Language Learning: online article
- Digital Alternatives: a site about game-based learning for language learners by Dave Gatrell, an ESL teacher trainer in Hong Kong
- Digital Debris: a site by Paul Driver focused on mobile learning, augmented reality, and the pedagogy behind edtech
- ELT Sandbox: a site of lesson plans, ideas, and reviews, including the article,
“Learning to Learn with #Minecraft – DGBL ELT Lesson Plan”
Bhasin, K. (2014, January 27). Gamification, game-based learning, serious games: Any difference? Learning Solutions Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1337/gamification-game-based-learning-serious-games-any-difference
Devaney, L. (2014, August 18). Games: The new learning experience. eSchool News. Retrieved from http://www.eschoolnews.com/2014/08/18/games-learning-experience-346/?ps=334241-001a000001jkcbt-003a000001eyvec
Herold, B. (2015, August 18). Minecraft fueling creative ideas, analytical thinking in K-12 classrooms. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/08/19/minecraft-fueling-creative-ideas-analytical-thinking-in.html
Keeler, A. (2014, June 10). Beyond the worksheet: Playsheets, GBL, and gamification. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/beyond-worksheet-playsheets-gbl-gamification-alice-keeler?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=blog-beyond-worksheet-playsheets-gbl-gamification-link
Marsh, S., & Spiller, L. (2015). Three ways to use Minecraft imaginatively in the classroom. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/global/2015/apr/07/three-ways-minecraft-classroom
Rock, M. (n.d.) Hey parents. What Minecraft is doing to your kids is kind of surprising. Retrieved from http://2machines.com/183040/
Rufo-Tepper, R. (2015). Using Games for Assessment http://www.edutopia.org/blog/using-games-for-assessment-rebecca-rufo-tepper?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=101415%20enews%20GBL%20ngm%20remainder&utm_content=&utm_term=vidspotlighthed&spMailingID=12673165&spUserID=Mjg5OTU4NjQ2MzkS1&spJobID=640951623&spReportId=NjQwOTUxNjIzS0
Shapiro, J. (2014, May 8). Math, science, history: Games break boundaries between subjects. Retrieved from http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/05/08/math-science-history-games-break-boundaries-between-subjects-interdisciplinary-learning/
SRI International. (n.d.). Project: Independent research and evaluation on GlassLab games and assessments. Retrieved from https://www.sri.com/work/projects/glasslab-research#
Villar, M. (n.d.). Designing mobile-enabled game-based experiences. Learning Solutions Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1321/designing-mobile-enabled-game-based-experiences
Dr. Christel Broady is a professor of graduate education, chair of advanced graduate programs, and director of the online program for ESL teacher education at Georgetown College. She is an internationally and nationally known keynote speaker, presenter, and author of a book, book chapters, and articles as well as a consultant to educational organizations. Christel is a past president of the Kentucky TESOL, former chair of the TESOL International Association EEIS, and current TESOL CALL steering board member. She is the quality assurance manager of online education with “Quality Matters” for her workplace as well as for all Kentucky independent colleges. She is the manager of “Broadyesl,” a worldwide ELT Community of Practice on Facebook, Wordpress (ESL and technology), LinkedIn, and Twitter.
3 Ways to Improve Business English Writing Instruction
In the world of business, it's important to be able to communicate clearly and concisely. Poor written communication can lead to misunderstandings and perceptions of incompetence, and at worst it can lead to job loss. Try these suggestions and activities, for in and outside of the classroom, to improve the quality of your business English writing instruction and help your business students improve this vital business skill.
In the world of business, it’s often the little things that define people. Punctuality, politeness, motivation, accountability—these characteristics and many more contribute to an image of professionalism. However, simply possessing these traits is not enough.
If an employee lacks the ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner, he or she may be judged as incompetent or, worse, find him- or herself out of a job. Having a solid grasp of the conventions of business English (BE) is therefore a vital skill for students who wish to enter the highly competitive world of business. Unfortunately, in many ESL classes, lessons are focused on a traditional view of business writing that is becoming outdated in rapid fashion. Here are three suggestions that can improve the quality of BE writing instruction, including activities that can be undertaken both in and out of the classroom.
1. Use Media as a Source for a Business English “Textbook”
Relying upon corpus-based lists alone for vocabulary instruction can be problematic. Lists such as these may not contain words for new and emerging technologies, words that have recently been coined, or those that have been subsumed into BE. The media is a great resource for providing students with actual BE presented in an eye-catching format.
The Los Angeles Times is a source that is rich in BE that can be used for a variety of activities. It is easily accessed, both online and in print, and can challenge students to think critically about important issues while they complete exercises. Industry-specific publications are great for supplementing general BE instruction. A few great examples are Plastics News, Aviation Pros, and Sea Technology Magazine. These publications are treasure troves of relevant BE and can be obtained free of charge by simply subscribing or accessing content online.
Activity 1: Locate collocations in a newspaper. Students should find an article of their choice and try to locate five examples of collocations used in an article from the business section.
Activity 2: Find synonyms. Instruct students to find five words from the business section. Next, ask that students find a synonym for each that is less formal. Then have them construct sentences using each to illustrate the differences.
Activity 3: Identify metaphors. Task students with locating as many metaphors as they can in an article. Ask students to think about why they think metaphor was used in each instance instead of direct language.
2. Recognize the Importance of Email
While learning how to write a standard business form letter is undoubtedly important, nowadays most internal and external correspondence occurs in the form of email. Email many times complements phone calls and face-to-face encounters with business associates and colleagues alike, and is a bridge between conversations and written correspondence. The importance of email is that in the real world “email plays a crucial role in binding together flows of internal and external activities that are directed towards the resolution of problems, the formulation of plans or the execution of decisions” (Evans, 2012, p. 210).
A great resource for student email etiquette is available at Purdue’s Owl website. Another resource for outlining the differences in formal and informal BE email is available at My English Teacher, which also provides students with hints and tips for writing short formal email quickly and effectively.
Activity 1: Determine appropriateness. Using an overhead projector, a PowerPoint presentation, or an example from an online resource, show examples of a typical informal email conversation and one that uses a business tone. Ask students to identify what makes one appropriate for business and the other inappropriate, focusing on vocabulary usage, tone, and style.
Activity 2: Write a formal business email. Have students compose a formal business letter to a fictional colleague discussing an important event such as the company’s effort to “go green.” Students can email each other or the teacher.
Activity 3: Complete an email task. Students will begin an email chain with a partner. One partner will occupy the role of a store manager and the other of a product vendor. Students should be encouraged to pick a type of business that they think is interesting, and correspond in an email chain that spans five responses using the changing format of formal-long to formal-short as outlined by My English Teacher, mentioned above.
3. Use an Online Periodical’s Comment Section
Many online periodicals have a comments section linked to articles that are posted. The types of articles that appear in the business section typically attract business-minded readers who are interested in commenting on the author’s point of view or the content of the article. These readers are more often than not very respectful and post their comments using BE. The following activities will require students to post comments online. Note that some websites require posters to register first with only an email address; instruct students to register anonymously and not to provide any information other than their email address. They may find another website if the site they choose requires more information to register.
Activity 1: Locate target vocabulary words in an article. Students can find an article that interests them in an online periodical. Ask students to identify salient BE vocabulary words from the article. Next, ask them to record three statements from the comments section that use BE and three that do not use BE. Ask them to bring the comments and explain the differences to the class. Follow up: Ask students which they prefer and why.
Activity 2: Post a comment. Allow students to find an article in the business section of an online periodical and post a comment in the comments section. Next, have students respond to at least three posters using the salient BE vocabulary that they identified earlier. Have them bring the results to class for discussion. If students find that their comments were met with confusion or if the responses were not what they expected, a discussion group is one way of addressing some potential missteps.
It is my experience that when a nonnative English speaker cannot communicate effectively in business, the misunderstandings that ensue create consequences that can range from merely increasing operational time and effort to generating huge financial burdens. It is my hope that by using the suggestions and activities listed in this article, you can help your BE students discover a voice that will drive them to succeed in whatever endeavor they choose to take on.
Evans, S. (2012). Designing email tasks for the business English classroom: Implications from a study of Hong Kong's key industries. English for Specific Purposes, 31(3), 202–212.
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Christopher DeSandro is the assistant general manager at Seco Seals, Inc., an aerospace manufacturing company that serves clients throughout the world. His 10 years of experience in the industry have given him a unique insight into the importance of English in international trade. He is currently a graduate student in the MS TESOL program at Cal State Fullerton University with more than 2 years of experience working with adult learners.
Pragmatics: When the Unwritten Rules of Language Break Down
Think about a time when an ESL student gave you feedback—a suggestion on how to make your language class better; for example, “You should add more grammar and you should supply all the right answers.”
How did you feel? Did you feel the student was rude? Did you think the request was inappropriate? If so, did you inform the student that the request was not acceptable, or did you just keep quiet?
We call this an opportunity. There are ways to turn moments like these into pragmatic lessons: ways to explain the unwritten rules so students become successful intercultural communicators. In this article, we will share an example of giving feedback and a framework to make sense of differences in feedback styles.
We will also describe an approach (Kondo, 2010) to teaching pragmatics and include links to our free online resources including pragmatic patterns, lesson plans, learner handouts, and audio files to teach three speech acts (apologies, feedback, and complaints).
The Idea of Pragmatic Competence
Pragmatic competence is a term that is used in relation to communicative competence and is the ability to factor in the context such as the interlocutor’s age, gender, role, and status, and adjust word choices, tone, and register accordingly (Garcia, 2004).
To be good communicators requires language users to have reasonable mastery of language content, plus the ability to use language effectively and appropriately within a context. Unlike grammatical errors, “pragmatic errors can easily lead to misconstruals of speaker intentions, which can in turn lead to negative judgements about a speaker’s personality or moral character” (Vásquez & Sharpless, 2009, p. 6) and may lead listeners to negatively judge the speaker’s overall competence.
For many internationally educated professionals with documented credentials and experience in their countries of origin, one of the barriers to retention and promotion is their soft skills (professional communication skills, ability to work effectively with others, and ability to learn continuously). Without understanding the unwritten rules of pragmatic communication patterns, newcomers may not be able to identify how and why their actions in a team are unsuccessful. They are also less likely to be asked to lead teams and gain the experience that supports upward mobility within a company.
The Critical Incident Video: The Power of Suggestion
Here is an applied example of these unwritten rules of language.
In this video clip, Roger, a manager, reviewed Mariana’s report and used Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature to highlight his comments and suggestions. He then said, “I’d say it could use a bit more work. Take a look (at my comments and suggestions) and let me know if you have any questions or if anything’s unclear. Let’s make it spotless.”
However, Mariana went ahead and sent her report without changing anything. When Roger asked what had happened, Mariana said, “I didn’t see anything in your review telling me that I had to change things.”
Why? Because Roger’s feedback included the softeners could and a bit, Mariana interpreted that the changes were only suggestions and therefore not definitely necessary. Mariana later defends her action when Roger confronts her for not making changes by saying, “I didn’t see anything in your review telling me that I had to change things. I didn’t realize your suggestions were not really suggestions.” Mariana needs to hear a more negative statement to understand a change is required. However, this type of statement would be perceived by Roger as inappropriately rude.
In summary, cross-cultural feedback (Laroche & Yang, 2014) explains how a statement can be sent with the intention of requesting a change but received as a statement that no change is necessary. Without understanding the unwritten rules of Roger’s pragmatic communication, Mariana could not act successfully.
International students also require pragmatic competency to successfully navigate both the formal and informal aspects of the school and workplace. They are expected to fit in, and may be judged negatively when they do not. However, ESL speakers cannot develop pragmatic competencies without understanding the cultural context in which everyday language use occurs (NorQuest College, 2011). It is essential for ESL instructors to provide these pragmatic lessons to their students.
Model for Teaching Pragmatics With Online Resources
One practical model for introducing pragmatics into classroom instruction using speech acts is Kondo’s approach (Kondo, 2010). She proposes:
using a warm-up activity to raise awareness,
teaching the speech act explicitly,
raising cross-cultural pragmatic awareness,
providing authentic input, and
practicing output in interaction.
Using this evidence-based instructional method, we’ve created easy-to-use lesson plans to introduce three speech acts: apologies, feedback, and complaints. We’ve also included pragmatic patterns and sample audio recordings of Canadian workplace-appropriate language for compliments and requests. You can find these lesson plans, patterns, and sample audio recordings here.
Once students gain some language and understanding of pragmatics, it can be effective to expose learners to pragmatic aspects of language and provide them with analytical tools to arrive at their own generalizations about contextually appropriate language rather than teaching every speech act specifically (Schmidt, 1993).
ESL speakers cannot develop pragmatic competencies without understanding the cultural context in which the language is used. ESL instructors can use our lesson plans to teach three speech acts—apologies, feedback, and complaints—in context, and can also use our pragmatic patterns as analytical tools so that ESL learners can arrive at their own generalizations of culturally appropriate language use.
Garcia, P. (2004). Pragmatic comprehension of high and low level language learners. TESL-EJ, 8(2). Retrieved from http://tesl-ej.org/ej30/a1.html
Kondo, S. (2010). Apologies: Raising learners' cross-cultural awareness. In A. Martinez-Flor & E. Uso-Juan (Eds.), Speech acts performance: theoretical, empirical and methodological issues (pp. 145–162). Amsterdam, Netherlands: John Benjamins.
Laroche, L., & Yang, C. (2014). Danger and opportunity: Bridging cultural diversity for competitive advantage. New York, NY, and London, England: Routledge.
NorQuest College. (2011) Online workplace integration language resources (OWLS). Retrieved from https://www.norquest.ca/norquest-centres/centre-for-intercultural-education/projects/completed-projects/online-workplace-integration-language-resources-(o.aspx
Schmidt, R. (1993). Conscious learning and interlanguage pragmatics. In G. Kasper & S. Blum-Kulka (Eds.), Interlanguage Pragmatics (pp. 21–42). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
Vásquez, C., & Sharpless, D. (2009). The role of pragmatics in the master’s TESOL curriculum: Findings from a nationwide survey. TESOL Quarterly, 43, 5–28.
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Kerry Louw is an English in the workplace instructor and intercultural specialist with NorQuest College’s Centre for Intercultural Education. Kerry graduated from the University of Alberta with an MEd TESL, where she designed and conducted a research project on pragmatics in the workplace. Since joining the Centre, Kerry has led innovative applied research projects to integrate pragmatic and intercultural competence within resources, and she has facilitated intercultural and workplace English language workshops for numerous classes, instructors, and corporate clients.
Yuji Abe is an English in the workplace instructor and an intercultural facilitator with NorQuest College's Centre for Intercultural Education. Yuji's passion for culture, teaching, and learning saw him in classrooms all over the world before settling in Edmonton, Canada. Yuji holds a Master's Degree from the University of Alberta and is a qualified administrator for the Intercultural Development Inventory. Yuji taught at the U of A and NorQuest's ESL programs before joining the Centre, where he has found his niche in running workplace workshops throughout the country and conducting applied research.
Applying for a Position in ELT: Behind the Scenes (Part 1)
Part 1: Teaching Portfolios That Get Attention
A position announcement catches your eye: Program X invites applications for the position of English Language Instructor. It’s just the kind of job you’ve been seeking—an opportunity to advance your career. But how can you stand out among other applicants? What can you do to assemble an impressive application packet that substantially increases your chances of being offered the position? Based on our experience with faculty searches—as administrators, search committee members, and applicants—we offer insights into what employers look for when they review application portfolios (Biesenbach-Lucas & Wormuth, 2016), and we provide suggestions for developing application materials that rise above the rest.
For many teaching positions, applicants are required to submit a teaching portfolio. While not all programs prescribe the specific documents to be compiled, some programs may be quite prescriptive about portfolio content. In such cases, it is advisable to adhere to instructions and not deviate from the prescribed list. Portfolios generally contain “documents and materials which collectively suggest the scope and quality of an instructor’s teaching proficiency” and professional activities (Rodriguez-Farrar, 2006, p.3). You should compile the portfolio carefully and thoughtfully, recognizing that preparing a high-quality portfolio is a time-consuming process.
The most successful applicants “provide documented evidence of teaching from a variety of sources … and provide context for that evidence” (Teaching Portfolios, 2015, para.1). In order to select appropriate materials, you should read the position announcement carefully, research the program thoroughly, determine which materials you have developed that are aligned with the target program’s requirements and philosophy, and decide which materials you need to create. For example, if applying to a university IEP program, you would not effectively address the goals of that program by providing materials designed for adult education or secondary school programs.
Superior portfolios provide a comprehensive portrait of the candidate. They illustrate instructional philosophy methodology, provide evidence of creativity and professional commitment, and demonstrate organizational skills. A good portfolio begins with a table of contents, guiding the search committee to the various parts of the portfolio. For hard-copy portfolios, clearly labeled tab dividers should separate the portfolio sections; for electronic portfolios, sections can either be prepared in separate folders, or one PDF file with consecutive page numbers can aid the search committee in locating the portfolio components. Brief context descriptions at the beginning of some sections are helpful for search committee members to review and evaluate submitted items appropriately. Organizational skills are essential; you need to put yourself in the portfolio readers’ shoes to help the reader navigate through the submitted elements and anticipate what background information he or she will need to place the materials in the portfolio into the context of a course.
The cover letter should follow standard business letter conventions. It should
- be written specifically for the position,
- reflect the position announcement, and
- generally not exceed one page.
You should state how you learned about the position and emphasize why you would be a good fit in the target program. A cover letter is not another version of your CV or résumé; therefore, you should avoid repeating information stated in your CV. Instead, you should address the position requirements explicitly and state how you can meet those requirements. It goes without saying that proofreading the cover letter is critical.
The curriculum vitae (CV) is your professional biography. It should clearly convey whether or not you meet the minimum requirements for the position. Usually, this means indicating
- degree/s obtained,
- length of prior teaching experience, and
- evidence of professional development.
We have read CVs in which writers listed their prior ESL/EFL teaching positions without indicating the skills (reading, writing, etc.) nor the proficiency levels they had taught. Lack of such critical information gives an incomplete picture of the applicant’s teaching background. Furthermore, you should indicate whether or not previous positions were full-time or part-time employment. The CV should also provide evidence of service to your department or institution and professional development activities within the profession. For example, the CVs of impressive applicants often list:
- membership in professional organizations,
- presentations delivered,
- works published, and
- involvement in local affiliates.
If you do not update your CV regularly, the task of remembering and listing all relevant responsibilities, activities, and dates may become daunting. It is a good idea to keep a version of your CV current on your desktop and to update it regularly, especially after presentations or new responsibilities are given to you. Also, if you indicate that you have your own website, contribute regularly to blogs, or provide links to online documents, you can be sure that the search committee will check your presence on social media.
Applicants are usually asked to supply names of references (usually three) or have their references send recommendation letters. Letters that are either generic or obviously recycled give a negative impression. Letters should be current or very recent (the past 3 to 5 years), from employers or colleagues who can speak to your teaching skills and engagement in the profession, and from within your teaching program. Be sure that reference letters arrive by the application deadline; therefore, recommenders must be given sufficient time to prepare their letters. We suggest that you ask your recommender no later than 3 to 4 weeks before the deadline.
Philosophy of Teaching Statement
For teaching positions, a standard element included in a portfolio is a philosophy of teaching statement. The philosophy should be “a clear and unique portrait of [the applicant] as a teacher, avoiding generic or empty philosophical statements about teaching [emphasis added]” (Teaching Statements, 2015, para.1). A good rule of thumb for an effective teaching philosophy is to select three or four focal areas which you illustrate with specific examples from your teaching, and which are then illustrated through actual teaching materials included in the portfolio.
Evidence of Teaching
Evidence of your actual teaching experience is addressed in three components:
- course descriptions/syllabi
- teaching materials
- assessment instruments
Ideally, all three components should be connected; a course description/syllabus for an intermediate grammar class should be accompanied by teaching materials from that class, as well as tests, quizzes, or other assessments designed for the same class. If this “trifecta” is to impress the search committee, applicants should include a variety of skills and proficiency levels—not course descriptions from one level.
Course Descriptions and Syllabi
The course descriptions (a good number is three to five) should show relevant course information, performance objectives, learning outcomes, class activities, materials, evaluation/grading, and course policies. However, because these items are often prescribed by teaching institutions, detailed syllabi (week-by-week course schedules) that show how you are able to break down course content into appropriate and well sequenced pedagogical chunks should be included. If the course descriptions and/or syllabi are not your original creation, you should make this clear.
Teaching Materials and Assessment Instruments
The teaching materials and assessment instruments that you select for your portfolio should be items that you have created (or sufficiently adapted) for your classes in current or prior teaching assignments. Impressive teaching materials are complete activities for a variety of skills relevant in the target program; therefore, if applying to a university-based IEP, you should select materials clearly based on topics and skills that students need for college. Additionally, lessons for all skills should be complete units with appropriate handouts and worksheets, and not merely activities for 1-hour class sessions. Materials that show how your teaching philosophy is implemented in the lesson design are especially suitable.
Assessment instruments should show a mix of test types, from multiple-choice items to detailed rubrics. In today’s wired world, you should also demonstrate familiarity with technology and show how you can integrate various technological components into your lesson design. Search committees are not impressed with pages copied from textbooks, nor with class lists and attendance sheets! Search committee members will appreciate, however, the applicant who briefly describes the teaching context for each of the submitted materials—skill, level, and the fit of those materials into the overall course sequence.
A teaching video may also be required of applicants or of finalists invited for an interview. It is a good idea not to leave videotaping a lesson until the last minute. Anything from technological glitches to inattentive, unprepared students during the taped lesson can compromise the video’s submission by the deadline; be sure to allow ample time to record another lesson if necessary.
When planning a videotaped lesson, applicants often mistakenly assume that the search committee wants to see them conduct instruction throughout the entire lesson (usually about 50 minutes). This misguided assumption leads to predominantly teacher-centered lessons, which do not provide evidence of instructional abilities related to communicative and task-based learning, common to most programs. Other ill-conceived lessons are those which include lengthy segments of students’ reading or writing silently.
Plan a lesson with a clear beginning, middle, and end. Well-designed lessons alternate effectively between teacher-centered moments and learner-centered activities, demonstrating your ability to use effective classroom management and pacing to achieve the lesson’s goals. As with teaching materials, you should provide a context for the videotaped lesson in the portfolio, as well as the materials used in the lesson.
Evidence of Professional Development Activities
Classroom instructional competence is but one aspect of a qualified applicant. Administrators prefer faculty who show commitment to the field and who see themselves as lifelong learners. Applicants for ELT jobs must be prepared to show evidence of participation in professional development activities. Such evidence can come in multiple forms, such as
- membership in professional organizations,
- conference attendance,
- committee involvement,
- conference volunteerism, and
- accreditation work
While presentations and publications are listed in the CV, you should include handouts/PowerPoint slides from presentations and workshops you have given, along with copies of selected published work in the portfolio. Conference attendance certificates are less impressive to a search committee than proof of scholarly activity and active engagement in the profession, and the more experience an applicant has, the greater are the search committee’s expectations for a clear professional development history and trajectory.
ELT programs vary considerably in their instructional design and faculty expectations. However, all seek faculty applicants who demonstrate their commitment to providing excellent instruction. It is critical that you follow instructions, attend to deadlines, and allow yourself ample time for completion and review of your portfolio. In so doing, you will present a high quality portfolio that illustrates your organizational skills, clarity of expression, teaching philosophy, and creativity in material design and development. Submission of such a portfolio will receive greater attention by a search committee and increase your chances of attaining a position.
Biesenbach-Lucas, S., & Wormuth, D. (2016, February). From position announcement to interview: Administrators' and applicants' perspectives. PAIS Newsletter. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolpais/issues/2016-02-22/2.html
Rodriguez-Farrar, H. B. (2006). The teaching portfolio (3rd ed.). Providence, RI: Brown University Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning.
Teaching portfolios. (2015). Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-portfolios/
Teaching statements. (2015). Vanderbilt University: Center for Teaching. Retrieved from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-statements/
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Sigrun Biesenbach-Lucas received her MAT and PhD degrees in applied linguistics from Georgetown University. She has taught ESL, linguistics, and teacher training courses, and she is currently teaching in the Intensive English Program at Georgetown University; she has also served as a site reviewer for CEA. She regularly presents at TESOL conferences; she has published articles on email communication, and she is the coauthor of Next Generation Grammar 4.
Deanna Wormuth is director of the Center for Language Education and Development and English as a Foreign Language at Georgetown University. She has extensive experience as a program administrator and has served as a CEA commissioner and site reviewer. She has also served as advocacy chair and president of University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP).
7 Keys to Writing Enjoyment: The Student Perspective
“Unless a person enjoys the process, he or she is unlikely to take the risk of crossing an unexplored frontier,” wrote Czikszentmihalyi in 1988 (p. 373). His research revealed that intense feelings of enjoyment generated motivation to exert effort. A decade later, LeDoux’s neurological research (as cited in Willis, 2006, p. 66) found that positive emotions actually promoted brain cell multiplication, thereby increasing the potential for learning. Both the psychological and biological reality spell out a clear mandate for teachers: If we are to assist our students in maximizing learning, we must see to it that our methods of instruction imbue the learning experience with pleasure.
To set up positive experiences for ESL/EFL writing students, it would seem reasonable to start by determining which aspects of writing resonate with them. How better to find out than to ask the students themselves?
To identify the factors that contribute to enjoyment of writing, we conducted a two-part interview, consisting of open-ended questions and a questionnaire, with 24 students from our intensive English program. The group was divided evenly between proficiency levels III (low intermediate) and V (advanced), as defined in our program, to test for the effect of language level on responses. Each proficiency level was further divided between Saudi Arabian and Chinese students, who currently predominate in our program, to explore potential cultural differences in attitudes.
In the open-ended interview, students were asked to reflect on in-class writing tasks that they had found enjoyable and then to focus on the particular features of those activities that had appealed to them. In our analysis of the responses, we identified the following principal causes of enjoyment.
The Seven Keys
- Freedom from constraints. Writing freely, with no restrictions of topic, grammar, organization, or time. “Free writes” or “quick writes” were well received.
- Challenge. The chance to demonstrate skill under pressure. Although timed writing tasks were disliked by some, writing within time limits, along with writing concisely, was the most frequently cited enjoyable challenge.
- Feedback. Both giving and receiving corrections and suggestions. Peer feedback was perceived to be particularly effective.
- Models. Examples of vocabulary use, essay or paragraph organization, and style, not only from native writers but also from peers. Instances of both correct and incorrect usage were appreciated.
- Feeling in control of the content. Knowing the topic thoroughly before writing, whether through previous experience, group discussion, or research.
- Feeling in control of the process. Having a command of the writing process, from brainstorming to the final draft. Scaffolded instruction and frequent practice led to self-assurance.
- A sense of progress. The perception that an activity had led subjects closer to their personal goals, whether language proficiency was an aim in its own right or simply a gateway to matriculation in a U.S. college.
Our questionnaire included 22 potential factors in enjoyment that had surfaced in our literature review of positive psychology. Students were asked to indicate which of the factors figured in their positive feelings toward a writing task. In our analysis of the responses, the most popular factors in the questionnaire correlated with the seven features that we had uncovered in our open-ended interviews. At the same time, the frequency of responses to certain items varied by language level or country background.
Differences by Country Background
The Saudi students’ responses exhibited a more unanimous enthusiasm than the Chinese for challenges, feedback, and a sense of control both of the content and of the writing process. A sense of progress in general was important to both groups; however, progress in peripheral learning (skills other than writing) was a more significant factor for Saudi than for Chinese students, who relied more heavily on writing-related progress for their enjoyment.
Differences by Proficiency Level
Feedback, a sense of control of the writing process, and perception of progress through peripheral learning were all notable sources of pleasure for the low-intermediate students, whereas advanced learners responded equivocally to the same factors. While both groups appreciated seeing improvement in their writing skills, good grades were a significant source of pleasure for the advanced students but held no special sway over lower level respondents. We speculate that this last finding may have to do with our IEP’s status as a gateway program to matriculation in our university; in the advanced classes, grades become high stake.
Reflections on Student Responses
The results of our study held some surprises for us. We had expected that social interaction and game-like activities would figure heavily in responses, surfacing as a strong factor in the enjoyment of writing activities. Indeed, activities with a social component, such as group brainstorming, collaborative writing, and peer feedback, were widely cited as enjoyable. However, only one student attributed her positive feelings to the social aspect itself and to the consequent formation of lasting friendships. All other comments attributed the value of social engagement to its impact on one or more of the seven keys. In fact, from the data, perceived progress toward personal goals and thorough content knowledge emerged as the primary conditions for enjoyment, with all other factors serving to advance these two. It became clear that this set of students derived a deeper pleasure from purpose-driven activities than from frivolous fun, and that a high sense of self-efficacy was their highest priority.
On the other hand, we had selected students who had earned a writing grade of B or higher, reasoning that high-achieving students might possess greater self-awareness regarding their writing experiences and therefore might be better able to analyze them for us. It is quite likely that the success of these students is partially due to their clear sense of purpose. It would be fruitful to compare their responses with those of a set of students who had experienced less academic success.
Although our interviews deliberately focused on the enjoyable side of writing, comments on negative experiences arose spontaneously. Our participants’ disparate attitudes toward pressure, notably timed writing, suggest that factors that are positive for some writers may be negative for others. This raises the question of what other factors might engender contrasting responses.
While the above questions remain to be explored, our initial conversations with students have led us to a deeper understanding of what is important to them as they pursue writing mastery. In fact, the seven keys to enjoyment might be seen as an interdependent web.
- Freedom from constraints on the topic allows students to choose subject matter with which they are familiar and comfortable, leading them to feel in control of the content.
- Feedback and models contribute to a sense of control of the writing process, which heightens awareness of progress and at the same time nurtures the confidence to welcome challenges.
- The outcome of a challenge delivers further feedback, which leads to greater control of the process and a stronger feeling of progress.
Incorporating these interdependent factors into writing tasks—offering appropriate freedom of choice in assignment parameters, scaffolding through models and feedback, and setting challenges that enhance students’ sense of control and of progress—will heighten the enjoyment of the writing experience and will thereby contribute to optimizing students’ learning.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). The future of flow. In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.), Optimal experience: Psychological studies of flow in consciousness (pp. 364–383). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Willis, J. (2006). Research-based strategies to ignite student learning: Insights from a neurologist and classroom teacher. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
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Ana Kim, fascinated by language acquisition, has been teaching at the University of Delaware English Language Institute since 2008. She served on the Fulbright National Screening Committee for the 2011–2013 English Teaching Assistant Programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education.
Sarah S. Petersen, whose 25 years in the ESL/EFL profession have included teaching in the Central African Republic and French Guiana, has been an instructor at the University of Delaware English Language Institute since 2002.