LETTER FROM THE CHAIR
Dear SPLIS members,
2016 has been a busy year for TESOL, with the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration and many transitions in process.
We have begun to get accustomed to a new community platform, myTESOL, and seen several interesting discussions posted to our community. Are you connected to our SPLIS community via myTESOL? You can read the discussions on the website, receive daily digests of the messages posted, or get email about each message in real time. Go to my.tesol.org, sign in using your TESOL credentials, click “Communities” to check your enrollment and settings, then watch for more discussions in the lead-up to TESOL’s 2017 convention in Seattle.
This year has also brought a process of change to interest sections (ISs) within TESOL. At the 2016 convention, an Interest Section Task Force presented findings and let us know that the IS system would be changed, with input from all members. We have recently received the proposal that TESOL will have knowledge-based member communities (KMBCs) instead of ISes. You can find more information about this change and make comments about it on the TESOL Blog. Please follow this information and share your input to help SPLIS have a wonderful future as a KMBC, with increased year-round activities.
I’m excited to hear from you on myTESOL and to see some of you in Seattle this year. The lineup of SPLIS-related presentations looks exciting, as always.
All my best wishes,
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
Dear Fellow SPLIS Members,
Greetings! We hope you have got some rest and recharge after the busy final week of 2016. If you’re planning for teaching in the new semester, you may find some fresh ideas in this issue of the SPLIS newsletter. In this publication for 2017, we’re happy to bring you two articles that touch on subjects such as good listening activities for EFL/ESL learners shared by experienced instructors, and how to design skill-integrated lesson plans to foster students’ self-awareness in an advanced listening and speaking class.
It was great to see some of you at the 2016 convention in Baltimore! The number of concurrent sessions taking place at any given time was simply overwhelming because of their rich information and resources. The SPLIS social event, which highlighted newly published books through drawings and talking with the authors, also made this year’s convention more unforgettable, informative, and fun. The steering committee announced changes in our community, such as ushering in a new co-editor, Shiao-Chen Tsai, and our new chair, Beth Sheppard.
In closing, please consider submitting for the June or December 2017 SPLIS newsletter. Whether you’re fairly new or a seasoned educator, it’s always inspiring to hear about the success of others in classroom situations similar to our own. You might write about a well-received lesson, a recent presentation, or a research project to highlight the pedagogical implications for teachers. If you have an idea you think others might be interested in, please contact us by email.
Read on and be refreshed!
Demi and Shiao-Chen
Demetria Li is the teacher training program coordinator and a full-time faculty member at The University of Alabama, where she has been an ESL instructor for the last 5 years. Although both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees were earned in Mississippi, Demi has spent about 8 years living and working abroad and still looks for opportunities to travel.
Shiao-Chen Tsai is a doctoral candidate working in the Writing Center at The Ohio State University, where she also received her MA-TESOL degree. Her dissertation focuses on academic listening and note-taking. Her teaching experiences included: English conversation and TOEFL preparation in California, high school English writing in Ohio, and secondary school English in Taiwan.
MINDFUL LANGUAGE LEARNING: A SELF-AWARENESS PROJECT IN AN ADVANCED SPEAKING/LISTENING CLASS
As teachers, we want students to grow in autonomy and self-awareness as they accomplish their academic goals. One aspect of self-awareness—mindfulness—is positively impacting a number of disciplines, including education and language learning. Ellen Langer, Harvard professor and best-selling author of Mindfulness (2014; Merloyd Lawrence), defines mindfulness as “the process of actively noticing new things[emphasis added], relinquishing preconceived mindsets, and then acting on the new observations[emphasis added]” (Feinberg, 2010).
Applied linguistics and communication faculty Houston and Turner (2007) have written of its seeming merit in second language acquisition, as well. Mindful language learning is is a task-based approach that “[recognizes] the need to apply learner knowledge to some task [emphasis added] in order to promote a more complete integration of systematic knowledge and to improve retention of that knowledge[emphasis added]” (Houston & Turner, 2007). The goal of mindful learning goes beyond simply acquiring knowledge; it enables students to see the “language world” from their own perspectives, make observations about their skills, and empower them to act on their own conclusions (Houston & Turner, 2007). Another goal Houston and Turner (2007) write about centers on encouraging students to rely on themselves, not just on experts, as they determine their own desirable outcomes from tasks.
How do we integrate mindful learning, empowering students to apply knowledge and improve retention? To move in this direction, I took a presentation in my advanced speaking/listening class and created a multilayered project in which students observe their own presentation, grammar, and pronunciation skills and act on their observations.
Throughout the semester, we spend time focusing on presentation skills. When we begin the persuasive speech, many students have already given their informative speech in class. As a result, they have had some previous presentation practice and are accustomed to giving each other feedback based on criteria I provide.
Students are asked to describe a problem or issue they have read about, observed, or encountered related to their programs, American culture, or something about our university. After developing the problem, students provide a practical solution in a video-recorded, 7- to 9-minute speech. Students upload it to Box and, this time, they view their own speeches in order to provide themselves with evaluative feedback. To do so, students create a 4- to 5-minute video summary of their feedback about the structure/organization of their speech, their performance, language skills, and overall assessment. They conclude with suggestions that they would like to keep in mind for future presentations.
Goal and Assessment
The purpose is for students to practice giving a video-recorded persuasive speech and then assess their own presentation by reviewing their own recordings, detailing what skills or behavior they would like to retain or change in the future.
For my evaluation, I watch their video-recorded persuasive speeches and assess them based on a rubric that I use for all of their speeches/presentations. I also evaluate their self-awareness videos, looking for thoughtful comments regarding what they noticed or learned about themselves and how this awareness will inform their future presentations.
The next piece of this project centers on students’ spoken grammar. At the beginning of the semester, we practice transcribing and analyzing a speech segment: First, students listen to a short segment and individually transcribe it. Afterward, working alone, they analyze their transcription, identifying and correcting errors they noticed. Finally, with a partner, they compare their transcriptions and analyses before we discuss them as a class.
Students also have the opportunity to deepen their practice within their grammar groups: A peer from their group is randomly selected to give a 2-minute impromptu “talk” on a topic. Students record and then transcribe it individually, identifying and correcting grammar and vocabulary errors. As a group, they come to consensus on the errors and corrections and together fill out a simple identification chart.
At this point, students are fairly comfortable with transcribing and analyzing speech for errors. Using their persuasive speech recordings, I ask them to transcribe a 2-minute selection of the introduction/body and a 2-minute selection of the body/conclusion. After transcribing both segments, they identify and correct errors using the error identification and correction chart. Finally, they re-record those segments, free of the grammar and vocabulary errors they identified in their analyses.
Goal and Assessment
The purpose is for students to actively notice the frequent grammar and vocabulary errors in their spoken English and grow in their ability to self-monitor and self-correct.
To evaluate, I look for their ability to determine mistakes in their speaking and for their ability to self-correct. I assess how thorough they are in their transcriptions and write in any errors they might have overlooked. As well, I evaluate their error identification and correction charts for accuracy and completeness, especially looking for thoughtful awareness of their spoken grammar mistakes and whether they know how to self-correct through either internal knowledge or access to external information. Finally, I listen to their re-recordings to assess their ability to mindfully correct the mistakes they initially observed.
I spend some time teaching pronunciation skills, including word stress, reduction, thought groups and phrasal stress, linking, intonation, and vowel and consonant sounds. We also study discourse markers and their meanings and purposes.
The pronunciation self-awareness project includes choosing one of the transcriptions students already completed in their grammar and vocabulary analysis. Before they listen to their recordings, I ask them to mark the following on a clean copy of their transcription:
- Thought groups
- Phrasal stress
- Intonation patterns
- Places where they think they should link
- Places where they think they should reduce
Next, they listen to that segment of their persuasive speech and mark what they actually hear with a different color of ink. Finally, I ask them to listen again and note any discourse markers.
Goal and Assessment
The goal is for students to apply what we have studied and practiced as a class to their own pronunciation and to actively notice areas where they are already fairly comprehensible or may wish to focus on for improvement.
I evaluate this by meeting with students individually during class time. First, I ask them what they learned about their pronunciation skills—anything they are doing well and/or anything they think they should change. Next, we go over their marked-up transcriptions in detail and compare both sets of markings. This is typically where students have the “a-ha” moments regarding their pronunciation and comprehensibility strengths or challenges. Finally, students have the opportunity to speak that segment of their presentation “live” with me while I provide individualized feedback.
Reflection and Feedback
I have found this project to be a wonderful opportunity for students to grow in awareness of their presentation, grammar, and pronunciation skills. Instead of relying solely on my feedback, students actively assess and monitor areas they would like to focus on or change.
To avoid overwhelming students, I do not present all the pieces of this project at once. Instead, the pieces are listed on the syllabus as separate projects due at various times throughout the semester. I also provide plenty of input, scaffolding, and practice beforehand. As well, I give students time in class to work on their projects in case they have questions or want my input or feedback on some aspects of their work.
Often, students tell me they feel nervous because they have never watched themselves give a presentation. Afterward, however, students articulate how much they benefitted from this self-assessment. They never noticed, for example, that they frequently touch their noses or use so many fillers. Sometimes the feedback their peers and I provide them after in-class presentations is not always remembered or acted upon, but when they notice something for themselves, this awareness seems to make its mark and motivate them to change.
Students also grow in their awareness of spoken grammatical errors. Through this project, they typically have a good sense of what their top spoken grammar (or vocabulary) errors are and how to correct them. In future speaking situations, students are mindful of these errors, often unobtrusively self-correcting in the middle of their spoken discourse.
I really enjoy it when students become aware of something without my feedback. After completing her pronunciation self-awareness project, one student told me she was pausing in the wrong places—in the middle of thought groups instead of between them. As a result, she felt like her speaking was halted and unnatural, making it more difficult for people to understand her without some effort. I loved that she became mindful of this issue on her own and wanted to intentionally fix this in order to reach her comprehensibility goals.
I believe this integrated project provides a practical way for students to integrate mindful language learning as they become aware of their own strengths and weaknesses in ways that involve their real speech. Students are also given the opportunity to determine desirable language outcomes for themselves based on their self-assessments and to find their own sense of meaning as they grow in their language abilities. As Houston and Turner (2007) write, “Mindfulness asks students to see for themselves, personally determine how to use their knowledge or skills, and determine what a meaningful outcome is.” A mindful approach to language learning is a beneficial approach for helping students to practically use and retain their knowledge in self-empowering ways.
Feinberg, C. (2010, September-October). The mindfulness chronicles. Harvard Magazine. Retrieved from http://harvardmagazine.com/2010/09/the-mindfulness-chronicles
Houston, T., & Turner, P. K. (2007). Mindful learning and second language acquisition. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 11(1). Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/read/1G1-165912649/mindful-learning-and-second-language-acquisition
Julie George teaches in Penn State University’s Intensive English Communication Program. Previously, she was the acting/assistant director at Bowling Green State University’s ESOL Program and director of a nonprofit organization.
BOOK REVIEW: LISTENING IN ACTION, 2ND EDITION
Rost, M. (2015). Listening in action: 101 ways to teach listening. Available from:
The first edition of Listening in Action was published in 1991, in an age without podcasts, downloadable listening tracks, or YouTube videos. The book was a classic collection of 37 activities for teaching listening in EFL/ESL classrooms. Recently, Michael Rost has published a second edition of this book, with a few minor changes. Unlike the first edition, the new edition does not include a list of books and resources for teachers who want to learn more about teaching listening. One change that I noticed is the addition of many links to online resources, such as videos, online audio tracks, and online articles. This makes the book much more relevant for 21st-century educators.
The book’s introduction gives a good overview of the four sections of the book, as well as some useful information about teaching listening. Rost provides many practical tips for helping students improve their listening abilities. For example, he suggests that language teachers should focus on teaching listening not testing listening. Furthermore, he recommends that teachers encourage students to become independent learners by seeking out their own listening materials outside of class.
The book’s four sections each cover one type of listening activity. In the introduction, Rost explains that the order of the sections follows a progression from a minimum to a maximum of verbal interaction.
The first section, Attentive Listening, contains activities that focus on students listening and responding in basic ways. Because most of the activities here require very simple responses from the listener, they are ideal for beginning- and elementary-level students. These activities all provide support (linguistic, nonlinguistic, and interactional) for the listener, making it easier for them to comprehend the message. One activity that I liked is called “Demonstrations.” In this activity, students listen to a procedure that is demonstrated for them, such as making a sandwich or juggling. Next, students must recall different steps of the demonstration. I enjoy doing this kind of listening activity with my students, and this activity has some additional follow-up options, such as asking students questions about the demonstration and giving students an opportunity to do their own demonstrations.
The second section, Intensive Listening, has a number of activities where students concentrate on the language form of a message. The activities in this section help students notice how sound, structure, and lexical choice can affect meaning. One activity I found interesting is called “Short Forms.” In this activity, students listen for short forms in connected speech, such as assimilated consonant clusters and reductions of vowels. Short forms can be extremely challenging for second language learners, so I think it’s important to help students notice and understand them better.
The third section, Selective Listening, shares several activities with two different goals: listening as a way of predicting information and selecting cues, and listening to become more familiar with different types of discourse. One activity that caught my attention is called “Facts and Figures.” In this activity, students listen to descriptions of important people, places, and things and write down key information. Rost provides a helpful list of links to a broad range of texts, covering topics such as world records, Leonardo da Vinci, and Marilyn Monroe. This is a superb activity for helping students understand a text about a person or an event.
The fourth section, Interactive Listening, has activities for listening in combination with speaking. It includes many activities that guide students in taking an active role in a conversation. An activity that I like is called “Group Survey,” in which students ask each other questions on a topic as part of a survey. This activity gives students a lot of opportunities to practice speaking and listening.
One more feature worth mentioning is the Teacher’s Diary section that follows each activity. These sections feature questions that encourage the reader to reflect on how well an activity went, what improvements could be made on the activity, and what other activities come to mind that have some similarities to the activity.
Overall, this is an excellent resource for teachers of listening courses. The book contains a lot of variety, so there is something for every teaching context. Each activity is described in great detail, so the reader knows which level the activity is for, the purpose of the activity, and how to prepare for the activity in class. In addition, each activity contains one or more variations, which allows the reader to imagine a number of different ways an activity could be taught.
Earlier this month, I tried out several of the activities introduced in Rost’s (2015) Listening in Action with the university students I teach at Kainan University. The following are my observations of how my students learned in those activities.
I tried out an activity called “In Order” from the Selective Listening section of the book. In this activity, students get slips of paper containing sentences from a dialogue. They must listen and put the sentences in the correct order. I used this activity with an evening class, right after a mingle activity. I think it made sense to make a transition from an activity where students are in motion and focusing on fluency to an activity where students are sitting down and focused on accuracy. The students had not yet heard or read the dialogue, so they were challenged to put the sentences back in order. As I looked around the classroom, they were engaged and motivated to get the order right. Once I played the listening track, they were quick to move the sentences around. I thought it was a fun way to introduce the dialogue in the coursebook.
Another activity I used is called “Music Images” from the Attentive Listening section. In “Music Images,” students listen to excerpts from instrumental music tracks and write down what images come to mind while they listen. Rost includes links to a number of excellent instrumental music tracks on YouTube. I ended up using five different pieces of music. I did this activity with a freshman class that meets on Wednesday mornings. I think they were quite curious about what we were going to do when I handed out some paper and asked them to write the numbers 1 to 5 on their paper. They came up with quite an impressive range of vocabulary. Some students just wrote one or two words, while others wrote several sentences. I thought it was a nice warm-up activity to encourage students to use the words and expressions they knew to describe what they imagined.
One more activity I tried out is called “Cues Game,” from the Selective Listening section. In this activity, students listen to cues given by the teacher and try to guess what word the cues relate to. I used this in a sophomore listening and speaking class to review some vocabulary related to fashion. The activity caught the students’ attention immediately, and they were all eager to guess the word I was referring to. I will definitely use this activity again.
Teachers who would like to find more activities for teaching listening may want to check out another recent book, Active Listening, written by Michael Rost and J.J. Wilson, and published by Pearson in 2013. Here are a few more recommended books of activities for teaching listening:
Ur, Teaching Listening Comprehension (1984; Cambridge)
White, Listening (1998; Oxford)
Nunan and Miller, eds., New Ways in Teaching Listening (1995; TESOL)
Hall Houston teaches undergraduate students at Kainan University in Taoyuan, Taiwan. He has a master’s degree in foreign language education from The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of several books and articles about ELT.
ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY
SPLIS LEADERSHIP TEAM UPDATE
We have several new members of the SPLIS leadership team.
Incoming Chair: Jacob Rutherford
Lauren Lovvorn was our incoming chair, but unfortunately she had to step down after losing her teaching position to the reduced enrollment faced in many of our institutions. Lauren’s efficient work and kind presence will be deeply missed.
Luckily, Jacob Rutherford was able to step in as incoming chair. Jacob is the director of Language Consultants International (LCI) at Park University and received a master's in ESL from the University of Memphis. He has also taught English in China and the Czech Republic. He particularly enjoys teaching speaking and pronunciation classes, as well as writing for specific academic purposes. I look forward to introducing him to you in Seattle.
Chair-Elect: Shantaya Rao
Shantaya teaches ESL full-time at the English Language Center at Howard Community College, where she conducts local faculty professional development workshops, assists in program development projects, and mentors new instructors. She enjoys teaching pronunciation, reading, vocabulary, and developing online resources.
Secretary: Hilal Ergül
Hilal received her bachelor's in English language teaching in 2006 and has been a language teacher/researcher ever since. Most of her professional experience comes from teaching EFL to adult learners at language schools. She is currently working on her PhD in applied linguistics at Texas A&M University - Commerce.
Member-at-Large: Nancy Elliott
Nancy has a PhD in linguistics from Indiana University, specializing in English sociophonology, dialectology, and the history of English. Her research is in rhoticity, vowel mergers before /r/, and judgments of comprehensibility. Nancy teaches listening, speaking, and pronunciation courses in the University of Oregon’s Intensive English Program.