* Gokul Ghimire Sharma
Teachers are reflective practitioners and researchers who solve classroom problems and find their remedies. Teaching profession has been under a great threat in the Nepalese context. This write- up provides a reflective account of the experience the author had had while making a poster presentation about the challenges and opportunities of teaching English in light of the co- teaching methodology during the TESOL International Convention and Language Expo 2016 in Baltimore USA. Subsequent discussions reflect on the author’s experiences while attending the entire event. This piece consistently stresses that teachers can create innovations by adopting a co-teaching method.
Key words: innovation, remedy, pedagogy, TL
In the context of the modern world, teaching profession has become a great challenge and full of opportunities too. There are lots of changes in teaching learning methodologies and pedagogies, which have posed challenges; on the other hand there are lots of possibilities of growth, research, and innovations too. English language teaching to non-native speakers has found easier ways than previous decades due to the development of ICT, global education and social media.
English Access Microscholarship Program in Nepal, sponsored by the US Embassy, has adopted a co- teaching approach. Teachers there are mentored by ELT experts in a very conducive environment to prepare the classroom activities creative and communicative. This allows teachers to use different participatory programs and activities inside and outside the classroom. As a result teachers can make the students experience different classroom modules besides their set and traditional regular classes. The students sing out loud, watch movies, visit different communities and serve, prepare reports and make presentations based on field visits, publish creative writing in newspapers, journals and classroom wall magazines. This approach, therefore, has become a wonderful weapon to sharpen students’ fluency and accuracy. Beside the classroom activities, both the teachers and students participate in different trainings, workshops, seminars, conferences, etc. to strengthen personal and professional skills. The teachers also visit different schools and colleges to help other students and teachers for introducing such skills to them.
Writing is not my cup of tea. Therefore, since the day I had started scrambling my abstract for the TESOL convention I had never imagined that the particular writing would ever win me a ticket for the TESOL International Convention and Language Expo 2016 to Baltimore, USA. Getting the paper accepted was like a dream coming true. Attending TESOL International Convention and Language Expo 2016 was indeed a dream-come-true. I have been participating in the NELTA international conferences since 2005. I was the first time attendee at the TESOL convention, but the experience I collected is ineradicable. I had heard stories from the participants from Nepal about the TESOL Convention in the past, but after being a part of 2016 convention I felt that I was one of the luckiest people in the world. Along with it, getting a grant from the RELO in the US embassy in Nepal has brought a lifelong impression in my professional career. My participation in the convention was just possible because of the grant I got from the Regional English Language Office (RELO), U.S. Embassy. My poster presentation entitled ‘Innovations and Co-teaching in the Nepalese EFL Classroom’ was accepted by the TESOL.
During the convention, I got to interact with about 6500 ELT professionals participating in such a huge organization that organizes. It was a mega event an ELT practitioner should never miss once in a life time. The most amazing thing about TESOL is to see how well events like the keynote speech, planarians’ speech and concurrent sessions are organized for a colossal participation of the delegates from around the world. One cannot even envision how the core sessions like the Poster Presentation, Electronic Village, Master Students Forum, Doctorate Students Forum, Affiliate Workshop and Interest Section are handled by the efficient organizers of TESOL. I have been participating in the NELTA International Conferences for 12 years. NELTA conferences used to be a Kumba Mela for the ELT professionals in Nepal. English teachers from Nepal and abroad meet once a year in Kathmandu for professional development. But it is TESOL participation which is grand!! Other remarkable events that impressed me in TESOL convention are; research-focused sessions, book exhibition and the poster session hall, the management of ongoing concurrent sessions, discussions, meetings, talk programs, poster presentations by ELT experts from around the globe.
The Opening Keynote Speech given by Aziz Abu Sarah, the Executive Director at the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution on ‘Revolutionizing Education: Building Peace In A Divided World’ shared on the major roles education played in his transformation from a radical to a peace builder. He reflected on how his educational work in Syria, Afghanistan, Israel-Palestine and United States has helped to bridge the gap between hostile communities. He explored how education inherits the power to heal conflicts, from the geo-political stage to the classroom.
The Presidential keynote speech by the President of TESOL Andy Curtis on ‘Reflecting Forward, Reflecting Back: Looking In the Mirror At 50’ was about the history of TESOL in the last 50 years. He solely talked about how important it is for teachers to be a reflective practitioner as a part of English language teacher training and development. Reflection is like a mirror that tells whom we see when we look in the mirror; how we got to be there and where we are going towards.
The morning keynote speech by Anne Curzan was one of the motivating speeches among the keynote speakers. Her keynote on ‘Survey Says………: Determining What English Usage Is And Isn’t Acceptable’ was a research paper based on how ESL/EFL instructors or students decide on typical cases of language usage: whether words like ‘impact’ should be used as a verb or a noun; whether ‘they’ can be used as a singular generic pronoun. She offered a lively historical perspective on well known grammar rules which might sound irrelevant in the present context.
One of the most interesting things about Thursday was that there were 313 concurrent sessions except the plenary. On top of it, I had my own presentation on ‘Innovations and Co-teaching in Nepalese EFL Classroom’. I was much focused on my own presentations. I was discussing on the innovative ideas we practiced in the Access classes.
Teachers are researchers who solve classroom problems and find their remedies. Teaching profession has been under a great threat in the Nepalese context. My poster presentation focused on how we could create innovations in co-teaching and learning. It shared researched teaching methodologies and resources to develop learners’ competence in the target language.
My entire focus of the poster presentation was to assure ELT professionals over the world to widen their concept for identifying possibilities and opportunities in developing English skills and making them a leader of change in their communities. The foremost idea of the poster presentation was to convince the participants that activities like celebrations, winter camps, getting involved in community service, outdoor visits, watching movies, singing songs, getting involved in visual exchange programs and social networking, taking part in conferences and seminars, organizing talk programs, board games and various language activities conducted in the class through the co-teaching modality foster better competency and fluency in acquiring the English language. The theory was only possible to explain to the audience by presenting the outcomes. In order to prove the consistent development school results, parents’ and feeder school teachers’ feedback, our internal and external evaluations and students leadership were some of the measuring rods.
Favorite sessions and networking
I was much interested on ‘Strategies for Writing Successful TESOL International Convention Session Proposal’ presented by John Schmidt from Texas International Education Consortium, USA. This presentation was important for me because we are either prepared or preparing to submit a proposal for the 2017 TESOL International Convention at Seattle. TESOL Convention Program Chairs provide an update on the proposal procedures and guidelines, along with an explanation of the scoring rubrics and tips to enhance our proposal, framing our professional interests and expertise into a successful proposal. I could share this information with my colleagues in Nepal on how to prepare a paper for the TESOL convention.
My interest subject is also teaching grammar since I have been teaching grammar to my students since a long time. So, I attended a session ‘Teaching English Grammar to Speakers of Other Languages’ by Eli Hinkel from Seattle Pacific University, USA. From Eli Hinkel, I learnt about practical, research-based English grammar instructions. She showed how her new book provides a thorough and rounded overview of principles, strategies, techniques, and applications currently dominant in a range of instructional settings around the world, and how it would help to develop our professional knowledge and skills.
My further content area of interest is culture too. Michael Medley from Eastern Mennonite University, USA, Esther Bettney from Comunidad Educativa Evangelica, Honduras and Tarun Kumari Kharbamon from English and Foreign Languages University, Shillong Campus, India, presented a paper on ‘Teaching and Learning English in Difficult Circumstances’. We Nepalese EFL teachers have to work in difficult circumstances in terms of developing teaching materials, arability of teaching resources and so on. The story is the same around the world. ELT professionals work in a variety of difficult circumstances, including low-resource settings, politically or religiously repressive societies, regions suffering from violent conflict, and so on. The presenters explored the challenges of working in these situations, drawing themes from their research, and good ELT practices.
I also attended a session by Tana Reiff from Pro Lingua Associates, USA is the author of ‘Hopes and Dreams: Stories Based on the Immigrant Experience’. Author Tana Reiff talked about how and why the Hopes and Dreams series came about, and described the significant research supporting the stories. She also demonstrated how the thought-group lines develop good reading skills. Participants demonstrated the stories by reading aloud in dramatic moments in the characters’ lives. The books have stories of migrant people from around the world that had settled in the US and had stories of frustration, tragedy, and struggle in the series of four books: The magic Paper, Nobody Knows, For Gold and Blood and Little Italy.
One of the amazing aspects of concurrent sessions in the TESOL convention that I found was numbers of presenters speaking on a single topic unlike in NELTA conference. We do not have too many presenters here. This session on ‘Pronunciation in the Classroom: The Overlooked Essential’ consisted of nine presenters. Tamara Jones, Howard Community College, USA, William Acton, Trinity Western University, Canada, Veronica Sardegna, University of Pittsburgh, USA, John Murphy, Georgia State University, USA, Marnie Reed, Boston University, USA, Minah Woo, Howard Community College, USA, Monika Floyd, University of Potsdam, Germany, Rebecc Price, Howard Community College, USA and Kay Ahmad, Montgomery College, USA. They all discussed on incorporating pronunciation instruction into other skills which benefit not only students’ speaking abilities, but also their vocabulary acquisition, listening skills, grammatical accuracy, reading skill, and spelling. In this presentation, the author of TESOL’s newest pronunciation book suggests practical ways for all teachers to integrate pronunciation into all their lessons. The major focus of the session was showing the differences of the words, focusing the word, pronouncing the word with stress, giving intonation and so on which would allow the readers to use the word as an active vocabulary.
Under the teacher education section, I got an opportunity to attend ‘Critical Considerations in Advancing TESOL Teacher Education’. It was a panel discussion by a famous educationist and writer Thomas Farrell from Brock University, Canada and his team Laura Baecher from Hunter College–CUNY, USA, Faridah Pawan from Indiana University, USA, Gulbahar Beckett from Iowa State University, USA and Ester de Jong from University of Florida, USA. Teacher Education brings together leaders in TESOL teacher preparation to share their visions for the future direction of TESOL teacher education. The panelists shared unique perspectives on where they have come from in their career pathway and where they believe TESOL teacher education should go.
Overall TESOL convention was great platform for me to present my posters, and to learn from and share experiences with the professionals of the world. I cannot even think of becoming a part of it in the future at this juncture. I was overwhelmed to take part in the convention, learn new evocation in ELT and make friend around the world.
(Mr. Gokul Ghimire Sharma is a lecturer of English at St. Mary’s College, Kathmandu, Nepal. He is also an instructor of English Access Microscholarship Program Nepal. He is a life member of NELTA and Vice Chair of NELTA Lalitpur. He has been involved in English Language Development Training in Nepal since 2009. His fields of interest are teaching songs and rhymes, material development, and teaching grammar.)