Intelligibility Matters: Unpacking ESL Students’ Beliefs about African-American English

Dr. Catrice Barrett

University of Pennsylvania

GA TESOL Conference Friday, October 14, 2016 9:15-10:00 AM

                This was the first session I attended as part of the 2016 annual GA TESOL conference and it was a great reminder of everything discussed in sociolinguistics class during my spring semester 2016. Dr. Barrett is a teacher-researcher in a post-doctoral fellowship in an intensive English program at the University of Pennsylvania. She discussed how newcomer international ESL students at her urban university campus “described their experiences with and strategies for facing the complexity of communicating with speakers of African American English” (GA TESOL, 2016). Her research methods were qualitative and typical of the teacher research we’ve read in the program: she was teaching three classes and used her students’ comments in class to solicit fuel for discussion. She took those comments and created discussion based lessons around them, recorded discussions and analyzed the transcripts of the recordings.

                Key points that came from the discussions were the idea that international students were able to make the distinction between intellect and language ability, but they have very little experience with the African American community in their home countries and so this was a new experience for all involved. After listing key linguistic features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Dr. Barrett showed a video of her Chinese students completing an assignment where they created an English rap in the style of a hip-hop song. They looked like they were having fun doing this too. She mentioned that the biggest barrier to comprehension is intelligibility – and that increasingly her ESL students were encountering AAVE in the community. She listed strategies she used in the classroom for teaching non-standard dialects of English. She concluded with a model of service learning she was going to implement for her students to gain more exposure to AAVE in the community. She then opened the floor for comments from the audience, and it felt like sociolinguistics class part II. An audience member mentioned how her students comment frequently on how surprised they are that she “speaks so well” even though she is a non-native speaker of English, and the room agreed how insulting that was for all involved. I left the session with a positive feeling of “I can do this kind of research too in Atlanta, and have had similar conversations with students in the Intensive English Program here in Atlanta. I also left with some resources for the classroom about pop culture in the curriculum and as well as a broader view of what is happening in this line of research in the GA TESOL community and excited to be a member of this progressive community. I look forward to reading Dr. Barrett’s continuing work in this area as she progresses as a teacher-researcher.

Collaborative and Inquiry-Based Learning for English Learners through Sharing and Listening

Kim Moore

Perfection Learning

GA TESOL Conference, Friday, October 14th, 2016, 10:15-11:00 AM

                Ms. Moore began her session by handing out free materials to all her participants in the form of a book and workbook for use in the classroom. (Teachers love free stuff!) The book was titled “From There to Here: The Immigrant Experience” and was a series of stories, poems, and historical documents of people that came to America. The workbook was a teacher’s guide of suggested activities to do with language learners, and is connected to the core curriculum standards for language arts in K-12. It was clear from Ms. Moore’s presentation that she was a former K-12 educator that had gone into the world of consulting, and the room was filled with other K-12 educators looking for advice and activities to take back to their classroom with them. She claimed that by looking at real-world, non-fiction, content-area texts, students can increase their knowledge of real-world problems as they are guided through discussions of their texts by their teacher.

Her description of her talk emphasizes the importance of modeling for students, but she didn’t do much of that in her talk. Her essential question was “Should we keep America’s immigration doors open?” and she suggested posing that to K-12 ESL students as they read her book and her materials. I’m all for sharing of experiences in the classroom, but there must be a right time and place. Her presentation seemed like she was constantly selling a product to teachers, one without much substance – she was always offering consultations with teachers on how to align their curriculum with the common core. I’m sure this a service that comes greatly appreciated, but I’m not in that world – still, maybe one day I will be and will be in the position where I should do this. Ms. Moore’s talk was a healthy reminder of the other side of the TESOL world and to stay open and critical of materials as they come my way. Maybe I will use her materials, but in a way, that makes sense to my students and meets their needs. I’m not opposed to sessions like this – it just caught me off guard since this is a world that isn’t explored much in the MA program at Georgia State University.

Language, Culture, and Communication Systems

Katherine Samford

GA Tech Language Institute

GA TESOL Conference, Friday, October 14, 2016, 11:15-12:00 PM

                This talk dove into the subject of international teaching assistants that I briefly read about during my sociolinguistics class. Ms. Samford teaches a class of international teachings assistant and discussed how she handled the delicate subjects of language, culture, and communication in her class by giving practical, hands-on, straight-from-the-classroom advice that was much appreciated from her colleagues in the university ESL world. She began her talk with a discussion on the research, which says that “international graduate students across the United States struggle not so much because of their academic performance…but more likely due to the cultural and communication systems with which they are largely unfamiliar and, therefore insufficiently equipped to navigate” (GA TESOL, 2016).

Ms. Samford then talked about her course for international teaching assistants at her university that addresses such components. She explained that her course teaches her students to “decode the culture, values, conventions and norms of the context to effectively engage in literacy practices as part of wider practices that involve talk, interaction, values, and beliefs” (Samford, 2016). She does this by making her students aware of strategies such as self-monitoring, and reminds her audience that “students know what their own weaknesses are” but they just should be reminded to look at them occasionally, (Samford, 2016). She uses audio and video recording in the classroom, as well as impromptu speaking, which reminded me of the importance of both activities and the fact that I’m not using either currently in my classroom. She also has her students do a presentation on their home country culture and values, serving both the purpose of making themselves and other students aware of the culture and practicing speaking strategies at the same time. While none of these strategies were new ideas to me at this point in the program, Ms. Samford’s talk served as an excellent reminder of why I do what I do and made me aware that as educators, we all must work together as a community to achieve a common goal. I look forward to any opportunity I have to employ such strategies in my own classroom.