TESOL 2006

I've always wondered how well most writing instructors would do if we had to write what we have students write,say, for example, a coherent, developed essay in 30 minutes. Well, today, I'm wondering how most of us would do at writing about a presentation we attended, at least writing in such a way as to be interesting and useful.

Another thing I've wondered about is why do presenters at conferences read papers to the audience. I know it's standard practice in many disciplines, but if someone is going to just read, I'd just as soon have the paper and read it in my own time. Having academic papers read to one is simply boring! I'm at the TESOL conference in Tampa right now, and the difference in my interest level is inversely proportional to my being read to.

One interesting presentation was by Jennifer Granger, who is teaching as a Fellow at a university in China. To improve students' vocabulary, listening and research skills, and cultural knowledge, she uses episodes from "The West Wing." Besides TV being more interesting than textbooks, she writes, "This drama series promotes critical thinking, as well as shows different facets of American culture, history, and language usage." It's not just listening. They read about the series from several websites, including one with transcripts of the episodes. They look at current online magazine and newspaper articles related to the episode. And so on. I wish I had had her as a teacher when I studied my foreign languages.

Sometimes, simple methods work well for students. Students often have problems analyzing the information in their readings, especially if the amount of text is large. Gigi Taylor, a doctoral candidate at Purdue University, in her presentation "Teaching Academic Writing" suggests having students construct "Key Point Charts," a grid in which author's names are at the top of columns and "salient points" are on the left side. In this manner, students can visually compare the same point across authors to see the similarities and differences.