This guest post comes from Sara Tilleman, a university lecturer and ESL department head in Israel. You can find Sara on Twitter @saraginot
As a lecturer and head of an English for Second Language (ESL) department at a private university in Israel and as a lifelong learner, most of my online professional development specifically focuses on ESL resources. I had never thought about looking at sites that dealt with teaching languages in general, and I had never heard of ACTFL (the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages). I happened to stumble on a tweet from We Teach Languages advertising a podcast, and I even managed to win a copy of the book described in the episode by tweeting about the podcast! These We Teach Languages episodes contain a “gold mine” of resources for any language teacher, and I’m glad that I accidentally found them! I particularly like the fact that many of the episodes address instruction in a university setting. Stacey does an excellent job of referring the listener to previous episodes about the same topic.
Here are a few episodes that have been useful for me, and that I would recommend to other lecturers in university contexts.
As a consumer as well as a designer of online language courses, this podcast was informative. First of all, it introduced me to the Center for Language Instruction and Coordination (CLIC) which provides ongoing professional development. Dr. Henshaw gives examples about how to create meaningful activities and interaction in online courses vs. just assigning textbook activities online. She emphasizes that you don’t need the latest tools and instead, you need to focus on creating meaningful activities. I identified with her pet peeve of online learning which is forcing students to respond twice to someone else’s post. Her claim is that you can’t force students to comment randomly because it doesn’t create meaningful interaction.
Assessment and proficiency goals is a hot topic in language departments in Israeli universities because they are considering adopting the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) goals. This episode addresses the question of what excellent teaching is and how learner progress can be assessed. I liked the way Professor Rosales describes how his practice evolved from basically helping the students pass the test to a more formalized assessment process with clear benchmarks. He emphasizes how teaching is a process and we need to constantly ask ourselves if the student is moving from A to B, and we need to have clearly established learning goals in our syllabus. Clearly established teaching goals is an area that continues to be challenging for my teaching staff.
Successfully teaching vocabulary continues to be a challenge for me and the five research-based principles that Joe Barcroft presented got me thinking about new and more novel ways to help my students learn new vocabulary. What resonated the most with me was the research he presented about “acoustic variability” which can help facilitate vocabulary acquisition. Apparently, learners can learn a word quicker if the word each time is repeated by a different speaker vs. just having the same teacher repeat the word a few times. He mentioned that technology can provide opportunities for us to have multiple talkers, and I definitely plan on trying this out with my students.
If you have some favorite episodes that you would be willing to recommend to other podcast listeners, please reach out to let us know. We’d love to work with you!