EdSurge: For More Information on Educational Technology

While I do my best to bring you educational technology highlights, there are some really exceptional sites out there, for example Common Sense, that are completely devoted to this topic and have an absolute wealth of information to explore. Previously, I wrote about a Common Sense resource called Graphite, and today, I want to recommend another such site, EdSurge, which according to the website, is “an independent information resource and community for everyone involved in education technology.”

Like Graphite, the EdSurge site has a section dedicated to product reviews. If you are considering using a new product, head over there to read what other educators have to say about it. If you are simply looking for a certain type of product, say a classroom response system, you can select that subcategory and browse through the 17 options currently listed, filtering by tech and requirements and/or cost. You are bound to find something new. You might discover the exact solution you have been looking for or the best thing you never even thought of.

In addition to the review section, EdSurge has news, events, and research sections. The main EdSurge page is laid out like a newspaper for educational technology while the news page allows you to filter results based on your interests, for example technology in school. Read about what other schools are doing, opinion pieces, pieces from a student perspective, and more.

As if all that is not enough, you can also find events to attend around the world and online to expand your knowledge of educational technology, as well as read reports based on the latest research in the field.

Overall, EdSurge is an exceptional place to go for more information on educational technology, and the free subscription makes it even easier with weekly email updates. Have you ever visited EdSurge? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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Are Your ELLs Getting Enough of This Crucial Source of Language Input?

Pardon the clickbait phrasing of the title, but it seems to have gotten you reading, and this post is all about just that: getting students to read. Below, I’ll be talking about extensive reading (ER), a practice that researchers and theorists unanimously endorse, but which too seldom makes its way into the classroom. First, I’ll talk about what ER is and why it’s so important, then we’ll proceed through the remaining wh-s and wrap up with a how.

What is Extensive Reading? So, extensive reading is a technical term, but it’s actually rather descriptive as well: It means reading at great length. We can get a little more specific than that, though. It’s reading a lot of easy texts of one’s own selection, primarily for pleasure. If we want to put some numbers on it, an “easy” text is one in which 98–100% of the vocabulary is known, and “at great length” means at least 20 minutes at a stretch, but really as much as possible.

In understanding what ER is, it’s important to contrast it with intensive reading (IR). IR is reading dense, challenging texts, often with an objective, such as paraphrasing or scanning for a particular piece of information. The distinction from IR is so important because English learners generally get plenty of IR. Virtually all the reading sections in a student’s coursebook are IR activities. And IR is great; it has plenty of benefits, but those benefits are emphatically not the same as the benefits of ER, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

Why is ER Important? One of the key factors in language acquisition that we see again and again is comprehensible input. In order to develop their language, students need to be taking in and understanding that language, the more of it the better. Pretty much everyone agrees that comprehensible input is a necessary condition for language acquisition. Some—such as Stephen Krashen, originator of the input hypothesis—go so far as to argue that comprehensible input like ER is both a necessary and sufficient condition for language acquisition. In other words, forget teachers and textbooks and all that—the comprehensible input alone is enough for language acquisition to occur.

Personally, I’m also convinced that ER is a key to addressing the issue of plateauing. Learners often plateau around the 3,000-word level, and it’s around 2,000 words that we use in day-to-day speech. Though I’m speculating here, this makes a lot of sense to me. All English learners are getting that 2,000 words of comprehensible input from spoken language. They aren’t all getting the thousands of others that we find primarily in written English. How can we expect acquisition to continue if the stream of comprehensible input is suddenly cut off?

Who? Everyone. Native speakers and ELLs; young learners and adults; those whose L1 uses a Roman alphabet and those whose don’t. There’s a whole lot of research into the benefits of ER, and it benefits pretty much every one of us.

When? All the time, as often as possible, now. What are you doing here! Stop reading this and go read something!

Where? On the subway, on the couch, in bed, in a rocking chair, on the porch, at a cafe, Everywh—alright, not everywhere; it is inadvisable to read extensively while driving or operating heavy machinery, but self-driving cars are just a few years away…

How to make ER happen? As I said, despite all its benefits and all the research, ER simply isn’t happening enough in the language classroom. The reasons for this can vary from context to context, and as a teacher it’s worth investigating and considering the particular obstacles that your learners face, but there are some general observations and recommendations we can make.

One of the first things you need to provide your students with is access to a wide range of appropriate reading material. The best option for this is graded readers, which you can read more about in this previous post.

It is also important to incorporate classroom activities that encourage extensive reading. To reiterate, these will not be reading for the main idea or reading to paraphrase or any of the reading activities that we most often see. ER activities should be designed to help students to understand the importance of ER, to find material that is level-appropriate and of interest to them, to set reading goals for themselves, to find more opportunities to read, and to apply what they have read after the fact. Here are a few quick examples of effective ER activities:

  1. After reading their books, students circulate in class, speed-dating style, telling each new partner about the book they have read. Partners record title, brief notes, and whether they would like to read this book.
  2. Groups are given five to seven copies of book cover illustrations and the five to seven corresponding back cover synopses. In small groups they are to discuss and match each front and back cover.
  3. Students learn about and apply the five-finger reading test to three to four books from the library, determining and recording which books are best matched to their fluent reading level.

These examples come from Bamford and Day’s excellent Extensive Reading Activities for Teaching Language, a fantastic resource for anyone hoping to put together an extensive reading program. Another great resource is the Extensive Reading Foundation, which even organizes an Extensive Reading World Congress (how many pedagogical practices have entire international conventions dedicated to them!?). Finally the publishers of graded readers have actually put together some really solid teacher resources for ER. Oxford has a great set of placement tests free for download (login required), Macmillan has this great guide for using readers in class, and Cambridge has a whole mess of stuff from reading certificates to lesson plans if you create a login.

I’m currently putting together an extensive reading curriculum at our community English program, and I’ll be sure to share more on that in the future. Until then, happy reading!

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Idiom Bulletin Board!

Hello everyone!
Elementary teachers, are you looking for an easy way to make and creative an interactive idiom bulletin board that builds vocabulary and appeals to all students?    Here it is!  This is a great activity for your classroom including your ESL, ELD, and at-risk students.
Idiom Bulletin Board-Step by step
This easy, fun and creative bulletin board makes you look like a pro as you develop student vocabulary and language skills.  This bulletin board works great in a classroom or hallway for the whole school to be involved with.  Follow these quick steps and you will be on your way!
4-5 idioms and simple definitions
Computer/word processor
Images to represent the idioms and the definitions
Construction paper
Scissors/paper cutter
Step 1:
Decorate the Bulletin Board with colored Butcher paper of your choice.  Use a contrasting border that complements the color you chose.
Step 2:
Choose a theme for the idioms you will use.   Some popular themes include:
Bees, horses, weather, dogs, tired.
Step 3:
Choose 4 idioms.  Take care in choosing the idioms.  Idioms for intermediate language level students should be idioms that give a hint to the meaning.  An example of this is “it’s raining cats and dogs”.  The word “raining” is a clue to the meaning. 
Early advanced language learners can work with idioms such as, “you’re pulling my leg” which doesn’t give the learner any clues to the meaning.
Step 4:
Collect 1 picture per idiom that displays what the words say and another picture that shows what the idiom means.  Use your own classroom images for this or do a quick Google search for “idiom images”. 
Step 5:
Type up and print the idioms.   Glue the typed idioms and the images onto colored construction paper.  Cut to size.
Step 6:
Place the 4 idiom images that display what the words say at regular intervals across the top of the bulletin board.
Place the text under each picture.
At the bottom of the bulletin board place the image of what the idioms mean in random order.
Step 7:
Staple a piece of yarn under the text of each idiom long enough to reach to the image that shows the true meaning of the idiom.  Tie a loop in the end of the piece of yarn.
Step 8:
Stick a pushpin into the bulletin board above the random images that shows the true meaning.
You now have an interactive bulletin board where students can match up the idiom to the image of its meaning by attaching the looped yarn to the push pin above the image of the true idiom meaning!  Watch your students have fun and learn about idioms!

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Pssslt! Here’s What You Should Know About the PSLLT Conference

Each year, the annual TESOL Convention provides speaking-pronunciation-listening enthusiasts with dozens of opportunities to dig deeper and learn more about teaching oral/aural skills. Just browse through the Pre- and Postconvention Institutes for TESOL 2016, and you’ll see six sessions that focus on these important skills.

But if you really love pronunciation, you should also know about the annual Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching (PSLLT) conference. Started by Dr. John Levis in 2009, the PSLLT is the world’s largest L2 pronunciation conference and the only conference of its kind in North America. Largely research-focused, the PSLLT is an intimate conference that draws 100–200 participants from around the world.

What could be more fun?! However, with session titles like “Expanding the Vowel Space” (by Mari Sakai in 2014) and “Brazilian English x Brazilian Portuguese: A Dynamic Approach for the Analysis of Diphthongs in Forensic Contexts” (to be presented by Maria Lucia Gomes in October), a little voice inside of me started wondering:

Who should attend the PSLLT? What’s it like? Is it like a TESOL convention with a more specific focus? Can a classroom teacher like me submit a proposal?

These are all questions I’d been wondering about for a few years now, and yet the thought of simply emailing John Levis seemed somehow imprudent, like calling the Pope to ask him if I should buy tickets to see him during his U.S. tour, and, if so, what I should wear. Inappropriate.

But in my recent interview with the knowledgeable-but-not-at-all-scary pronunciation researcher Dr. Tracey Derwing, I asked her to recommend my next interviewee, and she had this to say:

And so I contacted John Levis and asked him for an interview, and he said yes. How simple was that?

It seems John Levis is a master of making it all sound simple. This is a man who is, at this very moment, doing it all: writing, researching, organizing conferences, editing the new Journal of Second Language Pronunciation (as mentioned in an earlier post). But as you’ll see in the excerpt below, having several irons in the fire is simply an invitation to add more: “I tend not to say no,” says Levis.

In describing the PSLLT conference, Levis describes three main features that distinguish it from other conferences:

  • Research-Based Presentations – 20-minute sessions in which researchers highlight their findings from empirical studies on L2 pronunciation.
  • Teaching Tips: My Great Idea – a 90-minute session in which you (the one with the great idea) have 10 minutes to present your teaching tip in a round table setting. After 10 minutes, a bell rings, and you move to another table; you end up presenting and getting feedback on your idea seven or eight times over the course of 90 minutes.
  • Poster Sessions – a dedicated session during which participants circulate through the research- and practice-based poster sessions.

There’s a fourth feature worth mentioning—a benefit, really. After each PSLLT event, the conference proceedings are collected, edited, and published. It’s well worth browsing the proceedings, including these from  2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013.

And so: Who should attend the PSLLT? I’d say anyone who values knowing how their own pronunciation teaching techniques are—or perhaps are not—supported by empirical research. It is clearly a highly academic conference, but one thing is certain: Without classroom teachers in attendance, the PSLLT runs the risk of preaching merely to its own researcher participants, and what a missed opportunity that would be.

So GO, listen, mingle, and get to know these fine people who write the books that we should all be reading. Our students have everything to gain from our participation.

This year’s PSLLT conference will be held on 16–17 October in Dallas, Texas, USA. Can’t make it to Dallas next month? Mark your calendar: The next PSLLT will take place in August 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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The Role of Play in the Age of Common Core: The Pendulum Is Swinging

I hope you enjoy this second blog by Early Childhood expert Karen Nemeth. In her first blog on the role of play, Karen reviewed the research included in David Kohn’s New York Times article.  In this blog, she is sharing trends in play-based education for young learners in the context of the Common Core.

This is my second post based on the New York Times opinion piece, Let the Kids Learn Through Play. In my last post, I described the advantages of using play-based learning for English learners. In this follow-up, I want to address some of the trends that connect the history of play-based learning to the future of education for ELs in the context of the Common Core. David Kohn doesn’t quite capture this in the first sentence of his article when he hints that the academicizing of kindergarten has only happened in the past two decades. Well before the appearance of NCLB and the Common Core, there were debates about whether early education should be devoted to didactic lessons or free-flowing play. As with many trends in education, the trajectory of play in school has resembled the swings of a pendulum.

My mother was a certified teacher who devoted her career to creative, play-based preschool education. In the 1970s, the parent board at her school started asking that their 3- and 4-year olds be given more in-school lessons and homework that they believed would help the children get ready to succeed in kindergarten. My own daughter’s kindergarten teacher explained 30 years ago that the class would never open the door and play on the clearly visible playground because their literacy curriculum did not allow time for play. When I consulted with a New Jersey school district 10 years ago, I was told that the kindergarten classrooms all had expensive sets of wooden blocks, then a new principal came in and changed the curriculum and instructed the teachers to throw all the blocks out (heartbreaking!). Two years later, a change in principal meant they were all ordering blocks again. Play has come and gone and come back again, but trends for the future may make us see play in a whole new light. Advanced, sophisticated, and deep play has, as I wrote in my last post, many benefits for young learners and most especially for young ELs. Will we see the pendulum bring play back into focus?

In a July webinar hosted by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH), play was one of the key points in the president’s vision for high quality early education as presented by Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning in the U.S. Department of Education. She recommended that high quality early education should be less didactic and have more purposeful play. During that same week, Head Start leaders announced the revised Early Learning Outcomes Framework with the advice “we want children to play.”

These educational leaders are not using the word play to mean aimless fooling around. In fact, a fair amount of research has shown that play can actually be quite sophisticated and can result in lasting learning across domains. When play is rich in discussion, negotiation, reenacting stories, and debate, it can actually be an excellent strategy for addressing standards in the Common Core. Read more about this idea in the New America Foundation blog: Why We Don’t Need to Get Rid of the Common Core to Have Play in Kindergarten, by Shayne Cook.

Because play can also be flexible and responsive, it can be even more effective for ELs than teacher-led lessons. Here are some trends to watch:

  • Curriculum models that emphasize sophisticated, play-based learning. Examples include Tools of the Mind, The Creative Curriculum©, and Montessori.
  • Outdoor play. The back to nature movement, with slogans such as “No Child Left Inside,” focuses on the importance of exposure to the natural environment as described in this article by Barbara Kiser, “Early child development: Body of knowledge.”
  • Educational technology and digital media. Increasing availability of software, games, and tablet apps for classroom use have added many digital layers to the possibilities for play and learning for young ELs. Examples include Imagine Learning software, the My Story App for creating sharable stories with voice recording, and easily portable smart pens.
  • Makerspaces and other hands-on learning. New approaches that give students freedom to work in environments designed for creating and exploring hold great promise for young ELs. Without using the word play, these learning strategies are reinforcing the elements of play that are best for EL learning. They can be student directed, collaborative, hands-on, sustained, and conversation driven. This Education Week post explains how maker spaces help ELLs learn more effectively in the Common Core environment.

There are countless policies encouraging the use of play in pre-K, Kindergarten, and beyond. Many leading researchers and thought leaders are encouraging teachers to let go of their control of every word and lesson in their class. Whether it’s outdoor play or indoor play, role play or exploratory play, nature based or digital/media based, we know more about play than we ever have in this field. The question remains whether administrators, policy makers, and vendors can unite around a better understanding about what play has to offer young ELs.

Karen Nemeth is an author, consultant, and presenter focusing on effective early education for dual language learners. She is a consulting editor and author for NAEYC, the co-chair of the early childhood SIG of NABE.  Karen is the author of many books on teaching dual language learners, including: Many Languages, One Classroom, and Many Languages, Building Connections. She coauthored Digital Decisions and New Words, New Friends, a bilingual book for young children, and was editor of  Young Dual Language Learners: A Guide for PreK-3 Leaders.

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TESOL Research Colloquium and Other Adventures in Sydney

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In first week of September 2015, I had the opportunity to go to Sydney, Australia! At the University of Sydney, I participated in workshops (presented by Patsy Duff and Aek Phakiti) and a TESOL research colloquium. Two days later, I visited Macquarie University, where I attended a presentation (by Patsy Duff) and discussed my future research. (Note: I obtained my PhD in linguistics from Macquarie University under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin, who passed away this year, and Dr. Alan Jones.) In this TESOL Blog post, I share some of my adventures down under.

I arrived in Sydney on a Thursday. On Friday morning at around 7:45 am, I got on a bus bound for the University of Sydney. Thanks to the kind assistance of a local resident, I got off the bus at the correct bus stop. After purchasing a cup of coffee and a cinnamon crepe at a coffee shop on campus, I was ready to start the day! (I quickly learned to order “flat white“!)


As I walked across campus from the coffee shop to the Faculty of Education building (in the photo above), I tried unsuccessfully to recognize the sounds of the birds in the area. The experience reminded me of being back home in California at the San Diego Zoo. I later took a photo of an Australian white ibis on campus. (I also saw these birds in the central business district of Sydney. In addition, one Macquarie University doctoral student shared that she had asked a professor if the numerous birds on the M.U. campus are raised by the school. “We are not a farm,” was the reply.)

The two precolloquium workshops I attended are described on the colloquium website. They were both excellent!

Workshop 1
“Doing and reviewing ethnographic research in second-language and literacy education”
Professor Patricia Duff, Department of Language & Literacy Education, The University of British Columbia
Workshop 2
“Developing a questionnaire for TESOL research”
Dr Aek Phakiti,Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

Kevin Knight, Patsy Duff, and Brian Paltridge at University of Sydney

The next day was the research colloquium. (See the colloquium website.)

This popular annual colloquium provides a forum for discussing and sharing research in the area of teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), as well as exploring possible future research collaborations.The event is a place for networking, for both established and new TESOL researchers, and includes presentation sessions on a wide range of TESOL and TESOL-related research – both in progress and completed – as well as opportunities for informal discussions among people working in the area of TESOL research.

Brian Paltridge opened the event, and Patsy Duff followed as the first keynote speaker. As in any good conference, there were outstanding presentations, wonderful networking opportunities, and impressive book promotions, not to mention the free food and drink! The colloquium (and the workshops above) were also free!

At the colloquium, I was introduced to English Australia. Check it out! Anne Burns opened the English Australia session.

At the colloquium, I met face-to-face for the first time many people with whom I had only communicated online. There was not enough time for me to meet everyone.

On the Monday that followed the Saturday colloquium, I took a train to Macquarie University railway station. From the station, I walked the short distance to Macquarie University (see photos below), where Patsy Duff gave a presentation in an impressive, high-tech room. At Macquarie, I could see many well-known scholars including Stephen Moore, Phil Benson, Phil Chappell, Peter Roger, and Mehdi Riazi, in whose office I was able to talk with Patsy Duff.

IMG_0470 IMG_0469

So what did I learn as an ESPer from my experiences in Sydney? Firstly, I was reminded that there are many outstanding TESOL scholars doing impressive work inside and outside of Australia! Further, there is much that we can learn from each other, so such conferences are very important. I also think that linguistic ethnography and professional communication research are especially important!

On a personal note, I was pleased to see the conceptualization of leadership being promoted at the University of Sydney—”Leadership for good”! As I was walking to the building where I would be giving a presentation on the discourses of leadership as the basis and means for training L2 learners in Japan,  I saw posters on the windows of another building on campus. (See the photo below.)

FullSizeRender (3)

The contents of the posters above appear on a University of Sydney website promoting the success stories of the school’s alumni. Accordingly, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to end my presentation with a comment on this conceptualization of leadership!

Do you ever wonder why leaders are successful in achieving visions in collaboration with others? An article titled “Do You Have Grit?”, written by Dr. Travis Bradberry, addresses this question. In the ESP project leader profile of Jaclyn Gishbaugher,  Jackie also mentions “grit”:

How would you define leadership?

Leaders are those people who draw in people to their cause/belief/field through their sincerity, passion, and grit. Then they give those individuals just the right mix of confidence and opportunity to push the boundaries that much further.

Do you see discourses of “grit” and “leadership for good” when you read the ESP project leader profiles in my TESOL Blog posts?

Finally, visit Sydney if you have the chance! It will do you good as you realize together with Dorothy that you are not in Kansas anymore! You are in the land of….so have a flat white!

All the best,



Bradberry, T. (2015). Do you have grit? Pulse. Linkedin.

Coming Soon – Routledge Introductions to English for Specific Purposes (Series Editors: Brian Paltridge, University of Sydney, and Sue Starfield, University of New South Wales)  http://ift.tt/1QWqDyU

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