MITESOL Messages

February 15, 2019****Vol. 45, Issue 1

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President's Corner

Happy New Year, MITESOL Members!

As I write these words, we are experiencing temperatures in the 50s after several days of 30 below zero. By the time you read them though, it’s anybody’s guess what the weather will present. Regardless of the wild swings of Michigan weather, the MITESOL community has unwaveringly been engaged with the profession on numerous fronts.

Advocacy: In the summer of 2018, MITESOL board members Sharon Umlor and Jennifer Musser represented the membership at the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter, MITESOL and MABE (the Michigan Association for Bilingual Education) issued a joint statement opposing U.S. Administration policies separating immigrant children and their families. You can read the statement here.

Recognition of Excellence: A presentation by MITESOL members Carmela Romano Gillette and Deric McNish entitled Teaching Language Skills with Drama: Practical Activities for All Classrooms was selected as a “Best of Affiliates” presentation for the 2019 TESOL conference. If you missed it in 2017 at Oakland Schools, be sure to attend it in March in Atlanta. In another recognition of excellence, MITESOL received an award from Global Ties Detroit for our participation in a program sponsored by the US Department of State welcoming educators and administrators from Angola, Botswana, China, Djibouti, Russia, and Rwanda. Read in Past-President Suzanne Toohey’s update about former President Casey Gordon’s presentation at the 2018 IATEFL conference in Poland. Other MITESOL members who have been the recipients of MITESOL travel grant awards over the last year have included Theresa Abel of the Literacy Center of West Michigan, Deniz Toker of Western Michigan University, Bright O. Egwim of Western Michigan University, Kathleen Reyes of the Hazel Parks School District, and Kathleen Schneider of Traverse City Area Public Schools. Congratulations to all!

Professional Development: In October hundreds of ESL, EFL, and TESOL educators from near and far shared their best practices at the 2018 annual conference at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. You can download select presentation materials by clicking on the yellow links in the conference booklet. The conference theme – Reaching All Learners – also attracted over a hundred “accidental ESL educators” from K-16 settings. These colleagues of ours outside the field of ESL who nevertheless taught nonnative English speakers in their classes wanted to do so more effectively. Based on the formal and informal feedback we have received, the two days of professional development the conference offered went a long way toward helping them reach their goals.

Service: On behalf of the MITESOL community, I would like to thank all the outgoing board members who have served the organization so capably: Joanna Bentley, Conference Exhibits Manager; May Denha, Membership Coordinator; Jim Dessler, Treasurer; Jolene Jaquays, Past President; former President Christine Pearson, founding member of the MITESOL Journal editing board and earlier editor of MITESOL Proceedings; Melanie Rabine-Johnson, Newsletter Co-editor; Kendra Seitz, K-12 SIG Leader; and Casey Thelenwood, Adult Education SIG Leader. Special thanks must be extended to Suzanne Toohey, who transitioned from the role of President to Past President. Elsewhere in this newsletter, be sure to read Past President Suzanne Toohey’s update about all the board members we are proud to welcome to leadership positions.

Merriment: MITESOLers know how to have fun. The pictures below taken at the 2018 conference attest to that. Although we cannot promise that there will be dancing, surprise invited speakers, or a hashtag contest, do join us at the MITESOL reception at the 2019 TESOL conference in Atlanta. It will take place on Thursday, March 14, from 6-8 pm in the dining room of Thrive Atlanta, an Asian fusion restaurant, located a short walking distance from the convention center. At the end of February you will have an opportunity to RSVP. Look out for the email.

MITESOLers are superior teachers, scholars, advocates, and volunteers, and you also know how to enjoy yourselves! It is because of YOU that this organization continues to be as vibrant as it is.

Ildi Porter-Szucs

MITESOL President

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From the Editors

Happy 2019 everyone! A lot of you must have set the resolution to publish with us, because we got a ton of submissions this time around! Nice work! Pour a cup of something, settle in, and enjoy the long read :)


  • President Elect Updates
  • Past President Updates
  • Board Notes
  • Adult Education SIG Updates
  • Advocacy and Policy SIG Updates
  • Post-Secondary SIG Updates
  • K-12 SIG Updates

Updates from the field:

  • Emails from the Corps, Part II
  • The Real Struggle: Women Refugees
  • Supporting ELLs in CLASS
  • A Great Source for Business English Exercises
  • A Unit to Empower Student Voice
  • Changing What "Qualified" Means for Teaching Adult ESL
  • I Can't Do It!
  • An Age-old Conundrum: Teaching Grammar
  • Standardized Tests in Egypt
  • Adapting a Nationally Recognized Curriculum for English Language Learners

If you have any questions, comments, and suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Your co-editors,

Clarissa Codrington

Jessica Piggot

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President-Elect Updates

The 2019 MITESOL Conference will be November 1-2 at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, MI. MITESOL is excited to return to the west side of the state for the 2019 conference. More information will be coming soon with event details but please save the dates for the conference! Have an idea for a proposal? The proposal submission window will open in May and proposals are due July 7, 2019. We would love to see a variety of submissions across our MITESOL areas of interest (adult education, advocacy and Policy computer-assisted language learning-CALL, K-12, post-secondary/higher education, and professional development). Please visit our website for conference updates as they become available!

We look forward to seeing you in Grand Rapids on November 1-2, 2019 to share with others in the field and learn from your peers!

Christina Kozlowski

President-Elect, MITESOL

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Past President Updates

Affiliate Updates

o Our affiliate relationship with IATEFL continues to grow. MITESOL former President and current member, Casey Gordon, was selected to represent MITESOL at the annual IATEFL Conference in 2018. Casey presented a session titled “Academic English Scaffolds for CLIL”. She received a stipend from MITESOL as well as housing benefits from IATEFL to help offset her expenses.

o We are thrilled to support the attendance of Andrzej Obstawski, IATEFL Poland Vice President, at the 2019 International TESOL Convention in Atlanta. Per our affiliate agreement, Andrzej will receive a $1,000 travel grant from MITESOL to offset his costs of attending the convention. Andrzej will be invited to the MITESOL reception. Please give him a warm MITESOL welcome if you see him at the 2019 International TESOL Convention.

o The most recent issues of MITESOL Messages were shared with the IATEFL Board for sharing with their membership.

Free TESOL Memberships

o MITESOL will award up to seven *FREE* TESOL memberships to qualifying MITESOL members. Members are encouraged to apply for a free TESOL membership if they meet the following criteria:

1. You must be a current member of MITESOL.

2. You must be a new TESOL member OR someone who has not been a member in more than 5 years. (Renewing TESOL members or current TESOL members do not qualify and the membership applications will be returned.)

3. Click here to apply!!

o Deadline for application is by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, April 7, 2019.

Leadership Updates

o Expect to see many new faces in leadership positions on your MITESOL Board in 2019. In our annual election, we voted in a new President-elect, Christina (Tina) Kozlowski, who will be chairing both the 2019 and 2020 fall conferences. Thank you, Tina, for your willingness to chair two consecutive conferences as MITESOL redesigns the duties of each year of the Presidency. Tina is Administrator of Language Acquisition and Secondary MTSS for Warren Consolidated Schools. Long-time MITESOL Listserv Manager, Pamela Bogart, Lecturer and Digital Initiatives Coordinator, University of Michigan, will transition into the position of MITESOL Journal Co-Editor. We are so happy that Pamela will remain on the Board! Jennifer Majorana, Senior ESL Specialist, Saginaw Valley State University, joins the MITESOL Board as our new Treasurer. Jennifer was the recipient of the 2015 MITESOL Marckwardt award and was recently featured in the #IamMITESOL campaign on the website. Our new Membership Coordinator is Katie Coleman, who works as both LEO Lecturer in the University of Michigan English Language Institute and as the ELT Associate Editor for University of Michigan Press. Jennifer Frankowiak, ESL teacher, West Bloomfield, joins the MITESOL leadership team as our new Exhibits Manager. Also elected in October and joining the Board are Newsletter Co-Editor, Jessica Piggot, Henry Ford College, and Collin Blair, Adult Education SIG Leader, who is a teacher of adult refugees and immigrants in the Adult & Bilingual Education department of the Lansing School District. Finally, we welcome new K-12 SIG Leader, Liz Sirman, District Coordinator for the English Language Learner Program, Ypsilanti Public Schools. Liz was awarded “EMU Urban Teacher of the Year” in 2015. In 2020, if elected, Liz will transition from K-12 SIG Leader into MITESOL President-Elect. Please help me thank each of our Board members for their dedicated service to the MITESOL organization.

Suzanne Toohey, M.Ed.

Past-President, MITESOL

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Board Notes

From -2 degrees to 40+ degrees within one day - how the ever-changing Michigan weather continues to surprise! Your MITESOL board also continues to change and surprise. Below are several people and policy changes, as well as some surprising activities and accomplishments completed by the MITESOL board since our August newsletter.

  • We have welcomed three new board members who have been transitioning into positions since last summer: Jennifer Majorana - Treasurer, Katie Coleman - Membership Coordinator, and Jessica Piggot - MITESOL Newsletter Co-editor.

  • As of our November transition meeting, four other new members join the board: Liz Sirman - K-12 SIG Leader, Collin Blair - Adult Education SIG Leader, Christina Kozlowski - President-elect, and Jennifer Frankowiak - Conference Exhibits Manager. We look forward to working with all of you.

  • The List-serve Manager’s job has been rolled into the Communications Coordinator’s position. Many thanks to Pamela Bogart for her years as List-serve Manager, and congratulations on her new position as Co-editor of the MITESOL Journal. Christy Pearson will be leaving as Co-editor at the end of April. Thank you for your good work, Christy! Katie Coleman, our new Membership Coordinator, is also taking on the position as the MITESOL Journal’s Submissions Editor. She likes to stay busy!

  • Responsibility for producing the annual MITESOL conference will be moving from the president-elect’s position to the president. This will allow the president-elect to observe, learn and participate before having to lead such a demanding operation. The ever-courageous Christina Kozlowski has agreed to begin this new procedure by becoming the president-elect this year (AND chairing of the 2019 conference, with help from past presidents), then taking that experience with her into the presidency as chair of the 2020 conference, as well. Thank you, Christina!

  • Jennifer Musser and Sharon Umlor again attended the TESOL Advocacy and Policy Summit in Washington D.C. in June. They returned with important information regarding ways for us to engage in public policy as TESOL professionals. Please see our website for details.

Ellen Brengle

Secretary, MITESOL

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Adult Education SIG Updates

Happy winter everyone! I am Collin Blair, the new Adult Ed. SIG Leader. I hope that 2019 is moving along very well for all of you, even if the winter weather is challenging as always! Here are some resources, news articles, and advocacy opportunities to help you start the year. Please let me know if there are any topics, articles, or concerns of interest.

Professional Development

TESOL 2019 International Convention & English Language Expo

March 12-15, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia

Registration available until time of the event

MABE's 2019 Annual Institute "Literacy and Language in Action: A Call for Courageous Collaboration"

May 9-10, 2019, The Dearborn Inn, Dearborn, MI

Resources for Students

Pure Michigan jobs and skills training

Michigan eLibrary

MeL Databases allow you instant access to full-text articles from tens of thousands of magazines and newspapers. Databases are available for kids, adults, and on specialized topics such as car repair, practice tests and art images.

LINCS Learner Center

Connects adult learners to free online resources to learn how to read, get job skills, and more.

U.S. Department of Education

Educational experiences of English learners

Support Ed

Free tools to help educators and administrators better serve English learners.


What if all nations viewed refugees as invaders? (Opinion)

By N. Peter Antone

Teaching English as a Foreign Language With The New York Times as the Textbook

By Sarah E. Elia

It’s raining caps, gowns and good will at the Capital Area Literacy Coalition

By Judy Putnam

Unauthorized Immigrant Population Profiles by the Migration Policy Institute

Michigan League echoes call by governor for a Michigan that serves everyone

By Alex Rossman

Six facts about English language learners in U.S. public schools

By Kristen Bialik, Alissa Scheller, and Kristi Walker

In 116th Congress, at least 13% of lawmakers are immigrants or the children of immigrants

By Abigail Geiger

Please contact me with any ideas, comments, or suggestions!

Collin Blair

Adult Education SIG Leader, MITESOL

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Advocacy and Policy SIG Updates

MITESOL Advocacy and Policy SIG Update

Greetings Advocates! Here’s a rundown on MITESOL advocacy activities since last August:

  • In November, MITESOL submitted comments in response to the October 10, 2018 notice by the Department of Homeland Security of its proposed “public charge” rule affecting immigrants. MITESOL strongly opposes the proposed rule, believing it will bring harm to the health and well-being of immigrant students, children, parents, and families as well as create barriers and represent a deterrent to international students and visitors wishing to study and work in the United States. We urged that the proposed rule be withdrawn in its entirety, and that the 1999 guidance remain in effect. Please take a few moments to read MITESOL’s comment on the proposed public charge rule change. TESOL International’s comment can be read here.

  • In December, the Office of English Language Acquisition released the first two chapters of the English Learner Family Toolkit, which provides information on 1) Enrolling Your Child in School, and 2) Attending School in the United States. Information is available in English, Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish. Stay tuned for the chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 to be released soon!

  • Looking ahead to June… Registration for the 2019 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit held in Washington DC is now open! Advocate and learn about federal policy affecting our profession with colleagues from across the country.

As always, look to the MITESOL Advocacy and Policy SIG web page for updated information and useful links. You can join the MITESOL Advocacy and Policy Facebook Group too!

Sharon Umlor

Advocacy and Policy SIG Leader, MITESOL

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Post-Secondary SIG Updates

What an outstanding MITESOL conference in October 2018! I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. What great networking opportunities, inspiring keynote addresses, engaging concurrent sessions, informative posters, and interesting exhibitors!

The Post-secondary SIG meeting was an opportunity for members to discuss current issues affecting our institutions. Our discussions touched on:

  • Diversity, inclusion, social justice in English language teaching (ELT)

  • Translanguaging

  • Multimodality in ELT

  • Service-learning in ELT

  • The challenges of decreasing enrolment and recruitment

I want to thank everyone for so willingly and passionately sharing their experiences on these topics. We all learned from each other.

A Word of Caution about Questionable Publishers

Apparently, several presenters at the conference in October 2018 have received unsolicited email invitations to publish their work in a journal. I would like to remind you to carefully explore the credibility of any publisher that sends you unsolicited emails and review the conditions before agreeing to publish your work with that publisher. While there are many legitimate journals, there are now more and more that are questionable or predatory. We need to be careful of journals/publishers that falsely claim to be indexed with the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and those that charge authors to publish their papers. While it may be tempting for academics to pay a fee to 'publish rather than perish', publishing in such journals can reduce the credibility of our field. Be careful because correspondence and websites of predatory publishers can look very professional.

Some Points to Consider Before Agreeing to Publish Your Work in a Particular Journal:

  • How did you find out about the journal in question? Reputable journals have submission guidelines on their website. They may occasionally invite authors to submit papers through a Call for Papers on their website or through professional organizations, but they normally don't send unsolicited invitations to specifically named authors.

  • Check that the journal is indexed on DOAJ (

  • Does the journal claim to have an ISBN? ISBNs are not assigned to scholarly journals or other periodicals unless a single issue of a periodical is being sold as a book (see

  • Check the credibility of the editors - do they hold positions at legitimate institutions?; cross check faculty lists and email addresses on institution websites.

  • Make sure the time from submission to publication is reasonable - a matter of weeks or even 6 months is normally not enough time for a thorough review process.

  • Be sure that the publisher does not charge a fee to the author. Sometimes this information is hidden in the small print or not made clear until the paper is ready for press.

  • Beware of spelling and grammar errors in the Call for Papers or on the website. Note that some very reputable journals exist in countries where English is not commonly spoken. While global Englishes are encouraged, reputable journals will make sure to use a standard English and proofread.

  • Check out Beall's List of potentially predatory publishers

Beware, too, of predatory conferences. For advice, go to:

A Few Issues to Reflect On….

  1. On February 13, 2019, Judith O'Loughlin and Brenda Custodio co-authors of Students with Interrupted Formal Education: Bridging where they are and what they need (2017) presented a TESOL webinar on Supporting Students With Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE). Are refugee concerns being discussed at your institution? Are teacher education programs including this issue in their curricula?

  2. Hartshorn et al. (2019) found that skill priorities for TESOL faculty are different from the priorities for ESL students going to university. What are the priorities in your program?

  3. Gass et al. (2018) researched attitudes, benefits and challenges of conducting research with Intensive English Programs (IEPs) and Language Centers. Does your institution have an IEP? A language center? What research is conducted in this area? What are the attitudes towards the research?

  4. Kashiwa and Benson (2018) studied the learning that takes place inside vs outside the classroom on study abroad experiences. What is the impact of study abroad programs at your institution? What learning takes place?


Gass, S., Juffs, S., Starfield, S., & Hyland, K. (2018). Conducting research at language centers: Practical perspectives from the field. TESOL Quarterly, 52(4), 1108-1119.

Hartshorn, J. K., Hart, J. M., & McMurry, B.L. (2019). Comparing language skill priorities among TESOL faculty and ESL students bound for English-medium universities. TESOL Journal e438, 1-18.

Kashiwa, M. & Benson, P. (2018). A road and a forest: Conceptions of in-class and out-of-class learning in the transition to study abroad. TESOL Quarterly, 52(4), 725-747.

Mark your Calendars for these Upcoming Events:

For a very extensive list of conferences, go to The Linguist List

Please let me know if you have any publications, book reviews, announcements &/or events that you would like me to share with our SIG members.

I hope 2019, the year of the pig, is a productive one for everyone!

Cynthia Macknish

Post-secondary SIG leader, MITESOL

Eastern Michigan University

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K-12 SIG Updates

Greetings from the K-12 world. Below I’m sharing a few articles and resources that may be of interest or use to you. I am including links to a variety of state tools which have been shared previously but are always relevant and important.

  • Since the implementation of the 3rd grade reading law, educators all over the state are closely examining the yearly reading progress ELs are making and whether or not they qualify for exemptions. This article argues that there actually may be a long-term benefit to retaining ELs in 3rd grade.

Study: Repeating 3rd Grade Could Help Struggling English-Learners

  • The shortage of EL teachers exists not only in Michigan, but nationwide. Lawmakers recognize this fact and the critical need for increasing that number. Read about the proposed bill here.

  • Eastern Michigan University is addressing the EL teacher shortage through the WriteEL grant. The LAST 8 spots are available, and the deadline for applications has been extended to March 1, 2019. Apply here.

  • The February EL Director's Message from Kelly Alvarez, State English Learner Educational Consultant should be reviewed if you have not already seen it. There is new information about Early Childhood EL Reporting, the EL Family Toolkit, and much more.

  • Are you receiving the Michigan Department of Education EL Director’s message? If you are interested in receiving information for Title III and Section 41, subscribe here.

  • MDE has created this guidance document to support districts in effectively processing ELs who are ready to exit EL and Immigrant programs. The last page includes a brief document that can be added to a student’s CA-60 for students who will transfer out of the district. Remember, it is the responsibility of the district where the student test to exit in MSDS if eligible.

  • Students that have an exit date of 6/30/2017 are the first group of Former English Learner (FEL) students that must be monitored for four consecutive years, according to ESSA. Find details of the monitoring process here.

  • Are you interested in having important dates and information integrated right into your Google Calendar? MDE now has three calendars (professional learning, assessment, and fiscal) that you can embed into your own Google calendar with a few quick steps. Here is how.

2019 Conference Dates

Liz Sirman

K-12 SIG Leader, MITESOL

EL Coordinator / Teacher Ypsilanti Community Schools

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Updates from the Field

Emails from the Peace Corps, Part II

By Lauren Prebenda

The contents of this publication are the volunteer’s personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. For part one, click here.

This time last year, I was starting my first year of teaching 8th grade English at Joaquim Chissano Secondary School. I remember walking into each classroom and seeing the smiling faces of my new students, squished 3 to a desk made for 2. I remember trying to read the looks on their faces that first day: Were they excited to have the weird mulungo they’d seen around town for months as their teacher? Disappointed? Were they nervous like I was? How was I going to write on the cracked and broken chalkboard? How would I break the students into groups with such large class sizes? Would they be able to adjust to my teaching style?

There was a low murmur of never-ending questions in my head that first day – a film reel of uncertainties that, honestly, continued for weeks. But, at some point, it stopped - mostly. I can’t tell you precisely when, but there came a day when we all had settled securely and warmly into our routine. A day when the students entered the classroom and immediately started their entrance work, moved into small groups quickly, felt comfortable asking for help, and knew when and how they could make-up an assignment. Slowly but surely, we ‘got’ each other – and with different native languages, and cultural practices, and very ideas of education (what it is and looks like), let me tell you: that is no easy task!

I am so proud of my students for this alone. I am proud of their ability to adjust to a teaching style they had likely not experienced before – and to a classroom community where they were suddenly asked to share their ideas and knowledge, to think critically, and to stand up in front of 60 of their peers and risk making a mistake in English. I am proud of them for being kind to one another. I am proud of them for trying things in a new way, for welcoming me and being open. I am wildly proud of their motivation and dedication to learning English – whether they walked multiple miles to school each day, worked at their family shop all morning before class, or came to school during their free time for extra English practice. For a hundred more reasons, I am proud.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to tell them all of that before I left. At least, not in the way I would have liked to, as my leaving wasn’t planned. During the school year, I had been dealing with a reoccurring health issue, though not one I imagined would become serious or would end my Peace Corps service early. Sadly, I grew quite sick in July and by September I was ‘medically evacuated’ from Mozambique and sent back to the states for medical treatment. Going home unexpectedly was very difficult and has taken some time to process.

No, every moment of my service wasn’t picturesque. Honestly, many of them weren’t. Teaching with few resources, huge class sizes and, at one point, without a roof was wildly difficult (the roof blew off of a school building during the first semester and my class sizes went from 50+ to 70+). Traveling 5 to 6 hours to the nearest city, in a chapa crammed full of people, and chickens, and enormous bunches of bananas, only to break down on the side of the road and turn the trip into 8 hours wasn’t easy. Washing my laundry by hand, cooking meals on a charcoal stove, and cutting my grass with a giant machete were also not easy (the grass cutting is actually incredibly difficult). But, when I left those hardships behind, I also left 250, thoughtful and incredible students. I left colleagues and friends who showed me a kindness unlike anything I’ve experienced. I left a job I truly loved. I left a home and a day-to-day that I was growing accustomed to. I left in the midst of projects and relationships that were fulfilling and made me happy. And though leaving was, and still is, tough – I’m grateful they made leaving so difficult.

Lauren Prebenda graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2016 with a BA in Elementary Education and K-12 TESOL certification. Following graduation, Lauren worked as the Education Specialist for a local, refugee organization and later joined the U.S. Peace Corps, where she taught 8th grade English in Mozambique, Africa. Now that she has returned to the U.S., she hopes to continue her work in education for refugee and newcomer populations. You can contact Lauren at

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The Real Struggle: Women Refugees

By Warifa Sobh

Presenting at the MITESOL Conference in October of 2018 was such a rewarding experience, as it has been the highlight of my career. I learned to believe in myself and that I, too, can share my area of expertise with others and that it will at least interest them, if not more. I learned that my voice, my touch and my strategy can help make a difference in our world, raise awareness, offer a new perspective, and empower others, which will ultimately lead to a better, more inclusive world where everyone can feel safe and valued in an educational setting.

It was the Spring of 2018 and I had just been working on transferring to Eastern Michigan University’s MA in TESOL program. I had met with my advisor and professor, Dr. Ildiko Porter-Szucs to organize my program of study. Something about her passion in the field of TESOL was constantly speaking to me and telling me she was unique. Sooner than I had thought, these thoughts had manifested themselves into a reality that I was living. As a teacher myself, I know influential educators when I see them. Through our few, but rather intriguing conversations, I had learned that the MITESOL 2018 Conference would be taking place at EMU that year and that she was the president-elect for that year’s conference. Of course, in her positive and optimistic approach, Dr. Porter-Szucs encouraged me to submit a proposal to the conference, exclaiming that “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that should not be missed, especially that the conference will be on campus.”

The idea of submitting a proposal kept gnawing at me, day and night. It had always been a dream of mine to present at a professional conference. My friends and colleagues had always told me that they enjoyed my presentations. I had many ideas that I could present about, but I was especially interested in the topic of refugees and language acquisition. Having worked with some brilliant refugees in an adult education language center close to my residence, their stories and struggles touched my heart and soul. Their persistence and resilience despite the adversities they had faced would put anyone complaining about the day-to-day struggles to shame. Their stories were unmatched. They were broken, lost, traumatized, lonely, disappointed, insecure, scared, worried, frustrated, yet most importantly, hopeful for a better future.

In my class and through the context of their learning English as a Second Language (ESL), I heard their stories, gave them a voice, allowed them to show pride in their rich cultures, acknowledged their wisdom and provided a space for them to speak about their current worries and problems while adjusting to a new culture. Frequently, I found myself encouraging and empowering them, asking them to keep their hopes and ambitions high while reminding them that they are better off than those that they have left behind. Their tears and those of their classmates were a staple to every lesson that we had, and I couldn’t help but to join them as well. They had very discouraging notions, such as the fact that if they cannot speak English that somehow, they were less intelligent or unworthy of opportunities. Or the fact that if they were older in age, that it was too late for them to learn a new language or career because somehow, they believed that their brain would fail them in remembering the English words that they were learning. They looked down on themselves because they could not communicate fluently in English. I worked on changing those notions on a day-to-day basis, by sharing with them relevant research about language acquisition, allowing them to feel the power that lies within them and the progress, no matter how minimal, that they were making in learning the language.

It was at the adult education center that I met my colleague, Wedad Maatouk. She was another remarkable professional, who was giving everything that she could to help those in need, through so many different routes. Her job was her life and you could see it in her face. She would tell me all the time and I would nod in agreement: “For most of these people, we are the only thing they’ve got—their only hope.” Coincidently, Wedad had also worked on an MA in TESOL at Madonna University and had researched refugee women quite extensively. One time at work, we had a power outage, so we were transferred to another building to work from there. On that day, Wedad and I had some time to talk, so I showed Wedad the research that I was doing on refugees. She was surprised and then proceeded to pull out her laptop to show me what she had done as well: same topic, same interest and most significantly, same drive. We both agreed that the topic of refugee women was distinct within the refugee crisis. Their problems and needs required special attention, especially having observed multiple women at the center break down from daily pressures or faint at the sound of the building’s fire alarm.

We had a critical issue at hand, so we thought to ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be disappointing to let all of that go to waste?’ After all, this was a much-needed topic that should be in the spotlight—presently and for years to come. Following multiple meetings to discuss the proposal and through Dr. Porter-Szucs’ unwavering support, Wedad and I submitted our first proposal to the MITESOL 2018 Conference titled: “Obstacles Facing Women Refugees in Language Acquisition.” Months later, the proposal got accepted. We could not believe it; we were filled with excitement and hope. Finally, we were going to spread awareness and draw attention to this topic that we both wholeheartedly believed in.

The conference that took place in October, led by Dr. Porter-Szucs and her team, was a great success! For Wedad and me, presenting at a professional conference for the first time was a dream come true. I was also able to meet some of the top professionals in the field of ESL from so many different places, universities, schools and districts. There was no other place where all of these professionals could come together and share the wealth of knowledge that they’ve acquired from their own experiences, research and education. I had the chance to observe first-hand how when there is a common goal around the same topic involved, the force of knowledge becomes infinite.

My story does not end here, from what it seems, this is actually the beginning, as there is more good news! More recently, our proposal has been accepted to be presented at the TESOL 2019 International Convention and English Language Expo, taking place this March in Atlanta, Georgia. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my advisor and professor Dr. Porter-Szucs for her encouragement, time and support throughout this journey. Submitting our proposal to the 2019 TESOL International was also thanks to her, since it was extra credit opportunity for a class that I had taken with her in the Fall of 2018. It takes some courage on our part and a bit of encouragement from those surrounding us for one to truly begin attracting important achievements.

For those attending this year’s TESOL International Conference in March, I hope that you can support us in our cause and join our session!

Warifa Sobh is currently a Middle and High School English Teacher. Previously, she has taught abroad for eight years, teaching English and ESL in American and IB schools. More recently, she has become more interested in studying about women refugees and language acquisition.

You can contact Warifa at

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Supporting ELLs in CLASS*: Five Key Categories to Keep in Mind

*The CLASS acronym has appeared in other contexts from other researchers. Any similarities or resemblances are purely coincidental.

By Marla Metler

There are many ways that teachers can help support ELLs at school. In this article, five key categories are featured and “unpacked”. Teachers can use these categories and the information under them to support their ELL students at school. I created the acronym CLASS that can be used by teachers to help them remember the five key categories and the information under each one. These five key categories are applicable for all teachers that have ELL students (including special area teachers like gym, art, and music) and not just ESL/ELL teachers. The categories are: Clarity, Links, Accessibility, Support (more), and Social. It is important to note that the information under each of the categories may be best practices or strategies that teachers are already familiar with in the ESL/ELL field (such as SIOP/other best practices in the ESL/ELL field). However, in using the acronym CLASS, it is meant to be a way to organize information for general education and other teachers to allow them to quickly remember strategies. Furthermore, this should be used in addition to other information that teachers should have for their ELL students (such as the WIDA Can Do Descriptors).

The first category to “unpack” is Clarity. So, how can teachers provide clarity for their ELL students? Teachers can provide clarity for their ELL students by changing their rate of speech as needed (for example, talking slower), they can emphasize key words, and show expression of emotions through using their voice as well as their facial expressions (for example actually showing how it looks to be happy, sad, etc.). They can also write key words and draw pictures of them as they say them (or point to them as they say them). Furthermore, they can provide pictures and labels if possible (for vocabulary). Additional suggestions include: modeling using gestures, pictures, realia (objects), etc. Teachers can also provide guided practice (teachers and students doing an activity together) and have their objectives on the board. For example, in following the SIOP Model, teachers would have a Language Objective(s) as well as a Content Objective(s). Lastly, student seating is also something important to keep in mind. Making sure ELL students have clear views of the board, books during read alouds, etc. could greatly aid them. For instance, for ELL students who are at a beginning level of English language proficiency, and who know little to no English, sometimes the pictures in the book is all they have to help them understand what is being read aloud.

The second category is Links. So, how can teachers provide links for their ELL students? Teachers can provide links or meaningful connections for their ELL students by connecting to their ELL students’ first language or background knowledge. They can utilize books or have books in their library that include an ELL student’s culture or country. They can also display things from their ELL students’ culture or country and/or have them share things about their culture or country.

The third category is Accessibility. So, how can teachers provide accessibility for their ELL students? To make the curriculum more accessible for their ELL students, teachers can utilize Google Translate. I think it is important to use this resource with caution though as it is not perfect. I would recommend cross-referencing translations with other websites (such as The website will show the translations for a word in context, so this could lend itself to aiding teachers in selecting the most accurate translation needed for their students. Teachers can also provide activities as needed that rely less on language production to show understanding (for example: multiple choice questions, matching activities, or drawing an answer to a question rather than writing an answer). Furthermore, teachers can pre-teach vocabulary and utilize cognates (if possible). There is an article on the Colorin colorado website that I think is a great resource to learn more about utilizing cognates for English language learning. The article can be found at:

The fourth category is Support (more). So, how can teachers provide more support for their ELL students? Some more supports include: sentence starters/frames, examples, word banks, and word walls. Additionally, teachers can also use graphic organizers and have ELL students have a partner or small group support. Furthermore, during a read aloud, teachers can point to the words as they read them and then point to the pictures and say the key vocabulary words (for each picture).

The fifth and final category is Social. So, how can teachers provide social support and opportunities for their ELL students? This can be done in several ways. For instance, teachers can pair an ELL student with another ELL student that speaks the same language (if possible). They can also provide a buddy for an ELL student (someone who is responsible and caring). Furthermore, teachers can provide activities that allow for communication and language use and give ELLs examples or structures to use if needed. For instance, teachers can use sentence starters or frames to provide structures for discussions (for example, I agree with you because…).

So, how can teachers use CLASS in their current position or at their current district? The categories presented and the information under them can be used by teachers to take back to their districts to provide professional development and training for their staff. They can also be presented to teachers at staff meetings and be shared through hard copies or electronically with staff.

While the five key categories in CLASS and the information under each one are important to keep in mind for helping ELL students, there are some other important things to keep in mind as well. For instance, it is important to make sure that the scaffold or support is appropriate for the student. For example, a teacher would not want to talk really slowly for a student who is at a higher level of English language proficiency and does not need this. Additionally, it is important to continue to informally assess students to best provide support that meets their needs. Teachers need to keep students WIDA levels in mind; however, they can also use “real-time” informal data to gauge what support is best in meeting their students’ needs due to students making growth after WIDA.

Marla Metler is currently an ELL Teacher at an elementary school in Ann Arbor Public Schools. She holds a Bachelor's Degree and a Master's Degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She also has an ESL Endorsement from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She has experience teaching ESL to children and adults in addition to other teaching and professional experience. She was recognized in 2015 by the State of Michigan (she is a Teacher Spotlight winner) and has co-authored a chapter in a book in the TESOL field that was published in 2017. She also had her article on her presentation, “The Parent-Student ELL Team: Resources and Ideas for English Language Learning Outside of School”, published in the February 2018 MITESOL Messages.

You can contact Marla at or 734-997-1212 (Ext. 15438)

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A Great Source for Business English Exercises: A Book Review

By Julie Dean

Jack Griffin has been writing books in the same series, “How to Say It” since the early 2000s. This particular book, “How to Say It for First Time Managers,” has just the right organization and raw material to develop lessons with business vocabulary, idioms, and context for developing role plays for advanced communication classes for ELLs. Teachers focused on adults with business backgrounds or aspirations will find this book particularly helpful as a source of content to develop their own exercises, as I am now doing.

As background to my specific need for these materials: I work at Michigan Language Center where we serve both university-bound and professionally-working students. The latter are hungry for guidance, tangible skills, and practice to handle business meetings confidently, create impactful presentations, and participate confidently in client meetings, among other skills. Our students are professionals who typically are recently graduated from advanced degree programs, such as information technology or architecture, at leading American universities. Jack Griffin’s book provides real-life materials that happen to be organized well to be harvested to develop instructive activities and dynamic role plays.

Griffin begins his book with the basic rules of communication in the business world, and although he doesn’t refer to it specifically, it is implied that this is the American business world. Such attributes and vocabulary are fundamental tools in business; all communications, he says, should be driven by the goals to be clear, positive, and build trust. He explains the meaning behind words and concepts, such as: “accountability,” “action and results,” “assist vs help,” “leverage,” “brand,”among many others. He also includes words not to use, which include negative words such as “impossible,” “hopeless,” “fault,” and “blame.” Reading his introductory chapter is a deep dive into the language of American business communication—with more detail and context explanation than the average dos and don’ts one might find in a guide to writing good resumes and nailing a job interview.

I am planning to use these concepts and vocabulary in discussion with our students, followed by the sharing of their experiences, and then practice in dialogues that students will develop using the target vocabulary. Our students regularly feel lack of confidence at work when participating in status report, team brainstorming, or other types of meetings, either with subordinates or superiors.Practice in dialogues, and discussing elements of American cultural tendencies and values in these contexts continues to be of immense value and has been confidence-building, they tell us. They regularly request more instruction and practice of this sort.

Chapters in Griffin’s book are organized by simple tactical skills, such as how to say yes and no, how to express evaluations and recommendations, conflict resolution, and making meetings work, among many others. Although this is not an ESL business language book, it is a book with content that my students need in order to succeed in their different corporate environments, whether it’s as a data technician working on an software design team or a technical expert at a professional service firm. Their native-speaking peers have far more easy access to this guidance; now, with some careful, teacher-supplied customization to particular student needs and environments, our advanced ELLs can have it as well.

Julie Dean, a 2014 MA TESOL graduate from Eastern Michigan University, is an instructor at Michigan Language Center. She can be contacted at

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A Unit to Empower Student Voice in a Secondary English Class for English Learners

By Shelby Eaton

Amidst the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been swarming our country in the past few years, it is critical for educators to support English Learners (ELs) in our classrooms. Indeed, many ELs are facing more discrimination and fear of deportation in our country since the 2016 presidential elections, as has been reported in Darling-Hammond’s 2017 article “Teaching for Social Justice: Resources, Relationships, and Anti-Racist Practice.” Darling-Hammond points to increased reports of racial or religious slurs and swastika symbols in schools, Muslim students fearing for their safety, and Mexican students fearing their own, or family members’ deportation (Darling-Hammond 2017).

In my own high school, I’ve had immigrant students express grave concerns about being deported, and some of their family members actually were. I service Guatemalan refugees, similar to the Central American caravan of refugees who were turned away after being met with military at the border, who worry about their status here in the United States. My Muslim students from Lebanon fear going home to visit their family, claiming they’re scared they may never be able to return to the country they view as their home.

While EL teachers are often the first to stand up, advocate for, and protect the ELs in their schools outside the classroom, they are often unsure about how to connect these sociopolitical issues with academic curriculum and empower their students with agency in these difficult times. To treat students as agents, we must first give them control over their own choices and actions they take. According to Shapiro, Cox, Shuck, and Simnitt’s 2016 article titled “Teaching for Agency: From Appreciating Linguistic Diversity to Empowering Student Writers,” in order to give students agency in the classroom, students must have access to three components of agency: control, awareness, and optimal conditions. As educators, it’s our job to give ELs “control over their actions as writers,” and help them “notice what action has to be taken,” so that they can “make informed decisions about their lives” (2016, p.32-33). By providing this space for students, they can take these horrific events happening in the world and to their families and become agents of change. Doing so can help educators view students not as victims of the times deserving of sympathy, but as agents for real change in our classrooms, who are empowered and self-realized.

In order to allow space for students to have agency, I’ve created a unit for English Learners that provides students background knowledge in different genres and formats of writing and storytelling so that the students themselves are empowered to start a movement of their choice. At first, the selections of writing/storytelling are limited to only environmental justice, but as the trimester goes on, there are fewer scaffolds to provide freedom to the students for their final summative assessment. In this final project, students are asked to start a movement or explain the power of language by answering a unit essential question in any format they choose (a movie, a social media account, a comic, an art piece, a letter, or a news article) on any topic that they choose. The unit essential questions are as follows: In what ways do people use language and change to manipulate others and gain power? How can people start a movement and make change in the world through their words? How can individuals use language and change for personal and common good?

This unit is especially important given various current events. For example, school shootings are happening nearly every week around the United States. When the students from Parkland raise their voices in protest, they’re dismissed because they are students and not adults with power in this society. One can only imagine how much more marginalized and disempowered ELs feel, given the current political climate. I want my students to feel empowered to use their voices through argument, discourse language, and the ability to provoke change. I want them to do the research on topics so that they can have an informed opinion. This unit has many options for student choice, which is important so the students feel connected to the projects they’re working on. I want the topics to be relevant to them as English Learners, but also as citizens of the society they’re living in.

Important Components for English Learners in this Unit

Student Choice and Student Voice

In the unit I’ve created, students write letters and send them to their state representatives about a topic of environmental justice of their choice. The teacher should encourage the students to choose the topics they’ll be assessed on as well as give them authentic ways to express their opinions in a public space. This allows the student to have the chance to say what they truly want to say. The summative assessment allows students to create a project of their choice that they can post on YouTube, send to government officials, or even start a hashtag movement on Twitter or Instagram. This final project can be on any topic they feel affects them and requires change.


In order for ELs to truly express themselves, they’ll need the work to be scaffolded and differentiated to meet their needs. This unit uses graphic organizers, visuals for context, three tiered differentiated assignments, rubrics, memes, music, scripts for audio texts, peer feedback, samples and modeling, reading strategy lists, and chances for reflection. The unit takes students through the entire writing process multiple times so they’re able to revise and reflect on their work. The unit starts with a guided summative assignment about environmental justice in order to teach argumentative skills, then slowly encourages students to branch out on their own until the final project is entirely their own. This sense of ownership is important for students, and teachers should act as their guide through the process.

Personal Connections and Cultural Relevance

Most importantly, this unit is culturally relevant. It requires students to, “ on the knowledges and cultural assets students bring with them into the classroom” (Aronson, Laughter 2016). By seeing themselves as having assets, the students are emboldened that they can, in fact, make a change. In two detailed lessons included in the unit, students must first access their prior knowledge about a topic before doing analysis of a topic based on videos or research. In the second lesson, students are asked to think about times they may have been discriminated against because of their language. They have to critically think about social justice issues such as requiring English Learners to “reduce their accent.” As language learners, these topics are relevant to them because my students talk about microaggressions they experience when others ask them to “speak proper English” or tell them “your accent is very good.” I want students to “...engage in critical reflection…” where they, “...both learn about their own and other’s cultures and also develop pride in their own and others’ cultures” (Aronson, Laughter 2016).

Unit Broken Down by Week:

Week 1

Introduce Environmental Justice Samples to Analyze

Week 2

Students create a narrative from a perspective of something in nature with the purpose of change.

Week 3

Students learn how to find reliable sources to write informative letters about environmental justice issues to politicians.

Week 4

Students write informative letters about environmental justice issues to politicians.

Week 5

Students study different genres where language is powerful and analyze the meaning of the texts.

Week 6

Students create a final project of their choice that answers the essential questions of the unit.

Link to Unit, Resources, and Lessons:


In conclusion, I hope that this unit with the included materials may inspire other educators who are searching for ways to embed some of the sociopolitical issues in the curriculum for English learners in order to create spaces for engaging students’ agency so they may take action on decisions that have affected their own lives and the lives of others. This unit will provide students with opportunities to create their own unique perspectives, research difficult topics to inform their opinions, and authentically use multiple genres to spread their ideas to the public. Educators can use this unit to help English Learners join the sociopolitical conversations surrounding them instead of being the topic of those conversations.


Aronson, B., & Laughter, J. (2016). The Theory and Practice of Culturally Relevant Education: A Synthesis of Research Across Content Areas. Review of Educational Research, 86(1), 163–206.

Darling-Hammond, Linda (2017). Teaching for Social Justice: Resources, Relationships, and Anti-Racist Practice, Multicultural Perspectives, 19:3, 133-138, DOI: 10.1080/15210960.2017.1335039

Shapiro, S., Cox, M., Shuck, G., & Simnitt, E. (2016). Teaching for Agency: From Appreciating Linguistic Diversity to Empowering Student Writers. Composition Studies, 44(1), 31-52.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016, April 13). The Trump effect: The impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s schools. Retrieved from

Shelby Eaton has been teaching for four years and has spent the last year and a half pursuing her masters with Eastern Michigan University’s TESOL WritEL Cohort II. She has taught EFL in South Korea and Montenegro and currently teaches English Language Arts and serves as the EL teacher in Ann Arbor, MI at Skyline High School. You can contact her at or 734-757-0766.

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Changing What "Qualified" Means for Teaching Adult ESL: A Conversation Starter on What Should Be Done

By Courtney Hedeman

I am seeking to change what is needed for a candidate to be considered for an adult education ESL position in the public community education realm (e.g. Grand Rapids Public Schools, Farmington Hills Public Schools etc.).

Through my communication with the Office of Educator Excellence at the Michigan Department of Education, I learned that it is according to Michigan Compiled Laws 380.1231 and 380.1233 that a candidate must “hold a valid teaching certificate” to be considered “qualified” and be considered for a public education position. As you may know, receiving a valid teaching certificate in the state of Michigan is essentially only possible for those who have completed a K-12 teaching program at a university/college. In my experience, this does not apply to myself and most of my fellow coworkers in the adult ESL teaching realm and leaves out a large number of (who I believe to be), highly qualified and dedicated candidates. Most of the people that I have worked with in the field of TESOL have either worked for years with adult ESL students, received a Master’s in TESOL (or a similar field), or both; however, since we do not hold a teaching certificate, we are not seen as “qualified”.

I am seeking to expand the term “qualified teacher” within the laws of the Michigan Department of Education beyond the scope of holding a valid teaching certificate for those in the adult ESL field, so that it may apply to teachers who have completed all of the following:

  1. Have a Master’s degree in a related field to the teaching position they are applying

  2. Have passed the English as a Second Language (086) MTTC state examination

  3. Have at least 3 (three) years teaching experience

I am wondering if anyone has any interest in getting involved with this personally or knows how to further the next steps of what needs to be done to achieve this.

I look forward to talking with anyone who would like to get involved!

Courtney Hedeman is currently the Lead Instructor at Language Center International and teaches a diverse adult population in all levels of ESL. She received her Masters of Education in TESOL from Grand Valley State University. Courtney can be reached at

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I Can't Do It!

By Bright Egwim

As an ESL teacher, I believe that every student deserve the right to receive the appropriate amount of support needed to excel in their studies. It is always my passion to see my students succeed in their studies, which explains why I cease research and professional development opportunities to learn strategies that inform my teaching methodologies in order to positively impact my students’ learning according to their learning styles (linguistic, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic). The knowledge and skills gained are further implemented in my classrooms in such a manner that benefits my students and as well, enable them to achieve their academic and language goals of learning English as a Second Language (ESL).

Jeddah is a teenager from one of the Middle Eastern countries. He recently migrated to the United States with his parents but needs help with his English language skills. Specifically, he needed more help with reading and writing because, he faces the challenge of intimidation by classmates. To figure out how I could work with Jeddah to offer him the language support needed, I consulted the director of the reading center where I volunteer to teach ESL. Together, we discussed and finalized how we could help Jeddah. The first on our list was to conduct a needs assessment, which was intended to determine what he knows before deciding how we could help. That helped us to evaluate Jeddah's language ability (reading, writing, and speaking) to determine an appropriate method and text choice that would work for his learning style.

It was interesting to realize that he is interested in non-fiction stories of Police Officers. On top of that, he desires to become a Police Officer someday. The knowledge of Jeddah’s language ability and his interests informed our decision to choose authentic texts about Police Officers. Therefore, we designed hands-on lesson activities that engages him with authentic contents reading texts about police officers that he is actually passionate about.

In the beginning, it was very challenging for us because it was impossible for Jeddah to read 90% of the texts without leaving-out the three last letters unpronounced. The implication of this was to increase the amount of instruction with several opportunities for him to respond verbally at the initial stage. As time passed, we offered the necessary support through consistent scaffolding to help him pay attention to the differences in each word and as well taught him how to pronounce words ending with "s", "ing", "p" in the middle of words like "property" and so on. When it was time to read aloud, in his words, Jeddah said "Nah...I can't do it!" I said, "Yes, you can!" After another set of scaffolding aid, Jeddah was able to independently read a new text with a bit of confidence. In another class session, we had Jeddah read the same text. This time, there was improvement in his pronunciation and confidence level. To test if he has actually retained it, a new set of vocabulary containing the same letters and words was assigned to him to read in another class session. After reading, he immediately screamed with excitement, "Oh! I did it!" and I said, "That's right!"

Throughout my teaching experience and working with professionals, I have learned that no student is a cavern of lost hope. With the right amount of support accompanied with research and professional development, the director of the reading center and I were able to offer the necessary language (reading, writing, and speaking) support needed to Jeddah who did not impress us in the beginning but surprised us as time went by. Though he is still a work in progress, the director and I are very excited to see how the next level of a more complex text and critical thinking tasks will be challenged by Jeddah. We are also looking forward to see the direction of learning will take us in terms of research and the development of teaching strategies that will continue to benefit his learning style.

Bright O. Egwim is an international graduate student in the Western Michigan University M.A. TESOL program. He is interested in Language Policy, Identity, Social Positioning and L2 interaction in and outside the classroom context. As a graduate assistant in the Literacy Studies department, he serves in various capacities including the ELATE project. Bright has been part of the project as an observer and rater. Apart from teaching ESL as a volunteer at the Literacy Studies' McGinnis Reading Center, and Literacy Council of Southwest Michigan, he is currently conducting observation around southwest Michigan with the ELATE project team. He can be contacted at

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An Age-old Conundrum: Teaching Grammar

By Deniz Ilker Toker

In her oft-cited article titled “Teaching grammar”, Larsen-Freeman (2014) sets out to dissect one of the most contentious issues in second and foreign language teaching: grammar. Since I started my teaching career, I have also been deeply pondering over how to teach grammar. However, it seems that there is no simple answer to this complicated question. Larsen-Freeman begins her article with the definition of grammar, which has never been an easy task for scholars. After pointing out the shortcomings of some other definitions, she comes up with her own. According to her, “grammar is a system of lexicogrammatical patterns that are used to make meaning in appropriate ways” (p. 258). We all know that languages consist of many rules, some of which follow quite a rigid pattern and have an iterative nature; on the other hand, exceptions to those rules keep perplexing and intimidating language learners. Therefore, teaching/learning grammar takes on a profound significance since it helps us organize those rules and put them to use, consciously or unconsciously, while producing the language.

One of the biggest challenges for teachers is how to introduce grammar to learners without overwhelming them. To this end, the author mentions a three-dimensional grammar framework composed of three distinct parts: structure/form, semantics/meaning, and use/pragmatics. I believe that we cannot fully teach grammar unless we include all these aspects in our lesson plans. Moreover, the author suggests that teachers help their learners master the three dimensions of grammar together; however, one dimension can be more problematic than the others in some cases. For instance, the meaning dimension of phrasal verbs may challenge ESL/EFL students most, so teachers need to focus on that aspect directly and provide their learners with clear examples in context so that they can understand the different meanings of the same phrasal verbs better. In summary, the onus is on teachers to analyze each construction beforehand and anticipate the possible challenges that learners might face while learning it. Besides, the author believes that teachers should be knowledgeable about the three components of grammar equally and, if not, they are supposed to fill their knowledge gaps concerning the form, meaning, and use of any new structure they are teaching.

Larsen-Freeman claims that “the proper goal of grammar instruction should be grammaring, the ability to use grammar constructions accurately, meaningfully, and appropriately” (p. 264). I think the term, grammaring, captures the real essence of learning grammar as it accentuates the inherent dynamic nature of it. When we think back on our first language acquisition, our first utterances were never free of errors. It took us a while to fully comprehend the untold rules of our first language. Thus, we should keep that in mind while teaching/learning grammar to ESL/EFL students and see it as an ongoing process. Learners keep making mistakes even if they seem to have mastered all the rules and that is par for course.

When it comes to the ways of teaching it, the grammar debate gets more heated due to the contrasting viewpoints. Should it be implicit or explicit? Should we have more inducive or deductive activities while teaching grammar? What about the time-honored PPP (i.e., presentation, practice, and production) approach? Prescribe or proscribe? These are only some of the vexed questions of grammar teaching, and I would like to present the author’s general suggestions rather than to dive into each and every methodology of teaching. One of the most well-known approaches to grammar teaching is focus on form (Long, 1991 as cited in Larsen-Freeman, 2014), and it simply advocates for communicative and meaningful teaching practices like task-based language teaching. In addition to that, there can be brief grammatical explanations when learners make mistakes, whereby teachers can easily draw learners’ attention to some forms and “help [them] notice the [target] constructions” (Schmidt, 1990 as cited in Larsen-Freeman, 2014 p. 263). Moreover, the author acknowledges enhancing the input, input flooding, and input processing as other effective ways of focusing on form.

After reading this enlightening article, I could not stop getting both surprised and amazed when I thought about my own English learning adventure. As it is the case in most parts of the world, English has been mostly taught through PPP approach in Turkey. It does not allow learners to use language freely and produce their own sentences in communicative ways. What is worse, it turns language learning into rule learning, thereby damping learners’ enthusiasm for communicating in a different language. We would be given the rules and exceptions, and then asked to memorize them through deadly boring and meaningless activities. If I had not tried to speak English with the tourists coming to visit my hometown when I was at school, I would not be speaking English fluently now.

I also blame the prevalent ‘teaching-to-test’ movement for the lack of motivation in our learners. Unfortunately, language learning is regarded as other school subjects like mathematics or science, so learners are given the ‘formulas’ to pass the tests instead of authentic learning opportunities to practice the language. Most learners hate grammar because of that and dread learning a new language. Personally, I always find English grammar intriguing and enjoy learning about it since it has become my passion; however, I never expect my learners to share the same interest. I do my best to introduce grammatical rules and structures in less threatening ways and try to explain the rationale behind them as suggested by Larsen-Freeman. Once they make sense of them, they feel more eager to use them in their own speeches. I also believe that we should have our learner feel the need of some particular constructions to get their message across so that they can be genuinely interested in learning them.

Lastly, I can add that we cannot understand the intricate nature of grammar teaching without talking about the politics of teaching and learning English, which directly dictates the methods we employ in our classrooms. In the era of World Englishes, we should challenge the prescriptive approaches to teaching grammar; rather, we should follow more descriptive model in order to instill more organic and realistic motivations into our learners to learn a new language. No matter which method we choose to teach grammar, we need to be mindful of our learners’ emotional and cognitive reactions. The more teachers read about old and new approaches, the better they get to create their own ways according to different groups of learners they have. We should definitely be patient with our learners and let them make mistakes throughout their learning journeys. Languages keep changing, so does grammar, that’s why learners will continue grammaring. Let them enjoy it!


Larsen-Freeman, D. (2014). Teaching grammar. In M. Celce-Murcia, M.D. Brinton, & A.M. Snow (Eds.). Teaching English as a second or foreign language. (pp. 256-270, 4thed.). Boston, USA: Heinle.

Deniz is an international graduate student and assistant at Western Michigan University. He is currently doing his master’s in the TESOL program. He taught English as a foreign language at a wide range of settings for seven years in Turkey, and he is currently teaching ESL to refugee teenagers at Bethany Christian Services in Kalamazoo. You can contact Deniz at or at 269-270-9190.

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Standardized Tests in Egypt

By Amira Eldemerdash

Thanaweya Amma, also known as the “General Secondary Education Certificate”, is a series of standardized tests that are the gateway to university in Egypt, as end-of-year grades determine what university each student will attend. On completion of GSEC, students can enroll in a bachelor's program. Some do not enter the university they dream of due to low grades. Minimum grades of acceptance at each university are determined according to the overall grades each year. However, entrance into certain faculties like medicine, engineering and dentistry require a high grade exceeding 95 percent.

It is worth mentioning that students spend a whole academic year preparing and studying of this series of summative examinations. The content of the examinations and scoring depends upon the student’s curriculum focus- science, literature, or mathematics. However, a literature student, like myself, still had to take up mathematics, geology and economics classes.

Thanaweya Amma tests are by definition “general” in terms that every student in his/her last year in high school sits for exactly the same test all over Egypt, in 27 different cities at the exact same time. Students who are enrolled in public, private or even international schools in Egypt are all given equal opportunities. Yet, the process of ensuring examinations confidentiality has been a problematic issue especially since it has become easier to leak examinations with the widespread of internet access and social media.

Fifty percent of the curriculum is devoted to compulsory general education subjects at this level, including Arabic language and English language. Out of the 5 different standardized tests that students sit for at the end of the academic year, this paper will talk about the English test in particular and discuss some of the sections included and the different aspects of the test.

The test consists of 6 different sections; which assess language function, vocabulary and structure, reading comprehension, novel, writing and translation from Arabic to English and vice versa. The first section is a “situations” question, as in a certain situation is offered and the student needs to figure out what “should” be said or at least the most appropriate response for example; “You hear someone use a word you do not understand. The word is hydroelectric. What do you say?” or “A friend asks you about your opinion about modern novels. Express your opinion.” Obviously, students are required to know the appropriate language of inquiry or asking questions and expressing opinion. The problem here lies in the fact that students simply memorize certain patterns and use them in any situation-question, so a logical response for the opinion question would simply be “I think that modern novels are very good.” which is a meaningful grammatically correct sentence, yet students were taught to memorize the same pattern and use it in any context whatsoever. I recall an example that said “A friend thinks biscuits and cakes are healthy food. You don’t agree. What do you say?” The model answer provided the answer “I don’t agree.” The same applies to the mini-dialogue question which appears with absolutely no context and which makes the answers entail so many options which of course leave the students confused and uncertain of their answers. Undoubtedly, authenticity is questionable at this point, since there originally was no context provided at all and the situations do not even reflect real life situations, so memorization is an easy way out.

Similarly, the vocabulary section in this test raises questions about content validity; one MCQ question found in this section is as follows: "Exams are so stressful, so students fell under _______." (petition – preservation – pleasure – pressure) Obviously, this MCQ has very little context and only serves for vocabulary objectives. Offering students four options that are all nouns seems valid yet in terms of validity it makes no sense as the first two distractors seem very distant from the correct answer and the difference between the last two distractors mainly depends on pronunciation between the /l/ sound and the /r/, which I believe is only there to confuse students. I wonder what it was actually testing in this question if we consider how valid this assessment is in what it is actually intending to measure. As for grammar, one question to find the mistake and correct it caught my attention was “He was sentenced to death because of high treasure.” In fact, this question lacks content validity since it is a grammar one yet it measures the students’ ability to recognize the difference between the two nouns “treasure and treason”.

The principles of practicality and reliability are crucial when we think of Thanaweya Amma as an assessment tool. Firstly, when we discuss practicality issues, we come to realize that in the year 2010 the GSEC enrolled a total of 6,846,000 students. In the case of tests such as this one, how much money is spent on administering them yearly? What about all the resources needed? Are there enough available teachers to proctor and score these tests? It is needless to mention that it takes such a long time to score these tests and report the grades, so teachers are required to work extra hours for about two to three weeks in summer to have all the grades ready before it is time for students to apply for universities. As a result, intra-rater reliability is a major concern here especially that the test includes a writing section, “In tests of writing skills, rater reliability is particularly hard to achieve because writing proficiency involves numerous traits that are difficult to define.” (2004, Brown, p.28).

I recall one of my Thanaweya Amma tests in 2006 where I was sitting in a classroom next to an open window and there was so much noise outside, I remember how hard it was for me to concentrate. Despite the noise, we had to keep the windows open because it was June and the weather was already too hot. This was a clear case of test administration unreliability.

Looking at this kind of test from a wider perspective, after taking having to sit for it myself 12 years ago, I think about the real purpose of this test. I believe that the first and perhaps most important step in designing any test is to step back and consider the overall purpose of the test the students are about to take. The purpose of an assessment is what Bachman and Palmer (1996, pp.17-19) refer to as “test usefulness”. The purpose of this examination is basically to decide the education pathway the students will pursue. Thus, it actually is the one and only factor that shapes their whole future life both academically and professionally. Its importance lies in the fact that your grades decide what kind of university education you receive and your subsequent employment options. However, this system ultimately leads to tension and anxiety among high school students, it increases their pressure and stress and some even claim that this system leads to ambiguities and unfairness.

When we also consider consequential validity or the impact that this assessment has on test-takers on both a macro level and a micro level as according to Bachman and Palmer (p.30), we notice that the GSEC deprives students from crucial opportunities to learn and acquire productive language skills, as for the micro level we need to consider the effect of this assessment on students’ motivation bearing in mind that if a student performs poorly in just 1 of the 5 tests he/she has to take, it might probably mean missing the chance of joining your dream university.

To sum up, this test is definitely a gatekeeping test that does not qualify students for their future lives, they won't in fact need most of the skills taught to them, there's a huge gap between what is taught in high school and what university life offers them. That is also why authenticity and content validity are major issues in this case because they do not predict any future progress. It is merely an assessment of learning in a sense that they are summative in nature and are only used to rate students' ability on the results of one single test.


Brown, H. D., & Abeywickrama, P. (2010). Language assessment: Principles and classroom practices. NY: Pearson Education.

Amira has been teaching English for 7 years in her home country, Egypt. She has worked in many schools, language centers and in a private university in Alexandria, Egypt. Amira has also been awarded the Fulbright Scholarship FLTA (Foreign Language Teaching Assistant) in the academic year 2017-2018 at Western Michigan University to teach Arabic at the World Languages and Literatures department. Currently, she is pursuing her M.A. in TESOL at Western Michigan University, while working as a research assistant at the Literacy Studies and TESOL department. Additionally, Amira is a volunteer ESL teacher to teenage immigrants and refugees who live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. You can reach her at

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Adapting a Nationally Recognized Curriculum for English Language Learners

For the past few years, the TESOL program at Eastern Michigan University has been participating with the National Writing Project with funding from the NPD Grant T365Z160111,

awarded by the Office of English Language Acquisition, US Department of Education. This grant has the goal of adapting the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and College Readiness Writer’s Program (C3WP) to better meet the academic needs of English Language Learners. The C3WP is an argumentative writing program that builds over the course of an academic year or course, which supports the writing of claims and arguments that emerge and evolve through the layered reading and writing process. This article will outline one of the units from the C3WP curriculum and explore the EL-focused modifications that were made to the lessons by a team of teachers from the second cohort of the WritEL grant at EMU.

An example of specific sub-skills developed by the highly regarded C3WP curriculum is the Ranking Evidence Unit. As a writing teacher, I find that students often struggle with the concept of finding evidence that truly supports their argument. Student writing typically includes evidence, but oftentimes the argument begs for a higher quality of logical evidence. This unit focuses on improving the writer’s ability to select high quality, highly relevant evidence to support their arguments.

In adapting this unit for ELs, we kept three key concepts in mind: First, we wanted to stay true to the rigor in the C3WP curriculum and expose ELs to the skills and texts outlined by the original curriculum developers. Second, we wanted to improve ELs' access to this work by integrating many scaffolds. Finally, we wanted to increase the cultural relevance of this curriculum, given that L2 literacy scholarship shows this to be necessary. Aronson and Laughter (2016) cite studies that show when teachers spend time connecting students’ cultural experiences to academic skills and concepts, it allows the students to build on knowledge that they already have as well as invite students to participate as cultural assets in the class. Throughout this unit, students are interacting with culturally responsive texts as well as participating in critical reflection on their own experiences with homework, a topic that is very relatable and understandable for students of all backgrounds. In what follows, I'll describe the main lessons in the unit, focusing on all three of these aspects -- core writing skills as promoted by the C3WP work, the access strategies, and the CRE strategies.

Lesson Outline

Lesson One: Evaluating the quality and relevance of evidence.

  • Instructional Goal of C3WP: This lesson is meant to introduce the concept of evaluating the quality and logical relevance of given evidence. The focus is giving students a chance to practice the skill of evaluating evidence with some guidance.

  • Supports and Adaptations for ELs: A more structured discussion through an original information gap activity, an infographic, video supports for background knowledge of vocabulary, a teacher-created small group evidence sort activity, discussion prompt bookmarks, and a think-pair-share before participating in creating a class anchor chart.

  • Integration of Cultural Relevance: The adapted lesson provides a culturally relevant infographic showing homework statistics of various countries to engage students into an information-gap discussion, as well as a chance for ELs to share personal stories of their prior experiences with homework.

Lesson Two: Mining Texts.

  • Instructional Goal of C3WP: Lesson two focuses on becoming aware of the issue. The teacher guides the students through a close read of one of the articles with a mini-lesson on implied claims. Then students write their own initial claim about the issue.

  • Supports and Adaptations for ELs: Video clip with a see-think-wonder graphic organizer, a teacher-created guiding Google Slides presentation, color-coding of annotation, document camera for modeling annotation, teacher think-aloud during modeling, and cognitive strategies sentence starters.

  • Integration of Cultural Relevance: The lesson begins with a journal writing activity, which reinforces the first dimension of CRE (Aronson & Laughter, 2016, p. 168), in which teachers engage cultural knowledge, experiences, contributions, and individual perspectives of their students.

Lesson Three: Jigsaw and Evaluating Evidence.

  • Instructional Goal of C3WP: Lesson three focuses in on the language of claims, commentary, and evidence through multiple exposures to the structures of these writing moves, allowing the students to examine the conversation and learn what various voices are saying about the issue. According to the original C3WP lesson, “[This activity] exposes students to multiple sources representing a range of perspectives in a conversation around the issue as they refine and revise their arguments.”

  • Supports and Adaptations for ELs: The intention of this lesson is to be able to identify claim, commentary, and evidence within texts. Often when using sites like “NewsELA,” the text is stripped too far from the original and eliminates much of the commentary and claims that the original article provided. This lesson has suggestions for which lexile levels to use for the different articles and groupings. Additional supports include two graphic organizers, a teacher-created guiding Google Slides presentation, and a jigsaw activity utilizing the discussion bookmark from lesson one.

  • Integration of Cultural Relevance: The content of these texts are motivating for students because all students have an opinion about whether or not teachers assign too much homework. This motivation relates to the second goal of Stoller’s effective reading curricula which argues for building student motivation. “Motivated students are more engaged as active members of the classroom community” (Stoller et al, 2013, p. 4). Through choosing age-relevant texts and topics, students will be more engaged to become a part of the conversation.

Lesson Four - Extending the Conversation: Culturally Responsive Connections.

  • Instructional Goal of C3WP: This lesson is an extension lesson in the original unit. The topic of the original lesson focuses on the issue of access to technology within the overall debate about homework. The goal of the lesson is extending the conversation in order to refine and focus student claims.

  • Supports and Adaptations for ELs: Use of various visual and leveled infographics, images for building background knowledge, bar graph think-pair-share, parking lot / anchor chart, and an interview activity.

  • Integration of Cultural Relevance: It is in this lesson where the Culturally Relevant Education side of the unit truly shines. Here the aim is to empower EL students by putting them into an asset position in the activity. To do this, the teacher created an entirely new lesson that includes a more culturally relevant text set from Business Insider that explores homework around the world. Additionally, the engagement activity which uses international flags is aimed to validate every student’s culture (Aronson & Laughter, 2016, p. 165). Next, the ELs and international students are empowered to highlight their own prior experiences with homework within the interview portion of this lesson.


This group of teachers has strived to adapt the rigorous C3WP curriculum for various aspects of the challenges and opportunities that are presented when teaching English Language Learners. By focusing on the CRE framework, the previous unit plan that lacked cultural representation has been transformed into one that empowers students and encourages cross-cultural conversations. Additionally, students have several opportunities to interact with multiple culturally responsive texts throughout the unit. This unit focuses not only on the need for layered reading and writing instruction and practice, but on accessibility of all learners and integration of cultural experiences in the learning environment. It is our hope that other writing teachers who work with ELs may find these lessons and materials helpful.

Link to unit plan:

Kelsey Carbonell DeCamillis is pursuing her masters with Eastern Michigan University’s TESOL WritEL Cohort II. She has taught EFL in South Korea and Montenegro and has taught high school English in Ann Arbor, MI at Central Academy for four years. The author gratefully acknowledges funding from the NPD Grant T365Z160111, awarded by the Office of English Language Acquisition, US Department of Education and expresses gratitude to the colleagues who all collaborated on adapting the original C3WP curriculum: Sheila Boardman, Yevgeniya Pukalo, and Amie VanHorn Gabel.

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See you all in August!

Clarissa Codrington

Jessica Piggot

Co-editors, MITESOL Messages