MITESOL Messages

August 15th, 2017 --- Vol. 44, Issue 2

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President's Corner

Happy summer! Whether you have been working through the summer like I have or you have been taking advantage of this time to refresh yourself, I hope everyone is staying cool – literally and figuratively.

The MITESOL 2017 Conference will be held at Oakland Schools. President-Elect Suzanne Toohey has been doing an amazing job with preparations. This year’s theme is Promoting Equity and Excellence. In addition to the two-day conference, a special K-12 Pre-Conference Institute will be held 8:30am - 3:00pm on Friday, October 20th, just before the beginning of the traditional MITESOL Conference. Spread the word! This is going to be an amazing conference: great venue, speakers, sessions, entertainment, networking, etc. If you haven't come in a while, it's time to come back! I can't wait to see you all there!

Speaking of great conferences, this year’s TESOL Convention in Seattle, Washington succeeded once again in providing a valuable experience chocked full of opportunities to learn and grow as educators in the field. Add to that networking and hanging out in the publisher’s hall. I’d also like to thank everyone who attended the TESOL reception in Seattle at Elephant & Castle . It was a blast.

Have you been to the MITESOL website lately? It has undergone an overhaul – thanks to Josie and Trisha. You’ll find the first installation of our I Am MITESOL campaign, board member bios, information about scholarships, and more. I hope you’ll all check it out more than just to sign up for the conference. We know that times are tough for many in the ESL field and, as a result, many programs are reducing their workforce. We have tried to keep our membership and conference rates affordable so networking and professional development can be accessible to everyone. In addition, check out opportunities for conference grants on the MITESOL website.

In other news, Sharon Umlor and Jennifer Musser attended the TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit in Washington D.C. in June. For more information and some photographs of their experience, check out the MITESOL Advocacy and Policy Facebook page.

I can’t stress enough to get involved in the MITESOL community! Write an article for the newsletter or journal. Stay in touch via one of our Facebook pages. Volunteer to help out at the 2017 Conference. Attend the conference and network. We’re waiting for you!

Jolene Jaquays -

President, MITESOL

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2017 MITESOL Reception Review

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The MITESOL Reception at TESOL 2017 in Seattle was well attended!

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Board Notes

The MITESOL Executive Board has held two meetings (February and May) since our last issue of MITESOL Messages. Throughout this issue, you'll read about many of our board and members' behind-the-scenes work. Below are just a few highlights:

  • President Jolene Jaquays and colleagues Sara Okello and Katie Colpaert presented together at TESOL 2017 in Seattle as our Best of MITESOL winners.

  • EMU M.A. TESOL student Tiffany Johnson was awarded the Michigan Marckwardt Travel Grant to attend TESOL 2017.

  • In-coming President and Conference Chair Suzanne Toohey, also the ESL Consultant for Oakland County’s ISD, has been working very hard toward our 2017 Conference — since before the 2016 Conference! You will see how this work has paid off with a variety of new ideas and activities.

  • Ildi Porter-Szucs of EMU facilitated a partnership between MITESOL and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in Poland. We now have a new sister organization and have welcomed and supported our first Polish representative to TESOL.

  • Kay Losey and Christie Pearson at GVSU continue reviewing and editing articles for publication in our new online journal, the MITESOL Journal. Consider contributing an article or research paper!

  • Sharon Umlor (GRCC) and Jennifer Musser (EMU) attended the annual TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit in Washington D.C.

We hope you might consider adding your expertise and enthusiasm to this great group of volunteer ESL professionals sometime in the future!

Ellen Brengle -

Secretary, MITESOL

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2017 Conference Preview

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Please visit the 2017 MITESOL Conference page often for new information on the exciting plans for the conference, and don't forget to register as an attendee!

Some Highlights of the 2017 Conference

  • Keynote Speaker: Dr. Mary Schleppegrell, University of Michigan

  • Plenary Speaker: Dr. Holly Hansen-Thomas, Texas Woman’s University

  • Invited Speakers: Dr. Shereen Tabrizi & Jennifer Paul, Michigan Department of Education; Dr. Erin Knoche Laverick, University of Findlay

  • K-12 teachers can earn SCECHs by attending the conference!

  • There are travel grants available to attend the conference. Click here for details.

  • We will also have dedicated spaces for "unconference" sessions. So, bring your ideas and participate in an unconference group. For more information about an unconference session, click here.

We hope to see you at Oakland Schools in October!

Suzanne Toohey -

President-Elect, MITESOL

Joanna Bentley Schrecengost -

Exhibits Manager, MITESOL

2017 Keynote Speaker

Dr. Mary Schleppegrell is a linguist and Professor of Education at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Previously an elementary school teacher and an ESL teacher, she now studies the linguistic challenges of learning school subjects. Her current research with Chauncey Monte-Sano is supporting teachers in engaging middle school students in discipline-specific writing in social studies classrooms with English learners who need support for reading and writing at grade level. Her books include The Language of Schooling (Erlbaum, 2004), Developing Advanced Literacy in First and Second Languages (co-edited with Cecilia Colombi, Erlbaum, 2002), Reading in Secondary Content Areas (with Zhihui Fang, University of Michigan Press, 2008), and Focus on Grammar and Meaning (with Luciana de Oliveira, Oxford University Press, 2015).

Friday, October 20th: Teaching Language to Support Learning Across Subject Areas

2017 Plenary Speaker

Dr. Holly Hansen-Thomas is a Professor of ESL and Bilingual Education and has recently served as Interim Dean of the Graduate School Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX. She is a two-time Fulbright Scholar and has taught and/or worked with teachers of English Learners in Texas, New York, as well as in Costa Rica, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Norway, and Austria, among other places. Having successfully written and/or managed over 7 million dollars in federal grant funding through the National Professional Development Program through the Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition, Dr. Hansen-Thomas has engaged in teacher training for content area teachers of ELLs for nearly 10 years. However, she has been a faithful TESOL education (and member) for over 25 years. Her research interests include ESL training for mainstream secondary level teachers; ELLs’ development of academic language in mathematics and science; language awareness; and teacher identity.

Saturday, October 21st: Equitable Strategies to Promote Excellence: Using Discourse, Language Functions, and Language Awareness for Learning Content, Language, and Literacy

K-12 Invited Speaker

Dr. Shereen Tabrizi oversees the Special Populations Programs with Michigan Department of Education. She has led committees that created the MDE Parent Engagement Toolkit, the Program Evaluation Tool, the Entrance and Exit Protocol for English Learners and Handbook for Educators of ELs with Suspected Disabilities. Dr. Tabrizi works closely with her team, representatives from Intermediate School Districts, Institutions of Higher Education, and Community Based Organizations to improve coordination of services to students and narrow achievement gaps. Shereen has extensive experience in the area of curriculum instruction, bilingual/special education, program development, evaluation and assessment. In her former leadership positions, she established successful research-based practices in schools including an Arabic K-5 dual-language, a K-5 world language and a balanced assessment system. Shereen has been a teacher in elementary and secondary classrooms and college, a school and central office administrator as well as program evaluator. She has developed an Arabic K-8 curriculum, instructional units using UBD, as well as bilingual formative assessments. Dr. Tabrizi presents locally and nationally, serves st the Vice President of the National Council for State Title III Directors and the Chair of the EL Committee with the National Title I Association.

Saturday, October 21st: Equity for English Learners with Disabilities

K-12 Invited Speaker

Jennifer Paul is the Michigan Department of Education’s English Learner and Accessibility Assessment Specialist who works to improve access to the content of Michigan’s assessments through continuous advancement of accessibility options for English learners and all special populations of students. Having begun her career in education as a middle school and high school teacher in the Jackson area and working with districts across the county at the Jackson Intermediate School District, Jen took her passion for the needs of students to MDE.

During Jen’s 8 years at MDE her concern for underrepresented students and knowledge of assessment has provided her many national publication opportunities through organizations such as the Council of Chief State School Officers. She has additionally garnered external leadership opportunities across national assessment consortium such as serving as Smarter Balanced’s Assistant Director of Supports for Under-Represented Students and actively serving as a member of WIDA’s Executive Committee.

Jen holds a BA in English, Spanish, and teaching certificates from Kalamazoo College, a MA in TESOL from Eastern Michigan University, a MA in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University, and is currently completing her Ph.D. at Michigan State University.

Friday, October 20th: Access for English Learners in Statewide Assessments

Post-Secondary Invited Speaker

Erin Knoche Laverick, Ph.D., is an associate professor at The University of Findlay. At UF, she is the director of the Intensive English Language Program and an instructor in the graduate TESOL program. Her research interests focus on second language writing pedagogies and multimodal compositions.

Saturday, October 21st: Apprentice Learning and Other Strategies to Move Students into their Zones

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New Affiliation with IATEFL, Poland

In 2016, thanks to the concerted efforts of Ildi Porter-Szucs (long-standing member of MITESOL, MITESOL President-elect and Conference Chair for 2018, and Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages, Eastern Michigan University), MITESOL established a relationship with the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language, IATEFL, Poland.

Our agreement stipulates that we will support someone from IATEFL to attend TESOL every other year, and will support a MITESOL member to attend the IATEFL conference in Poland in alternate years. Sponsorships in the form of reimbursement for travel, not to exceed $1,000.00, will be granted before the travel date, and paid following the travel date. Travelers will submit at least one receipt to MITESOL in order to receive the reimbursement. IATEFL Poland will provide conference accommodations for the MITESOL member who attends their conference, which will help defray the costs for a MITESOL member who travels to Poland beyond the $1,000.00 MITESOL can offer. Of course, travelers should expect some expenses that they will have to pay for by themselves.

This past spring, MITESOL was happy to sponsor the President of IATEFL Poland, Joanna Leszkiewicz, when she attended TESOL in Seattle. Next year, we hope to sponsor a trip to Poland for a MITESOL Board Member or a MITESOL member whose IATEFL conference proposal is accepted. If you or a MITESOL member you know may be interested, check out the 2017 IATEFL conference flyer, call for papers and conference program for ideas about next year! These are included so that you may see the types of topics encouraged and the five presentation modalities available to presenters. Please check out IATEFL Poland's conference video, as well!

MITESOL and IATEFL Poland are also working toward a more interactive relationship, including not only conference announcements but also the exchange of our newsletters and other communications as a regular part of our agreement. Please watch for announcements on the MITESOL Facebook page as well as the official MITESOL website.

Feel free to contact me with any questions, including those about submissions.

Andrew S. McCullough -

Past President, MITESOL

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MITESOL Journal Call for Submissions

The MITESOL Journal: An Online Publication of MITESOL is a refereed academic journal to be published online. Its mission is to promote excellence in TESOL education and teacher development. Articles in the MITESOL Journal will focus on research studies, issues in the field of TESOL, and theoretically grounded discussions of teaching methods and pedagogy. It will also publish book/materials reviews. Articles may address any educational level or context, from kindergarten to university and from adult school and community literacy programs to workplace literacy settings.

The Editors of the MITESOL Journal:

Kay M. Losey -

Christen M. Pearson -

Dan Brown -

Our Submissions Editor:

Dawn Evans -

If you’ve never published before or wish to add a double blind, peer-reviewed journal publication to your CV, the MITESOL Journal is the perfect venue for your work. We regard all members of our readership as potential authors: preschool teachers to college professors, those new to scholarly publication as well as those who have experience publishing their work. While the MITESOL Journal is a refereed journal, it also is a mentoring journal. Editors will work with authors of accepted manuscripts until they are ready for publication. See below for general guidelines as well as specific guidelines for type of paper, along with links to sample published papers. Note that submission is open to all; authors do not need to be members of the MITESOL organization to submit a manuscript. Please click here for general submission guidelines.

We seek manuscripts for the following categories of submission. We will review them on an on-going basis (click on each type of paper to read the specific guidelines for that category):

Manuscripts based on presentations at MITESOL Conferences are encouraged.

Send submission files electronically to:

Dawn Evans -

Submissions Editor, MITESOL Journal: An Online Publication of MITESOL

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Opened in January, 2017, the South Lansing campus of the A+ English Language School provides English and citizenship classes for Lansing’s immigrant and refugee populations. The A+ School has been serving the adult population in East Lansing for over 40 years. The fledgling South Lansing branch is anchored by veteran English instructors and MITESOL members Ruelaine Stokes and Collin Blair and supported by a pool of volunteers from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Lansing, where the A+ English Language School rents classroom space. The primary goal of the A+ program is to provide an opportunity for foreign-born adult learners to achieve proficiency in English language communication skills (comprehension, reading, writing and speaking) in order to transition to higher education, obtain or improve employment, and function within their community.

Ruelaine Stokes enjoyed teaching English to refugees and immigrants at Lansing Community College for 18 years and international students at Michigan State University’s English Language Center for 14 years. With a Master of Arts in Teaching (with an emphasis on TESOL) from the School for International Training, she is well grounded in communicative and experiential teaching/learning strategies. She tried to retire in 2010 but can’t stay out of the classroom. Now, she is delighted to be teaching refugees at the new campus of the A+ English Language School in South Lansing. She is a proud MITESOL member.

Collin Blair has been an ESL/EFL instructor since 1998, working in several different countries around the globe. A native of Texas, he has worked domestically with an array of adult learners, immigrants, and refugees in various programs in Texas, California, Louisiana, and Michigan as an IEP/EAP instructor, academic director, student advisor, coordinator, and assessment rater. A frequent presenter at conferences, Collin especially loves pronunciation, writing for diverse purposes, and sociolinguistics. With a B.S. in Radio-TV-Film from the University of Texas and a M.A. TESOL from California State University Los Angeles, Collin has been a member of the dynamic MITESOL community since moving to Michigan in 2011.

Do you know an institution or educator who embodies the spirit of MITESOL? Perhaps it's a colleague, or perhaps it's you! Adult Ed, K-12, Post-secondary, all are welcome! Hashtag your related social media posts with #IamMITESOL #MITESOL #TESOL, and contact us to be featured!

Austin Kaufmann -


Josie Pickens -

Communications Coordinator, MITESOL

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Adult Education SIG

Happy August, Educators! It’s hard to believe how quickly the summer is flying by! Here are some resources, articles, and opportunities to take action to help you connect with other TESOL professionals and gear up for the fall.

Take Action!

Federal Task Force Identifies Over 150 Ed. Regulations for Review

– Comments due August 21, 2017

By Zachary VanHouten for EdPrepMatters

“The U.S. Department of Education’s Regulatory Reform Task Force has released a progress report identifying more than 150 regulations and 1,700 pieces of guidance for review, and now the public is invited to comment on the items by August 21.” Title I – Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged is up for review along with other regulations that could impact migrant students and English language learners. Please share your expertise!

National Welcoming Week

– September 15 - 24, 2017

Welcoming Week is an annual nationwide event to bring together immigrants and U.S.-born community members in a spirit of unity through service projects and other activities.”

Find out how to welcome immigrants and refugees in your community!


Know Your Rights as Refugees

Multilingual Guides on Refugee Rights in the United States by GreaterAs1

Professional Development Opportunity

Welcoming Michigan Statewide Convening

– Friday, September 15, 2017 / 8:30am to 4:00pm –

Washtenaw Community College – Ann Arbor, MI

“Welcoming Michigan is excited to host its 4th annual gathering of community members and municipal partners to learn from each other and share promising practices around immigrant integration. Mark your calendar for a dynamic day of networking with welcomers from around the state!”

News & Articles

A New Threat to DACA Could Cost States Billions of Dollars

By Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, Tom Jawetz, and Angie Bautista-Chavez for the Center for American Progress

Purging Our Immigrants at What Price to Families?

By Mitch Albom for the Detroit Free Press

On Michigan Farms and in Restaurants, Who Will Fill Jobs?

By Ted Roelofs Bridge Magazine for Crain’s Detroit Business

6 Potential Brain Benefits of Bilingual Education

By Anya Kamenetz for NPR

Immigration Helps Our Economy

By Steve Tobocman and John Austin for the Detroit News

Only U.S. Citizens Would Be Eligible for College Scholarships under House Proposals

By Kathleen Gray for the Detroit Free Press, WZZM

The Truth about Immigrants in Michigan

By Jack Lessenberry for Michigan Radio

How Trump’s Reinstated Travel Ban Will Impact West Michigan

By Mark Tower for MLive

Deporting America: Busting the Myth That Only Criminals Are Being Deported

By Danielle Emerson for the Great Lakes Beacon

English Would Be Michigan’s Official Language under House Bill

By Emily Lawler for MLive

Immigrant Advocates: ‘More Demand’ for U.S. Citizenship

By Evan Dean for Wood TV 8

If you have any suggestions or information to include in the next Adult Education SIG Update, I would love to hear from you!

Casey Thelenwood -

Adult Education SIG Leader, MITESOL

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2017 Advocacy & Policy Summit Review

On June 18-20, 2017, board members Sharon Umlor (MITESOL Advocacy & Policy SIG Leader) and Jennifer Musser (MITESOL Messages Co-editor) joined 110 other TESOL educators and members of TESOL International Association in Washington D.C. for the 2017 TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit. The program featured two days of issue briefings, breakout sessions and advocacy training, followed by a full day of visits to Congressional offices on Capitol Hill. With representatives from over 30 U.S. affiliates in attendance, the goals of the Summit were not only to learn more about federal policy issues impacting TESOL educators and English learners, but also to provide an interactive experience for participants to actively engage in advocacy on behalf of their schools, programs, students and fellow educators. By the end of the Summit, TESOL members had visited the offices of over 140 Representatives and Senators.

In preparation for the Summit, Sharon and Jennifer collaborated to organize meetings with six Michigan representatives and their staff, to research data and collect concerns of EL teachers, administrators, and community advocates from the west and east side of the state respectively, as well as to develop a packet of those data and legislative policy requests, which could be left with the representatives and their staff.

During the two days leading up to the Capitol Hill visits, advocacy training was conducted by speakers from TESOL International Association, American Federation of Teachers, Migration Policy Institute, Department of Education Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), Office of Career and Technical Adult Education (OCTAE), Migrant Legal Action Program, Department of Homeland Security, and National Skills Coalition.

On the final day of the Summit, Sharon and Jennifer held meetings with the following Michigan representatives and their staff: Senators Debbie Stabenow (D) and Gary Peters (D), Congressman Paul Mitchell (R-10th), Congressman Justin Amash (R-3rd), Congressman Tim Walberg (R-7th), and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-12th). Discussions with representatives and their staff included Sharon and Jennifer’s stories as EL educators, as well as TESOL’s policy recommendations for the 115th Congress, which mostly dealt with the FY 2018 funding levels proposed in the current administration’s federal budget. Representatives were asked to act upon the following issues affecting English learners (ELs):

PreK-12 Education & Teacher Preparation

  • Fully fund Title III of ESSA at $769 million (funding for EL instruction)

  • Fully fund Title II-A of ESSA at $649.2 million (funding for educator professional development)

  • Fully fund Title I of ESSA at $15 billion (funding for underserved students, many of whom are newcomers and ELs)

Adult Education

  • Fully fund Title II of the Workforce innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) at $642.9 million (funding for adult, family, community, and workforce literacy)

International Education and Cultural Exchange

  • Maintain FY 2017 funding levels for educational and cultural exchange programs at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State

Immigration Reform

  • Passage of the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream of Growing Our Economy (BRIDGE) Act (H.R. 496 & S. 128) – bipartisan legislation that would give Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients authorization to remain in the U.S.

To lend your voice as an EL advocate, contact your representatives in the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives to support or oppose current federal legislation that affects ELs – emails and phone calls seem to work best (see below for an email template). As educators, it is important to realize our representatives need our “educational” services too – they cannot act on the issues important to us unless they know we care!

You can track United States Congress legislation here and here to stay up-to-date on education and immigration issues.

Be sure to attend the EL Advocacy sessions at October’s MITESOL conference to learn more strategies and gain more resources on how to advocate at the local, state, and federal level. You can also join the MITESOL Advocacy and Policy Facebook Group!

Sharon Umlor -

Advocacy & Policy SIG Leader, MITESOL

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Post-Secondary SIG

Post-secondary SIG Goals

  • promote recognition of ESL as an established academic discipline
  • promote professional standards and practices
  • communicate professional development opportunities
  • promote research on pertinent issues
  • discuss issues relevant to ESL in higher education

As SIG Leader, I encourage you to contribute to this community by sharing your current research, new publications, relevant ideas, upcoming events, useful resources, and comments on issues that may be of interest to our SIG. Please send me your articles and contributions, and I will make sure they are shared. You are also encouraged to share your work through any of these upcoming events:

2017 MITESOL Post-secondary SIG Meeting

A particularly exciting event to look forward to is the 2017 MITESOL Conference. At our Post-secondary SIG meeting, we will connect with this year's conference theme by discussing issues of equity and excellence that impact post-secondary ESL and TESOL education. If you have a burning issue that you would like to discuss at the meeting, do let me know. As well, here are a few issues to think about between now and then:

1. How does the travel ban and immigration rhetoric impact our post-secondary TESOL/ESL programs? []

2. How does a teacher's socioeconomic background affect teaching and learning in ESL classes? [Glodjo, T. (2017). Deconstructing social class identity and teacher privilege in the second language classroom. TESOL Journal, 8.2, 342-366. doi:10.1002/tesj.273]

3. How equitable is the division of labor between mainstream and ESL instructor collaborations in post-secondary institutions? [Peercy, Ditter and Eestefano (2016). “We need more consistency”: Negotiating the division of labor in ESOL–mainstream teacher collaboration. TESOL Journal, 8.1, 215-239. doi: 10.1002/tesj.269]

4. Now that Beall's list of predatory publishers has been taken down, are there other watchdogs to protect students and academics who want or need to publish their research in language journals? [ &]

TESOL Higher Education Interest Section News

To see the issues that the TESOL international organization has been following recently, check out the following:

Enjoy the last days of summer and have a colorful, exciting and productive fall semester! See you at the conference in October!

Cynthia Macknish -

Post-secondary SIG Leader, MITESOL

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Community-Based Literacy: Empowering Beginning-level Adults

By Jennifer Musser & Patricia Ribeiro

As the main project for one of our TESOL Methods & Materials courses at Eastern Michigan University, we were partnered with a community-based literacy class in Ann Arbor and tasked with creating a unit for beginner level ESL adult learners. The class was comprised of seventeen learners, aged 20 and up, who spoke a wide variety of L1s – Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic, Ukrainian, Farsi, to name a few – and came from a variety of socioeconomic classes and educational backgrounds. In fact, we had been informed that at least two learners were illiterate in their L1 and a few others had had their education interrupted. We knew the learners’ attendance would fluctuate throughout the lessons, and indeed it varied from thirteen in one lesson to two in another. To account for this, we designed our unit so that each lesson could stand alone in terms of the grammar and specific topics being taught while all lessons worked toward promoting literacy. Although the community organizer for the class suggested that we concentrate on sight words, we determined that it would benefit such low level learners if we expanded our lessons into a more comprehensive literacy unit. As such, we opted to help them develop decoding skills as they worked toward building their vocabulary of sight words.

Based on our analysis of the learners’ needs and interests, we decided to focus our teaching on grocery shopping. The four specific tasks we covered were based on the CASAS Competencies for adult learners in the community: identifying grocery store sections and where products are located, recognizing key words and comparing price tags, filling out an application form for a shopper’s card, and completing a personal narrative about shopping habits. From the first lesson to the last, we recycled the same key vocabulary terms ​– grocery shopping, produce, deli, bakery, butcher, dairy, and aisle​ – using them in a variety of activities for the learners. These included a flyswatter sight word game, memory games, a grocery store map information gap, price tag scanning, a shopper’s card application form, and a personal shopping narrative booklet. Without a doubt, the visual support provided by our materials was the key feature of our unit. In recognizing the importance of visuals, we created lessons full of realia with real products and shopper’s card application forms, color posters with grocery store sections and price tags, and a unit video of a shopping trip that addressed each of the target language topics in the unit.

While no textbook was used in the teaching of this unit, there was one text material that we used as both an inspiration and a guide. Developed by Bow Valley College (2010), Lien Goes Shopping served as an excellent source of contextualized vocabulary terms as well as an effective tool for reading practice. Stoller, Anderson, Grabe and Komiyama (2013) assert that “students become better readers by reading a lot and reading often” (p. 3). This simple but provocative idea inspired us to incorporate a special reading segment into each lesson. This segment usually came at the beginning of the lesson and lasted only ten minutes, providing the learners with a stable routine for reading while leaving plenty of time for contextualized activities that integrate other skills. The key feature of this reading segment was that the learners read the same story, ​Lien Goes Shopping​, every time. This relates to Stoller, Anderson, Grabe and Komiyama’s (2013) concept of setting the learner up for success. By rereading the same text, the learners gained a greater sense of confidence each time. This also helped their fluency, and in fact one lesson’s reading segment specifically had the learners engaging in repeated oral reading for the entire allotted time. Additionally, we presented the learners with a variety of comprehension and vocabulary building strategies by asking them to make predictions about the text, respond to the text through self-directed questions about its content, and use the words from the text in later activities.

We also felt it was important for this group of students to address the ​building blocks of literacy​, which are the underlying processes required for learners to decode and read with fluency. In one of the lessons, for instance, the focus was placed on bottom-up techniques such as word analysis, phonics, phonemic awareness, and alphabet principles awareness. Through word tiles and other spelling activities, the students practiced decoding ​– silently translating written words into sounds and those sounds into meaning. According to Vinogradov (2001), literacy includes making the connection between oral and written language. It is a process of “learning sound-symbol relationships in order to sound out words when reading and writing, as well as attaching meaning to printed language” (p.29). We considered the fact that for learners to be able to read and spell the vocabulary words, they must have an understanding of how spoken language maps onto written language. In fact, this was another of the many reasons why emphasis was placed on the regular reading of ​Lien Goes Shopping​.

One of the most important goals of our unit, outside of its linguistic objectives, was the promotion of learner autonomy. With adult learners of low English proficiency, it is important to give them a sense of empowerment with their English usage in everyday life. Our unit’s focus ​– grocery shopping ​– was an area that we felt the learners could achieve some sense of autonomy in with only four lessons. To further this goal, we also made an effort to include reading strategies such as scanning and using pictures for context, which the learners could continue using outside of the classroom. As well, the majority of the unit’s target language vocabulary and grammatical structures were simple but useful, and we recycled these across lessons to facilitate the learners’ acquisition. Considering that teaching this class and developing this unit was a course requirement for our M.A. TESOL program, it ended up being a deeply meaningful experience for both of us. It ignited our interest in being a part of community-based teaching programs and working to empower ESL adults to be active in their communities.

Jennifer Musser and Patricia Ribeiro are M.A. TESOL candidates at Eastern Michigan University. Both have a history of teaching overseas and hope to work in Michigan community-based programs in the future. They can be reached at and
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ESL for Refugees: Expanding My Role as an Instructor

By Courtney Slucter

Three years ago, I started teaching ESL at a community-based, non-profit social service agency that resettles refugees. This includes employment assistance, housing assistance, and of course ESL classes. For three years, I’ve immersed myself in community-based ESL, applying what I learned in graduate school and adopting new strategies and teaching methods that best serve my students. This year, I have realized the importance of expanding my role as an ESL instructor and taking a more insightful look at the journey that my ESL students – particularly pre-literate, non-literate and semi-literate refugees – embark on in America. Specifically, I am interested in understanding where their journey begins as a member of a new community and how providing a solid foundation at the beginning of their journey creates an advantage as they navigate a new life, language and culture.

My students come from a wide range of backgrounds. I have met refugees from all over the world, and from all education levels and all occupations – including doctors, taxi drivers, mechanics, butchers, cooks, and university students. All ESL students begin their journey in a different place. Those with some English often enter college to continue their education shortly after they arrive in America. Others quickly find employment and begin learning English on the job. For the college students and the employed, they have a structured, supportive environment to begin their transition. Refugees with minimal literacy, however, begin their journey as an ESL student before having the opportunity to enter college or find employment, and they have unique classroom needs.

As a community-based ESL instructor, I recognize my role as both a teacher as well as a bridge that connects my students to their new community. Not only is it my job to teach language skills, it is also my job to recognize the importance of a strong foundation and the role that teaching confidence-building strategies may play in building that foundation. This year, I have been working hard to incorporate new strategies into my classroom to help build confidence in my students. The first focuses on building strong community connections. The second is about incorporating mini-lessons into the classroom to ensure students experience daily success, especially for those that can’t spend an abundance of time practicing their English skills in a classroom setting.

The first strategy focuses on helping my students make community connections. Building personal connections with my students has always come easily. It’s not only imperative as a teacher, it’s incredibly interesting to learn about the cultures of each student. From food to dance and music to religious customs, we spend class time learning about each other and establishing connections with each other. Providing an opportunity for students to share their background creates a comfortable teaching and learning environment. Beyond my individual connections with each student and their own classroom connections, introducing students to the broader community in a supportive environment helps build their confidence. They can understand that they are an important member of their new community and that they are supported. Specifically, we invite police officers to come into to the classroom and chat with the students. We encourage students to ask questions, with the help of a translator, and to interact with the police officers. Interacting with police officers has been very positive in making students feel safe and welcome in their community. Additionally, we tour the public libraries as a group, where students are introduced to all the resources that they have access to in the library. We go shopping, we take walks, we visit parks and museums. Recently, we successfully arranged for more than 40 students to attend a Detroit Tigers game as a group. As students become more at ease with their community, their growing confidence allows them to feel more at ease learning English. This also gives students the opportunity to practice their English in real world situations, similar to an on-the-job or college learning environment.

The second strategy is utilizing mini-lessons. Our classes are structured into a two-hour morning class and a two-hour afternoon class. New refugees are inundated with appointments, including health screenings, enrolling their children in school, meeting with caseworkers, and any other appointment that may assist with the resettlement process. Because of the number of appointments, they cannot always attend the full two-hour session. To address these learning interruptions, I have created mini-lessons. Each mini-lesson is about 30 minutes. Shorter lessons allow the students to complete a lesson and learn a language skill to feel successful, but they also allow the students who are able to attend the full class period to continue to the next module. A specific example of this is a shopping lesson. For the entire two hours, I focus on shopping using a single shopping ad, but I divide the lesson into four 30-minute chunks, with four objectives. For example, the first thirty minutes is reviewing the food vocabulary in the ad. The second thirty minutes may be practicing asking simple questions about food. The third could be asking how much each item costs, and the fourth may be creating a short dialogue using the food in the ad. Even the smallest language achievement allows the students to feel accomplished and helps build the confidence they need to successfully start their new life.

For a lot of refugees, their English journey begins at a community-based ESL program. I’ve realized this is an opportunity to be aware of the enhanced role ESL teachers can play, beyond teaching English, in advancing a student’s life. These strategies have helped my students become engaged ESL students and engaged community members. By building their confidence and becoming comfortable with me, with their peers, and with themselves as students, they are beginning their journey with a firm foundation. They are speaking outside of class and utilizing community resources with confidence. They are building their vocabulary, speaking and listening skills as well as their knowledge of what exists for them in their new community. As they become more comfortably independent, their language skills grow rapidly and they become autonomous learners. Each student’s journey begins with a very different background and set of skills; however, in the community-based ESL classroom, we can help the journey become more clearly defined as a new beginning, with a structured foundation, confidence, and a clear path ahead.

Courtney Slucter teaches ESL to adults in southeast Michigan. She can be reached at

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Neuroplasticity and Learning: Making a Connection for Equity and Excellence

By Brian Pickerd

Learning more about anything has always enlightened my understanding of learning and teaching in general. In fact, I have more recently had the pleasure and need of expanding my learning in the very specific area of neuroplasticity.

My tour into the brain has come as the result of a life situation, the illness of a dear family member. This illness challenged my very limited understanding of the human mind and body. You see, this person’s illness was a systemic one, and gaining a better point of reference for the challenges she was encountering – and therefore being able to help – demanded more knowledge. I wanted to understand more about different aspects of the illness and how it could affect a person’s thinking process, how one remembers, learns, and experiences emotions resulting from deep pain over a long period of time. So as a result, I was presented with a challenge and an opportunity to learn something in a new way.

Over the following months and years, I found myself searching online articles, digging through university libraries, and quizzing anyone who knew more than I did about the workings of the brain. Not only has this search benefitted my comprehension of what my loved one experiences on a daily basis, but it has trickled through to yet another deeper level of understanding as a teacher. And so I would like to share a little bit about what I've experienced, how it has challenged me to grow, and encourage you to continue your learning beyond your specific teaching discipline.

Teaching language for over two decades can trick a person into assuming a level of confidence and certainty in the daily task of creating and teaching. This time in service comes with certain challenges. The long-term practice solidifies our sense of knowledge, our grasp of certain ideas, and understanding of theories in our minds. We develop an understanding of people, of learning, and of teaching. Sometimes we even see ourselves as experts. The greatest of these challenges, I believe, is found in the last proposition, seeing ourselves as experts, for it is easily accompanied by a temptation to stagnate—to assume that we have arrived at our knowledge and to just teach the way we always have… well, because it works.

Experience has continually humbled me to the understanding that being a strong teacher absolutely implies being a strong learner, a lifelong learner… one that acknowledges the inevitable intersection and cross-referencing of one subject with another. An example lies in the story above. If I am willing to respond to a life challenge with intense learning, it should therefore follow that I would also be willing to respond to the need for ongoing growth in my teaching. Teaching languages to learners of varying age groups, experiences, backgrounds, and motivation levels has made me grateful for the developmental psychology chapters in my teacher training books. But, as I continue to learn, there is much more.

What if I step beyond the basics of developmental psychology and loop into how individual parts of the brain work and develop over the course of a lifetime? What if I understand more about the importance of not only practicing the new information that I am learning and teaching, but precisely how I practice it and why? Which parts of the brain am I exercising in the process, and how does the use of each part of the brain increase the likelihood of a student’s learning moving from recognition, to imprinting, to permanence? What if I can take that knowledge to another level and use it to inform how and why I design and contextualize learning for myself and my students—to optimize everyone’s learning? To what extent can I involve my learners in this process by teaching students about the plasticity of their brains and how the teaching is aimed at helping them learn better? What if I understand the challenges of learning germane to varying learner needs and use that understanding to develop better learning opportunities for all? Why does it matter?

Reading about the various parts of the brain, the interweaving of their functions and the implications for teaching and learning has fascinated me. It has provided wonderful material for learning and application. Furthermore, it has freed me to understand more about my students.

Each group, small or large, holds a certain chemistry that I need to explore and balance. If I have OCD or ADD learners, and I see them more clearly by understanding something more about activity levels in the limbic system, I can build in better learning options for them. If I have students who experience test-taking anxiety and I grasp the the effects on the pre-frontal cortex, I can offer appropriate methods of evaluation and preparation to help the learners show what they really know. If I have a student who displays heavy introvert signs, and I hold insight into difference in the neurotransmitters in the brains of introverts and extroverts, I can think differently about how to encourage this person. If a particular student (younger or older) shows signs of agitation and challenging behavior, but I understand how the endocrine system interacts with the nervous system, then I can create space for that student to find balance and help avoid a situation that appears behavioral but isn’t. But doesn’t this seem like a large load of work?

For the sake of our learners’ growth, not to mention our own growth as teachers, broader and deeper learning offers much. It grants us deeper insight and understanding into student needs and how we can tend to them. It frees us to expand our perspective of the individuals with whom we work. It brings us to a newer level of investment and excitement in our calling as teachers. Finally, given all of the above, it places us in position to make better connections, to establish equity in our teaching and encourage learners to a higher level of excellence.

Brian Pickerd is a professor or TESOL and German at Cornerstone University, as well as a high school teacher of German and French in Rockford, MI. He can be reached at

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Melanie Rabine-Johnson -

Clarissa Codrington -

Jennifer Musser -

Co-editors, MITESOL Messages