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COABE National Conference

April 21-24th, 2015


Gaining Perspective in the Mile High City

COABE is the professional organization, Commission on Adult Basic Education, whose


mission is to advance and promote adult education opportunities nationally and abroad. Members
of COABE come from a variety of teaching backgrounds including: adult basic education, adult
secondary education, ESOL, family literacy, workforce development, etc. This conference was
the national one for 2015, which lasted four days. I attended the last day due to my work and
school commitments. The following is a summary of the workshops and sessions that I found
helpful in my teaching of English.
The first session of interest was CCRS and ESL from the instructors perspective. This
session dealt with College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS) in adult ESL classrooms.
The speakers presented seven instructional strategies that focus on planning instruction for
navigating complex texts, acquiring academic vocabulary, citing textual evidence, and building
knowledge from informational texts. The presenters highlighted Text Dependent Questions
(TDQ) as being a significant method for assisting English learners in reading for textual details.
TDQs include general understanding, key details, vocabulary, text structures, authors purpose,
inferences, opinions, and arguments. These topics progress from part to whole or individual
words to across texts. This session is useful in knowing how to evaluate reading questions to
ensure text dependence is applied. It also helps ESL instructors to identify appropriate skills
needed for comprehensive reading tasks based on the CCR standards. This presentation provides
a helpful guide for ESL instructors in developing text dependent questions that push learners to

read and comprehend more complex texts, which in turn, inspires more critical thinking and
high-level thinking skills.
Another session I found very practical was Teaching vocabulary: Practical, researchbased approaches to instruction. The presenter of this session highlighted the importance of
teaching effective vocabulary to adult ESL learners. She emphasized research-based vocabulary
teaching methods which should be used in the classroom. Much of the presentation revolved
around Nations (2008) approaches to vocabulary teaching strategies, including a quiz Nation
developed about vocabulary teaching and learning. The quiz asks questions like, How many
word families does an average adult native English speaker know? The quiz provides an eyeopening self-awareness tool for teachers of English. The presenter also addressed many factors
of vocabulary, such as lexical bundles, fixed phrases, idioms, phrasal verbs, polysemy,
connotation, spelling/pronunciation, part of speech, frequency, usage, and collocations. She also
reminded us that our approach to teaching should be affected by learners goals. Vocabulary
should be taught based on the learners needs, level, and frequency of usage. She outlines three
tiers of vocabulary: Tier 1 basic everyday conversational (baby, drive, happy), Tier 2 general
academic words (approach, benefit, required), and Tier 3 context specific (cell, judicial,
exponent). The also organized vocabulary by brick and mortar words, brick words being content
specific, and mortar words being function words that hold the bricks together. Examples of
mortar words include: connectors (because, then, but, sometimes, however), prepositions, basic
verbs (live, eat, use), and pronouns. I had never heard of this terminology before, but I may use it
now, as it makes sense. The presenter also recommends building on word families (accurate
inaccurate accuracy) and drawing attention to cognates as appropriate. Also, making Learners
Dictionaries available in the classroom is a great support to ESL learners. Other tips and

strategies mentioned include: breaking down long words into syllables, tapping out syllables,
emphasizing stressed syllables, providing visual representation if possible, providing two easy to
understand examples, recycling words often, create word walls, and providing oral and written
practice. It is helpful to provide sentence frames for students to use while they are learning new
vocabulary. These should have a word, meaning, example, and sentence graphic organizer. This
session was very practical in providing specific strategies and tips for teaching vocabulary to
English language learners. I look forward to utilizing the strategies in my classes.
A final session I attended dealt with the brain and how humans learn. The session, Using
our brains: Brain-based approaches to teaching, introduced current research findings about
memory and learning, which instructors can use in engaging adult learners. The presenter
recommended hands-on classroom techniques and engaging practices to support learners in
retention of knowledge. She firsts compared two aspects of memory: storage and retrieval. In
storage, the brain must connect new material to known knowledge. In regard to teaching,
instructors should begin the lesson by asking students what they already know about the topic.
Next, they should ask why are we learning this? Finally, they should ask when and where the
students will use this knowledge outside of the classroom. Research shows that students who
were pretested on specific items remembered the items 33% more than those who were not. This
informs instructors that it is important to ask learners about a concept at the beginning of the
lesson. Another interesting item mentioned is that humans are designed to have multimodal or
whole-brain experiences which incorporate all senses and all parts of the brain. Research shows
that different parts of the brain fire up during different language skills (listening, speaking,
writing, and reading). The presenter advises instructors to engage all types of learners by using
texts, graphics, auditory, aural, and kinesthetic methods during lessons. A great way to make sure

teachers include this in their lessons is by creating a checklist. For example, did students: look at
pictures/charts/graphs, read, listen and speak, write, move, work individually, work in groups?
Research shows that visual learners are a dominant group, and that by providing visuals along
with sound creates a 65% greater chance of students memorizing the concept. Research also
reveals that writing is more effective than typing in aiding memory, and reading aloud leads to
stronger memory than reading silently. For the retrieval aspect of memory, forgetting is useful in
remaking pathways of memory. Each time an item is forgotten, a new path is rewritten to help
you remember it better the next time. This is why it is important for instructors to bring back
previous items taught in former lessons. These sets deeper pathways in the minds of the student.
Other tips for retrieval include: testing two units back, mini-quizzes the day after or three days
after, word of the day/week/month, asking students to create questions at the end of the lesson
and then review them at the end of the week. Quick learning leads to quick forgetting. We learn
better with contrasts, new things, and novelty. This session was extremely enlightening and
proposed research-based methods on helping students retain their learning. I am excited to learn
about the brain and how to improve our memory. The more I can do as an ESL instructor to
support memory storage and retrieval in my students, the better their chances are of success in
using English.