Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
James, we’d like to welcome you as the program coordinator for the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages program. What brought you to PSU? Could you tell us about your background and professional areas of interest?
I’ve been in the TESOL field for over 20 years. I have a MA in TESOL from Columbia and a PhD in Applied Linguistics from NYU, where my dissertation examined qualitatively the factors which influence the degree of success achieved in higher education by non-native speakers of English.
Over the last two decades I have worked as a teacher trainer in the United States and in four different countries overseas. I have taught multilingual students from children through adult; worked as a public-school program consultant for linguistically diverse populations; and trained teachers to work with multilingual, multicultural students.
I was particularly excited about joining the faculty at PSU because my research interests have focused on English language teaching and learning in low-incidence educational settings. The Department of Education in Washington defines low-incidence schools as ones where less than 25 percent of the population are ELLs. Clearly this definition needs refinement. There’s a big difference between a school with 20-25 percent ELLs and one where there’s 1-5 percent, yet both are classified as low-incidence. What we have in NH, in the vast majority of cases, is actually very low-incidence schools.
As New Hampshire’s demographics change and become more diverse, how does PSU’s TESOL program train educators to meet students’ needs?
You’re right about NH’s demographics. According to the Department of Education in Washington, the number of ELLs (English language learners) in New Hampshire has increased 200 percent since 1995; during the same period the overall number of K-12 students in New Hampshire declined. In addition, ELLs are increasingly found not only in the southern portion of the state but in districts in every county of New Hampshire. ELL teaching is a critical shortage area in New Hampshire and there is a demand for trained teachers. PSU is one of only three institutions of higher education in New Hampshire which offers graduate-level training and licensure in English language teaching.
How have TESOL students incorporated the knowledge and skills gained throughout their graduate programs in the workplace? Are there any special projects that stand out as being cutting edge or creative?
Our program is very practical in focus, and we are committed to giving students hands-on experiential learning opportunities that will hold them in good stead in their own classrooms. For example, this coming year we’re beginning a new class, Advanced Topics in TESOL Methodology, which will focus on utilizing technology in the English language classroom.
The majority of the TESOL program can be completed online. How have students responded to the online course formats?
The online focus is a strength of our program and serves well the needs of our students, many of whom are working adults with accompanying family and professional obligations. The ability to complete most of the degree without having to drive to campus during a particular time period is liberating for students.
Are there any research projects or initiatives that you, or students, are currently involved with that you would like to share with the graduate community?
As I mentioned, one of my primary research interests is low-incidence English language teaching and learning. I am currently in the planning stages for a one-day conference which will examine the unique needs and challenges facing ELLs and their teachers in low-incidence, and particularly rural, settings. The conference, the first ever devoted to examining ELLs in such settings, will bring together academics, policy-makers, teachers, graduate students, and other interested parties at PSU in June 2009.
PSU, as the state’s regional comprehensive university, situated in a rural setting, and whose mission is, in part, “to meet the evolving educational needs of new Hampshire,” is ideally situated to play an important role in this conversation about English language education for non-native speakers.