Briercrest TESOL students receive rare opportunity

Posted: March 3, 2014

Three Briercrest TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) students have been given the rare opportunity to speak on a controversial topic in Regina.

Levi Fraser, Meghan Carr and Tyla Fehr will be speaking on moral dimensions within the TESOL classroom at this year’s Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) Canada Conference.

“For undergraduate students to get their presentation accepted at this major national conference is quite an achievement on their part,” Bradley Baurain, assistant professor of applied linguistics and English at Briercrest, explained.

“We’ve had people present at the Saskatchewan TESL conference before, but we haven’t had students present at the national level before, so they are to be congratulated and it is kind of exciting for the TESOL program and for Briercrest. It is the professional TESL event of the year in Canada for sure.”

Baurain explained what makes the students’ acceptance even more exciting is that they are bringing their faith into an environment that often isn’t very accepting of faith-based beliefs.

“They are representing the program well and they are raising meaningful, moral issues that sometimes in the field of TESOL people are reluctant to talk about in my experience.”

The conference, which will be held May 8 to 10 in Regina, brings TESL educators from all over the country together.

“I have never been, but usually there are about 1,000 people, I am told, that come and this year the keynote speakers are Suresh Canagarajah, Sara Cushing Weigle and Margaret Early,” he said.

Briercrest professors Baurain and David Catterick will also be presenting.

“David and I are also presenting, and we are excited, but we are more excited about the students,” he explained.

The students’ 90minute-panel presentation will be an adaptation of a classroom assignment they completed.

“Our topic is really intriguing because these conferences don’t usually focus on the ethical side of things,” Fraser explained.

“My topic is on dialogical journals. So how to use a journal within a class where the student will write back and forth with the teacher and looking at appropriate styles of marking. Basically we are digging into their brains, so is it even appropriate to have them put down their feelings as course work, or is that too much to ask of the students?”

Fehr’s contribution to the panel will be a presentation looking at the causes of, and preventative strategies for classroom favouritism.

“Is favouritism actually a relative issue that teachers need to think about, and if so how do they learn how to treat students equally and fairly in the classroom intentionally and make their students feel equally valuable? For my specific aspect of the presentation I am really hoping to simply raise teacher’s own awareness of some of the things they are doing in the classroom that might be contributing unknowingly to favouritism,” she explained.

Fehr explained her topic came from some of her own experiences during her teaching internship.

“I experienced that a lot during my teaching internship. I realized afterwards that without even realizing it at the time, I had a tendency to include certain students a lot more than others in the classroom discussions. It was not something I did on purpose, but something that was unconscious and I think it is really important for teachers to be aware of conscious and unconscious decisions they are making in the classroom and evaluate them for what they are,” she explained.

“When these underlying issues are awakened, the teachers can then make sound judgment calls in the classroom and be more aware of what they are doing. They can be aware of the fact that they might be making these subconscious decisions to speak to some students more than others and they might actually be hindering language learning in the process.”

Carr’s contribution to the panel will focus on the use of narratives in the classroom and how to engage morality and spirituality within these narratives.

“There’s a huge issue with student-teacher relationships where the teacher has power. So, when you bring your faith into the classroom, or bring even issues of morality and spirituality into the classroom, there is a danger of forcing those views on the students, especially for a Christian (who has) a very distinct worldview in these areas,” she explained.

“So my proposed solution is to actually engage the moral and spiritual faculties of their minds through narratives in order to still be integral in how we teach and not force our views on students.”

The trio said they are honoured to be chosen to represent both Briercrest and Briercrest’s TESOL program.

“It’s kind of crazy to recognize that as we are graduating from our program we actually have something valuable to contribute to the field of TESOL and I think that the biggest ‘wow’ feeling for me was when the proposal was actually accepted,” Fehr said.

“It was like, ‘wow, we had people review this and accept it as something that would be valuable to our field,’ and coming from three undergraduates students that is just really unique, especially because it was such an obscure and rare topic.”

 Fraser agreed and said he hopes their presentation will encourage others.

“For me, my project just started like an exploratory project where I was actually very curious about the future and how I would use journals in the classroom,” he explained.

“So what I hope, just specifically for the part I am speaking on, is that the people who come to this conference will be able to get a better idea of some of the things they should be thinking about before they even start using journals.”

While the three graduating students worked hard on their projects, they give a lot of credit to their teachers and the excellent education they have received while attending Briercrest.

“Anything good that comes out of our presentation is a result of the excellent discipleship and training we received from our professors. So our presentations are all just going to be a product of that,” Fehr explained, to which Carr agreed.

“I think it comes down to Bradley and David who are our professors and them encouraging us and pushing us to the point of being very ambitious. I give all the credit to them,” Carr said.

“They were both insistent that us speaking would be a valuable thing, that people would want to come to this type of thing.”

United in their goal of representing Briercrest well, the trio is excited to be able to share their faith in a context that can often be prejudice against faith related ideas.  

“I think the interconnectedness of language and spirituality is not a really common topic in the field and I hope that we can bring that issue per se to greater awareness so that Christians in TESOL can know that they can bring their faith with them in their work,” Carr explained.  

“Morals in TESOL is a huge debate, looking at what the ethical paradigms are, so it could be interesting to hear some of the comments and questions that are raised and what people have to say,” Fehr adde