Rennert’s Presentations at TESOL 2014



Well, we just got back from TESOL 2014 in Portland, Oregon recharged and with bad colds all around! It was worth it, though :).

I wanted to write a very quick post synthesizing the 4 presentations that James and I were involved in. Please comment below or email me at to receive any of the materials from the following sessions that we gave! If you gave a presentation or have something you would like to share about the conference, feel free to share that with me in the comments or by email as well!

Here are our sessions:

Using Brainshark to Create Student Generated Projects (Autumn Westphal)

Incorporating new technology into the classroom can be overwhelming. Therefore, instead of creating unfamiliar activities with technology, teachers can use technology to enhance the tried and true activities they already. allows teachers to approach classic projects like story-telling or student-generated presentations in new and interesting ways. The presenter will explain the basics of using through a visual presentation. Then, a variety of new takes on classic project ideas will be presented, focusing on writing a short story, forming student-created information presentations and analyzing pronunciation through self-generated feedback. At the end of this teaching tip, teachers will feel confident about how to use this website to add a fun new take on traditional teaching ideas.

Developing Teachers’ Reflective Skills Through Classroom Observations (Autumn Westphal, James Stakenburg, and Noga La’or)

Teacher observations often focus on evaluating and/ or improving teachers’ performance.  However, observations are used much less frequently as a means of developing teachers’ reflective skills.  

The presenters provide a practical chart that they have used to facilitate objective, evidence-based reflection.  The chart guides teachers and observers to notice the students’ behavior and to make connections to the teacher’s actions.  Since teachers’ beliefs about teaching have a strong impact on their effectiveness, the chart also guides the teachers to form beliefs about teaching based on their observations.  The reflection chart can be used by observers to guide post-observation feedback, or by teachers to independently reflect on their lessons.  The presenters have used this successfully in both pre-service training courses and in-service teachers’ professional development observations.

 5 Core Ideas to Build Professional Development Programs (Autumn Westphal, James Stakenburg, and Noga La’or)

Providing meaningful professional development opportunities to teachers is a key component of not only maintaining up-to-date curricula in terms of the latest teaching techniques and methodologies, but also of keeping teacher-motivation high. However, program administrators often find it difficult to ensure that these training opportunities are not only effective, but also that teachers feel motivated to participate in them.

 A combination of formal professional development and teachers’ collaboration through workshops and observations can motivate teachers to make purposeful changes. This can be approached from 3 different angles: administrator driven, teacher driven and individual driven professional development. The presenters will share 5 tried-and-true ideas currently in practice at their school that Program Directors can implement to encourage and foster an environment of growth and teacher education. These 5 ideas are:

1. Involving teachers before and after supervisor’s observations to develop self-reflection and buy-in

2. Promoting opportunities for guided peer observation and feedback as well as practical considerations for implementing a mandatory peer observation program

3. Hosting idea sharing meetings for teachers

4. Creating an ongoing workshop program driven by teachers’ needs and requests as well as current ELT best Practices. These workshops can be conducted by program administrators, guest speakers and the teachers themselves.  

5. Setting up an online presence for teachers to share and search for ideas.

Exploring Language: Creating Corpus-Based Classroom Materials (James Stakenburg and Marcella Caprario)

A discovery-based approach to teaching has a number of potential benefits, including greater memorability of rules that learners have “discovered” on their own, active student engagement, development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills and increased motivation. 

While some instructors have begun using corpora as an effective classroom tool to encourage their students to explore natural language usage and “discover” patterns, many classes do not have easy access to computer labs.  Additionally, searching the corpus leaves less time and cognitive energy for working with language. As a practical alternative, the presenters share ways that they have effectively used a corpus of natural language to create materials that can be used in any classroom, offering learners a unique opportunity to explore authentic language in order to discover lexical and grammatical features of English without needing to directly access the corpus themselves.  



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