Communities of Practice: Connections and Collaborations in the EAL Context

Presented at the 31st NTC hosted by IGA in Guatemala City, Guatemala
November 6th, 2012


I was very excited to be speaking about community and communities of practice as tools for professional development and teacher empowerment in Guatemala. In some ways, I attribute Guatemala to my life journey of wonder and exploration. I came to Guatemala in 1996 to study Spanish in the quaint town of Antigua. I lived with a remarkable family for a month. I spent most of my time between classes at the plaza in the center of town, chatting with the little girls who were selling purses and other handicrafts. The children always made me feel comfortable. They gave me confidence with my emerging Spanish skills.  Years later, anytime anyone asks where I learned Spanish, I tell them – it all started in Antigua, Guatemala and continued from there. Since then – I’ve traveled to study, surf and climb mountains in several Spanish speaking countries.


When I looked into the audience at the conference I saw a community. A community that I belong to and from which I find strength in shared knowledge and experiences. For me, belonging to a community is a way of life – the only way I want to know. I truly believe that everything is better or becomes better when shared – food, wine, books, music, and travel. Even grief, when shared, becomes more bearable within a community.

So, what is community? Continue reading


TED Talks in the EFL Classroom

It was such an honor and pleasure to present at the Instituto Guatemalteco Americano’s 31st National Conference for Teachers of English. I hope this is the start of an annual tradition for me! In my concurrent session, I presented on how to incorporate TED Talks in the English as an Additional Language (EAL) classroom. Here is a briefover view of the talk.

Here is the e-handout for the presentation. Continue reading

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (Part 6)

I don’t consider myself to be ‘one lacking voice’ by any means, but sometimes I can’t seem to find it. The ideas will be swirling around somewhere – in my mind or my heart or coming to life in my emotions, but without voice they just swirl, which makes things a bit muddy. Recently, I’ve been finding my voice in the words of others – and it makes me happy! Continue reading

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (Part 5)

Welcome back from the dark side! That’s what I’ll say when I greet instructors and faculty members who – at some point – fell down the slippery slope of hardcore assessment only to one glorious day question their practices and the mismatch between their assessments and learning objectives – leading them to reflect, read, question and then return to the brighter side of the assessment paradigm. Continue reading

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (part 4)

This past week Utah Valley University (UVU) in Orem, UT hosted the 4th Annual Conference on the Scholarship of Teaching and Engagement (SoTE) in Higher Education. I had the pleasure of presenting on my experiment with sharing the power in the class. My talk was entitled ‘Sharing the Power: A Community of Learners from Day One’. Interestingly, the director of the UVU Faculty Center along with a student also presented on Sharing the Power in the classroom. Our two sessions, offered back to back, provided a great platform for discussing the opportunities and challenges present in sharing the power.

I shared with the audience some recent feedback I received from my students during an informal midterm qualitative feedback session. I asked them to reflect on the following and give me some input: Continue reading

(Em)Power in the Clasroom Series (Part 3)

In this series, (Em)Power in the Classroom, we have so far considered what it might look like to share the power with students in the design of courses. In Part 1, I discussed how we worked together as a class – operating more as a learning community – to develop our class culture, our policies, our assignments, etc. I relinquished quite a bit of control in this process rather than adhering to a well-structured syllabus ‘dictating’ how the course will unfold. In Part 2, I presented our process for developing a grading system in the course – the result being a fairly fluid system that focuses more on successfully completing assignments to satisfy various criteria as measured by a simple qualitative likert scale, rather than striving for numbers and percentages equated with letter grades and based on unclear standards. Continue reading

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (Part 2)

Re-posted from my blog series for the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at the University of Utah.
“While meeting everyone’s needs sounds compassionate and student-centered, it is pedagogically unsound and psychologically demoralizing.” (Brookfield, 1995, p. 21).
Thank goodness!! From classes for undergraduate and graduate students to workshops for faculty, I have, from time to time, had the feeling that I didn’t meet everyone’s needs – as if it were possible; yet, I would still feel bad about it. That, I suppose, is in part  because my top strength (of 34 possible) as identified by a Strengths Finder test is Empathy! Oh boy. According to Brookfield (1995), being a critically reflective teacher is at the core of accepting that it’s just not possible to meet everyone’s needs – it is simply an assumption that we might carry around with us, but it is an assumption that we should shrug off – right along with our Atlas Complex.

(Em)Power in the Classroom Series (Part 1)

This is the latest blog entry that I wrote for the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at the University of Utah.

What would it look like if we arrived to class on Day One with merely a hint of a syllabus? Well, the folks in CTLE might jump all over us! Wait, I am the ‘folks’ in CTLE and yet, I arrived to my CTLE 6000 course with a hint of a syllabus this semester. Let’s call it a ‘pedagogical experiment’ inspired by one of the core texts for the course: Learner-Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer (2002). The basic premise is that students take more responsibility for their learning and become self-regulated when they are actually given some control over their learning… what a concept! Continue reading