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Featured ESL Professional: John Fanselow
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Featured ESL Professional: Steve Walters
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Achievement Profile: John Fanselow
An Eye for the Details of ESOL Teaching

Professor John Fanselow is the president of International Pacific College, in Palmerston North, New Zealand. For much of his career, he has been closely associated with Teachers College, Columbia University, where he served as Chair of the TESOL department and developed TC's M.A. in TESOL program in Japan. Dr. Fanselow served as president of TESOL in 1981-82. ESL MiniConference Online is grateful for the time he devoted to the following interview.

Some John Fanselow links:

International Pacific College (New Zealand)
Contrasting Conversations: Activities for Exploring Our Beliefs and Teaching Practices , Longman (1992)
Talking shop: John Fanselow and Chris Candlin on the first TESOL-IATEFL Summer Institute, ELT Journal, Oxford University Press (1988)
"Let's See": Contrasting Conversations about Teaching (1988)
Breaking rules - Generating and exploring alternatives in language teaching, Longman (1987)
I Didn't Do Well in High School English (1983)
What Kind of a Flower is That?--An Alternative Model for Discussing Lessons (1982)
Bilingual, ESOL and Foreign Language Teacher Preparation: Models, Practices, Issues (1977)
The Treatment of Error in Oral Work (1977)
On Tesol '76, co-edited with Ruth H. Crymes (1976)
Breaking the Rules of the Classroom Game Through Self Analysis (1976)
The Responses of Ninth Grade Spanish-English Bilingual Students to Four Short Stories (1974)
Read and Look Up (1972)

An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with John Fanselow:

John Fanselow

What is your main ESL activity now? What are your principal projects, and what is on the back burner?

My principal projects in ESL now are reprinting a book of dialogs with Japanese teachers about language teaching for Chinese English teachers. The project involves some rewriting to use examples from classrooms in China rather than in Japan, changing the names of the teachers who participate in the dialogs from Japanese names to Chinese names.

I hope to produce a CD of the dialogs which will be attached to the book jacket so that teachers can use the book for personal language development as well as for personal professional development.

The name of the book is "Try the Opposite," and was originally published only in Japanese by a Japanese publisher called SIMUL International. It has been reprinted in English and Japanese by the 450 student body college in NZ that I am now president of.

Another project is to write up an article on differences between working with teachers in an MA course and working with the teaching staff of a college. I am responsible for professional development at the college I am president of. There are many differences between working with teachers in an MA course and those on the job.

How did you start your ESL career? Who influenced your decision? What were some important formative experiences in the early stages of your development?

I started my ESOL career as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria. A person from the British Council in Nigeria used to visit schools to provide advice to teachers. This person, John Rogers, introduced me to all the methods books out at the time, with a concentration on the British books by people like Michael West, F.G. French, A.S. Hornby, F.G. Billows.

I was at a teacher training college in Nigeria and part of my duties in addtion to teaching ESOL to the teachers was to supervise them during their practice teaching experiences in local primary schools. I knew nothing of the curriculum and so spent a great deal of time observing teachers in detail. Each primary class had two streams. I would take notes during my observations of the teachers teaching the same subject in each stream in the morning. In the afternoon, I would share my observations. Each teacher did something slightly different and I would suggest to the other teacher that he try the different technique. In this way, each teacher expanded the range of behaviors and techniques used.

I subsequently was invited to train Peace Corps Volunteers at Teachers College, Columbia University. Again, my focus was on observing and sharing differences. In a way, that has been what I have been doing ever since.

What are the four or five language/culture backgrounds with which you are most familiar as a teacher? Which ones are you familiar with from the perspective of a language learner yourself? What insights have you gained in how to meet the needs of English learners from these cultures and language backgrounds?

Re being familiar with different language or cultural backgrounds I have been observing teachers in detail in New York City schools and in Tokyo schools for a quarter of a century. I also have observed classes over a five year period in Africa, particularly Nigeria, Somalia, Togo and Senegal. Time at Summer Institutes in Barcelona has provided some exposure to ESOL classes in Barcelona as well. And for the past few years, I have been observing classes in Palmerston North, New Zealand at various levels, but mostly at the college level.

I have gained few insights about differences re cultural groups except to say that the way students are treated obviously affects how they act. Changing the treatments no matter what the backgrounds can have profound changes on the way students act. Generalizations about cultural differences to me lead to a lot of prescriptions about what we should and should not do. In a way, such prescriptions have an outcome different from their intention. Their intention is probably to be sure we deal effectively with students from different backgrounds. In effect, they probably limit what we do with different students and so deal less effectively with a range of students.

If you had to give three pieces of advice to a new ESL teacher, what would they be?

Three pieces of advice to new ESOL teachers would be 1. believe nothing you read about what you should and should not do in your teaching; 2. believe nothing you read or hear about what your students can and cannot do; 3. audio and video tape interactions in your classes and observe and analyze the interactions from as many perspectives as you can, over and over again, making changes in the interactions and observing the different consequences. (This is kind of three and one-half pieces of advice rather than three.)

What do you see as the most important issues facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?

The most important issues facing ESL/EFL or ESOL teachers today have to do with the separation of actual teaching exchanges from the labels we use to discuss teaching. The gaps between the meanings of labels such as real life language, practice, brainstorming, role-playing, etc. and what communications actually take place in the classes is profound. The idea that we can discuss what we do by using labels and without looking in detail at what in fact we do is the greatest issue in the entire teaching profession, not just in ESOL.

Interviewed by Robb Scott

2002 ESL MiniConference Online

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