A Conversation with Janet Goodwin
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- Cultural exchange in the classroom Foreign TAs learn the ins and outs of U.S. life while teaching students lessons from back home.
Daily Bruin Article published November 28, 2006
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In Janet Goodwin's classroom, small talk can be just as important as correct grammar. A lecturer in the Department of Applied Linguistics and TESL since 1986, Goodwin uses video clips of conversational language to instruct international teaching assistants in the oral skills they'll need for teaching - and for chatting.
"The tricky thing with real language is that it's messy, and it doesn't fit all the pretty categories and rules…that make you comfortable when you've learned them," she says. "But at the point where you're willing to let go of that and risk a little, and bring real language into the classroom…I think it's much better preparation for what students will need outside the class."
It was respect for international students and the skills they need to navigate life inside and outside the classroom that led Goodwin to her career in teaching English as a second language. "I've done a little traveling, but I've really just loved international students," Goodwin says. Impressed by a German exchange student's English skills in high school, Goodwin pursued an undergraduate degree in International Studies and German Language and Literature at Indiana University in Pennsylvania. After spending time in Europe as an au pair and English conversation teacher, Goodwin earned her MA in Teaching English as a Second Language at UCLA. She went on to receive a Luckman Distinguished Teaching Award in 1992 and a nomination for a Copenhaver Award for Innovation in Teaching with Technology in 2006.
Having used theater as a learning tool in the past, Goodwin turned to VHS tapes of the sitcom Seinfeld and later her own videos to expose students to what she calls "real live language." To learn American intonation and gestures, Goodwin's students still study a clip from Seinfeld. She prepares international teaching assistants for teaching and chatting with their own students by showing them self-made clips of conversations with undergrads. "I want them to ace something, to blow a test, to pull an all-nighter - there are lots of different expressions that students might use that are kind of culturally related," she says.
For Goodwin, teaching with technology has been the most effective way to help students grasp the messy parts of language. "You can't teach oral skills and not use technology. At least I don't think you should be doing it if you don't have some way to capture speech, and you don't have a way for students to listen to things more than once. It can't all be live. I feel like I have to do this," she says.
Published: Monday, March 31, 2008