USIA English Language Programs

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Report on Academic Specialist Visit to Israel and Gaza:
July 7-23, 1999

By Myrtis Mixon, University of San Francisco


About the Specialist

Myrtis Mixon is a lecturer at the University of San Francisco in the Intensive English Program. She has been at USF since 1992. Prior to moving to the west coast, she taught in the ESL program at New York University. After growing up in the bayou country of Louisiana, Ms. Mixon attended Trinity College in Washington D.C., and received her BA degree in history at the University of Southwestern Louisiana. She received her MA in English at Wichita State University, and later did doctoral work in English Language Acquisition at the State University of New York, Stonybrook. Currently she is writing her dissertation for her doctorate in the International and Multicultural Education Program at USF. Her dissertation concerns Cajun folktales and cultural identity.

Ms. Mixon has lived and taught in Albania, Russia, Germany and Scotland. From 1995-97, she was an EFL teacher training fellow for the USIA in Albania. She also presented at seminars in Poland, Romania, Indonesia, Greece, Russia, England, France, and Jordan. Ms. Mixon has authored five textbooks, three containing short historical fiction about significant events in American history, one of Albanian folktales and one composition/reader that is being used in Albania and Poland.


 

Areas of Specialization

Reading and writing; critical thinking; folklore and education; peace education or anti-bias education; content-based instruction using history stories or folktales; cooperative learning; multiple intelligences; assessment; ESP: for business and academic purposes; using multimedia including video, film, and CALL; teacher supervision and evaluation; pronunciation and oral skills; teaching presentation styles.

 

Trip Report

My assignment was three-part.

1) The Islamic University in Gaza. I was the only speaker for the first two days of a five day seminar for 100 English language teachers, both elementary and high school. I had been asked to give eight hours of instruction about computer assisted language learning, with the use of an LCD set in a large auditorium.

My perceptions:

  • The English language professors from Gaza who were in charge of the conference are teaching at a high level of the TEFL profession. Their methodology and the focus of their presentations were up-to-date and sounded fascinating.
  • The Gaza teachers need to have hands-on computer sessions before they can fully benefit from sessions on computer assisted language learning. About a fourth of the teachers have access to computers, and some of the others fear they won't have access for years, one saying 2006, one saying 2020. Given this situation, I gave an awareness presentation so that the teachers learned what is possible for them in the future, even though it isn't happening for them immediately. For those who have access to computers already, I gave them information about using CALL. Jan Miller, the regional English language officer, had sent 100 copies of Mark Warschauer's Teaching with E-mail. Mary Jane Bushnaq, the Gaza Program Officer in Tel Aviv, planned to do a follow-up. It is important that the teachers personally learn to use computers, at the university, if not in their own schools.
  • Another perception was that the teachers wanted ideas for new types of lessons, knowledge about assessment, and new methodology materials. I had brought these along, and our second day was spent linking these to the CALL information from the first day.
  • One big "win" from these CALL presentations was that many teachers became excited about computers, and the professor in charge of the computer labs at the university offered the teachers access to his labs to learn to use them.
  • My assessment instrument at the end of the two days indicate that the group increased their understanding of CALL manifold, and they enjoyed the group work the most.

2) The English Teachers' Association of Israel summer conference. I gave a 90-minute presentation on critical thinking and folklore to 85 teachers.

My perceptions:

  • The language fluency of the English teachers in Israel is unusual because a high percentage of them are native English speakers.
  • Their interest in both areas, critical thinking and folklore, was extremely high.
  • The assessment instrument I used indicated that the teachers wanted more lessons on folklore, and more explanatory information on the application of critical thinking skills to English language acquisition. They enjoyed the folklore material immensely.
  • The editors of the ETAI Forum, their teacher's periodical, asked that I write an article for them about my presentation; this article will reach all the English teachers in Israel.

3) A resident 5-day seminar at the School for Senior Educators in Jerusalem. Three of us presented and attended the eight-hour days.

My Perceptions:

  • Although the three presenters had never met before, we worked unbelievably well together. For four days the three of us met and co-created the seminars. According to the assessments we received, we succeeded in our goals to give the teachers ways to promote a civil and democratic society through a content/methodology mix. Many of our lessons were about pluralism and the promotion of tolerance.
  • The folklife/folktales classroom material I presented for the teachers to use to foster respect for other groups and peoples was welcomed and appreciated.
  • Critical thinking, a relatively new emphasis in language learning is of great interest to the teachers. I shared ways to increase critical thinking through reading/writing lessons.
  • My reading/writing material (stories with exercises) that highlights events in American history were effective, and they were keen to apply some of these ideas to their own history.
  • Most of these teachers are already connected to all aspects of CALL and don't need any more help in this respect. (Although one teacher from the west bank area expressed a need for help in this subject, and at least two others expressed on the assessment sheet that they had an interest in knowing more about CALL.)
  • One development that I assisted was the creation of a listserv with all the teachers and the three of us, the resource people, will also participate on the listserv. That way we will be able to continue the dialogue that we started in Jerusalem, and remain resources for the teachers. It is also a way that the teachers can continue and enrich their own relationships with each other. I am in contact by email with the teacher who will moderate the list.
  • The Barnga simulation game that I facilitated one evening gave the teachers invaluable cultural insights.

 

 

Suggested Bibliography

Mixon, M. 1999. Stories from American history. Chicago: National Textbook Company.

Mixon, M. 1996. Americana: Easy reader. Studio City, CA: JAG Publications.

Simon, E. 1990. Student worlds student words. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Warschauer, M. 1997. E-Mail for English teaching. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Publications.

 

 

Recommended Links

http://www.criticalthinking.org
The Foundation for Critical Thinking

Folklore web addresses:

http://www.challenge.state.la.us/k12act/data/acad/acad.html
The Acadians of Louisiana -- Good lesson plans

http://www.si.edu/organiza/offices/folklife/bordersandidentity/
Smithsonian Folklife online lesson plan (mentions nicknames) -- be sure to look up the main Smithsonian site at http://www.si.edu as well.

http://www.carts.org/keepsakes
Online Journal of Immigrant Stories -- includes many childhood memory stories. Students can read the simple stories and respond in the guest book.

http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/fieldwk.html
The Library of Congress' American Folklife Center publication Folklife and Fieldwork -- great site. Also take a look at the main Folklife Center site, located at http://lcweb.loc.gov/folklife/archive.html

 


 

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