Meet Eddie Landsberg, an innovative global educator who has redefined the boundaries of teaching and learning. With a profound understanding of learners from diverse backgrounds and a passion for outside-the-box thinking, Eddie has left an indelible mark on the field of education. Over the course of his career, he has worked with students representing hundreds of nationalities and language groups, fostering a deep appreciation for the rich tapestry of global perspectives. Eddie's commitment to innovation and inclusive education has made him a trailblazer in the world of learning, inspiring students to reach their full potential. Today, we dive into Eddie's unique insights and experiences, exploring his transformative approach to education.
Interviewer: Can you share your educational background and experience relevant to ESL instruction?
Eddie Landsberg: I hold my Ed.M (Masters in Education) with a specialty in Adult and Continuing Education as well as a second MA in Liberal Studies, a writing and research-oriented degree both from Rutgers University. In addition to specific ESL training from Arizona State University, I am also a licensed Career School Instructor in the State of NYC and am also a certified Best 2.0 exam by the Center for Applied Literacy. I guess all in all I have about 30 years of teaching experience both in the US and Japan teaching ESL, EFL as well as adult basic literacy.
Interviewer: That's an impressive and comprehensive educational background. Your qualifications clearly demonstrate a strong foundation in adult education and ESL training. With your extensive education and certifications, how do you apply your knowledge and skills in a classroom setting, particularly in addressing the diverse needs of adult ESL learners?
Eddie Landsberg: That's an interesting question... There's a general belief that almost anyone who can speak a language can teach it. Believe it or not, in some ways, I agree with this with the exception of one problem. While teaching may be easy, assessment is an entirely different back. The issue isn't always how to teach something, but what to teach, and furthermore, how to set the parameters in regard to recognizing what skills need to be developed and how progress is assessed. "Coding," which often involves extracting data from aural interviews is one skill that requires quite a bit of training -- then there's evaluation on top of that. Then, on top of that are the issues of approaches to learning. Grammar and Vocabulary for sure are two important skills, as are Speaking and Listening, but it can often go much deeper than that. Syntactical Issues, which involve students carrying over language behaviors from one language to another can be an issue just as much as "pragmatics," a lack of elements of language learning that are deeply embedded in cultural assumptions. This is a huge problem for students from certain cultures, Japan for example, where there's a lot of beneath the surface and unlike the impression given in typical dialogues, a lot is going on behind the scenes and beneath the surface. While conversation in Japanese can be like a graceful dance, think of English as a competitive sport that requires a lot of acting in the moment. All in all, the tool kit and decision making process required to address thee issues can be enormous. It's not something just anyone can do, so I'd hope my combination of skills, training and thousands of hours in the classroom would definitely be an asset to my students.
Interviewer: Your response highlights the crucial distinction between being able to speak a language and having the skills to effectively teach it, especially in assessing and addressing the specific needs of language learners. The complexity of this task, encompassing everything from coding and evaluation to understanding syntactical issues and cultural pragmatics, is evident in your approach. Building on this, could you share how you tailor your teaching methods to accommodate different learning styles and levels of proficiency among your students? How do you ensure that your teaching is effective for students with varying linguistic backgrounds and learning objectives?
Eddie Landsberg: This is also one of the tougher parts about teaching, and it is the reason why assessment is so important. You can have a handful of students who, technically speaking, are all at the same level, yet have very different needs. Some, for example, need to learn new vocabulary, grammar, and structures, while others know a lot, but have clumsy assumptions about how language is used. In particular, they may be used to school book English or Wasei-Eigo, two forms of English that are only real in Japan. These students, technically speaking, know a lot. Unfortunately, they need lots of corrections, and need to learn that what they're saying or expecting to hear isn't real English, and the reason they can't understand or communicate with native speakers is because they're expecting them to talk like licensed school teachers in Japan, not native English speakers in the US, Britain, or any global learning environment. Of course, on top of this comes individual learning styles and preferences. This is actually a key principle of adult learning. It's called andragogy and not all teachers fully understand it.
Interviewer: Your approach to teaching ESL, focusing on individualized assessment and addressing unique learning needs, is insightful. It's particularly interesting how you address the challenge of students who may be technically proficient but have developed language skills based on localized or textbook versions of English, such as Wasei-Eigo in Japan. This distinction between real-world language use and formal, academic language learning is a crucial aspect of effective language instruction. Given your emphasis on andragogy and the recognition of diverse learning styles and preferences, could you elaborate on specific strategies or techniques you use to engage adult learners? How do you adapt your teaching to ensure it resonates with adults who might have different motivations and life experiences compared to younger language learners?
Eddie Landsberg: The key concept of andragogy is that adult learners are already bringing a lot to the table. That means, your job as a language instructor is to build on it. While some can be negative, for example, some of the assumptions about language that I previously mentioned, other experiences are positive. For example, an English teacher's job isn't to lecture a mid-level manager from a top company on Business Management philosophy, it is to enable what hinders that student from explaining what he or she already knows about Business Management and can't discuss in English, even when it boils down to something as basement as not being able to construct very basic Subject/Verb/Object sentences. I've actually taught students who are studying in pretty advanced texts who can barely do this.
Interviewer: Absolutely, your perspective on andragogy emphasizes the importance of recognizing and leveraging the existing knowledge and experiences of adult learners. This approach not only respects their background but also focuses on bridging the gap between their current capabilities and where they need to be in terms of language proficiency. I'd be very interested to hear about a demonstration or a specific example of how you apply these principles in a practical classroom setting. Could you provide an example or a scenario where you helped an adult learner overcome a specific language barrier, especially in a professional context like business management? This would offer great insight into your teaching methods and the effectiveness of your approach.
Eddie Landsberg: First, let's say I ask the student what their job is and they can't answer. A less experienced teacher might be prone to lecture on how to construct a sentence like, "You are a manager at Toshiba." The teacher might even begin by lecturing on the key grammar points of the sentence. This is really silly because if the students' language skills were good enough to understand a lecture on grammar, they clearly wouldn't be having problems saying something as simple as, "I'm a manager at Toshiba."
Interviewer: So wait, is this an "anti-grammar" approach?
Eddie Landsberg: No! Grammar is part of the basics. You can't speak a language about it, but lecturing on grammar vs. training on grammar are totally different things. This is something that's very skill based that less experienced teachers may not be so good at doing.
Interviewer: Yes, I understand the scenario you're describing. It seems like in this case, the teacher is focusing more on explaining the grammatical structure rather than facilitating the student's ability to express their own experiences and knowledge. This approach might not be as effective for adult learners who need practical language skills for their professional life. Could you elaborate on how you would handle this situation differently?
Eddie Landsberg: OK, let's role play this. Present you're the student and you can't answer my question, "What's your job?" What will a typical student do?
Interviewer: As the student in this role-play scenario, if I'm unable to answer your question about my job, I might respond with hesitation or uncertainty. For example, I could say something like, "Uh... my job... I work at a company..." or I might simply say, "I don't know how to say in English."
Eddie Landsberg: So -- let me point out that odds are if the student can't say something as simple as, "I'm a manager at Toshiba," they're probably not ready for a lecture on grammar in English. On the other hand, you could explain it in Japanese, but that's probably part of the reason they can't speak English.
Interviewer: That's a very insightful point about the limitations of grammar-focused lectures, especially for students who are not yet proficient in English. I'm curious, how would you respond to a student who says, "I don't understand" in this context?
Eddie Landsberg: I smile and say, "I am an English Teacher. What's your job?" This is a very basic language teaching approach called modeling. Unfortunately, less experienced language teachers who lack the basics in modeling, and its sister method eliciting don't know how to do this, so they'll usually go into lecture mode.
Interviewer: Is anything wrong with lecturing?
Well as the saying goes, "To every time and thing there's a season," but in general, the problem with lecturing is that it often involves blabbing over the students' head, gives very little time for practice and mastery. Typically, the inexperienced teacher will say, "You understand?" and the student says, "Yeah..." and that's it. The teacher moves on.
Interviewer: But how do you proceed if the student is still struggling to construct their answer?
Eddie Landsberg: I would first ask is "Are you a manager?"... If they can't respond to that there are two things we need to assess. Does the student understand a form as simple as "Are you a..." and second, do they know the word manager. These are two separate things...
Interviewer: That's a practical approach. By simplifying the question to "Are you a manager?" you're focusing on understanding and responding to a key term, which is essential for the student. It's a step-by-step process that helps build their confidence and comprehension. If they understand and respond correctly, you're not only confirming their comprehension of the term but also gradually guiding them to construct the full sentence about their job. If they don't understand the term 'manager', how would you help them grasp its meaning?
Eddie Landsberg: Now, we've established a very important point. Manager is actually fairly complicated vocabulary, but since it is a part of who the student is, I don't see looking it up as a problem, so I would use it as an opportunity to DICTATE the spelling of manager and have them enter it into GOOGLE TRANSLATE. This gives them a chance to practice their listening and learn a new word. They enter it, and will typically go, "ahhhhhhhhh... naruhodo...." so I repeat the question. "Are you a manager…"
Interviewer: Using Google Translate as a tool in this scenario is a clever way to bridge the language gap while also enhancing the student's listening skills and vocabulary. By dictating the spelling of "manager," you're incorporating a practical, interactive element into the learning process. This approach not only helps the student understand the term but also engages them actively in their own learning. After they've looked up the word and have that moment of realization ("ahhh... naruhodo"), repeating the question "Are you a manager?" gives them the opportunity to apply their new understanding immediately. This method seems effective in reinforcing learning through practical application. How do you build on this once the student understands and responds to the question?
Eddie Landsberg: So, now I say, "I am a teacher. Are you a manager?" -- Hopefully, the student responds, "Yes, I am ..." if not, then actually we have even simpler things to learn, for example, "I am..., which most Japanese should understand, vs. I am a statements, which may require more complex vocabulary. Whatever the point, after that I can say, "I am a teacher. What is your job?" gesturing to the student.
Interviewer: This method of repeating and gradually expanding the sentence structure is an effective way to scaffold learning. By first establishing the basic "I am..." structure and then introducing "I am a [profession]" with gestures and repetition, you're reinforcing the learning in a way that is both manageable and practical for the student. When you gesture and ask, "What is your job?" after modeling the sentence structure, you're inviting the student to apply what they've just learned in a personal context. This not only helps in solidifying their understanding but also makes the learning process more relevant and engaging for them. If the student is able to respond appropriately, how do you further build on this success in the lesson? And if the student still struggles, what would be your next step in guiding them?
Eddie Landsberg: Hopefully, we can practice this self-introduction exchange a bit. We could identify occupational vocabulary that the student already knows and work on what's his or her job... most likely, if the student is a typical Japanese professional, they already understand the grammatical construct, it's just a matter of practicing it. After that, I can say, "I'm an English teacher from the US." gesturing "And you?" This would eventually lead to "Are you a Manager?" and "Are you from Toshiba," then "Are you a manager from Toshiba?" I would then reintroduce myself with the more complicated form. This activity might lead to a visual activity in which there are occupation cards with company logos and the student has to practice making introductions. The key point here is that the less experienced instructor will have likely skipped this seemingly simply activity by merely asking, "Understand?" to which the student will almost always answer. "Unnn..." which in essence means absolutely nothing.
Interviewer: Your approach is highly interactive and progressively builds upon the student's existing knowledge. By practicing self-introduction and gradually introducing new elements like occupation and company affiliation, you're effectively enhancing the student's ability to communicate in a real-world context. The use of gestures and visual aids, like occupation cards with company logos, further aids in comprehension and retention. This method seems particularly effective for adult learners, as it directly applies to their professional lives and personal experiences. It allows them to practice and internalize language structures that are immediately relevant and useful. Considering this method's emphasis on practical application and gradual progression, how do you assess the student's progress and determine when they are ready to move on to more complex language structures or topics?
Eddie Landsberg: As you've seen, I've already "down assessed" -- I tried to find basic information inhibiting the students' ability to answer the basic questions I already answered. That said, there are plenty of ways we can progress, aside from having a basic understanding of levels and what students need to be able to do relative to various levels. One step forward might be identifying occupational tasks and working on a question about what the person actually does for their job. For example, "I'm an English teacher from Nantoka Inc. I teach English to adults." Believe it or not my ultimate goal will be to try to get them to eventually construct their entire world(!)
Interviewer: Your method of "down assessing" to identify foundational gaps in the student's knowledge is a crucial part of tailoring the learning experience to their specific needs. This approach ensures that the teaching is relevant and appropriately challenging for the student. Expanding the conversation to include occupational tasks, as you suggested, is a great way to advance the lesson. By focusing on what the person does in their job, you're encouraging them to use English in a context that is directly relevant to their daily life. This not only helps in building practical language skills but also in making the learning process more engaging and meaningful for the student. In this context, how do you approach the introduction of new vocabulary or more complex grammatical structures? Do you have specific strategies for ensuring that these new elements are integrated smoothly into the lessons, considering the student's current level and learning pace?
Eddie Landsberg: With MAN TO MAN it's fairly easy. You should have a general idea where the student is headed and have those lessons prepared in advance. Thanks to AI, it is now possible to prepare lessons on the spot when gaps arise. And thanks to computers in general, it is very easy to pull up resources as required. Generally speaking, this comes from years of experience, because as a new teacher, the idea of planning an entire lesson with almost no prep time would be a formidable task. With experience, you get used to it, especially because lessons don't always go according to the way you were planning to teach them... This is also why database management is such an important skill. Unfortunately, most teachers are told about doing paperwork, but are never trained how to take proper case notes.
Interviewer: Speaking of AI, how do you see technology enhancing ESL teaching and learning? Do you integrate any specific technological tools or platforms regularly in your lessons, and how do they contribute to the effectiveness of your teaching?
Eddie Landsberg: Yes. There are amazing things you can do. As an example, many teachers teach from a textbook called Market Leader - It's pretty good, but it's a generic textbook and may not necessarily apply to the exact student's needs. I can actually scan the book, then tell AI about the student, and ask if it could rewrite the text based upon the actual students' jobs, and I can even make sure it includes specific vocabulary that the student struggles with in the context of their job. For example, prior to the activity I can ask the student to bring material from their company and have them highlight then enter specific profession-related words into the lesson. It can translate the word list instantly then integrate the new English words into the story. Suddenly, the vocabulary test is based on words that the student actually needs to learn.
Interviewer: Building on this idea of personalization, how do you handle differences in learning styles among your students? Do you have strategies or techniques for adapting your teaching methods to suit visual learners, auditory learners, or kinesthetic learners, especially when using technology and AI in your lessons?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, this is where "conversational" styles of teaching come in. Free conversation should never be used to kill time. It's really to assess the natural communication style of the client as well as give them chances to practice what they need to master. Lessons should be based on the learning and communication style of the students, not one-size-fits-all language learning approaches. You might compare it to a brain surgeon who gets a patient with a broken leg or cavity and insists on performing brain surgery on the leg since to that doctor, everything is a brain surgery. Different approaches are warranted for different situations. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, English teachers tend to be generalists and should be capable of addressing a wide array of problems.
Interviewer: Given your focus on adaptability and personalized learning, how do you continuously update or improve your teaching methods? Do you engage in any ongoing professional development or collaboration with other educators to stay abreast of the latest techniques and findings in ESL teaching? Additionally, how do you measure the success of your teaching methods, both in terms of student satisfaction and actual improvement in their language skills?
Eddie Landsberg: This is really the difference between studying with a more experienced teacher and simply spending time in a room chatting with a native language speaker because they're a native language speaker. As I mentioned earlier, in theory, just about anyone can teach, the key issue is assessment. You have to identify the specific needs of the students. Those needs have to be matched with both student learning styles, as well as specific goals. As an example, as a result of the Ekaiwa "movement", many teachers became too used to teaching hobby learners who simply didn't expect to make progress. Likewise, a huge mistake many teachers make is having students prepare for presentations by letting them write out scripts and having colleagues with better, but pretty poor and laughable language skills translate the script. The salaryman then comes to the teacher and effectively asks the teacher to help him pronounce his way through the script. This is a terrible idea, especially because it ends up getting read awkwardly in a monotone and the presenter is likely going to put the audience to sleep. Likely, AI can be used to analyze the key points of the presentation, then based on an outline the presentation can be rescripted with language that is infinitely simpler, yet more accurate and to the point. Contrary to "dumbing down" the presentation, it actually makes the presentation more enjoyable for the audience. Consider the effectiveness of TED lecturers and the casual presentation style that they use, and note that a Japanese businessman or researcher is going to be unlikely to give a lecture in English to an all Japanese audience. It's likely going to be a foreign audience that expects the right mix of expertise as well as listenability.
Interviewer: Your insights into the nuances of teaching and the importance of assessment and goal alignment in ESL instruction are very valuable. It's clear that your approach is centered not just on language proficiency, but also on effective communication, particularly in professional contexts. Given this focus on practical and effective language use, especially in professional settings, how do you approach the teaching of cultural nuances and idiomatic expressions that are often pivotal in fluent and natural communication? Additionally, in what ways do you incorporate feedback from your students to continually refine and improve your teaching methods?
Eddie Landsberg: There's nothing students love more than memorizing idioms and phrasal verbs. To be honest, I think it's important to be careful. Nothing is worse than hearing an idiom or phrasal verb when it's either forced or used incorrectly. Simple often works best, but as things are mastered on a simple level, they can be built to higher levels. For example, sure... you can say, "It is raining heavily," outside, just don't teach the student "It is raining cats and dogs..." until the student can say it is raining heavily, otherwise the student is going to fumble on the idiom and it's going to turn him or her into the butt of the joke, rather than conveying the idea. Likewise, "Wow, it's raining hard!" along with countless other wow! statements might suffice just as well. In terms of getting feedback this actually ties into my "customer service" approach. Students are customers... and as a teacher, you have to realize you're a service provider. That's why it's important to get direct and indirect feedback. One approach that I used as a head teacher at a school in Yurakucho was to have both the student and the teacher rate the LESSONS based on the simple question of "How do you think today's lesson went?" – 5 would be great. 3 would mean the lesson was OK... not fantastic, but no problems, and 2 or 1 would indicate a serious problem. If both the student and teacher selected 2 or 1, I'd know I needed to talk to the student as well as the teacher to find out what's going on. If the student chose 1 while the teacher chose 5, that could be just as serious a problem. It would mean that the teacher wasn't necessarily in touch with the student's actual response to the lesson. Likewise, if the student were to choose 5 on a regular basis and the teacher chose one, it could indicate a potential problem down the line, for example, it might suggest that the teacher didn't like the student and there was some tension under the surface, so I had to monitor it. As for 3's, that's good, but over time we need to think about how to take those lessons from good to great... and that would require communication on both sides as well. In the end, it is always important to gauge the energy of the lesson. This is where a wide array of tools can work, among them "reflective writing" assignments. For example, let's say you suspect that the students are OK with the lessons, but something is missing. Rather than saying, "How do you like my lessons?" you might give them a homework assignment to write about a book, even a movie or TV show they recently watched and tell them at first to write it in their own language. You can then use Chat GPT or GOOGLE TRANSLATE to translate it to English, consider their actual language learning needs, and use material that fascinates them to help them master less exciting language skills that may be imperative to their progress.
Interviewer: Your balanced approach to teaching idioms and phrasal verbs, emphasizing the importance of context and correct usage, is quite prudent. It's clear that you prioritize effective and natural communication over mere memorization of phrases. Your perspective on students as customers and the importance of feedback in shaping the educational experience is also very insightful.
The method of rating lessons by both student and teacher is an excellent way to ensure that the teaching is aligned with the student's needs and perceptions. It also seems to provide valuable insights into the dynamics of the teacher-student relationship and the overall effectiveness of the lessons.
You mentioned using reflective writing assignments as a tool for understanding students' interests and language needs. This seems like a great way to personalize learning. Could you elaborate on how you integrate these personal interests and passions of your students into your lesson plans? How do you ensure that these interests are effectively woven into language learning objectives to maintain student engagement while still focusing on key language skills?
Eddie Landsberg: Well, this is the amazing thing about language learning. You can pretty much integrate almost any topic or category into a language point. The key point is that it is appropriately done. An extreme example of this was from the days of free conversation lessons where you might have a salaryman who could barely speak English being blabbed at by a foreigner, both using dictionaries and Wasai Eigo to get by, yet the student not being as responsive as the teacher would like, so the teacher would leave a comment like, "The student needs to put more energy and effort into expressing himself." I'd see these comments and think... no, the student needs to learn to speak English. If the student lacks very basic grammar and vocabulary, asking him or her, "So, what's your opinion on the G8 summit?" is ridiculous. That said, you could do a lesson where people react using language that describes emotions. That would be the language point of the lesson. Focusing on "What do you think about...?" questions... the teacher could ask the student to write the answer to the question in Japanese, then pull out some useful vocab or structures to illustrate points more appropriate to the language level of the student, in which case the student would feel that the lesson focused on a more advanced topic, when really, he or she was able to engage by exploring language and forms appropriate to his or her level.
Interviewer: That's a very strategic approach to language learning, where the content serves as a vehicle for teaching language skills
appropriate to the student's level. Your method of starting with the student's response in their native language and then identifying useful vocabulary and structures is a great way to ensure that lessons are both engaging and at the right level for the student.
Considering this approach, how do you balance the need to challenge students and push them out of their comfort zones with the need to ensure that they are not overwhelmed or discouraged?
Eddie Landsberg: This is another skill that falls into the domain of training and experience. As you suggest, there's a difference between challenging and overwhelming a student. For example, even if the topic is going to be something very advanced, you don't start out with just any random thought-provoking question on the topic—especially if it is vague, or has absolutely no tie-in to a specified language skill. On the other hand, let's say you're looking for a topic. You could actually put a newspaper in the student's language on the table and ask them to highlight headlines that interest them. Next, ask them to write down ONE WORD which describes the topic of the article. (This presumes that they know basic news topics.) You can actually continue to develop the lesson by identifying the topics of each of the articles on the front page and modeling a simple conversation like, "What's this story about..." "Oh, it's a story about..." Eventually, you might divide the topics into likes and dislikes... from there you can get more and more complex, honing in on the interests of the student in a way that the student can actively participate.
Interviewer: Your experience and adaptability as an instructor are evident in your approach to man-to-man (one-on-one) teaching. Being able to dynamically adjust lessons based on the student's needs and progress, sometimes even on the spot, is a skill that undoubtedly comes from years of teaching experience. The use of technology, such as AI and digital resources, further enhances your ability to provide timely, relevant, and effective instruction.