From English learners to English teachers

An initiative from Penn’s Graduate School for Education provides an opportunity for TESOL students to practice their teaching with language learners across the University and around the world.

The Practical English for Daily Living (PEDAL) program at Penn’s Graduate School of Education offers free English classes to adult language learners of all levels taught by students in GSE’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) master’s program.

Begun in 2012 by senior lecturer and associate director of TESOL Santoi Wagner, the program was initially designed to offer language instruction to international friends and family of Penn staff, students, and faculty, but via a partnership with the Free Library of Philadelphia, it expanded to offer classes to any adult language learners in the city in 2014. During the pandemic, the program went online, and ever since it has offered its free classes to anyone with a laptop or smartphone, anywhere around the world. (In-person classes are still taught in the Penn GSE building for locals.)

A person at a projector screen teaching English.
Image: HKB Photo for Penn GSE

“PEDAL was started with two missions,” says Hannah Brenneman, who is not only the current PEDAL program coordinator but was also one of the early TESOL students who taught in the program. “One is to help current GSE students practice real-world teaching with real learners. But … also to offer dependents of Penn community members a place to find a community of friends while they are in the U.S. and to practice their English.”

“Our goal for PEDAL teachers is that they’re able to analyze and develop the critical-thinking skills about the decisions that they’re making in their teaching,” says Brenneman. “They haven’t been asked to do that before—until they get here, they had not thought about why their classrooms were set up the way they were.

“PEDAL is also a lab, it’s not just [a fieldwork] site,” says Iryna Kozlova, a lecturer of educational practice and the PEDAL faculty advisor. “We teach life, because we teach English as it is used in real-life settings—how to make a doctor’s appointment, how to do grocery shopping, how to make polite requests. I emphasize this when working with our graduate students that they are responsible for helping [English language] learners to adjust to living in a new country and using new language in everyday life.”

“We teach communicative language teaching—that’s our framework,” says Brenneman. “It’s real English, real contexts, real life, not focusing on perfect grammar, but communicative competence. Can you get the gist of what your conversation partner is trying to say to you? It doesn’t matter if they mispronounce something. This idea of ‘unaccented English,’ throw it out the window. Can you negotiate meaning with someone based on the skills that you have?”

This story is by Rebecca Raber. Read more at Penn GSE.