Brendon Albertson

Assistant Professor of Foundational Learning & English Language Learners

Teaching Portfolio - Updated Jan. 2020

Table of Contents:


Thank you for visiting my Pine Manor College portfolio. I have served as Assistant Professor of Foundational Learning and English Language Learners at Pine Manor College since 2018, a role in which I assist first-year students in developing foundational writing skills and adjustment to academic culture, while making connections between international and domestic students. I received my M.S. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in 2011 and B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology in 2008 from Central Connecticut State University. Trilingual in Japanese, Chinese, and English, I have over 10 years of experience in the field of TESOL, including teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language at the secondary and university levels, developing curricula for adult ESOL programs, training teachers to become TEFL certified, and presenting at conferences. I currently have published research in two international journals.

At Pine Manor College, I teach Foundational Writing in the Composition department while developing and maintaining a grammar program, teaching students to use online corpus tools to increase the depth of their writing through academic collocations, and empowering them to develop editing skills via writing improvement journals. In the Foundational Learning department, I teach and develop curricula for First Year Seminar and Sophomore Colloquium, incorporating teaching strategies from the field of TESOL in these courses such as the explicit teaching of classroom participation strategies and using sentence starters to promote academic dialogue among students. In this department, I work with students to encourage the sharing of cultures and languages through events such as International Education Week and a cross-campus discussion on cultural intelligence with Showa Boston Institute during Fall 2019.

My published research has explored culturally-informed pedagogy and the relationship between campus diversity and international students’ class participation, which inform several of my current classroom activities that encourage connections between different ethnic and linguistic student groups. These include my language exchange and “Skip the Small Talk” activities in First Year Seminar as well as classmate biographies and explanatory essays on features of one’s culture in Foundational Writing. I have also created two apps that capitalize on the large amount of data available from Google and Wikipedia to provide students with close reading practice and vocabulary development. These resources are available at

This portfolio highlights some of my contributions to academics and community at Pine Manor College during 2018-2019, including work to improve the foundational learning program and grammar instruction. My other experience and current projects can be viewed at

Self-assessment of Teaching Effectiveness

The following are examples of teaching techniques I have employed during Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 semesters (several of which are borrowed from the field of TESOL) to effectively scaffold instruction to benefit English language learning (ELL) students at Pine Manor College. (Please click each to expand)

Using vocabulary notebook pages (link below), I required students in my 2018 FYS 101 courses to note the key terms and concepts in the course, write sentences with them, and note collocations. I noticed that many students referenced their vocabulary notebook pages when attempting to contribute to class discussions, as knowledge of terms such as “cultural lens” and “subordinate group” allowed them to contribute to the discussion. I observed many students referring to their vocabulary notebook pages during class discussions as they prepared to share an idea.Vocabulary Notebook Pages

Redesign and simplification of assignment guidelines: I have redesigned many of the standard FYS 101 assignments to make the requirements clearer to ELL students, while breaking tasks into multiple steps. The use of pictures, bullet points, and numbered lists on assignment guidelines has been helpful. As an example, for the FYS 101 Intercultural Analysis project, I required each student in a group to find one article, summarize useful points from that article, and report these to his/her group. Examples of other tasks for the assignment, each with separate due dates, included creating a works-cited page, writing a thesis for the research paper, making an outline of the paper, and agreeing on group meeting times. This step-by-step approach produced research papers of high quality.
Examples: FYS Intercultural Analysis Project FYS Hometown Brochure Guidelines Tutorial for creating FYS Electronic Portfolio TED Talk Analysis Project

In my first two semesters, I implemented the use of the British National Corpus, a database of text, in class via the website and the “SkELL Sketch Engine” to raise awareness of collocations in writing. I required students to select words in their writing, find the most natural word combinations on these websites, and revise their writing accordingly. This resulted in more natural, academic language used in ELL students' revised writing.

In my EN99/100 courses, I implemented use of indirect feedback on students’ writing via correction codes, as well as an “error log” used by each student. The aims of these techniques were to a) prompt students of their grammar errors while requiring them to self-correct, and b) notice patterns in their most common errors in an effort to avoid them in subsequent writing. Results on these were presented at MATSOL 2019 (link below). MATSOL Handout MATSOL Presentation List of Correction Codes Example 1 of Student's Writing Improvement (Error) Log Example 2 of Student's Writing Improvement (Error) Log Example use of error codes on EN100 student writing Example student essay - first draft Example student essay - final draft showing feedback uptake

I required my Fall 2018 First Year Seminar of international students to form a study group and compare takeaways from the presentation by guest speaker District Attorney Rahsaan Hall during Fall 2018. Several students in this class who attended the presentation formed a circle in the Ferry Building after it was finished, and conversed in Chinese to share the various parts of the presentation they understood. It became clear that while no student understood the majority of the presentation due to the heavy context it implied (references to Jim Crow, the judicial system of the U.S., etc.), by comparing “snippets” of their understandings, they were able to piece together the gist of the talk. I believe that this format of constructing meaning, along with my pre-teaching of vocabulary and concepts they would hear during this presentation, has great potential for both international and domestic students. I am currently pondering how it might be replicated and organized for future guest speakers, such as the FYS 101 activist panel. Preparation materials for Guest Speaker DA Rahsaan Hall Lesson Plan

International students often have difficulty understanding readings and lectures on American issues because they lack the required cultural background knowledge. An example of this is the Fall 2018 FYS 101 Common Assignment, which required students to listen to a podcast by Asian Americans about the Black Lives Matter movement. No students in my Fall 2018 seminar had heard of Black Lives Matter, while only a few of those in the Spring 2019 seminar had. I tried giving brief lectures with photos and explanations of key terms on this issue in Fall of 2018, and provided students with short descriptions of these issues on the website Students’ common assignment submissions during both semesters suggested they had acquired a workable understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

ELL and first-gen students are often overwhelmed by the length and complexity of an assigned text, while feeling confused about what it means to simply “read” something. I provide outlines for many assigned readings in EN 100 and FYS 101 that students complete to prove they have read the text. These outlines provide students with a “task” while reading, allow them to break down the structure of a text, and give them a measure of whether they have grasped the content. In essence, they are a device for scaffolding an assigned college reading. (Examples: my mother’s food and FYS 101 diversity reading) EN100 Outline for “My Mother’s Food” Sample FYS Reading Outline

International and domestic student interaction has been a concern at Pine Manor College. I adapted an activity from an organization called “Skip the Small Talk” in my Fall 2018 FYS 101 class with Professor Layne Flynn’s seminar, which paired individual students from both groups and required them to discuss topics such as personal interests, values, and backgrounds. Students during this event seemed to enjoy this event, and I feel it could be a model for bridging the domestic-international gap. Skip the Small Talk Presentation

ELL students may contribute less to class discussions in English due to longer required processing times. I have found that the classic ESL activity “Think-Pair-Share” has worked well in encouraging the ELL students to contribute more to discussions in the FYS 101 class I am co-teaching with Professor Kelly DeFao this semester. In this activity, students think silently and jot notes for 1-2 minutes before sharing their ideas with a partner. It also benefits proficient English-speaking students as it requires them to refine their ideas before sharing them.

In my FYS 101 course, I adopted an “Interrupt Me” activity I originally designed for ESL classes to help students practice active listening and rephrase information shared by a classmate. This required students to listen to a classmate’s summary of a topic, while periodically repeating the information in their own words to confirm their understanding.

I found that the most effective practice in my EN99/100 courses has been the two individual conferences I required with students. These allowed me to assign personalized, supplemental grammar work based on each student’s needs, and also gave me a chance to talk with students about their grades, individual assignments, and motivation in general. Conferences were especially effective in building my relationship with several domestic students with many absences who seemed undermotivated and had not completed assignments. The effectiveness of this one-on-one support would seem in line with the standard recommendation for working with first-generation students. Because these individual conferences were so effective, I am experimenting with holding four conferences this semester. I am excited to see whether this helps students complete work and improve their individual areas of weakness in writing.


I have been satisfied that teaching practices from my prior ESL experience can be useful for the ELL population at Pine Manor as well. Nevertheless, teaching domestic students, and especially the first-generation population, is a new challenge for me. Their needs in composition courses are not as grammar-based as the international students I am familiar with, while they often need to work on tone and use of standard English in their writing. These are two areas I am working to incorporate in EN100 this semester (Fall 2019).

The Fall 2019 semester has also sparked my interest in effective teaching practices for first-generation college students, as my current courses have a much higher ratio of this latter demographic than previously. I am interested in exploring the similarities between international and domestic first-gen students, as many of the teaching techniques used for ELLs appear similar to those recommended for first-gen domestic students (Mihut & Helms, 2019). In my experience this semester, the highly-scaffolded and simplified instructions I usually give to ELLs seem to also be working with domestic students. I wonder if others and I might work toward developing a collection of materials and best practices to be included in a “cheat sheet” for instructors, or for the “deck” that was recently developed for faculty and staff.

Contributions to the Teaching Community

The contributions I have made to teaching and community in my current role at Pine Manor College have included the following (please click to expand):

During my first two semesters, I found that using the Moodle Gradebook for all assignments in my courses allowed to students to see their grades for individual assignments and take responsibility to find out work they had missed. For the Fall 2019 semester, I worked with Dr. Michele Ramirez to decide on a structure for the FYS Moodle gradebook, and trained the team of First Year Instructors on how to setup the gradebook and add assignments. I believe that the College could greatly benefit from requiring all courses to make use of the Moodle gradebook for individual assignments, as it promotes self-advocacy through grade transparency. I have designed a tutorial for instructors interested in setting up the Moodle gradebook in their courses.

I believe my strong relationships with many of the international students at Pine Manor College can help persuade them to stay and increase student retention. Evidence of these relationships include the following:
  • International students regularly come to my office to chat, and have invited me to eat off campus.
  • I have had conversations in Chinese and Japanese with students to build rapport. I’ve found this works especially well with students who struggle with English and generally do not respond well even to icebreakers or get-to-know-you activities in class.
  • I have written 7 letters of recommendation for international students who wished to transfer. Although I do not wish them to leave, I feel that my close relationship with each of them is why they approached me for a recommendation, and that my rapport with them has made them approach transferring with a bit more hesitation. These students may recommend the college to friends in the future.

I assisted Professor Hannah Baker-Siroty with adopting the Longman Academic Writing Series as a more appropriate textbook for EN100 courses for the Spring 2019 semester. This text focuses on bottom-up writing skills such as a grammar and sentence variety. In addition, it provides very simple, clear models for essays and is designed for international students, so the cultural references and idiomatic expressions are minimal. This allows an instructor to focus on equipping students with basic essay conventions and structure, while saving the more top-down writing skills (tone, imagery, strengthening an argument, etc.) for EN101/102.

Short, highly-focused grammar lessons held outside of class and informed by the observed needs of students are a possible solution to the problem of incorporating “one size fits all” grammar lessons into a college composition course (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2005). In other words, not all students may need additional grammar support. In addition, non-native English speaking students make certain grammatical errors that native speakers do not make. Thus, the “bite-sized” grammar lesson concept provides a reasonable solution. This took the form of the “Pizza and Punctuation” workshops I held in the library four times during the Fall 2018 semester (9/26, 10/4, 10/11, and 11/20) and twice during the Spring 2019 semester. Many students were “repeat customers” at these workshops, while evidence in the writing of a few EN100 students in Spring 2019 showed that they had incorporated grammar forms and transition words from these workshops into their writing.

Sample Handout from "Pizza & Punctuation" Workshops Example of EN 99 Student's Use of adverb clauses after attending workshop (highlighted in blue)

To fill the need for assessing grammar as well as general writing level on the composition placement test, I developed an online, 40-item grammar test. This test was piloted for validity in Spring 2019. While the sample sizes were small, results suggested that students in EN100, 101, and 102 scored increasingly higher on the test. Hannah Baker-Siroty and I will administer the test again to students in all composition courses again in Fall 2019. If added to the standard composition placement test, this test would allow composition placements to be more accurately made on the basis of bottom-up writing skills (grammar/sentence structure), as well as other components of writing.

In conjunction with the grammar placement test, I am working with Hannah Baker-Siroty on creating a series of online grammar modules. This format has been adopted successfully by other colleges, and allows for differentiated grammar instruction, keeps it remedial, does not interfere with the composition curriculum, and does not require instructors to teach grammar if it is not their area of expertise.

Link to Grammar Pre-test Link to Grammar Post-test Explanation of test

I taught EN103, a grammar-focused course, during the Spring of 2019 as a directed study for four students. Because the students did not require much remedial grammar instruction (for which I had designed the syllabus), I instead focused the course on sociolinguistics and research. Two successful assignments in the course were the “mini grammar research project” and the “collocations research project.” These required students to survey participants on their impressions of different grammar forms, and use a corpus to find the most frequent collocations with given words, respectively. Sam Zhao, a student in the course, presented the results of his grammar research project at Achievement Day in Spring 2019. Grammar Research Project - Sam Zhao

During International Education Week in the Fall 2018 semester, my FYS 101 class set up a series of language learning tables in the Student Center and taught their native languages to other students. Students were briefed on best practices for teaching a few phrases in their native language, and created handouts with these phrases.

An assignment in my EN100 course of Spring 2019 was for students to write a paragraph about a food or tradition in their culture and explain its significance, as in the essay they read, “My Mother’s Food,” by Nora Keller. These paragraphs presented an opportunity to educate the college community about foods and traditions from international students’ cultures, and were displayed at Achievement Day. EN100 Student Writing from Achievement Day, Spring 2019

During Spring 2019, I organized an end-of-semester speech contest for EN100 students who read their essays. Professors Hannah Baker-Siroty and Christopher Rivera graciously volunteered to be judges.

During Fall 2018, I led a workshop on effective teaching practices for ELL students. ELL Workshop Presentation

I have coordinated with Showa Boston Institute, a branch college of Showa Women’s University in Tokyo located in Jamaica Plain, for a group of their students to visit Kelly DeFao and my FYS class this semester (Fall 2019). The students from Showa are in a program to prepare them for taking a semester of classes at an American university. Currently the school partners with Temple University, Endicott, Lesley, and Framingham State, and I am leading an effort along with Pine Manor College's administrative staff to have Showa students take courses at PMC in the future.

As I am curious whether the techniques I’ve implemented to help ELLs in a content-area course (FYS) may also be of use in other courses, I have considered proposing a “foundational learning committee” with Dr. Michele Ramirez. The purpose of this committee would be to raise awareness about challenges specific to ELLs and other students who require extra support through workshops, while sharing practical resources/materials with instructors. These might include the vocabulary notebook pages, scaffolded handouts for assignments, written feedback techniques, or Moodle gradebook training mentioned above.

Professional Growth & Research

Corrective Feedback on Grammar Errors in Student Writing:

During Fall of 2018, I became interested in the challenge of students who have “fossilized” errors in their writing. It became apparent that many ELL students at Pine Manor College (and occasionally native-speaking students as well), while advanced users of English, continue to make the same errors in their writing. This challenge led me to investigate the most effective way to provide feedback to students on their writing. During Spring, 2019, I designed and conducted research on feedback in writing, which I presented with Professor Hannah Baker-Siroty at the Massachusetts Conference for Teachers to Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL) in May, 2019. The presentation received 10-15 attendees, one of whom wished to adopt the method to replicate the study with her own college students. Links are below: MATSOL Handout MATSOL Presentation

Throughout the process of this research, I have been able to learn and apply best practices for giving useful written feedback to students, including the error logs mentioned above. I am planning to obtain further data on the efficacy of written feedback during the 2019-2020 academic year, including data from native English-speaking students in my classes. I am also working with Professor Hannah Baker-Siroty to implement time-saving practices that could allow other instructors to give grammar feedback. This would include the use of error codes and aligning these with the most frequent grammar errors, as measured by the grammar diagnostic test mentioned previously.

Plans for Conferences/publication:

Professor Baker-Siroty and I have defined the work I have done implementing grammar feedback techniques, creating a grammar diagnostic test, and creating grammar modules as part of a comprehensive grammar "program" at Pine Manor College. This program addresses the fact that many of our students need to build writing skills at the sentence level. As the program develops, especially in terms of completing the grammar modules, we plan to present it as again at MATSOL as a more program-level solution to addressing grammar needs of students. I am also exploring a variety of TESOL journals and would like to publish the results of my research on use of error codes, an area of research in TESOL that has been cited as needing more replication in a variety of contexts in order to shed light on the efficacy of feedback techniques in writing (Ferris & Hedgcock, 2005).

I have also developed an online app in an attempt to automate the process of using error codes in student writing. Furthermore, I have worked with Barbara Schwartz to add a Moodle plugin for using error codes. However, both of these tools have yet to be tested with student writing. I would like to continue work in this area.

Vocabulary Acquisition:

While teaching at the college level, I have continued to work on my personal project related to ELL vocabulary acquisition. I have been updating my website, and have used it several times in classes at Pine Manor College. I designed this website several years ago as a way to make it easier for teachers to quickly pull up pictures to show the meaning of new words to students, and as a way for students to practice vocabulary through a picture-to-word matching activity. I generally share this website with ESL instructors I know, as well as teacher trainees in the TEFL program I teach. The website has been used thousands of times by teachers, and I am currently working on a way to raise funding for it so the search limit can be removed (it is powered by the Google image search API, which limits the number of free uses per day to 100).

Consulting/Teacher Training Work:

Since 2017, I have been teacher training during summer and winter breaks for a weekend practicum course as part of a Level-5 TEFL Certification course with The TEFL Academy. As a senior trainer, I have also hired and trained several trainers for courses opening in Chicago and San Francisco. This course qualifies trainees to teach English as a Foreign Language in most countries. I continue to find this work rewarding, as it motivates me to keep abreast of advancements in the field of TESOL and share these along with my prior and current ESL experience. Obtaining a TEFL certificate is also a direct path to a career teaching English overseas for native-speakers with a bachelor’s degree, so I have been curious about how sharing this opportunity with interested students at Pine Manor College could give them yet another option after graduation.

Conclusion & Future Goals

My first year at Pine Manor College has been a rewarding experience for two reasons. First, I have been able to apply my experience in the field of ESL in a new way. Second, I have had the freedom to conduct my own research and pursue my own pedagogical interests.

Future Goals:

Looking forward, I plan to continue work to improve the first year and foundational learning programs, including foundational writing skills in composition courses. My short-term goals over the next few semesters include adopting the grammar placement tests I have created, finishing a set of online grammar modules, and presenting/publishing these improvements to the composition program at Pine Manor College. I also plan to make contributions to the Faculty Development and Advisory Committee, which I now serve on. My long-term goal in my current position, with the help of other faculty, is to create an foundational learning curriculum that spans across all courses that first-year students generally take. This may include creating a "foundational learning committee." My long-term goal in the field of TESOL is to publish action research on corpora/collocations or vocabulary instruction using my website,

Course Syllabi

Fall 2018


Spring 2019

EN100 EN103 FYS

Fall 2019


Course Evaluations & Observations

Fall 2018

Student Evaluations Course Observation

Spring 2019

Student Evaluations