Alta: How did you come up with the Out & About concept?
Amy: Actually, it was Rick’s idea. He and I worked together at Temple University in Tokyo in the late 1980s, but we lost touch after that. I thought about him from time to time but assumed he was off teaching somewhere in Asia. Then one sleepy morning, at a CATESOL conference in Pasadena, I’m on my way to an early workshop, and among the sparse passersby, I see this guy sauntering towards me. As his face comes into focus, I realize it’s Rick! Over lunch that afternoon, he tells me how much he likes Communicating on Campus, which Ged O-Connell and I had written for intermediate- and advanced-level students. He’s excited because the “teacherless activities” like information gaps and jigsaw activities that we include in the book are similar to the materials he’s creating for his beginning-level students as an integral part of his course, not as supplemental activities requiring extra work. We begin to see the potential for a book like Communicating on Campus for beginning-level learners. The wheels start turning, and Out & About is born.
Alta: Sounds like an auspicious beginning. In what ways is the book unique?
Amy: Out & About, as the name implies, is about getting students out and about, not only outside of the classroom, but within the classroom as well. We like to say that it’s based on “teacherless activities.” We believe that our job is to provide structured opportunities for students to practice their way to fluency. We do this through a variety of activities, in pairs, small groups, class mingles, role plays, dictations, games, and more. Variety keeps it fun and also helps address a range of learning styles.
Alta: Who’s your ideal target student?
Amy: As I mentioned, the book is designed to address a range of learning styles. It was also created for students with very little knowledge of English. I often hear program administrators complain about how hard it is to find teachers who want to teach level 1 classes because they don’t know what to do with students who know very little English. Rick and I both love teaching level 1 classes. Students at this level progress so quickly that you get immediate gratification. Also, they come to class with so little that they tend to be especially appreciative and aware of how much they’re learning.
Alta: Can you talk a bit about inclusivity in the Out & About series?
Amy: Yes, Rick and I are fully committed to celebrating and respecting all learners in the classroom, including LGBTQI students. Following our lunch at the CATESOL conference in Pasadena, I attended Rick’s presentation on inclusivity for LGBTQI students and was immediately inspired and committed to creating the type of materials that Rick was advocating. Of course, selling our idea to a publisher in the climate of the day proved to be more difficult than we anticipated, but Alta loved the book and agreed to publish it with the content intact. Times have, thankfully, changed and same-sex marriage is quickly becoming legal in states across the country. This is one aspect of the book that we are both particularly proud of. We’re also extremely proud of the artwork, which is fully inclusive but does not depict people as racial stereotypes.
Alta: Thanks Amy and over to you dear reader. Do you have a question for Amy? Use the comment box below.
Amy Hemmert is a highly regarded English language professional who has worked with teens and adults in high school, adult, university, and intensive English programs in the US and abroad. She is well known for developing engaging materials that challenge students to do their best in a fun, stimulating environment. She is currently the associate dean for international students at Kirby School in Santa Cruz, CA, where she thoroughly enjoys the balance of working as administrator, teacher, and materials developer. She has co-authored 5 books for Alta English Publishers.