Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Motivation part II

I'm out here in Lubbock; it's a good place to ride off into the sunset, because when you do, you end up 9000 ft. up in the Sacramento Mountains, and that's what I plan to do as soon as I can.

But in the meantime I was asked to review a paper done on "motivation" and did it, my final parting shot to a semester that came to a relatively smooth end recently. Motivation has always been the key to language learning, but like everything else, people have had trouble figuring out what it is, what to do with it, how to construct it, etc. The world is full of EFL teachers in remote places who have told me, basically, all the "how-to-teach" lessons you give me are no good if you can't motivate the students. OK, fair enough. Let's figure out what it is, so we can figure out how to use it to help people learn.

So this writer starts out and brings in CST, as if that's the foundation of the new approach. Twenty years of research done by the Robert Gardner school, gone, not a trace, it's all this new approach based on CST. Well CST (Complex Systems Theory) is a set of ways to explain things in nature where every little actor acts based on the environment. So, if you boil the water at the bottom of a bucket eventually the molecules bump into each other, and the hot ones make the other ones warmer, and mathematical equations along with network theory can help explain how fast and in what order, etc. It actually can be applied to language: You move to Texas, you say "thank you" twenty times a day, but when everyone says "think you" back, eventually your vowels change based on what you hear. It's the environment you're in; it's not a rule or a decree that makes you do it.

Now apply this to motivation. Anyone who wanted to apply CST to motivation was probably looking at a football team, where everyone has to get their collective anger up and relies on feeding off his teammates; if one gets really riled up, it'll help get the rest to play their best. But that doesn't really apply to a language classroom. You can put people in groups repeatedly, but they start from the general maxims "Do what is required" and "Do as little as possible" along with "Don't let them see you break a sweat," which is perhaps the most important. One can see CST operating here, namely motivations changing based on perception of the environment, but there is a crucial difference. The teacher can change the requirements. The teacher can change what "possible" refers to. The teacher can change what is "required." People are not flailing around in a leaderless vacuum. The students we are talking about always have one eye on the teacher, and the other on their classmates.

The problem I see with the above scenario, and with group work in general, is that the collective influence works in both ways. It's not like a football team where everyone is invested in a single outcome. You can have a group huddle at the beginning and say to them, in effect, hey, it's in your best interest to put your whole souls into this group work, but basically, it isn't going to happen.

It isn't even going to happen in the U.S., where people have paid literally thousands to come over here, get an apartment, and maintain a life so they can learn English in order to get integrated into the society. A lot of our (ESL) students are more than willing to do the best they can in group work, but motivational forces are still pushing and pulling them simultaneously. In Japan, or Peru, it's much worse. The collective spirit is definitely a pulling force.

I was impatient, not so much with the assertion that motivation required a CST-kind of explanation, but with the failure to explain how, or why. It's not such a revelation that motivation is at the bottom of everything. You can look at any class, ESL or EFL, worldwide, and say, motivation is the problem here. But sometimes I think people pull out concepts like "CST" in order to say, "it's all so complicated, there's no way we normal people can figure it out." Actually, I think we can figure it out. I don't think I can say I've done it yet, though.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

motivation links

Leverett, T. (2012). Review of Motivation and Second Language Acquisition: The Socio-Educational Model, by R. C. Gardner, TESL-EJ (TESL Electronic Journal), 16, 2, Sept.

Razavi, Lauren. (2014, Mar. 19). Language learning: What motivates us? theguardian. Accessed 5-16 from

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motivation part 1

TESL-EJ signed me up as a reviewer on a lengthy paper which I agreed to review recently. It deals with motivation amongst language learners. The reason they looked me up was because I had reviewed a book by Gardner a few years back. I guess that makes me a rational observer of the motivation research field.

Gardner, unrelated to the Gardner of multiple intelligences (as far as I know) had been the leader of motivation research for many years. He was living in French Canada, where there was a large number of people studying languages in both directions, and lots of despair over the process in general.

It's been standard in the language teaching business for many years that "motivation is everything" and "if you are motivated, you'll learn the language" regardless of any obstacles in your way. I didn't quite agree with any of this, or at least the sweeping generalization part of it, but there was no question, motivation is important. Gardner presided over a period of time when they tried to define kinds of motivation (such as instrumental, for example - needing a language to use it for some other personal need, like studying engineering, as opposed to integrative, actually wanting to be part of the culture you are seeking to communicate with). Finally, by the time he wrote the book I reviewed, he was quite frustrated with various kinds of motivation, and he said, it doesn't matter where it comes from, and it's impossible to divide or discern the kinds, as they get all confused anyway. What matters is the juice you get from them. If your motivation makes you go to class every day, then it's good motivation, and real. If it gets you to do your homework, it's real. But it doesn't matter if you want to learn a language, but still can't get out of bed to go to class in the morning. If you aren't getting anything out of it, it's not real.

So Gardner goes on to say that if you're motivated you'll go to class, you'll like class, you'll do your homework, and you'll get out of bed in the morning. I may be misquoting him a little here, but he was saying something like that, and I was wondering, wait a minute, it's possible to want to learn a language, and still be disillusioned enough about a given class, to not want to go to that class.

So what we're really arguing about is the process between, or the connection between, your deeper personal motivation, and your immediate problem, which is getting out of bed. And I realize that I've basically been studying that connection all of my life. It turns out that if you can get either of those kinds of motivations entwined in any way, you get extra benefit from doing it. It's kind of like being in the wake of a truck on an icy highway, and getting the benefit of not only having the truck break the wind, but also having him/her grind up the ice/snow on the road. It's hard to define how you get people to do the work that they should want to do anyway, but if the two motivations are connected in any way, you're going to be pulled along in the right direction. That's the essence of it.

Now the curious thing about the paper is that although someone named Dornyei is all over it (he/she has apparently written extensively on motivation), Gardner is nowhere to be seen. Is his work forgotten? Did he undo his own legacy by telling us what he did about motivation? I'm curious to find out.

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Monday, April 18, 2016

hallelujiah, the new york primary

In 1972, I was still in high school, and opposed to the war. The draft loomed over me as I was turning 18, but I had studied enough about Vietnam to know that I didn't agree with our wholesale going in there, with bombs and kids and toxic chemicals, and doing what we were doing. Regardless of what would happen to me, when I got my draft number and was assigned to some camp, there was a political process I could follow to help determine who would be president of the country. On the democratic side, it was very much like it is now: a peace candidate, on the socialist side, and a machine candidate, protected by the Democratic establishment, who was much more beholden to the corporations.

The peace candidate was McGovern, and I joined his campaign, even in high school. My high school was near Buffalo, NY, so I went down to the Buffalo campaign headquarters, and they told me, yes, we need poll watchers, you can go to such-and-such polling place, in the City of Buffalo, and watch. Just make sure they aren't pulling one on us. You'll know when you see something sneaky. The machine has a way of making sure the votes go their way.

The machine candidate was actually Muskie, who I kind of liked, since he was a nice old guy, but he was wishy-washy about the war; had actually supported it; much like Hillary, he provoked and agreed with several conflicts and was unable to say clearly that he was unwilling to get sucked into a conflict that wouldn't help this country at all. Muskie, however, being a moderate, was seen as much more likely to win it all than McGovern, and in fact he probably was. The country at that time had a middle class, and they were more likely to vote for a guy like Muskie than for McGovern, who was clearly more favored by the young.

When I got down to the polling place, they weren't about to let me sit there. Their reasoning was that a Republican and a Democrat were required at the polling place, to watch, and they already had one of each. Wait a second, I said. In our Democratic primary we have two different candidates, opposing each other. We Democrats need two poll watchers to make sure the Democratic primary is run properly.

No, they said, and they repeated their line. We need a Republican and a Democrat, and we have one of each. Get lost. We don't need a McGovern pollwatcher. They were bigger than I was, and they might have been wearing Machinist Union polo shirts. There were several of them. I gave up and left.

The following day voting irregularities were found across the City of Buffalo. Muskie had won by a wide margin, but there were allegations of vote tampering at several locations. I scanned the paper to figure out if my location was one of the places where they suspected vote tampering. Unfortunately the paper did not indicate the exact locations. I'm almost sure there was; if they hadn't intended to tamper, why didn't they just let me sit there? Nevertheless I never found out the truth about that specific district. To this day I can't remember exactly where in the City of Buffalo it actually was.

The lesson for me was that even a sweet old guy like Muskie is not always totally in charge of what the machine he controls is doing beneath him, and thus I didn't trust anyone from then on. Carter, in fact, rolled through Iowa, with a couple of coke-sniffing hardball cutthroats running his campaign, stole a caucus vote right out from under me (I had cast the deciding vote against him, and he won my district anyway), so I came to the conclusion that anyone, no matter how religious, righteous, sweet or reasonable, is capable of stealing any election in this country and altering the course of history. I saw George dub do it twice; the machine, in those cases, was capable of controlling county courthouses in Ohio and Florida, and even swaying the Supreme Court in their favor.

With the New York primary being a huge prize and an important milestone in this primary as well as many others, I can only say, if you can't win by getting the actual votes, you can always win by cheating, but I'm not actually in favor of that option, because cheaters in government have done so much damage to this nation that we may never be able to recover. Six trillion wasted on illegal wars, hard feelings across the globe, and a general inclination toward throwing bombs and drones at anyone who speaks against us, and it's sure to come back to haunt us at some point, if we aren't going so fast (what is this handbasket we are riding in?) that it can't catch up to us yet.

I don't trust anyone who's running for president anymore; in that same year, Nixon's operatives made a charge that made Muskie break down dramatically, so that in effect Nixon got McGovern elected. Nixon also was responsible for the break-in at the Watergate, but everybody knew that; they knew he was crooked, and forty-nine states voted for him anyway. Now as it happened, he also ended the war; I had a draft number of forty-two, and was pretty sure I'd go, and was getting ready, in my own way, to go fight a war I didn't believe in. I was in no way prepared to tell them I was a conscientious objector, or to simply slip into Canada, which was barely ten miles away. No, I was ready to fight, but I didn't have to. And I didn't quite understand that, because Nixon, before that, had been a wartime leader, telling us all along, keep the faith, keep sending our boys over there, keep dropping bombs, it's all good.

I've come to be resigned to the fact that forces are at work, over our heads, ensuring that wars start or continue, especially as our entire economy is bound up in them, and some of our economic engines, like the military, are too big to fail. The Republicans, this year, are probably too disorganized to use their millions to influence the Democratic primary; they may be too busy using their millions to influence their own. But also, since there's no middle class anymore, a more centrist candidate is not necessarily more likely to win, but rather, someone who can hang onto, and even energize, the sizable disaffected young. But the money, and the powers that be, aren't beyond getting into the machines themselves, and changing the actual count. And there's a lot of money out there, with a big stake in who exactly gets elected. Excuse my ramble, just consider yourself prepared for whatever happens in New York tomorrow.


Friday, April 15, 2016

e pluribus haiku

my pride & joy; in time for international haiku day. About 500 of the haiku are new, and there is enough modification that each state is very different from last year. Available at Amazon by clicking the picture, or at the createspace store, which has the author's biography.


Sunday, April 10, 2016


2016 Baltimore*
2015 Toronto*
2014 Portland
2013 Dallas*
2012 Philadelphia
2011 New Orleans*
2010 Boston*
2009 Denver*
2008 New York
2007 Seattle*
2006 Tampa Bay*
2005 San Antonio*
2004 Long Beach*
2003 Baltimore*
2002 Salt Lake City*
2001 Saint Louis*
2000 Vancouver*
1999 New York*
1998 Seattle
1997 Orlando*
1996 Chicago*
1995 Long Beach*
1994 Baltimore*
1993 Atlanta
1992 Vancouver
1991 New York
1990 San Francisco
1989 San Antonio
1988 Chicago*
1987 Miami Beach
1986 Anaheim
1985 New York
1984 Houston

OK so I'm not as consistent as I thought. 19 in 23 years; 20 in 30, and I missed quite a few. There are some I'm not sure about: have I been in New York only once? Or Seattle? Or Chicago? I may come back and star a few more of these.

TESOL had its 50th anniversary this year. There were mostly good feelings; anyone who is mad, doesn't come around anymore. A surprising number of my friends actually run the place. I myself am kind of a stringer, but, in the end, I'm proud to be associated with it.

More later.

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TESOL session report

Session Report:
Leverett, T. (2016, Apr.). For better or worse: Grammar technology and the ESL writer. Internet Fair Classics, TESOL International, Baltimore, MD, USA.

This appears on my weblog which is specifically about the topic; unfortunately, this weblog was not advertised in my handout. The handout will appear on Google docs soon, but I'm reorganizing my google docs, and I'm not sure how soon.

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

concordance experiment

My writing class is high-level graduate students who really want to know how to polish their writing well and quickly. They don't have patience for things that don't work, or things that give you the runaround on their road to where they are going. We study social psychology, because it gives us something to study about that everyone's interested in, that we can do an actual survey on, and get real data - one result of this is that I, as a teacher, become a little impatient with vague pronouncements about our culture, since I am usually in the active process of studying it systematically if not scientifically. For example, one can say that Texas is full of Republicans, and anti-gay marriage, and all of this might be true in a general kind of way, but our studies have shown statistically what our student body is like, and this helps me talk about it more accurately and have some facts to back me up.

Now on this road I've also become attracted to the concordance, and specifically to Brigham Young's concordance, because as far as I can figure, it's the best one around. The concordance delivers to you the facts about the words. So, for example, I tell my students that so that is different from so (and generally they believe me) - but, with the concordance I can draw up thirty, forty sentences using so that and show them how people are using it. It draws from a large corpus (and one can mess with how large, or what kind), and simply pulls the facts about any given word. My favorite example is interested in...why is it that it's not interested with or interested by?

So I gave them all an assignment...I told them you have grammatical issues. I want you to look at this concordance, and tell me what you find about those issues. Report to me about how it works in learning more about grammar and how it works.

But alas, at the language lab, BYU got onto us, and told us that with a group, many people making searches from a single location, there was a limit, and we were beyond it already. You have to log on, and you have to have an account, and if you are merely a student, you have quite limited access.

I understand their financial bind, and know why they might feel they need to raise money to keep the thing going. And, it seems to me, a place like our university ought to fork a little money over in order to grease the wheels, and keep the good facts coming, and provide a service much like the databases provide articles for us. I, however, have not written a proposal, or identified that need, or suggested that our department make that service available for our graduate students. Our students are still on their own: you log in once, on your own e-mail; you go as long as they let you; and, you see if you can use the facts to make yourself a better writer.

I stand by my assignment (this problem is not resolved yet) - it may be that asking them to try this tool is simply not realistic, because we don't have a site license yet. But to me, there is something quite liberating about the facts. It's more than a teacher telling them, you need to connect two sentences with whereas. It's twenty or thirty sentences that give the student a picture, a snapshot, of how whereas is used in modern academic English. For them, they have to read it twenty or thirty times to get a sense of how it's used effectively. This concordance, the provision of twenty or thirty sentences using the word, gives them the missing step. It will be a shame if they can't, as a group, just use what's out there effectively.

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Friday, January 29, 2016

It's all about liability, my wife said, when I asked her about why the university would want me to go through this computer program that essentially showed me about why I had to report Title IX violations. The university wants to make sure that you know you are supposed to do the right thing.

What was complicated was that they set it up on this program that really didn't run too well on all computers; on mine in particular, it seemed to be having some problems (I have a mac laptop that I use for most things). There was a movie and a test. Originally I watched the movie, then, it wouldn't let me take the test. I went back and watched the last 1/3 of the movie again. Still, it wouldn't let me take the test. It got mad at me. I was frozen out of the test.

So I wrote to the guy, and he wrote back. He said, watch the movie, then press such-and-such button, and this is what happens, you go back to the start page and take the test. OK, but that's what I just did. Anyway, I did it again, and it didn't work again. So I wrote him again. It didn't work, I told him. This time he didn't answer.

Wait a couple of months. I thought, if I told them it didn't work, then it's not my problem. This time I get an e-mail saying you have to take the Title IX training. Click these links. I click the links and they both bring up blank screens. I sit there for a while waiting for them to load something, but they don't. Back in the e-mail it tells me I have to log in to my e-raider account. So I do, and click the links again. Still blank screens.

But there is another e-mail address in that e-mail, and I write to her. This time, a day or two later, she writes back and says she's reset my account and now I can take the quiz. Unfortunately I have lost the URL of the original movie. I assume it's on those blank screens somewhere but I can't get to it. I search TTU/Title IX and eventually I find something, but it's very hard to navigate and it's not obvious what to click to just get in, watch the movie, and take the quiz. Finally though I did it, and I watched the movie. And this time, it allowed me to take the quiz, which was difficult, but interesting, and I passed, I even got a hundred.

It seems that if I find out about any kind of sexual discrimination, stalking, harassment, etc. I should report it immediately to the Title IX Coordinator. It's actually not that simple. As I mull it over, I wonder about the kinds of things I've heard over the years that, under these regulations, I should have reported to somebody. Reporting rapes, assaults, harassment, etc. seems obvious; lots of things, you want to pass along in some way or another. But discrimination? Hmm, makes you wonder.

Having passed the test, I'm in an elite group who figured out the technology, and actually did it, without yelling at anyone, tearing up paper in the secretary's face, etc. They want you to do it, just do it, it's like the Illinois Ethics Test, what's the point of questioning the source? It's all about liability. Speaking of Illinois, the main reason I don't go to the doctor is that they don't pay their bills.

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