Friday, December 30, 2016

Boxcars on Walnut

Now available on Amazon $5.38 + shipping
Coming on Kindle $.99 (soon) as well

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Dozen Crime Stories

Now available on audiobook!

Friday, December 02, 2016

Short Stories

for the ages!

Monday, August 22, 2016

CALL theory

CALL theory applied to language learning, as I understand it, emphasizes integration of technologies into curricula, rather than using the computer as an add-on, using the computer to extend learning beyond the classroom, and keeping the focus on the learner in getting more opportunity to use the language (Rilling et al., 2005). In the teaching world’s hurry to integrate computers and their software into every aspect of language learning, this is the best they can do to offer reasons why we should be in such a hurry. The computer offers us unlimited opportunity for using the language, non-stop, every day, with people in any corner of the globe. The world is rapidly moving over onto the computer anyway, yes, and the skills students need to communicate on it are absolutely important to their future success in that world.

CALL theory could be criticized for being somewhat vague, or for not explaining why we should move our entire language classroom over onto computers, or for not exploring what sinister consequences might result, or for not tackling the question of whether languages can be taught more easily or more efficiently this way. But these questions are neglected temporarily in the rush, like a gold rush, to publish articles in which we show how we are using certain technologies successfully, both with students and with teachers, to advance the cause of language learning in new environments, i.e. blogs, wikis, online fora, Skype, etc. It has become commonplace to call upon CALL theory as a justification for learning and managing these technologies, without noticing that CALL theory never tried to justify them. CALL theory pointed out the obvious – that the world was moving onto the computer anyway – and never tried to prove to us why this would be an improvement.

This is only the beginning. I need to learn more about this theory. 

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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.