Wednesday, January 24, 2007

20 statements

Looking for mine? I covered them up with my rambling. I have students answering the question: Who am I? in two different classes. In ae2 they are putting the answers on their own personal weblogs (click on the lit-up names on the left, at the top)- at the higher level, I was unable to justify publishing these pedagogically, so I just collected them and am using them to edit, and look at later. And save, or perhaps ask the students to publish them, voluntarily.

I mention this because, as I have actually told people, it's part of a larger sociological thing, an assignment given to thousands of sociology students, developed as part of the Iowa School of Symbolic Interactionism - now I like this, because my wife is a symbolic interactionist, and I'm an Iowan (kind of)- went to the U of I twice (and up there, U of I does not mean Illini). This link is merely a gateway or a reference point, if anyone were to get into using these sets of 20 statements to study self-perception interculturally (I can't pretend that I've looked into it much). My wife has already pointed out that I messed up the assignment in a number of ways, not the least of which is having some of them published, but, my attitude is, hey, if it's not on the web, it doesn't exist. We're enjoying reading each other's, anyway. And what am I going to do, move piles of paper around for years? I'm getting tired of that already, and I'm only 52. Going on 53.

template theory

For want of a better name, template theory is a name I'm giving my ideas about grammar and grammar-learning. Namely, that in order to be successful, students must have templates in their minds, of grammatical structures (this applies to other things as well). For example, they may say to themselves, I make an adjective clause like this: He is a man who likes Elvis Presley.

When they construct these templates, they need sentences and parts that are clear and unambiguous. This is no time for a word that can be either a noun or a verb. By constructing templates of different grammatical structures, using clear and unambiguous parts, they eventually are able to plug other parts into the same positions and make more complex sentences, and in particular sentences that will carry meaning and be useful in the particular situations they are in.

On the basis of this theory I am constructing my present editing class (full of high-level people with massive grammatical problems; nonetheless friendly, well-meaning, generous and considerate students)- largely (increasingly) out of template-style questions, such as:

___ 1. I always delay
a. do my laundry
b. to do my laundry
c. to doing my laundry
d. doing my laundry

___ 2. That Carbondale
a. is boring obvious
b. boring is obvious
c. is boring is obvious
d. is boring obviously

I give (and will give) quizzes such as these frequently, in hopes of providing students with templates that they can then use to construct successful sentences later. Another reason I do it is that they like them and seem to learn a lot from them; more, probably, than from constructed grammar exercises. Ultimately I'd like to put them on the web.

The Azar series* split the grammar world in half- the world of teachers. Students clearly and in huge numbers loved the book and never in my experience preferred other books to it. Some teachers despised it because its contrived, simple vocabulary was not realistic or applied to their world. I preferred it because I could always provide the situations and sentences that my students wanted to talk about, but when I had to explain grammar, clear and unambiguous parts (words that everyone knew; words that were clearly N, ADJ, V or ADV) were most useful in getting them to understand what was going on. The rules of grammar actually aren't all that complicated, in spite of what people say and believe about them, but the dazzling way English uses crossover words (words like use or record that can have several functions) is very confusing, and hasn't gone unnoticed by the TOEFL (which statistically likes crossover words because they tend to separate the flexible language users from the rigid rule-learners)...

Perhaps you see what I'm getting at. Years and years of watching students study for the TOEFL too early, get wrapped up in things that are over their heads, and be unable to make useful templates because the tools they have are not stable or unambiguous, and they don't know that by looking at it- this has led me to believe that unravelling a falsely or poorly constructed image of what the language should look like, may in some cases be necessary, before constructing
, with solid parts, a solid version.

When I was learning Korean, I had an incident which I have recounted somewhere, but can't find at the moment. I yelled at a young child to be careful; he was about to step into a manhole because he was staring at me (a westerner with a beard) rather than watch where he was going. A nearby old-timer upbraided me for using a more formal form (cho-shim-ha-se-yo) for a child rather than the proper form for a lowly sprite (cho-shim hae) - at first I was taken aback, because I thought perhaps he should be more grateful, that I had saved a kid quite a bit of pain. Nevertheless I learned "kid-form" Korean from that experience and went on to address some young children the very next day based on the fact that a proper form (clear, unambiguous, useful) had been branded into my brain by the old man.

Now here's another interesting example. When you dream, your mind often dredges up some old person or experience, something from your past, and you wake up saying, why did I dream about that? In short, your mind has chosen certain things to represent certain other things. For example, you may use a swimming pool to represent fear; it's at the top of the fear drawer. Some experience way back made the pool the most salient occupant of the fear drawer, and made you file other fear symbols (gun, firecracker, chainsaw) over by the swimming pool. When your mind needs a symbol of fear for a dream it's working on, the pool is the most obvious first choice though it may pick any of the other things in the file if the pool won't work for its purposes. Catch my drift? The mind is constructing a world that it uses for its own purposes.

This theory when applied to language learning, I believe, would be called constructivist; I am not the first to invent it. I haven't read too much about it but would definitely consider myself to be in that school. How my method compares to that of people in this school, I wouldn't know. I'm approaching it from more of a practical angle: I have this class; they're interested in this; we should do what they like; we should use things they can relate to. Added to that, you put these things in quiz form, the competitive juices start flowing, and they really want to get it right. Which they should, always, anyway. To me, though, calling a class "Advanced Editing" is an opportunity- to say, this matters, you can get it right, which is best, a, b, c or d- and why? What are the parts? And what simple sentence can you relate this to?

This last question is the key to template theory- and the key to successful teaching- of grammar, anyway.

And, to the people who say they're going to get this stuff on their own, construct it, by themselves, as they live and function in the world, I'll say, yeah, as long as somebody is feeding them, changing their diaper, putting them in the car, and letting them or making them watch movies as much as they want every day for at least 1-4 years. As long as they have enough input to actually recognize and choose the clear and unambiguous parts to build their templates. And this, I believe, has been a problem for my adult students.

*ESL shorthand: the Azar series refers to Betty Azar's Fundamentals of English Grammar, and particularly the famous blue book, and more famous "Betty boxes" that are used to explain grammar points. Teachers have been known to copy, cut & paste these boxes right out of this book- I am grateful to Betty, by the way (a St. Louis native, now living in Washington State) for her active role in putting bread on my table all these years.


Monday, January 22, 2007


Leverett, T. (2007, Jan.). Same world, different glasses. Global study magazine, 4, 2, pp. 70-71. London, UK.

This one has not made it onto the web yet- and, I've lost my computer, so I can't put it up on this end, yet.

This is an extremely well-done, professional magazine, by the way. Very nice! And, the title of the article is the title of the magazine, this month. I will share the article, however, if I get the chance.


20 questions

An old sociology test given to thousands of students, which dates well before weblogs, simply asks "Who are you?" and allows 20 sentences. I'm having my students do it (though we may not be following all the rules)- and I thought I'd start with my 20. Here goes:

1. I am a fiddler and a banjo picker.
2. I am a writer.
3. I teach English to international students.
4. I am a native of Ohio.
5. I grew up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
6. I have lived in Carbondale for 13 years.
7. I have eight children, three of them stepchildren.
8. I ride my bicycle to school whenever I can.
9. I swim at lunchtime whenever I can.
10. I always create the materials for my classes.
11. I do a lot of things the hard way.
12. I've traveled to almost every state.
13. My parents and brothers and sister live far away.
14. I like playing online boggle.
15. I like walking in the woods.
16. My wife and I adopted a black child, our eighth.
17. I watch my children a lot.
18. I love using weblogs to communicate.
19. I have made national presentations on using weblogs with ESL classes.
20. I am interested in anything you have to say about weblogs.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The New Blogger

The program has to switch over to the new Blogger, and will do it soon. This is just to let you know I'm thinking about it. The only real consequence is that I have to come up with an e-mail address (for the program)- to use as a log-on. Then I have to tell everyone about it.

It's not that big a deal, but it's a coordination effort. At a busy time- when I have no computer in the office. Keeps life interesting, I guess!


Friday, January 19, 2007

good morning 071

I came to work on Tuesday morning, after a long and glorious vacation, and my computer wouldn't start. It kept whirring around and showing the apple symbol of gastric distress. In fact it never was able to get started, even after several hours of surgery and repair. At CESL Kita takes care of these things, but it's a very busy time. This is an organizational nightmare for me (maybe not as bad as what happened to the web, but close), mostly in terms of recent e-mail, class exercises, etc. But I'll survive. In the same week I almost left a truck in Herrin- but didn't. It was fixed, eventually, & I'm back on my feet, so to speak.


Saturday, January 13, 2007

plagiarism revisited

McCabe, D. and Pavela, G. (2005, Mar. 11). Honor codes for a new generation. Inside Higher Ed online.

Branigan, C. (2001, June 1). Rutgers study: Web makes student cheating easier. But most cheaters said they would have plagiarized anyway, regardless of the web. eSchool news online.

Pullum, G. (2006, Apr. 25). In defense of Kaavya Viswanathan. Language Log.

Hale, C. (2007, Jan. 12). Professor threatens suit against Poshard. Southern Illinoisan.

The last of these deals with the ongoing drama here at SIUC, though it has moved beyond any connection to my presentation, and is also beyond a showdown over a bit of plagiarism. Several things have become obvious though: first, plagiarism is extremely common in normal, academic, everyday life, not only at SIUC: I'm astounded that so many people in the surveys referenced above freely admit to doing it (one would think that, having gone on the lying path, they would simply continue the deception, making such statistics invalid; they would certainly have little reason to lie in the other direction). Second, fear of actually having to write something can be quite disabling for the young of many cultures, and for plenty of other people too. Don't know if people like that read blogs like this- but nobody else does. And, not feeling that, even now, I don't know if I can say I understand it. People are busy. Life is full. And language learning is a process of copying what you've taken in....successfully.

Haven't read the top three, but I will. Stay posted.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Seattle 2007

I post these not only to invite you to the sessions themselves, if you happen to be at TESOL 2007 in Seattle, but also to invite comment and criticism: what could and should these include? What experience do you have that could prove timely? What problems do you see in our current way of doing things? These sessions intend to cover as much useful information as possible and provide for ESL/EFL practitioners useful knowledge and resources. Any comments you have would be appreciated. I also post them in order to get myself organized, make websites for each, plan a busy trip in Seattle, etc. See you there!


Defining, detecting, and dealing with online plagiarism
Discussion, CALL IS, CC 211, Wed., Mar. 21, 7:00 PM-7:45 PM

As a discussion, my partner Laurie Moody and I will be charged with eliciting opinions and questions from a small group of interested practitioners. We often put chairs in a circle and expect people to tell us a little about what they experience and what they want to know. We are expected to write something about problems people face- what is happening out in the field? How can TESOL address some of the concerns of its members?

For this one I've been thinking that an online resource for ESL/EFL practitioners would be useful. I have a site from a previous presentation here and could build on it easily, and probably will.

It's been a consistent interest of mine over time and is getting more currency these days as we are seeing more of it than we used to. In addition SIUC was involved in a campus-wide discussion of the issue in general that brought up a number of useful points. Quick, while it's on everyone's mind, let me know what you think: how do you define it? Detect it? Deal with it?


Student weblogging for fluency, skills, and integration
Demonstration, Writing IS, CC 3B, Sat. Mar. 24, 10:30-11:15.

This is the big one- in this one I present, show, talk, perform. What I'm after here is to prove that using our weblogs has been successful for our students as well as for our program. I'd like positive affirmation of the following questions and welcome challenges if you honestly feel that they are more trouble than they are worth...

1. In general using weblogs forces students to turn public with their writing. How has this helped them? Do they gain fluency from actually showing what they have labored over, to the general public? Why?
2. Technological problems haunt the process: blogger changes; mac is different from their pc's at home; word documents require translation when put onto blogger, etc. How much of this is just a necessary part of the process of mastering communication in the modern world? Couldn't it be avoided?
3. People often take the attitude that mastery of English is somehow separate from mastery of the technological environments in which we are are forcing them to use it. I of course disagree with this idea. How can I show that getting students used to the processes of mastering environmental challenges and platform requirements is part of general fluency? How can I show that integration includes integration into communities that will mean most to them: the online ones that they will need for success in the worlds they will be entering?

Comments welcome!


Weblog portfolios in an intensive English program
eFairs Classic, Electronic Village, 2:00, day TBA

In these, I sit at a computer and show what we do, give advice, give out handouts, etc. It is an invited presentation; I have done several of these over the years. In general the Electronic Village is my favorite part of TESOL.

For this I'd like to see lots of portfolios, used in different ways, and answer a few questions:

What can students do to make their work look better?
How do portfolios enhance a student's self-presentation?
What long-term benefits do student portfolios provide?
What effective ways can be used to grade portfolios?


See you in Seattle!


Thursday, January 04, 2007

who's on second

Thought I'd be quiet on the subject for a while, but this came up and I couldn't resist. It's full of resources and very up-to-date.

Stevens, V. (2006, Dec.). Second Life in education and language learning. TESL-EJ (online journal) 10, 3. Accessed 1-07.

No comment for now- still reading it. Thanks, though, Vance!