Friday, February 23, 2007

volume theory

Maybe this is the wrong time to discuss it, Friday night when I'm worn out and exhausted, but I've been working on this theory of teaching for some time. It's basic. It is simply that the teacher owes to the student the promise to maximize the amount of language that that student can process successfully in a given time frame. That the student will seek to accelerate the rate of processing, thus becoming more efficient, and this is both good and necessary; that the teacher will not only seek the appropriate level of interest for the students (a given) and an appropriate level of difficulty (i + 1, as Krashen would say), but also, increase the amount as much as possible, as the amount alone (given a reasonable level of interest and difficulty) is the single most important variable determining how quickly they are to succeed.

It's not earth-shattering; it may be obvious; but, there it is. It's like the Total Time Law- we often take these for granted, but, we should really state them, write them down, and recognize the effect that simple prioritizing of goals can have on one's teaching.


kinds of fluency

Put into writing today some thoughts that I delivered at the talk on Thursday; when it came to watching students, who were in some cases able to move pictures or movies from one place to another, yet still unable to type a sentence onto a weblog, I realized that there were kinds of environmental fluencies, and that the concept of fluency really to some degree is driven by the medium one is using to communicate. The oral fluencies, discourse conventions, hmms and ahhs and eye contact, may become less important as people meet and do business more by chat, and are not bound to one geographical location in their development of live networks of friends with similar interests and abilities. Read it and tell me what you think.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

using weblogs, cont'd

I gave my presentation today, to a limited but receptive group of CESL teachers & friends.

Leverett, T. (2007, Feb. 22). Using weblogs in CESL classes. CESL Matters presentation. LMC Video Room, Faner Hall, SIUC.

I give it this formal title because I made a handout, went to all the trouble to make stuff to show, etc. But more importantly I introduced a couple of ideas that I'm working on for my mid-March TESOL presentation on the same subject. Those are:

First, we old-timers are used to a general paradigm, a relationship between the spoken word and written word, whereby oral comes first; oral is more informal and changes more quickly; written is more stable and more common through cultures, common to all speakers of a language. People meet each other with oral English, and expect variation in oral styles that they wouldn't expect with the written versions. Linguists stress that the written is secondary and based on the oral; that it's still a language if it doesn't have a written form, and that all written forms of a word are symbolic representations of sounds that already exist as part of the spoken word.

All these assumptions are coming into question because of the new technology. Our students will live in a world in which they will meet each other through the written word first; the written word will be more informal and will change more quickly, and will also be more likely to show dialectical variation that the oral language, standardized by Hollywood and common media, will have lost. It's a new world. What linguists identified as a relationship between spoken and written versions of a language may not stay in the form we are most comfortable with.

Second, systematically teaching students how to type, use punctuation, use double-space, use blogger, link, post and edit is no small undertaking, and one that lower-level teachers, with limited time, are reluctant to take on. My attitude is that technology has placed demands on the teacher's time similar to those of the communicative movement practitioners, who used to say to students- ok, you've learned grammar rules, and memorized words, but all of that is no good if you can't make a successful face-to-face interaction, responding appropriately to such questions as, "How are you today?"

In the same sense we are now in a world in which grammar, words, reading skill, AND certain minimal typing abilties will be useless, without some measure of technological fluency that will be required to copy/paste onto a weblog, chat forum, or bulletin board- the ability to edit post, go around and use another browser, email documents to oneself. Translating quotation marks that don't move well from PC to mac is nothing, compared to some of the problems we've faced in crossing the gaps of communication posed by New Blogger and other challenges- and- if a little bit of that is enough to make you give up, you must not want success very badly.

Technological hurdles are like a good Minnesota snowstorm, I told them- they build good character, make people help each other, make all of us better people, more upright and virtuous. It was a pep talk I needed to hear more than they did, I think (see below)...and I vowed an era of greater browser-fluency on my own part (learning at least basic Firefox, Opera, maybe Mozilla), with maybe more awareness of what low-level teachers face when undertaking such a huge task. We are all short of time, some of us more painfully than others. But most of all, our students feel this, that time is limited, and they know that the sooner they get on the computer and get started, the better. I've never had one who said, I don't need this. Or, if they said it, I didn't hear it.

When dealing with the hunt-and-peck typist (of which we apparently have many), I say, show them the typing program, stand over their shoulder and show them double-space, then stop spending good class time waiting for them to find an r. They'll learn soon enough- enough of them have (I have), and, when they see how necessary it is (I am not making this up??) - they'll figure it out.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Using weblogs in the esl/efl classroom

I will present this at the LMC video room at 12:00 this Thursday, Feb. 22, George's birthday, as a test-run for TESOL. The video room is a small place so I don't mind if only a fraction of my entire reading audience (;-)) attends; I will be happy if lots of CESL teachers attend. I have found CESL teachers to be overall receptive to the idea of using weblogs in the classroom, but somewhat overwhelmed by the practical challenges involved in doing so, not the least of which is finding the time to master something you are about to teach.

And, while I gather the strength to preach to the choir, give them the best I can offer, the computer in my own office stubbornly refuses to step over the void(0) rock, some subterranean code-related glitch that blocks a mac OSX 10.3.9 on the New Blogger. Going around by way of IE doesn't help, because, though I can post on IE, I can't EDIT POST on IE because I can't see any of the old posts. Getting a 10.4, or getting Firefox, may be the only solution.

Making and putting up webpages is a similar nightmare. The old computer had SimpleText, but that can't handle modern pages, some of which I made in the time that I had the new computer. The modern and free page-making tools, TextWrangler and BBEdit, work great on newer macs, but can't download onto a 10.3.9; I can't find an earlier version that will. Kind of a standoff there. I may have to make my pages at home for a while.

Sorry about the technobabble. Was watching "The Never-Ending Story" over the weekend with my son (who had fallen asleep); noticed that the terrible, all-encompassing enemy was "The Nothing"- it snuck up on you, destroyed your life, eroded your very being, caused your horse to give up and sink into the quicksand- could this be the "void(0)?" Maybe I'm making more of this than it's worth. But this void(0) is haunting me. It's somthing I'd rather not think about. Off to make an outline- maybe this one on paper, or, as a low-tech solution, e-mailed to myself.


Friday, February 09, 2007

one more...

Hiebert, J. (2006, Feb. 17). Personal Learning Environment model. headspaceJ.

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some articles from out & around

Radcliffe, J. (2007, Jan. 27). A new school of bloggers., Houston Chronicle online. Accessed 2-07.

Carlson, P. (2007, Feb. 9). Have a long chat, before they do. Surrey Leader, Surrey, BC, Canada. Accessed 2-07. successful (and outstanding) blog.

Iz txtng styl aprprt fr trm pprs? (2006, Dec. 13). Education IT Blog, ZD Net. Accessed 2-07.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

more on weblogging

Campbell, A. (2006, Sept. 21). Blogging for homework. Accessed 2-07.

Tried to get on the old This is your brain: this is your brain on weblogs, a cooperative venture with my colleague Jessica, and the New Blogger tried to strongarm us into conversion. While I mull that over, I'll put this here...


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New blogger, same teacher

I'm having occasional trouble with the new blogger, Mac OX, Safari, just trying to publish posts. This is especially crucial when I send whole classes out to do it. When the publish button (orange, at the bottom) only reads "publi-" I'm in trouble and nothing happens when I click it. Save as Draft doesn't work either.

On IE neither button appears, just a blue line and an orange line. But that's ok, I just click on the orange line, and at least I can post. But I hate IE. Some weblogs look terrible on it!

Is this part of the ongoing incompatibility wars? Down here on the LMC macs, I seem to have entire orange publish-buttons to work with. Cross my fingers. Didn't want to use Opera, or maybe Firefox.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Linguistics at SIUC

With the chair and the last tenured professor almost gone and not to be replaced, at least not in the near future, the war of attrition against the Department of Lingusitics at SIUC seems almost over. It would be good to say that Linguistics has a chance of regaining its former strength, but it would be hard to imagine how, at this point, without a change of heart in certain high postions. Yet, for a university struggling to find a toehold in the new world, revive an image tarnished by past Halloween incidents and other problems, it is shortsighted to dissemble Linguistics, whether it is because of a shortage of undergraduate majors, or for any other reason.

The study of human language is at the heart of human perception of the world- the base of all the social sciences, the medium with which we understand and discuss the world around us, the essence of what makes us human, and the key to understanding the cultural diversity within our own species. In a rapidly changing world, in which new technology redefines communication, perception, and human relationships, not to mention the economy, the university and the government, nothing could be more crucial than maintaining and advancing our understanding of how humans create, use and change languages in all our various media. One doesn't have to look far to realize that chat, virtual reality, and online networking have redefined language as we know it, and that an understanding of human adaptation to environment will be crucial to our survival in years to come. I would argue that Linguistics (as opposed to Classics? History? Philosophy?) is the keystone around which a university should be based- the one subject that should not have to rely on "undergraduate majors" for its survival- and that should be embraced and supported at all costs.

I strongly encourage the SIUC administration, which has the ability and the resources to position itself for the realization of its own vision, whatever that may be, to recognize the value of LInguistics, and then begin to restore a department that could in turn provide the leadership, the vision, and the impetus that moves SIUC into a new role for a new generation. Changes are happening quickly in the world, and a university can't go forward on recycled vision, or even a classic formula, that may have put another university in the "top 75." We are unique, with our forests, lakes, rivers, and a long straight highway to Chicago, and we have to make our own way, capitalizing on what we can offer to the state and the world. I don't see how this could be easier, smoother or even possible if Linguistics is dismantled, or tucked into another department; even if Linguistics is taken up elsewhere in the state, as it inevitably will be, it won't be the same, or as good, as it could be done here. Get organized, Illinois- and take a look at the future. Then, build the new department around what could make us great. Thank you.

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