Friday, September 28, 2007

the latest

Two things have set me back recently, and made me fall behind on posting, not to mention miss Saudi Day and other treats. First, we lost internet access at home over the weekend, for reasons unknown except to Verizon, then I got a little sick due to working the midnight shift one night with Corey, who for whatever reason chose to watch Zaboomafoo from 2-3:30 am. But a bigger reason in the Vocabulary Project.

Briefly, my class decided to study effects of stress on memory and performance; specifically on performance in vocabulary quizzes which have been a staple of my teaching but which I hadn't really been using this term. My class knew how I felt; knew that I felt that it was very important how and how much they pick up vocabulary, and also knew that this would be a good way to study their own responses to stress especially with the upcoming TOEFL.

I set up a series of four vocabulary quizzes which I gave to two groups, the evens-odds and the odds-evens. The evens-odds took the evens ones first, so that I could make the last two evens quizzes of equal difficulty for the odds-evens. I did the same for the odds; the odds-evens took the odd numbers (1-79) first; I normalized them; and made the last two quizzes for the evens-odds equally difficult. Then, we added stress on the last day, a whopper of an exam, today. One that counted and counted big. Then we measured if they lost any ground on their vocabulary.

Results were mixed. Let's just say, they would have lost more ground, if they were put in a helicopter crash simulator, ducked under water, and forced to swim to the were these people who actually were placed in this position to test the effects of stress on memory. Let's also say, the TOEFL is probably much worse than a Core Unit exam, particularly for some students. And, finally, there are some students who actually pick up so little vocabulary, that they tend to throw off the numbers.

All of these problems, I will address in the near future, if I have time. Look here for student comments on related topics, though I don't know if their write up of this project will make it onto the blogs or not. It seemed to be a great way to tie together class subjects (stress, health, mind control over stress), class pressures, and my own interests (studying why, how, and how well they actually pick these words up)- and, most importantly, got them talking a lot about the process of learning.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007


7:30-9:30, FRIDAY
Cousin Andy's Coffeehouse
Church of the Good Shepherd, Orchard Street, Carbondale (more specific directions at link)
Benefit for the Heifer Project

Featuring Yours Truly, and the
Parsley Sagebrush Band...

By the way, listen to my cult classic "Long Way to Centralia" and others
at our long-loading MySpace...


Sunday, September 09, 2007

traffic report

My theory of language is that it is similar to traffic: it is fundamentally thousands, or millions, of people, acting on the basis of their own perceptions, at any moment doing what they see as the easiest or best way of getting from point A to point B. And that this vast number of people essentially create the system, just as the people of a city create traffic patterns, which have a life of their own but which are fundamentally controlled by the individual decisions of the little people, acting in their own best interests.

And that, when you set off from point A to point B, whether it be in language or in your car, your decisions are made scientifically, though based upon your own perception. They are measurable and predictable to some degree; you do them for reasons; your reasoning is strongly influenced by others, to the point that you may occasionally follow some car, in an attempt to find an alternate route through a neighborhood. In large cities, people talk to each other about alternate routes; they listen to traffic reports; they fine-tune perceptions of the quality of different routes at different times of day. In the same way, fluent language learners develop alternate ways of saying things, and choose them carefully at appropriate times, but the novice language learner has fewer choices at his/her disposal, and may choose poorly, or choose correctly but for misguided reasons. In any case the behaviors of large numbers of people are of great interest and great consequence, though they are based entirely on the perceptions of individuals, which can in the end be manipulated or altered. They are not controlled by a central authority, though perception of the law and its requirements is usually part of the equation. For example, running stop signs would definitely make a ride through the neighborhoods faster, but it would also add considerable stress to the driver's morning, and it's debatable whether it is actually "fear of a ticket" that leads the driver to stop at stop signs, or more likely the norm: We generally stop at stop signs; it's safer, easier, and that's what everyone expects- so, it's more likely to result in successful and speedy passage...

Just outside of New York City they put a stop sign in front of the Lincoln Tunnel, not because there was another road feeding into it, but basically because human behavior is predictable and predictably erratic without it. People can and do manipulate these systems from above, hoping to alter human perceptions, and improve the flow of traffic or information. Nevertheless, people are guided by their own motivations; communication, like driving in traffic, is done for a higher purpose, without regard to what it does to influence the language (or traffic pattern) as a living, growing organism. This I learned the summer I lived in Chicago (1994), listening to the radio announcer, as he mentioned the Edens, the Dan Ryan, the Hillside Strangler, inbound on the Eisenhower. A novice, half the time I gave up and took the el. But, looking back, I remember the lessons I learned as if they were yesterday. I hear the traffic report, sometimes, especially if I'm caught by a train, which is our town's version of a traffic jam. Your life is, according to your perception. Yet you make life, as others perceive it, as you sit there, counting boxcars, and sipping American coffee.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

battle of eap1 gulch

I make my students put a lot of their work on weblogs, which forces me to give them interesting assignments, and forces them to think carefully about the record and their relationship to it. Weblogs, though appearing to be temporal, are actually permanent records, until someone deletes them, and it could be that more than one student has said, I don't want to see yesterday's homework every time I google myself...which goes to show that we are our own best customers, when it comes to search terms; I google myself far more than others google me, I'm sure, and if I were a real egomaniac, or powerful, I"d probably google myself several times a day, or pay someone to do it.

Which reminds me, I've said all I'm going to, for now, about the SIUC plagiarism issue on my plagiarism blog, where I've documented it a little for professional colleagues who are always interested in how things are going here at SIUC. As one who teaches about plagiarism every day, and fights it aggressively (at my own level, in the trenches), these days with the eap1 reading reaction journal (a virtual institution in eap1, which up to now has been more institution than virtual) - of course it matters to me whether our university president wrote his own dissertation, or plagiarized intentionally, or not. But, I haven't read the report yet, and, by Friday, have very little mental energy to spare on it anyway. Excuse my long babbling run-ons; it's hard to think clearly; it's late, I've been travelling, and watching wild young children, in a rainstorm, and in swimming pools and hotel buffets in St. Louis.

So anyway, I'm having these student journals, where eap1 students read about their own fields and react to the articles, all put online, on their own weblogs, which will be linked from our class weblog. And the main result of this is, everyone will be able to see them, and, if they are in the habit of using last semester's, or not really worrying about the article, or using someone else's article, or recycling one part or the other of it, everyone will be able to see it, and it will be right on the computer, forever, or at least until the grades are final. My attitude is, if you can't read and write real stuff about your passion, your major, your field, you don't have much call demanding to be turned loose in it. So there you go- you know all you need to, about what's happening here at SIUC.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

virtual cigar

This is for Motref's new baby boy, Fahad...


Welcome, Fahad!

And thanks to padrino cigars
for the image...