Thursday, April 30, 2009

I dove into two new kinds of technology recently, actually three, in a bit of desperation that I am so far behind in some ways, with some things that so many people take for granted. One of these is movies. It's a world of clips; young people have and shoot clips around, and watch a lot of youtubes, and pass them around as if they were a bunch of grapes. But I have a hard time even getting information out of them, let alone making a good one, or using them to teach a language.

So, it's about time, I thought, and maybe I better make one and see how possible it is to make a good one, before I start laying plans to teach a language through it.

The first kind I tried was facebook movies; I figured that if every single computer in our lab (now) has a working videocam, then there's no reason we couldn't consider a movie as a mass effort and make one like that. What I was really after was computers around in a circle; people inside; many movies made at once; multiple facebook event kind of thing. That will have to wait though. That would be theatre in the round, which is way over most people's head, even when it's live.

So we settled for written messages put in front of the fb screen, usually my account; altogether we made four or five movies. Often the messages were blurry or, worse yet, hurtful, though done supposedly in the spirit of teasing. They were grammatical. I have no idea if they taught grammar or reinforced it, or both or neither. It was a class I was subbing in; I barely knew the students. They played along, and made lots of facebook movies. You can see two in my profile, if you look.

Second, a real movie. This happened yesterday. I borrowed a CESL movie camera, new, and challenged my students; I put ideas in their hands. We were covering facial communiation, and the claim was made that faces communicate in universal ways, and communicate ten distinct emotions, which we wrote out. Then we produced the faces; finally, we challenged others to come and do the same. We shot lots of faces, and downloaded the movie for splicing & editing. I have no idea how it will come out.

Finally, in the world of audio files, I made an audacity file of eight students reading Big Fish stories; they read into a mic and it was stored at the LMC computer. It turns out that it would have been easier to upload their stories onto Voxopop; but, I didn't even know the difference, and had to find out. In their audacity form, they are difficult to deal with, but manageable. Voxopop, though, turned out to be quite a find. I learned a lot here; I plan to do some more of it.

It was all new to me; there was no way to get around it. I had to just jump in, get the classes to understand it was the first time, and give them credit for trying. Even if it comes to nothing, it was an important experience and helped me learn considerably.

More later....

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Friday, April 17, 2009

new publication

Leverett, T. (2009). Chat and the language learner. Global Study Magazine 5, 2. London, UK.

Not online yet, but I'll tell you when it is.

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more pop

Another busy week; very little to show here, except some pop art.


Friday, April 10, 2009

kumakura in spring

more here.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Interview with writing lab coordinator

Some of the most interesting comments about error correction and grammatical errors came not in the presentation on them, but in an interview later with an old friend of mine who runs a writing lab. She of course sees it from the point of view of academic students who are still carrying around a grammatically non-native set of skills.

Apparently an entire presentation at TESOL was given over to the student who just wants the grammar fixed, and nothing else. She confirms my idea that their own grammatical inadequacy is in fact a big deal to them and that they really don't see the other aspects: organizational, etc., as nearly as important. Writing Centers however are philosophically opposed to simply proofreading, and so have adjusted their tactics in such a way as to give the students something to take with them that will help them and teach them, basically, to be their own editors. This of course was the goal of writing teachers in our presentation.

The lab director said that at one point, they measured a student's knowledge of grammar by which of three reactions they had to an error: 1) silly me! 2) yes, I was wondering about that, 3) huh? (clueless). Writing tutors' responses would then be based on students' understanding. To #1 it's mostly a matter of teaching students how to check their own papers to clean up things they basically already know, i.e. teach them how to use their own skills. That's quite different from teaching them grammar, or hoping that their grammar will actually change from today until tomorrow when they have to write another paper.

She agreed that simply ignoring grammatical errors did nothing to make students feel better about themselves, give them more confidence, or put grammatical corrections in their true place in the big picture. Students in fact resented people who ignore them.

To her the #1 bogeyman was word forms. What do you do when the student simply doesn't have the word? Provide it? There was no answer here. Her strategies for tutors had dealt successfully with the maxim: "Don't just change the grammar," and acted upon the principle, "Give them something to take home and improve with;" what she had been unable to deal with was, "What do you do when the student simply has no words?"

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Technology as aid, crutch and impediment

This session met at 4:00 on Friday and was well attended by about 35 or 40 people. We started out by trying to move the chairs into a circle, but they were attached to each other and there were cords for the projector that we risked interfering with. In the end we had a kind of combination circle in the front, and people going all the way toward the back doorway. We ran out of handouts fairly early, having brought only about 30 (for a discussion that was intended to have 20-30), since there seemed to be many handout-grabbers (people who don't attend, but collect the handouts whenever possible).

There seemed to be two lines of thought with regard to the technological aids/crutches/impediments that are coming our way these days. One is to immerse students and the class in them, teaching them how to use them properly and existing in the world that uses them. The other is to prohibit them from all tests and exercises in which a student's actual ability is being evaluated. The second one has been called a Luddite perspective, but those teachers were clearly watching out for their students' skills, and were not motivated to take the crutches away from their world altogether; rather, they just wanted the students to develop skills in the absence of crutches, so that they would do better when armed with them.

There was general outrage at plagiarism, wikipedia, online translators, grammar-check and tech-correctors, etc., all of which make the writing teacher's job more challenging. It was pointed out that when students were instructed in how to use Turnitin, a large number of last term's papers came up, but that they commonly didn't see a problem with using last term's papers anyway, until they were told otherwise.

My own tirade against grammar-check and where it is going was met with surprise, but I couldn't really gauge how people felt about it as one of the things that basically obscures a student's true abilities, and makes it harder for a teacher to actually assess what that student has mastered. One teacher mentioned "spell-check surrealism" as a name for words I have called something else, altered by spell-check to become some inappropriate but correctly spelled word. Grammar-check continues to be under the radar of the average teacher, I imagine, since we don't see it being used actively in our own lives; it's hard to imagine what it is actually doing in our students'.

With every mention of technological problem encountered by the teacher, a "Luddite" would declare their tests, essays or class exercises to be free of that kind of technological interference; however, others equally sincerely pointed out that since that kind of technology would still be around tomorrow, it would be better to just teach students how to use it properly and live with the results.

Transcripts show teachers concerned about a wide variety of technological innovations and their effects on language learning; one mentioned "tripping across web 2.0" while another mentioned a free community-based paper-sharing service, There was wide distrust of cell phone technology and what was being done in classrooms; this was the first appearance of the Modernist/Luddite split (see above). It was agreed that spell-check and grammar-check require training, to be used properly; even Wikipedia needs to be explained and introduced. It was mentioned that students feel pressure to write well and to use tools they don't know how to use; thus we're programming them to plagiarize to some degree. It was also mentioned that even databases are updated so rapidly that it is difficult for writing teachers to keep up with even the simplest technology that is needed to do traditional research. How does one keep up? It's up to us; we're on our own, and it's a rapidly changing world out there.

Presentation home

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Error Correction Frontier: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This is a session report, which starts with what I consider most memorable, because it is that little folded piece of paper that is disintegrating in my pocket and has to be written as soon as possible. I have more detailed notes which will follow as soon as I get to them.

This was a discussion that met at 7:00 on a Saturday morning; since discussions were intended for 20-30 people, we made only 30 handouts but they were taken right away. Probably about 50 came but only about 30 at any given time as there were people coming and going throughout. I started by laying out what we promised and what we wanted. We were aware that it was a hot-button issue and we had promised to keep the conversation civil and focus on what worked in terms of editing, especially grammatical editing. The room was full of writing teachers who essentially cared very much for their students and wanted to know what was best for them; this impressed me.

Two people stood out in my memory perhaps for the emotion in their voices as they spoke. One was a woman who wanted her students to be able to communicate at all costs. I took this as an anti-correction statement, but, it seemed to me that everyone wanted that. She didn't directly prove that pointing out errors repressed their communicative abilities though that point has been made.

Another woman said that she couldn't bear forcing students to write three drafts of anything that at its base wouldn't pass the exit exam; after they had done three drafts, she couldn't flunk them in good conscience, yet she realized that really their papers probably wouldn't pass. So, she had become a "front-loader," grading the first draft progressively more heavily. It was at this point that I spoke up, agreeing with her as a "front-loader," since it's what they can create on the spot, with their own skills and process, that they take with them to the next level. Everything else has my input in it, and is, therefore, a representation more of what I want, what I say, and what they think they need to do, than of what they do on their own.

Another woman deserves mention: the one who says that since she systematically removes a point from every essay for a missing -s, she virtually wipes out the problem by the end of the term. She simply uses behavioristic punishments to teach them to edit their own papers, and it's regular enough to work within a given framework of one course.

Transcripts of the session itself show general unanimous support for the idea that students should learn to self-edit, and that teachers generally edit with that goal in mind. We sometimes edit to justify a grade, or to show them what will be most costly at the next step up, i.e. an entrance exam. People had different experiences with where students were going after their writing experience; the question was basically how to make them better prepared; how they could be better armed for what followed. One teacher asked if anyone else gave them stock phrases that they could use. Another mentioned that the SAT had gone to using a holistic approach, and asked if anyone had experience with that. Another mentioned "Myths in second language writing" and recommended it. One confident gentleman said that all feedback should be consistent, manageable, timely and meaningful.

Presentation home

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