Friday, December 18, 2015

2015 report

OK, I'll be the first to admit it. I got one foot into retirement (I am now teaching 3/4 time, writing 1/4 time), and I realized how tired I was, after about thirty years of teaching. I still have lots of ideas. I do lots of things in my class. But a lot of times, I come home from teaching, and all I want to do is rest.

Part of the problem is that, having ten children, I never get that rest, whether I do extra ESL stuff or not. In fact, the ESL tends to be kind of a break from the children, an enjoyable, academic kind of break, like having conversations with interesting people I know, but I don't have time for it. I'm taking kids to their sports practices, or to the dentist, or getting groceries, etc. But another part of it is that I really love writing, and I also love music, and these are sides of me that went undeveloped for many years. So, when I apologize for failing a little at this end, just consider me as backing off a little. I can't possibly keep up the pace I kept for many years.

Nonetheless, here are some interesting things I've been doing in 2015.

First, I became almost entirely a writing teacher, so I had two advanced writing classes. My students are very high level graduate students who are trying to maintain and improve what they consider their weak point. The stronger ones take the class on their own, knowing that there's always a lot to learn. The weaker ones are pressured to take it by their departments, where they really don't want to teach graduate students writing, but just want them to crank out good useful dissertations and articles regularly. It's high-level; the students are bright. I had one do a blog on gay marriage (their choice) and the other campus carry (gun control, also their choice). We published everything we wrote, and it was good, and interesting. I helped teach them formatting things online, as well as the usual writing things - citation, reference, etc. I had the usual run-ins with plagiarism. I taught a lot of students a lot of things.

One of my graduate students became interested in the concordance movement, so I became reacquainted with it. The first step was learning more about it as a tool, how to use it, whether it really works. I am genuinely interested in the process of learning how students integrate tools into their writing process - how, why, how easily, etc. They are not especially forthcoming about the tools they use, being convinced, I guess, that so many of them are illegal. Nevertheless, as a class (both of them, really), we discussed opening up the concordance, seeing what it can do, applying the simplest of grammar problems to it, etc. It was interesting. My Graduate Assistant was fascinated. And, interestingly, even the students found one aspect of it interesting: they are stats people. They like to run the numbers. To be able to run the numbers on the words you use, that's an interesting concept. They are still shaking their heads.

We have a conference in the spring; there is some doubt about whether we'll do it this spring, with its main organizer gone now. Last spring, I was caught unprepared, and didn't even present. There are many things I could present, but I presented zip, I didn't even go. I believe I was out of town, but I don't even remember where; perhaps New Mexico. But I did present at TESOL, the usual, and I could have presented on various subjects of interest, if I could keep from being drawn into the world of personal fiction publishing.

The first would be on cultural flexibility as a requirement of good language learning. I feel that the characteristic of cultural flexibility, being able to unhinge your self-image from its cultural trappings, is measurable, and crucial in the process. I'd like to define it better, and work toward writing about what I mean. I gave a presentation at our 2014 spring conference, and very easily could have given another. But I was interrupted, and, I'm sorry to say, I dropped the ball.

In the course of doing that one, I became interested in Order of Acquisition as a given construct in Language Learning. Actually, I'm more interested in proving that there isn't one; it's part of my constructivist belief that each learner decides for himself/herself what order to acquire anything in, and each learner has his/her own idea of what is crucial, or what should go first. And, it would be possible to manipulate the system. For example, one could convince a learner to learn all the religious words first (salvation, heaven, savior, etc.) and skip the ones having to do with cooking, if that learner were proselytizing ten hours a day, and never cooking. One's viewpoint determines what one acquires, not an innate natural order. But I'd like to prove that, if I had time.

My TESOL presentation is basically about how grammar programs have messed with people's heads. That's putting it lightly. But something has come up that is tangentially related to this. The War on Passive is something we researched, and wrote a little about, and learned how to teach. In essence some departments, specifically social sciences, dislike the passive intensely; others, namely the hard sciences, still cling to it. There is a wide variety. Read about it on this blog. I could easily ride this one to another TESOL, but I haven't...why not?

Finally, there is the language-as-a-self-organizing-system project; this has been dormant for a while now, and is beginning to fossilize in its dormant phase. I have written voluminously about it. I haven't given up on it. It needs to be published before I give up altogether. Hello?

Meanwhile I help out at the office. My classes are full. I enjoy teaching, and I also teach American students these days; I like that too. Texas Tech is benevolent and enjoyable to me. I avoid politics. This year, due to wife's surgery, mother's near-death health experiences, and family issues, I avoided all office parties, poetry readings, etc. as well. I am in demand at the poetry reading, as people like haiku, and believe it or not, one can write bilingual haiku that pulls on both language universes in seventeen short syllables; I am one who could do it as I've been literally immersed in poetry for months now. However as I said, I was busy. Life is full here, the nights are beautiful, and there are lots of stars out, even in the city. And the mountains are even better; the 9000 feet woods beckon. I am, in the end, partially retired.

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