Monday, December 28, 2015

My classes try the concordance

I had a graduate assistant this semester who was inspired by the concordance. I opened it up and showed her how it could be a tool for high-level, international writers who I was teaching, and I showed her how. I had to play with it a while because I personally am not all that good with it; for example, I have trouble finding that fine column of sentences that use any given structure - how do you find that? Eventually we found it. Off she went; she was fascinated.

The one we liked best was the BYU concordance, and we showed it to both classes. She had better luck showing it to the class she taught in, while I showed it to the other class alone, though later I brought her in as a guest speaker, and she showed it to that class too. She did her best to show them how useful it could be in the process of writing. I'm not sure to what degree they bought it, or tried it. We kept pressing them all semester.

It's my belief, and I told my classes repeatedly, that as a tool, nothing could be more useful than a machine that delivers the facts about what people do in academic English. You have your dictionary and your thesaurus, I have these online, right? (it's my guess that not all had heard of, or actively used, the thesaurus - but these are graduate students - most had) was like pulling teeth to get them to talk about what they actually did when they wrote.

And that's my focus; it continues to be my focus today. My working philosophy comes down to the following:
-Everything that is written is a product of what a student can create, and what technology does to it; it includes the ways the student negotiates with the technology to find compromise forms and structures that appear to be ok.
-Students are reluctant to talk about the technology they use, since they are conditioned to be afraid of their copying anything from online sources; in general, they expect their teacher to have a negative view of online "help"
-Students are protective of the system that they use at home; they will occasionally beg to be allowed to write something at home (as opposed to an on-campus site, with a different computer/different tech) for reasons related to technical support, but they will rarely even admit this;
-This system we refer to (depending on Word grammar-check, spell-check, or whatever paid or free grammar programs they use; or, in some cases, dependence on wife, friend, neighbor) is well-established, a habit. Asking them to change it is really asking them to experiment with changing it and adapt what works well. It will be a slow and painful process to even get to the first part. It may have to wait until break.

We asked them, when it was all over, to write about their systems, and to write about learning. What follows (soon) will be a general analysis of what they said.

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