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Nov 14

xkcd, and why it wins its way into my language educator’s heart: Up Goer Five

Posted on Wednesday, November 14, 2012 in Education, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

Thank you to Eric for telling me I should look at this xkcd. It’s an illustration of the Saturn V Rocket, the rocket that carried men to orbit and to finally land on the moon. That in itself is awesome.

But why else would I bet all over this comic like it’s my favorite kind of candy? It’s perfect for a language educator because why? Are we keeping track of my crazy brain?

It’s the Saturn V rocket described in only the top 1000 most commonly used English Words: xkcd: Up Goer Five. There are a lot of word lists that list high frequency vocabulary words, and language learners are encouraged to master these vocabulary words before worrying about low-frequency words in order to develop a useful repertoire of vocabulary from which to pull from. If you know a thousand obscure words, your ability to have a conversation in your second language is seriously diminished.

While I see the value of focusing on high-frequency words for language learners, the xkcd comic reveals an interesting drawback to these commonly used words. One will quickly remark upon how silly the xkcd descriptions become using only these high-frequency terms. This indicates that specialized vocabulary has its place, and why there are a number of different word lists from which to pull from, depending on the sort of language one will need to use. English for Academic Purposes, for example, focuses on the Academic Word List, which is entirely different than a list of commonly used words in conversation.

So yes, as always xkcd is my favorite comic. The end.

Oct 2

Native-Like Proficiency and Pragmatics

Posted on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 in Education, Linguistics, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

If one can assert that the ultimate goal of advanced level foreign language learning is to achieve a “near-native proficiency” of the target language, what makes someone speak with “native-like proficiency”? What does that mean, exactly? While an advanced language learner might have mastered the grammar (syntax) and vocabulary (morphology) of their target language, they often produce language that can still be identified as non-native. Why is this?

Pragmatics might be the answer. Pragmatics is the awareness of what language choices are appropriate for the context in which they are used. Crystal (1997) defines pragmatics as “the study of language from the point of view of the users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on the other participants in an act of communication.”

In discourse, we are studying discourse pragmatics, rather why the same meaning can be expressed by more than one sentence, annd which is the more appropriate and native-like. Native speakers know what is used lexicogrammatically by native speakers but how can language learners learn this beyond long-term immersion in the target language. Is direct instruction of this native-like pragmatics possible?

Interlanguage Pragmatics studies pragmatics in second language acquisition. It focuses on research based on cross-cultural pragmatics and transference/inference of cross-cultural politeness. Kasper and Rose define Interlanguage Pragmatics as, “the study of nonnative speakers’ use and acquisition of L2 pragmatic knowledge.”

When talking about proficiency, language educators are usually referring to the communicative competence of a language learner, as well as their mastery of the structure and grammatical elements of a language.

It would appear that research needs to be done to show how educators can facilitate language learners communicative competency development alongside their awareness of interlanguage pragmatics so they can achieve true native-like language proficiency.

Sep 18

Teacher Expectations and Student Performance

Posted on Tuesday, September 18, 2012 in Education, Teaching

Really interesting article on NPR about how teacher’s expectations can affect student performance.

7  Ways Teachers Can Change Their Expectations

Researcher Robert Pianta offered these suggestions for teachers who want to change their behavior toward problem students:

Watch how each student interacts. How do they prefer to engage? What do they seem to like to do? Observe so you can understand all they are capable of.

Listen. Try to understand what motivates them, what their goals are and how they view you, their classmates and the activities you assign them.

Engage. Talk with students about their individual interests. Don’t offer advice or opinions – just listen.

Experiment: Change how you react to challenging behaviors. Rather than responding quickly in the moment, take a breath. Realize that their behavior might just be a way of reaching out to you.

Meet: Each week, spend time with students outside of your role as “teacher.” Let the students choose a game or other nonacademic activity they’d like to do with you. Your job is to NOT teach but watch, listen and narrate what you see, focusing on students’ interests and what they do well. This type of activity is really important for students with whom you often feel in conflict or who you avoid.

Reach out: Know what your students like to do outside of school. Make it a project for them to tell you about it using some medium in which they feel comfortable: music, video, writing, etc. Find both individual and group time for them to share this with you. Watch and listen to how skilled, motivated and interested they can be. Now think about school through their eyes.

Reflect: Think back on your own best and worst teachers, bosses or supervisors. List five words for each that describe how you felt in your interactions with them. How did the best and the worst make you feel? What specifically did they do or say that made you feel that way? Now think about how your students would describe you. Jot down how they might describe you and why. How do your expectations or beliefs shape how they look at you? Are there parallels in your beliefs and their responses to you?

via Teachers’ Expectations Can Influence How Students Perform : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.

Sep 16

The Genre of Narrating

Posted on Sunday, September 16, 2012 in Education, French, Linguistics, Teaching

I had a fairly hard time getting through the first few chapters of one of the textbooks for my Educational Linguistics course but chapter 8 has blown me away and now I can say that it’s awesome. The book is Genre, Text, Grammar: Technologies for Teaching and Assessing Writing by Peter Knapp and Megan Watkins. Chapter 8 is The Genre of Narrating.

Narratives are one of the most popular genres of texts used in the classroom. But direct instruction helps students develop their narrative writing skills better than just assuming they will “pick up” how to write a narrative.

Narratives do not have one purpose, like some genres. They can be used for entertainment, but to also provoke changes in social opinions through telling stories.

This chapter discusses how to teach basic techniques to students can write effective narratives. What I love most about this chapter and other chapters in this book is that it provides actual activities to do in a classroom, graphic organizers for scaffolding and even assessment rubrics.

Narratives have distinct grammatical features:

  • Narratives use past tense, action verbs and temporal connectives when people and events are sequenced in time and space (whenever I hear “time and space” I think of the Doctor, I am such a Whovian)
    • Action verbs in the past tense: went, did, ran, drive
    • Temporal Connectives: then, after
  • Action sequences use action verbs, mental verbs are used in evaluations or reflections.
  • Action verbs are used metaphorically to create imagery.
  • Sentence structure can be played with in narratives.
  • Rhythm and repetition are also litarary devices used for effect in narratives.

Now all that seems easy to understand but students are often understood to just naturally know the parts of a narrative. In my language classroom, telling students the structure to follow can help them focus on their L2 development instead of being unsure about how to go about writing a narrative. How many times have you seen a student staring at a blank piece of paper because they didn’t know how to start?

Narratives have a structure. They need to orient the reader, present some kind of complication, and there needs to be a resolution. There can be a coda or evaluation at the end. This basic structure can be played with and extended. Novels are complex narratives. But this basic structure is present in all narratives, from simple recounts to full length novels.

When students get older, about high school age, their written language skills expand and they can produce narratives that are more literary and less like spoken language. Since I want to teach at a high school level I will have students who are able to create imagery and write in a literary way in their first language, while they are developing their second language, their written proficiency will likely mirror younger students L1 production. Providing them scaffolding like that is shown in the chapter to help them develop narratives in their second language will help them focus on form instead of text type structure. But teaching them to write a narrative in a second language from the very start will be amazing. There is quite a jump from the written output expected in the high school language class to university level language courses, especially if a student is majoring or minoring in a language. Having these tools at their disposal will be valuable to students.

I am most impressed with the assessment rubrics provided by this book. I love rubrics!

Knapp, P. & Watkins, A. (2005) Genre, text, grammar: Technologies for teaching and assessing writing. Sydney, Australia: University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
Butt et al. (2005) Towards a functional grammar in Using Functional Grammar, An Explorer’s Guide, p 22- 44.

Sep 13

Functional Grammar and Language Education

Posted on Thursday, September 13, 2012 in Education, Linguistics, Teaching

Learning language is more than learning words and grammar. It is about learning how to use the language in a way that makes sense to people who speak that language. Language is a process of making meanings, weaving them together into a purposeful whole text. The task of language education is one of supporting language learners so they can participate in the process of making meaning.

Teachers who think about language like this will be likely to design activities using authentic texts, letting students work with authentic language use.

Functional grammar education seeks to articulate knowledge about language language users have formed over their lifetimes about how language choices make different meanings in different contexts so that they can make use of this explicit knowledge in the classroom. Functional grammar gives us techniques and the vocabulary we need to analyze texts and describe them.

Text: Some piece of language that is functional. Can be spoken or written. A text is just a collection of meanings.

Texts occur within contexts of culture and situation:

Context of Culture: differences in the way culture shapes the way we use language to make meanings. Like in one culture there is one way to greet someone, in another culture another way is appropriate.
Context of Situation: the way language is used to make meaning in a particular situation.

I see it that culture shapes texts broadly and situations shape text in a more specific manner.

Field, Tenor and Mode

Field: What is being talked about.
Tenor: The relationship between the speaker/writer and the listener/reader.
Mode: The way the text is delivered. Ex. letter, resume, essay, speech, telephone call, conversation.

Functions of language

  • to talk about what has happened and what will happen: ideational function
  • to talk about how feel about things: interpersonal function
  • to make the two other functions a coherent whole: textual function
  • Levels of language

    • Extralinguistic Levels: Context of Culture — > Context of Situation
      • Is realized in

      • Linguistic Levels:
        • Content levels: Semantics (systems of meaning)
          • Is realized in:

          • Lexicogrammar (systems of words and how they are arranged)
            • Is realized in:

            • Expression Level:
              • Phonology (systems of sounds)
              • Gestures
              • Graphology (systems of writing)

      Systemic functional grammar is a way to describe language choices so we can be aware of how language is being used to realize meanings. It’s gives us the words we need to describe it. SFL/SFG calls this metalanguage.

      Register: Texts that share the same context and patterns of grammar, the same purpose or relationship are said to share the same register.

      Genre: Texts that share the same structure and text types are said to share the same genre.

      Some types of genre: Recount, Narrative, Procedure, Information Report, Explanation, Exposition, Discussion. There are more obviously but these are commonly used in the classroom.

    Sep 13

    Functional Language

    Posted on Thursday, September 13, 2012 in Linguistics, Teaching

    This makes my academic heart swell with joy:

    It is often said that children, as they use language, are constantly

    • learning language
    • learning through language, and
    • learning about language.

    We never stop learning language — from the babbling of babies to the voracious preschool years, from our early encounters with print and our first attempts at writing through to the secondary textbooks and essays, and then beyond to the new demands of adulthood, where we still continue to learn and refine the language needed in every new situation in which we find ourselves.

    And it is now widely recognised that we learn through language — that language is absolutely central in the learning process. Our perception of the world is constructed through language, and it is through language that we are able to interact with others in our world. In schools, we could virtually say that “language is the curriculum”. (Derewianka, 1990, p.3)

    Deeply entwined with Vygotskian principles about language being a cultural tool and Halliday’s work with SFL, this paragraph connects with me profoundly as a language educator. Teaching learners a foreign language gives them access to new interactions with others, changes their perceptions of the world. It empowers learners with new opportunities for new life learning, it teaches them new ways to learn about themselves and the world around them.

    Derewianka, B., (1990). A functional approach to language. In Exploring how texts work (pp. 3-9). Primary English Teaching Association.

    Aug 28

    Academic Rambling

    Posted on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 in Education, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

    School schedule this semester is heavy. Language and Culture in the Classroom, Educational Linguistics and Folk Literature for Children. I love it all. Really I do. I think that I could become an academic, a scholar. Teach classes and research and write papers and present them at conferences surrounded by people as academically fervent as I am about my research interests. Right now I am pursuing my Master’s. What if I want to return to pursue my PhD. And not in horribleness. I love learning. Such a nerd.

    May 14

    Summer: French Plan of Study

    Posted on Monday, May 14, 2012 in French, Second Language Acquisition, Teaching

    A large portion of my summer plans include daily French study. After last semester, I would say my current proficiency in specific grammar concepts is lacking. I mean, I did fine in the French course I took, I got an A-, but there is definite room for improvement. Lesson learned: When one takes 8 years off of French learning, one tends to forget parts of the language. To receive certification with my MAT program with UGA, I will need to score Intermediate High the ACTFL Oral Proficiency test, which I will take during the cohort portion of the program where I complete my practicum courses and student teaching/internship. While I am not doing my cohort this coming fall, I intend to complete my G-4 Certification requirements during the 2013 – 2014 school year, I am not taking classes this summer, so now is the time to get it up to par.

    In the curriculum design course I took last semester, I learned a lot about how languages are taught and therefore am using that information to approach my studies in the most efficient metacognitive style. I know that in order to develop all areas of language proficiency I will need to practice all four areas of the language: Reading, writing, listening and speaking. I also Think the four strands principle of language learning is a wise approach: Language-focused learning, meaning-focused output, meaning focused input and fluency development. Another principle I intend to employ is comprehensible input (thank you Stephen Krashen!)

    So below is my plan of attack for maximizing my language development over the short summer months.

    Focus: Grammar

    • Reading: Read sentences and paragraphs employing the grammar concept I am focusing on for the day. I will utilize Google and my existing coursebooks and texts to find relevant examples of the grammar concept and read them.
    • Writing: Practice the grammar concept in focus using the Ultimate French Review and Practice book I am using.
    • Listening: Listen to French podcast, find content related to grammar concepts.
    • Speaking: Simulate conversation and make up sentences utilizing the grammar concept.

    Focus: Culture

    • Reading: Read the news/current events in France and French speaking countries.
    • Writing: Write a blog post about current event that interests me.
    • Listening: Watch French news broadcast about the current events.
    • Speaking: Record the blog pots that I write, and upload it to the blog as a sort of podcast.

    Focus: Verbs

    • Reading: Read sentences with verbs I am focusing on today employing them in a variety of verb tenses.
    • Writing: Write sentences using verbs in focus using in a variety of verb tenses.
    • Listening: Find reading paragraphs using the verbs.
    • Speaking: Read the sentences out loud. Make up sentences using the verb in a variety of verb tenses in a simulated conversation.

    Focus: Reading Comprehension

    • Reading: Read from graded reader a chapter at a time.
    • Writing: Answer questions in the books about the chapter.
    • Listening: Read out loud.
    • Speaking: Read out loud.

    Focus: Movie day

    • Reading: Read review about the movie before watching it.
    • Writing: Write a blog post about the movie after watching it reflecting on the movie.
    • Listening: Watch movie, listen to dialouge.
    • Speaking: Record blog post and post to blog as a podcast.


    This is just a rough plan!

    Apr 4

    Religious Diversity Must Include Nonbelievers

    Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 in General, Teaching

    Students who don’t adhere to the traditional religious views of their community are met with hostility, both in the community and in their own home. Atheist teens list the many repercussions of "coming out" as a nonbeliever. Some have been kicked out of their parents’ homes. Most lose friends and find their traditional support groups viewing them with apprehension. And when these teens begin to speak up for their rights as citizens in a country where the freedom of religion is codified in the Constitution, they are met with open hostility.

    via Religious Diversity Must Include Nonbelievers | Teaching Tolerance.

    I think this is a great point. In my community being an atheist is akin to having two heads. I keep myself quiet so I can have friends. I feel like I will lose friends if they find out I don’t believe in a God. What can we do as a society to step back from the prevalence of black/white no shades of gray thinking that is so perpetuated by political rhetoric?

    As a future educator, or as we are known, a pre-service teacher, how can I make my classroom a safe environment for students of all walks of life? Gay, straight, trans, Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Atheist, I want everyone to feel confident that they can talk to me. It forces me to explore my own prejudices against religion and respond by saying whatever judgement I make about a religion, I will need to be a humanist and focused on the human souls these students have and not what they believe in.

    Apr 1

    Words per minute?

    Posted on Sunday, April 1, 2012 in All Things Geek, Teaching, Web

    I read 644 words a minute on this test the second time I took it. I got 438 the first time. I wonder what results would be from a study researching the improvement the second time taking such a test.

    Take the test: Staples eReader interactive infographic.