Applied linguistics

Narrowing down a research topic

This week, we're spending a lot of time with Thesis Seminar student researchers in narrowing down a top.  I've been putting together some ideas on how to do this, but am curious what others are doing.   A lot of what we are discussing comes from Booth, Colomb, & Williams (2008), and Machi & McEvoy (2009).

What are some good books on organizing a thesis/dissertation paper, forming arguments, logical reasoning, etc.?

Narrowing down a research topic

This week, we're spending a lot of time with Thesis Seminar student researchers in narrowing down a top.  I've been putting together some ideas on how to do this, but am curious what others are doing.   A lot of what we are discussing comes from Booth, Colomb, & Williams (2008), and Machi & McEvoy (2009).

What are some good books on organizing a thesis/dissertation paper, forming arguments, logical reasoning, etc.?


I read Edutopia's HAPPINESS post and thought I'd offer one as well...

Hope and keeping a positive attitude

Appreciation for the good and bad

Perspective other than one's own

Persistence to the bitter end

Identity that is in constant flux

Never-ending love of the pursuit

Empathy for one's ego network


Sharing successes and failures with others

Why not create your own acrostic from H A P P I N E S S.

Finnish Educators Are Made Of This ... So What?

I was reading Teacher Education in Finland: What are Finnish Teachers Made Of? which was the featured post in CU Daily for November 27, 2013, and I immediately thought of Miles Davis.  Several PhDs contributed to the edutopia post (Merja PaksuniemiSatu Uusiautti, and Kaarina Määttä), which provides a brief but informative historical account of teacher training in Finland, along with current challenges that educators face.  But how does this synopsis relate to educators in the United States (or some other country)?

The authors posit that educators in Finland have a history of being well respected professionals (even though this is not necessarily reflected in their salaries compared to other countries).  Although not as strict as today, teachers still must maintain a proper code of conduct that extends to behaviors outside the school system. Training is demanding and educators are expected to obtain a Master's degree before completing their teacher preparation.  They also claim,
We ... credit the Finnish educational system for supporting the idea that K-12 students have the right to learn, regardless of location, economic or social background, gender, age or abilities.

But what's the relevance of this to the educational system in the US?  I'll assume that the educational system in the US also supports the idea that K-12 students have the right to learn, regardless of location, economic or social background, gender, age, or abilities.  And like their Finland counterparts, US educators also face challenges with multiculturalism and tolerance, do they not?

What's the takeaway from this blog post?  What should educational stakeholders learn from Finland's example?  What impact does culture have in working towards a viable solution? Is it even worth comparing educational systems between different countries, cultures, or societies?

You Can (And Do) Have A PLN Of One

I just read You Can't Have a PLN of One, an oxymoron, which concludes that a PLN is "a journey that shouldn’t be taken alone".  Well, it is impossible to cultivate a PLN alone: my thoughts on a PLN.

Some view a PLN as more ideational...

Others discuss a PLN in terms of tools and individuals...

So, a PLN is a relationship between ideas, materials (technologies), and human relationships.  To understand any one idea, material, or individual (relationship) is to understand the other two and how trace associations aggregate to each individual node.  A node is any idea, material, or individual who connects to some other network node.  There's one network, but many nodes: ideas, materials, and individual relationships. So, perhaps you can have a PLN of one ... as in one personal learning network.

12 Books That I Recommend All Educators Have In Their Personal Library

I was reading over 12 Books About Learning Every Teacher Should Read which lists the following:

12 Books About Learning

My list, in no particular order...

1. Understanding by Design (before Essential Questions) lays out how to best (IMHO) align curriculum, assessment, and instruction in schools.  It explains backward design and is a precursor to all subsequent books written by the two authors.

2. Transformative assessment outlines the various levels of formative assessment: instructional adjustments, learning tactic adjustments, classroom climate shift, and schoolwide implementation...a must read!

3. This book along with the reader Classic and Contemporary Readings in the Philosophy of Education, distinguishes between philosophy, ideology, and theory, and how they relate to education.

4. Linked provides a good overview of how we all are connected.  This is not directed towards education per se, but is nonetheless relevant since the trend is to view education from a connectivist lens.

5. A must for the instructional leader in all of us!

6. This often cited book, offers contrast to connective learning in the workplace (e.g., schools).  Those who think in terms of missions, visions, values, and objectives will enjoy how this book frames these within an educational context.

7. A must read chapter is Leadership as Entitlement, which links to other parts of the book, supporting an overall notion that all can lead, regardless of title, rank, or position.

8. Provides a good historical perspective of roles teachers can play in the classroom.  The Socratic Method (i.e., Socratic Seminar) is discussed at length.

9. Anyone who has English language learners in class will benefit from a general overview of language, meaning, interpretation, and inference.  This book reminds me to reflect on how other learners (native speakers or not) might interpret what I say and vice versa.

10. You don't have to be an administrator to see how what happens within schools can impact the community at large.  This book addresses the "big picture" in how schools can be perceived.

11. There are many books on the subject, but Downey and others (2004) describe it best...walkthroughs allow for reflective and sharing of experiences, opinions, and ideas in a low-risk, professional learning environment.

12. This classic book (over 100 years old), How We Think, is still a personal favorite.  We still have reasons for unpacking how thought and logic come together in schools, both from a learning and pedagogical standpoint.

There you top 12 books that I recommend at this particular point in time.  What books make up your top 12, and why?

Like Learning To Play An Instrument

"...teaching the core curriculum through the arts" (Nolan, 2013, para 1). Now there's a concept!  How about we apply something similar to learning additional languages?

Language learning as a means for learning something else just might provide the motivation needed to drive language learners to achieve more than they might if the objective were solely linguistic.

I remember well my early college days as a music major.  In addition to the core educational classes we all had to take, we also took music theory for two years, concert band, jazz band, choir, among others.  I would take my acoustic bass and find a tiny practice room where I barely had enough space for my instrument, music stand, and me.  I would spend hours practicing scales, changes, exercises, pieces of music, and just improvising over chord progressions.  Each semester we knew we were expected to perform various public events, so it always put practicing into perspective.

Practice wasn't always fun, but I knew there were always consequences.  If I didn't practice that jazz band piece enough, I knew I would look foolish the next day in class, or ultimately the upcoming performance.  In a sense, even group practice became a performance for my peers as well.  Putting in the hours meant that I would perform better for band mates, which in-and-of-itself was gratifying.  I also was performing for myself.  Practicing scales and exercises meant that I would perform a song better, causing me to feel good about myself having achieved something...even as minute as being able to play a difficult passage that I was not able to play before.

Imagine all of the possible (implicit) objectives that one might have taking a jazz band class.  Self expression, connecting with others (both musically and personally), networking with other musicians from other schools, relieving stress, etc.  The joy of learning an instrument (learning the notes on the instrument, learning how to read music, learning scales, learning exercise, and learning songs) comes from the public performance. It's realizing at all times that all of the mundane elements of learning an instrument was to enable the musician to connect in some way with the community.  So personal objectives might range from being very personal (learning a particular scale) to being more global (performing in front of a public audience).

The grading system in jazz band rarely was based entirely on whether musicians could only play scales with no expected public performance.  Expressive objectives might be assessed instead by evaluating the progress of the musician, willingness to take solos, etc.

Becoming a speaker of an additional language (SAL) is like becoming a musician.  The act of becoming a SAL is about always working towards a public performance.  Interacting with others based on personal interests, needs, and learning preferences is ultimately what is assessed and not the linguistic particulars (i.e., reading, writing, listening, speaking, grammar, and vocabulary).  That is, the public performance is an effect of one's capacity in reading, writing, etc.  Language becomes a means and an end simultaneously.  Content courses (e.g., learning math in the target language), English for academic purposes (e.g., taking a history course for college credit in the target language), and English for specific purposes (e.g., taking a course in the target language at work in order to do one's job more effectively) are three examples of how learning the target language is more about the means than language as an end.  But can this idea be adopted to any general English course?

Language educator challenge: How can you adopt a general English course (or any other language course) where language is viewed as a means for something else?  What would be that something else?  What challenges might you face?  What successes have you had?

"Prepositional Because" or "Prepositional Ellipsis"?

There's been a bit of buzz around because being the new prepositionSentence first addressed it as well.  I thought I might offer yet another.

There are many types of ellipses in English:

  • I like apples and [I like] oranges.

  • I went home last night and [I] called my cousin.

  • Dad will help and Mom will [help] too.

So an ellipsis can be an omission of a noun (subject), verb, or noun and a verb when restating them is not necessary.  But can we do the same with prepositions?

Because usually functions as either...

  • Subordinating conjunction that introduces a subordinating clause: I eat vegetables because I want to stay healthy.

  • Before a prepositional phrase: Because of your tardiness, you have been removed from class.

Is it possible to have a "prepositional ellipsis"?

  •  I'm late because [of] YouTube.

  • You're reading this because [of my] procrastination.

  • But Iowa still wants to sell eggs to California, because [of] money.

  • ...because [of] logic.

What do you think?  Do we have a prepositional because or a prepositional ellipsis ... or something else?

A PLN...We All Already Have One

I've spoken about PLNs before (Five points about PLNs, A PLN and Shifting Power Back to the Learner, Is it a PLN..., and PLNs aren’t built, but cultivated)  but again feel compelled to add to my current "definition"...

Whitby's (2013) How do I get a PLN? characterizes the notion of a personal learning network (PLN) as if the individual constructs one out of nothing.  I don't see it this way.

I do agree with Whitby, sort of, when he states (buzzwords emphasized):
We must remember that lifelong learning requires effort. We expect this commitment from students. We should accept no less from ourselves. Fortunately, with a little information (see the linked resources at the end of this post) and an openness to learn, anyone can begin to expand his or her knowledge by using a PLN.

Few would argue with buzzwords like lifelong learning, student commitment, openness to learn, expanding one's knowledge, and PLN, but what do these terms really mean?  I'll try to unpack what I mean by PLN by accepting the fact that how one defines the term will depend greatly on how one defines the aforementioned buzzwords (i.e., lifelong learning, etc.).
Each individual educator becomes a potential source of information.

In a PLN, ideas, materials (e.g., technologies), and social interactions collectively become a potential source of opportunity.  A PLN is not just about the individual and some potentiality of information.
PLNs develop thought leaders.

No, individuals (including leaders) impact PLNs (their own as well as others), the PLNs impact the individual(s), and the PLN itself can take on a life of its own.
Barriers to mass adoption

...mass adoption...buzzword alert.  Their are no barriers to a PLN because there is no starting point when it comes to a concept that already exists for each person.  As a result, PLNs have already reached "mass adoption".  If there are any barriers, its how a PLN currently hinders achieving one's goals, objectives, etc...; this is different than thinking of technology separate from specific ideas and human relationships, as Whitby suggests when listing a PLN as a mindset, overwhelming others with techno-babble (?), and digital literacy.
...all these articles and ballyhoo about connectedness have manifested limited adoption by educators.

Again, connectiveness is inescapable.  "Connective adoption" does little to describe the potentiality of an individual´s PLN unless described as a matter of degree, relationships between human and non-human devices, and value in achieving goals.
PLNs are collaboration.

I would say, "PLNs are cooperation."
What Can PLNs Do for You?

I get the impression that this means that once one has something (a PLN defined as being nonrelational), that it will enable one to do something else (access materials, etc.).  Having a Twitter account in and of itself does very little.  Having a Twitter account, following others, having followers, and interacting with ideas around some mutual relationship may (or may not) provide a degree of potential for impacting one's professional/personal learning.
How to Build a PLN

Let's shift metaphors ... Individuals cultivate, grow, maintain, trim, and augment a PLN based on situational goals and objectives, both intentional and incidental.  There are no x amount of steps that each person can follow for achieving a PLN based on situational goals.  There is no magic number of technologies that one should use, no set number of minutes they should adhere to, etc.
You determine your needs and goals, and then acquire the sources that you need in order to attain them.

Again, a very deterministic point of view here.  It's not difficult to image that goals and objectives might emerge as an effect of one's PLN.  In others words, situational goals and PLNs are iterative, reciprocal, and mutual as both continue to morph and transition to something new.

Let's share how PLNs help (or do not help) to achieve situational goals and objectives, both intentionally and incidentally (i.e., self-define a PLN) instead of depending on others (including me) to define the term as some abstract (and simplified) truth.

Educator As Decision Maker

I was reading Ditch the Plan! #30GoalsEdu today and it got me thinking ... always a good thing.

If we ditch a plan, are we really planning to begin with?

Finding those teaching moments requires one to reflect-in-action.  Instead of ditching a plan before the fact (i.e., class), reflect on those times when you were reflecting in action, and during the class itself, you realized that you must ditch the plan.  Reflect on those classes when you deviated from the syllabus in order to take advantage of a teachable moment.

Hunter (1979) claims that teachers make decisions before, during, and after lessons primarily around three distinct categories: content, style of the learner, and the behavior of the teacher.

(Language) Educator Challenge: What decisions have you had to make during a class that deviated from the syllabus?  Formulate your answer in terms of forms of evidence: content, style of the learner, and/or your own behavior.  Provide a rationale as to why you had to make these decisions.

Essential Question Discourse Analysis

I was reading Alber's (2013) 5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students and I began to think about how discourse emerges behind asking essential questions in the classroom.  Alber (2013) suggests that teachers ask the following types of questions:

  1. What do you think?

  2. Why do you think that?

  3. How do you know this?

  4. Can you tell me more?

  5. What questions do you still have?

When applying the Socratic Method, pace becomes important.  The suggested question types provided above avoid the easier "yes/no" questions that allow for lower order thinking, but what happens when students 1) are not used to answering essential questions (or used to the teacher simply giving the answer), 2) lack the content knowledge to adequately address such questions, or 3) lack the language skills - in the case of English language learners - to provide an adequate response.  Alber (2013) suggests a type of think, pair, share activity to allow for deeper group discussions, but this too affects the overall pace of classroom discourse and an interruption of the Socratic Method.

(Language) Educator Challenge: Record yourself during a class and analyze the way you form questions and how your students reply.  For example, how do you lead up to any one of the five questions above?  Are there lower-thinking questions that occur first, or are you able to jump right to these questions in order to generate thought-provoking discussion?  Conduct a discourse analysis to see how you present questions in a way that maintains good pacing and thought-provoking discussions around big ideas.


Guest Blogging at Edudemic

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I was pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning to see a blog post I wrote for Edudemic appear on the home page (How to Choose the Best Edtech for your School).  For those who are interested in education and technology, I highly recommend checking out the website.  For those who have something to say about education and technology, you're encouraged to post a guest blog entry.  Current guidelines are as follows:

  • Posts should be at least 500 words long and unique to Edudemic.

  • The post can only include links to your personal blog or social media accounts. We reserve the right to remove any links.

  • Submitted posts are unpaid.

  • You’ll have to create an Edudemic account (using WordPress) in order to submit a post. It’s so we can attribute the post to you.

  • You cannot submit your content by uploading a word processing document (like .docx or .pages). You must type your content into the post, or we will be unable to see and review it.

  • By submitting a post for review, you give Edudemic the right to edit, publish, and share this post and claim that you are the owner.

Once you have posted to Edudemic, a page is created that lists all of your posts. It's yet another way of cultivating one's digital identity.

Switched to WordPress

Today is day 2...yesterday I moved my blog from Blogger to  I chose Blogger initially because of its ease of use.  And although it is a bit more user friendly than, I just had problems that never got resolved.

For weeks, I reached out to my personal learning network to try to get this blogger error resolved.  I posted several times to Blogger Help, but again, to no avail.

So I turned to YouTube and searched Blogger vs. and modified the search to include only videos within the last year.  Probably the most helpful video I came across was the following:

I was sold.  I set up an account, easily followed the step-by-step process for importing blog posts and comments from Blogger to, and well, here I am.  I'm good to go.

Where do you blog and which blogging service works best for you?

Note to self: Blog redirect

Educational Philosophies of English Language Educators

Today in Applied Linguistics class, we will create an educational philosophy.  An educational philosophy is a "living credo" about who you currently are as a (language) educator.  An educational philosophy develops over time just as you develop as a teaching practitioner; thus, keeping it up-to-date is vital.  Reflecting on your educational philosophy over time also serves as a reminder of where you've been, where you are today, and where you would like to be in the future.  Maintaining an educational philosophy is an intregal part of one's ongoing professional learning trajectory.
Some suggestions when writing an educational philosophy can be viewed by reflecting on the following questions:
  • Why do you teach?
  • Whom do you teach?
  • How and what you teach?
  • Where you teach?
When applying for a teaching job, it's likely that the school or institution doing the hiring will ask about your educational philosophy in one form or another.  It's always a good idea to not only keep your educational philosophy current, but also be able to articulate it clearly and succinctly.  Try practice saying your educational philosophy in all of the languages you are able to speak, or likely have to speak when doing an interview.
Here is my example of my current educational philosophy...
His educational philosophy is to facilitate learners in becoming more apt to form valid, reliable, and unbiased arguments, provide innovative solutions to real-life problems, make decisions that resolve cognitive conflict by developing understandings through a difference of opinion or perspective, and create innovative ways of communicating with others. His role is to move learners from being dependent, to independent, to interdependent individuals who are not afraid to take chances, share their successes and failures with others, and are concerned for the well-being of not only themselves, but for others as well. Benjamin's goal is to help others become more daring, sharing, and caring individuals.
Share your educational philosophy by replying to this post!
Photo attribution

Writing Limericks for English Language Learning Writers: Registration and Sign In

English language learners wishing to learn how to improve English proficiency by learning how to write Limericks (poetry), join us this Sunday by registering below.

When the event begins, you may sign in below...

Here is an example Limerick that we will discuss during this session...

'Small Talk': A Comprehensive Approach to Accuracy and Fluency in OralProduction

One of the main problems that language teachers face is how to develop both accuracy and fluency in students' speaking since one oftentimes seems to come at the expense of the other (Hunter, 2012).  This article review frames a few essential questions around the article, 'Small Talk': developing fluency, accuracy, and complexity in speaking.

Hunter (2012) researched the struggle teachers have to develop both accuracy and fluency with language learners as well as the challenge of persuading learners to step out of their comfort zones when using more complex and spontaneous language by studying the following:

  • Do students get more speaking practice during 'Small Talk' than during a traditional, teacher-fronted class?  Do they make more errors?

  • What percentage of students' errors receives CF (corrective feedback), and what percentage of uptake is there?

  • Do some students receive more CF than others, and if so, why?

Hunter researched 12 adult intermediate students in the US with varying languages spoken as a mother tongue over a period of 10 weeks.  Each week, 'Small Talk' sessions were videotaped which were later analyzed by six different teachers (one being the class teacher).  The findings show that language learning speakers do speak more than more traditionally-lead classes, and they tend to make slightly fewer errors than those in teacher-controlled activities.

With regard to the second research question, the average of six different teachers were taken into account, giving an overall average of 40% (high of 57% and low of 24%).  This average compares to an average of 17% found in Lyster and Ranta (1997), who researched more extensively the types of teacher-driven feedback provided to the language learner.

To answer the final research question, the findings confirmed that CF closely reflected the needs of the individual students.

As this study makes a connection between 'Small Talk' as a method and the accuracy, fluency, and complexity of the language learning speaker at the intermediate level, how might this same study be duplicated or adapted to adult learners at a more basic level?  Moreover, how might this method be adapted to children, both at a basic and intermediate level? And finally, how might this method be implemented so that the focus becomes more on self and peer CF versus teacher-driven CF?

How have you implemented activities that address accuracy, fluency, and complexity when it comes to the oral production of language learners?  What are some strategies that have worked well and what challenges have you faced?

Projects Slated for the Rest of 2011

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The great difficulty in education is to get experience out of ideas. -George Santayana

This next semester is a busy one.


The last few days I have been working feverishly on my dissertation proposal, trying to get it cleaned up and approved before I start my research.  I'm conducting a study on how EFL educators working in Mexico interact within a personal learning network and how that interaction influences a change in behavior and beliefs (i.e., teaching practice and reflection).  It's a hermeneutic, qualitative case study involving three teachers who will be using various ICTs in which to interact with other individuals, communities, and/or groups.  The Moodle course that we will be using can be found here and many of the activities are open to anyone interested in teaching English to students of other languages.

University Classes

Classes begin the second week of August and I'm scheduled to teach the following: (a) Applied linguistics, 7th semester, (b) academic writing, 7th semester, and (c) teaching practicum, 5th semester.  The applied linguistics and academic writing classes will have some online content made available to anyone who might be interested.  The idea I have for applied linguistics is to get my students to interact in online communities so they can address current issues related to teaching and learning English as a foreign language.  And the students taking the academic writing course will work largely in Wikieducator as they improve their writing skills and knowledge about formal writing discourse.  Finally, I will also be facilitating 5th semester students who will be teaching for the first time English in front of a group of peers.  They'll work in groups and students will be ask to plan, implement, and reflect on their English classes in terms of curriculum, assessment, and instruction.  All the students from the three classes are pre-service English language teachers studying a BA in ELT at the UAA.

I will be sharing more about these classes throughout the semester either in the form of a blog post or in my TESOL Talk program.

University research

Since February of this year, I have been involved with a research line with two other colleagues investigating the noticing hypothesis among EFL learners practicing their writing skills.  This next semester we are slated to begin the data analysis and will begin writing up our findings for peer-reviewed publications.  This semester we are scheduled to present talks at RECALE (in September),  MEXTESOL (October), and ANUPI (October).  More information will be provided as our research unfolds.

Edukwest writer

I am happy to announce that as of this month, I will be joining a group of writers for Edukwest: On the search for better education.  Edukwest (originated by Kirsten Winkler) covers a wide variety of topics and formats all dedicated to improving education.  I look forward to joining in on the discussion and if you have any interest in anything related to education, I recommend that you check out the website!

Well, that's about it.  The latter part of 2011 will certainly prove to be the busiest semester yet, but am happy to be involved in so many worthwhile projects.  If there is anything in particular that interests you and you would like to know more, feel free to contact me by clicking on the email icon below.