TESOL

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?

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?

Educational Philosophy Behind Openly Publishing EFL/ESL Hangout

The following is in response to a thread regarding an open live hangout that I will be conducting tomorrow...

I understand that the idea of posting one's learning experience online can be daunting, but I will try to explain my philosophy on the matter.  I also understand that my views will not be shared by everyone.

1. I am a big proponent for open educational resources (OERs), open courseware, and the like.  I contribute to OERs continually and feel that offering an open hangout in EFL/ESL should not be restricted to those (potentially) nine individuals who join the Google+ hangout.  In fact, not making the recording available would make the live session closed to a lot of individuals.

2. I as a teacher, facilitator, and coach am subject to the same scrutiny as anyone else when publishing a hangout online.  If it's an issue of making mistakes in public, then know that I'm in the same boat as everyone else.  Having the recording available allows me as a live-long learner to reflect on past behavior with the intention of improving in the future - making me no different than anyone else.

3. My "real" job is teaching pre-service English language educators, so one thing that I advocate (not only for pre-service English language educators but in-service ones as well) is the notion of sharing experiences and opinions with each other.  So not creating a public recording of my experiences would be simply wrong.

4. Since I am investing personal resources into offering open sessions for English language learners, I feel more learners will get more out of the experience if they have a recording that they can go back to at any time for further clarification.  Also, some English language learners will only be interested in the recordings and not the live sessions.  These same learners may choose to simply interact in the YouTube comments sections, for example.

Now, although I do not plan to do much post editing, I am aware that my name is being associated with these recordings, and will not leave a video openly published that reflects badly on me or anyone else.  To clarify, making mistakes does not make one look bad, but rather makes one look human.  What I'm talking about is some major distraction that might occur during a session.  In these cases, I will use my best discretion in editing out those types of distractions that I feel interfere with the learning experience.  I'm purposefully leaving this vague as this will remain a subjective call on my part.

If anyone is uncomfortable with attending an open hangout that will be broadcast live and subsequently uploaded to YouTube, they should not attend.  But what they might be interested in doing is viewing the recording afterwards.  There is really no "wrong" way to participate, only that you do.

Teaching and Learning with ICTs

 Well, Monday starts a new semester.  As I reflect on how I might create opportunities for my students to be more engaged in the learning experience, both in and outside of class, my current inclination is to use ICTs but in a slightly different way.

This semester I'll be teaching Microteaching I (third semester), Academic Writing (seventh semester), and Applied Linguistics (seventh semester) to pre-service English language teachers (i.e., eight-semester bachelor's degree program in English language teaching).  The primary ICTs that I'll use for these blended classes will be wikis and Moodle.

Student-teachers (STs) taking Microteaching I meet four hours a week, teaching in 15-minute blocks with their classmates (i.e., "students").  At the time of this post, the wiki was still under development, but will be further developed in the coming days.  The wiki will home STs' reflective wiki pages that will remain open for all to see and will also be integrated (i.e., embeded) to Moodle.  Since this is my first time teaching this class, there will certainly be tweaks and turns as the class unfolds ultimately driving which ICTs to use and how they will be used to best engage students.

I've taught Academic Writing in the past using primarily Wikieducator, but this year I wanted to do something different.  This year I will be using(Doku) wiki along with Moodle as I plan to do with Microteaching I.  The main reason for using Dokuwiki over Wikieducator is that (a) Dokuwiki is more user-friendly and (b) it integrates well to my website hosting service (Fatcow).  The wiki/Moodle integration will look something like the following:

 Wikis are a great tool for academic writing as it makes the writing process more transparent.

 

 

 

The course in Applied Linguistics will also integrate a wiki with Moodle...are you seeing a pattern here? :) Students will apply their understanding of linguistics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, and discourse analysis to their own teaching practice through an action research project.

The objective this semester is to make the learning process of each course as open as possible so that students see the value in transparent learning.  As their facilitator, making course designs open will provide other educators with ideas as well as opportunities to collaborate and cooperate in areas of curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

How will you use ICTs this semester or year?

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.

Dissertation


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.

Bridging the Gap between ELT Theory and Practice



My response to Bridging the Gap between ELT Theory and Practice...

I draw a parallel between closing the gap between theory and practice with closing the gap between what teachers know and what they actually do.  But beyond that, do teachers understand theory when it applies to an actual classroom experience?  That is, how do teachers interpret (or reframe) a theory - which is a generalization - to a particular educational situation?  And what does that process look like?

I think most would agree that applying a theory (or creating a theory) is contextually-laden with numerous confounding variables which teachers can't always control.  Certainly, planning is an essential part of learning, but it's the reflection-in-action and the resulting outcomes that matter as well.  I'm not sure if success in the classroom can be planned for, but it can be one (of many) factors that can promote a more educative learning experience for each student (and teacher).

You say, ELT theories do help in beefing up our predictability in the field of teaching...

I would argue that theories are most useful when grounded in actual classroom experiences.  That is, how can I explain what just happened in my classroom from a theoretical perspective (assuming that it's always possible).  This is in contrast to a theoretical inclination (prediction) of how students are likely to behave a priori.  For me, this is the difference between applied linguistics and linguistics applied respectively.

How do you view theory and practice in ELT?

Using Twitter in the Classroom

In response to Using Twitter in the Classroom...

I've never used Twitter in my classes because many of my students still do not have Internet access on their mobiles. But since I teach and tweet, I do have a couple of suggestions.

1. Twitter inside the classroom: Conduct a "normal" class but have students tweeting at the same time. Setup a projector and computer (with access to the Internet) and project the backchannel on the wall using a decided-upon hashtag. Incorporate the backchannel into the class itself. This technique can also provide instant feedback when determining whether students are getting what you are talking about in class or not.

2. Twitter outside of class: Conduct a backchannel (again using hashtags) that students contribute to outside of class. Incorporate the backchannel in the f2f class as needed. This can also help to see if students are getting it and can contribute to collaborative learning (or colearning) since students can ask questions or complete assignments using Twitter both individually and in groups.

How have you used Twitter in the classroom?

TESOL Talk (3)

TESOL talk is for anyone interested in teaching English to students of other languages. Participants are encouraged to bring their own perspective and experience to the open discussion so that we might find new and innovative ways to improve how English is learned.

(Open) Agenda: (1) introductions, (2) attendees will bring up theories, experiences, and/or opinions as talking points, and if time permits (3) presenter will bring up theories, experiences, and/or opinions as talking points.

CU Sessions

Description: Next week's session will take attendees through the process of designing a performance task for the EFL/ESL classroom.

 

Performance task teacher interviews

The Classroom versus Online Learning of an Additional Language

The Internet is a fertile new space for the development of  effective and inexpensive learning solutions.

In order for this statement to have meaning, certain contextual dichotomies (not as discrete opposites but rather extremes that fall along a continuum) need to be addressed beforehand: (a) explicit/implicit learning, (b) native/non-native speaker, (c) instructed (formal)/naturalistic (informal) learning, (d) deductive/inductive inference, (e) concrete/abstract thinking, (f) declarative/procedural knowledge, (g) intentional/unintentional learning, etc.  Without considering these dichotomies, the risk is that some may interpret any use of technology as being fruitful.
It's been my experience that noticing, consciousness-raising, attention, etc. is best served through interaction (with human beings) which provides feedback, recasts, and positive/negative evidence back to the language learner.

The classroom, at great cost, reduces this spirit of independent learning and inquiry.

I guess this depends on who's teaching the class.  If we are talking affordances (i.e., potential for action), the classroom (with a teacher) offers more to motive students, provide strategies that lead to learners engaging in the language (in and outside the classroom), and help language learners notice differences between L1 and L2 in ways that better lead to intake (gasp).  I recognize that potentiality and reality are two different things, but the classroom can (and does in some cases) breakdown the barrier between formal and informal learning.  In other words, it's easier for formal learning environments (like schools) to incorporate informal learning than vice versa.

It will remain the job of the teacher (i.e., as didactic leader, facilitator, and coach) to play "curator" in orchestrating the learning ecosystem that evolves around the language learner.

Descriptive, Prescriptive, Semiotics, & Variation...Oh my!

Was asked this question online once. Thought I'd pose it here and get your input: There [is / are] a vase and a flower on the table.


Click on the link above to see the thread that led to my response below...

Ok, so  we are talking about (a) descriptive English (i.e., how English is actually used), prescriptive English (i.e., what the book(s) say), (c) idiomatic expressions, and (d) English variation.  Anita alludes to a syntactic (and semantic/pragmatic) alternative as well.  I've always been of the belief that it's better to discuss each of the above issues with students instead of having personal opinions sway me in any one particular direction.  As far as (traditional) testing is concerned, I've stuck with prescriptive English over descriptive for the most part but this has not refrained me from teaching students other varieties of English (American/British English, descriptive/prescriptive, etc.).

Personal opinions aside, how would you go about teaching these different expressions?  Or do your personal opinions lean you to one particular style of English being taught in your classroom?

Do Quantitative Findings Mean Anything?

52% of Online Language Learners Consider Classic Offline Learning as More Efficient


Without knowing the details of the study, my first reaction to this analysis is that macro findings say very little. A micro-analysis that reveals specific demographics would provide a deeper description. Even the question itself leads to ambiguity. For example, I could choose books as my first choice and podcasts as my second. But these choices do not indicate degree - do I think books and podcasts will help me about the same in the future or do I think there will a be a big different between the two? And what does each learner interpret as "efficient" learning? And the socio-economic aspect of this analysis is not phase 2 but rather an essential part of the main analysis, again at the micro level.

Your question is a legitimate on: "Do we tend to prefer learning using the tools and methods we grew up with?" Was this question part of the study? I've seen literature that supports the notion that we tend to teach the way we were taught, so I would suspect the same goes for learning over time. Regardless, since everyone learns differently, it's hard to draw conclusions even if we know we tend to stick to the same tools and behaviors as we've done in the past.

I'd be interested in knowing how learners currently take advantage of learning affordances now (to learn another language) and how do they forecast learning affordances for the future. A third question addressing past affordances would also provide a historical perspective.

Human behavior (e.g., learning) is simply too complex to generalize quantitatively in an analysis of this type - there are simply too many concomitant variables at play. The amount of detail what is required to draw any sound conclusions would require detailed information, information that I suspect Busuu is not willing to provide. :)

Note: It's been my belief that efficient and engaging learning (and the teaching that allows this to happen) looks about the same whether being delivered f2f, through blended courses, or at a distance.

52% of Online Language Learners Consider Classic Offline Learning as More Efficient


Reading Comprehension 2.0

Explores how the use of digital resources and free web 2.0 tools can improve reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and other related literacy skills.

Jessica Fries-Gaither is an education resource specialist in the College of Education and Human Ecology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. She serves as project director for the NSF-funded Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears and is also involved with the Middle School Portal 2: Math and Science Pathways (also funded by NSF).

Digital native and the usefulness of the term in language teaching/learning

Recent quotes from an ongoing PD treatment for EFL educators...

Techonology seems something generational.

I am not using blogs currently as a teacher, because I think I need to practice more in order to get all habilities so I can be able to guide my students through all the process.

Quotes for the term digital native...

Wikipedia entry...(notice authors)

Quotes against the term digital native...

It seems that it is impossible to generalise about teenagers

...students they studied displayed an inordinate level of trust in search engine brand as a measure of credibility.

So, is the term digital native relevant to today's teaching and learning of another language?  Is there a positive correlation between a teachers age and the way in which technology is used to increase student achievement (i.e., language development)?

Digital native and the usefulness of the term in language teaching/learning

Recent quotes from an ongoing PD treatment for EFL educators...

Techonology seems something generational.

I am not using blogs currently as a teacher, because I think I need to practice more in order to get all habilities so I can be able to guide my students through all the process.

Quotes for the term digital native...

Wikipedia entry...(notice authors)

Quotes against the term digital native...

It seems that it is impossible to generalise about teenagers

...students they studied displayed an inordinate level of trust in search engine brand as a measure of credibility.

So, is the term digital native relevant to today's teaching and learning of another language?  Is there a positive correlation between a teachers age and the way in which technology is used to increase student achievement (i.e., language development)?

TESOL and Integrating Technologies

As I get geared up for another semester, I'm very excited about some new approaches to teaching that I'll be trying out.  The premise of this pursuit is centered around Downes's (2008) notion of the following four principles as they pertain to connectivism: "diversity", "autonomy", "interaction", and "openness" (slides 93-96).

This semester I will be co-facilitating two open courses, one dedicated to English language learners wanting to improve their writing skills (video intro) and another course for educators teaching English language learners (video intro). Both courses will be conducted in part on a free Moodle hosting site called Key to School (click here is you're interested in creating your own Moodle site).

Another goal for this semester is to encourage more faculty (i.e., EFL educators) to share their teaching and learning experiences online.  To do this, various performance tasks will be recorded during class, uploaded to BlipTV, then explained by means of an interview with the teacher in order to share the experience and to reflect.

Learning another language and professional development this semester for me will focus on diversity, autonomy, interaction, and openness as both teachers and learners are given more of an equitable opportunity to grow and develop within a network.  Instead of judging one's work, teachers and learners will interact and negotiate through concepts, processes, and products in a way that recognizes that every individual can either be a teacher or a learner at any given moment.

One website in particular developed a platform that supports the idea that each of us is a teacher and learner: Educators 2.0  Using the Supercool School platform, Educators 2.0 promotes learner autonomy by giving learners the option to request a course.  Teachers (i.e., facilitators) are able to create their own course as well and are free to design them according to a particular need, interest, and/or learning preference.  The site is also open and possibilities to interact with others abound. Related articles related to Educators 2.0 and Supercool School can be found here: Educators 2.0 introductory blog, Kirsten ButlerChristine Geith, and Edukwest (interview).

So these are exciting times for me this semester.  Who knows what the end result will be but it's the unknown that drives me to know more.

Open Distance English Language Workshop

You are encouraged to join a semester-long, open (free), distance, English training workshop scheduled to begin January 25, 2010.

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Teacher observations

I´ve been participating in threads pertaining to teacher observations, walk-throughs, etc., and recalling previous conversations with colleagues regarding the same, and still have reservations with the notion of using checklists when observing teachers.
How much can be observed when the observer is going down a checklist containing items that are or are not being addressed in class?  



How reliable and valid can an observation be when focused items from that checklist are discussed and predetermined in the pre-observation conference?  



How reliable and valid are observations that are either scheduled or conducted at random when teachers know ahead of time the areas of teaching/learning that administrators find important?
Working together with all teachers in establishing a set of agreed-upon teaching principals should be the bases of post-observation teacher conferences.  Instead of creating a checklist, having a common educational philosophy, mission, and a set of collective commitments paves the way for teachers to chart out their own path in initiating a change in practice.