C’est compliqué: TESOL France 2016, Fractals and things

TESOL France Colloquium 2016 starts this Friday 19 November and no doubt the star attraction is linguist Diane Larsen-Freeman who will be doing a plenary and a Q&A session on the Saturday.

Her talk is titled “Patterns in Language: Why are they the way that they are?”

From her abstract:

Drawing on my contention that language is a complex, dynamic system, I will demonstrate that the shape of patterns in language are fractal.

Larsen-Freeman, 2016:15

The claim that language is a “complex, dynamic system” has been critiqued by Kevin Gregg (2010) and supported, albeit with important caveats, by William A Kretschmar (2011) when both reviewed the book Complex systems and applied linguistics by Diane Larsen-Freeman and Lynne Cameron.

Gregg thinks it is false that language, when seen from a narrow viewpoint, as linguistic competence, is dynamical. Everyone learning their first language reaches a steady state and for second language learners there is also the state of fossilisation. He also argues that seeing language in more general terms as an entity in a complex dynamic system is incoherent as language is not a thing but rather an abstraction.

Possible question to Larsen-Freeman 1 – How are you demarcating language when applying dynamic systems theory (DST)?

Kretzschmar who has his own, more plausible, account of DST for speech or language in use, takes issue with Larson-Freeman-Cameron (LFC) for conflating complex systems  and chaotic systems. Chaotic systems cycle through a very large number of states whereas complex systems are on the edge between fixed states and chaos. This can be seen in the difference between Mandelbrot Koch Island fractals and Mandelbrot San Marco Dragon fractals. The former are well-ordered and are a simple collection of basic patterns which form self-similarly at different scales, whereas the latter goes through a series of many states, tracing a “long orbit of successive positions” (Kretzschmar, 2010).

Possible question to Larsen-Freeman 2 – What kind of fractals are you talking about?

Kretzschmar points out that Larson-Freeman’s study of individuals using DST breaks an assumption that complex systems needs numerous interacting elements. Apart from one example given by LFC which does seem to use a DST term appropriately Kretzschmar is highly critical of the general uses of terms from the DST field made by LFC.

I said earlier that in my (very) shallow reading of Kretzschmar I found his account of applying DST to speech much more plausible. One of the reasons is that he keeps with the linguistic tradition of Saussure’s notion of langue and parole, or Chomsky’s concept of competence and performance. He comments on the Five Graces Group which promotes DST in second language acquisition, of which prominent members include Larson-Freeman and Nick Ellis:

…the Five Graces Group is right to insist on usage as what builds a speaker’s cognitive sense of a language, but are not credible in their assertion of a direct connection between speech and grammar as a network of categories…Grammar…when it is defined as a network or hierarchy of categories or rules is something essentially different from the output of the complex system of speech, something only indirectly related to language in use.

Kretzschmar, 2015:91

Possible question to Larsen-Freeman 3 – How does your application of DST to language compare to Kretzschmar?

I hope attendees to the colloquium will find these three suggested questions of use. All errors and omissions mine. Do pop further questions in the comments.

For more info on the critical side have a read of https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/2016/03/20/larsen-freeman-lost-in-complexity-bullshit-baffles-brains/.

Edit: Thanks to Geoff Jordan for reminding me of another one of his essential posts a review of Larsen-Freeman’s talk at IATEFL 2016 https://criticalelt.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/larsen-freemans-iatefl-2016-plenary-shifting-metaphors-from-computer-input-to-ecological-affordances/

Enjoy the conference and thanks for reading.

References:

Gregg, K. R. (2010). Review article: Shallow draughts: Larsen-Freeman and Cameron on complexity. Second Language Research, 26(4), 549-560. DOI: 10.1177/0267658310366582

Kretzschmar, W. A. (2010). Language variation and complex systems. American speech, 85(3), 263-286. DOI: 10.1215/00031283-2010-016

Kretzschmar, W. A. (2011). Book Review: Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics. By Diane Larsen-Freeman & Lynne Cameron. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. xi+ 287. ISBN 978-0-19-442244-4. Journal of English Linguistics, 39(1), 89-95. DOI: 10.1177/0075424210366194

Kretzschmar Jr, W. A. (2015). Language and complex systems. Cambridge University Press. https://books.google.fr/books?id=r5fwCAAAQBAJ&lpg=PR9&ots=jtFmWnsRQB&dq=Language%20and%20Complex%20Systems%20By%20William%20A.%20Kretzschmar%2C%20Jr&lr&pg=PA91#v=snippet&q=graces%20group%20is%20right&f=false

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2016). Patterns in Language: Why are they the way that they are? Paper presented at TESOL France Colloquium, Paris, France. Retrieved from http://www.tesol-france.org/uploaded_files/files/Full%20TF%20Colloquium%20Programme.pdf

Chomsky, he’s not the messiah, he’s a very misquoted linguist

Sean Wallis runs a great corpus linguistics blog. So I was intrigued as to a recent click bait post titled Why Chomsky was wrong about Corpus Linguistics. I thought initially he was going to go over the history that has been rightly critiqued by Jacqueline Léon in Claimed and Unclaimed Sources of Corpus Linguistics (pdf). In fact he uses an interview given by Chomsky in 2001. Further in developing his first point he takes as given Christina Behme’s assertion that Chomsky “acts now as if no data can challenge his own proposals”.

I think Wallis’ article about some major issues in corpus linguistics stands on its own well and does not need the Chomsky angle.

The part Behme quotes to the question What kind of empirical discovery would lead to the rejection of the strong minimalist thesis? is All the phenomena of language appear to refute it, she even emphasises the All!

I looked up the fuller quote she uses to make her claim about Chomsky dismissing any data that goes against his theory:

AB&LR:: What kind of empirical discovery would lead to the rejection of the strong minimalist thesis?

NC: All the phenomena of language appear to refute it, just as the phenomena of the world appeared to refute the Copernican thesis. The question is whether it is a real refutation. At every stage of every science most phenomena seem to refute it. People talk about Popper’s concept of falsification as if it were a meaningful proposal to get rid of a theory: the scientist tries to find refuting evidence and if refuting evidence is found then the theory is given up. But nothing works like that. If researchers kept to those conditions, we wouldn’t have any theories at all, because every theory, down to basic physics, is refuted by tons of evidence, apparently. So, in this case, what would refute the strong minimalist thesis is anything you look at. The question is, as in all these cases, is there some other way of looking at the apparently refuting phenomena, so as to preserve or preferably enhance explanatory power, where parts of the phenomena fall into place and others turn out to be irrelevant, like most of the phenomena of the world, because they are just the results of the interactions of too many factors?

Chomsky (2002), On Nature and Language, pg. 124

Looking at it one can clearly see Chomsky is expounding on the nature of scientific enquiry not denying data to his own theories. This pattern of Chomsky critics misquoting him for their own polemic appears often. I was still surprised that this one was so blatant. I did leave a comment on the Behme post so will update this post in the event of a response.

Thanks for reading and remember, Chomsky, he’s not the…ah you get the point.

Update:

Christina Behme responds, I think she accepts she was misquoting (if it makes me happy). You can read responses and decide for yourself, do comment either here or there should you wish to.

References:

Chomsky, N. (2002). On Nature and Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

TESOL France 2014 – thoughts, poster, handout and links

TESOL France 2014 flew by again over the weekend (14-16 November). This year I presented a poster on using PirateBox in class. I felt there was quite a strong interest in this and pleased that some may take up the challenge of using it. I know of one teacher in Germany,  paulw @josipa74, who has set up the open-wrt version on a portable router. Hoping to read about more take-ups in the future. The poster handouts went quickly and I had more which I had forgotten to replace!

I had an interesting question about the security of PirateBox for Android from one conference attendee, he was concerned with technically able students being able to look at other folders on his phone. It was a good question that I had not thought of it before. I guess any system is open to security holes, I should pose this question on the PirateBox forums. Oh and I won the poster prize competition (many thanks to Kevin Stein ‏@kevchanwow for great feedback on poster and Ela Wassel ‏@elawassell for letting me know via twitter as I could not make the closing sessions).

Stephen Krashen and Carole Read were plenary speakers. I caught Krashen’s non-plenary talk (see presentation 1 notes below) on the Friday where he amongst other things repeated his click-bait assertion that EAP teaching was a dead duck. What I found surprising is that he did not really angle his talk for a hall full of teachers who I assume wanted to know about pedagogy. There seemed to be a lot of headnodding and ELT amens and hallelujahs after certain assertions amongst the crowd. There were certain notable dissenters such as Hugh Dellar, for example.

By contrast Carole Read’s plenary on Saturday (see blog post below) was oriented to teaching concerns, in particular on teacher  development, and was harmless enough though there was some language that skirted on and even at one point referenced NuLP, Neurolinguistic Programming.

On the Friday I went to a talk on spoken discourse analysis by Carole Ann Robinson where she described using out of context language and asking her high level students to put back the context they thought was appropriate. Inevitably a lot of context will be culturally loaded and as a colleague pointed out with French students such tasks would have to be set up very carefully and would necessarily be limited by the French context. Nevertheless there were some good activities to consider using limited language as prompts.

On Saturday before lunch I attended a talk on the TOEIC exam by Miles Craven, which was good though I wished the presenter had spent more time on the examples he used in the book he was selling. Some of them I had not really considered and would have liked to have seen more details on it.

The talk I attended after lunch on Saturday on team teaching by Paul Wheal was very interesting from what I managed to gather as I had missed the first thirty minutes (blame the lunch). It was on how he taught and corrected English in parallel with a content expert who was delivering the subject matter. There was a nice video interview with the subject-matter expert exploring the benefits and challenges of team teaching.

The final talk I attended on the Sunday was a panel discussion and presentation of a national survey of working conditions of English teachers/trainers in France. The numbers seemed to back up what the audience already perceived as the grim present and future prospects for the industry here. I may do a separate post on this.

As ever I am very grateful to all the hardworking volunteers who make this conference possible, thank you!

For more reading on TESOL France 2014 check out some of the posts below by Fab Englishteacher ‏@fabenglishteach:

Review- Carol Read’s Plenary: Reflections on how to become a highly efficient teacher

Workshop Review -Esra Girgin Gümüstekin – Teach Empowered

Workshop Review : Sophie Handy – Top Tips For Teens

My TESOL FRANCE workshop –: L1 – How to avoid it and ways of using it in the language classroom.

Stephen Krashen has put up notes of his three talks:

Presentation 1: TESOL France – Compelling Comprehensible Input

Presentation 2: TESOL France – Animal language

Presentation 3: TESOL France – controversies

Judith Dubois @judyldubois has written about:

My Encounter with Stephen Krashen

Mark Hancock  @HancockMcDonald  ponders why some teachers like to hear about the demise of teaching:

Stephen Krashen at TESOL France

and reports on:

Carol Read at TESOL France

TESOL Times Magazine interview with Stephen Krashen

You should have the body!

Mark Hancock has a nice write-up of a talk given by Mike McCarthy on spoken English. The write-up concludes with an interesting metaphor of a corpus being a corpse, language that is no longer alive. It asks whether only using corpus examples is the best way of trying to improve a learner’s use of English.

Very few corpus folks would suggest only using corpus examples, and furthermore a lot of corpus work goes beyond the purely quantitative to also consider the teaching implications.

For example there is a great paper Listening for needles in haystacks: how lecturers introduce key terms by Ron Martinez, Svenja Adolphs, and Ronald Carter on the spoken language of academic lecturers.

They extracted lexical bundles from a spoken corpus of 1.7 million words and then went through those manually to keep only the pedagogically interesting ones. e.g. in other words (kept) vs er this is a (discarded).

Manual review of the list also showed them a hitherto under-emphasized aspect of spoken lectures – the introduction and definition of new terms.

Their analysis split these up into the more transparent but less frequent cues such as call and mean, e.g. …what theorists call.., …what do we mean by… and the less transparent but more frequent cues like basically and essentially e.g. …which are basically…, …so it’s essentially

Further they also showed how complex the delivery of a lot of the definitions or concepts were i.e. there was a lot of rephrasing sometimes using the word or but many times using no signposting language and key definitions usually came at the end of a series of connected points (back-loading).

In addition they found that often lecturers did not explicitly refer to their power point slides which could make it difficult for students to pick out the key terms.

A corpus may be like a corpse but like on the crime show CSI there is an awful lot that dead bodies can reveal.

Habeas corpus, you should have the body! 🙂

Minimal evidence tweets?

A quick thought related to the recent attention paid to evidence in education e.g. ResearchED 2013. What would constitute the minimum evidence for you to consider tweeting/linking to an intervention claiming to improve or beat a traditional one?

How about this link titled Artificially Intelligent Textbook Helps Students Learn, Boosts Test Scores? Fairly threadbare on relevant info no? What about this New Scientist link to the same story? The intelligent textbook that helps students learn. More info on the treatment and control groups yet no info on say statistical significance, if groups randomly assigned or how blind the study was?

Then what do we find when we get to the company website January 2012 evaluation – <<result was not statistically significant>>. :/

What for you would be a minimal evidence tweet?

Re-booting educational conferences

The IATEFL conference 2012 is being held in Glasgow this year. I have never been to one of these conferences but what strikes me is the lecture dominated nature of the delivery. Some concession has been granted to the 21st century by the accompanying IATEFL conference online resources which include forum discussions and useful videos of the lecture sessions. But why not more practice based sessions?

If you agree that

Lecture is the lowest common denominator of learning

Chad – Classroots.org

then why do we stand for it in conferences which are supposed to promote our professional development?

Alternatives can be drawn from the world of games, web development and maker communities. Usually these events involve building code, or web page or whatever in a limited time frame using various constraints.

See this video from the Cut&Paste design battle:

Cut&Paste Global Champs 2010-11 from Cut&Paste on Vimeo.

In this battle they have 3 categories, for example in one of these categories participants have 15 mins to create a 2D design based on an assigned brief. They are provided with computers and software and are allowed to bring one pre-made asset.

Maybe a future IATEFL conference will host a Lesson Plan Jam where competing teachers have 15 mins to design a lesson plan using an assigned theme. Then they swap the lesson plans and have 15 mins to adapt the plan, the ‘jam’ in Lesson Plan Jam. The audience response along with a jury would be judges of the best plans?

There could be various categories such as Video-based lesson plan, Online-based lesson plan, Dogme lesson plan etc.

There could be participative sessions to improve or ‘hack’ current teaching practice and training, e.g. improve CELTA training by cutting down or out input parts as suggested by Scott Thornbury in a comment on a Willy Cordoso blog post?

Whether you agree or don’t agree that educational conferences have to set an example and change their format please do comment.

Update 1:

More riffing on this theme at We Can Flip More Than Classrooms by @cogdog and Flipping the conference by @audreywatters

Update 2:

Sharon Hartle (@hartle) warns us of Hannibal Lecturing in The silence of the audience and Naomi Epstein (@naomishema) wants participative debates in Is it possible to have output session at a conference?

Update 3:

A glimpse of what participant based edu conferences can look like by Roger Dupuy (@rogerdupuy) The Speaker-Less Session.

Update 4:

Willy Cardoso describes an open space session on professional development. And read this English Central Anti Conference Conference for more details on open space discussion outcomes shared by Tyson Seburn.

Is one Ipad worth it? No!

Subtitle: If you want a gadget in class look for open-source alternatives.

This post has been in the making for a while but until recently it was pretty formless. Thanks to a post Only one iPad in the classroom I was prompted to write it at last. Also full disclosure, I wanted to update my equipment post! 😉

The trouble with iProducts The good with iProducts
1. Rapid evolution in system versions 1. Amount of software
2. Closed system 2. Standard UI experience

Essentially what is good about iProducts is what makes it bad for teachers – (in)flexibility. Because iProducts is a closed system it makes the UI (User Interface) experience good. But technology has to be malleable enough for teachers to be able to adapt it and not for teachers to have to adapt to it. I would argue that iProducts restrict this aspect much more so than equivalents, namely open-sourced ones.

Since a lot of very useful teacher material can be accessed via a browser one can argue that if you have a cheap handheld that can browse the internet efficiently then that is sufficient. And there are plethora of cheap Android tablets out there.

However this post will not cover Android tablets but will mention the current device I use in  class if no computer is available.

OpenPandora Handheld

The OpenPandora handheld was devised by a small group of open-source handheld enthusiasts.

I use it mainly for playing video and displaying text/images. As far as language education-related software available there is only really one, Anki, a flashcard program. But if you peruse the software repository you may find something useful.

OpenPandora plus accessories
OpenPandora plus accessories

(photo: OpenPandora plus accessories)

1.OpenPandora running a version of Linux, can get 10 hours runtime before recharge

2.Case with room to store two SD cards, USB-SDcard adapter, 4-port mini USB hub, a USB-miniUSB cable

3. Flat portable speaker (excellent battery life using 2 rechargeable AAs)

4. Cable case (stores TV-out cable plus USB-microUSB cable to charge my phone from Pandora handheld)

Pandora plus accessories in bag
Pandora plus accessories in bag

(photo: Pandora plus accessories in bag)

Whew! I don’t think I did much Apple bashing in this post although I still feel this was a somewhat rambling addition to the blog. I guess the sentiment that was bubbling away underneath may be captured somewhat by this post On Short-Term Ed-Tech Memory by Audrey Watters.