TaWSIG and teacher experience design

Teachers as workers, TaWSIG, is here for one simple reason, there is very little public discussion of working conditions in English Language Teaching, ELT. To a large extent this is understandable given the dominance of private business concerns running the industry. We try not to be anti this-that-whatever, rather we want to promote discussion of the reality of our working lives. If you agree please do consider sharing your opinions and experiences.

On the website blog we have so far posted on why you should join, everyday hassles, re-claiming our teaching identity, re-thinking professional development and raising mental health issues.

We do not want you to go back to your scheduled programming, we want you to help push ELT into thinking about designing teacher experiences we can be proud of. We want our learners to be proud of their achievements knowing their teachers are working in the best possible circumstances. We want to change things. We can change things.

Thanks for reading.

Lesson Kit 2: Cup stacking

This post provides some items that one could use to construct a lesson or activity based on the following video:

h/t Dr. Alec Couros ‏@courosa

This is more a lesson idea than a kit like the last Star Wars puns. But since I have not done another kit, a kit it shall be.

As I was teaching a module on understanding numerical information I used some numbers from the video as a pre-viewing activity.

1. Ask how are the following numbers related?:

1.786s    (world record for fastest time)

622809 people (world record for most people stacking at same time)

5.3s (time journalist achieved)

A frequent response from students here was the rate of births and deaths. (Instead of numbers you could ask say how the following are related – cups, 3-6-3, California)

2. Then ask which of the following is a (Junior) Olympic sport:

Jump rope

Sport/cup stacking

Baton twirling

They are all (Junior) Olympic Sports. Some time may be spent on discussing what these sports are exactly.

3. Next ask students which of these sports are related to the numbers mentioned initially.

4. Tell them the first time they watch the video to not make any notes but simply be prepared to give a reaction/comment.

5. The second time to take notes and invent some questions to ask their classmates.

6. Play for a third time depending on level of your students. Another option is to split the video at about the 4min mark before the part on the specific techniques. And get students to ask questions based on information up to this mark.

Possible vocabulary queries may include what P.E. means (physical education).

Some questions to prompt class if they are feeling taciturn:

What may be problematic for the future of the sport?

When and where did the sport originate?

What features of the cups are mentioned?

What is a scratch?

What is the most frequent pattern?

What do the numbers presented at the beginning refer to exactly?

What is merch short for?

One class wit came up with – When was this form of mental illness discovered : /)

7. As a second stage you can get students to work on some bottom-up listening skills by running the video URL through TubeQuizard.

tubequizard-cupstacking

Click image to go to exercises.

Thanks for reading, hope the video gives you further ideas which I would love to hear about.

ELT Research Bites, saving time is necessary but not sufficient

I am delighted to be involved, along with other English language teachers, in a new initiative called ELT Research Bites founded by Anthony Schmidt.

One of the major reasons teachers give for not reading research articles is lack of time. Another reason is the difficulty of reading research articles (Nassaji, 2012). Research bites hopes to help with the time issue. And to some extent with the difficulty issue by filtering articles through language we understand hence we hope other teachers do too. Also contributions to the site are open to all.

At the time of writing we have posts on note-taking instruction, offline and online written feedback, corpus use and writing, extensive reading, teacher’s L1 and L2 use, and translation tasks.

However, the problem of applying research knowledge into the classroom remains. This is due to the cognitive demands placed on the teacher. Bartels (2009) when talking about applying knowledge about language (KAL) recommends focusing on tasks with similar constraints to actual teaching , using specific teaching situations to link KAL to classroom knowledge, and deliberate practice using case studies and hyper-media.

Thanks for reading and hope to see your writing on ELT Research Bites.

References:

Bartels, N. (2009) Knowledge about language. In: J. Richards & A. Burns (Eds.) Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nassaji, H. (2012). The relationship between SLA research and language pedagogy: Teachers’ perspectives. Language Teaching Research, 16(3), 337-365. DOI: 10.1177/1362168812436903

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.

Clinton conditional conundrum

This is a short post that sparked my curiosity about conditionals. Take it as you want.

Recently a story has emerged about Hilary Clinton. The popular quote is this:

And if we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.

[http://observer.com/2016/10/2006-audio-emerges-of-hillary-clinton-proposing-rigging-palestine-election/]

A more extended quote is this:

First, I don’t think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. If we were going to push for an election, we should have made sure we did something to determine who was going to win instead of signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas.

[http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1725828/posts]

According to the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, CGEL (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002) there are two kinds of conditionals – open and remote. Open refers to something that may or may not be the case, remote refers to something being unlikely or remote.

Remote conditionals must have a modal auxiliary in the main clause (e.g. should) and a modal past form were in the if part.

For the first Clinton quote we have these two features hence this is a remote conditional.

If we look at the fuller quote we can argue that Clinton wanted to emphasize to this particular audience that the Bush administration at that time made a mistake. She uses the conditional to highlight this by imagining an alternative world where she was involved in making the decision. In this world she would have done something more than “signing off on an electoral system that advantaged Hamas” and “did something to determine who was going to win”.

Now as to whether this means she would have rigged the election is up for anyone to speculate and whether that applies to election rigging in the US is similarly up for grabs.

I’d be very interested to get your opinion, thanks for reading.

References:

Huddleston, R., & Pullum, G. K. (2002). The Cambridge grammar of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yeah but…A first debate lesson

This post suggests a first lesson for debating. It shows students, via a transcript and its related video, how a formal debate speech is done as many of my students are used to a more free-for-all kind of style.

1. Write on the board the following:

Who’s that?
Right on!
True that.

Tell students that these three things refer to three important ways to persuade people. Invite students to guess what they are.

It is likely they will first recognize the third one – True that. Inform them that this refers to the logic and reason of your arguments. Also known as Logos.
Then add that Who’s that? refers to the credibility and character of the speaker otherwise known as Ethos. Right on! refers to emotion and appeals to the heart, classically called Pathos.

There was a short comment/discussion on what Hilary Clinton & Donald Trump seemed to prefer in terms of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. This can be an opportunity to categorise the style of whoever happens to be the talking point of the moment.

2. Next write on the board 6 bullet points. Tell them that these refer to how the structure of a typical speech is arranged. Ask them to guess what they are.

As students respond add the following to the 6 bullet points:
a. Introduction
b. Statement of facts
c. Division
d. Proof
e. Refutation
f. Conclusion

Add more details to each of the parts, I took mine from Classical Rhetoric 101: The Five Canons of Rhetoric – Arrangement.

I also noted that the statement of facts can be critical as this is where you get the chance to frame your debate. Hence if your opponents try to shift ground you can claim that they are being irrelevant with respect to how you stated your concerns initially.

3. Next in groups of 3 (or 2) instruct 2 (or 1) of them in the group to put in order a jumbled text (I split the text into 10 parts but you could change this, see end of post). The other person will have the text in the correct order. The person with the text can monitor the people/person that have to rearrange the text. Also the person with the text can check whether the text follows the Arrangement outlined previously.

4. After this have a discussion on the text in terms of arrangement. Students may point out that there is not a real Refutation part. This is true though the lines “But like this is only ordinarily regrettable.” and “It’s not hugely harmful.” could be pointed to as being short admissions of weakness.

5. Now play the video. After playing the video ask class for comments about the delivery. Students may mention things like hurried delivery at times, use of “like” and “right”.

6. Ask students to search the text for any things they notice about the language used.

E.g. Use of humour at start – “So my job tonight like all good feminists is to make you hate things you love and to, like, ruin the simple pleasures of life, like going out.”;
Exaggeration/irony“But then what happens was that Taylor Swift had one coffee with Lena Dunham and the whole of the history of feminism was altered for ever.”;
Repetition and groups of three“But, secondly it is just a huge amount of cultural power mis-spent. It’s a huge number of interviews and a huge amount of airtime that she could be spending,”

This lesson took me about an hour. For the remaining 30 mins I asked them in small groups of 5 (or 4) to pick a debate from the idebate.org 100 most popular motions. They then had to work out positions to argue. This was rehearsal for next week’s session where they would perform in their groups in front of the class.

Thanks for reading and I would be very interested to hear about other debate class lessons or ideas or resources.

Lesson Resources:

Video Transcript
So my job tonight is like all good feminists is to make you hate things you love and to, like, ruin the simple pleasures of life, like going out. So I’m gonna explain to you why you should be deeply regretful of the rise of Taylor Swift. I’m gonna explain to you why you should wish that she had never exploded the way that she did onto the music scene and why specifically we should regret her faux feminist awakening and all the ways that has helped all the women in the world, specifically Taylor Swift.

So, like, first let’s have a little chat about Taylor Swift pre-feminism. I know it seems like a long time ago but this was only last year, right. This was, like, the album she released before 1989. When she was happy to write lyrics like “She’s an actress better known for what she does in the mattress. She wears high-heels I wear sneakers. She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts.” And of course “I’m not that kind of girl”, right. Lyrics designed to make clear the superiority of Taylor Swift over, like, some un-named slut-shamed other in her, like, pursuit of the man in the song, right. But like this is only ordinarily regrettable. This is only, like, standard beautiful white woman popstar is imperfect in the mass-media, right. But then what happens was that Taylor Swift had one coffee with Lena Dunham and the whole of the history of feminism was altered for ever. So the the rest of my speech is broken down into what I’ve called Girl Power Squad Feminism, White Feminism, and then lastly Self-Serving Taylorism.

So firstly Girl Power Squad Feminism. What is this? Well, like, basically, this is when Taylor Swift parades out large numbers of supposedly successful but noticeably very beautiful women, stand behind her while she talks about solidarity and girl power. Which means, incidentally, buying tickets to Taylor Swift tours, right. Like, firstly, this is just not good enough, right. That’s not what feminism is. It’s not enough to be just successful and claim that you should be behind her just because she’s a woman. But like, secondly, it’s this really strange version of feminism where she declares that she’s supporting other women by letting them stand behind her on her stage whilst she makes a fortune. Like when she drags out the women’s soccer team and gets them to all stand behind her on a stage, at the, whatever the equivalent is of the Wembley Arena is in New York. Like no-one is helped but Taylor Swift. Like, this is just not interesting feminism. It’s not hugely harmful.

But then we come to White Feminism. And because when your feminism is that simple some women necessarily get left behind. Some women are necessarily not helped by a brand of squad girls, white girl feminism. So let’s see for example her exchange with Nikki Minaj labelled a spat or a cat fight or something other, something else gendered and boring in the media.

So what happens is Nikki Minaj tweets saying that women of color are structurally disadvantaged in the music video. Taylor, poor Taylor, feels victimised and plays the solidarity women card which is what feminism is, remember. She says “All I’ve ever done is love and support you” and then says “If I ever win something you can come and stand behind me like you could at one of my concerts, right. This is, like, a kind of strange feminism that just, like, revolves around Taylor, one, not getting it, not getting like the patriarchy affects women of color differently, that it affects queer women differently, that it affects disabled women differently. That your access to a version of empowerment that is built around looking like Taylor Swift is only available to you if you are a woman who looks like Taylor Swift but, two, this is an example of her like, like getting in the way of other women trying to explain some real problems in the world in order to advance her own personal, likable, girl next door brand.

And this is the thing with Taylor Swift’s feminism it is so transparently self-serving. It’s like so completely designed to enable her to use the language of an emerging social movement, popular feminism for her own PR and financial gains. It’s a way for her to deflect criticism and protect her girl next door likability. So if another artist criticises her for getting undue attention because she is a privileged white woman writing inoffensive pop songs as opposed to a woman of color celebrating black female bodies and empowerment in the music industry. She gets to say that, like this is a breakdown of feminist solidarity right. Because of course to be a feminist is to love and support Taylor Swift. It enables her to defend herself against the less powerful right. In the same way that she like uses her enormously powerful team of legal experts to sue people who make “Shake it Off” branded mugs and sell them on Etsy for six dollars. Taylor Swift is using her power against those less powerful than her which includes like Etsy vendors, Niki Minaj and all other women who aren’t Taylor Swift.

So we’re proved she’s not a perfect feminist but does that make her by herself especially regrettable? Well I think it does for several reasons.

Because firstly she hijacks the emerging movement of popular feminism. Something that is, like, building a groundswell of support amongst young women who are starting for the first time to call themselves feminist. And makes it about something just too simple and too easy and that crucially does absolutely no good to anyone but a tiny number of women, right.

But, secondly it’s just a huge amount of cultural power mis-spent. It’s a huge number of interviews and a huge amount of airtime that she could be spending, like, actually helping someone, raising money for women’s charities or, like, doing something else.

But lastly, like, it just obscures the work it takes to live a properly feminist life, by making it too easy, by making it all like squad girls, goals and selfies and for me that’s not good enough. Propose.

Video
From 1m45 to 7m33