Research has shown (as if we needed much research to know this!) that some students process questions slower than others. This may be for a variety of reasons, among them that the student may be an introvert or shy, or may be a detailed thinker who wants to pause over certain parts of a question before giving an answer, or maybe the student wants to pose some interior counterarguments before answering. There are minds that barge ahead at 80 miles and hour, and others which cruise at 35.
For this reason, a teacher should always leave breathing room for answers and points of view to develop. Even rapid-fire thinkers will appreciate the stress-free, tranquil atmosphere of a moderated pace.
Leaving an even longer time to respond would be a good idea in many situations in a classroom. Let’s say you pose the question, “Are good manners important?” when discussing Huckleberry Finn’s objections to Miss Watson. That answer requires some thought and requiring an instant answer would guaranty a superficial discussion.
EXERCISE: After posing a meaty question or introducing a poem or story, leave an extended period for reflection and meditation. Not every such period need be the same. Here are variations:
Allow the students to refer to their books during the period, as long as they are quiet
Allow the students to take notes or make lists
Turn off the lights so they can meditate quietly on the issue for a given period, perhaps 3-5 minutes.
If reflecting on a poem (it would have to short-ish), have each student, or a selected group of students, read it aloud so that everyone can hear it read at least six times, with a pause between readers. Then turn off the lights and allow 2-3 minutes of meditation.
My friend Pamela Satran has a delightful blog called Nameberry which is a treasure trove about peoples’ first names, in American culture. As illustrated below, it would be of limited use elsewhere.
When my children were born, their father didn’t want any of the usual names and, since he was Australian, went searching in an aboriginal dictionary for inspiration. My son’s name is a variation on an aboriginal word for “fire” and my daughter’s name means “traveler.” You can make up a child’s name in America (the kids were born in America – it would be interesting to know what they thought in Australia) without being considered strange.
People in Iceland don’t have the same free-wheeling attitude. Here’s the Icelandic point of view, as expressed in a recent news release:
A 15-year-old Icelandic girl has won the right to use the name given her by her mother, after a court battle against the authorities.
Blaer Bjarkardottir will now be able to use her first name, which means “light breeze”, officially.
Icelandic authorities had objected, saying it was not a proper feminine name.
The country has very strict laws on names which must fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules”.
My former Chinese students tried to instruct me regarding Chinese first names, which come last. The first name, linearly, is the family name. Wang Zixiang’s “first name” is Zixiang. His family name is Wang. His sister (if Chinese children had sisters) might be named Wang Xiaobin.
This was just the beginning of their attempts to explain their names to me. Each family names their child for a hope they have for it; like “learned scholar” or “much gold.” Chinese words are made up of many layers, and name words are no exception. Without further study of Chinese, I cannot claim to understand the interaction of the layers.
The North Koreans obviously have some variation on the same protocols, because the recent grandfather-son-grandson trio of rulers have been named Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jung-un, with the family name coming first.
I ran across men named Lovemore and Givemore in Zimbabwe, and the name of the president of one African country is Goodluck. Givemore hinted that his name came from “Christianity.” These are names in English, but there are no English prime ministers or American presidents named “Givemore.”
Once again, we see how language is arbitrary, reflecting customs and beliefs of various cultures. The Icelanders feel strongly enough about their cultural choices to have a court case over a girl’s name.
Most of the argument is about the singular “they,” but the singular “you” also has an interesting genesis, and this article in The Economist tells the story, or at least part of the story.
The article concludes that social change has brought about this language change, though it does not draw any conclusions about why social change, meaning egalitarianism, did not also destroy the familiar “tu” in French, Spanish, and Italian, and the familiar “du” in German. What was it about English social change that was tied so tightly to language? That’s just something to think about.
California is pushing many entry-level college courses online. I have so much to say about this that I don’t know where to begin.
I teach writing. The parts of the class which always, always engage the students most vividly are group work, critiquing other students’ papers, individual conferences, and class discussions. Taking those away would dry up students’ brains and hearts, and eviscerate the program. A writing class could, perhaps, meet less frequently, maybe only half the time, but to remove personal contact in a writing course would be unthinkable. (How many unthinkable things have I had to accept recently!)
The article referenced above projects removal of many adjunct professors. The very existence of adjunct professors as the backbone of many academic departments (mine included) is in itself a cost-cutting change. Adjuncts work like donkeys. We are poorly paid, and can only have a limited number of classes at each university, so adjuncts shuffle from school to school, teaching 2-3 classes in each place. I would hate to do the research on how much time these scrambling adjuncts have to spend on each student. Between commuting, attending various workshops and faculty meetings, planning courses presented in different academic systems, correcting papers, and attending class, there is not much time left over. Now they are even cutting out the adjuncts.
But my main point here concerns a workshop I attended last year on formulating online courses. A professor of music was the workshop leader. He made the point that formulating an online course is extremely time consuming, and must be thought through carefully, since there is virtually no student feedback on the quality of assignments and the class organization. You cannot see how the assignments are playing out in real life. You just receive disembodied work from students you never get to know.
After reviewing the class he had so laboriously devised , I said, “Excuse me if you find this offensive, but this is all so easy. There is hardly any challenge to this course at all — I already know most of it myself, and I am just an amateur musician.” The professor gave a sheepish smile and conceded that online courses had to be simplified and made more transparently accessible, because the teacher can never know whether the material is being grasped and internalized or not.
If we, as a nation, want to cut the costs of higher education, then we should find other ways to do it, and I would begin with the egregiously high-priced textbooks. I could so very easily give my class with no textbook, but the students are forced to buy one. All they need is a reference book, such as A Writer’s Reference or The Everyday Writer, where they can seek guidance for grammar, vocabulary, and rhetoric.
Online courses are not for the professor and not for the students — neither group prefers or enjoys them. They are to save the taxpayer some money, and it is up to us, the taxpayers, to determine whether we can afford to so drastically lower the standards of our children’s education.
A good teacher, not a bundle of information, is the student’s lodestar. If we think good teachers are too expensive for our children, we should fold our tents and retire from the world stage.
A consistent mistake made by my students is using “everyday” instead of “every day.” “everyday” is an adjective, as in “That is an everyday concern of mine.” The other is a noun with a modifier, as in “Every day I brush my teeth.”
While on an unrelated Internet quest (looking for the website which best lays out the rules for use of prepositions), I landed on www.grammar.net which provided the following advice: “Although ending a sentence with a preposition is considered incorrect, these constructions are used everyday.” This is a GRAMMAR website, and they used “everyday” when they should have used “every day.” How can I object when my students make the same mistake? I can, but it is an uphill fight.
The www.grammar.net posting about prepositions was written by “Victoria,” a mysterious creature about whom no information was available other than her purported first name. (Is the author really a “she?” or could this be Victor or Viktor in female guise?) Being at the top of an Internet search for grammatical guidance, my students might land on this site, and could they not raise the “everyday” usage to contradict my assertion that this is a grammatical error? No. In order to use a website as a source, it must be from a trusted organization, not creatures like “Victoria,” and should have an academic sponsor or some expert backing. Digging a little deeper into the “About Us” section of www.grammar.net reveals that the website is linked to “SpellChecker.net” which sells two products named SCAYT and WSC. www.grammar.net is thus a commercial organization, and not a reliable source. Their minds are on their products, and the related grammar websites are no more than a come-on.
Another consistent mistake concerns using apostrophes to make plurals. In the popular textbook A Writer’s Reference, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, the section on apostrophes states, “Do not use an apostrophe to pluralize an abbreviation.” According to this textbook, the plural of G.M.O., an abbreviation, should be G.M.O.s. But a recent New York Times (9/16/2012) article by Mark Bittman is entitled G.M.O.’s: Let’s Label ‘Em, defying the rules in my textbook. Shot down again.
So what’s a teacher to do? Neither The New York Times nor grammar.net support her. She is beginning to doubt the reliability of popular textbooks such as A Writer’s Reference, and has long ago despaired of using The Elements of Style because “style” has changed. Article one, page one, of that venerable tome declares that we should write “Burns’s poems” and “Charles’s friend.” The universal book at Montclair State this year was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and the university posted announcements about the appearance of “Lacks’ son” at a symposium there. I can’t even get past page one of The Elements of Style before losing support from academic and scholarly sources..
I come back to a point I have made many times before – our language is changing quickly, unreliably, unpredictably, constantly. There. I broke the first rule of Stephen King, stated over and over again in his masterful book On Writing, “Avoid adverbs!”
A common mistake made by my students is using “everyday” instead of “every day.” One (everyday) is an adjective, as in “That is an everyday concern of mine.” The other is a noun modified by an adjective, as in “Every day I brush my teeth.”
I thought my analysis was undeniably correct until I landed on the website www.grammar.net and found the following sentence: “Although ending a sentence with a preposition is considered incorrect, these constructions are used everyday.” This is a GRAMMAR website, and they used “everyday” incorrectly. How can I object when my students make the same mistake? I can, but it is an uphill fight.
Just one example? Oh no. What about the use of apostrophes to make plurals? In the popular textbook A Writer’s Reference, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, the section on apostrophes states, “Do not use an apostrophe to pluralize an abbreviation.” According to this textbook, used in college classrooms across the country, G.M.O., an abbreviation, should be written G.M.O.s. But a recent New York Times (9/16/2012) article by Mark Bittman is entitled G.M.O.’s: Let’s Label ‘Em, defying the rules in my textbook.
Back to Grammar.net, a graphically enhanced website which comes up near the top of list on an Internet search for “grammar.” The blogpost on that site with the “everyday” error was written by “Victoria,” a mysterious creature about whom no information was available other than her purported name (is it really a “she?” or could this be Victor or Viktor in female guise?). It would (being at the top of the Internet search) be a place my students might land, and could they not raise this usage as an objection to my correction of their “everydays?” No. It does not meet the criteria for academic sourcing which I enforce in my class. In order to use a website as a source, it must be from a trusted organization, not creatures like “Victoria,” and should have an academic sponsor or some expert backing. Digging a little deeper into the “About Us” section reveals that the website is linked to “SpellChecker.net” which sells two products named SCAYT and WSC. This is, in other words, a commercial organization, and not a reliable source.
So what’s a teacher to do? Neither the solid The New York Times nor the shaky grammar.net support her. She is beginning to doubt the reliability of popular textbooks such as A Writer’s Reference, and has long ago despaired of using The Elements of Style because “style” has changed over the years. Article one, page one, on the possessive apostrophe, declares that we should write “Burns’s poems” and “Charles’s friend,” but it wouldn’t take long to find a New York Times or New Yorker article which blew that one out of the water. The universal book at Montclair State this year was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Flyers about appearance of Lacks’s (according to The Elements of Style) son announced that “Lacks’ son” would appear at a symposium there.
I don’t despair. I come back to a point I have made many times before – our language is changing quickly, unreliably, unpredictably, constantly. There. I broke first rule of Stephen King, stated over and over again in his masterful book On Writing, “Avoid adverbs!”
I am teaching a class of Chinese students (plus one Saudi Arabian and one Iranian). They are graduate students who have all studied English for many years, and perhaps were under the impression that they spoke English when they arrived on our shores. They were rudely greeted by professors who gave incomprehensible lectures, and the general public which insisted in speaking fast and incomprehensibly as. All of us who have studied second, third, and fourth languages know the feeling.
I was working with them on a minimal pair yesterday, “t” and “d”. One is voiced, and one is voiceless, but the mouth is in basically the same position to make both sounds, and these two sounds are common to most languages, though they may be pronounced slightly differently.
I gave them a list of words beginning with either “t” or “d” — tap, drive, trunk, tender, television, dare, dumb, etc. They got those very well.
We moved on to words which have the “t” or “d” in the middle — better, bidder, writer, rider, letter. They discovered that the t’s in the middle of words were actually pronounced “d” if they were between two voiced sounds, such as vowels. They tended to give full value to the “t,” which was not how Americans speak. There is not enough time to withdraw from a voiced sound, d, speak a competing voiceless sound, t, and then return to a voiced “d.”
The most important difference between “writer” and “rider,” however, is a slightly lengthened preceding vowel (a diphthong)– “raaaiider” and “wraider.” This was very hard for them to catch, and they didn’t do so well on this one, but we practiced it and perhaps their ears have gotten more attuned to the differences.
Then we went on to t’s and d’s at the end of the word — hat, had, shot, set, part, hard, wend, bend, cart. (It is always good to include a word like “wend” which the students would probably not know so that they do not follow expectations, but rather pure sound.) The success rate for this pattern was also pretty low.
The difference between the final “d” and the final “t” is barely perceptible, and slight lengthening of the “e” sound in “wend” as compared to “went” is very sophisticated phonology and probably will not be achieved by a speaker of English as a second language. We are not talking high tech phonology here, but the ear of the second language speaker. Once again, the actual sounds made at the end of these words are barely different from each other — both the “d” and the “t” are swallowed. It’s almost as if the speaker is saying, “I’ve given you enough information on the front end — you have to figure out how it ends.” Since there is no voiced vowel following the final “t” or “d” there is no need to voice it if it stands alone so it sort of disappears into thin air.
This is just single word listening. It got REALLY interesting when we put words together!
I have just learned about a very interesting tool/game for learning new languages. Here’s a synopsis, copied from a LinkedIn contact:
“Language Hunters (http://www.languagehunters.org/) is a not-for-profit organization in Portland, Oregon that utilizes a fun, collaborative and communal accelerated learning tool in the form of an interactive game, utilizing sign language, to learn and teach any language. It is proving to be very successful.”
Their introductory videos show a simple system, which includes some sign language, which can be done in groups or in pairs. As I interpret it, this system encourages fluency and ease of speaking as well as vocabulary and grammar enrichment. It is worth looking into if you are interested in learning a new language or are teaching a language class.
Exercise: For people learning a new language, some of the game-like exercises introduced in the videos could be very effective. I am not teaching an ESL class right now, so I have not tried these exercises out in real life, but they look effective.
This is a guest post from Rebekah Palmer (http:palmerlanguage.blogspot.com). Cross fertilization of ideas amplifies the abilities of all of us. If any of my readers have experiences or suggestions, please feel free to share them.
As educators, we often talk about goal setting. We set long-term goals for courses and short-term lesson objectives. We think about whether these goals and objectives are being met. We reflect and set new goals. This is nothing new.
It is surprising, therefore, that there is so little focus INSIDE the classroom on learner goals; talking about objective-setting and student responsibility for working towards and achieving goals is typically absent.
When no specific goals are defined in the classroom, the default goal of language learning becomes native-speaker level language production. Becoming native-speaker-like in a language is a dedicated effort – it is not necessary for competent communication, and the high standard demanded may not even be beneficial for many students. It requires spending a great deal of time learning very specific, tiny details that may not be important for learners in their daily lives. At the same time, the ominous goal of native-speaker language ability looms over all of us like a rain cloud pouring down on any feeling of learner success we might have briefly had.
Goals and motivation go hand-in-hand. Students need to first identify their motivations for learning, and THEN they can define their long-term proficiency goals. At that point, they must also be given the responsibility to pursue those goals. Too often, we as educators create dependent learners who rely on us for everything. The classroom is merely one facet of language learning, and to treat it as the only one is to cripple language learners.
This is an activity adapted from Rebecca Oxford’s Language Learning Strategies that I do with my students on the first day (it would be helpful later in the course as well). Here is a GoogleDocs link to the PDF that I made to use with it.
Start by having students identify their language learning motivation (i.e., I need English for work, I want to learn English so that I can take a trip to the USA, etc.). From there, have them identify how important each of the language macro-skillls (listening, reading, writing, speaking) is for their overall language goal, with “1” being “not very important” and “5” being “very important.”
Then, have them identify the level they want to achieve in each macro skill. (It is helpful to remind them that this is a beginning goal, and that when they reach it, they can set a new one.)
Next, brainstorm a list of all the possible ways that they can work towards these goals for the four macro-skills. Write a list on the board. Past lists have included watching the English news (listening, some reading), watching a movie with English subtitles (reading), talking to English-speaking family members (speaking, listening), reading the newspaper or a comic book (reading), writing an email to English-speaking friends (writing), etc. Make sure you have ideas for all four macro skills.
Once you have written them all down, have the students star the ones that are possible for them in their lifestyle. As they are doing that, I mention to them this wonderful idea that I read at Creativity and Language: Language learning is not like learning history. You can’t just memorize dates and facts. Language learning is like learning to play the piano. No matter how much you “know,” you must practice constantly if you want to be skilled at it.
Once they have the list, help them to create specific goals for today, tomorrow, and this week. Share the goals with all the students and begin to create a positive, supportive atmosphere of goal setting, evaluation, and re-setting. If you have time in the rest of the course, it is also nice to evaluate weekly goals and set new ones.
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Bekah Palmer is a language consultant and English trainer in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. She enjoys research in Linguistics and Language Education, and (with the help of her husband and sometime language co-blogger, Tim Palmer) writes about it at http://palmerlanguage.blogspot.com. Her special and current interests include Authentic Language, Conversation Analysis, Language Learning Strategies, DogmeELT / Teaching Uplugged, Autonomous Language Learning, and Third-Language Acquisition.
Diversity is often just a concept. Many people live in a diverse town, yet never visit the “foreign” parts of it. Students can be members of a diverse class, yet never come into contact with the parts of their peers’ lives that reflect their different backgrounds. Students with an Italian background, for example, often think that EVERYONE eats lasagna for Christmas. The exercise suggested below can highlight and enrich the meaning of the word “diverse.”
This blog has readers all over the world. In some places the student population may be homogeneous, but in an American classroom, there are usually students with ancestors from different parts of the world, different races, and different language groups. While students with Italian ancestry may still eat lasagna for Christmas, they rarely speak more than rudimentary Italian. The exceptions are students who are only one generation away from their immigrant forebears, but even they may have had their linguistic heritage diluted by intermarriage or contact with other languages where they live or work.
By consulting the website Ethnologue, students will learn how many people in the world speak their heritage language. They can also learn what influence their heritage language has had on American Standard English, or on some other language, by Googling, for example, “Polish words in English.” Students these days have spent a lot more time surfing the Net than I have, and will undoubtedly be more adept than I at finding the needed information.
Exercise: Ask your students to find out where in the world their heritage language is spoken, and how many people speak it. Some students have more than one heritage language, and they can choose to report on one or all of those languages. They should also find out what words from their language have emigrated to America (or some other country) and now are widely used in English (or some other language). In the Polish example, we have imported babka and gherkin. This exercise would also be useful in ESL classes, or classes where students are learning a second language.