Interaction for Learning Framework

The interface between TESOL and international higher education is such an fascinating space to be working in these days. I enjoy how my work will take me into diverse areas and fields–EAP, general academic writing, SoTL, internationalization of the curriculum, etc. Every year Dalhousie hosts a conference on teaching and learning in higher education, and it’s a great chance to connect with people from different faculties and departments from universities all over Canada who care about teaching and learning. No matter what the conference theme, I always try to present on something related to linguistic and cultural diversity in our classrooms and/or internationalization of the curriculum and pedagogies. It’s so important to try to counter the deficit view of linguistic diversity and international students that is still quite common out there in Canadian higher ed. One way to do this is to offer some practical tools and teaching techniques.

Next week I’ll be presenting The Interaction for Learning Framework: A tool for learning in diverse classrooms .

It’s the first time I’ve presented on this topic, and I’m really excited about it. I’m still finalizing the presentation; if you have worked with this framework before, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter.

Here’s a description:

Despite increasing diversity at many institutions, students often gravitate toward others of similar linguistic or cultural backgrounds academically—in class, for groupwork or assignments, tutorial choice—as well as socially. When this happens, the benefits of learning in a diverse setting, such as expanded world view, increased empathy, strengthened sense of global citizenship, may remain unrealized. Many educators experience frustration when faced with this tendency of students to self-segregate. They many feel helplessness, or confusion at why interaction doesn’t just happen on its own. They may not realize that they are in a position to facilitate an inclusive classroom environment or they may realize this but lack the tools to do so.

This presentation is an introduction to one of these tools: the ‘Interaction for Learning Framework’ (ILF), which was developed at the Centre for Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne by researcher Sophie Arkoudis and her team. Arkoudis et al. (2012) and Arkoudis et al. (2013) describe this framework in detail. The ILF was developed to help faculty and instructors structure the learning environment to increase interaction between domestic and international students.

In the proposed session, I will introduce the framework and its spheres of application, balancing theoretical information with examples of its application from around the world, as well as criticisms that have emerged out of the literature. In terms of session outcomes, participants will learn about the ILF, and how to apply it in the context of their curriculum and classroom pedagogies to facilitate interaction between students and the synthesis of course material. There will be time allotted to reflection and application of the ILF to participants’ own educational contexts.

If true inclusion, diversity and internationalization are to be achieved on our campuses and in our classrooms, we must move past buzzwords and strategic directives and do the hard work of changing our curricula and pedagogies to foster the types of attitudes and create the types of environments we envision. This change won’t necessarily happen without our intervention. The ILF is one technique TAs, instructors and faculty can add to their toolbox for inclusive teaching.

References:

Arkoudis, S., Watty, K., Baik, C., Yu, X., Borland, H., Chang, S., Lang, I., Lang, J. & Pearce, A. (2013). Finding common ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 222-235.

Arkoudis, S., Baik, C., & Richardson, S. (2012). English language standards in higher education: from entry to exit. Camberwell, Vic.: ACER Press.

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What makes an idiom?

I’m sure most of us saw the Tweet from animal-rights organization PETA last week, proposing non-“speciesist” alternatives to common idioms involving animals. PETA was roundly lambasted on social media and the criticism ranged from pure mockery to sociolinguistic (around the pronunciation of the word ‘scone’), to  denouncing their conflation of “speciesism” with other forms of oppression such as racism, homophobia and anti-semitism.

Wider debates aside, and regardless of your take on PETA’s proposal–I personally agree that conflating “speciesism” with other forms of oppression is completely absurd–, these idioms could be great fodder for the classroom. You could start with discussions of the descriptive approach to language, where use determines what’s “right” and grammatical. That leads into the question of what actually makes an idiom: if what is grammatical and acceptable is what’s commonly used, and idioms are established by usage, can you just propose new ones like this? Are they even idioms if no one uses them? You could bring in counter examples, though, where a concerted effort was made to force language to evolve to reflect changing societal attitudes, such as gender-neutral language. Especially when it was first introduced, gender-neutral language received (and still receives) backlash. Would students see the PETA examples as the same phenomena of proposing changes to have language better reflect certain societal attitudes?

Then you could have some fun. You could present some established idioms involving animals (the ones on PETA’s list, and some others), teach their meaning and use, and then have students create their own non-animal alternatives. As always with lessons on idioms and expressions, fun conversation could ensue with cross-cultural comparisons of idioms, and what images and metaphors are used to express the same meaning in different languages. 

Finally, with the list of students’ new, creative idioms in hand, you may or may not want to embark on a discussion about creativity with language, and who gets to innovate and be creative and who doesn’t. When an author gets creative and creates a new expression, or PETA proposes new idioms, that’s ok, but if a learner of English or a speaker of a non-local or non-standard variety of English does the same thing, it’s often considered a mistake; they’re delegitimized as users of English.  

Pain Questionnaire for Vocab Learning

CaptureI recently came across the McGill Pain Questionnaire or the McGill Pain Index, a tool developed in the 70’s by a Montreal doctor to be used in medical settings for patients to self-rate the pain they’re feeling. It contains 78 words divided into 20 sections or categories.

Now, I am not in a position to comment on the effectiveness of its clinical usage, but I think it could be used for vocabulary learning, especially for advanced students or students studying English for use in healthcare study or professional settings.

I can think of tons of ways to use this tool in the classroom. Because of the pain descriptors are broken down and organized into categories (temporal, spatial, affective, etc.), I think it provides a less overwhelming introduction to this vocabulary then an unsorted list. With so many words that are essentially synonyms for the word ‘painful’, the chief challenge will be learners differentiating the subtleties in meaning and usage of all these words. I think the categorization will help.

This vocab could then form the basis of disciplinary writing activities such as patient case reports, primary practice reports, or patient charts or records. It could play a role in speaking activities such as presentations for the context of public health education or outreach. The questionnaire form itself could form the basis of patient-clinician role-play activities.

A non-ESP/EAP extension activity would be noticing how and which of these words are used in fiction or journalistic texts, or in advertising (for pharmaceuticals, especially). I think it could also spark very interesting discussions on cross-linguistic descriptions and conceptualizations of pain as students will inevitably look for translations and equivalencies in their L1 or other languages.

In settlement English contexts, this could be adapted into an activity focusing on the linguistic aspects of visiting the doctor or the hospital in English. On a side note, for those teachers who haven’t ever or have rarely visited the doctor in an additional language, looking at the questionnaire is a great reminder of how linguistically demanding a doctor’s visit can be, and how a lack of vocabulary to describe pain (or body parts or functions, or many other things) could very easily result in inaccurate diagnoses or sub-standard care.

Resources

Why is English so Weird?

2012-02-20_042110_language_iconI really love working with advanced learners because we can delve into the history of English. In fact,  for many of the questions that arise, especially surrounding English vocab, I find I usually have no choice but to explain  things in light of history; otherwise, lots of aspects of modern standard English would seem quite random.

A while back I developed a two-hour workshops for advanced learners of EAP on the history of English (and I asked for your help doing it!). I wanted to create a workshop that explained aspects of modern-day English that could seem really strange to learners in light of the history of the language, to show that they didn’t just appear out of nowhere. The “OMG English makes no sense!” discourse is quite rampant (here and here are some examples..there are lots more!), even among English language teachers. I wanted us, as teachers, to go beyond the “That’s just the way it is!” response to students’ questions to be able to give them a more informed answer.

The first time I did it it was titled simply “The History of English”. Sounds dry, I know. 🙂 As it was part of a drop-in series of language workshops, the title really has an influence on the attendance, and well, let’s say that there were only a few people who came to the workshop the first time. I changed the title to “Why is English so Weird?”, which is essentially the question that guided the creation of the workshop. More people showed up each time it was offered with that title.

Here are my slides from that presentation. (As with many presentations, the slides may seem a bit sparse without the commentary and accompanying activities, but anyway… 🙂 We talk about and do some activities on language change and old, middle and modern English, Anglo-Saxon vs. Latinate vocabulary after the Norman conquest, spelling and spelling reformers such as Noah Webster, loanwords from other languages into English, the Great Vowel Shift and sound to spelling correlations in modern English. I end the session talking about singular ‘they’ as an example of the evolution of language that is taking place right now.

What inspired me to write this blog post is that I recently came across this Wikipedia page on English word with dual Anglo-Saxon and French/Norman variants. This particular aspect of English vocabulary is so important for EAP, as that Latinate/French-origin vocabulary makes up so much of English’s general academic vocabulary as well as much disciplinary vocab. Learners of English whose first language non-European often don’t have a sense of  which words have a Latinate origin and which don’t, so awareness raising around this issue can help them develop a better sense of register and informal/formal vocabulary.

Language Practice into Teaching Practice

A colleague and I were recently discussing the issue of which aspects of our professional practice as language instructors are informed by our formal training, which by our classroom teaching experience and which by our own personal experience as learners and users of additional languages. The topic came up in regards to the issue of the acquisition of metaphorical competence. For both of us, our own experiences of the process of becoming aware of the metaphorical schemata we hold in our L1, and then overcoming those to fully acquire metaphorical competence in other languages greatly informs how we approach teaching from the most basic structures to collocations, phrasal verbs, and idioms.

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of travel and work in one of my additional languages lately, doing a lot of meetings and presentations in Spanish across Latin America. This has also made me reflect on how much of my teaching is informed by my own experiences in learning and using additional languages. Very practical strategies for learning and communication are another area that I draw on, sharing my own strategies with my students. There are the things we always advise our students to do—we all have our old chestnuts—but it’s good to have a reminder every so often of some of the real-life challenges that may come up and some practical advice on how to cope.

Here is what has stood out for me lately:

Predict and Prepare

One mantra I always emphasize when working with advanced users of academic English preparing for academic presentations, conferences or their thesis defence is predict and prepare. In advance of any particular event or context where they will have to talk about their research or discuss ideas in their field, they should think hard to predict what they have to talk about, and questions they may be asked or the responses they may have to give. Then, I advise them to actually sit down and prepare a list of the key words, concepts, terminology, expressions they will need to draw on in doing all of the above. They should not just make a simple list, but include common synonyms or collocations and related word forms, as well as pronunciation. Most people are used to the concept of rehearsing presentations, but I encourage students to also practice smaller-scale or more informal sections of these communicative events, such as Q and A responses, answers to certain predicted interview questions, and rebuttals to criticisms of one’s research.

I’ve certainly had to practice what I preach in this respect with regards to my recent work in Spanish. When presenting in English, I don’t tend to script things too closely; I’ll prepare notes or points on a Powerpoint and then speak off of them rather extemporaneously. But in Spanish I’ve been speaking about an area with a lot of specialized terminology, which I’ve really had to research and prepare for. Thankfully, a lot of the questions I receive are easily predictable, so that has helped me focus my preparation.

Regional variation and register

I’ve done work in 5 different Latin America countries in the last two months, each with its own patterns of second person pronoun use (tu, usted, vos, etc.) and variation in register. I’ll try to read up on the use of pronouns in each country before I get there, but there’s only so much an article can tell you. I try to be very sensitive and observant around patterns of use and how they vary in service encounters, meetings and when speaking to and advising  youth and prospective students, where the age factor comes into play. But it’s tricky! I try to err on the side of formality if in doubt.

This has inspired me to put more emphasis on register in my classes. Sometimes there can be a tendency to view English as simple in this respect, as there is only one second person singular pronoun. But I am feeling inspired about spending more time on examining the other ways register, hierarchy, respect, distance, etc. are expressed in English in interpersonal encounters, and encouraging learners to be observant and sensitive to these phenomena. I used to spend a lot of time approaching register in this way when I taught a lot of business English, but in an EAP context I find the focus tends to be on informal vs. academic writing and speech. I think the regional variation in register in Anglophone countries is also important, but as is usual in many ELT materials, the discussion tends to stop at British vs. American differences. Those trying to figure out register in Canada are left to figure it out for themselves! Observation of patterns and sensitivity become all the more important.

Informal Recasts

Awareness of the fact that even recasts in formal classroom settings go ignored most of the time has left me determined to try to listen for them and incorporate them to improve my accuracy, especially of vocabulary. For example, in a conversation with a student, I had used the term biología marítima to refer to marine biology, but he replied using the term biología marina. “Whoops!”, I said to myself, and took note to correct that term in my internal dictionary.

Does awareness of the research around recasts and the fact that they often lead to very little uptake make learners more likely to listen for them, take them in, and therefore make them more likely to be effective? I think it does, and always bring this up in class, especially in speaking and pronunciation classes.

Paraphrasing

Finally, not that there as any doubt, but these experiences have driven home the importance of fluency and confidence (over accuracy) in asserting yourself and being accepted as a user of a particular language. Many people, whether subconsciously or consciously, hold the idea that fluency (interplaying with pronunciation here) in a language reflects your cognitive state. So in real-life professional communicative situations it’s best to just employ any strategies necessary to get on with things, rather than getting hung up on grammatical mistakes or blanking on a particular piece of vocab. Finding time in class not just to discuss these strategies, but to practice them via role plays or other activities is very important.

 

Reading Activity: Refugees

Hat tip to my colleague Tony Rusinak, who posted this great poem on his social media today: Refugees, by Brian Bilsten.

REFUGEES

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

Over and above the discussions that it would bring about on the topic of refugees, and the vocabulary work, this poem would make for a wonderful lesson.

  • You could print out two copies, one the way it’s written here, then another with the sentences in bottom-to-top order, and have students punctuate and adjust the capitalization on both, justifying their choices.
  • A follow up, once it were re-punctuated, would be to do some pronunciation work on thought groups, focus words and intonation. Then both versions could be read and compared not just in how the punctuation and capitalization differs, but also in how this affects aspects of pronunciation.
  • With more advanced groups, you could then try to have students write reverse poems. Or maybe palindrome poems.

Brian Bilsten has a ton of other fun and creative poetry on his website; I bet there’s lots more in there to use in the English classroom!

 

They Won’t Know Unless You Tell Them

One of my least favourite genres of article is the Kids these days…!  or Back in my day, we…. article focusing specifically on university students. At a very regular frequency, these articles appear in the mainstream press and in publications focusing on academia alike. They invariably consist of a lot of hang-wringing because unlike the (usually Baby Boomer-age) authors of these articles, today’s university students are brainwashed capitalist zombies addicted to social media, who can’t spell or use grammar correctly, and are coddled snowflakes who can’t handle the real world without a trigger warning.

That’s why I loved this article, What First Years Might Not Know and What To Do About It. It’s short blog post listing academic behaviours–emailing, note-taking, interacting with professors–that many first-years lack upon arriving at university simply because they’ve never learned them. The post reminds faculty and staff that they may have to explicitly teach these behaviours. Your first-year students don’t know how to write a proper email? Rather than bemoan that this indicates that the decline of Western civilization, well, just teach them how to do it and get on with it.

And if students are not exposed to these academic behaviours in North American high schools and have to be taught, then what about students who are arriving to a completely new academic culture when they arrive at a Canadian university from another country? For me, this further underlines the need for academic expectations and behaviours to be made explicit and specifically taught to domestic and international students alike. Academic English is no one’s mother tongue, and similarly, no one is born knowing that you shouldn’t use emojis in an email to your prof. If you want someone to act in a certain way, well, then show and tell them what you want; otherwise, how are they supposed to know?

NYT Writing Prompts

Capture I recently came across the New York Time’s list of 401 prompts for argumentative writing. This would come in handy in many an EAP classroom, where opinion or argumentative essays in various forms are taught at most levels, really. The topics and questions are such that most of them could form the prompt for an essay being written purely from a student’s own background knowledge, experience and opinions, or for a research essay drawing on external sources of information.

There is also a list of prompts for personal or narrative writing, along with a lesson called “From ‘Lives’ to ‘Modern Love’, Writing Personal Essays with Help from the New York Times”. It’s true that those two particular sections/columns in the NYT are particularly interesting and engaging; not to mention that there’s an archive with thousands of relatively short, easy-to-engage-with texts that could be mined for any number of uses in a writing class.

Also fun to use would be the daily picture prompt. This could be especially flexible for use with lower levels, or as a prompt for genres other than the essay, such as creative writing.

Video: How to Talk about Indigenous People in Canada

CaptureI recently came across a video by CBC News called How to Talk about Indigenous People in Canada, featuring Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin, that I think would be a great classroom resource for those teaching in Canada. It’s language-focused, explaining the levels of specificity of different terms related to indigenous peoples in Canada and some aspects of use. It’s also extremely clear, concise and explanatory, which ideal for those who might not have extensive background knowledge on indigenous peoples in Canada–such as newcomers to Canada or many Canadians of a white settler background whose schooling in this area may be lacking.

I’ve had several students over the years who have come to the classroom without the nuanced and complete linguistic repertoire needed to talk about complex and historically-rooted social issues such as identity, privilege, racism or colonialism. In some cases it seems apparent that they’ve only been exposed to or learned words and terms that reflect the systemic racism present in pop culture and mainstream society, but lack knowledge of the heavy social and historical baggage and power some of those words carry.

I consider it part of my duty as a language teacher to first get myself informed as to the more appropriate and socially just linguistic choices to make when talking about complex issues (and keep myself informed as society and language, evolve and change), and then to pass that knowledge on to my students.

BC TEAL is putting on a webinar entitled An Indigenous Strategy for the ESL Classroomwhich seems like it could be one example of initiatives being taken towards the reconciliation of the ESL/EAL world and the indigenous communities in Canada; a relationship which has been troubled in the past by things such as denials of racism in ELT coursebooks.

I would love it if you could share in the comments any other people, groups or institutions working on Indigenous-ELT reconciliation in Canada.

Teaching Idea: Phoneme Prevalence Chart

Capture

 I came across this fascinating chart on Twitter a few days ago of the prevalence of phonemes amongst the world’s languages. Though it could come off as intimidating for someone who doesn’t know IPA, I think that it could be interesting to draw upon in the classroom. It could spark conversation around the fact that some sounds that are common and fundamental in English might actually be rare cross-linguistically, and therefore difficult for some.  It could be a confidence booster for someone who is struggling with a certain sound to know that there is a reason why they find it difficult, and that they’re not the only one.

I think it could also be interesting to get students to think of the phonemic inventory of their L1 and think about overlap with English (though as this chart shows phonemic inventory and not phonetic, there could be sounds in English which also appear in students’ L1s which are not phonemes but exist in allophonic distribution). Here is an amazing resource on phonemic inventories of different languages (along with other cultural and linguistic info). Although these resources have been made for speech-language pathologists and audiologists, they could definitely prove handy for an English teacher focusing on pronunciation.