My Presentation @ IATEFL 2021

The IATEFL Conference is this weekend!

I’d rather be back in Harrogate, soaking in all the Yorkshire vibes and re-living IATEFL 2014, the last IATEFL to be held in Harrogate (it was an action-packed conference). But online is the next best thing and I look forward to not having to overcome jet lag.

Check out the conference program(me) online here.

I present on Saturday at 3:35pm UK time / 11:35am Halifax time. Here’s my talk description; slides aren’t quite finished yet but I’ll put them up soon. 😉

Defining “Good Writing”: Ideology in Canadian University Language Policy

The textual characteristics of good academic writing are communicated via language policies at many Canadian universities. Correction keys, marking codes, grading criteria or rubrics at the course, departmental, faculty or institutional level guide the teaching and assessment of academic writing. These descriptions of good writing on the lexical, grammatical and organizational level are not neutral, however; in many cases they embody covert attitudes and ideologies around “writtenness” (Turner, 2018) that place value on a specific type of academic writing. In the plurality of Englishes thriving in the linguistically-diverse setting of the contemporary Anglophone Canadian university, these policies around “good writing” often centre certain Englishes while marginalizing others. In this session, participants will critically examine commonly-held definitions of “good writing”. We will unpack the covert attitudes and ideologies that influence how we teach and evaluate academic writing in linguistically-diverse higher education settings. After presenting the concept of “writtenness” and related ideologies, a case study of a discursive analysis of piece of language policy from a Canadian university will be presented. Then, the role of teachers in implementing, appropriating and resisting language policy will be discussed. Alternatives for teaching and policy-making around academic writing for practitioners in higher education contexts will be proposed.

Turner, J. (2018). On writtenness: The cultural politics of academic writing. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Here are the slides:

Five things I learned in 2020

2020 was a wild one, wasn’t it? As I dealt with a tumultuous unpredictability both professionally and personally from March onward, I found myself withdrawing a bit from the digital world: tweeting less, blogging less. But after a bit of distance, now I’m getting back into my online life (though still trying to keep the doomscrolling in check).

Despite everything I was really busy last year with a lot of new projects. In these first months of 2021, I’ve been reflecting on the last year, and realizing that I learned so much! Here are five important takeaways for me.

  1. Being an editor doesn’t necessarily involve much editing. Carole MacDiarmid and I are (first-time) co-editors of an academic volume entitled Pedagogies in English for Academic Purposes: Teaching and Learning in International Contexts (on shelves in August 2021!). With the proposal for the book accepted and the contributors lined up in 2019, in 2020 chapters were submitted to us, and we went through rounds of review and revision before submitting the full manuscript in December. Although the title “editor” for me had previously conjured up images of making a paper bleed with red ink, there was very little work directly on authors’ writing or texts involved! I would describe the role as being a project manager with lots of subject knowledge and expertise. I had of course worked with editors before as an author, but it was great to learn this first-hand.
  2. The dark side of ELT is alive and well. I had a blast teaching a Master’s course called International Issues in English Language Teaching at Saint Mary’s University to a group of language teachers from different contexts around the world. We discussed critical issues in ELT—native speakerism, colonialism, racism, neoliberalism, etc.—and how these influence methods, materials, assessment, policies and instruction. And lest anyone think that these issues are not a big deal anymore (Canagarjah’s Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Language Teaching came out in 1999, that problem must now be solved, right????), my students would tell you differently. These nefarious forces are being battled every day, in ways big and small, in educators’ teaching practice the world over.
  3. The need to move from a monolingual to a multilingual “default” student in teacher education. I taught a Master’s course on MSVU’s TESOL Program this summer (Technology in Language Education) where I had a group of keen and engaged teachers, most of whom were working in primary and secondary contexts here in Canada or abroad. The majority of the teachers weren’t language teachers–they taught various other subjects but were enrolled in the TESOL program and/or the course out of a desire to be able to better serve the multilingual students in their classes. Nowhere in their previous teacher training were they taught how to deal with linguistic diversity in their classes, be it with newcomers or EAL students in their classes in an Anglo Canadian context, or students in an immersion or CLIL setting here or elsewhere. As these teachers shared with me, and as discussed in this recent ACLA/CAAL talk, there is an urgent need to stop training teachers around the idea of the “default” student in their classes being a monolingual Anglophone, with multilingual students being some sort of anomaly. We should acknowledge the multilingual nature of our schools and communities across Canada (it’s not just in large cities!) and center multilingual students and multilingualism and, importantly, provide all teachers with the tools to support multilingual students.
  4. Teaching in an additional language is hard. I mean, duh, I knew this long before 2020. But I led an online professional development course in the internationalization of teaching and learning for faculty in Latin America in Spanish called InnovaciĂłn pedagĂłgica en contextos de internacionalizaciĂłn. I designed, developed and taught the course alongside two colleagues. I’d done talks and presentations before in my additional languages, but never a whole course. It was great fun and I learned A TON (like the word for the little gear icon, or how to talk about outcomes and scaffolding and Universal Design in Spanish!). Most of all, it gave me tons of additional insight into teaching in an additional language that I’ll bring to Dalhousie’s Professional Development Certificate in English-Medium Instruction as we prepare to expand its offerings.
  5. Everything takes so much longer online. Like practically everyone at every institution everywhere the “pivot to online” occupied a huge part of my year professionally. A major thing I (and many others) have learned is that every part of online education takes longer online: for teachers, it’s designing and building courses, prepping for and teaching synchronously, designing and correcting assessments and exams and delivering feedback. For students, it takes longer to get into breakout rooms for groupwork and carry out those tasks, student assignments take longer to complete online. Online education presents so many affordances—accessibility and flexibility top among them for me—but we’ve all had to adapt and adjust as we’ve come to the realization about how long things take.

Joey and the Thesaurus

I can’t believe I’d never come across the episode with Friends where Joey gets a thesaurus! This episode would be so great as part of a lesson teaching dictionary and thesaurus skills. You could cover issues of register, the issue of translating multi-word phrases, common vs. proper nouns, and avoiding the “word salad” phenomenon of stringing words together that don’t make sense on the sentence level.

Friends hasn’t aged well on many levels, but this clip could still work well in the classroom.

Hat tip to Fiona for telling me about this.

EAP Online: Helpful Resources

Before COVID-19, I will admit I didn’t know a whole lot about teaching EAP or any language online. Using technology to complement face-to-face teaching had long been an interest of mine, but best practices for designing and delivering a 100% online EAP course was a new area for me. But, when the pandemic hit, there was no time to sit around twiddling our thumbs–as a department, we had to proceed with first emergency remote teaching to finish up the winter semester, and then transition of all our English language courses and programs to online mode, as soon as possible.

EAP in higher education institutions falls into this weird space (third space? :), as it draws from pedagogies in higher ed as well as those from more general English language teaching. So in terms of tips, tricks and advice for online teaching and learning, there are two pools of information to be drawn from, which is great. But you have to filter out what’s irrelevant for EAP teaching (i.e. online assessment for biology labs or first-year classes of 200 students; or tips for teaching English online via CLIL to young learners).

So where did I go? I have learned a lot about online education in the last few months from a variety of people and sources:

  • Dalhousie CCE instructional designers Tracy Franz, Saira Akhtar-Alwazeer and my other colleagues at Dal ESL have shared a lot of knowledge and expertise.
  • Twitter, as always has been a great source of professional development and knowledge. In particular, lots of useful stuff has come through via the hashtags #AcademicChatter for general HE, #CdnELTChat for general ELT and #tleap for EAP-specific discussions.
  • There was an amazing #CdnELTChat held on May 12 (summary here) with instructional designer Linda Manimtim where there was a great discussion about applying the principles of instructional design to language teaching.
  • The BALEAP email listserv has a lot of lively discussions, and the BALEAP TELSIG has held several webinars and events around online EAP.
  • For resources on academic integrity in online courses, Sarah Elaine Eaton’s blog and webinars are great.
  • Universities’ Centres for Learning and Teaching/Teaching Excellence, etc. (they seem to be called something different at every institution), such as Dal’s Centre for Learning and Teaching, have great blog posts, Twitter discussions and webinars about online teaching and learning in HE.
  • Nathan Hall’s blog is an amazing resource on individual digital tools and other aspects of online teaching and learning of languages.

I recently did a workshop for teachers at East Coast Language College about teaching English online, where I could share some of this knowledge I’ve gained and discuss the experiences we’ve had at Dalhousie as we’ve transitioned more than 1000 hours of EAP and ESP curriculum to 100% online. Here are the slides from that talk:

“Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy” @ Languages Canada 2020

February 25 is my talk at the Languages Canada conference, entitled “Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy”.

Here’s a description of the talk:

“English-only” policies—where use of students’ first language (L1) in the classroom is associated with a punitive response—are common in many English language programs. Received wisdom has long framed a monolingual “English-only” environment in many contexts as the most effective way to maximize English language use, and thereby promote the development of fluency, confidence, and communicative and strategic competence that may come with it. However, increasing research shows the advantage of moving away from a monolingual approach to a multi- or plurilingual approach, which gives space to all the languages in a student’s linguistic repertoire along with English, including their L1. Research shows well-implemented policies of this nature can contribute to more effective and deeper language learning via increased target language use, motivation, and agency.

In this presentation, participants will discover some of the latest research findings showing the increased learning outcomes, motivation and equity associated with plurilingual classroom and course policies in different ELT settings. We will also explore some of the challenges in developing and implementing such policies with teachers and students through a case study from a Canadian English language school.

I cite a few articles in the talk; links are below. Here is a link to the CEFR 2017 Companion volume. Both the selection of very recent research on plurilingual approaches in Canadian HE and EAP are great reads, as is Hall and Cook’s (2012) state of the art articles on own-language use in ELT.

Thesis Submitted!

I haven’t been posting on this blog as frequently over the last year as I would have liked. That’s because all my free time was being spent on my doctoral research. The good news is, I just submitted my thesis yesterday! I realized I haven’t really posted much about my research, but now’s as good a time as any to start. This will be the first in a series of posts linking my research to practice for those of us who are language workers in a higher education context.

But first, the asbtract:

Monolingualism, Neoliberalism and Language-as-Problem:   
Discourse Itineraries in Canadian University Language Policy

Internationalization policies to promote international student enrolment at many Canadian universities have led to increased levels of linguistic diversity in the student body. However, institutional language policy responses to this diversity may be lacking, may centre a monolingual mindset or may discursively position the issue of the English language proficiency and development of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a framing of deficit. This study maps changing and conflicting “discourse itineraries” (Scollon, 2008:234), the taken-for-granted ideas, constraints and allowances at play discursively in institutional language policy. This was done via a multiple case study of three Canadian universities, where critical discourse analysis (CDA) was carried out on a variety of policy documents related to language, academic literacy and internationalization at the provincial (macro) and institutional and faculty (meso) levels and stakeholders at these institutions were interviewed.

This analysis revealed, first, that much language policy at these three institutions is covert, implicit and de facto. Two prominent discourses were also found: Language-as-Problem (Ruiz, 1984) and Neoliberalism and Language, each with pervasive sub-discourses—notably the Monolingual Mindset—that shape the creation of language policy at these universities. Discursive change is underway, however, as conflicting discourses were found at all institutions. In certain cases, there is a shift away from Language-as-Problem, influenced by a neoliberal focus on the English language as economic instrument. Building on Ruiz’s (1984) orientations toward language planning, this thesis proposes a new policy analytic heuristic to further describe the extent to which institutions ignore, blame, support or embrace language at different policy levels. As well, suggestions are made for Canadian higher education (HE) language stakeholders about how to realign discourses and bring about social change via critical language awareness-raising and policy-making. The ultimate goal is to provide a more equitable academic experience within Canadian HE for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

References:

Scollon, R. (2008). Discourse itineraries: Nine processes of resemiotization. In V.K. Bhatia, J. Flowerdew, & R.H. Jones (Eds.), Advances in discourse studies (pp. 233–244). London: Routledge.

Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8, 15–34

TESL NS Keynote, Nov 2019

Next weekend my colleague Kate Morrison and I are presenting a keynote talk on EAP at the TESL Nova Scotia Fall Conference. We are really looking forward to a lively discussion with the very engaged group of EAP practitioners we have in our ELT community here in Nova Scotia. It’s a topic I’m thinking about a lot lately, given my involvement in Bloomsbury’s New Perspectives in English for Academic Purposes books series. Can’t wait!

Exploring Teaching and Learning in English for Academic Purposes

The practice of teaching and learning EAP may look quite different across different settings in Nova Scotia and around the world. Are there unique aspects of EAP pedagogy which unite these diverse contexts? Does preparing students for their future degree program in English necessitate a different approach to teaching and learning, or is EAP simply an extension of general English teaching? In this talk, we discuss whether there is a ‘signature pedagogy’ (Shulman 2005) for English for Academic Purposes. Through an exploration of a variety of current approaches to good teaching practices, participants will be invited to reflect on these questions and their own EAP practice in light of the diversity of pedagogies in the field.

Teacher Qualification Frameworks and Equity in Hiring

Lots of university language centres in Canada get a big influx of EAP students in the Fall semester, and that often means hiring on more instructors. Although that’s not the case with our centre this year, it’s got me thinking about hiring.

In Canada, language schools or institutes might operate within a couple of different accreditation or certification frameworks in terms of the qualifications of academic staff hired: TESL Canada Professional Certification, a provincial certification process, or if it’s a Languages Canada-accredited language training institution, their Classification of TESOL Qualifications.

TESL Canada and Languages Canada are great organizations, and their existence and advocacy has contributed immensely to the professionalization and raising standards of English language teaching in Canada, especially with regards to teachers on government-sponsored immigrant language programs (Burnaby 2003; Sivell 2005; Chafe and Wang, 2008), and with regards to private language schools.

At the same time, the teaching of English for Academic Purposes in the higher education context seems to be a bit of a different beast in terms of the qualifications, background and experience of value in a potential instructor. For example, advanced degrees, research experience, familiarity with academic discourse(s) in different disciplines and published academic work is all of great value in an EAP instructor. BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework reflects this in a way that general ELT certification frameworks don’t (and can’t).

I also think that some aspects of the general ELT certification and accreditation frameworks work against diversity and equity in hiring, especially in a context like Canada. For example, for TESL Canada certification a teacher’s training has to have been carried out at an institution on their list of accredited training programs. This list is, in my opinion, very short, and every institution on it is located in Canada. If your training is from another institution, you have to apply for an onerous and expensive prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process. In an industry as globally-mobile as TESOL, and in a country with as much immigration as Canada, this is quite out of touch with the reality on the ground, where a great number of us (myself included) have training, qualifications and experience from outside the country.

Similarly, TESL Canada has a very narrow definition of acceptable English(es). They require any applicants for certification who have not completed an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university in one of the countries on this list to show proof of language proficiency. Lists of this type are common in university admissions, etc., but this particular list has a couple of notable omissions, such as Pakistan and India. In these two countries, English-medium higher education is very common, and there are also a significant number of Canadians who have received their education there. Why are they not on that list?

Finally, both TESL Canada and Languages Canada TESOL Qualification criteria prescribe training programs with a very specific minimum of observation and practicum hours. While recent certificate, diploma and degree-programs in the Anglo world might be likely to include these elements that is not the case in many contexts around the world. Folks who have received their TESOL training in the context of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in many different countries would not have had observations or practicum placements, as it’s simply not the norm.

Why flexibility and ability to exercise judgement in hiring are extremely important, as they allow me to hire who I consider to be qualified and a good fit for a given position, be they born, raised and trained in Canada, a recent newcomer to Canada, a Canadian with diverse worldwide experience, or a speaker of one of a variety of World Englishes. If someone has a degree in TESL from another country with no practicum, but a ton of teaching experience, then I can hire them. If they speak Indian English, I don’t have to subject them to an IELTS test. If they have a master’s in biology on top of their other qualifications, I can value that and put them on a science writing course. Languages Canada provides some flexibility by stipulating, for example, that “there will be a valid rationale provided for the employment of any teachers or academic leader without the ELT/TESOL qualifications specified.” This is extremely important not just to allow hiring to reflect the difference between EAP and general ELT, but to ensure I can hire a complement of qualified, experienced and engaged teachers that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population. Our educational program is the richer for it.

New EAP Book Series

I’m very excited to have just joined the advisory board for a new EAP book series: NEW PERSPECTIVES FOR ENGLISH FOR ACADEMIC PURPOSES. This series sets the agenda for studies in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) by opening up research and scholarship to new domains, ideas and perspectives as well as giving a platform to emerging and established practitioners and researchers in the field.

Check out this flyer for more details and/or contact info on how to submit:

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