Sunday, October 3, 2010

An early plan for my paper

Writing is involving. It requires thinking about and using language to communicate meaning. Writing isn't dialectical in the way speaking is; there is no other participant in the process that interprets and contributes to the continuity of the communication. It is the writer alone that negotiates appropriate language to use and the information they want to communicate. When someone is writing, they must go through a conscious language exercise in their mind, conjuring up the words they know that they think will fit best in the context they’ve created in their written piece. The recollection of known language is more difficult if the learner is not in a context. As conversation creates a context, so does writing. The difference is that while conversation is spontaneous and the learner must quickly react with language they feel is appropriate, writing can be done at a pace that is comfortable for the learner because there is no dependent other in the process of language output. The learner is given more time and much more control to both use the language they deem suitable and to find out suitable language if they don’t know it (using a dictionary, textbook, etc.). Thus writing can be used to harness language in a controlled environment allowing the learner to become more comfortable with language that is context related. I wonder if this could be a useful tool to use for those that cannot speak or listen well enough to participate in regular conversation. Given that it is context-related; will the leaner better remember the language because they used it in an authentically created context? Could writing also be a good substitute for language output when the learner does not have easy access to a speaking partner? What I want to explore with my paper is the potential for a teaching approach focusing on writing to drastically improve a learner’s language awareness, fluency and even vocabulary and to perhaps expedite the language acquisition process.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

How I Learn Language

As a native English speaker it is possible to go through life set with a language that will either be suitable for most social situations or easily suited to by the assistance of guidance and translation into English. Thus in my life so far I have not been faced with the absolute necessity of becoming fluent in a second language, even though I’m Canadian (officially a bilingual country) and now living in Korea. I was unmotivated to learn French in my youth because I wasn’t living in a part of the country that had French speakers. Being older now and finding myself slightly envious of people who can speak a second language well, I regret my previous attitude towards learning languages.

Presently I’m trying to make up for this lack of a second language by learning Korean. I’m now surrounded by the language so similar excuses I had for not learning French are non-applicable. My study habits have been sporadic over my two year span in Korea. At times I have made studying Korean my main priority outside of my regular job, studying for a few hours every day. At other times I have taken attitude that the time and effort put into learning Korean would not be worth it because I will eventually leave the country, probably never to use the language again. But somehow just living here always motivates me to keep coming back to studying the language, convincing myself that if I speak Korean I will always feel like it’s my second home country, being more likely to come back at any point in my life if I speak well enough.

The main things I’ve learned about studying languages since studying Korean are:

1) If you don’t use it you will lose it (but not really lose it, you can find it, its still there, buried a little bit). The reason why I don’t speak as well or understand as well as I should is because of the lack of real integration into social situations. Teaching English for a job and socializing mainly with native English speaking foreigners and English speaking Koreans for a great deal of my time here has definitely hindered my language development.

2) Don’t spend too much time on grammar exercises and memorizing everything upon initial reception. Becoming aware of words and grammatical concepts and then touching base with them periodically means that you will be as equally prepared to hear it in the real world as if you spend intensive hours on one or two particular items and postpone intensive study of other concepts to other study sessions. Touching base with a wide variety of words and concepts instead intensively drilling each bit step by step is a more appealing and realistic approach for me and I feel better prepares the learner to quickly start discerning language in the real world.

3) Learn the words that people use and the words that will best fit your own reality. In the beginning stages I spent a lot of time learning basic vocabulary that any preliminary textbook on languages offers. I feel like I wasted a lot of time on things like colours, household appliances, clothing, school supplies, sections of the house, animals, and numbers among many other things. Though in the language learning process the learner will eventually have to know these things, what good are these words to them if they can’t form a sentence let alone speak about their personal situation. To start speaking, language must be authentic to the learner so the focus should be on finding the words that apply most to the learner’s situation and interests. To start understanding the language the learner should focus on tackling the high frequency vocabulary instead of tidbits in material categories that don’t give much language capital. This will accelerate the integrative and intuitive development process with the language making the addition of obscure and low frequency (but highly visible) vocabulary much more manageable and less overwhelming.

Though I still don’t use and understand the language as much as I like to, studying Korean has helped me better understand what works for me when learning language in general and has given me valuable experience for not only attempting to learn other languages in the future but also for approaches to take when teaching English.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reflection: Critical Incident Protocal

• WHAT? Step back and observe [OBJECTIVE]

As the teacher I’m at the front of the classroom facilitating the activity which consists of students reading a short article and writing answers to response questions. I have taken over a grade 6 homeroom classroom for the 40 minute lesson. This isn’t my classroom so the arrangement of the desks and various other classroom setups are predetermined by the homeroom teacher. In this case the teacher has the desks arranged for group work; an arrangement not conducive to the activities planned for my class. The students sit in these groups and immediately proceed to socialize instead of preparing for class. As usual I spend the first 5-10 minutes establishing order by either rearranging the desks or moving the students around in different seating arrangements. Always there are insubordinate students who refuse to move leading to minor incidents. Once I establish some form of order, two boys march in late, voices raised speaking about something in their L1. The rest of the students are distracted and order collapses. I tell the boys to sit down, which they do. One of the boys in particular will sporadically serve as a source of distraction for the remainder of class. Examples of his inappropriate behaviour include: being too lazy to open his book forcing me to ask him multiple times, chatting and distracting others, throwing clay around the room, shifting about and leaning back in his chair, making inappropriate hand gestures to other students, constantly interrupting me by speaking in his L1. A lot of this is typical behaviour for many of the students in the class. The throwing of clay was an anomaly that doesn't happen everyday and wasn't common to all students. Noticing the clay I confiscated it from him. It turned out that he had a stash of it as the problem reoccurred in multiple incidents throughout the class. Eventually I had enough and told him to leave the class. Knowing I’m not supposed to send the kids out of the class, I had no contingency plan for if he actually went out. He angrily went out to the hall, but knowing it wouldn’t be good for me if an authority figure saw him in the hall I promptly called him back in. At this point he was visibly angry about being singled out as the troublemaker in front of his peers. Certainly he wasn’t the only one but it is difficult to deal with them all so the I had to settle at making an example out of him. He was left to stand with his contained rage next to the door for the remainder of the class. The students eventually ignored him.

• WHY? Look for background or causes [semi-OBJECTIVE]
The students approach English class at the school with a nonchalant attitude. They don’t take the English lesson seriously because of a number of factors. Primarily, they are overburdened with work from other classes. This tires and stresses them out leading them to interpret English class as somewhat of a fun and rest period. Second, the majority of them, upon finishing elementary school for the day, will promptly proceed to their respective hagwons for even more intensive and advanced instruction. Knowing they will be in some form of school for the remaining daylight hours, many of the students are unable to exude the fortitude necessary to study efficiently in any of their classes. They see the day of classes as a monolithic trial that they just need to get through in order to gain a sense of freedom at the end of the day. Third, I am a foreigner who doesn’t speak their language, teaching a language they don’t fully understand. There are times when I feel more like a mascot than a respected individual in the classroom. This is for reasons related to the issues that I priorly wrote about but it also is related to the lack of authority and support from authority that I have as a foreign teacher in a private school. I don’t have power to adequately punish or even threaten the students with punishment. As for administrative support, I can’t send the children to the principal, nor do they like me sending the students to their homeroom teacher, or even send them to the hallway as a form of punishment. Knowing this the students ignore me when I express my frustration with them and threaten them with such options for punishment. They also feel as if they can get away with a lot of poor behavior in the classroom with little consequence.

• Meaning? Interpretation [SUBJECTIVE]

There are so many factors that go into the dynamic of this incident as it occurred in the classroom. The culture of education in Korea and the workload it gives students contributes a lot to a negative backlash at some point in their educative experience. This might not be their only English class of the day, as they may go to a class later on that they prioritize more. The cultural attitude towards foreigners may influence a certain level of disrespect for my authority as a teacher, viewing me as someone who can’t significantly affect their lives, at least not in a way their regular teachers. My own demeanor as a very non-threatening looking individual may also contribute to the student’s attitude toward me. Another dynamic is the nature of private education as a profit garnering endeavor which seeks to minimize negative correspondence with customers, in this case the parents of the students. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the attitudes of the students in this class.

• Implications? for teaching [PERSONAL]

The teacher needs to be aware of the many factors that influence the behaviour of the students in the classroom. The teacher must request and arrange an adequate support system from their school authority so that they can confidently administer real punishment that gives the students incentive to respect the teacher and the lesson that is put forth. If the students understand that there are limits to acceptable behaviour they will be easier to control and take much more from their lesson. In kind the teacher should realize the workload and pressure that is placed on students and create lessons that will both be interesting to their level of development and not too taxing to their energy.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Week 1 Reading Response

                Kyoko Yamada mentions that in EFL/ESL context, the debate concerning plagiarism is considerably based around the relevancy of the students L1 cultural perceptions of plagiarism in comparison to those of English convention. The issues regarding these debates have examined how learners cope with the expectations of English convention, how their L2 writing is influenced by their L1, and the appropriateness of applying the same standards for plagiaristic writing to ESL/EFL learners. Yamada is concerned that these debates don’t offer enough pragmatic methods for ESL/EFL learners to both avoid plagiarism and identify it in their own work. Yamada’s suggestion is to teach ESL/EFL writers inferential thought processes as a means to improving their ability to avoid plagiarism.
                Paraphrasing requires extensive vocabulary as well as a certain intuition for acceptable syntax. Even as a native speaker of English, I often have difficulty formulating acceptable paraphrases. It is in these cases that I tend to lean toward the use of quotations in my writing. Given the standards of academia, quoting is acceptable practice. I have been told in the past that there is no limit to the use of quotes in academic writing. Understanding this I have relied on them heavily in many academic writing assignments. The decision to overly rely on quotations has probably contributed negatively to the development of my paraphrasing abilities. I think understanding the framework of inferential thought processes could be beneficial to me as I read source material for writing. Inferring deductively and analogically thinking about the source material (and taking notes with this framework in mind) may contribute to the process of paraphrasing. As long as the reader can understand the main points of a passage, they can return to the text and examine it to see how these points relate and affect each other. From here readers can connect these main points with the context of their own writing. If the reader grasps the wider ideas of the text then they will focus less on reorganizing the text’s words to avoid plagiarism and more on using the textual meaning as a way to contribute to the ideas of their writing.

Yamada, K. (2003) What Prevents ESL/EFL Writers from Avoiding Plagiarism?: Analyses of 10 North American College Websites. System. 31. pages 247-258.