Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Guest Post: The Dictionary as Slave, Not Master

I'm excited to share our first guest post on Palmer Language Blog! This is a post by Ann Anderson Evans, from one of the first language teaching blogs I started reading - Linguistics in the Classroom. Check out her blog and check out the bio at the end of the story!
Slave? Master? Slave master?

“That’s what the dictionary says,” ends the dinner table disagreement. Doesn’t it?

Maybe the answer should be “Which dictionary?” Dictionaries have different goals, methods and styles, and may have different agendas. One editor might believe that emerging language should be honored while another believes that words should be well proven before they are enshrined in the dictionary – no bling and bro for her. These decisions reflect competing views of language, art, and politics.

The editors of the 1971 The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary present the following categories of meaning: Common, Literary, Colloquial, Scientific, Foreign, Dialectical, Slang, Technical. They treat each word by noting its “Main Words, Subordinate Words, Combinations, including the Identification, Morphology, Signification and Illustrative Quotations” with senses presented chronologically. In other words, they want to provide everything to everybody. In the hard copy, the information has been “reproduced micrographically” and for many human beings is accessible only through a magnifying glass. A more visually accessible OED is available online, but it costs around over $900 for a subscription, so most people use their local library or university’s subscription.

The editors of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 5th edition, on the other hand, tailor their dictionary to the needs of the college student and of the general reader, with encyclopedic knowledge specifically excluded. If you want to know the meaning of bathukolpian (deep-bosomed), you will be better off with the OED.

There are also differences between British and American dictionaries (not to mention Indian, Australian, Jamaican, etc.). The British legal system, for example, distinguishes between solicitors and barristers, while in America, there is no such distinction, thus the definitions of the word attorney differ.
British: OED: A professional and properly-qualified legal agent practising in the courts of Common Law …; one who conducted litigation in these courts, preparing the case for the barristers, or counsel, whose duty and privilege it is to plead and argue in open court.
American: Webster’s: One who is legally appointed by another to transact business for him; a legal agent qualified to act for suitors and defendants in legal proceedings.
Collins has published a new, freedictionary online. It has a multitude of features, including:
  1. Definitions, of course, and the phonetic representation of the word.
  2. A comprehensive list of synonyms and of related terms. For the word “beat,” for example, related terms include “beat it,” “beat up,” etc., and for nearby words there are “beat a retreat,” and “beat around the bush.”
  3. Audio files which give the pronunciation of the word using standard American English and standard British English. (Not all words have this feature.)
  4. Translations of the word into 24 different languages, from Finnish to Korean, to Arabic. I noticed that Hungarian, Swahili, and Hindi were missing.
  5. Usage examples: for “doggie” (or “doggy”) there is “A close friend describes their Kenmore Hills home, on Brisbane's westside, as doggy heaven.” COURIER, SUNDAY MAIL (2004)”
  6. In the case of doggies and many other nouns, there are photographs.
  7. The origin of the word is also given, though not as comprehensively as in the Oxford English Dictionary.

(The iPhone app for this dictionary costs $12.99, which puzzles me, but I am easily puzzled when it comes to the interaction of various kinds of equipment these days. Are they counting on making their money on the App, not the online version?)

Too much thinking about dictionaries can be dizzying, and can remove a source of what you once thought was absolute authority. They are fascinating and useful, but you should treat your dictionary as your slave, not your master.

Ann Anderson Evans’s blog, www.linguisticsintheclassroom.com is read around the world by teachers and people interested in how language is constructed, how meaning is made, and the role of language in our lives. Ann is a writer, linguist, and teacher of writing at Montclair State University. Her article, “Beyond Grammar: Linguistics in the Writing Classroom” appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of the Duke University journal Pedagogy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Classroom Tool: Homework Blog

For one of my classes this year, I've been experimenting with a homework blog. It is a central location where I can post the homework and all the students can access it. I like to have them watch native speaker videos or read news articles, and I'll often post questions to help focus their listening or reading.

Normally, I post the homework the day of class and tell them, and then I send the link with my weekly course email (which also includes the Xournal PDF notes from the discussion and the date and time of the next class meeting reminder).

The teacher who had this class before me said that the students hardly ever did the homework, so she gave up. They almost always do the homework for me...I'm not sure if it's this site, if I give better homework, if I'm just a better teacher (just kidding!), or if they don't know me well enough to risk not doing it...The point is that they usually do the homework.

I usually try to integrate the homework into the class discussion somehow, but I don't rely on it being done. If there is an internet outage, a blog failure or a busy week, I can't not have class. That said, I also think it is kinda dumb to give unrelated homework, and I feel like a bad teacher when I don't discuss the homework in class, somehow.

Features that I thought were important:
  • Tabs for different classes (I separate the entries with tags)
  • Welcome Page
  • Instructions for the homework

Things I'm thinking about integrating
  • A page with all the course info—notes, review, etc. class dates, syllabus, etc. My Uni teachers did something like this with the school blackboard system, but I think that system was a lot less comprehensible and user friendly.
  • Use the comments to check the homework and start a conversation
  • The foundation for a flipped classroom approach

Has anyone else tried this before? Any suggestions or stories? Words of caution?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Xournal

Xournal is another cool technology tool that I've been using in my class sessions lately. There may be other similar programs out there for Windows or Mac, but my reduced-functionality laptop is running Ubuntu (a Linux OS), and this program is free (Linux Link, Windows link, no Mac link)

The icon
Basically, Xournal is a digital piece of paper that you can write on. You can change the page background to give it lines, grid lines, or make it blank. It has a tool bar that allows you type text, draw shapes, draw lines, move things, select items, change colors, etc. 

It looks a lot like your basic Paint/Drawing program. In fact, the only real benefit of using this program over something like Paint is the one that I like the most: all of the pieces in the document retain their integrity and you can move them after the fact (even if they are layered). It's great for demonstrating good note-taking skills in class or for recording emergent language. I take notes and project it from my laptop while my students are talking, and then when I get home, I clean it up, convert if to a PDF and mail it out.

screen shot of a fake diagram I made :)

  • Using this program and projecting it frees the students from worrying about taking notes so that they can actually participate in the conversation
  • It helps the visual learners understand what is being said because it is written down
  • I also find that it is good for making corrections salient without embarrassing the student
  • I think it might work with well tablet, but I'm not sure
  • You can also use the program to edit and annotate PDFs - nice for personal research or modeling research/reading skills

  • It's pretty basic
  • It has your basic type, line, and color functions, but not much else
  • It can be a little glitch-y at times.

More reading:
  • Wikipedia article
  • The website of math teacher who allegedly uses it (French language, but you can still see the screen shots). I say 'allegedly' because her PDFs look WAY better than mine ;) 
  • A blog entry about using it to develop diagrams

Have you used any other similar programs? How were the features? Recommendations, anyone?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Developing a Picture of Dogme / Unplugged Teaching

This is part of a series on teaching unplugged/dogme elt. Be sure to check out the rest of the blog entries, and stay tuned for more.

I'm running out of "plug" ideas ;-)

At the first glance, Dogme / Unplugged teaching sounds like an English teacher's dream – less prep time, fewer photocopies, and happier students. What's not to love about that?

Before falling in love and living happily ever after with teaching unplugged, I think that it's important to get a better picture of what it looks like in the classroom. What kind of teacher will be most successful with teaching unplugged? What are good unplugged practices? What does a lesson look like?

In the quest for the answers to some of these questions, I came across several quotations that begin to show what an unplugged teacher looks like:
"Dogme requires the teacher to have a certain rigour and an ability to deal with emergent language, correction and reformulation whilst combining structuring, multi-tasking abilities and knowledge of language in order to come across as organised and well-prepared." (Source: "Devil’s Advocate vs Dale Coulter on Dogme and Newly Qualified Teachers" on chiasuanchong)
“As a teacher, you need to be able to create relaxed and collaborate learning environments - in contexts where this can be culturally difficult or challenging on account of more practical issues (for example, very large classes of very mixed-level students). You not only need to be able to create the sort of environment where learners will feel they have something to say and actually want to say it, you need to be able to "let go" at the right times and let the learners direct the play.” (Source: "The Trouble With Teaching Unplugged" on English Raven)
"But what I have found in my experiments with Dogme is that it orientates the teacher towards entering the classroom well prepared to, perhaps with the sole intention of, helping learners with what they need here-and-now, not whatever comes next in the book or whatever you happen to have prepared that day. And insodoing, you are really teaching." (Source: "Lesson 11: Exams and Phrasal Verbs" on An Experiment with Dogme)
So, to summarize, to be successful, an unplugged teacher needs to be a good teacher. They need to know about emergent language and how to exploit it , they need to be very proficient in grammar, and they need to have good classroom presence and management. That doesn't really seem much different that the requirements for good language teaching in any other methodology. If the teachers themselves are not so different, then the next area to investigate is teaching practices.

Here are a couple videos of unplugged lessons:

These are the only two lessons I have seen that were explicitly labeled as Dogme or Unplugged, but from them, I pulled a few conclusions about the teaching practices. The first half of the class in both videos is conversation and discussion between learners and the instructor. This discussion is used to build a list of “emergent language” that is initially noted (perhaps on a notepad), and later written on the board for students to see.

The two teachers approach the second half of the class differently, but there is a common sense to both styles. Martin Sketchley introduces “language that I heard...” and then works with the students to expand and refine the examples, followed by drills, and later by note-taking. Jason Renshaw uses an info-gap-like activity where students create questions to ask their classmates, and later, without the notes, report back. The commonality is the language modeling. In both lessons, the incorrect emergent language is corrected, and through out the course of the lesson, the language is repeated various times.

Both of these lessons make use of authentic interaction between students, whether through the agreement/disagreement game or the question-and-answer activity. Actual communication about real-life issues that affect the students is emerging in the class, and the teacher, in both cases, highlights some of that language.

I don't know if this is part of the Dogme/Unplugged methodology, but I noticed that, although good language examples were modeled and bad language examples were corrected, there wasn't a whole lot of repetition of correct language models by the students. I'm not sure if the idea is to increase the exposure, and hope that the exposure will be salient enough, or if this is just a feature that isn't addressed in the video portions of the lessons.

In another video, Jason Renshaw offers some good ideas to follow-up the discussions with the new emergent language that we saw in the first part of each video. I think that these activities would address the issue of student repetition, if they were incorporated into the lesson, somehow. Some of his ideas are to find relevant videos or content passages, create role plays or scenes in groups, do a poster activity or web quest to explore the issues, do a classroom survey, write “agony aunt” columns (a.k.a. Dear Abby columns) and reply, do a review based quiz show, or journal writing.

Later, I will address some of my own criticisms and some old criticisms of Dogme/Unplugged teaching, but as far as the basics go, it seems that what has been said many times – that Dogme teaching is just good teaching – is true on several levels.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged: Minimalist Teaching?

This is the second in a series of articles exploring Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged. You can see the first one here.
What is it?

In my personal life, I am a big fan of minimalism. It's clean, it's simple, it feels right. I think my inclination toward minimalism attracted me to the idea of Dogme ELT/Teaching Unplugged (here, I'm only going to use Dogme ELT for simplicity). 

Dogme ELT started out (in one of Thornbury's earlier writings) as a radical view of “ESL chastity.” [Interesting side note: Minimalism is an expression of a form of asceticism (not aestheticism--different things!), which coincidentally was often practiced by the same people who would take chastity vows.] As is mostly commonplace knowledge by now, the Dogme teaching movement was named after the Swedish Dogme film movement that had similar ideas of film “purity.” The "Teaching Unplugged" name comes from the idea of unplugging from the coursebook, but not necessarily from technology (as I thought at first - thank to Jason Renshaw's article for clearing that up).

Aside from the focus against coursebooks and pedagogical materials, early discussions of Dogme ELT “methodology” were about learner-based content and  decentralized classroom power:
In a dogme class, power does not reside in the teacher who delivers the grammar to the students who ‘learn’ it. Instead, discourse and learning start with the learners’ own lives. It is built on an understanding of the shared construction of knowledge and therefore liberates the teacher from the feeling that they are solely responsible for whether or not their learners are learning. (Online Forum Report, ELT Journal 59/4, 2005, p. 334)
The Dogme ELT position seems to have mellowed a little from it's early days, where Thornbury's principles included materials light teaching, no pre-recorded/artifical listening material, equality in teacher/student positioning, no fake/display questions, no adherence to any single methodology (such as TBLT), no pre-planned syllabus of graded grammar items, and priority on student-generated topics.  Now, many teachers who use this approach/philosophy/method seem to adopt various degrees of it into their classrooms. Martin Sketchley simplified the old principles (a.k.a. vow of chastity) into three tennants: scaffolding language, materials light, and learner based teaching (Source: dissertation summary). From what I've seen, this is a fair representation of the main goals of Dogme ELT. 

Some criticisms of Dogme have centered around the fact that the approach is not a new one. It's not. Thornbury even responds to this criticism in this video. Good teachers have been incorporating aspects of teaching like this for a long time, I suppose. What's new is the label. The actual methodology is a mix of good teaching practices from other methodologies:
Dogme ELT appears to incorporate selective methods, approaches and techniques such as CLT, TBL or Learner-Based Teaching with the emphasis on interaction and communication.... Dogme ELT incorporates the “best bits” of other traditional methods, approaches and techniques and is regarded as “Eclectic Teaching.” (Sketchley, p. 12)
Eclectic Teaching. In this way, I think that Dogme/Teaching unplugged is a wonderful approach. It can be adapted to a variety of situations. It incorporates good practices from a variety of other approaches, and there is no need to choose extreme views of any methodology. Moreover, the simplification of teaching to basic necessities brings us back to the core. Dogme's focus on materials light teaching is a nice reminder that the needs of the students should override the needs of the textbook.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Exploring Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged

This is the first in a series of entries about Dogme ELT / Teaching Unplugged. More to come. 

Recently, I have been very intrigued by the concept of Dogme ELT, a.k.a. Teaching Unplugged (as I mentioned in a previous blog entry). I saw the term floating around a few times in the Twitter world (follow me!), but it wasn't until I read MartinSketchley's dissertation summary that I started to develop an idea of what it was.

So, with my interest piqued, I read some more. The obvious place to start would have been the “master plan” of Dogme ELT, Teaching Unplugged. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy of it, yet. Even more unfortunate, in my opinion, is the lack of research and writing in academic journals regarding Dogme/Teaching Unplugged (I will call it just "Dogme ELT" from here on, for simplicity). However, there is a wealth of information available in the blogosphere, and that is where I went.

What is it?

One of the first things I noticed in my reading was a sense of conflict surrounding the idea of Dogme ELT. The biggest complaint was a feeling that some practitioners of Dogme are self-righteous and ...if you will... “Dogmatic.” I imagine that this conflict stems from a varied interpretation of what Dogme ELT is – not what its principles and ideas are, but what, exactly, its function in pedagogy is. Is it a new method? Is it an approach? Jemma Gardner at Unplugged Reflections calls it both a method and an attitude; it's a method because it defines a way to teach, and it's an attitude because it brings a different way of thinking to the teacher. In the comments of Jemma's article, Adam Simpson likens Dogme ELT to a “lens through which to view any particular methodological approach: you can have more or less control based on what you perceive your role to be." In an article at TeachingEnglish.Org, Jo Bertrand calls it a “teaching philosophy”.

Whatever you call it, the point still exists: the concept is there to enable better teaching--the teaching is not supposed to enable a better concept. As Jemma Gardner pointed out in the above-mentioned article
Surely, just as a teacher using Desuggestopedia may decide not to use posters on the wall that make the room conducive to that method’s beliefs about learning, a Dogmetician can enter the room with some paper once in a while? If not, why not? Who says?...Shouldn’t we be intent on providing the best we can for our students, in their context, with their needs, rather than jumping around pigeon-holing things to the point that good teachers become worried about what it is they are doing?
Worrying too much about the label defeats the purpose of trying to implement any new teaching strategy. Maybe the best way to approach Dogme ELT is to watch and learn, as this comment points out:
observing and joining the debate has made me a better teacher. I am now happy to go with the flow in class whether it is what was intended beforehand or not and see such unplugged moments as learning opportunities rather than distracting tangents.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Professional Resolutions 2012

Happy New Year!

While I was working on my list of personal goals and aspirations for 2012, I came up with a few professional resolutions that I want to share.
  1. Read and review at least 2 language/education books. I have my eye on “Teaching Unplugged,” but I am open for suggestions on the other one. As a side note, if you have a book that you would like me to review, please let me know :)
  2. Write at least 50 blog entries. That's about 1 per week. I would like to do more, but I think that it is best to start small and work up to a higher goal. 12 of these blog entries (1 per month) will be critical reviews of recent literature.
  3. Develop an organized resource folder of activities, ideas, games, and lesson plans for my teaching. I would like to have a notes page on each of the English verb tenses, as well as a cheat sheet on the native language features of the students I work with (for contrastive analysis).
  4. Create a new course (syllabus, materials, etc.) and market it, either independently or through another language school. Currently, I'm looking into an applied/practical grammar course or an autonomous language learning course.
  5. Submit an article for publication in a well-known journal. I would really like to re-write a section (or two or three!) of my thesis and submit it.

Anyways, those are the goal. I'd love to hear your professional resolutions for 2012, as well!