Category Archives: English

Reading Comprehension Strategies

Students frequently struggle with understanding what they read. There can be many reasons for this such as vocabulary issues, to struggles with just sounding out the text. Another common problem, frequently seen among native speakers of a language, is the students just read without taking a moment to think about what they read. This lack of reflection and intellectual wrestling with the text can make so that the student knows they read something but knows nothing about what they read.

In this post, we will look at several common strategies to support reading comprehension. These strategies include the following…

Walking a Student Through the Text

As students get older, there is a tendency for many teachers to ignore the need to guide students through a reading before the students read it. One way to improve reading comprehension is to go through the assigned reading and give an idea to the students of what to expect from the text.

Doing this provides a framework within the student’s mind in which they can add the details to as they do the reading. When walking through a text with students the teacher can provide insights into important ideas, explain complex words, explain visuals, and give general ideas as to what is important.

Ask Questions

Asking question either before or after a reading is another great way to support students understanding. Prior questions give an idea of what the students should be expected to know after reading. On the other hand, questions after the reading should aim to help students to coalesce the ideals they were exposed to in the reading.

The type of questions is endless. The questions can be based on Bloom’s taxonomy in order to stimulate various thinking skills. Another skill is probing and soliciting responses from students through encouraging and asking reasonable follow-up questions.

Develop Relevance

Connecting what a student knows what they do not know is known as relevance.If a teacher can stretch a student from what they know and use it to understand what is new it will dramatically improve comprehension.

This is trickier than it sounds. It requires the teacher to have a firm grasp of the subject as well as the habits and knowledge of the students. Therefore, patience is required.

Conclusion

Reading is a skill that can improve a great deal through practice. However, mastery will require the knowledge and application of strategies. Without this next level of training, a student will often become more and more frustrated with reading challenging text.

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The Fall of Cursive Handwriting

Writing in a cursive style has been around for centuries. However,  there has been a steep decline in the use of cursive writing in America for the past several decades. This post will trace the history of cursive writing as well as what is replacing this traditional form of writing.

History

Cursive in one form or another dates back until at least the 11th century with examples of it being found in documents related to the Norman Conquest of England. Cursive was originally developed to prevent having to raise the quill from the page when writing. Apparently, quills are extremely fragile and constantly reapplying them to the paper increase the likelihood they would break.

Cursive was also developed in order to fight more words on a page. This became especially important with the development of the printing press, With people hated the condense font of the printing press that they revolted and developed a cursive writing style.

In America, people’s writing style and penmanship could be used to identify social rank. However, this changed with the development of the Spencerian method, developed by PLats Spencer. This writing style standardized cursive thus democratizing it.

After Spencer, there were several writing systems that all had their moment in the sun. Examples include the cursive styles developed by Palmer, Thurber, and Zaner. Each had its own unique approach that all influenced children during the 20th and early 21st century.

The Decline

The initial decline of cursive writing began with the advent of the typewriter. With typing, a person could write much faster than by hand. Writing by hand often has a top speed of 20 wpm while even a child who has no trying in typing can achieve 20wpm and a trained typist can reach 40 wpm with pros reach 75 wpm.

Typing also removes the confusion of sloppy handwriting. We’ve all have been guilty of poor penmanship or have had to suffer through trying to decipher what someone wrote. Typing removes even if it allows the dread typos.

With computers arriving in the 1970’s schools began to abandon the teaching of cursive by the 1980’s and 90’s. Today cursive writing is so unusual that some young people cannot even read it.

Going Forward

Typing has become so ubiquitous that schools do not even teach it as they assume that students came to school with this skill. As such, many students are using the hunt and peck approach which is slow and bogs down the thought process needed for writing. The irony is that cursive has been forgotten and typing has been assumed which means that it was never learned by many.

To further complicate things, the use of touch screens has further negated the learning of typing. Fast typing often relies on touch. With screens, there is nothing to feel or press when tyoing. This problem makes it difficult to type automatically which takes cognitive power from writing as now the student has to focus on remembering where the letter p is on the keyboard rather than shaping their opinion.

Supporting ESL Student’s Writing

ESL students usually need to learn to write in the second language. This is especially true for those who have academic goals. Learning to write is difficult even in one’s mother tongue let alone in a second language.

In this post, we will look at several practical ways to help students to learn to write in their L2. Below are some useful strategies

  • Build on what they know
  • Encourage coherency in writing
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Support Consistency

Build on Prior Knowledge

It is easier for most students to write about what they know rather than what they do not know.  As such, as a teacher, it is better to have students write about a familiar topic. This reduces the cognitive load on the students allows them to focus more on their language issues.

In addition, building on prior knowledge is consistent with constructivism. Therefore, students are deepening their learning through using writing to express ideas and opinions.

Support Coherency 

Coherency has to do with whether the paragraph makes sense or not. In order to support this, the teacher needs to guide the students in developing main ideas and supporting details and illustrate how these concepts work together at the paragraph level. For more complex writing this involves how various paragraphs work together to support a thesis or purpose statement.

Students struggle tremendously with these big-picture ideas. This in part due to the average student’s obsession with grammar. Grammar is critical after the student has ideas to share clearer and never before that.

Encourage Collaboration

Students should work together to improve their writing. This can involve peer editing and or brainstorming activities. These forms of collaboration give students different perspectives on their writing beyond just depending on the teacher.

Collaboration is also consistent with cooperative learning. In today’s marketplace, few people are granted the privilege of working exclusively alone on anything.  In addition, working together can help the students to develop their English speaking communication skills.

Consistency

Writing needs to be scheduled and happen frequently in order to see progress at the ESL level. This is different from a native speaking context in which the students may have several large papers that they work on alone. In the ESL classroom, the students should write smaller and more frequent papers to provide more feedback and scaffolding.

Small incremental growth should be the primary goal for ESL students. This should be combined with support from the teacher through a consistent commitment to writing.

Conclusion

Writing is a major component of academic life. Many ESL students learning a second language to pursue academic goals. Therefore, it is important that teachers have ideas on how they can support ESL student to achieve the fluency they desire in their writing for further academic success.

Benefits of Writing

There are many reasons that a person or student should learn to master the craft of writing in some form or genre. Of course, the average person knows how to write if they have a k-12 education but here it is meant excelling at writing beyond introductory basics. As such, in this post, we will look at the following benefits of learning to write

  • Makes you a better reader and listener
  • Enhances communication skills
  • Develops thinking skills

Improved Reading and Listening Skills

There seems to be an interesting feedback loop between reading and writing. Avid readers are often good writers and avid writers are often good readers. Reading allows you to observe how others write and communicate. This, in turn, can inspire your own writing. It’s similar to how children copy the behavior of the people around them. When you write it is natural to bring with you the styles you have experienced through reading.

Writing also improves listening skills, however, this happens through the process of listening to others through reading. By reading we have to assess and evaluate the arguments of the author. This can only happen through listening to the author through reading his work.

Communication Skills

Writing, regardless of genre, involves finding an audience and sharing your own ideas in a way that is clear to them. As such, writing natural enhances communication skills This is because of the need to identify the purpose or reason you are writing as well as how you will share your message.

When writing is unclear it is often because the writer has targeted the wrong audience or has an unclear purpose for writing. A common reason research articles are rejected is that the editor is convinced that the article is not appropriate for the journal’s audience. Therefore, it is critical that an author knows there audience.

Thinking Skills 

In relation to communication skills is thinking skills. Writing involves taking information in one medium, the thoughts in your head, and placing them in another medium, words on paper. Whenever content moves from one medium to another there is a loss in meaning. This is why for many people, there writing makes sense to them but to no one else.

Therefore, a great deal of thought must be placed into writing with clarity. You have to structure the thesis/purpose statement, main ideas, and supporting details. Not to mention that you will often need references and need to adhere to some form of formatting. All this must be juggled while delivering content that critically stimulating.

Conclusion 

Writing is a vehicle of communication that is not used as much as it used to be. There are so many other forms of communication and interaction that something writing is obsolete. However, though the communication may change, the benefits of writing are still available.

Teaching HandWriting to Young Children

Learning to write takes a lifetime. Any author will share with you how they have matured and grown over time in the craft of writing. However, there are some basic fundamentals that need to be mastered before the process of growing as a writer can begin.

This post will provide an approach to teaching writing to young children that includes the following steps.

  1. Learning to write the letters
  2. Learning to write sentences
  3. Learning to write paragraphs

Learning the Letters

The first step in this process is learning to write letters. The challenge is normally developing the fine motor skills for creating letters. If you have ever seen the writing of a 5-year-old you have some idea of what I am talking about.

It is difficult for children to actually write letters.  Normally this is taught through having the students trace the letters on a piece of paper. This drill and kill style eventual works as the child masters the art of tracing. An analogy would be the use of training wheels on a bicycle.

Generally, straight lines are easier to write than curves. As such, easy letters to learn first are t, i, and l. Curves with straight lines are often easier than slanted lines so the next stage of letters might include b, d, f, h, j, p, r, u, and y. Lastly, slanted lines and full circle letters are the hardest in my experience. As such, a, c, e, g, k, m, n, o, s, v, w, x, and z are the last to learn.

Learning to Write Sentences

It is discouraging to have the child learn the entire alphabet before writing something. It’s better to learn a few letters and begin making sentences immediately. This heightens relevance and it is motivating to the child to be able to read their own writing. For now, the sentences do not really need to make sense. Just have them write using a handful of letters with support.

Simple three-word sentences are enough at this moment. Many worksheets will provide blanks lines with space at the top for drawing and coloring which provides a visual of the sentence.

It is critical to provide support for the development of the sentence. You have to help the child develop the thought that they want to put on paper. This is difficult for many children. You may also be taxed with proving spelling support. Although for now, I would not worry too much about spelling. Students need to create first and follow rules of creating later.

Writing Paragraphs

The typical child will probably not be able to write paragraphs until the 3rd or 4th grade at the earliest. paragraph writing takes an extensive amount of planning for a small child as they now must have a beginning, middle, and end or a main idea with supporting details.

At this stage, the best way to learn to write is to read a lot. This provides a structure and vocabulary on which the child can develop their own ideas in writing. In addition, rules of writing can be taught such as grammar and other components of language.

Conclusion

Writing can be an enjoyable experience if children are guided initially in learning this craft. Over time, a child can provide many insightful ideas and comments through developing the ability to communicate through the use of text.

Story Grammar Components

When people tell a story, whether orally or in a movie, there are certain characteristics that seem to appears in stories as determined by culture which children attempt to imitate when they tell a story. These traits are called story grammar components and include the following

  • Setting statement
  • Initiating event
  • Internal response
  • Internal plan
  • Attempt
  • Direct Consequence
  • Reaction

This post will explore each of these characteristics of a story.

Setting Statement

The setting statement introduces the character of the story and often identifies who the “good guy” and “bad guy” are. Many movies do this from Transformers to any X-men movie. In the first 10-15 minutes, the characters are introduced and the background is explained. For example, in the classic story “The Three Little Pig” the story begins by telling you there was a wolf and three pigs.

Initiating Event

The initiating event is the catalyst to get the characters to do something. For example, in the “Three Little Pigs” the pigs need shelter. In other words, the initiating event introduces the problem that the characters need to overcome during the story.

Internal Response

The internal response is the characters reaction to the initiating event. The response can talk many forms such as emotional. For example, the pigs get excited when they see they need shelter. Generally, the internal response provides motivation to do something.

Internal Plan

The internal plan is what the characters will do to overcome the initiating event problem. For the pigs, the plan was to each build a house to prepare for the wolf.

Attempt

The attempt is the action that helps the characters to reach their goal. This is the step in which the internal plan is put into action. Therefore, for the pigs, it is the actual construction of their houses.

Direct Consequence

At this step, the story indicates if the attempt was successful or not. For the pigs, this is where things are complicated. Of the three pigs, two were unsuccessful and only one was successful. Success is determined by who is the protagonist and the antagonist. As such, if the wolf is the protagonist the success would be two and the failure one.

Reaction

The reaction is the character’s response to the direct consequence. For the two unsuccessful pigs, there was no reaction because they were eaten by the wolf. However, for the last pig, he was able to live safely after his home protected him.

Conclusion

Even small children will have several of these components in their storytelling. However, it is important to remember that the components are not required in a story nor do they have to follow the order specified here. Instead,  this is a broad generalize way of how people communicate through storytelling.

Teaching Small Children to Write

Teaching a child to write is an interesting experience. In this post, I will share some basics ideas on one way this can be done.

To Read or not to Read

Often writing is taught after the child has learned to read. A major exception to this is the Montessori method of reading. For Montessori, a child should learn to write before reading. This is probably because writing is a more tactile experience when compared to reading and Montessori was a huge proponent of experiential learning. In addition, if you can write you can definitely read under this assumption.

Generally, I teach young children how to read first. This is because I want the child to know the letters before trying to write them.

The Beginning

If the child is already familiar with the basics of reading writing is probably more about hand-eye coordination than anything else. The first few letters are quite the experience. This is affected by age as well. Smaller children will have much more difficulty with writing than older children.

A common strategy to motivate a child to write is to have them first learn to spell their name. This can work depending on how hard the child’s name is to spell. A kid named “Dan” will master writing his name quickly. However, a kid with a longer name or a transliterated name from another language is going to have a tough time. I knew one student who misspelled their name for almost a year and a half because it was so hard to write in English.

A common way to teach actually writing is to allow the child to trace the words on dot paper. By doing this they develop the muscle memory for writing. Once this is successful the child will then attempt to write the letters with the tracing paper. This process can easily take a year.

Sentences and Paragraphs

After,  they learn to write letters and words it is time to begin writing sentences. A six-year-old, with good penmanship, will probably not be able to write a sentence with support. Writing and spelling and different skills initially and it is the adult’s job to provide support for the spelling aspect as the child explains what they want to write about.

With help, children can create short little stories that may be one to two paragraphs in length. Yet they will still need a lot of support to do this.

By eight years of age, a child can probably write a paragraph on their own about simple concepts or stories. This is when the teaching and learning can really get interesting as the child can now write to learn instead of focusing on learning to write.

Conclusion

Writing is a skill that is hard to find these days. With so many other forms of communication, writing is not a skill that children want to focus on. Nevertheless, learning to write by basic literacy is an excellent way to develop communication skills and interact with people in situations where face-to-face contact is not possible.

Ways to Comprehend Academic Texts

In this post, we will look at some practical ways to better understand an academic text. The tips are broken down into three sections which are, what to do before, during, and after reading.

Before Reading

Read the Preface. The preface lays out the entire scope of the book. It provides the framework in which you can place the details of the chapters. This is critical in order to put the pieces together to make use of them. Almost all students skip this as it is normally not assigned reading. This step is only done before reading the first chapter of a text.

Read the Chapter titles. The chapter titles give you an idea of what the chapter is about. Again it helps you to zoom down one level to understand the subject of the book from one aspect of it. Again, most students fly past this when the chapter title provides clear clues as to what to expect in the text

Read the Objectives. The objectives tell you what you are going to visit in the chapter. They serve as signposts of what to expect and provide a framework for placing the details of the text.

Read the Chapter Headings. An academic text is broken down into chapters which are broken down into headings. Examining the headings provides more information about the chapter and the book. I also should mention that often the objectives and the headings of a book are the same with slight rewording. This seems lazy but is actually much clearer than when they two are not similar.

Look at the visuals (tables, graphs, pictures). Visuals summarize critical information. It is easy for anybody to become overwhelmed when reading a text. Therefore, visuals are created to summarize the most important information. Just like figure 1.2 above.

If you do these things you now know what to expect when you read. You are also beginning to develop an idea of what you did not know about the given subject. This leads to the next major point.

Ask Questions. After this inspection of the text, you should do the following.

  • Decide what you already know about this topic
  • Decide what you want to know about this topic and make questions

This two-step process prepares you for connecting your current level of understanding with the new knowledge within the text. You know what is a review for you and you focus on finding answers to the concepts and idea that are new for you.

During Reading

 After all of this preparatory work, it is now time to read. Having done all this you already know the following

  • Title of the chapter
  • Major headings/objectives of the chapter
  • What you already know about this subject
  • What you do not know about this subject

Now you read the text and answer your questions. You also can highlight key ideas as well as write in the margins of the text. Highlighting should generally be limited to main ideas in order to reduce the clutter of highlighting everything. Writing in the margins allows you to make quick notes to yourself about key points and or to summarize a dense concept. Doing either of these is a way to wrestle with a text in an active manner which is important for comprehension.

After Reading

After you have read and answered your questions in a text. There are several things left to do.

Determine what did you learn. Write briefly a few notes to yourself about what exactly you learned. This is for you and helps to make sense of all the details in your mind at the moment.

Look at the Resources at the back of the chapter. Many textbooks have several study tools at the back of the chapter. Example this includes an outline of the chapter which is a great summary, discussion questions which help in developing critical thinking skills, and often vocabulary words are here as well. When preparing for an exam this is an excellent resource.

Conclusion

This process is not as much work as it seems. With practice, it can become natural. In addition, you need to modify this so that you can be successful as a reader. The ideas here provide a framework in which you can develop your own style.

Insights into Reading Academic Text

In my experience as a teacher for several years at university, I have noticed how students consistently struggle with reading an academic text. It seemed as those they were able to “read” the words but always lack the ability to understand what the text was about. I’ve thought about this challenge and have been lead to the following conclusions.

  • Many Students believe reading and understanding are the same thing
  • Many Students believe they have no responsibility to think about what they have read
  • Many Students believe there is no reason to connect what they are reading to anything they currently know
  • Many Students see no point to determine how to use or apply what they have read
  • Many Students do not understand how academic writers structure their writing

None of these points apply to everybody. However, it is common for me to ask my students if they read something and they usually that they yes the did read it. However, as I begin to ask questions and to explore the text with them it quickly becomes clear they did not understand anything that they read. This is partially due to the problem that students read passively even though reading is active. The student never thinks of the relevance of the reading to their own life or future career.

In other words, reading is not the problem, rather it is what to do with what they have read. The purpose of studying is to use what you have learned. Few of us have the time, to simply learn for fun. Often, we learn to do something for monetary reasons. In other words, some sort of immediate application is critical to reading success.

Another important aspect of reading comprehension is understanding the structure of academic writing. Textbooks have different subjects but they all have a surprisingly similar structure which often starts with the big picture and zooms down to the details. If students can see the structure it can greatly improve their ability to understand what they are reading.

The Tour Guide Analogy

The analogy that I like to use is that of a tour guide. A tour guide’s job is to show you around a particular place. It could be an entire city or a single tourist attraction it all depends on the level of detail that he or she wants to provide you. Often, at the beginning of a tour, the tour guide will explain the itinerary of the tour. This provides the big picture purpose of the tour group as well as what to expect during the journey.

If the trip is especially detail you may visit several different places. At each place, there will be several places to see at each place that the tour guide will mention. For example, If I go to Thailand for vacation and visit Bangkok there will be several locations within Bangkok that I would visit such as Malls and maybe a museum. It is the tour guide’s job to guide me in the learning experience.

The author of an academic text is like a tour guide. Their job is to show you around the subject they are an expert in. The tour guide has an itinerary while the academic author has a preface/introduction. In the preface, the author explains the purpose of the book, as well as the major themes or “places” they will show you on the tour. The preface also explains who the book is for.

Each chapter in an academic text is one specific place the author wants to show you on the tour. Just as a tour guide may show you a museum in Bangkok so an author will show you one aspect of a subject in a chapter. Furthermore, every chapter has several headings within it. This is the same as me seeing the dinosaur exhibit at the museum or the ancient Thai instruments exhibit. These are the places within the place that you visited.

Tour guide Writer
Expert in their area Exepert in their area
Shows you around the tourist attraction Shows you around a subject area
Explains what you will see today Explains what they will share in a book/chapter
Provides details about the different sights Provides details for the main ideas

We can break this down further about subheadings and more but I think the point is clear. The layout for an academic text is not mysterious but rather highly consistent. Having said this here are some critical ideas to remember when you read.

The Structure of Academic Writing

“The book is boring.” This is a common complaint many lecturers receive from students about the assigned reading in a class. Although this is discouraging to hear it is usually a cry for help. What the student is really saying is that they cannot understand what they are reading. Yes, the read it but they didn’t get it.

The missing ingredient for students to appreciate academic reading is to understand the structure of academic writing. Lecturers forget that students are not scholars and thus do not quite understand how scholars organize their writing. If students knew this they would no longer be students. Therefore, lecturers need to help students not only understand the ideas of a book but the actual structure of how those ideas are framed in a textbook.

This post will try to explain the structure of academic writing in a general sense.

How it Works

Below is a brief outline of a common structure for an academic textbook.

  • Preface
    • Purpose of the book
    • Big themes of the book (chapters)
  • Chapter
    • Objectives/headings provide themes of the chapter
  • Headings
    • Provides theme of a section of a chapter

Here is what I consider to be a major secret of writing. The structure is highly redundant but at different levels of abstraction. The preface, chapter, and headings of a book are all the same in terms of purpose but at different levels of scope. The preface is the biggest picture you can get of the text. It’s similar to the map of a country. The chapter zooms in somewhat and is similar to the map of a city. Lastly, the headings within a chapter are similar to have a neighborhood map of a city.

The point is that academic writing is highly structured and organized. Students often think a text is boring. However, when they see the structure, they may not fall in love with academics but at least they will understand what the author is trying to say. A student must see the structure in order to appreciate the details.

Another way to look at this is as follows.

  • The paragraphs of a heading support the heading
  • The headings of a chapter support the chapter
  • The chapters of a book support the title of the book

A book is like a body, you have cells, you have tissues, and you have organs. Each is an abstraction of a higher level. Cells combine to make tissue, tissues combine to make organs, etc. This structure is how academic writing takes place.

The goal of academic writing is not to be entertaining. That role is normally set aside for fiction writing. Since most students enjoy entertainment they expect academic writing to use the same formula of fun. However, few authors place fun as one of the purposes in their preface. This yet another disconnect between students and textbooks.

Conclusion

Academic writing is repetitive in terms of its structure. Each sub-section supports a higher section in the book. This repetitive structure is probably one aspect of academic writing students find so boring. However, this repetitive nature makes the write highly efficient in terms of understanding giving that the reader is aware of this.

Understanding the Preface of a Textbook

A major problem students have in school is understanding what they read. However, the problem often is not reading in itself. By this I mean the student know what they read but they do not know what it means. In other words, they will read the text but cannot explain what the text was about.

There are several practical things a student can do to overcome this problem without having to make significant changes to their study habits. Some of the strategies that they can use involve looking at the structure of how the writing is developed. Examples of this include the following.

  • Reading the preface
  • Reading the chapter titles
  • Reading the chapter objectives
  • Reading the headings in the chapters
  • Make some questions
  • Now read & answer the questions

In this post, we will look at the benefits of reading the preface to a book.

Reading the Preface

When students are assigned reading they often skip straight to page one and start reading. This means they have no idea what the text is about or even what the chapter will be about. This is the same as jumping in your car to drive somewhere without directions. You might get there eventually but often you just end up lost.

One of the first things a student should do is read the preface of a book. The preface gives you some of the following information

  • Information about the author
  • The purpose of the book
  • The audience of the book
  • The major themes of the text
  • Assumptions

Knowing the purpose of the text is beneficial to understanding the author’s viewpoint. This is often more important in graduate studies than in undergrad.

Knowing the main themes of the book helps from a psychological perspective as well. These themes serve as mental hooks in your mind in which you can hang the details of the chapters that you will read. It is critical to see the overview and big picture of the text so that you have a framework in which to place the ideas of the chapters you will read.

Many books do not have a preface. Instead what they often do is make chapter one the “introduction” and include all the aspects of the preface in the first chapter. Both strategies are fine. However, it is common for teachers to skip the introduction chapter in order to get straight to the “content.” This is fast but can inhibit understanding of the text.

There are also usually an explanation of assumptions. The assumptions serve to tell the reader what they should already know as well as the biases of the author. This is useful as it communicates the position the author takes from the outset with the readers trying to infer this.

Conclusion

The preface serves the purpose of introducing the reader to the text. One of the goals if the preface is to convince the reader why they should read the book. It provides the big picture of the text, shares about the author, and indicates who the book is for, as well as sharing the author’s viewpoint.

Understanding Academic Text

Understanding academic text is possible through making some minor adjustment to one’s reading style. In this post, we will look at the following ideas for improving academic reading comprehension.

  • Reading the chapter titles
  • Reading the chapter objectives
  • Reading the headings in the chapters
  • Examine the Visuals
  • Make some questions
  • Now read & answer the questions

Read the Chapter Titles

You read the chapter title for the same reason as the preface. It gives you the big picture from which you develop a framework for placing the ideas of the author. I am always amazed how many times I ask my students what the title of the chapter is and they have no clue. This is because they were so determined to read that they never set things in place to understand.

For ESL readers, it is critical that they know the meaning of every word in the title. Again this has to do with the importance of the title for shaping the direction of the reading. If the student gets lost in the details this is where teaching support is there for. However, if they have no idea what the chapter is about there is little even the be3st teacher can do.

Read Chapter Objectives

The objectives of a chapter are a promise of what the author will write about. The student needs to know what the promises are so they know what to expect. This is similar to driving somewhere and expecting to see certain landmarks along the way. When you see these landmarks you know you are getting close to the destination.

The objectives provided the big picture of the chapter in a way that the preface provides the big picture of the entire book. Again, it is common for students to skip this aspect of reading comprehension.

Read the Chapter Headings

By now you probably know why to read the chapter headings. If not, it is because the chapter headings tell the student what to expect in a particular section of the chapter. They serve as a local landmark or a localized purpose.

For an extremely efficient (or perhaps lazy) writer, the objectives and the headings of a chapter will be exactly the same with perhaps slight rewording. This is extremely beneficial for readers because not only do they see the objectives at the beginning but the see them stated again as headings in the chapter.

Examine the Visuals

Visuals are used to illustrate ideas in the text. For now, the student simply wants to glance at them. Being familiar with the visuals now will be useful when the student wants to understand them when reading.

When looking at a visual, here are some things to look for

  • Title
  • author
  • date
  • what’s being measured
  • scale (units of measurement)

For an initial superficial glance, this is more than enough

Make Questions, Read, and Answer 

After examining the text, the student should have questions about what the text is about. Now they should write down what they want to know after examining the various characteristics of the chapter and then they begin to read so they can answer their questions

Examine End of the Chapter Tools

After reading the chapter, many authors provide some sort of study tools at the end. I find it most useful to read the chapter before looking too closely at this information. The reason for this is that the summary and questions at the end indicate what the author thinks is important about the chapter. It’s hard to appreciate this if you did not read the chapter yet.

Knowing what is happening at the end of the chapter helps in reinforcing what you read. You can quiz yourself about the information and use this information to prepare for any examines.

Conclusion

Previewing a chapter is a strategy for understanding a chapter. The ideas a student reads about must have a framework in which the pieces can fit. This framework can be developed through examining the chapter before reading it in detail.

Teaching a Child to Read

Learning to read is in no way an easy experience. In order to read at even the most basic level requires mastery of syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics at a minimum. These are skills that we expect a child normally under the age of 8 to show some proficiency at.

This post will explain a process for teaching reading to small children that worked. Of course, there is no claim here that this is the way but it does provide an example. When I began this experience I had been an educator for years at higher grades but had never actually taught anybody how to read. My training and experience have mostly been in improving reading comprehension skills.

The Process

The process I stumble upon goes as follows

  1. Letter recognition
  2. Letter sound production
  3. Word family phonics
  4. Sight words
  5. Reading stories with support from steps 3 & 4

Each step builds on the steps before it

Letter Recognition

The first step in this process was to have the child recognize the letters of the alphabet. This was done through the use of flashcards. In many ways, this was the easiest step. I thought it would take a year for a 4-year-old to learn this but it only took 3-4 months

Letter recognition relates to morphology as letters are in many ways morphemes that cannot be further divided. At this point, the learning experience is simply memory only with no application

Letter Sound Production

Once the alphabet was memorized, I exposed the student to the sounds of the letters. The student then had to reproduce the sound in addition to recognizing what letter it was.

This was much tougher. The student would either forget what letter it was or forget the sound or both. There was a lot of frustration. However, after several more months, we were ready to move on.

Letter sound production is an example of phonology or the understanding of the sounds letters make. This is a crucial step in learning to read.

Word Family Phonics

At this stage, we combine several letters and “sound” them out to produce words. Often, the words used had the same ending or morpheme such as “-ap”, “-at”, “-ad”. etc. and only the first letter would change. This helps the student to recognize patterns quickly at least in theory.

There was also an introduction to vowels and other common morphemes. Looking back I consider this a mistake as it seemed to be confusing for the student. In addition, although phonics are valuable in learning to sound out words I found them to lack context and read “cap”, “tap”, and “map” outside the setting of some story was boring for the student.

Sight Words

Sight words are words that are so common in English that they need to be memorized. Often they cannot be sounded out because they violate the rules of phonology but this is not always the case.

There are two common systems of sight words and these are Dolch and Fry respectively. In terms of which is better, it doesn’t really matter. I used Fry’s and again I think the lack of context was a problem as I was asking the student to learn words that lack an immediate application.

Reading Stories

After about a year of preparatory training, we finally began reading stories. The stories were little short stories appropriate for kindergarteners. At first, it was difficult but the student began to improve rapdily. It was much easier (usually) to get them to cooperate as well.

Conclusion 

The most important point is perhaps not the most obvious one. despite my inexperience and mistakes in pedagogy, the student still learned to read. In many ways, the student learned to read in spite of me. This should be reassuring for many teachers. Even bad teaching can get good results if the aspects of planning, discipline, and commitment to success are there. Students seem to grow as long as they have some guidance.

I would say the most important thing in terms of teaching reading is to actually make them read. Reading provides context and motivation as the student can see what they cannot do. Studying all of the theoretical aspects of reading such as phonics and letters are only beneficial when the child knows they need to know this.

Therefore, if you are provided with an opportunity to teach a child to read start with stories and as the struggle teach only what they are struggling with. For example, if they are having a hard time with long “o” sound, reinforcing that with supplemental theoretical work will make sense for the child. As such, children learn best by doing rather than talking about what they will do.

Types of Rubrics for Writing

Grading essays, papers and other forms of writing is subjective and frustrating for teachers at times. One tool that helps in improving the consistency of the marking, as well as the speed, is the use of rubrics. In this post, we will look at three commonly used rubrics which are…

  • Holistic
  • Analytical
  • Primary trait

Holistic Rubric

A holistic rubric looks at the overall quality of the writing. Normally, there are several levels on the rubric and each level has several descriptors on it. Below is an example template

Presentation1.gifThe descriptors must be systematic which means that they are addressed in each level and in the same order. Below is an actual Holistic Rubric for Writing.

Presentation1In the example above, there are four levels of marking. The descriptors are

  • idea explanation
  • coherency
  • grammar

Between levels, different adverbs and adjectives are used to distinguish the levels.  For example, in level one, “ideas are thoroughly explained” becomes “ideas are explained” in the second level. The use of adverbs is one of the easiest ways to distinguish between levels in a holistic rubric.

Holistic rubrics offer the convenience of fast marking that is easy to interpret and comes with high reliability. The downside is that there is a lack of strong feedback for improvement.

Analytical Rubrics

Analytical rubrics assign a score to each individual attribute the teacher is looking for in the writing. In other words, instead of lumping all the descriptors together as is done in a holistic rubric, each trait is given its own score. Below is a template of an analytical rubric.

Presentation1

You can see that the levels are across the top and the descriptors across the side. Best performance moves from left to right all the way to worst performance. Each level is assigned a range of potential point values.

Below is an actual holistic writing template

Presentation1

Analytical rubrics provide much more washback and learning than holistic. Of course, they also take a  lot more time for the teacher to complete as well.

Primary Trait

A lesser-known way of marking papers is the use of primary trait rubric. With primary trait, the student is only assessed on one specific function of writing. For example, persuasion if they are writing an essay or perhaps vocabulary use for an ESL student writing paragraphs.

The template would be similar to a holistic rubric except that there would only be on descriptor instead of several. The advantage of this is that it allows the teacher and the student to focus on one aspect of writing. Naturally, this can be a disadvantage as writing involves more than one specific skill.

Conclusion

Rubrics are useful for a variety of purposes. For writing, it is critical that you understand what the levels and descriptors are one deciding on what kind of rubric you want to use. In addition, the context affects the use of what type of rubric to use as well.

Guiding the Writing Process

How a teacher guides the writing process can depend on a host of factors. Generally, how you support a student at the beginning of the writing process is different from how you support them at the end. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two stages of writing.

The Beginning

At the beginning of writing, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made as well as extensive planning. Generally, at this point, grammar is not the deciding factor in terms of the quality of the writing. Rather, the teacher is trying to help the students to determine the focus of the paper as well as the main ideas.

The teacher needs to help the student to focus on the big picture of the purpose of their writing. This means that only major issues are addressed at least initially. You only want to point at potential disaster decisions rather than mundane details.

It is tempting to try and fix everything when looking at rough drafts. This not only takes up a great deal of your time but it is also discouraging to students as they deal with intense criticism while still trying to determine what they truly want to do. As such, it is better to view your role at this point as a counselor or guide and not as detail oriented control freak.

At this stage, the focus is on the discourse and not so much on the grammar.

The End

At the end of the writing process, there is a move from general comments to specific concerns. As the student gets closer and closer to the final draft the “little things” become more and more important. Grammar comes to the forefront. In addition, referencing and the strength of the supporting details become more important.

Now is the time to get “picky” this is because major decisions have been made and the cognitive load of fixing small stuff is less stressful once the core of the paper is in place. The analogy I like to give is that first, you build the house. Which involves lots of big movements such as pouring a foundation, adding walls, and including a roof. This is the beginning of writing. The end of building a house includes more refined aspects such as painting the walls, adding the furniture, etc. This is the end of the writing process.

Conclusion

For writers and teachers, it is important to know where they are in the writing process. In my experience, it seems as if it is all about grammar from the beginning when this is not necessarily the case. At the beginning of a writing experience, the focus is on ideas. At the end of a writing experience, the focus is on grammar. The danger is always in trying to do too much at the same time.

Types of Writing

This post will look at several types of writing that are done for assessment purposes. In particular, we will look this from the four level of writing which are

  • Imitative
  • Intensive
  • Responsive
  • Extensive

Imitative 

Imitative writing is focused strictly on the grammatical aspects of writing. The student simply reproduces what they see. This is a common way to teach children how to write. Additional examples of activities at this level include cloze task in which the student has to write the word in the blank from a list, spelling test, matching, and even converting numbers to their word equivalent.

Intensive

Intensive writing is more concern about selecting the appropriate word for a given context. Example activities include grammatical transformation, such as changing all verbs to past tense, sequencing pictures, describing pictures, completing short sentences, and ordering task.

Responsive 

Responsive writing involves the development of sentences into paragraphs. The purpose is almost exclusively on the context or function of writing. Form concerns are primarily at the discourse level which means how the sentences work together to make paragraphs and how the paragraphs work to support a thesis statement. Normally no more than 2-3 paragraphs at this level

Example activities at the responsive level include short reports, interpreting visual aids, and summary.

Extensive

Extensive writing is responsive writing over the course of an entire essay or research paper. The student is able to shape a purpose, objectives, main ideas, conclusions, etc. Into a coherent paper.

For many students, this is exceedingly challenging in their mother tongue and is further exasperated in a second language. There is also the experience of multiple drafts of a single paper.

Marking Intensive & Responsive Papers

Marking higher level papers requires a high degree of subjectivity. THis is because of the authentic nature of this type of assessment. As such, it is critical that the teacher communicate expectations clearly through the use of rubrics or some other form of communication.

Another challenge is the issue of time. Higher level papers take much more time to develop. This means that they normally cannot be used as a form of in class assessment. If they are used as in class assessment then it leads to a decrease in the authenticity of the assessment.

Conclusion

Writing is a critical component of the academic experience. Students need to learn how to shape and develop their ideas in print. For teachers, it is important to know at what level the student is capable of writing at in order to support them for further growth.

Reading Assessment at the Interactive and Extensive Level

In reading assessment, the interactive and extensive level are the highest levels of reading. This post will provide examples of assessments at each of these two levels.

Interactive Level

Reading at this level is focused on both form and meaning of the text with an emphasis on top-down processing. Below are some assessment examples

Cloze

Cloze assessment involves removing certain words from a paragraph and expecting the student to supply them. The criteria for removal is every nth word aka fixed-ratio or removing words with meaning aka rational deletion.

In terms of marking, you have the choice of marking based on the student providing the exact wording or an appropriate wording. The exact wording is strict but consistent will appropriate wording can be subjective.

Read and Answer the Question

This is perhaps the most common form of assessment of reading. The student simply reads a passage and then answer questions such as T/F, multiple choice, or some other format.

Information Transfer

Information transfer involves the students interpreting something. For example, they may be asked to interpret a graph and answer some questions. They may also be asked to elaborate on the graph, make predictions, or explain. Explaining a visual is a common requirement for the IELTS.

Extensive Level

This level involves the highest level of reading. It is strictly top-down and requires the ability to see the “big picture” within a text. Marking at this level is almost always subjective.

Summarize and React

Summarizing and reacting requires the student to be able to read a large amount of information, share the main ideas, and then providing their own opinion on the topic. This is difficult as the student must understand the text to a certain extent and then form an opinion about what they understand.

I like to also have my students write several questions they have about the text This teaches them to identify what they do not know. These questions are then shared in class so that they can be discussed.

For marking purposes, you can provide directions about a number of words, paragraphs, etc. to provide guidance. However, marking at this level of reading is still subjective. The primary purpose of marking should probably be evidence that the student read the text.

Conclusion

The interactive and extensive level of reading is when teaching can become enjoyable. Students have moved beyond just learning to read to reading to learn. This opens up many possibilies in terms of learning experiences.

Reading Assessment at the Perceptual and Selective Level

This post will provide examples of assessments that can be used for reading at the perceptual and selective level.

Perceptual Level

The perceptual level is focused on bottom-up processing of text. Comprehension ability is not critical at this point. Rather, you are just determining if the student can accomplish the mechanical process of reading.

Examples

Reading Aloud-How this works is probably obvious to most teachers. The students read a text out loud in the presence of an assessor.

Picture-Cued-Students are shown a picture. At the bottom of the picture are words. The students read the word and point to a visual example of it in the picture. For example, if the picture has a cat in it. At the bottom of the picture would be the word cat. The student would read the word cat and point to the actual cat in the picture.

This can be extended by using sentences instead of words. For example, if the actual picture shows a man driving a car. There may be a sentence at the bottom of the picture that says “a man is driving a car”. The student would then point to the man in the actual picture who is driving.

Another option is T/F statements. Using our cat example from above. We might write that “There is one cat in the picture” the student would then select T/F.

Other Examples-These includes multiple-choice and written short answer.

Selective Level

The selective level is the next above perceptual. At this level, the student should be able to recognize various aspects of grammar.

Examples

Editing Task-Students are given a reading passage and are asked to fix the grammar. This can happen many different ways. They could be asked to pick the incorrect word in a sentence or to add or remove punctuation.

Pictured-Cued Task-This task appeared at the perceptual level. Now it is more complicated. For example, the students might be required to read statements and label a diagram appropriately, such as the human body or aspects of geography.

Gap-Filling Task-Students read a sentence and complete it appropriately

Other Examples-Includes multiple-choice and matching. The multiple-choice may focus on grammar, vocabulary, etc. Matching attempts to assess a students ability to pair similar items.

Conclusion

Reading assessment can take many forms. The examples here provide ways to deal with this for students who are still highly immature in their reading abilities. As fluency develops more complex measures can be used to determine a students reading capability.

Types of Reading in ESL

Reading for comprehension involves two forms of processing which are bottom-up and top-down. Bottom-up processing involves pulling letters together to make words, words to make sentences, etc. This is most commonly seen as students sounding out words when they read. The goal is primarily to just read the word.

Top-down processing is the use of prior knowledge, usually organized as schemas in the mind to understand what is being read. For example, after a student reads the word “cat” using bottom-up processing they then use top-down processing of what they know about cats such as their appearance, diet, habits, etc.

These two processes work together in order for us to read. Generally, they happen simultaneously as we are frequently reading and using our background knowledge to understand what we are reading.

In the context of reading, there are four types of reading from simplest to most complex and they are

  • Perceptive
  • Selective
  • Interactive
  • Extensive

We will now look at each in detail

Perceptive

Perceptive reading is focused primarily on bottom-processing. In other words, if a teacher is trying to assess this type of reading they simply want to know if the student can read or not. The ability to understand or comprehend the text is not the primary goal at this.

Selective

Selective reading involves looking a reader’s ability to recognize grammar, discourse features, etc. This is done with brief paragraphs and short reading passages. Assessment involves standard assessment items such as multiple-choice, short answer, true/false, etc.

In order to be successful at this level, the student needs to use both bottom-up and top-down processing.  Charts and graphs can also be employed

Interactive

Interactive reading involves deriving meaning from the text. This places even more emphasis on top-down processing. Readings are often chosen from genres that employ implied main ideas rather than stated. The readings are also more authentic in nature and can include announcements, directions, recipes, etc.

Students who lack background knowledge will struggle with this type of reading regardless of their language ability. In addition, inability to think critically will impair performance even if the student can read the text.

Extensive

Extensive is reading large amounts of information and being able to understand the “big picture”. The student needs to be able to separate the details from the main ideas. Many students struggle with this in their native language. As such, this is even more difficult when students are trying to digest large amounts of information in a second language.

Conclusion

Reading is a combination of making sense of the words and using prior knowledge to comprehend text. The levels of reading vary in their difficulty. In order to have success at reading, students need to be exposed to many different experiences in order to have the background knowledge they need that they can call on when reading something new.

Types of Speaking in ESL

In the context of ESL teaching, ~there are at least five types of speaking that take place in the classroom. This post will define and provide examples of each. The five types are as follows…

  • Imitative
  • Intensive
  • Responsive
  • Interactive
  • Extensive

The list above is ordered from simplest to most complex in terms of the requirements of oral production for the student.

Imitative

At the imitative level, it is probably already clear what the student is trying to do. At this level, the student is simply trying to repeat what was said to them in a way that is understandable and with some adherence to pronunciation as defined by the teacher.

It doesn’t matter if the student comprehends what they are saying or carrying on a conversation. The goal is only to reproduce what was said to them. One common example of this is a “repeat after me” experience in the classroom.

Intensive

Intensive speaking involves producing a limit amount of language in a highly control context. An example of this would be to read aloud a passage or give a direct response to a simple question.

Competency at this level is shown through achieving certain grammatical or lexical mastery. This depends on the teacher’s expectations.

Responsive

Responsive is slightly more complex than intensive but the difference is blurry, to say the least. At this level, the dialog includes a simple question with a follow-up question or two. Conversations take place by this point but are simple in content.

Interactive

The unique feature of intensive speaking is that it is usually more interpersonal than transactional. By interpersonal it is meant speaking for maintaining relationships. Transactional speaking is for sharing information as is common at the responsive level.

The challenge of interpersonal speaking is the context or pragmatics The speaker has to keep in mind the use of slang, humor, ellipsis, etc. when attempting to communicate. This is much more complex than saying yes or no or giving directions to the bathroom in a second language.

Extensive

Extensive communication is normal some sort of monolog. Examples include speech, story-telling, etc. This involves a great deal of preparation and is not typically improvisational communication.

It is one thing to survive having a conversation with someone in a second language. You can rely on each other’s body language to make up for communication challenges. However, with extensive communication either the student can speak in a comprehensible way without relying on feedback or they cannot. In my personal experience, the typical ESL student cannot do this in a convincing manner.

Critical Language Testing

Critical language testing (CLT) is a philosophical approach that states that there is widespread bias in language testing. This view is derived from critical pedagogy, which views education as a process manipulated by those in power.

There are many criticisms that CLT has of language testing such as the following.

  • Test are deeply influenced by the culture of the test makers
  • There is  a political dimension to tests
  • Tests should provide various modes of performance because of the diversity in how students learn.

Testing and Culture

CLT claim that tests are influenced by the culture of the test-makers. This puts people from other cultures at a disadvantage when taking the test.

An example of bias would be a reading comprehension test that uses a reading passage that reflects a middle class, white family. For many people, such an experience is unknown for them. When they try to answer the questions they lack the contextual knowledge of someone who is familiar with this kind of situation and this puts outsiders at a disadvantage.

Although the complaint is valid there is little that can be done to rectify it. There is no single culture that everyone is familiar with. The best that can be done is to try to diverse examples for a diverse audience.

Politics and Testing

Politics and testing is closely related to the prior topic of culture. CLT claims that testing can be used to support the agenda of those who made the test. For example, those in power can make a test that those who are not in power cannot pass. This allows those in power to maintain their hegemony. An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were

An example of this would be the literacy test that African Americans were required to pass in order to vote. Since most African MAericans could not read the were legally denied the right to vote. This is language testing being used to suppress a minority group.

Various Modes of Assessment

CLT also claims that there should be various modes of assessing. This critique comes from the known fact that not all students do well in traditional testing modes. Furthermore, it is also well-documented that students have multiple intelligences.

It is hard to refute the claim for diverse testing methods. The primary problem is the practicality of such a request. Various assessment methods are normally impractical but they also affect the validity of the assessment. Again, most of the time testing works and it hard to make exceptions.

Conclusion

CLT provides an important perspective on the use of assessment in language teaching. These concerns should be in the minds of test makers as they try to continue to improve how they develop assessments. This holds true even if the concerns of CLT cannot be addressed.

 

Political Intrigue and the English Language

Political intrigue has played a role in shaping the English language. In this post, we will look at one example from history of politics shaping the direction of the language.

Henry VII (1491-1547), King of England, had a major problem. He desperately needed a male heir for his kingdom. In order to do achieve, Henry VIII annulled several marriages or had his wife executed. This, of course, did not go over well with the leaders of Europe as nobles tended to marry nobles.

In order to have his first marriage canceled (to Catherine of Aragon) Henry VIII needed the permission of the Pope as divorce is normally not tolerated in Roman Catholicism. However, the Pope did not grant permission because he was facing political pressure from Catherine’s family who ruled over Spain.

Henry VIII was not one to take no for an answer. Stressed over his lack of a male heir and the fact that Catherine was already 40, he banished Catherine and married his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Much to the chagrin of his in-laws in Spain.

This resulted in the Pope excommunicating Henry VIII from the church. In response to this, Henry VIII started his own church or at least laid the foundation for Protestantism in England, with the help of German Lutheran Princes. It was this event that played a role in the development of the English language

Protestantism in England

Until the collapse of his first marriage, Henry VIII was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church and was even given the title of “Defender of the Faith.” However, he now took steps to flood England with Bibles in response to what he saw as a betrayal of the Catholic Church in denying him the annulment that he sought for his first marriage.

During this same time period of the mid-1500’s William Tyndale had just completed a translation of the New Testament from Greek to English. His translation was the first from the original language into English. Tyndale also completed about half of the Old Testament.

Although Tyndale was tried and burned for translating the Bible, within a few years of his death, Henry VIII was permitting the publishing of the Bible. Tyndale’s translation was combined with the work of Miles Coverdale to create the first complete English version of the Bible called the “Great Bible” in 1539.

With the bible in the hands of so many people the English language began to flow into religion and worship services. Such words as “beautiful”, “two-edged”, “landlady”, and “broken-heart” were established as new words. These words are taking for granted today but it was in translating the phrases from the biblical languages that we have these new forms of expression. How many men have called their woman beautiful? or how many people have complained about their landlady? This is possible thanks to Tyndale’s translating and Henry VIII’s support.

All this happen not necessarily for the right motives yet the foundation of the use of common tongues in worship as well as the audacity of translating scripture into other languages was established by a King seeking an heir.

Conclusion

Henry VIII was probably not the most religious man. He did not have any problem with divorcing or killing wives or with committing adultery. However, he used religion to achieve his political goals. By doing so, he inadvertently influenced the language of his country.

Disease and the English Language

There are many different factors that have influenced and shaped the English language. In this post, we will look specifically at the role of disease in shaping the English language. We will do this by looking at one example from the 14th century, the Bubonic plague.

Background

During this time period, English was an oppressed second-tier language. The French were in control even though they were no longer French due to Philip II of France seizing the Norman lands in Northern France. Normandy was where the French-English came from and their original home was taken from them in 1295. Nevertheless,  with the French in control English was little more than a low-level language in a diglossia context.

Latin was another major language of the country but primarily in the religious sphere. Virtually all priest were fluent in Latin. Mass was and other religious ceremonies were also in Latin.

The Plague

The “Black Death” as it was called, sweep through what is now known as England in the mid 14th century. The disease killed 1/3 of the population of the country. This is the equivalent of almost 2.5 billion people dying today.

The clergy of England were especially hard hit by the dreaded disease. This has to do with the role of the priest in society. The duties of a priest included visiting the sick (gasp!), anointing the dying (gasp!), and performing funerals (gasp!). As such, the priests were called on to come into direct contact with those who were suffering under the plague and they began to die in large numbers themselves. Those who did not die often would run away.

The loss of the professionally trained clergy led to replacements that were not of the same caliber. In other words, a new priest came along who only knew English and did not have a knowledge of Latin. This meant religious ceremonies and services were now being performed in English and not Latin, not for Protestant reasons but just out of necessity.

So many people died that it also lead to economic chaos. Land prices collapsed as homes of the wealthy were empty from entire families being wiped out. Fewer workers meant wages skyrocketed and this caused people to abandon their feudal lords and work in the towns and cities.

The rich who survived did not care for paying higher wages and tried to force the peasants back to their feudal slavery. This led to the Peasant Revolt of 1381. The rebellion was only crushed when the shrew Richard II spoke to the peasants in English to calm them and then quickly betrayed them.

Richard II was not the first to use English to rally the people. This began in 1295 when Normandy was taken. However, in the context of disease and death, there was a recommitment to the use of English.

Conclusion 

Disease led to economic and political catastrophes in 14th century England. Yet there was also an influence on the language itself. Latin decreased in use due to the loss of clergy. In addition, the French-English were being forced more and more to use English to deal with the unruly locals who wanted more freedom.

Washback

Washback is the effect that testing has on teaching and learning. This term is commonly used in used in language assessment but it is not limited to only that field. One of the primary concerns of many teachers is developing that provide washback or that enhances students learning and understanding of ideas in a class.

This post will discuss three ways in which washback can be improved in a class. The three ways are…

  • Written feedback on exams
  • Go over the results as a class
  • Meetings with students on exam performance

Written Feedback

Exams or assignments that are highly subjective (ie essays) require written feedback in order to provide washback. This means specific, personalized feedback for each student. This is a daunting task for most teachers especially as classes get larger. However, if your goal is to improve washback providing written comments is one way to achieve this.

The letter grade or numerical score a student receives on a test does not provide insights into how the student can improve. The reasoning behind what is right or wrong can be provided in the written feedback.

Go Over Answers in Class

Perhaps the most common way to enhance feedback is to go over the test in class. This allows the students to learn what the correct answer is, as well as why one answer is the answer. In addition, students are given time to ask questions and clarification of the reasoning behind the teacher’s marking.

If there were common points of confusion, going over the answers in this way allows for the teacher to reteach the confusing concepts. In many ways, the test revealed what was unclear and now the teacher is able to provide support to achieve mastery.

One-on-One Meetings

For highly complex and extremely subjective forms of assessments (ie research paper) one-on-one meetings may be the most appropriate. This may require a more personal touch and a greater deal of time.

During the meeting, students can have their questions addressed and learn what they need to do in order to improve. This is a useful method for assignments that require several rounds of feedback in order to be completed.

Conclusion

Washback, if done properly, can help with motivation, autonomy, and self-confidence of students. What this means is that assessment should not only be used for grades but also to develop learning skills.

English Language and the Church

The English language during the middle ages had a serious struggle with the church of its time. Church officials supported that the Bible should only be published in Latin. This led to a large number of people having no idea what was happening during a worship service. Even though church attendance was mandatory.

One response to this problem was the development of “mystery plays.” These were theatrical performances based on the bible. The topics ranged from Genesis to Revelation and were performed in local languages. However, watching pseudo-movies and reading the text for yourself are widely different experiences.

This post will look at the role of several prominent people’s response to the suppression of English in religious text.

John Wycliffe

The lack of scripture in the English language led to John Wycliffe translating the Latin Vulgate into English. Naturally, this was illegal and Wycliffe faced significant trouble over doing this. Despite this, his translation was one of the first translations of the Bible into what was called at the time a “vulgar” language.

Wycliffe’s translation was not from the original text but rather from the Latin. This means it was a translation of a translation which nearly destroys the comprehensibility of the text.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale attempted to deal with the challenges of the Wycliff translation by translating the bible from the original Greek and Hebrew. Tyndale’s translation heavily influences the English language as he literally had to create words to capture the meaning of the text. Such phrases as “scapegoat”, “sea-shore”, and “my brother’s  keeper” were developed by Tyndale to communicate ideas within the bible.  For his work, Tyndale was put to death.  It took him about

Naturally, many were not happen with what Tyndale had accomplished. For his work, Tyndale was put to death.  It took him about four years to complete his work

King James Bible

However, the move away from Latin to English was made complete with the development of the 1611 King James Bible. The KJV is named as King James the I of England who sponsored the translation of the bible for political reasons.  By the 17th century, there were so many versions of the bible that scholars wanted a definitive translation and King James I sponsored this.

Over fifty scholars worked on this translation for five years. Despite all this work, the 1611 KJV is 60-80% based on Tyndale’s work a century prior. This makes Tyndale’s work all the more amazing that he did the work of 50 scholars in the same amount of time. From this moment English became know as the language of the preacher

Conclusion

The role of English in religious matters today is due in part to the work of Wycliffe, Tyndale, and the scholars of the KJV. Their efforts led to supplanting Latin as the language of worship while also contributing many idioms to the English language

Post Norman Conquest Decline of the French Language

After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, French dominated England for three hundred years. The decline of French can be traced to at least two main reasons, which are…

  • War/politics
  • Disease

This post will examine briefly the role of these two phenomena in shaping the decline of the French language in England as well as the reemergence of English.

War/Politics

The King of Normandy was also the King of England. In 1204, John, King of Normandy and England, lost his Norman territory to the King of France. This left a large number of Norman nobles living in England with any property back in France unless the swore allegiance to the King of France, Philipp II. The consequence of forced loyalty was the development of an English identity among the elite.

In 1295, Philip IV, King of France, threaten to invade England. Edward I, King of England, communicated with the people in English in order to unite the people. While speaking to the people in English, Edward I stated that Philip IV intended to destroy the English language. When the French invasion never came, Edward set aside his use of English

Disease

In the mid-1300’s, the Bubonic plague spread through England and wipe out 1/3 of the population. The plague was particularly hard on the clergy killing almost 1/2 of them and removing the influence of Latin on English. The replacement clergy used English.

The loss of so many people allowed English-speaking peasants to take over empty homes and demand higher wages. The price of land fell as there was no one to work the fields nor was there as much demand for products with so many dead. The bonds of serfdom were severely broken.

When the nobility tried to push the peasants back onto the lands as serfs, it led several revolts. When communicating both the nobility and peasants used English. The nobility used English to make promises that were not kept and destroy resistance their rule.

Aftermath

Through war and disease, English rose to prominence again. By the 1400’s English was the language of education and official business. In 1399, Henry IV was sworn in as king with the use of the English language. After three centuries of oppression, the English language emerged as the language of the elite as well as the commoner again.

Norman Conquest and the English Language

The year 1066 is highly significant in the English language. This is the year that William, the Duke of Normandy, conquer most of what today is known as Great Britain. The effects of this upon the English language was significant.

Background

As a background, when the King of England, Edward the Confessor died, he named William, the Duke of Normandy, as King of England. Edward was childless but his mother was from Normandy, which is located in France.  As such, the English court was already full of French-speaking Normans as Edward’s supporters.

Naming a Norman to the throne of England did not sit well with one Edward’s biggest rivals, Earl Harold Godwineson. Harold quickly led a rebellion against Willam but was defeated and William of Normandy became known as William the Conqueror and was crowned King of England Christmas day of 1066.

Aftermath

Over the next three centuries under French rule, the English language was invaded by as many as 10,000 French words. Such words as “city”, “bacon”, “biscuit”, and “felony” to name a few. The English court quickly became a French court.

The English court quickly became a French court. All positions of power were taken by Normans. This was not only because of conquest but also because most of the English nobility and leadership were killed in the Battle of Hastings.

The only way to get ahead in this context was to learn French and leave English in the home. In many ways, French became a high language and English was relegated to a low language almost as a diglossia situation. English was the language of the poor and French of the elite. Most documents during this time were produced in French and even written English was pushed aside.

The division by class has led some to allege that this kept English alive. This is to say that the rich and the poor had their own separate languages and both work to preserve their own manner of communication.

Conclusion

War is yet another factor to consider when looking at the development of a language. Even without intending to do so William the Conqueror made a major impact on the English language simply by sticking to his mother tongue of French when he took the English throne. To this day, loan words from French play a major role in communication in the English language.

The Beginnings of English

What we now know as English today has a long and complex history. With any subject that is complex, it is necessary to pick a starting point and work from there. For this post, we will date the origins of English from the early 5th century.

Early History

English was not born in England.  Rather, it came to England through the invasion of Germanic warriors. These “barbarian” hoards push the indigenous Celts and Britons almost into the ocean.

However, it was not only war and conquest that brought English. The roots of English arrived also in the immigration of farmers. Either way, English slowly grew to be one of the prominent languages of England.

In the late sixth century, the Roman Catholic Church came to England. This left a mark on English in the various words taken from Latin and Greek. Such words as “angels”, “pope”, and “minister” all arrived through the Catholic Church.

Vikings and Alfred the Great

By the 8th and 9th century the Vikings were invading lands all over Europe. It was the Danes in particular that almost wiped out the inhabitants of England. However, thanks to the craftiness of Alfred the Great the Danes were defeated and their leader Guthrum was so shocked at Alfred’s comeback victory that he was baptized and became a Christian.

Alfred set to work using the English language to unite the people. He supported education in the English language and the use of language in general. Furthermore, to try and prevent future conflicts with the Danes, Alfred gave them some territory called “Dane Law” where they could live. Naturally, staying in the area meant that the Danish language had an effect on English as well.

Alfred also supported religion. Thanks to the Viking invasions, there was almost no priest left in the entire country. Alfred could barely find a priest who could read Latin. Without religious scholarship, there could be no passing on of religious teachings. This lead Alfred to encourage the translation books in other languages (like Latin) into English.

Conclusion

The story of English is not one continuous rise to prominence. There were several experiences of up and down as the language was in England. For example, there was a time when the French language almost overran the country. Yet this is a story for another day.

Common Speech Functions

Functions of speech are different ways of communicating. The differences among the speech functions have to do with the intention of the communication. Different intention or goal leads to the use of a different function of speech. There are many different functions if speech but we will look at the six that are listed below.

  • Referential
  • Directive
  • Expressive
  • Phatic
  • Poetic
  • Metalinguistic

Referential

Referential speech provides information. For example, a person might share the time with someone (“It’s five o’clock” ). Referential speech can often provide information to a question (“what time is it?”).

Directive

Directives or commands that try to get someone to do something. Examples include “turn left” or “sit down”. The context of a directive is one in which something needs or should be done. As such, one person tries to make one or more other persons do something. Even children say directives towards their parents (“give me the ball”).

Expressive

Expressive speech shares a person’s feelings. An example would be “I feel happy today!”. Expressive communication can at times provide clear evidence of how someone is doing.

Phatic

Phatic speech is closely related to expressive speech. However, the main difference is that phatic speech is focused on the well-being of others while expressive speech focuses on the feelings of the person speaking.

An example of phatic speech is saying “how are you?”. This is clearly a question but it is focusing on how the person is doing. Another phrase might be “I hope you get well soon.” Again the focus on is on the welfare of someone else.

Poetic

Poetic speech is speech that is highly aesthetic. Songs and poetry are examples of language that is poetic in nature. An example would be the famous nursery rhyme “Roses are red, violets are blue…..). Poetic speech often has a powerful emotional effect as well.

Metalinguistic 

Metalinguistic speech is communication about language. For example, this entire blog post would be considered by many to be metalinguistic because I a talking about language and not really using language as described in the other functions of speech.

Exceptions

There are many more categories than the ones presented. In addition, the categories presented are not mutually exclusive. Many phrases can be correctly classified into many different categories. For example, if someone says “I love you” you could argue that it’s expressive, poetic, and or even phatic. What is missing is the context in which such a statement is made.

Conclusion

The ways in which we communicated have been briefly explained here. Understanding how people communicate will help others to better understand those around us and improve our style of communicating.

Theories on Language Change in Groups

As people interact with each other, it naturally leads to changes in how communication takes place. Fortunately, there are several views that attempt to explain in a systematic way how language changes. In general, there are at least 3 viewpoints on how language changes. These viewpoints are

  • Group to group
  • Style to style
  • Word to word

In this post, we will look at each of these viewpoints on language change.

Group to Group

The group to group hypothesis sees language change like a wave in a lake. The changes originate from one or more groups and slowly spreads to other groups.  This happens because different groups interact with each other. Furthermore, many people are members of more than one group and bring the language they use in one group to another.

Style to Style

The style to style hypothesis suggests that language changes as there are shifts between language styles. For example, from a formal way of speaking to a colloquial way of speaking and vice versa.

A change in the language that is seen as prestigious is usually from a higher more affluent section of society. Of course, the opposite is also true and un-prestigious language change comes from the least fortunate.

The style of a speaker also changes over time. The younger the person is the more they use vernacular and slang in general.

Word to Word 

There are times in which individual words will change within a language and this change will spread to other languages. This is known as lexical diffusion.

Such a change can take decades and even century to take place. It is also common when two languages interact through mutually changing each other pronunciation. Such as the role of French in England for several centuries.

Conclusion

It is not so much that any of the examples discussed here are exclusively responsible for change. Rather, all of these examples play varying roles in influencing changes in a language.

Social Networks and Language Habits

In this post, we will look at how relationships that people have can play a role in how they communicate with those around them. Understanding this can help people to comprehend differences in communication style.

In sociolinguistics, social networks can refer to the pattern of informal relationships that people have and experience on a consistent basis. There are two dimensions that can be used to describe a person’s social network. These two terms are density and plexity.

Density

The density of a social network refers to how well people in your network know each other. In other words, density is how well your friends know each other. We all have friends, we have friends who know each other, and we have friends who do not know each other.

If many of your friends know each other then the density is high. If your friends do not know each other the density is low. An example of a high-density network would be the typical family. Everybody knows each other. An example of a low-density network would be employees at a large company. In such a situation it would not be hard to find a friend of a friend that you do not know.

Plexity

Plexity is a  measure of the various types of interactions that you are involved in with other people. Plexity can be uniplex, which involves one type of interaction with a person or multiplex, which involves many types of interactions with a person.

An example of a uniplex interaction may be a worker with their boss. They only interact at work. A multiplex interaction would again be with members of one’s family. When dealing with family interactions could include school, work, recreation, shopping, etc. In all these examples it is the same people interacting in a multitude of settings.

Language Use in Social Networks

A person’s speech almost always reflects the network that they belong too. If the group is homogeneous we will almost always speak the way everyone else does assuming we want to be a part of the group. For example, a group of local construction workers will more than likely use similar language patterns due to the homogeneous nature of the group while a group of ESL bankers would not as they come from many different countries.

When a person belongs to more than one social network they will almost always unconsciously change the way they communicate based on the context. For example, anybody who has moved away from home communicates differently where they live than when they communicate with family and friends back home. This is true even when moving from one place to another in the same province or state in your country.

Conclusion

The language that people employ is affected by the dynamics of the social network. We naturally will adjust our communication to accommodate who we are talking too.

Teaching Vocabulary to ESL Students

Language acquisition requires the acquisition of thousands of words for fluent communication. This is a daunting task for the most talented and eager student. Fortunately, there are some basic concepts to keep in mind when teaching students vocabulary. This post will share some suggestion and help students to develop their vocabulary in the target language.

Learn Vocabulary in Context

A common technique for teaching vocabulary in language classrooms is out of context memorization. Students are given a long and often boring list of words to memorize. There is little immediate use of these words and they are quickly forgotten after the quiz.

Instead, it is better to teach new words within a framework in which they will be used. For example, students learn business terms through role play at a bank or store rather than through a stack of index cards. The context of the bank connects the words to a real-world setting, which is critical for retention in the long-term memory.

Reduce Reliance on Bilingual Dictionaries

This may seem like a surprise, however, the proliferation of bilingual dictionaries provides the definition to a word but does not normally help with memorization and the future use of the word. If the goal is communication then bilingual dictionaries will slow a student’s ability to achieve mastery.

Children learn a language much faster due in part to the immense effort it takes to learn what new words mean without the easy answer of a dictionary. The effort leads to memorization which allows for the use of the language. This serves as a valuable lesson for adults who prefer the easy route of bilingual dictionaries.

Set Aside Class Time to Deal with Vocabulary

The teacher should have a systematic plan for helping students to develop relevant vocabulary. This can be done through activities as well as the teaching of context clues. Vocabulary development needs to be intentional, which means there must be a systematic plan for supporting students in this.

However, there are also times were unplanned vocabulary teaching can take place. For example, while the students are reading together they become puzzled over a word you thought they knew (this is common). When this happens a break with explanation can be helpful. This is especially true if you let the students work together without dictionaries to try and determining the meaning of the word.

Conclusion

Vocabulary is a necessary element of language learning. It would be nice to ignore this but normally this is impossible.  As such, teachers need to support students in their vocabulary development.

Assessing Writing from a Discourse Perspective

Often, when teachers provide feedback on a student’s writing, they tend to focus on the grammatical/punctuation aspects of the paper. However, this often does not make a lasting impression and it also can frequently cause students to freeze up when the need to write as they become obsessed with the details of grammar rather than with the shaping of ideas.

Another approach to providing feedback to students is to analyze and assess their writing from the perspective of discourse. Discourse rules have to do with the overall structure of a paper. It is the big picture aspects of writing. Clear discourse can often help to overcome poor grammar/punctuation but excellent grammar/punctuation can overcome a poorly structured paper. This post will provide some of the components of discourse as they relate to writing a paper.

The Organizational Level

At the highest broadest level is the organizational level. At this level, you are looking to be sure that the students have included an introduction, body, and conclusion to their paper. This seems elementary but it is common for students to forget to include an introduction and or a conclusion to their writing.

You also want to check that the introduction, body, and conclusion are in proportion to each other based on how long the paper was intended to be. Often, students write short intros, have a long body section, and have little conclusion as they are exhausted from the writing.

At this point, thorough reading is not taking place but rather you are glancing to see if all the parts are there.  You also are searching to see if the ideas in the introduction, are present in the body, and reiterated in the conclusion. Students frequently wander when writing as they do not plan what to say but rather what and see what Google provides them.

The Section Level

At the section level, you are looking to make sure that the various parts that belong within the introduction, body, and conclusion are present.  For the introduction, if it is a standard research, paper some of the things to look for include the following

  • background to the problem
  • problem statement
  • objectives
  • significance statement

For the body section, things to look for includes

  • Discussion of the first objective
  • Discussion of the second objective
  • etc

For the conclusion, it is more fluid in how this can be done but you can look for the following

  • Summary of the introduction
  • Main point of each objective
  • Concluding remark(s)

First, you are checking that these components are there. Second, you are checking for the clarity. Normally, if the problem and objectives are unclear the entire paper is doomed to incomprehensibility.

However, bad grammar is not a reason that problems and objectives are unclear. Instead, it may be the problem is too broad, cannot be dealt with in the space provided, etc. Objectives normally have the same problem but can also be unrelated to the problem as well.

Sometimes the problem and objectives are to narrowly defined in terms of the expertise of the student. As such, it is highly subjective in terms of what works but the comments given to the student need to be substantive and not just something vague as “look at this a second time.”

If you cannot give substantive feedback it is normally better to ignore whatever weakness you found until you can articulate it clearly. If this is not possible it’s better to remain silent.

The body section must address all objectives mentioned in the introduction. Otherwise, the reader will become confused as promises made in the introduction were never fulfilled in the body.

The conclusion is more art than science. However, there should be an emphasis on what has been covered as well as what does this mean for the reader.

The Paragraph Level

At the paragraph level, you are looking for two things in every paragraph

  • main idea
  • supporting details

Every paragraph should have one main idea, which summarizes the point of the paragraph. The main idea is always singular. If there is more than one main idea then the student should develop a second paragraph for the second main idea.

In addition, the supporting details in the paragraph should be on topic with the main idea. Often, students will have inconsistencies between the main idea and the supporting details. This can be solved by doing one of the following

  • Change the main idea to be consistent with the supporting details
  • Change the supporting details to be consistent with the main idea

At the paragraph level, you are also assessing that the individual paragraphs are supporting the objective of the section. This again has to do with focusing on a singular thought in a particular section and within each paragraph. Students love to wander when writing as stated previously. Writing is about breaking down a problem into smaller and smaller pieces through explanation.

Conclusion

The assessment of the discourse of a paper should come before the grammatical marking of it. When ideas flow, the grammatical issues are harder to notice often. It is the shaping of discourse that engages the thinking and improves the writing of a student in ways that grammatical comments can never achieve.

Writing Techniques for the ESL Classroom

In-class writing is common in many many ESL contexts. This post will provide several different ways that teachers can get their students writing in an ESL classroom.

Imitation

Perhaps the simplest way to get ESL students writing is to have them imitate what is read to them. This allows the students to learn the conventions of writing in the target language.

This is usually done through some form of dictation. The teacher reads a few words or reads slowly. This provides students with time to write down what they heard.

The actual marking of such an activity would involve the use of rubrics or some sort of count system for the number of words the student was able to write down. Often, spelling and pronunciation are not considered major factors in the grade because of the rush nature of the writing.

Controlled and Guided

Controlled writing involves having students modify an existing writing sample. For example, changing all the verb in a paragraph from past to present. This will require them too often change more than just the verbs but other aspects of writing as well

Guided writing involves having the students respond to some sort of question or stimuli. For example, the students may watch a video and then are asked to write about and or answer questions. They may also try to rewrite something that they heard at normal speed.

Self-Writing

The most common form of self-writing is the writing of a journal. The writing is only intended for the student. Even note-taking is considered a form of self-writing even though it is not normally comprehensible to others.

Self-writing, particular journals, can be useful in developing reflective thinking in students in general even with the language barriers of writing in another language.

Display  and Real Writing

Display writing is writing that is primarily intended for the teacher, who already knows the answer that the student is addressing. Examples of this type of writing include essays and other writing for the purpose of a summative assessment. The student is literally displaying what they already know.

Real writing is writing in which the reader does not know the answer to that the student is addressing. As such, one of the main differences between display and real writing is the knowledge that the audience of the writing has.

Conclusion

When working with students it is important to provide them with learning experiences that stimulate the growth and development that they need. Understanding the various forms of writing that can happen in an ESL classroom can provide teachers with ideas on how to help their students.

Understanding ESL Writing Patterns Across Cultures

When people are learning English they will almost always bring how they communicate with them when they are speaking or writing in English. However, for native speakers of English, the written communication style of ESL students can be bewildering even if it is grammatically sound.

This phenomenon of the L1 influencing the writing style of the L2 is known as contrastive rhetoric. This post will provide examples from different cultures in terms of how they approach writing in English and compare it to how a native-speaking person from a Western country writes to show the differences.

The Native English Speaker Writing Example

Below is a simple paragraph written by a Native English speaking person.

Exercise is good for a person for several reasons. For example, exercises helps to strengthen the body. As a person moves he or she is utilizing their muscles which promotes maintenance and potentially growth of the muscle. Second, exercises helps to remove waste from the body. Strenuous exercise causes people to sweat and  breath deeply and this increases the removal of harmful elements from the body. Lastly, exercise makes people feel good. Exercise encourages the release of various hormones that makes a person feel better.  Therefore, people should exercise in order to enjoy these clear benefits

The writing style of an English speaker is usually highly linear in nature. In the example above, the first sentence is clearly the main idea or the point. Right from the beginning the English writer shares with you where they stand on the subject. There is little mystery or suspense as to what will be talked about.

The rest of the paragraph is supporting details for the main idea. The supporting details start with the discourse markers of “for example”, “second”, and “lastly”. Everything in the paragraph is laid out in a step-by-step manner that is highly clear as this is important for English speakers.

Unfortunately, this style of writing is what many ESL students from other cultures is compared too. The next examples have perfect “English” however, the style of communication is not in this linear manner.

Eastern Writing Style

According to Robert Kaplan, people from  Eastern countries write in a circular indirect manner. This means that Eastern writing lacks the direct point or main idea of western writing and also lacks the clearly structured supporting details. Below is the same paragraph example as the one in the English example but written in a more Eastern style

As a person moves he or she is utilizing their muscles which promotes maintenance and potentially growth of the muscle. Strenuous exercise causes people to sweat and  breath deeply and this increases the removal of harmful elements from the body. Exercise encourages the release of various hormones that makes a person feel better.

The example is grammatical sound but for a native English speaker there are several problems with the writing

  1. There is no main idea. The entire paragraph is missing a point. The writer is laying down claims about their point but they never actually tell you what the point is. Native speakers want a succinct summary of the point when information is shared with them. Eastern writers prefer an indirect or implied main ideas because being too direct is considered rude. In addition, if you are too clear in an Eastern context it is hard to evade and prevaricate if someone is offended by what is said.
  2. The discourse markers are missing. There are no “for example” or “second” mention. Discourse markers give a paragraph a strong sense of linear direction. The native English speaker can tell where they are in a train of thought when these markers are there. When they are missing the English reader is wondering when is the experience is going to be over.
  3. There are no transition sentences. In the native English speaking example, every discourse marker served as the first word in a transition sentence which moves the reader from the first supporting detail to the next supporting detail. The Eastern example has only details without in guidepost from one detail to the other. If a paragraph is really long this can become overwhelming for the Native English speaker.

The example is highly fluent and this kind of writing is common in many English speaking countries that are not found in the West. Even with excellent knowledge of the language the discourse skills affect the ability to communicate.

Conclusion

My students have shared with me that English writing is clear and easy to understand but too direct in nature. Whereas the complaints of teachers are the ESL students written is unclear and indirect.

This is not a matter of right in wrong but differences in how to communicate when writing. A student who is aware of how they communicate can make adjustments so that whoever they are speaking with can understand them. The goal should not be to change students but to make them aware of their assumptions so they can adjust depending on the situation and do not change them to act a certain way all the time.

Writing as a Process or Product

In writing pedagogy, there are at least two major ways of seeing writing. These two approaches see writing as a process or as a product. This post will explain each along with some of the drawbacks of both.

Writing as a Product

Writing as a product entailed the teacher setting forth standards in terms of rhetoric, vocabulary use, organization, etc. The students were given several different examples that could be used as models from which to base their own paper.

The teacher may be available for one-on-one support but this was not necessarily embedded in the learning experience. In addition, the teacher was probably only going to see the final draft.

For immature writers, this is an intimidating learning experience. To be required to develop a paper with only out of context examples from former students is difficult to deal with. In addition, without prior feedback in terms of progress, students have no idea if they are meeting expectations. The teacher is also clueless as to student progress and this means that both students and teachers can be “surprised” by poorly written papers and failing students.

The lack of communication while writing can encourage students to try and overcome their weaknesses through plagiarism. This is especially true for ESL students who lack the mastery of the language while also often having different perspectives on what academic dishonesty is.

Another problem is the ‘A’ students will simply copy the examples the teacher provided and just put in their own topic and words in it. This leads to an excellent yet mechanical paper that does not allow the students to develop as writers. In other words, the product approach provides too much support for strong students and not enough support for weak ones.

Writing as a Process

In writing as a process, the teacher supports the student through several revisions of a paper. The teacher provides support for the development of ideas, organization, coherency, and other aspects of writing. All this is done through the teacher providing feedback to the student as well as dealing with any questions and or concerns the student may have with their paper.

This style of writing teaching helps students to understand what kind of writer they are. Students are often so focused on completing writing assignments that they never learn what their tendencies and habits as a writer our. Understanding their own strengths and weaknesses can help them to develop compensatory strategies to complete assignments. This can of self-discovery can happen through one-on-one conferences with the teacher.

Off course, such personal attention takes a great deal of time. However, even brief 5 minutes conferences with students can reap huge rewards in their writing. It also saves time at the end when marking because you as the teacher are already familiar with what the students are writing about and the check of the final papers is just to see if the students have revised their paper according to the advice you gave.

The process perspective gives each student individual attention to growing as an individual. ‘A’ students get what they need as well as weaker students. Everyone is compared to their own progress as a writer.

Conclusion

Generally, the process approach is more appropriate for teaching writing. The exceptions being that the students are unusually competent or they are already familiar with your expectations from prior writing experiences.

Discourse Markers and ESL

Discourse markers are used in writing to help organize ideas. They are often those “little words” that native speakers use effortlessly as they communicate but are misunderstood by ESL speakers. This post will provide examples of various discourse markers.

Logical Sequence

Logical sequence discourse markers are used to place ideas in an order that is comprehensible to the listener/reader. They can be summative for concluding a longer section or resultative which is used to indicate the effect of something.

Examples of summative discourse markers include

  • overall, to summarize, therefore, so far

An example of summarizing discourse markers is below. The bold word is the marker.

Smoking causes cancer. Studies show that people who smoke have higher rates of lung, esophagus, and larynx. Therefore, it is dangerous to smoke.

The paragraph is clear. The marker “Therefore” is summarizing what was said in the prior two sentences.

Examples of resultative discourse markers include the following

  • so, consequently, therefore, as a result

An example of resultative discourse markers is below. The bold word is the marker.

Bob smoked cigarettes for 20 years. As a result,he developed lung cancer

Again, the second sentence with the marker “As a result” explain the consequence of smoking for 20 years.

Constrastive

Constrastive markers are words that indicate that the next idea is the opposite of the previous idea. There are three ways that this can be done. Replacive share an alternative idea, antithetic markers share ideas in opposition to the previous one. Lastly, concessive markers share unexpected information given the context.

Below are several words and or phrases that are replacive markers

  • alternatively, on  the other hand, rather

Below is an example of a replacive contrast marker used in a short paragraph. Bold word is the replacive

Smoking is a deadly lifestyle choice. This bad habit has killed millions of people. On the other hand, a vegetarian lifestyle has been found to be beneficial to the health of many people

Antithetic markers include the following

  • conversely, instead, by contrast

Below is an example of antithetic marker used in a paragraph

A long and healthy life is unusually for those who choose to smoke. Instead, people who smoke live lives that are shorter and more full of disease and sickness.

Concessive markers includes some of the words below

  • In spite of, nevertheless, anyway, anyhow

Below is an example of a concessive marker used in a paragraph

Bob smoked for 20 years. In spite of this, he was an elite athlete and had perfect health.

Conclusion

Discourse markers play a critical role in communicating the finer points of ideas that are used in communication. Understanding how these words are used can help ESL students in comprehending what they hear and read.

Developing Purpose to Improve Reading Comprehension

Many of us are familiar with the experience of being able to read almost anything but perhaps not being able to understand what it is that we read. As the ability to sound out words becomes automatic there is not always a corresponding increase in being able to comprehend text.

It is common, especially in school, for students to be required to read something without much explanation. For more mature readers, what is often needed is a sense of purpose for reading. In this post, we will look at ways to develop a sense of purpose in reading.

Purpose Provides Motivation

Students who know why they are reading know what the are looking for while reading. The natural result of this is that students are less likely to get distract by information that is not useful for them.

For example, if the teacher tells their students to read “the passage and identifying all of the animals in it and be ready to share tomorrow.” Students know what they are suppose to do (identifying all animals in the passage) and why they need to do it (share tomorrow). the clear directions prevent students from getting distracted by other information in the reading.

Providing purpose doesn’t necessarily require the students love and enjoy the rational but it is helpful if a teacher can provide a purpose that is motivating.

Different Ways to Instill Purpose

In addition to the example above there are several quick ways to provide purpose.

  • Provide vocabulary list-Having the students search for the meaning of specific words provides a clear sense of purpose and provides a context in which the words appear naturally. However, students often get bogged down with the minutia of the definitions and completely miss the overall meaning of the reading passage. This approach is great for beginning and low intermediate readers.
  • Identifying the main ideas in the reading-This is a great way to gets students to see the “big picture” of a reading. It is especially useful for short to moderately long readings such as articles and perhaps chapters and useful for intermediate to advanced readers in particular.
  •  Let students develop their own questions about the text-By fair my most favorite strategy. Students will initial skim the passage to get an idea of what it is about. After this, they develop several questions about the passage that they want to find the answer too. While reading the passage, the students answer their own questions. This approach provides opportunities for metacognition as well developing autonomous learning skills. This strategy is for advanced readers who are comfortable with vocabulary and summarizing text.

Conclusion

Students, like most people,  need a raison de faire (reason to do) something. The teacher can provide this, which has benefits. Another approach would be to allow the students to develop their own purpose. How this is done depends on the philosophy of the teacher as well as the abilities and tendencies of the students

Factors that Affect Pronunciation

Understanding and teaching pronunciation has been controversial in TESOL for many years. At one time, pronunciation was taught in a high bottom-up behavioristic manner. Students were drilled until they had the appropriate “accent” (American, British, Australian, etc.). To be understood meant capturing one of the established accents.

Now there is more of an emphasis on top-down features such as stress, tone, and rhythm. There is now an emphasis on being more non-directive and focus not on the sounds being generated by the student but the comprehensibility of what they say.

This post will explain several common factors that influence pronunciation. These common factors include

  • Motivation & Attitude
  • Age & Exposure
  • Native language
  • Natural ability

Motivation & Language Ego

For many people, it’s hard to get something done when they don’t care. Excellent pronunciation is often affected by motivation. If the student does not care they will probably not improve much. This is particularly true when the student reaches a level where people can understand them. Once they are comprehensible many students lose interests in further pronunciation development

Fortunately, a teacher can use various strategies to motivate students to focus on improving their pronunciation. Creating relevance is one way in which students intrinsic motivation can be developed.

Attitude is closely related to motivation. If the students have negative views of the target language and are worried that learning the target language is a cultural threat this will make language acquisition difficult. Students need to understand that language learning does involve learning of the culture of the target language.

Age & Exposure

Younger students, especially 1-12 years of age, have the best chance at developing native-like pronunciation. If the student is older they will almost always retain an “accent.” However, fluency and accuracy can achieve the same levels regards of the initial age at which language study began.

Exposure is closely related to age. The more authentic experiences that a student has with the language the better their pronunciation normally is. The quality of the exposure is the naturalness of the setting and the actual engagement of the student in hearing and interacting with the language.

For example, an ESL student who lives in America will probably have much more exposure to the actual use of English than someone in China. This, in turn, will impact their pronunciation.

Native Language

The similarities between the mother tongue and the target language can influence pronunciation. For example, it is much easier to move from Spanish to English pronunciation than from Chinese to English.

For the teacher, understanding the sound system’s of your students’ languages can help a great deal in helping them with difficulties in pronunciation.

Innate Ability

Lastly, some just get it while others don’t. Different students have varying ability to pick up the sounds of another language. A way around this is helping students to know their own strengths and weaknesses. This will allow them to develop strategies to improve.

Conclusion

Whatever your position on pronunciation. There are ways to improve your students’ pronunciation if you are familiar with what influences it. The examples in this post provided some basic insight into what affects this.

Tips for Developing Techniques for ESL Students

Technique development is the actual practice of TESOL. All of the ideas expressed in approaches and methods are just ideas. The development of a technique is the application of knowledge in a way that benefits the students. This post would provide ideas and guidelines for developing speaking and listening techniques.

Techniques should Encourage Intrinsic Motivation

When developing techniques for your students. The techniques need to consider the goals, abilities, and interest of the students whenever possible. If the students are older adults who want to develop conversational skills heavy stress on reading would be demotivating. This is because reading was not on of the student’s goals.

When techniques do not align with student goals there is a loss of relevance, which is highly demotivating. Of course, as the teacher, you do not always give them what they want but general practice suggests some sort of dialog over the direction of the techniques.

Techniques should be Authentic

The point here is closely related to the first one on motivation. Techniques should generally be as authentic as possible. If you have a choice between real text and textbook it is usually better to go with real-world text.

Realistic techniques provide a context in which students can apply their skills in a setting that is similar to the world but within the safety of a classroom.

Techniques should Develop Skills through Integration and Isolation

When developing techniques there should be a blend of techniques that develop skill in an integrated manner, such as listening and speaking and or some other combination. There should also be an equal focus on techniques that develop on one skill such as writing.

The reason for this is so that the students develop balanced skills. Skill-integrated techniques are highly realistic but students can use one skill to compensate for weaknesses in others. For example, a talker just keeps on talking without ever really listening.

When skills our work on in isolation it allows for deficiencies to be clearly identified and work on. Doing this will only help the students in integrated situations.

Encourage Strategy Development

Through techniques, students need to develop their abilities to learn on their own autonomously. This can be done through having students practice learning strategies you have shown them in the past. Examples include context clues, finding main ideas, identifying  facts from opinions etc

The development of skills takes a well-planned approach to how you will teach and provide students with the support to succeed.

Conclusion

Understanding some of the criteria that can be used in creating techniques for the ESL classroom is beneficial for teachers. The ideas presented here provide some basic guidance for enabling technique development.