Institutional Context of Language Teaching

The context in which language teaching happens influences how the language is taught to the students and how the teacher approaches language instruction. Generally, the two most two most common context in which formal language instruction takes places is at the primary/secondary and tertiary levels.

How language is viewed at these two levels depends on whether they see the mother-tongue of the students as subtractive (negative) or additive (positive) to acquiring the target language. The purpose of this post is to explain how language teaching is approached based on these two context.

Primary/Secondary

There are several language models used at the primary/secondary level. Some of these models include submersion, immersion, and bilingualism.

Submersion is a model in which the student is thrown into the new language without any or little support. This is derived from a subtractive view of the mother tongue. Naturally, many students struggle for years with this approach.

Immersion allows for students to have content-area classes with other students who have the same mother tongue with support from a trained ESL teacher. The mother tongue is seen as additive in this context

Bilingualism involves receiving instruction in both the first and second language. This can be done for the purpose of transitioning completely to the second language or to try and maintain or enrich the first language.

Tertiary

At the tertiary level, many of the same models of language are employed but given slightly different names. Common models at the tertiary level include pre-academic, EAP, ESP, and social.

Pre-Academic language teaching is the tertiary equivalent of submersion. Generally, the students are taught English with a goal of submerging them in the target language when they begin formal studies. This is the same as mainstreaming which is one form of submersion

EAP or English for Academic Purposes is essentially advanced language teaching that focuses on scholarly type subject matter in pre-academic language programs.  This is often difficult to teach as it requires a refinement of how the student approaches the language.

ESP or English for Specific Purposes is a general form of EAP. Instead of the focus being academic as in EAP, ESP can be focused on business, tourism, transportation, etc. Students learn English focused on a specific  industry or occupation.

Social programs for English provide a brief exposure to English for the sake of enjoyment. Students learn the basics of listening and speaking in a non-academic context.

Conclusion

There are various programs available to support students in acquiring a language. The programs vary in essentially no support to support in maintaining both languages. Which program to adopt at an institution depends on the context of learning and the philosophy of the school.

Teaching Advanced ESL Students

Advanced ESL students have their own unique set of traits and challenges that an ESL teacher must deal. This post will explain some of these unique traits as well as how to support advanced ESL students.

Supporting Advanced ESL Students

By this point, the majority of the language processing is automatic. This means that the teacher no longer needs to change the speed at which they talk in most situations.

In addition, the students have become highly independent. This necessitates that the teacher focus on supporting the learning experience  of the students rather than trying to play a more directive role.

The learning activities used in the classroom can now cover a full range of possibilities. Almost all causal reading material is appropriate. Study skills can be addressed at a much deeper level. Such skills as skimming, scanning, determining purpose, etc. can be taught and addressed in the learning. Students can also enjoy debates and author opinion generating experiences.

The Challenges of Advanced ESL Students

One of the challenges of advanced students is they often have a habit of asking the most detailed questions about the most obscure aspects of the target language. To deal this requires a PhD in linguistics or the ability to know what the students really need to know and steer away from mundane grammatical details. It is very tempting to try and answer these types of questions but the average native-speaker does not know all the details of imperfect past tense but rather are much more adept at using it.

Another frustrating problem with advanced students is the ability to continue to make progress in their language development. With any skill, as one gets closer to mastery, the room for improvement becomes smaller and smaller. To move from an advanced student to a superior student takes make several small rather than sweeping adjustments.

This is one reason advanced students often like to ask those minute grammar questions. These small question is where they know they are weak when it comes to communicating. This can be especially stressful if the student is a few points away from reaching some sort of passing score on an English proficiency exam (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.). Minor adjustments need to reach the minimum score are difficult to determine and train.

Conclusion

After beginners, teaching advanced esl students is perhaps the next most challenging teaching experience. Advanced ESL students have a strong sense of what they know and do not know. What makes this challenging is the information they need to understand can be considered some what specializes and not easy to articulate for many teachers.

Using Groups and Groupings in Activities in Moodle

Making groups and groupings are two features in Moodle that can be used for collaboration and or for organizational purposes in a class. This post will provide examples of how to use groups in an activity in Moodle

Using Groups/Groupings in a Forum

Groups and Groupings can be used in a Forum in order to allow groups to interact during a discussion topic. It is assumed that you already know how to make a forum in Moodle.  Therefore, the instruction in this post will start from the settings window for forums in Moodle.

  1.  The option that we need to adjust to use groups in forums is the “Common Module Settings”. If you click on this, you will see the following.

Screenshot from 2016-12-05 09-43-54.png

2. Depending on your goals there are several different ways that groups can be used.

  • Group mode can be set to visible or separate groups. If groups are visible different groups can see each others discussion but they can only post in their own groups discussion.
  • If separate group is selected. Groups will only be able to see their own group’s discussion and no other.
  • If the grouping feature is used. Only the groups that are a part of that grouping are added to the forum. The group mode determines if the groups can see each other or not.

In this example we will select group mode set to “visible groups” and groupings to “none once you click “save and display” you will see the following.

Screenshot from 2016-12-05 11-24-56.png

3. To see what each group said in their discussion click “all participants” and a drop down menu will be displayed that shows each group.

Using Grouping for Assignments

To use groups in assignments you repeat the steps above. In this example, we will use the grouping feature.

  1. The features are viewable in the picture below. I selected “separate groups” and I selected the grouping I wanted. This means only groups in the grouping will have this assignment available to them

screenshot-from-2016-12-05-11-28-00

2. Another set a features you want to set for an assignment is the “group submission settings”. The options are self-explanatory but here is what I selected.

Screenshot from 2016-12-05 11-31-12.png

3. Click save a display and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-05 11-32-33.png

The red messages just states that some people are in more than one group or not in any group. For this example, this is not a problem as I did not assign all students to a group.

Conclusion

The concepts presented here for forums and assignments apply to most activities involving groups in Moodle. Group is very useful for large classes in which students need a space in which they can having meaningful communication with a handful of peers.

Making Auto-Groups and the Grouping Feature in Moodle

In a prior post, we looked at how to make groups manually in Moodle. In this post, we will look at two additional features in making groups and they are

  • The Auto-group feature
  • The Grouping feature

Making Auto-Groups

Auto-groups allows you to have Moodle make groups based on a criteria you give it. If the  characteristics of the groups doesn’t matter that is a fast convenient way to put students in groups. Below are the steps

  1. After logging in and going to a course where you have administrative privilege go to course administration->users->groups. If you do this correctly you should see the following

screenshot-from-2016-11-30-08-30-37

2. Click on Auto-Create Groups and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-07-05.png

3. The page is mostly self explanatory. Groups can be formed based on the number of groups you want or the number of people per group. Group formation can also be limited by role in the class or by last name, ID, etc. Before groups are finalized you can use the preview button to look at the potential groups. Below is an example of a completed group formation

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-12-52.png

The auto-group feature made 12 groups and the names of the members are listed in the table. Once you are satisfied you click submit and return to the previous page

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-14-02.png

Using Groupings

Groupings allows you to place several groups into a “grouping” this allows you to add several groups to an activity at once. In order to use groupings you must first make groups which we have already done. Just like with the group feature in which the same person can be a member of several groups so can one group be a member of several groupings. Below are the steps to making groupings

  1. On the groups page, click on grouping and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-22-03.png

2. Click on  create grouping and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-23-26.png

3. We will give the grouping a name and click save changes and this will send you to the previous page shown below

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-34-43.png

4. To add a group to the grouping, you need to click on the people icon under the edit column and you will see the following

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-36-06.png

5. Now we will pick several groups to add to our grouping and click add as shown below

screenshot-from-2016-12-02-08-37-37

6. When you are done adding groups you click on back to groupings to finish the process as shown below

Screenshot from 2016-12-02 08-38-46.png

Conclusion

We now know how to make groups manually and automatically. We also know how to create groupings. However we have not yet learn how to actually using groups and or groupings in Moodle learning experiences. This will be a topic of a future post

Making Groups in Moodle

One of the many features available for teachers to use is the group mode for activities within a course in Moodle. This post will look at how to setup groups in a Moodle course.

What to Use the Group Mode For?

As with other features in Moodle, the challenge with the group mode is that you can use it for almost anything. The unlimited variety in terms of the application of the group mode makes it challenge for novices to understand and appreciate it. This is because as humans we often want a single clear way  to use something. Below are several different ways in which the group mode can be used in a Moodle course.

  • If the same Moodle course is used for two or more different sections the group mode can be used to put students in the same moodle course into different groups by section. For example, if a teacher is teaching two sections of English 101, section 1 would be one group and section 2 would be the other group.
  • Groups can also be used so that only certain groups see certain things in a Moodle course. In Moodle, you can limit who sees what be restricting to a certain group.
  • A more traditional use is to have students placed in groups to complete group assignments. Placing them in groups allows the group to submit one assignment that Moodle gives all members of the group credit for when it is marked.

If this is not confusing enough, you can also have students in several different groups simultaneously if you wanted. Therefore, whenever you are trying to use Moodle you need to consider what your goal is rather than whether it is possible to do it in Moodle. As stated before, the problem is the flexibility of Moodle and not its inability to facilitate a learning task.

In this post, we are only going to learn how to make groups. In a future post, we will look at using groups in terms of teaching and assignments.

Creating Groups in Moodle

  1. After logging into Moodle and selecting a course, you need to go to course administration->users->groups. If you do this correctly you should see the following

Screenshot from 2016-11-30 08-19-06.png

2. There are several things to mention before continuing

First, there are two different ways to create groups. You can create them manually by clicking on “create groups” or you can have Moodle make the groups using the “Auto-create groups” button. The auto-group option will be explained in a later post as welling as the grouping feature.

Second, there is a tab called “grouping” this is a feature that allows you to create a group of groups. In other words, several groups can be assigned to a grouping.  This allows you to assign several groups to an activity simultaneously rather than having to add each on manually. This is a great feature for a course that has two sections and each section has group activities. For now we will learn how to make groups manually.

Lastly, the column on the left, called “groups” will display the name of any groups that are created while the column on the left, called “members of” will contain the names of people who are a part of the group. Right now both are empty because there are no groups yet.

3. Click on the “create group” group button and you will see the following.

Screenshot from 2016-11-30 08-26-46.png

4. You now need to give the group a name. You also have the privilege to add other information if you want such as description or even a picture to represent the group. After providing the needed information you need to click “save changes” in order to see the following.

Screenshot from 2016-11-30 08-30-37.png

5. To add members to our practice group we need to click on the “add/remove” button. After doing this, you will see the following.

Screenshot from 2016-11-30 08-33-46.png

6. There are two columns, “potential members” and “group members.” To add people to the “group members” section just highlight whoever you want in the “potential members” side and click “add”. Below is an example of this

Screenshot from 2016-11-30 08-53-02.png

Just a note, at the bottom of both the “group member” and “potential member” list is a search function that can be used to find specific people in either section.

7. After placing people in the group, you can click on the “back to group” button. You will see the following.

Screenshot from 2016-11-30 09-01-57.png

The group name is displayed on the left and the members of the group are displayed on the right.

Conclusion

In this post we learned how to create groups. However, we have not learned yet how to use groups in a moodle course yet. This will be explained in a future post.

Teaching Intermediate ESL Students

Intermediate ESL students are often the easiest group of students to teach. Usually, they have basic skills in the language while still having plenty of untapped upside potential to develop.

Unlike beginners who have no language skills and thus require a patient and thorough teacher and advanced students who need advanced knowledge minute knowledge of the language, intermediates have some skill without expertise. Therefore, for beginning teachers, it is usual best to start their teaching career working with beginners.

This post will provide some suggestions on how to approach  and teach intermediate level ESL students.

Automaticity and the Role of the Teacher

By this level, students are somewhat automatic in their speaking process. This allows the teacher to back off from being the center of the classroom in order to allow more student-student interaction as the student are able to be much more creative in their learning experience. Therefore, the learning can now be much more learner-centered with a significant reduction in the amount of talking the teacher does.

Again, for beginner teachers, the students know enough to not require intensive hand-holding but not enough to challenge the expertise of the teacher. This combines to create an excellent initial teaching experience for many.

Focus on Perfection

Intermediate students begin to become obsess with grammar. They want everything they say to be “perfect.” This focus on over analyzing everything they say can impair fluency and accuracy as they criticized themselves for every slip up.

The goal of the teacher at this point  is to help the students take their focus off of the accuracy of what they are saying and focus on the flow of the conversation. They should be accurate enough to be understood with more complex correction coming later. Grammar has it place in a limited manner but should not dominant the learning experience.

Learning Activities and Techniques

Intermediate students can learn in a more cooperative environment. Some examples of activities suitable for intermediate  students includes role-plays, discussion, problem-solving and interviews.

The teacher takes on more of a supervisory role in the learning of the students. The provides guidance as necessary as the students determine what to do themselves.

Conclusion

Teaching at the intermediate level is good for many people new to teaching a language. A new teacher can focus on working with students with some competency without the pressure of exit-examines are people have have no clue about the language.

Inquiry Learning

From the archives

educational research techniques

Inquiry learning is form of indirect instruction. Indirect instruction is teaching in which the students are actively involved in their learning by seeking solutions to problems or questions. In inquiry learning, students develop and investigate questions that they may have. The focus in inquiry learning is on what the students want to learn with some support from the teacher about a topic. Below are the steps of inquiry learning.

  1. Ask
  2. Investigate
  3. Create
  4. Discuss
  5. Reflect

Step 1: Ask

The teacher begins this process by taking the topic of the lesson and turning it into a question for the students to consider. For example, if the topic of a lesson is about flowers, a question to ask would be “How are flowers different from each other?” This is called the teacher-initiated stage of asking.

The student then develop their own questions that should help to answer the main question posed by the…

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Teaching Beginning ESL Students

Beginning ESL students have unique pedagogical needs that make them the most difficult to teach. It’s similar to the challenge of teaching kindergarten. The difficulty is not the content  but rather stripping what is already a basic content into something that is understandable for the most undeveloped of students. Some of the best teachers cannot do this.

This post will provide some suggestions on how to deal with beginning ESL students.

Take Your Time

Beginning students need a great deal of repetition. If you have ever tried to learn a language you probably needed to hear phrases many times to understand them. Repetition helps students to remember and imitate what they heard.

This means that the teacher needs to limit the amount of words, phrases, and sentences they teach. This is not easy, especially for new teachers who are often put in charge of teaching beginners and race through the curriculum to the frustration of the beginning students.

Repetition and a slow pace helps students to develop the automatic processing they need in order to achieve fluency. This can also be enhanced by focusing on purpose in communication rather than the grammatical structure of language.

The techniques use din class should short and simple with a high degree variety to offset the boredom of repetition. In other words, find many ways to teach one idea or concept.

Who’s the Center

Beginning students are highly teacher-dependent because of their lack of skills. Therefore, at least initially, the classroom should probably be teacher-centered until the students develop some basic skills.  In general, whenever you are dealing with a new subject the students are totally unfamiliar with it is better to have a higher degree of control of the learning experience.

Being the center of the learning experiences requires the teacher to provide most of the examples of well-spoken, written English. Your feedback is critical for the students to develop their own language skills. The focus should be more towards fluency rather than accuracy.

However, with time cooperative and student-centered activities can become more prominent. In the beginning, too much freedom can be frustrating for language learners who lack any sort of experience to draw upon to complete activities. Within a controlled environment, student creativity can blossom.

Conclusion

Being a beginning level ESL teacher is a tough job. It requires a skill set of patience, perseverance, and a gift at simplicity.  Taking your time and determining who the center of learning is are ways in which to enhances success for those teaching beginners

 

Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic and Intrinsic motivation are two extremes of a continuum of motivation. Extrinsic motivation  is the desire to do something coming from outside of the person. Intrinsic motivation is the desire to do something coming from within a person. This post will explain some of the pros and cons of each type of motivation as they relate to education.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is an external force that compels someone to do something. For example, it is common for students to study in order to prepare for a test. The test provides an extrinsic motivation to study. If there was no test, the students probably would not study.

This leads to one of the first problems with extrinsic motivation which is its addictive nature. A student will get use to the extrinsic motivation and never become motivated themselves to complete a task.

Extrinsic motivation can also lead to either of the  following. In some situations extrinsic motivation can lead to a competitive classroom environment in which students try to out do each other due to the pressure. In other situations, the students will band together to push back against the extrinsic motivation by the teacher. Either situation can lead to academically dishonesty practice such as cheating and plagiarism.

Generally, extrinsic motivation is negative. When people are doing something willing and then are told to do it they often lose motivation. This is because something that used to be done by choice is now forced upon them.

The only exception to this is positive feedback. When people are given compliments on how they are doing something it helps them to stick to the task.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to complete something coming from within. For many, intrinsic motivation is one of the ultimate goals of learning. Teachers often want students to develop a desire to learn and grow on their own after they complete their studies.

To achieve this, a teacher must become a facilitator of learning. A facilitator of learning is one who provides students with a context in which the students can set their own learning goals. A primary component of this is allowing choice in the classroom. Choice can be given in types of assignment, how to complete assignments, or other ways.

There are also affective measures that can be taken. Examples include developing a positive relationships with students, having a relaxing classroom environment, and increasing self-confidence.

Content-based and cooperative  learning activities both provide opportunities for students to develop intrinsic motivation. The goal is to develop independent learners who can set their own goals and achieve them.

Conclusion

Motivation is necessary. The question  is where will the motivation come from. In education both forms of motivation are present. However, the goal should normally be to strive for intrinsic motivation when this is possible.

First and Target Language Conflict and Compromise

In an interesting contradiction of language acquisition it is a given fact that the greatest challenge and blessing in learning a second language is the first language. For many people they wonder how the first language can be an advantage and a disadvantage at the same time.

In order to understand this mystery of second language acquisition we will look at interference, facilitating, as well as suggestion for teachers tot help students to deal with the challenges of the first language in second language acquisition.

Interference and Facilitating

A person’s first language can be a problem through what is called interfering. Interference is the assumptions a person brings from their first language to the second language.

Each language has distinct rules that governs in use in the form of syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology, etc. When a person learns a new language they bring these rules with them to the new language. Therefore, they are breaking the rules of the target language do to their obedience to the rules of their native language.

Below is an example of a native English speaker trying to speak Spanish

English Sentence: I want the red car
Spanish with English rules: Yo quiero el rojo coche
Correct Spanish Version: Yo quiero el coche rojo

In the simple example above, the native English speaker said “rojo coche” (red car) instead of “coche rojo” (car red) in Spanish. In other words, the English speaker  put the adjective before the noun instead of the noun before the adjective. This is a minor problem but it does sound strange to a native Spanish speaker.

It needs to be noted that the first language can also help in communicating in the second and this is called facilitating. In the example above, the majority of what the English speaker said is correct. The subject verb object order was correct as an example. This is because when the rules of the language are the same the facilitate the person’s learning of the target language and when the rules are different they interfere.

Helping with Interference and Facilitating

The goal of a teacher is to help a student to discard interference and hold on to facilitating. To do this a teacher needs to listen to the errors a student makes to understand what the problems are. Often it is good to explain the error the student is making and what native language rule they are clinging to that is causing the problem.

Another goal is to encourage direct thinking in the target language. This prevents translation and all of the errors that come with that.

Lastly, recognizing the benefits of facilitating by showing how the two languages are similar can help students. Generally, teachers focus on interference rather than facilitating but an occasional acknowledge of facilitation is beneficial.

Conclusion

A teacher needs to understand that the first language  of their students is not always an enemy. The first language provides a foundation for the development of the target language. Through working with what the students already know the teacher can help to develop strong language skills in the target.

Language Ego

Imagine that you are working as an ESL teacher at a university. Specifically, you are working with international students who are trying to complete their English language  proficiency in order to study for their PhD.

These students are without a doubt intelligent. They all have a master degrees. However, despite their talent and abilities, they are still babies when it comes to fluency in English. The students become exceedingly frustrated as they have to be reduce to such an elementary experience of drills and skits in order to be prepared for graduate studies. In order to achieve their dream they must develop an identity in the English language.

To make an even stronger example, imagine  you are an English teacher in your country where English is a Foreign Language and have been teaching English for years. You decide to go for a PhD in an English speaking country. You take the TOEFL or IELTS and the results indicate that you need to take ESL courses before you can study. Here you are, an experienced English teacher back home, sitting through intermediate/advanced ESL courses. This is a serious but common wake up call for many non-native ESL teachers with advanced degree aspirations.

This experience frustration and fragility  as one learns a new language is called language ego. This post will define language ego as well as strategies for making this experience more tolerably for students.

Defining Language Ego

Language ego is a sense of inferiority as one tries to learn a new language. People are excellent at communicating in their own language and communicate boldly in it. This confidence in one’s native language makes one highly resilient in one’s mother tongue. This why native speaker’s often ignore comments on how to communicate in the target language when these comments come from non-native speakers and even from native-speakers. We all know our own language and care little for feedback from others

However, this confidence, stubbornness, and resilience disappears when learning another language. Now, it is common for people to become defensive and sensitive as they try to communicate with limited tools.

This experience only becomes worst as one gets older. Children already have limited cognitive ability compared to adults so when they communicate in a new language they have much lower expectations in terms of talking and communicating. For adults, who often have complex, abstract ideas to share, it is frustrating to have to be reduce to speaking about mundane topics in a second language.

Helping Student with Language Ego

In order to support students during this experience it is important to remember the following points.

  • Task should be  challenging but not overwhelming.  This is a general concept in education but much more important in language teaching. Excessive failure will destroy the fragile ego of many ESL students.
  • Different students will struggle in different ways. This means a teacher should be strategic in terms of who they call on, correct publicly, the level of toughness, etc. as all of these decisions will affect students in different ways.
  • Acknowledging the frustration as the students learn the language can also help with coping.

Conclusion

Learning a language involves changes to one’s self. This means that the ego is often threaten when acquiring a language. The intensity of this is only increase when one learns a language a an adult when compared to a child. As such, teachers need to support adults and children during this experience.

Strategies for Relevant Language Learning

Meaningful or relevant language learning has become an important component of modern language teaching. For many students, acquiring knowledge without a corresponding context in which it can be applied inhibits the ability to assimilate the information no matter how beneficial the knowledge may be.

Defining Relevance in Learning

From a constructionist viewpoint, relevance in learning is about connecting new information with old information which strengthens the learner’s ability to retain the knowledge. An example of this would be how a child various words and sounds with specific goals of communication they may have.

The complete opposite of relevant learning may be rote learning. Rote learning focuses on memorizing for the sake of memorizing with the key component of context often missing. With the  context the learning may lack relevance for they learner which impedes their language acquisition.

One of the strongest examples of rote learning in TESOL would be audiolingualism. This method was heavy on drill and  memorization. However, this emphasis on memorizing and drill made it difficult to produce language realistically for many language students.

Strategies for Relevance

A key idea in making learning relevant in the context of language acquisition is balance. Some memorizing is fine but not in excess. This same idea applies towards the teaching of grammar, theories, and other abstract impractical concepts.

How to find balance is too complex to explain here as every classroom is different. The analogy I use when teaching fuzzy concepts such as finding balance is the use of salt in cooking. A little salt is great but too much and nobody wants to it the food. However, the amount of salt to use depends on preference/context and this also applies when striving for pedagogical balance in teaching.

Another way to improve relevance is to identify the interest and needs of the students and address these in the classroom. This makes a clear connection with practical application for many students, which enhances retention of knowledge.

Lastly, making an effort as the teacher to show how a new idea or concept relates to what a student already knows also makes learning relevant. This extends the student’s knowledge just enough to provide new information that is not out of reach for understanding.

Conclusion

Learners need to be able to understand and see how they can use something that they are learning. This requires the teacher to develop ways in which to demonstrate to the student that the learning is relevant.

Automaticity in Learning

A key prerequisite to the mastery of any skill or ability is automaticity. Automaticity is the ability to do something automatically without much thought. The avoidance of thinking is often viewed critically but in the context of developing mastery, there is a point where something needs to be done with a great deal of conscious intellectual effort.

This post will explain automaticity and provide principles to use when trying to develop automaticity in language learning students

Children and Adult Automaticity 

In comparison to adults, children are excellent at automaticity. For example, children often learn languages fairly easy because the process the language without in-depth metalingusitic thought about it.

A child’s success with automaticity in relation to language is due to the fact that children do not become obsess with understanding all the various aspects of the grammar of a language. Instead of examining tiny bits of the language a child will focus on using the language in various context. In other words, adults focus on grammar and rules which are hard to understand and remember while children focus on using the language without caring about the details.

To provide another example, whereas an adult might see language like an accountant with a focus on minute details and careful attention. A child sees language like a ceo who often focuses on the big picture. The child wants to communicate and doesn’t care too much for how it’s done or the rules involved.

This is not to say that focus on details is bad it simply impedes quick communication. A child learns to speak but has a superficial understanding of the language. The adult is slow to speak but has a much richer understanding of the language.  In other words, the child knows how to communicate but doesn’t know why they can say this or that while the adults often doesn’t know how to communicate but knows the why behind what they wish they could say.

Teaching for Automaticity

If the goal of a language teacher is for students to be able to develop automaticity they should consider the following ideas.

  • There is a place for sharing language rules. However, the teaching of rules should be related to practical use so that the student is not weighed down by rules they cannot use immediately. Often, the teaching of rules is inductive in nature in most modern methods/approaches.
  • Classroom and learning time should be devoted to the function or use of language. What this means is spend less time talking about the language and more time actually using the language.
  • Developing automaticity takes a great deal of time. In other words, classroom activities that contribute to automaticty must be consistently in the lesson plan throughout the semester so that students can become comfortable using the language.

Conclusion

Becoming a natural at anything necessitates some form of automaticity. For the adult language learning, acquiring automaticity means reduce the desire to think critically and just accept how a language is used. With the help of a teacher it is possible to develop this ability.

Interactive Learning in TESOL

Interactive learning is a foundational theory of language acquisition that has had a profound influence on many approaches/methods in TESOL. By foundational it is meant that teaching in an interactive is an assumption for ensuring language acquisition.

This post will explain what interactive learning is as well as ways in which it is used in the TESOL classroom.

Interaction Hypothesis

The technical term for interactive learning is the interaction hypothesis developed by Michael Long. This hypothesis proposes that input and output in language. As students engage with each other both in written and oral ways there communication skills will improve. This off course is obvious for most of us but credit must still be given when someone takes what is obvious and becomes the first to note it in the literature.

Communication is viewed as a negotiation between two or more people. This experience of back and forth is where language skills are developed.

Traits of Interactive Learning

If a teacher is a proponent of interactive learning. It is possible you will see one or more of the following experiences in their classroom.

  • Majority of the learning happening in groups or pairs
  • Generating authentic language using real-world activities
  • Back and forth negotiated speaking
  • Tasks that prepared students to communicate outside the classroom

This is just a partial list of learning experiences that take place  in an interactive learning classroom. The primary take away may be that it would be rare for students to work alone and or spend a great deal of time listening to lectures or on non-authentic assignments.

Approaches/Methods Influenced by Interactive Learning

The majority of approaches/methods developed in the latter half of the 20th have been partial are fully influenced by interactive learning. Communicative Language Teaching is completely about interaction. Cooperative language teaching is also highly interactive. Community language learning is also heavily influenced by interaction.

Other approaches/methods may or may not be interactive. Examples include Whole Language, Competency-Based Language Teaching, Text-Based Instruction, and Task-Based instruction. If any of these were to incorporate interactive activities it would be at the discretion of the teacher.

Conclusion

Interactive learning is perhaps the dominant foundational theory of language teaching in TESOL today. The  majority of approaches/models are at least sympathetic to learning a language in this manner. As such, a language teacher should at least be familiar with this theory or perhaps consider incorporating these characteristics into their teaching philosophy

Learner-Centered Instruction

Learner-centered instruction is a term that has been used in education for several decades now. One of the challenges of extremely popular terms in a field such as learner-centered instruction is that the term losses its meaning as people throw it into a discussion with  knowing  exactly what the term means.

The purpose of this post is to try and explain some of the  characteristics of learner-centered instruction without being exhaustive.  In addition, we will look at the challenges to this philosophy as well as ways to make it happen in the classroom.

Focus on the Students

Learner-centered instruction is focused on  the students. What this means is that the teacher takes into account the learning goals and objectives of the students in establishing what to teach. This requires the teacher to conduct at least an informal needs assessment to figure out what the students want to learn.

Consultation with the students allows for the students to have some control over their learning which is empowering as viewed by those who ascribe to critical theory. Consultation also allows students to be creative and innovative. This sounds like a perfect learning situation but to be  this centered  on the learner can be difficult

Challenge of Learner-Centered Instruction

Since the learning experience is determined by the students, the teacher does not have any presupposed plan in place prior to consulting with the students. As such, not having a plan in  place before hand is extremely challenging for new teachers and difficult even for experienced ones. The teacher doesn’t know what to expect in terms of the needs of the students.

In theory, almost no class follows such a stringent approach to learner-centered instruction. Most schools have to meet government requirements, prepare students for the work place, and or show improvements in testing. This limits the freedom of the teacher to be learner-centered in many ways. External factors cannot be  ignored to adhere to the philosophy of learner-centered instruction.

Finding a Compromise

One way to be learner-centered while still having some sort of a plan prior to teaching is to rethink the level at which the students have voice in the  curriculum. For example, if it is not possible to change the objectives of a course, the teacher  can have the students develop the assignments they want to do to achieve an objective.

The teacher could also allow the students to pick from several different assignments that all help to achieve the same objective(s). This gives the students some control over their learning while allowing the teacher to adhere to external requirements. It also allows the teacher to be prepared in some way prior to the teaching.

Conclusion

The average educator does not have the autonomy to give to students to allow for the full implementation of learner-centered instruction. However, there are several ways to adjust one’s approach to teaching that will allow students to have a sense of control over their learning.

Using Maps in ggplot2

It seems as though there are no limits to what can be done with ggplot2. Another example of this is the use of maps in presenting data. If you are trying to share information that depends on location then this is an important feature to understand.

This post will provide some basic explanation for understanding how to use maps with ggplot2.

The Maps Package

One of several packages available for using maps with ggplot2 is the “maps” package. This package contains a limited number of maps along with several databases that contain information that can be used to create data-filled maps.

The “maps” package cooperates with ggplot2 through the use of the “borders” function and plotting the plot using lattitude and longitude for the “aes” function. After you have installed the “maps” package you can run the example code below.

library(ggplot2);library(maps)
ggplot(us.cities,aes(long,lat))+geom_point()+borders("state")

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In the code above we told R to use the data from “us.cities” which comes with the “maps” package. We then told R to graph the latitude and longitude and to do this by placing a point for each city. Lastly, the “borders” function was use to place this information on the state map of the US.

There are several points way off of the map. These represents datapoints for cities in Alaska and Hawaii.

Below is an example that is limited to one state in America. To do this we first must subset the data to only include one state.

tx_cities<-subset(us.cities,country.etc=="TX")
ggplot(tx_cities,aes(long,lat))+geom_point()+borders(database = "state",regions = "texas")

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The map shows all the cities in the state of Texas that are pulled form the “us.cities” dataset.

We can also play with the colors of the maps just like any other ggplot2 output. Below is an example.

data("world.cities")
Thai_cities<-subset(world.cities, country.etc=="Thailand")
ggplot(Thai_cities,aes(long,lat))+borders("world","Thailand", fill="light blue",col="dark blue")+geom_point(aes(size=pop),col="dark red")

820ad721-b4c1-427f-b044-5473a887ae2b.png

In the example above, we took all of the cities in Thailand and saved them into the variable “Thai_cities”. We then made a plot of Thailand but we played with the color and fill features. Lastly, we plotted the population be location and we indicated that the size of the data point should depend on the size. In this example, all the data points were the same size which means that all the cities in Thailand in the dataset are about the same size.

We can also add text to maps. In the example below, we will use a subset of the data from Thailand and add the names of cities to the map.

Big_Thai_cities<-subset(Thai_cities, pop>100000)
ggplot(Big_Thai_cities,aes(long,lat))+borders("world","Thailand", fill="light blue",col="dark blue")+geom_point(aes(size=pop),col="dark red")+geom_text(aes(long,lat,label=name),hjust=-.2,size=3)

f3fed191-5454-47dd-a754-cae713beebf2.png

In this plot there is a messy part in the middle where Bangkok is a long with several other large cities. However, you can see the flexiability in the plot by adding the “geom_text” function which has been discussed previously. In the “geom_text” function we added some aesthetics as well add the “name” of the city.

Conclusion

In this post, we look at some of the basic was of using maps with ggplot2. There are many more ways and features that can be explored in future post.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Motivating people for change is an extremely difficult thing too. Alan Monroe, developed a five-step process called “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence” in order to do this. His process follows the psychological steps of persuasion.

This post will explain the five-steps of Monroe’s motivated sequence. The steeps are as follows…

  1. Attention
  2. Need
  3. Satisfaction
  4. Visualization
  5. Action

Attention

Attention is about getting the audience to focus on the message. This can involve explaining the relevance of the topic, posing a question, and or telling a story.

This is a critical step as a poor beginning can loss the audience. If the audience losses interests in the topic it weakens the rest of the persuasion process.

As an example, if my topic is smoking and I want to have people vote for a no-smoking ordinance. I may get the audiences attention by sharing a story of a close relative who had a horrible death due to smoking. Such  a moving story would gain attention

Need

After gaining the attention of the audience, it is necessary to establish the need. The need is the problem that must be solve. You want to get the audience concerned about the problem so that they care about a solution.

The need can be establish through the use of examples such as statistics, quotes, illustrations, testimonies etc. You want the audience to “see” the problem and be convinced that action is necessary.

To establish need in my non-smoking ordinance speech, I might share statistics on smoking use and the health consequences. However, I would need specific local examples and stats due to the nature of the topic. Vague examples of smoking affecting the world lacks relevance for people. Local examples of smoking’s impact would probably be more powerful

Satisfaction

Satisfaction is the explanation of the solution to the problem. Here, you share how your plan will solve the problem. You must provide a clear explanation of the solution in order for the audience to understand.

For the no-smoking ordinance, I might  share how much of a statistical impact a no smoking ordinance would have. It would also be beneficial to examine the economic impact as well.

Visualization

This step is highly related to the “Satisfaction” step. The difference is that your examples are stronger and more visual in their impact. You want the audience to see what you are explaining.

For my no-smoking ordinance, I might use visual language  about people no longer visiting the doctor and experiencing long bitter deaths. I might indicate the benefits for the family and children.

Action

Action is where you tell the audience what you want them to do. For my no smoking ordinance  I want them to vote yes. In order to get the action you want the audience needs to be convinced that your plan contains the needed answer to the problem.

Conclusion

Monroe’s motivated sequence is a time tested approach to persuasion. There are many commercials that have employed this approach today that are available on the internet.

A History of Structural Equation Modeling

Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) is complex form of multiple regression that is commonly used in social science research. In many ways, SEM is an amalgamation of factor analysis and path analysis as we shall see. The history of this data analysis approach can be traced all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century.

This post will provide a brief overview of SEM. Specifically, we will look at the role of factory and path analysis in the development of SEM.

The Beginning with Factor and Path Analysis 

The foundation of SEM was laid with the development of Spearman’s work with intelligence in the early 20th century. Spearman was trying to trace the various dimensions of intelligence back to a single factor. In the 1930’s Thurstone developed multi-factor analysis as he saw intelligence not as a a single factor as Spearman but rather as several factors. Thurstone also bestowed the gift of factor rotation on the statistical community.

Around the same time (1920’s-1930’s), Wright was developing path analysis. Path analysis relies on manifest variables with the ability to model indirect relationships among variables. This is something that standard regression normally does not do.

In economics, a econometrics was using many of the same ideas as Wright. It was in  the early 1950’s that econometricians saw what Wright was doing in his discipline of biometrics.

SEM is Born

In the 1970’s, Joreskog combined the measurement powers of factor analysis with the regression modeling power of path analysis. The factor analysis capabilities of SEM allow it to assess the accuracy of the measurement of the model. The path analysis capabilities of SEM allow it to model direct and indirect relationships among latent variables.

From there, there was an explosion in ways to assess models as well as best practice suggestions. In addition, there are many different software available for conducting SEM analysis. Examples include the LISREL which was the first software available, AMOS which allows the use of a graphical interface.

One software worthy of mentioning is Lavaan. Lavaan is a r package that performs SEM. The primary benefit of Lavaan is that it is available for free. Other software can be exceedingly expensive but Lavaan provides the same features for a price that cannot be beat.

Conclusion

SEM is by far not new to the statistical community. With a history that is almost 100 years old, SEM has been in many ways with the statistical community since the birth of modern statistics.

Notional-Functional Syllabus of TESOL

The notional-functional syllabus was an innovation developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s in Europe. The pragmatic focus of this innovation has to this day had an influence on language teaching.

This post will define what a notional-functional syllabus is by looking at each word that makes up the phrase “notional-functional syllabus.”

Notional

In TESOL, “notions” is a synonym for the word “context” or “setting.” Notion has to do with what is called pragmatics in language acquisition  but the setting can be intellectual rather than a physical setting. As such, a notional-functional syllabus is focused on the various situations in which language is used.

There are two levels at which notions take place. General notions are highly abstract philosophically concepts such as existence, space, and time. Normally, TESOL does not deal with such concepts except when teaching about temporal relational terms such as before, after, during, etc.

The second level of notions is specific notions. Specific notions deal with clearly defined fixed situations. Examples of specific notions includes animals, politics, education, and sports.  Although these can still be considered abstract that are not nearly as abstract as general notions. As such it is better to look at general and specific notions as ideas along a continuum rather as either/or concepts.

Functional

The functional aspect of the notional-functional syllabus relates to how language is used. Prior to this focus on function language was taught with a foucs on grammar and learning was organized around grammar use. In a functional focus, language is used to do any and all of the  following

  • explain
  • describe
  • discuss
  • argue
  • agree
  • apologize
  • compare
  • contrast

As you can see, there is almost an infinity amount of variety when combining the  notion with the function. This leads to our need to understand what a syllabus is.

Syllabus

Syllabus is the European term for what is called curriculum in America. A syllabus/curriculum has been defined on this site before. In short, a syllabus/curriculum is a systematic plan toward achieving educational goals. Often, the syllabus/curriculum has goals/objectives that are in reality a combination of a notion and a or function. Below are some examples. The brackets indicated what the preceding phrase is, whether it’s a function or a notion.

  • Introduce self [function] to other people [notion]
  • Ask for information [function] at a bank [notion]
  • Give directions [function]
  • Read the text [function] and answer [function] the questions [notion]

From the examples, it is clear that you can have function with a notion, a function alone, or several functions with a notion. Without getting too technical there is endless potential in designing a syllabus/curriculum with this framework in mind.

Final Thoughts

There is little difference of notional-functional syllabus from the development  of regular objectives in curriculum. If you are familiar with how objectives are made you know objectives have an action, proficiency, and  condition.

The “action” of a regular objective is in many ways the same as the “function” of a functional-notional syllabus. In addition, the “condition” of a regular objective is similar to the “notion” of a notional-functional syllabus. Notional-Functional objectives do not address proficiency in their objectives. As such, it is common for different fields to discover similar concepts while still giving these new concepts different names.

 

Series Method

The Series Method of language acquisition was perhaps the first step away from grammar translation in language teaching. This method of teaching language was developed by Francois Gouin (1831-1896).

This post will provide a brief background that led to the Series Method as well as some examples of the actually techniques used in the method.

Background

Gouin was a French lecturer of Latin. He decided to attempt to study in the University of Berlin but realized he needed to learn  German in order to continue his studies. Being a natural lover a languages, Gouin figured a brief stop in Hamburg would be enough to learn the basics of the German language.

Gouin attempted to learn German using the grammar translation approach. He memorized thousands of words in an incredibly short period of time. Though he could decipher written text, Gouin was not able to speak or listen to German at all. His goal was not only understanding text but to understand and participate in lectures in German. After a year of studying the grammar and even translating advance text into his own language, Gouin went home discourage.

Upon returning to France, Gouin found that his 2 year old nephew, who could not talk when Gouin left, was now a 3 year old talkative child. Gouin became convince that children hold the secret to language acquisition and he began to observe children to see how they learned language.

The conclusions that Gouiin reached from his observations was that children use language to represent their thoughts. At the time, this insight was revolutionary. This insight was later used to develop the Series method.

Techniques

The Series Method is a “series” of connected sentences that are easy to understand and requires little knowledge of grammar. Below is a partial example.

I walk toward the door. I draw near to the door. I draw nearer to the door. I get to the door. I stop at the door

This is focused on different ways to speak about using the door. The entire series on door is fifteen sentences in all. Through these various uses of the word door students are exposed to a wide range of grammatical uses. The success of this method was the simplicity and ease of memorization

Conclusion

Gouin ideas about language were ahead of their time. Despite the awkwardness of his approach Gouin’s method had a brief moment of success only to be overshadow by Berlitz’s Direct Method.