Thursday, December 17, 2009

Teaching styles and learning styles

Article suggests matching teaching style to students' learning style does no good ~ Adjunct Law Prof blog comments on Chronicle article.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed. reported yesterday on new research suggesting that matching one's teaching style to students' learning style doesn't help them learn better. Most, if not all of us who teach, have been told about the importance of recognizing that our students have different learning styles (i.e. visual, kinestic, aural, etc.) and the importance of the teacher adopting congruent teaching techniques in order to reach all of our students. And I'm also guessing that just about everyone, including myself, has taken that advice at face value because it seems so self-evident there was never a reason to question it.

But now some researchers have published a paper suggesting that although each of us has a different learning style, there is no empirical evidence to support the assumption that students learn best when their teacher tries to match those individual styles. As expected, the paper has drawn critics who argue that the researchers have missed, or failed to take into account, several important papers on the importance of matching teaching style to learning style. Among them is

Extensive reading: why it is good for our students… and for us. | Teaching English | British Council | BBC

An article by Alan Maley posted to BBC's Teaching English, 9 December, 2009: "Extensive reading: why it is good for our students… and for us." In this, the first of two articles for TeachingEnglish, Alan Maley considers the benefits extensive reading can bring to English language learners and teachers.

What is Extensive Reading (ER)?
Extensive Reading is often referred to but it is worth checking on what it actually involves. Richard Day has provided a list of key characteristics of ER (Day 2002). This is complemented by Philip Prowse (2002). Maley (2008) deals with ER comprehensively. The following is a digest of the two lists of factors or principles for successful ER:

  1. Students read a lot and read often.
  2. There is a wide variety of text types and topics to choose from.
  3. The texts are not just interesting: they are engaging/ compelling.
  4. Students choose what to read.
  5. Reading purposes focus on: pleasure, information and general understanding.
  6. Reading is its own reward.
  7. There are no tests, no exercises, no questions and no dictionaries.
  8. Materials are within the language competence of the students.
  9. Reading is individual, and silent.
  10. Speed is faster, not deliberate and slow.
  11. The teacher explains the goals and procedures clearly, then monitors and guides the students.
  12. The teacher is a role model…a reader, who participates along with the students.

The model is very much like that for L1 reading proposed by Atwell (2006). It has been variously described as Free Voluntary Reading (FEVER), Uninterrupted Silent Reading (USR), Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), or Positive Outcomes While Enjoying Reading (POWER).

So what are the benefits of ER?
Both common sense observation and copious research evidence bear out the many benefits which come from ER (Waring 2000, 2006). There are useful summaries of the evidence in Day and Bamford (1998: 32-39) and The Special Issue of The Language Teacher (1997) including articles by Paul Nation and others, and passionate advocacy in Krashen’s The Power of Reading. (2004). The journals Reading in a Foreign Language and the International Journal of Foreign Language Learning are also good sources of research studies supporting ER. (see references for websites) And there is the indispensable annotated bibliography,

So what does it all add up to? Read the article and find out. How does ER relate to computers or writing?

Extensive reading: why it is good for our students… and for us. | Teaching English | British Council | BBC

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why I Put Core Knowledge in the Bottom Left

... and the next installment...

Why I Put Core Knowledge in the Bottom Left via Tuttle SVC by (Tom Hoffman) on 12/14/09

E.D. Hirsch, from the Core Knowledge website:
Apologists for the current state of public schools continue to blame the persistent achievement gap between ethnic and racial groups on social conditions or on shortcomings in the innate abilities of some groups. But the proof that such social and psychological determinism is false is the fact that the achievement gap between social and racial groups has been greatly reduced in France and other democracies. If social or IQ determinism were true, then the educational success of those nations would be impossible. It is no accident that progressivism never took hold in nations which have greatly narrowed the test-score gap between groups. By criticizing progressivism, I don't of course criticize its emphasis on humane, lively, and imaginative teaching. That has been a hallmark of good education in all times and places. I mean only to criticize its all-too-successful attack on traditional academic subject matter as being boring, useless, and even soul-deadening.
Let me remind you of the founding idea of democratic education as it was envisaged after the great democratic revolutions in Europe and America first by thinkers like Jefferson, then by Horace Mann and W.E.B. Du Bois. They wanted the focus of the schools to be on strong content in history, science, mathematics, and the arts. Those subjects were to form the common content which everyone learned. Commonality of content was the essence of the so-called "common school." The idea was that schooling should enable every person to stand on his or her own two feet, equal to every other person of similar talent and virtue, rather than, as in the past, having one's role in life determined by the status, wealth, or education of one's parents. This democratic ideal was shared by all the great founders of democratic education everywhere in the world. The common school was to be a place where children of all races and conditions would be offered the same opportunity to amplify their talents. How far short of this ideal our schools have fallen in the 20th century is highlighted by the degree to which other democracies have lived up so much better than we have to this egalitarian ideal.
They have achieved this by two basic policies that are directly opposed to the principles of progressive education — first, they have determined that the emphasis of schooling should fall on the academic curriculum, not on slogans about growth, critical thinking, and individually tailored study plans — and second, that all children should share a core of common intellectual capital. The most acute thinkers about democratic education, including Jefferson, Horace Mann, and Du Bois, believed that it is not intelligence that increases knowledge but knowledge that increases intelligence. Du Bois, who was himself the product of the New England common school, would have scorned the sentimental absurdity that each child must have his or her own special curriculum suited to his or her special personality. (emphasis added)
See discussion...

You can't speed read literature


Sent to you by Vanessa via Google Reader:


via Culture | by Evan Maloney on 12/15/09

Speed-reading might be useful for commercial documents, but when it comes to serious writing, it blurs out all the really interesting stuff

The celebrated academic Harold Bloom is a lightning fast reader; blink and he's probably turned the page – twice. In his prime he could churn through 1,000 pages an hour, which means he could have digested Jane Eyre during his lunch break and still had time to chew through half of Ulysses before returning to classes. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel like a slow, slack-jawed simian struggling in the frontal-lobe department.

The average reader snails through prose at a rate of about 250-300 words per minute, which roughly equates to about one page per minute. Bloom is surely cut from a rare cloth of reading comprehension because he whips through more than 16 pages per minute and still remembers almost everything he reads. For the rest of us, it's not so easy. In the World Championship Speed Reading Competition the top contestants typically read around 1,000 to 2,000 words per minute, but only manage about 50% comprehension. That's just not good enough for literature. What's the point if you're reading, say, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, with its panoply of characters, and you only understand only 50% of the text? You wouldn't be able to understand anything much at all.

Do people really attempt to speed read literature? If so, why? I guess, most simply, it is so a person can boast about how much they've read – or how often. Andrew Marr claims to have read War and Peace "at least" 15 times. Not 12 or 13, but 15. I read this and thought, well, if you took out all the passages he's skimmed over, he's probably only read it 10. Even so, it is a remarkable achievement. I found it difficult to concentrate on certain passages of War and Peace the first (and only) time I read it. I can't imagine reading over those same passages 15 times and paying attention.

Most speed reading courses teach people to read the words off the page without imagining the corresponding sounds in their minds (called subvocalisation). Skim reading is slightly different; it teaches people to read the keywords in a sentence and ignore all the smaller words, creating some kind of semantic register in shorthand. Anyone who has read that other Tolstoy tome, Anna Karenina, has probably been tempted to skim read certain passages, such as Levin's theories of Russian agrarianism. I know I was tempted, quite recently, but in my efforts to pick up the reading pace I found my attention was divided: part of my mind was thinking about Levin's thoughts and actions, as described on the page, but an equal part of my mind was devoted to the novel process of speed/skim reading. What are the keywords? I wondered. Sometimes my mind was entirely distracted by this question, and while debating which half of a subjunctive conditional I could ignore while retaining the sense of the clause, I would speed read two or three more paragraphs without taking anything in.

There is something quite unseemly about the notion of skimming over the literary canon. In some inverted, abstract sense it reminds me of liposuction: you're putting on intellectual weight without acquiring the mental health benefits, and there's always a downside to cutting corners.

Did the world's great novelists really spend years agonising over the pitch and rhythm of their sentences so some time-efficient post-modern reader could skim over the text like a political spin doctor searching for soundbites in the transcript of a ministerial speech? I don't think so. Speed reading might be an effective tool for office documents, textbooks, and letters of unrequited love, but the prose of great literature should be savoured, should it not? Part of the joy of reading comes from "hearing" our psychic palates pronouncing the words in the mind's ear; the imagined speech, "richly flavoured like a nut or an apple".

Compare this classic Dickensian opening line with the skimmed version that follows, and ask yourself, is it really worth tearing through great prose like Gordon Gecko tearing through the assets of a newly acquired company?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

Best times/worst times, age wisdom/foolishness, epoch belief/incredulity, season Light/Darkness, spring hope, winter despair.

Charles Dickens, the skimmed version.

Notwithstanding the aesthetic pleasure derived from reading, how well can one appreciate the nuances of character and circumstance in a novel if one is reading 10 pages per minutes sans Bloomian comprehension skills? I'm not convinced that the average person can ever learn to read at speed and contemplate at leisure. Speed reading is a bit like trying to appreciate the sights of Paris while racing through the streets at 200 kmph.

I know this is the era in which we measure internet connection speeds in fractions of seconds and thumb SMS sentiments like "gr8 2 c u", I know this is the era of speed-living and 20-20 cricket, but I'm not convinced that we should adapt our reading habits to fit in with the speed of modern life. Rather, reading should be seen as a pleasure where time is forgotten, if only for a moment. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Things you can do from here:


Monday, December 14, 2009

A Good Enough Schematic of US School Reform

Not exactly about computers, writing, language ~ but not inimical the subject either. This and the next post reblogged from Tuttle SVC blog (serendipitously encountered via Vlorbik's Open a Vein) do go to traditional vs progressive.


Sent to you by Vanessa via Google Reader:


via Tuttle SVC by (Tom Hoffman) on 12/11/09

This is pretty much the universe as I see it. The upper left needs a better name or representative organization. I considered "no excuses" but I don't think that's quite it.

One thing about this graph is that each quadrant tends to be ambivalent toward the ones they share a border with and save their attacks for the ones diagonally across from them. Also the top tends to ignore or try to avoid fights with the bottom.


Things you can do from here:


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Online class/es update: writing group & another

Writing Group:

Writing samples (in form of short essay length application letters) are coming in... slowly as is their wont. Neither NS nor NNS corner the marker on writing reluctance. Reminder: design a series of short writing assignments (narrative, descriptive, process, before kicking into high gear.

Housekeeping: Google group set up; Wiki under consideration; individual students answered personally; course plan in rough draft; resources being collected and organized; design assignments for weeks 1-3; set up synchronous office hours in chat; update David and ask for changes in StudyCom listings.

"More About This Class" letter sent ~ not a Welcome letter. Odds are a number of recipients won't make it into the class because they did not expect to have to write more than a short, unedited paragraph from time to time and won't write the longer application letter.

and now about the "other" ... it's like this ~ I went to EFI Beginner mailbox to collect address and write applicants sorry not doing this anymore" message but had second thoughts. Why not start another self-paced study group? Learning from and improving on the last one ~ though still gormless of me not to have saved the files.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Your Brain on Books

Your Brain on Books: Neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene explains his quest to
understand how the mind makes sense of written language

By Stanislas Dehaene, Scientific American, November 17, 2009

Stanislas Dehaene holds the chair of Experimental Cognitive Psychology at
the Collège de France, and he is also the director of the INSERM-CEA
Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit ( at NeuroSpin, France's
most advanced neuroimaging research center. He is best known for his
research into the brain basis of numbers, popularized in his book, "The
Number Sense." In his new book, "Reading in the Brain," he describes his
quest to understand an astounding feat that most of us take for granted:
translating marks on a page (or a screen) into language. He answered
questions recently from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

COOK: How did you become interested in the neuroscience of reading?

DEHAENE: One of my long-time interests concerns how the human brain is
changed by education and culture. Learning to read seems to be one of the
more important changes that we impose to our children's brain. The impact
that it has on us is tantalizing. It raises very fundamental issues of how
the brain and culture interact.

As I started to do experimental research in this domain, using the different
tools at my disposal (from behavior to patients, fMRI, event-related
potentials, and even intracranial electrodes), I was struck that we always
found the same areas involved in the reading process. I began to wonder how
it was even possible that our brain could adapt to reading, given it
obviously never evolved for that purpose. The search for an answer resulted
in this book. And, in the end, reading forces us to propose a very different
view of the relationship between culture and the brain.

COOK: What is this "new relationship"?

DEHAENE: A classical, although often implicit, view in social science is
that the human brain, unlike that of other animals, is a learning machine
which can adapt to essentially any novel cultural task, however complex. We
humans would be liberated from our past instincts and free to invent
entirely new cultural forms.

What I am proposing is that the human brain is a much more constrained organ
than we think, and that it places strong limits on the range of possible
cultural forms. Essentially, the brain did not evolve for culture, but
culture evolved to be learnable by the brain. Through its cultural
inventions, humanity constantly searched for specific niches in the brain,
wherever there is a space of plasticity that can be exploited to "recycle" a
brain area and put it to a novel use. Reading, mathematics, tool use, music,
religious systems -- all might be viewed as instances of cortical recycling.

Of course, this view of culture as a constrained "lego" game isn't that
novel. It is deeply related to the structuralist view of anthropology, as
exemplified by Claude Levi-Strauss and Dan Sperber. What I am proposing is
that the universal structures that recur across cultures are, in fact,
ultimately traceable to specific brain systems.

In the case of reading, the shapes of our writing systems have evolved
towards a progressive simplification while remaining compatible with the
visual coding scheme that is present in all primate brains. A fascinating
discovery, made by the American researcher Marc Changizi, is that all of the
world's writing systems use the same set of basic shapes, and that these
shapes are already a part of the visual system in all primates, because they
are also useful for coding natural visual scenes. The monkey brain already
contains neurons that preferentially respond to an "alphabet" of shapes
including T, L, Y. We merely "recycle" these shapes (and the corresponding
part of cortex) and turn them into a cultural code for language.

COOK: In the book, you describe a part of the brain as the "letterbox." Can
you please explain what you mean by that?

DEHAENE: This is the name I have given to a brain region that systematically
responds whenever we read words. It is in the left hemisphere, on the
inferior face, and belongs to the visual region that helps us recognize our
environment. This particular region specializes in written characters and
words. What is fascinating is that it is at the same location in all of us -
whether we read Chinese, Hebrew or English, whether we've learned with
whole-language or phonics methods, a single brain region seems to take on
the function of recognizing the visual word.

COOK: But reading is a relatively recent invention, so what was the
"letterbox" doing before we had written language?

DEHAENE: An excellent question - we don't really know. The whole region in
which this area is inserted is involved in invariant visual recognition - it
helps us recognize objects, faces and scenes, regardless of the particular
viewpoint, lighting, and other superficial variations.

We are starting to do brain-imaging experiments in illiterates, and we find
that this region, before it responds to words, has a preference for pictures
of objects and faces. We are also finding that this region is especially
attuned to small features present in the contours of natural shapes, such as
the "Y" shape in the branches of trees. My hypothesis is our letters emerged
from a recycling of those shapes at the cultural level.

The brain didn't have enough time to evolve "for" reading - so writing
systems evolved "for" the brain!

COOK: How might our brains abilities, and limits, shape other human
activities, like, say mathematics?

DEHAENE: I dedicated a whole book, "The Number Sense," to our native
intuitions of numbers and how they shape our mathematics. Basically, we
inherit from our evolution only a rudimentary sense of number. We share it
with other animals, and even infants possess it already in the first few
months of life. However, it is only approximate and non-symbolic - it does
not allow us to precisely distinguish 13 from 14 objects.

Nevertheless, it gave humanity the concept of number, and we then learned to
extend it with cultural symbols such as digits and count words, thus
achieving a more precise way of doing arithmetic.

We can still find traces of this evolutionarily old system whenever we
approximate, sometimes quite irrationally - for instance when we let go of
one thousand dollars on an apartment sale (because it seems a small
percentage of the total) while bargaining hard to obtain a carpet at 40
instead of 50 dollars!

Higher mathematics must be constrained in a similar manner by our
evolutionary toolkit. Complex numbers, for instance, were deemed "imaginary"
and impossible to understand until a mathematician found that they could be
described intuitively as a plane - an easy-to-grasp concept for the brain.

COOK: What does this research tell us about how reading should be taught?
And does it tell us anything, more generally, about how best to educate?

DEHAENE: Both of my books, "The Number Sense" and "Reading in the Brain,"
point to the fact that young children are more competent than we think.
Learning is not "the furnishing of the mind's white paper," as John Locke
said. Even for an activity as novel as reading, we do not learn from
scratch, but by minimally changing our existing brain circuits, capitalizing
on their pre-existing structure. Thus, teachers and teaching methods should
pay more attention to the existing structure of the child's mind and brain.

In the case of reading, very concretely, as I explain in the book, we now
have plenty of evidence that the whole-language approach has nothing to do
with how our visual system recognizes written words - our brain never relies
on the overall contours of words, rather it decomposes all of its letters
and graphemes in parallel, subliminally and at a high speed, thus giving us
an illusion of whole-word reading. Experiments even suggest that the
whole-language method may orient learning towards the wrong brain region,
symmetrical to the visual word form area in the right hemisphere! We need to
inform our teaching with the best brain science - and we also need to
develop evidence-based education research, using classroom experiments to
verify that our deductions about teaching methods actually work in practice.

Theory, experiments on brain circuitry for reading, and education research
all currently point to the superiority of grapheme-phoneme teaching methods.

COOK: What is happening in the brain of a dyslexic? Are they reading
differently, or just more slowly?

DEHAENE: The dyslexic brain shows disorganized circuitry in the left
temporal lobe. In the majority of dyslexic children, the phonological
circuitry of the left hemisphere seems subtly disorganized, and this seems
to cause a failure to learn to properly interconnect visual letter
recognition with speech sounds. As a result, their visual word-form area
does not develop fully, or not at the normal speed, and they continue to
read serially, letter by letter or chunk by chunk, at an age where parallel
reading is well established in normal readers.

We should never forget, however, that there is a great heterogeneity in
dyslexia - so some children probably suffer from other difficulties, for
instance related to the spatial organization of the word. Some children
appear to mix left and right, or to be unable to focus on the letters
sequentially from left to right without error, and this might be an
additional cause of dyslexia, though somewhat less frequent that the
phonological problem.

COOK: And if the brain of a dyslexic is organized differently, does that
suggest that it might have other abilities -- or is dyslexia purely an

DEHAENE: This isn't fully known, but I was intrigued by recent research
which indicates that dyslexic children and adults can be better on tasks of
symmetry detection - they have a greater ability to notice the presence of
symmetrical patterns, and the evidence even suggests that this was helpful
in a group of astrophysicists to detect the symmetrical spectrum of black

My theory is that mirror recognition is one of the functions that we have
to partially "un-learn" when we learn to read - it is a universal feature of
the primate brain that is, unfortunately, inappropriate in our alphabet
where letters p, q, d and b abound. By somehow managing to maintain this
ability, dyslexics might be at some advantage in visual, spatial or even
mathematical tasks.

More generally, we are touching here on the very interesting issue of
whether cultural recycling makes us lose some abilities that were once
useful in our evolution. The brain is a finite system, so although there are
overwhelming benefits of education, there might also be some losses. We are
currently doing experiments with Amazon Indians, in part to test what are
their native abilities and whether, in some domains such as geometry and
spatial navigation, they might not be better than us.

COOK: Having done all this research, to you find yourself reading
differently now, or experiencing it differently?

DEHAENE: Not really - reading has become so automatic as to be
inconspicuous: as an expert reader, you concentrate on the message and no
longer realize the miracles that are worked out by your brain! I am always
in awe, however, when I watch young children decipher their first words -
the pride on their face is a living testimony to the wonders of reading.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Notes toward a writing course plan

Preliminary notes toward a course plan and syllabus. I started to blog my thoughts ~ a theory of applying Standard Writing and basic rhetoric as well as combining writing disciplines to teach advanced writing ~ academic, business, technical writing under the same umbrella, likewise applied and meta writing.  

1. Application
Writing the Application or Cover Letter

2. Introductions: 
personal writing and writing the personal statement

3. Individual Goal Setting
Have students set own goals for writing class, discuss assignments, portfolio; decide which writing mode (general writing/personal communication, academic, business, techical, timed essay writing they will focus on)

Writing assignment:
a) post to discussions about writing goals
b) submit proposal for projects (assignments) for achieving writing goals; use project proposal format

4. Thinking about writing:
Kinds or modes of writing based on purpose: informative, persuasive, expressive, personal, private. Which do you use and when? How does purpose affect style and organization?

Writing assignments: 
a) start a writing or learning reflection journal to write about writing
b) post to Discussions on individual learning styles, application to writing, and how students feel about writing

Writing assignment/ prompt: 
Describe how you feel about writing. Do you enjoy or dread writing? Did a particular incident, experience or situation influence the way you feel about writing?

5. Writing Areas

  • General writing and personal communication
  • Academic Writing
  • Business Writing
  • Technical Writing
  • Writing Timed Essays: essay questions in exams and standardized tests that will be machine scored, TOEFL and IELTS prep

6. Voice and audience

7. Topics - Parts of the Process

  • Mind-mapping
  • Outlining
  • Sentences
  • Paragraphs
  • Introduction
  • Body
  • Transitions
  • Conclusion
  • Support (filling in the canvas): specific examples, facts/data, anecdotes, descriptions, concrete details, citations from sources

8. Stages of the Writing Process:

  • Pre-Writing
  • Drafting
  • Revision: Writing Groups and Peer Review
  • Revision: Universal level for content and organization

9. Rhetorical Models: Organization models or types of essays / straight and mixed

  • Narrative
  • Descriptive
  • Process Analysis
  • Compare / Contrast 


  • Politics and the English Language, George Orwell (1946) essay on basic rules for clear writing
  • check blogs and online publications for articles (essays) about writing, writing and the internet, etc
  • readings on specific topics according to students' interests and writing goals

Sample Writing Assignments


Friday, December 4, 2009

Can Online Peer Assessment be Trusted?

Review of an article by - L'hadi Bouzidi and Alain Jaillet, a proposed solution to composition's perennial paperwork conundrum

The excessive workload generated by the assessment of exam papers in large classes and the need to give feedback in time often constitute a rather heavy burden for teachers. The online peer assessment can contribute to reduce this workload and, possibly, to improve learning quality by assigning the assessment task to students. However, this raises the question of validity. In order to study this question, we carried out an experiment of online peer assessment in which 242 students, enrolled in 3 different courses, took part. The results show that peer assessment is equivalent to the assessment carried out by the professor in the case of exams requesting simple calculations, some mathematical reasoning, short algorithms, and short texts referring to the exact science field (computer science and electrical engineering).

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What Is Standard English?

Standard English, also known as Standard Written English or SWE, is the form of English most widely accepted as being clear and proper.

Publishers, writers, educators, and others have over the years developed a consensus of what standard English consists of. It includes word choice, word order, punctuation, and spelling.

Standard English is especially helpful when writing because it maintains a fairly uniform standard of communication which can be understood by all speakers and users of English regardless of differences in dialect, pronunciation, and usage. This is why it is sometimes called Standard Written English.

There are a few minor differences between standard usage in England and the United States, but these differences do not significantly affect communication in the English language.

from Common Errors in English Usage ~

What is an error in English?
The concept of language errors is a fuzzy one. I'll leave to linguists the technical definitions. Here we're concerned only with deviations from the standard use of English as judged by sophisticated users such as professional writers, editors, teachers, and literate executives and personnel officers. The aim of this site is to help you avoid low grades, lost employment opportunities, lost business, and titters of amusement at the way you write or speak.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

starting a new class: advanced writing

Volunteer teaching for StudyCom is not without its frustrations. The freedom to change teaching topics, experiment with methods and materials, develop new classes ~ in short, teach the way you want, not what or how an administrator tells you ~ offsets those frustrations.

Over the years, I have taught or directed an intermediate class (emphasis on grammar and writing), a reading group, a self paced study group for high beginner to intermediate and, most recently, a beginner class (although one with some intermediate students). This last has morphed into a loose, blog based study/ writing group. Online asynchronous text based (no voice) classes are not well suited to absolute, beginning from scratch beginners unless they are exceptionally motivated.

I let the group lapse ... various reasons, not the least being because I could and it was so informal that doing so was easy. Also, it was time for a change ~ an new course.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

10 Digital Writing Opportunities You Probably Know and 10 You Probably Don't

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...Image via Wikipedia
How can technology best and most effectively support the writing process and improve outcomes? ESL or emerging writers can use the10 literacy/writing tools the linked list below to practice writing. Likewise teachers should be aware of them. Many are basic yet still powerful tools to support writing in the classroom. They are in no particular order.

In addition, the list includes 10 alternative tools that either offer a different perspective on digital writing or are a little known tool with huge potential in the classroom.

Not everything is free nor is it online – but the lists should be a source of ideas for self-paced writers looking for writing projects as well as for teachers developing lesson plans for non-fiction or narrative lessons.

10 Digital Writing Opportunities You Probably Know and 10 You Probably Don't

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Different Way to Think About Teaching English Language Learners

Linguistic proficiencies are very complicated. Some students who are monolingual in English may speak heavily accented English. This often results in their being characterized as English-language learners. Some students who speak both English and their home language may still exhibit some limitations in listening, speaking, reading and writing English. Other students are clearly English language learners who are in the process of acquiring the language.

 The following interview is from TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR(sm) eMAIL NEWSLETTER, sponsored by the Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning. comments at

The posting below looks at the challenges of teaching English language learners.. It is #46 in the monthly series called Carnegie Foundation Perspectives and is a interview with Professor of Education at Stanford University, Stanford, California. The Foundation invites your response at:

"A Different Way to Think About Teaching English Language Learners" is by Guadalupe Valdes, a senior partner in the Carnegie Network advising the Foundation in its new work, especially on issues around students who are English language learners. She has written that "as American educators we have a choice, we can isolate English-language learners in our educational institutions or we can choose to develop the full intellectual potential of all our citizens and future citizens."

FYI: TCC 2010 (Apr 20-22): Call for Papers & Presentations

TCC 2010  (Apr 20-22): Call for Papers & Presentations

15th Annual
April 20-22, 2010
Pre-conference dates: April 7-8, 2010

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow
~ Communication, Community, Ubiquitous Learning, Mobility and Best Choices ~

Submission deadline: January 15, 2010



TCC 2010 invites faculty, support staff, librarians, counselors, student affairs professionals, students, administrators, and educational consultants to submit proposals for papers and general sessions.

Since the first TCC Online Conference, the Internet has evolved into a global workspace for communication, collaboration, and community. People, technologies, services, and perspectives have converged on a single platform.

  • The Internet has changed the teaching profession. How do faculty communicate, collaborate, innovate to produce useful student learning outcomes that differ from past outcomes?
  • College students place high priority on using mobile smart phones and engaging online social communities daily. What can we learn from our students? How do we build on our students' expertise in digital media, personal publishing, and social networking?
  • Web 2.0 will continue to evolve. What effective practices have emerged in online learning? How do we assess student learning? How will smart mobile devices be adapted for learning? What is the institutional affect of virtual worlds such as Second Life?


TCC invites papers and general sessions on the continuing progress of distance learning, virtual communities, collaborative learning, social networking, and best choices for instructional technologies such as:

  • Retrospectives and personal experiences with the evolution of learning technologies
  • Perspectives and applications of Web 2.0 tools for teaching and learning
  • Technology applications that facilitate communication, collaboration, sharing, and social networking
  • Building and sustaining learning communities
  • Instructional applications in virtual worlds (Second Life, etc.)
  • Distance learning including mobile learning
  • Ubiquitous and lifelong learning
  • Open content and open source
  • E-portfolios and other assessment tools
  • Student orientation and preparation
  • Student success and assessment strategies in online learning
  • Student services online (tutoring, advising, mentoring, career planning, technology support, help desk, etc.)
  • Online learning resources (library, learning centers, etc.)
  • Online, hybrid, blended or other modes of technology enhanced learning
  • Professional development for faculty and staff
  • Accessibility for seniors and persons with disabilities
  • Gender equity, digital divide, intercultural understanding, and open access
  • Managing information technology and change in educational institutions
  • Institutional planning and pedagogy catalyzed by technology advances
  • Global learning, ubiquitous learning, and intercultural communication
  • The status of educational technology around the world
  • Other topics related to online learning and the application of educational technologies

This conference accepts proposals in two formats: papers and general sessions. Submissions will be accepted online.

For submission details, see:

To submit a proposal, go to:

The coordinators are especially interested in receiving proposals that involve student collaborators. Fees for student presenters will be waived.

The submission deadline is January 15, 2010.


  • Conduct a 45-minute informal, interactive online session for your paper or general session.
  • Upload a photo and brief professional bio to the conference web site.
  • Respond to questions and comments from conference participants.
  • Participate in a wrap-up session on the day of your presentation.
  • Verify descriptions that will be posted to registered participants before the conference.
  • Respond to email, as appropriate, from the conference and presenters mailing lists.

All presenters are required to register online and pay the conference fee ($99 USD; $149 USD after March 31). Group registration rates for faculty and students are available. Contact Sharon Fowler for details <>.

This conference is held entirely online using a web browser on a computer equipped with a headphones and a microphone. Broadband Internet access is highly recommended.

Organizations or companies interested in becoming a sponsor of this event may contact John Walber of LearningTimes <>.

For additional information, see <>. For further inquiry, contact Bert Kimura <> or Curtis Ho <>.

Technology support and services for this event is provided by our partners at

@VanessaVaileMountainair Arts & Mountainair Announcements

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Now This Sounds Like An Essential Quality A Teacher Should Have…

and then some... very difficult hat trick, probably next to impossible for monolingual native speakers teaching ESL, Composition and literature teacher have a hard time here too because they can't imagine what it is like to freeze in terror at the prospect of writing and find reading too exhausting to find pleasure in it.


Sent to you by none via Google Reader:


via Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... by Larry Ferlazzo on 11/21/09

The New York Times Book Review printed a very short interview with author Steven Pinker a week last week. It was same issue in which Pinker had written a review of Malcolm Gladwell's newest book.

Here's an excerpt from that interview:

"…Pinker, the author of "How the Mind Works" and "The Blank Slate," acknowledges that academic explainers have their own faults. "Academics lack perspective. In a debate on whether the world is round, they would argue 'no,' because it's an oblate spheroid," he said. "They suffer from 'the curse of knowledge': the inability to imagine what it's like not to know something that they know. That makes them underestimate the sophistication of readers and write in motherese rather than explaining concepts from the ground up."

That sounds like a great quality a teacher should have:

The ability to imagine what it's like not to know something that they know.


Things you can do from here:


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The World’s 50 Best Open Courseware Collections

The list linked represents a handful of hundreds of open courseware initiatives that now exist. The following fifty collections are from English-speaking universities and colleges, located across the U.S. to England, Canada and Australia. Additionally, the list points to open courseware projects such as directories and primary source projects offered by various universities and colleges.

The list is divided into categories and each link is listed in alphabetical order within those categories. This method shows our readers that we do not favor one collection over another.

The World’s 50 Best Open Courseware Collections

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Best Websites For English Language Learner Students — 2009

I recently rediscovered Larry Ferlazzo's wesbsite & all its "bests".... and not for the 1st time. But this time I added it to my feed reader to keep track of it. Expect to see more of it here.


Sent to you by none via Google Reader:


via Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day... by Larry Ferlazzo on 11/17/09

It's time for another year-end "The Best…" list. This one will be sharing my choices for the best eighteen sites to use with English Language Learner students.

Some of these sites may have been around prior to this year, but since I didn't discover them until now, I'm including them on the list.

Please vote in the poll at the bottom of this post and pick your top five. I'm having my students participate in the voting too, so you might want to consider using it as a lesson with your own students.

Here are my choices for The Best Websites For English Language Learner Students – 2009:

Number eighteen: Town Me is a brand-new "Yelp"-like site where users can write reviews of restaurants, stores, tourist attractions, etc.  I'm adding it to The Best Places Where Students Can Write For An "Authentic Audience".  You can read more about the site at TechCrunch.

Number seventeen:  Bluewalks lets you easily create a "walking tour" with text you write and images you can grab off the web.  It's another addition to the "authentic audience" list.

Number sixteen:  BBC Memoryshare is a "place to share and explore memories." The site has a cool-looking timeline where you can access memories that people have written — on just about anything. In addition, and most importantly for this post, you can contribute a memory (after quickly registering at the BBC). Each memory is accessible through the timeline, through a keyword, or through an individual url address.

Number fifteen:  Google expanded their Google Translator Toolkit. It builds on their great Google Translate tool, which is on The Best Reference Websites For English Language Learners — 2008 list.  I'd encourage you to read the post at The English Blog, which gives an excellent explanation of the new application.

Number fourteen: Grapevine is an audio "chatboard" that I'm adding to The Best Sites To Practice Speaking English. It's super-simple to set-up a private forum where students can listen and respond to others and don't have to be online at the same time.  English Language Learners can communicate with other classes around the world, like in our International Sister Classes Project or just be given a simple speaking assignment to complete.  I love its simplicity and ease of use.

Number thirteen: I've posted in the past about how the ability to make easy screencasts — with audio– could be an excellent learning opportunity for English Language Learners (you might want to take a look at that post).  There's now a great tool called Screentoaster that couldn't be more simple to use, and they've just added both the ability to record audio and add subtitles. All you do after you log-in is click on a button, open up the window on your screen that you want to record, and it starts recording your screen.  After that's been recorded, you can provide audio or subtitles.  And it's free.

Number twelve:  Users can create online animations at DoInk. I especially like what sounds like a strict and pro-active policy at ensure classroom appropriate content on the site.

Number eleven: Google also expanded its Google Books service. You can read about all the new additions at TechCrunch. The one that I really like is the feature that lets you embed previews of books into your own blog or website. I'm hoping to use this with students this year. We're going to be doing some work with other classes, and I can see them writing about their books, embedding the preview, and then having other students respond not only to their writing, but to the preview of the book that they will be able to read.

Number ten:  English teacher Renee Manfroid has created many excellent activities for Beginning English Language Learners, including Colors In English. You can see all of her interactives on her main site.

Number nine: English Raven, a site begun by Jason Renshaw, has just gotten even better with a new feature called World News For Kids. Several stories with images and accessible audio are shown each week, and students can participate in an audio forum, too. All that is free. If you are an English Raven member (and it's one of only a very few sites on The Best Educational Web Resources Worth Paying For… list — it only costs $20 per year, but also has a ton of materials that are available without paying), additional great materials are provided.

Number eight: Shahi is a dictionary that combines simple definitions with quite a few Flickr photos. The combination of the two makes it pretty accessible to English Language Learners.

Number seven: Nearly two years ago I posted about an excellent site for Beginning English Language Learners called Kindersay. Then it went off-line. It recently came back online again, so I'm including it in this year's list.

Number six:  Many English Language Learner teachers and students are familiar with Randall's ESL Cyber Listening Lab. It's provided high-quality listening exercises on the web for a longtime. It's now gotten even better with the addition of videos. Video Snapshots for ESL/EFL Students show short video clips along with comprehension quizzes for students to take.

Number five: Pinky Dinky Doo is a new site with a bunch of resources.  I'd encourage you to read a post by Kevin Jarrett that gives a good overview of what it offers.  I'd like to highlight one area of the site that I'm adding to The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement. It's called Your Story Box, and is basically a simple cloze (gap-fill) activity where users fill-in the blanks with images that are converted into words. Audio support is also provided to the text.

Number four: Speakaboos provides excellent quality "talking stories" on video with closed-captioning — often read by "celebrities."   They say they are also going to add the ability to record stories, as well as offering other online activities.  You can watch the stories without registering, though it appears like you will have to sign-up (for free) in order to record stories.

Number three: Welcome To The Web is really quite an exceptional site that acts as a guide for students to learn how to use the Internet. Audio support is provided for the text and users can save their progress in the tutorial. It's super-accessible.

Number two: BITS Interactive Resources is another one of those sites that was around, then disappeared, and then returned.  It has nineteen "sets" of five different excellent reading activities focusing on "signs, details, matching, gist, and gap."  It's also on The Best Websites For Intermediate Readers.

And now, the number one website for ELL's this year is…a tie between two new applications.

One is Vocabsushi. It's s a neat new — and free — vocabulary learning site. It includes assessments, audio, learning words in context, and games. The only thing it's missing are photos and/or videos, but I guess you can't always have everything. Joyce Valenza has written a post that describes the site in much greater detail. I'd encourage you to read that, and then try out Vocabsushi…

The other number one site is called English Central. David Deubelbeiss has posted a very thorough post about the site titled English Central – Bringing "voice" and output to learning English. I'd strongly encourage you to read it — I don't feel any need to "reinvent the wheel." A quick description is that it's a free video site for English Language Learners, lets users listen to parts of the video, then lets them repeat what the characters says and compares it to the original. You get graded on how well you do. It has even more features, but you can read David's post or check out the site directly. The other great thing about it is that the videos are all appropriate for the classroom, unlike several other ESL video sites that have come online recently.

Below you'll see the poll. Remember, people can only vote once, and I'm asking that you vote for no more than five of them. English Central is a late-comer to the list, so even though it's tied for first, you'll find it last on the actual poll.

Feel free to leave a comment about other sites you think should have been included on this list.

You might also want to look at the other three hundred plus "The Best…" lists.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.


Things you can do from here:


Monday, November 16, 2009

20 Free Resources to Learn English from Home

Not everyone can afford classes or expensive English language learning software. Fortunately, there are many free resources available online that anyone can use to learn English on their own. From free online courses to language learning communities, knowledge can be found with just a click of the mouse. Here are 20 free English language learning resources to explore from the comfort of your own home: 20 Free Resources to Learn English from Home

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online

From Larry Ferlazzo's edublog, Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…  for Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

This “The Best…” list requires a bit of an explanation.

I’ve already posted The Best Websites For K-12 Writing Instruction/Reinforcement.  That list primarily contains links to sites that provide direct writing instruction.  And I’ve also posted several lists of Web 2.0 tools where writing is a key feature to using them, including The Best Ways To Create Online Slideshows, The Best Ways For Students To Create Online Animations, and The Best Ways To Make Comic Strips Online.

I thought, though, that it would be useful to create another list of the best places where the primary purpose is just to write, and which make it interesting and easy for English Language Learners and other students to do so.  I don’t think that’s an artificial distinction and, if it is, so be it!

Here are my choices for The Best Places Where Students Can Write Online | Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day...

Blogged using ShareThis

Friday, July 10, 2009

reBlog from Fredzimny: Fredzimny’s CCCCC Blog

I found this fascinating quote today:

Indeed, knowledge workers of the nineties (teachers, librarians) are nowadays a kind of blue collar workers.Fredzimny, Fredzimny’s CCCCC Blog, Jul 2009


Read the whole article.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Language of Digital Learning Objects: A Cross-disciplinary Study

This article addresses how different disciplines use the language of teaching and learning, JOLT - Merlot Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 5, No. 2, June 2009


In order to determine the similarities and differences between disciplines in how each uses the language of teaching and learning, this study undertook linguistic analysis of 1,691 peer reviews in the MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) digital learning objects collection. Language concordancing software was used to identify trends particular to the sciences, the humanities and education. Findings specify the variation in word choice, sentence length, sentence structure and descriptive/ analytic uses of language that emerged between the disciplines. Analyses suggest both points of convergence and divergence that can guide principles and standards for instructional design and cross-disciplinary dialogue and collaborations around teaching and learning.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Software teaches writing online for credit

Would pairing this up with applying mass mailing strategies to "personalize" large online classes = classroom of the future? Surely software is in the works to further automate personalization.
General education courses as students know them now are undergoing change. A team of UA instructors and software programmers is currently developing an online writing course that will soon be paired with general education classes across campus. The course will be introduced as a one-credit supplement to the typical three-credit general education class. It is intended to provide an interactive and self-paced online environment in which students' writing skills are diagnosed and improved.
UA adds online writing credit to gen-ed system - News

Administration and accounting no doubt view the potential for cost effectiveness of reducing overhead, eliminating labor problems (teach those pesky adjuncts expecting equity or at least a living wage a lesson) and automating class/ course administration as 100% win-win.

Friday, June 26, 2009

personalizing the impersonal

How do you "personalize" a 150 student online course - and make it real?

According to marketing prof Roger Barry in his article, "Meeting the Challenges of Teaching Large Online Classes" in the March issue of JOLT (Journal of Online Teaching), personalizing a course is key to teaching large online classes. Reading on, I realize that to Barry, a marketing prof, "personal" does not mean the same as it does to me. What he really means is marketing personalization as a simulacrum of the real and personal. What a jolt...
In an effort to personalize a large online class, the author applies a marketing approach called direct mass marketing to communicate with students. Direct mass marketing is an approach used by marketers to send a message that is perceived as being personalized to a large market segment. So, how and why is this approach effective in an online course? Certainly the best approach to personalizing an e-mail is to send it directly to an individual. But, how can you accomplish this in a large class section with 150 students? To accomplish this, the author uses an approach he refers to as direct mass e-mailing.
Teaching meets marketing. The personal is no longer real but all about perception.

It's also about language and writing - just not about students learning how to write. Both "Study Buddy Notes" (class notes rewritten for cozy casual "I'm right here with you" effect) and direct mass mailing depend on the knowledge-marketer/teacher's wording and tone in both study notes and mass emailings.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The future of college writing

What is the future of writing and the teaching of writing? Not good. It's labor intensive, time consuming and undervalued in the marketplace. Already sweatshopped to the max composition adjuncts are at their limits. No one is going to give them more money and smaller classes in these trying economic times. More likely, class sizes and administrative paper work will increase. Where will the cuts come?

Requiring Revision

I keep finding and reading articles like these – and then comparing them to writing and attitudes toward it outside the academy. Is it research or masochism, obsession or idle curiosity? Blog fodder?

My reading: revision is on the way out, less for pedagogical than administrative reasons - too labor intensive unless admin can get it done on the cheap. Raised class caps in composition will put numbers too high to afford time for revision – even by academic sweatshop labor. The revision process no longer takes place in a meaningful way, shortened and corner cut to meaningless. Writing standards in the courses 1st year composition is supposed to prepare students for are already next to non-existent in most institutions.

Even graduate students, especially in more "commercial", less academic disciplines, write badly and are revision resistant for all that. Convinced they have already learned everything they need to know about writing in English 101, with perhaps a “business writing” (oxymoron alert) course thrown in for good measure. These students are neither stupid nor inarticulate – just never truly expected to write well or exposed to intellectual rigor. Perhaps gullible as well - first buying into self-esteem and then higher education seat-filling sales pitches.

Business and the relevance of Liberal Arts

In no way does this give a free pass to atrociously unreadable academic writing - jargon on steroids. That's another case for another time.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Update of sorts

Over a month and no post - shame on me. EVO is over. My online presentation was on writing feedback and strategies for managing paper overload without shortchanging students on meaningful feedback for their writing. Am I describing the impossible or what?

The week came down to a shout out between canned boilerplate & automated writing assessment (AWE) versus peer review, the blind leading the blind. At first it seemed as though group's interest was leaning toward computer assessment. Tempting to hand an onerous, labor intensive task over to software. But by the time we came to the end of the week, closing with real time discussion using web conferencing tools, the tide had turned - against AWE and in favor of group work and peer review. I reminded the instructors in the session that establishing review groups takes time - does not just happen with the flip a handout and asked them to let me know how groups worked for them

The turn pleased me no end. I came prepared to make the best of bad choices and work with them on using computer text analysis in the least destructive way possible. AWE is not awesome: it is creepy. But is it any creepier than non-computer assisted boring writing, boring for being formulaic suck up, boring for so strenuously striving to please and never offend whoever might read it? No, it is not. There is something somehow cleaner, in some warped way, about being able to say the computer made me do it. Not having to admit that another human asked you to surrender mind and will - and you did it.

I forgot to remind the non-native speaker teachers in my workshop not to control peer review group opinions or tell them what they should think.

What happens to writing (and thinking) when composition instructors know their rhetoric and mechanics but are short on original thinking - doing, recognizing, appreciating, cultivating? Or worse, short on tolerance, expecting students' opinions to mirror their own, perhaps rationalizing the expectation as something less craven.

If you are wondering what this has to do with computers, I'll think on it and get back to you.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Writing Prompts

Those who teach writing must design writing prompts with great care and attention to detail, considering the wording, the mode of discourse, the rhetorical specifications, and the subject matter of each writing assignment. The same is equally true teaching any writing class, whether ESL, emerging NS writers (developmental) and presumable developed writers in lower division college composition and writing intensive course

A well designed writing prompt guides the writer through drafting a main idea statement and from there onto essay organization and structure as well. Despite practice of attributing "assignment description information gap" problems to cultural context of prompts and assignments, most writing prompt problems are the fault of bad design, lack of clarity, insufficient specifics. Not even native speakers with high skill level can make sense enough of a poorly designed and written writing prompt to write the assignment expected of them.

This consideration does not eliminate the cultural context: rather it add another layer of complexity to the deciphering process. It is the writing instructor's responsibility to write good prompts. Students should not have to be mind-readers in order to figure out writing assignments. When confronted with unclear, less than precise prompts, L2 writers face greater obstacles than NS writers. Unfamiliar cultural context makes the task of decoding the prompt thornier and with it interpreting "how" the prompt sets up and organizes the writing assignment.

Understanding academic writing prompts and the culture giving birth to them can be even trickier, affecting their writing abilities. Writing teachers do their students a disservice when they accept writing that does not address the requirements of a prompt. Students must be given opportunities to become aware of the constraints of Admittedly, United States academic prose is a peculiar and not always logical genre. However, those expecting to play the game must learn both the rules of and the expectations of their presumptive audience if they are to succeed.

A few links to shed light on prompts and their kinship to thesis statements:
Characteristics of good prompts:
Good prompts are authentic and contain a clearly expressed writing topic, put it in context, and provide clear directions to help students respond. "Analyze, classify, compare, contrast, define, describe, discuss, and explain" are examples of key words that tell writers what to do.

Ask the questions:
  • What are the purpose(s) of the assignment?
  • What information do I need to complete the task?
  • What problems does the topic suggest?
  • Who is my audience?
Next: decoding a collaborative writing assignment
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