TESOL Connections (November 2010)

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Features

  • Grammatically Speaking

    • A 6-Year Journey to Adequate Yearly Progress, by Peggy Latham

    • How to Right an Essay: Reverse Pedagogy?, by Terence McLean

    Association News

  • TESOL Journal call for abstracts: 2012 Special Topic Issue on teacher collaboration

  • The TESOL Blog Spot: TESOL President Brock Brady asks:

    What are your favorite parts of English to teach?

    2011 TESOL Convention and Exhibit in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA:

    • Call for Proposals for TESOL Electronic Village 2011:

    Deadline for submissions: November 15, 2011

    • Open call for the 2013 TESOL Annual Convention Program Chair

    Resources

  • TRC Featured Resource: Nervous about Wikis & Blogs?

    November, we're paying tribute to Wikis & Blogs. See a sample here.

  • CAL Digest: Language, diversity, & learning: Lessons for education in the 21st century
  • CAL Digest: Coaching language teachers
  • What schools can learn from charters about teaching English language learners
  • E Pluribus Unum prizes for exceptional immigrant intigration initiatives
  • Plyler v. Doe: Still guaranteeing unauthorized immigrant children's right to attend U.S. public schools
  • NCELA : Professional development in action: Improving teaching for English learners

    TESOL Connections Archives (members only)

    To submit a feature article to TC, e-mail your submission to tc@tesol.org.

  • Features

    Grammatically Speaking

    T. Leo Schmitt explores English grammar

    and answers your grammar quandaries GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org download to PDF

    Greetings,

    I would like to devote a part of my first column to introducing some of my overarching thoughts on grammar. Unlike French with its Academie Francaise, English does not have an officially sanctioned language watchdog. There is no central authority to determine what is and is not correct usage. Instead, we have a whole host of commentators and writers who argue for various positions. They approach the language from a wide variety of viewpoints and argue for certain interpretations.

    Viewpoints are often divided into two camps: prescriptivist and descriptivist. At the prescriptivist extreme, there are grammatical rules passed down through generations, and any violation of these rules is tantamount to a sin. While these rules often have the status of tradition and learning on their side, they ignore the inherent dynamism of language. Surely there are few grammarians who would still argue for using hither, thither, and whither in their grammatically appropriate positions. Additionally, corpus linguistics has now opened up many new insights into how language is actually used rather than relying entirely on skilled grammarians’ intuitions and analyses of grammar.

    At the descriptivist extreme, all language is a natural phenomenon which simply reflects the person using it. While we may be able to discern patterns in the language, people who “violate” those patterns are simply using language differently, and prescribing grammatical rules could even be seen as a form of authoritarianism restricting the personal liberties of people to speak in the manner they choose.

    Most language teachers reject the “anything goes” approach of the descriptivist extreme, which makes no distinction between Shakespeare and a student with 2 weeks of English instruction. However, likewise most language professionals know that prescriptivist rules cannot alone describe language. For example, the parallel form rule tells us that parts of speech should be the same on both sides of a conjunction such as and, yet it would be a hard taskmaster that would mark a student wrong for using the phrase by and large. Thus most reasonable language teachers find themselves somewhere between applying the sensible grammatical rules from tradition that help us to make sense of our communication and retain some common standards, and accepting that language does not always fit into the neat little rules that we would like it to do and indeed frequently forms new patterns that contradict older rules.

    In my responses, I will try to detail how prescriptivist rules and patterns traditionally apply to English while noting how English itself is changing and how those patterns that prescriptivists hold dear may be coalescing into new forms. To the extent possible, I will try to use authentic examples to illustrate points.

    ____________________________

    Hi Leo,

    I am a grad student and have to do a class presentation on “it” and “there.” Any ideas on how I might do this fairly easily, clearly, and without confusing my audience? Any help is appreciated. Many thanks.

    Lil Porta

    Dear Lil,

    It and there are two of the most commonly used words in English and also very flexible in terms of their grammatical function.

    For a presentation on these two, I would narrow the focus down to their use as subjects in sentences that do not have a clear agent of the verb.

    It

    • English requires a subject in all sentences (except imperatives), but sometimes there is no clear agent performing the action. For example, in “It is raining” or “It is obvious” it is not always clear what it is. We use it in a number of situations when the agent is not clear.
    • It can be used in other senses, including as a pronoun for a nonhuman or nonanthropomorphized object when the object is known; as a pronoun for a child or animal when the gender is unknown; and as the object of a transitive verb when the object is unknown, such as “Just do it.”
    • It is used stylistically to avoid using infinitives, clauses, or -ing forms as a subject. “To do good deeds is important” becomes “It is important to do good deeds.” “That the earth orbits the sun is known” becomes “It is known that the earth orbits the sun,” and “Studying grammar is easy” becomes “It is easy studying grammar.”
    • It is used with expressions referring to time (It is Friday), weather and temperature (It snowed all day!), distances (It is nearby), or a situation (It will be very difficult).
    • It is also used in cleft sentences to emphasize an agent, such as “It was the grammatical sentence that posed a problem” as opposed to “The grammatical sentence posed a problem.”

    There

    • There is used in English to indicate existence, generally at a specific time or place. It is usually used with the verb to be (with a modal possible beforehand), but can also occur with other related verbs such as seem or exist. It often occurs with a prepositional phrase, such as “There are no atheists in foxholes” or “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (from Hamlet, Shakespeare).
    • There can be used as a deictic adverb (one that derives its meaning from the context) indicating “that place” or “that point” as well as in set phrases such as “There, there,” “Hi, there,” or “There you go.”
    • There is also used in some formal and literary styles with other verbs, as in “In a hole in a ground, there lived a hobbit” (from The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien) or “There died a myriad,” (from Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, Ezra Pound) but this usage tends to have a more poetic or storybook quality to it nowadays. In this usage, there may be analyzed as a fronted positional adverb rather than the subject of the verb.
    • It should also be noted that some grammarians conclude that the true subject of a there isconstruction is the noun following. This would explain why the verb agrees with it. “There is a cat” vs. “There are cats.” This would go against the English word order preference of subject-verb-object, but is a reasonable proposition. However, the ever-increasing use of there is for all nouns, as in “So glad there is people out there who can make this song amazing!”, while irritating to many prescriptivists indicates that there may well be something in the English language which drives us to consider there as the true subject.

    That should cover the main differences between it and there, but there are countless more details to research. I hope this gives you a good start.

    ____________________________

    When is it correct to use relation or relationship when referring to a) romantic involvement, b) blood relatives, and c) causality? Thanks very much for your assistance.

    Jean in Mexico City

    Dear Jean,

    This is a tough one.

    1. Romantic involvement: To “be in a relationship (with someone)” generally has the meaning of having a romantic involvement. “to have relations (with someone)” is generally a euphemism for sexual relations.
    2. Blood relatives: relation is used as a synonym for the noun relative, meaning someone to whom you are related by blood. Relationship is not generally used in this case, unless you are talking about how two people feel about each other as in “To have a loving relationship with a sister is not simply to have a buddy or a confidante—it is to have a soulmate for life,” (Victoria Secunda) which is another meaning of relationship that describes how two individuals or entities interact.
    3. Causality: A large part of the confusion stems from the fact that in one definition, the two words are essentially the same. The definition is one of connection as in the “the relation/relationship between birth order and intelligence.” A quick Google search for this particular phrase will turn up thousands of results whether you use relation or relationship. I cannot discern a difference in this meaning of connection, and Longman’s online dictionary equates them (www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/relation). When two words intersect in one of their meanings this closely, it complicates other intersections as well.

    The quality of feeling or interaction that I mentioned in point b above is an area where there does seem to be a distinction between the two as when you talk about the “relationship/relations between Mexico and the United States.” (Note that relations is plural in this case.) Given the increasingly blurred boundaries between these meanings a strong descriptivist would say that such differences are moot. However, a prescriptivist might answer that a relationship properly refers to the overarching quality of the interaction, whereas relations refers more to the multiple connections of the interaction. Some purists might even argue that relationship should be restricted to use when referring to human beings’ interactions, but most writers and speakers ignore that suggestion. Needless to say, this level of analysis is tied to many other contextual factors. I hope this clarifies the complex relationship between these two words.

    ____________________________

    Last Month’s Brain Teaser:

    Look at the two sentences below:

    Each sentence gives an example of an exception to a general rule. Explain the rule and the exception.

    1. The doctor did not have any idea what answer would please the patient most.
    2. It did not make any difference that the student had done the work on her own.

    The best answer came from Frank Massey of Amherst, Massachusetts. Well done, Frank!

    In each of these sentences, the determiner any suggests the plural ideas. The most appropriate adjective-noun combinations would be “an idea” or “any ideas.”

    For count nouns we usually use plurals in this case (The doctor did not have any children/instruments/patients.) However, idea and difference are generally used in the singular. It is interesting to note that idea and difference are often followed by noun clauses, whereas other nouns are not. Change also seems to follow this pattern as in “Have you seen any change in the amount of fruit or vegetables your child eats on average every day?”

    This Month’s Brain Teaser:

    The following two sentences are grammatical. They both demonstrate the same exception to a general grammatical rule of English. What is that rule and what is the exception?

    1. The Natchez Board of Aldermen last week voted unanimously to demolish the collapsed building at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin streets. (From “City to demolish collapsed building in downtown,” The Natchez Democrat.)
    2. Authorities believe an escaped convict on work release … is responsible for the blaze. (From “Investigators believe escaped convict set Roan Mountain fire,” www.tricities.com.)

    Please e-mail your responses, and any grammar questions you have, to GrammaticallySpeaking@tesol.org.

    When writing to Grammatically Speaking, please include your name and location (city and state, province, or country). If your question or response is selected for publication, your name and location will be printed unless you specify otherwise.

    ______________________________________________________________________

    A 6-Year Journey to

    Adequate Yearly Progress

    by Peggy Latham download to PDF

    Constructed near the Humboldt River in Nevada, United States, Southside Elementary School instructs about 500 students, kindergarten through fourth grade. The majority of the students are Spanish speakers, living near the school in small single-wide trailers sandwiched in under old elms. Some students are bused from new homes built on a hill near the city land fill. Many parents work long hours for minimum wages at the local casinos, Nevada’s principal source of revenue. Other parents are highly paid gold miners.

    Southside is considered a school at risk for low academic achievement because of the high number of second language learners and of those qualifying for free and reduced lunches. Schools like ours were targeted for educational reform. In 2001 the Congress of the United States enacted “No Child Left Behind” legislation, requiring accountability for all schools. To be considered “adequate,” a certain percentage of students must pass a standardized test each year. This percentage is raised each year with the goal of having all students performing at grade level by 2014. The annual measure of progress is called Annual Yearly Progress (AYP).

    Before No Child Left Behind, Southside’s achievement rate of 44% of students performing at grade level was considered adequate. Since No Child Left Behind the percent of students required to be at grade level, has gone up every year in both math and reading. The consequences of not making AYP included poor reputation, loss of students, loss of income, and loss of local control of the school. Southside Elementary decided to put a plan in motion that would usher them toward achieving AYP.

    In this report I have used “we” in the team spirit of Southside Elementary. “We” are all the dedicated, hard-working, skilled teachers, support staff, and leadership of our school and district. I am very grateful to be a small part of a great team.

    We have some far-sighted people on our staff who realized that we had to work smarter, not just harder, if we were to make AYP. We would have to use the data gathered every year from every source. We would have to be honest about our weak areas. We needed a plan for change. Change is sometimes painful—not everyone came on board right away; some requested transfer to other sites, but those who remained tried their best to adjust to the changes in order to meet the goal.

    Utilizing Grants

    We obtained a Nevada Reading First grant. Reading First required a 90-minute uninterrupted reading block for all students, which meant schedule changes for the whole school. Everyone had to use the same textbook series in all the grades. With Reading First we started "intervention," also known as "walk to read." During intervention each student was grouped according to his or her ability level. Every day, students walked to their leveled group—sometimes in another room—for an additional 45 minutes of reteaching and practicing essential content that they had not mastered. On-grade-level or above-grade-level students were given challenging or enrichment assignments. We used Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) as our monitoring instrument. (See Resources for information on DIBELS.)

    Reading First brought even more changes. At this point, I was hired under a grant as additional personnel for ESL to make the intervention classes smaller and to give more support to our large ESL population. Half-day kindergarten was changed to full-day kindergarten. (This year’s fourth grade students were the first to have full-day kindergarten.) We also applied for and received a Century 21 grant for after-school tutoring and summer school. We instituted professional learning communities (PLCs) for grade level collaboration, which continue to meet weekly.

    PLCs are communities in which “teachers in a school and its administrators continuously seek and share learning and then act on what they learn. The goal of their actions is to enhance their effectiveness as professionals so that students benefit.” (See Resources for information on Professional Learning Communities.)

    Implementation of PLCs required the cooperation of the specials teachers: physical education, art, music, and library. (We were even able to get a fifth special teacher with the Reading First program.) To accommodate PLCs the specials teachers, who were used to teaching a single grade level each day, had to teach the same grade level at the same time every day. This change required more organization on the part of the specials teachers, but allowed for the grade levels to meet as PLCs. When the district moved fifth and sixth graders to an intermediate school, our specials teachers had to travel to teach at other sites. In this past year we requested permission to keep our specials teachers with us all day. These five teachers (the Save-the-Children teacher also assisted with intervention) have now become intervention teachers.

    Assessing Content

    We began to assess the essential content of our reading program by asking simple questions: What did we teach? Was everyone in the grade level teaching the essential content? Words like common assignment and common assessment became part of our vocabulary. Now another question: Did the skills covered in our reading series match skills required by the state standards? (Nevada is a standard based state, and kindergarten and first grade had gone to standard based report cards.)

    PLCs were further evaluating the essential content. We decided that students did not need to read every story in the reading series. Upper grades reordered the curriculum so the tested skills were taught before the CRT (the Criterion Reference Test used in Nevada to determine AYP) was given.

    Somewhere in this several-year process our reading scores began to rise, but we were still missing the mark in math. More schedule changes had to be made. Math was now moved to a 90-minute block. Some grade levels also grouped math instruction according to ability level.

    Science and social studies content began to be covered during reading, intervention, and math instruction (and sometimes vice versa) so that multiple standards were being taught at once. This collaboration is still a work in progress. Teaching reading often focuses on a decoding skills and comprehension skills. The focus in content areas such as science and social studies is on the concepts required by state standards. Aligning the reading skills and the content concepts into a single assessable focus is a difficult task.

    One example comes from the weekly reading assessment: Two points were awarded for the correct answer and one point was awarded for writing the number of the paragraph that contains the answer to the question. The assessment included a reading passage about the president of United States. The fourth paragraph mentioned that the president is elected every four years Students were asked to know and use this fact by this question:

    A president was elected in 1996.When was the next presidential election?

    A. 1998

    B. 2000

    C. 2001

    D. 2002

    This one question assessed reading, math, and social studies skills.

    We capitalized on the units that were unique to our particular school. For example, because many of our teachers’ husbands work as gold miners, we used them as experts during the science rock unit, which is one of our favorites. This unit was taught as a whole group by the classroom teachers with the intervention staff, physical education teachers, and ESL personnel “pushing in” to assist in hands-on experiments.

    Meeting State Standards for English Language Learners

    Nevada state standards were updated in 2007, and the updates required many changes for schools. To begin with, the district (facing the AYP hurdle and the new state standards) changed the math directives so that the entire district used the same math textbook series; formerly, each site in the district chose its own textbook series.

    Additionally, most special education and ESL students were placed in the regular classroom in an inclusion or push-in program. English language learners new to the school were given help during intervention. This big change generated a great deal of disagreement between ESL teachers and grade-level teachers. Although every classroom has many willing peer translators, the grade level teachers do not always appreciate the challenge of non-English speakers in the classroom, and some ESL personnel like the small, friendly, mainly native-language time with the newcomer. Those who support the inclusion model believe inclusion pushes students to excel: One newcomer from Mexico began his first year of school in the United States in August 2009. He passed the CRT in math but not in reading.

    (As language teachers, the purpose of our reading block inclusion is to get the children to talk—to share things with the small group. We review the vocabulary and difficult concepts, reteach if necessary, and build background (through tangible contextual activities) in cooperation with the classroom teacher. Because the essential content is on an internal internet drive, the teachers have direct access to exactly what skills are to be taught each week for all grades, and this enables us to tailor our reading block push-in sessions to the regular classroom content and skills being learned. We also have a reading specialist for ideas and assistance, which makes our job much more efficient.

    The full-day or extended day kindergarten program constitutes students’ English language service. In this past year we had six full-day kindergartens classes and five first grades classes. Once a week, an ESL teacher taught “language” as a fifth special course. (art, music, physical education and library are the other “specials.”) A half-day preschool program has also been instituted. We have applied for accreditation of this program and have applied for grants to expand it. The preschool helps the children learn classroom behavior skills; builds vocabulary in English; and teaches simple counting and an introduction to letters and sounds, which are foundation skills for success in school.

    The Special Education and ESL departments also began to write out their essential content. Our question became: What does the ESL department need to teach in order for students to be successful in the academic setting? Our department chose to go to the ELPA (English Language Proficiency Assessment) test and to our state standards to guide us in this process. It took us about a year during our PLC meetings to establish the essential content.

    Addressing Assessment

    Our "far-sighted" staff members learned that the DOK (Dr. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge model; see Resources) was to be a part of the new testing process to pass AYP. We asked ourselves, “What did all this mean and what did it look like for this skill or concept?” Thus, professional development time was used to answer these questions and understand DOK levels. The essential content for both reading and math was rewritten with DOK levels.

    The Reading First grant supported us for 5 years. The years passed quickly without our making AYP. Our test scores have been going up and getting closer, but not hitting the target. One year, fourth grade hit the goal, but not third, so the site did not achieve AYP.

    More after school tutoring programs were instituted: Century-21, Save the Children, Total Tutoring, and A+ Learning Solutions. Some teachers tutored those students closest to passing the CRT, the so called “bubble group,” who either just barely passed or just barely failed to pass. Our purpose was to cement the concepts in their minds so the test pressure would not make them fall back.

    More changes came as we began correlation of the standards across grade levels: What will students need to know to pass the CRT at each level? Lower grade levels began highlighting the content that needs to be taught to pass in 3rd and 4th grade, the highest grades at our site. Each grade level gives a common assessment; everyone in the grade level gives the same test on the same day. This is now true in both reading and math, with differentiation for those grades whose whole grade level is ability grouped. The work on grade level collaboration is ongoing.

    First grade reading and math tests have been reformatted to look like the CRT. In lower grades, centers are now used in math where students can use manipulatives, talk about the process of math, practice with computer games, be instructed in an ability group with the teacher, or practice by themselves. All of these changes and new processes have helped advance test scores and bring Southside closer to AYP.

    As teachers we adopted a “zero tolerance for not learning" policy. "Not learning" is not an option. Some teachers required students who were behind to come into school on Saturdays. One teacher’s policy is, “Do the work in class, at recess, after school, or come on Saturday,” which means that she sometimes stays at school well beyond her required hours though there is no extra pay. On CRT test day our principal called parents and told them they would have to reschedule doctor and dentist appointments, and he phoned to check in on students who had called in sick to ensure that all students who were able attended school that day for the test.

    Changes for the Future

    As we look to the future we will have to increase our learning, with fewer dollars and smaller staff. We will continue to monitor data, be honest about our weaknesses, make painful changes, encourage parental involvement, and encourage staff esprit de corps. We anticipate achieving AYP again this year.

    Resources

    Peggy Latham (Mrs. Robert Latham) is an ESL teacher at Southside Elementary School in Elko, Nevada, United States. Her first English teaching position was in Congo, where her students spoke several tribal languages; one or two trade languages (Swahili or Lingala); the official language of French; and English, which they were learning as a foreign language. Her teaching experience includes all levels, from kindergarten to college. She loves being a teacher because she learns something new every day.

    ______________________________________________________________________

    HOw to Right an Essay: Reverse Pedagogy?

    by Terence McLean, mcleant@macewan.ca

    download to PDF

    Friend request. Sure, my EAP students understand this level of English; after all, most of their free (and study) time is spent on FarceBook. Still, the essay needs to be taught, and who better to teach it than me: Mr. Ancient Teacher-Guy. Neverthless, there is nothing like reading a well-crafted student-written essay that flows from a clear thesis statement, is joined by smooth transitions, and ends with a svelte little conclusion that ties everything up. I was hoping for this pleasing experience the other day after taking in the essays that my students wrote. We had spent weeks perfecting hooks, thesis statements, topic sentences, transitions, supporting details, commas, verb tenses, and word forms. I vigorously explained what it takes to write a superb essay, and, while I was sure that I taught with scholarly prowess, I was even more convinced that they were dazzled with my sagacious delivery. Wrong. Then again, caring instructors are supposed to constantly reflect, preferably with glass of wine in hand, on their teaching. Therefore, after a bit of vino-flection, or re-wining, I came up with the solution to my problems. I have the impression that my younger students are doing exactly what I ask them not to do— just to spite me. Thus, I am thinking of teaching how to write an “A” essay, while showing them how to write an “F” one. “Now there's a novel idea” (empty bottle of fermented grape beverage, quite a bit of personal communication, March 42thst, 20#%). Reverse psychology? Reverse pedagogy? Sure.

    First of all, we should tell our students that proper punctuation is essential especially commas are important because without those helpful pause indicators we would never get a break when we read things and we wouldn’t know which adjective clauses are nonrestrictive and the use of colons and semi-colons can add emphasis to what we want to say for example if we want to join thoughts without starting a new sentence and whenever we use quotations in writing we should use quotation marks speaking of punctuation can you imagine what the editors of the APA and MLA manuals would say if they read an article that broke every rule in the book it would be funny to see the looks on their nitpicky faces .Also ,do not forget to clarify that you need a space after commas and periods ,not before them ! And you can’t use contractions or too many question marks?

    Use sentence variety. Avoid choppy sentences. They’re no good. Join interesting ideas. Be creative. Don’t break it all up. Keep things going with commas. Simple sentences are boring. Throw in a complex one. Better yet, add a compound sentence. Hey, what about a compound-complex? Cool. Get the reader’s attention. Use a transition. Make your writing flow. Flow like a river. Feel the syntax. Be the pen. You will love it. Sweet.

    We must also apprise to our students to parry from relying on their electronic dictionaries too much. It is manifest when a student discriminates a miscalculated word that they have unearthed. Also, it is always easy too sea when a student has used a spell-cheque, but has not taken the tine two actually reed threw for misteaks. Their iz nothing like going form bed to worse when reeding an essay that has bean peaced together with mispelled worlds ant strange

    Capitolization. Dog, eye hate that.

    Then again, many students who can get over spelling difficulties do so by using that trusted resource: the Internet. So, instructors must warn students of the danger of forgetting to change the font style and size of the copied and pasted plagiarized material so that it slides more slickly into one's 'own' work. A font is a font is a font.

    Probably the best advice we can give our students is for them to keep away from idioms and clichés as far as they can throw them. The bottom line is to get students to reach for the top and never say never as they put their noses to the grindstone. By the way, have u noticed that young people are using 2 much e-mail/chat English? Cuz I have. R U as confused as I am? Let's 4get about +ive feedback & gettem to stop this habit asap. If we don’t, I’m like gonna hafta beat the bejeezus outa smthg. Hey, soundz kinda dope. Word.

    So, just as teenagers, at times, rebel against their parents' every word, some students refuse to listen to what their omniscient instructors profess. I am a lifelong learner engaging in continual professional development, and, after a bit of reflection and a vat of wine, I have come to the conclusion that my novel method of teaching how to write an “A” essay can work. As long as it leads to more enjoyable grading for me, I'll try anything. Reverse psychology? Reverse pedagogy? Like, whatever. Cheers.

    Tomorrow's lesson: How to respond to a friend request on *&%$^# FarceBook:

    BUGGER OFF!

    Note: A previous version of this article was first published in IATEFL Voices (186) 11 in August/September of 2005. Additions and revisions have been made. The author retains full copyright of this article.

    Terence McLean teaches EAP at Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He started teaching English 20 years ago in Japan and has been at Grant MacEwan University since 2003.