Making Functional Grammar Explicit: Game Design-Enhanced TBLT Lesson Plans for “Firewatch”

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Firewatch fan art

Introduction

In our review of Firewatch, we concluded that it would make an excellent video game for Game Design-Enhanced TBLT (GD-TBLT). It’s heavy narrative weight means that within the game there is a large amount of language and other literary devices that can be exploited for all kinds of learning, not just second language teaching and learning (L2TL). In fact, while I was doing research for both the review and the lesson plans, I came across another teacher who used Firewatch to teach literary skills to high school students in the Netherlands.

This imaging of teaching however, will be slightly different in frame. First, I have chosen to focus in on the form/function of narrative choice in these lesson plans. These Firewatch lesson plans focus on making explicit to students the relationship between language functions and language forms. Or, descriptions of what we are doing and the explicit and specific words we use to do those things.

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How Can Emotion-full Language Affect The Teacher/Student Relationship?: Evidence From Intercultural EFL Online Chat Tutoring

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Introduction

As the world becomes more interconnected, new methods in the study and practice of language learning are needed to account for the experience of a globalized world (Bloomaert, 2010) and the continual intertwining of technology into our lives at younger and younger ages (Pasfield-Neofitou, 2013). Simultaneously, teachers need to know not just the new pedagogy, but general CMC principles related to social roles and importantly, emotion. This study seeks to investigate how emotion is expressed and understood in intercultural, Korean student (KE), non-Korean teacher (NE), English language tutoring through the synchronous chat program, Google chat.

As a teacher and participant in this study, the experience of tutoring a new student, with new pedagogical approaches and theoretical designs, what was most impressive to me was the way I, as a teacher, expressed and received emotion. Comfortable chat conventions that are normally used in my day-to-day chat experience were not always or consistently found in the tutoring sessions. Understanding why, particularly if it was due to some lack of skill on my part, became an important question.

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What Kind of Creatures Are We?: Language

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Introduction

Noam Chomsky is getting older. He is undoubtably one of the most influential thinkers of contemporary philosophy and science. Though that may not itself be the most praiseworthy thing.

But with age come synthesis and summary. Chomsky’s latest writing outside of his political side have been this sort of writing. His book What Kind of Creatures Are We? is a philosophical summary of his major contributions to the science of linguistics and philosophy of cognition and morality. It moves from his most specific question, What is language? to What is cognition? to finally, What is the common good?.

For second language teachers and learners (L2TL), Chomsky is often opaque and dismissed. My own experience went from practically worshiping him (as an undergraduate linguistics student) to renouncing him (as a Second Language Education master’s student) to finally a sort of dialectical synthesis now. I find reading Chomsky imminently stimulating and, if not specifically, in general try to live and teach with the goal of moving and thinking throughout my work like Chomsky.

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A Review of “Firewatch” for ESL/EFL Teaching

  • This review assess the potential for game-design enhanced second language teaching and learning of Firewatch. For background reading about the philosophical and linguistic-theoretic foundation for the approach used in this review, see here and here.

Introduction

Games for second language teaching and learning (L2TL) are very often used for very limited purposes. Something like “fun” or motivating language use. But as we have seen, games can do much more than that. Importantly, games can do language, learning and culture.

One area of L2TL that games probably don’t come up very often in, is in fiction reading– or novels. In what way can games be used that traditional fiction reading may have filled? We know that games and their mechanics are motivated and given life by the context and narratives that surround them. Many of the most popular games are historical or science fiction and fantasy. Many of these games are ambitious in their scope (think Star Wars or Saving Private Ryan and Mass Effect or Call of Duty). But most academic fiction reading revolves around a different kind of reading. Something more like Angela’s Ashes or Hatchet. What do games have to offer in these personal story or smaller scope stories?

With the explosion of Indie games, a lot actually. Smaller game companies or just individual developers are tackling smaller scope stories that have all the impact of a Hatchet. One of these games is Firewatch, a game and story that, like Hatchet takes place in a forest and is largely driven by the psychological well-being and related actions of one person, alone in that forest.

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The Political Economy of Language Use In Global Relationships: Some Useful Concepts

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A picture from my recent marriage to my Korean wife

  • This essay is the result of a research project I conducted into the code-switching patterns between couples who share different first languages. My wife is Korean; she also speaks English and a bit of Japanese. I am American; I also speak Portuguese and a bit of Korean. Together, we speak a bit of lots of things.  I was always paying close attention to the use of language between us. But it wasn’t until I was introduced to Jan Bloomaert’s Sociolinguistics of Globalization that I realized I wanted to know a lot more.

Introduction

This post intends to examine the intersection of bilingualism, biculturalism and globalization in the private and public lives of international romantic relationships. It is something of a cliché to mention the ever-globalizing world when prefacing research which appears to be due in part to the technological and educational effects of globalism. However, in addition to the political and demographic interest this subject holds for many people, researchers and lay-persons alike, this particular crossroads of language use provides an elusive opportunity to examine language acts which are by definition, private.

The Korean context of international marriage is an interesting setting due to historical governmental restrictions on the practice and the now open phenomena in the globalized. Little sociolinguistic research into the language use of these new couples has been completed as of yet (see Lim, 2010). This current study will begin first with laying the foundational theoretical work and tools used by previous researchers to examine language use in international couples. Then, using that framework as a guide, we will provide a methodology for examining a small case study of international couples in Korea.

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Applying For the Job: Using Work Simulators in the L2TL Classroom

The EFL Situation

ESL/EFL teachers will immediately recognize the theme of “jobs” as a staple of almost all ESL/EFL textbooks. Even very young students in most places recognize that their parents work or that there are people in their community like police officers or restaurant workers. It is this, assumed, shared understanding that makes “jobs” a very tempting content-subject for teachers.

However, most textbooks have a hard time, or fail completely, to contextualize and situate the content – jobs – with the language use the students should be learning. The following image is a very, very typical type of assignment that language learners might get. It seems well done. It provides images that associate directly to words and contextualizes the jobs in specific places (e.g. teacher – school). How or in what situation the student should need to use the language in the worksheet isn’t even a topic of concern. In fact, the only place such a task will be useful is in the ESL/EFL classroom context itself. Making activities like the one below very hard to transfer to real-world language use, to say nothing about its use in talking about or in those jobs or places.

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Take Your Learners to Work: A L2TL Review of “MyCafe: Recipes & Stories”

This review is part of a series of posts that examine different games for their usefulness in teaching ESL/EFL under a game-design enhanced approach to TBLT. Want to know more about that first? See this foundational post for background information and an actual example.

 Introduction

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Thank goodness… all we have is tea.

I have from time to time, played facebook games. I know to some gamers, that is.. like the most disgusting thing you can do. But I have found some of them fun and even, maybe.. engaging. Of those games, a certain genre generally gets my attention, the job simulator. These games put you in the position of worker, owner or designer of some sort of socially-acceptable job.

Unsurprisingly, jobs and work are often, very often, topics for second language learning and teaching (L2TL). This review then, is interested in discovering how well, if at all, casual job simulator games are for L2TL. this review will follow a basic format. First, I will explain basically the game and its core mechanics along with the communities that exist around the game. Then we will present an overall, table-form, evaluation of the main areas of game-design enhanced Task-based learning and teaching (TBLT) from Sykes & Reinhardt (2013). A detailed discussion of the evaluation follows with specific examples from the game. Part 2 of this review will discuss useful ways to leverage My Cafe: Recipes & Stories for L2TL.

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How To Give Effective Feedback to Language Learners?: An Example of Vygotskian Responsive Assistance

  • Previously, I wrote a piece critical of what many EFL teachers might think is good advice for giving student feedback. I mentioned in that post that a more effective method would be Dynamic Assessment. This post then is a follow-up to that post. Here I detail what exactly DA is and then provide an extend example with data of what it looks like in action.

Introduction

Since “the sociocultural turn”, the field of second language acquisition has seen a shift in the way many educationalists and linguists view the dialogic nature of the teacher-student interaction. The turn from traditional initiate, respond, evaluate forms of teaching has been replaced with a Vygotskian form of responsive assistance, in some cases called instructional conversations (IC). The core these IC communications, according to Meskill & Anthony (2010) is the dynamic relationship between two people and how they “recognize and respond appropriately to the myriad of teachable moments” (loc. 515).

In order to recognize and respond, much more than attending to the forms and function of a language in the classroom is necessary. Our sociocultural theory of education must also be ecological in viewing itself as situated in a particular environment, with its own unique and variable affordances.

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Using A Game-Design Enhanced Approach to TBLT: The Example of The Social Deception Tabletop Game “Coup”:

  • This essay attempts to both describe and motivate the Bridging Activities Cycle for game-design enhanced TBLT. For further foundational reading into the philosophical and theoretical motivations for using games and taking a game-design approach to TBLT, see here.

Introduction

Vernacular video games, or commercial video games, have in the last decade begun to be examined for their usefulness for learning. From a fundamental level, Gee (2007) claims that video games demonstrate excellent learning principles inherent in their design. To operationalize and capture the learning potential in games, Thorne and Reinhardt’s (2008) Bridging Activities (BA) provide an approach to language learning and teaching that utilizes playing games with principles of language awareness (LA) (Bolitho et al, 2003).

In particular for BA, language learning is never seen as something decontexualized or simply about language in some general sense. Instead, BA aims to build in learners an awareness of how multimodalic forms are utilized by a community to make sense, achieve specific goals and perform situated functions. In this way, LA is an awareness both of and about language (Reinhardt & Sykes, 2011). Awareness of language is related to experiences that users have in specific situations, such as saying “hello” in a marketplace. Awareness about language then is the analytic side that users of language use in order to know that saying “hello” to the clerk at the supermarket is different than they “hey” they say to their best friend at home. BA then, attempts to use the situated experience and natural learning potential of video games and the attendant communities (e.g. websites and forums) around specific video games to build LA in learners in this way.

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Error Correction in Language Teaching

  • This essay is a short review of one specific aspect of Brown and Larson-Hall’s 2012 introductory book Second Language Acquisition Myths. In particular, this review addresses the myth of error correction, which Brown and Larson-Hall phase as “Language Learners Always Benefit From Error Correction”.

Introduction

The question of error correction is certainly perplexing to many of us language teachers. Not only which form of correction, but even how to correct children as opposed to adults. As a teacher cited in Brown and Larson-Hall’s (2012) Second language acquisition myths  says, “[c]hildren make adorable mistakes” (p. 105; italics mine). Adults generally do not make adorable mistakes. The intersection between age and correction-type then, is in the center of this so-called myth. In my personal experience however, it seems the authors miss a few important factors in their deconstruction of this myth.

Beyond declaring one type of error correction better than another is the idea of dynamic correction (or assessment) (Lantolf & Poehner, 2011). Additionally, this myth is ripe for native-speaker bias in which native-speaking teachers correct what they perceive as errors, but what may actually be a more creative act of self-expression. Finally, while perhaps beyond the scope of their book, no mention is made of the philosophical concerns related to evaluation, both negative and positive. The categorizing and approving of specific types of error correction, which is the hallmark of the science cited in the chapter, seems to miss what I have experienced in my own classrooms as a more messy relationship between learners and educators and the process of evaluation.

Error Correction

Prologue: Native-speaker bias

Native-speaker knows best

 

To begin this discussion, I want to first address a problem present in the book, which goes largely unaddressed. In the chapter on error correction, the teacher “in the real world” (p. 105) points out an English construction they view as a grammar mistake of helping verbs and their objects. The teacher identifies the construction, “Let’s English!” as grammatically incorrect, because let requires a main verb (e.g. “Let’s do/eat/finish it!”). The teacher expresses the frustration of many when she says, “I have to admit that sometimes I just give up and say, OK let’s English! Corrections seem to do no good in some cases” (Brown & Larson-Hall, 2012, p. 106).

Verbing nouns is not uncommon in so-called native English. In my own classroom, we often play the card game Coup (Indieboardsandcards, 2016), where each player has two cards with names of certain kinds of people on them, like Duke, assassin, captain and so on. Each of these cards can perform certain actions in the game, like tax or exchange. When performing your action, it seems reasonable that you would use the verb to declare your action (e.g. “I will tax and take two coins!”). However, after a few games I, their teacher, began saying, “I duke your foreign aid”. instead of “[As a duke], I block your foreign aid”. The students soon caught on and began verbing the names of all the cards.

As a native speaker, I seemingly have the authority to be creative with my so-called errors. However, had my students begun doing the same thing without my help, would I have corrected them? I hope not, or at least I hope I would figure out a better way to understand why they did it. If it was a genuine mistake, I suppose I would want to help fix it. But if it was self-expression and creativity, well then why do I have the right to self-express, but not my language-learning students? The grayness of the two is nearly impossible to tease apart.

Recasts vs prompts

Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) end their chapter on error correction by advising teachers to use explicit prompts which both draw the attention of the learner to their error and provide an opportunity for them to correct it. Especially for low-level learners (and younger learners), explicit correction makes it clear what the teacher is expecting. This conclusion follows from the research provided, where two different types of error correction (recasts and prompts) are studied in experimentally sound conditions and generally prompts produce the kind of language improvement teachers look for.

Recasts, the authors note, are the preferred type of error correction by many teachers. They seem less intrusive to the language production of the learner and less directly evaluative. However, students, especially young learners, don’t seem to pick up on grammar corrections if they are not obviously pointed out.

This follows from the experience of everyone who has learned a language. The only time recasts happen naturally in the world is when interlocutors A) physically can not hear the speaker or B) the meaning of the word or sentence was unclear. In other words, recasts are communicative repair tools that people use to understand the meaning of each other’s speech. Additionally, it is generally found to be very rude and pompous to correct another person’s grammar in this way.

Explicit prompts, on the other hand, interrupt the learner’s communicative act, in order to step-down and address the grammar. I find that this interruption, especially in the beginning, may be surprising or annoying to students, but the research suggests that bringing learners’ attention directly to the problem helps them notice it. As long as the student is paying any attention to their teacher, their mental resources have to switch from communication to logical thinking about language.

This categorizing and evaluating error correction types seems to show that, of course, explicit prompts are better. However, we need to think more clearly about what our categories do. In many enterprises, category formation focuses specific content as exemplary and tends to ignore content on the boundary. When we think of error correction strategies then, it seems that explicit prompts are the best fit for the category.

Dynamic assessment

There is another way to think about error correction however. Instead of categories, we can think about error correction continuums, where the type of error correction selected by the teacher should meet the need of the learner. Instead of simply using “more” of one type of correction over the other. I believe that dynamic assessment (DA) (Lantolf & Poehner, 2011) provides a better method for error correction than simply preferring explicit prompts over recasts.

DA can allow teachers to see more clearly what level their learners are at, beyond just “can do X, can’t do Y”. It asks teachers to address a learner at the stage they are at. If a learner makes a mistake, but has almost nearly mastered the content, it may only take a questioning look from the teacher to make the student realize their mistakes. Other students may not even know that they don’t know they made a mistake. The point is, the teacher needs to listen to the student, identify where they fail to address their problem, and give correction at a scaled level. This changes the suggestion we would give teachers. It’s not simply be more explicit, it’s: meet your learner where they are.

Evaluation

Negative and positive evaluation

In my view however, this discussion of good, better, best jumps ahead to quickly. No mention in the chapter is directed at the concept of correction fundamentally. At a basic level, correction is a type of evaluation that goes beyond identifying good or bad production to providing opportunity to correct it. However, acknowledging the root of evaluation is important because it raises important philosophical implications for our language teaching and learning.

Earl Stevick in his language teaching book A Way and Ways (1980) notes that while negative evaluation is at times seen as controversial, positive evaluation is more often assumed to be good no matter what. This is seen as a mistake and it is argued that positive evaluation can be as harmful as negative. Stevick (1980) describes the use of evaluation as establishing an “evaluative climate” (p. 23) in the classroom. This climate is a tension between what is called the performing self and the evaluative self that resides in all of us. This is linguistically evident in phrases like “I’m my own toughest critic”. Often that is the truth. However, the same tension that we all at times inwardly feel is often unknowingly established in the language classroom through any type of evaluation.

Stevick (1980) illustrates this idea by an experience he had with a german friend who once told him, “Oh, I like talking with you. You use such correct grammar” (p. 23). This immediately made him self-conscious of his grammar, whereas he wasn’t before. I also felt this same tension while talking to people in Brazil. Often after “hello”, people would comment “Wow! you speak such good Portuguese!”. This experience always led me to feel pressure, because I knew that after a few minutes of talking, they would realize I didn’t actually speak such good Portuguese. I just happened to say “hello” very naturally according to them. This experience happens much more often in Korea, where any knowledge of Korean by a western-foreigner is met with much praise and adoration.

Natural evaluation in language

The issue with positive evaluation in the classroom, I think, lies in the way we naturally express positivity towards the language use of other people when they speak. In a phrase, we don’t. We signal satisfaction with the words of other people by attending more and responding to their language use. When someone says something interesting, we say, “That’s (the content)  interesting!” or “Well said (the content)!”. It would be seen as patronizing to say, “Very good on your grammar”.

Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) acknowledge this idea when they talk about the teacher who reacts communicatively to the content of their learner’s mistakes of “have” and “be” and this is how I try to signal error correction in my own classroom. I try to show interest in the content, while also signaling that the error is in the language itself, not the semantics. It is a difficult thing to do.

Conclusion

The word myth is something of a sledgehammer. It lacks nuance. It certainly is false that learners always learn from error correction; however, it is a very strangely worded myth. Brown and Larson-Hall (2012) handle the scientific debate between different types of error correction in a way that is probably helpful to many language teachers, but I wonder if they don’t in some ways only change the problem quantitatively and miss a greater opportunity to really address the issue with correcting language learner errors.

The scientific categorization of error correction types divorces the ecological practice of teachers and the needs of students. It says “this is better quantitatively” without perhaps addressing the qualitative issues and fears of teachers and students in evaluation.


References

Brown, S., & Larson-Hall, J. (2012). Second language acquisition myths. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 

indieboardsandcards. (2016). Indieboardsandcards.com. Retrieved 5 March 2016.

Lantolf, J., & Poehner, M. (2010). Dynamic assessment in the classroom: Vygotskian praxis for second language development. Language Teaching Research, 15(1), 11-33.

Stevick, E. W. (1980). Teaching languages: A way and ways. Rowley: Newbury House Publishers.