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.

Game-Design Enhanced Language Teaching

Let me start by saying this: “Game-design” language teaching is not the gamification of teaching. It is not “playing games” in a class in order to boost “fun”, though that is certainly a benefit. Game-design language teaching is something much bolder. (Check here for a brief definition of the differences). What follows here are a few principles of game-design and how they can be leveraged to teach languages in ways that address some of the hardest problems in language teaching. Namely, authentic communities of practice, learner-driven tasks and Dynamic, just-in-time feedback. This article will lay the foundation for future, praxis-oriented, content such as specific games for language teaching and specific language-learning plans.

 

Introduction

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Although, for me, Age empires would have been blue

Games in language teaching are, without question, seen as an integral and essential part of most teachers’ lesson plans. The intensity or involvement in any given game varies from teacher to teacher, class to class. From language puzzles like crosswords and hangman to active Dungeons and Dragons-esque RPGs. Researchers, too, have for decades recommended games in the language classroom for various reasons including the development of positive attitudes towards learning, providing clear goals and engagement (Palmer & Rodgers, 1983). Games, however, often only serve one specific goal for teachers: student engagement. Games are fun. The rise of gamification is related to this problem and it is an attempt to solve the same kinds of problems.

For this reason, there often is not much thought or discussion given to why we should play games, or how the games are beneficial language learning tools. Anecdotally, many teachers like myself know that games engage students and help scaffold their language production. But still, how? If it is true that games fundamentally help language learning, what principles of games and game design lead to these kinds of outcomes? These are the kinds of questions that researchers like Julie Skyes and James Paul Gee have begun to address. What follows here is a brief introduction and foundation to ground theoretically what will hopefully become a repository of useful information regarding games for second language learning and teaching (L2TL).

While many researchers have examined the language learning effects from games in themselves, as teachers many of us are interested in the ways we can effectively coordinate and implement games, particularly digital games relevant to our “digital native” (Prensky, 2003) students, in and around our classrooms. While games in general may be found to be effective language learning tools, how game-design, and in particular digital game-design can be leverage to improve pedagogy and classroom outcomes.

Some Assumptions

Language socialization 

Before going forward, I want to briefly mention some of the underlying theory and philosophy that leads many researchers and teachers like myself to believe that there is real value in using games to teach language. A game-design approach to L2TL takes a principled approach based on socio-cultural theories of language and teaching, in particular, language socialization (LS) (Ochs & Schieffelin, 1995) and tasked-based language teaching (TBLT) (Willis, 1996). An LS perspective views language and language learning as means-end oriented. That is, children come to learn and use language as a tool, or means, to achieve some goal, or end. These means and ends from an LS perspective are enforced by culture.

Ochs and Schieffelin’s perhaps most well-known example relates to how children are addressed differently in different cultures. They note that middle-class American caregivers are very likely to spend a lot of time directing their speech to their pre-linguistic infants. The speech is not random however. Nor is it monologue. It is conversational. Caregivers in these communities greet, ask questions and correct behavior all the while knowing the child can neither understand nor respond to them. Additionally, these caregivers go above and beyond normal conversational behavior to maintain the attention of the infant by exaggerating their tone of voice and body gesture.

Ochs and Schieffelin then go on to describe a different cultural practice by some Mayan (and many other) communities. Caregivers in these communities do not interact directly with pre-verbal infants. Adults in these communities do not view infants as appropriate conversational partners and so do not engage them directly with language until they already know how to talk.

The brilliance of the theory of Language Socialization then, is its ability to account for both of these cultural practices. Importantly, there is no single rule that governs the language development in these cultures. It is not the case that middle-class Americans learn language by direct conversation with their caregivers, nor is it the case that Mayan babies don’t learn language. Instead, LS says that different communities organize around the central principles of acceptable participation and evolutionary-driven needs (e.g. food, attention, touch and so on) that infants need to obtain. “novices”, as the children in each case are called, operate on the periphery of language communities. They are “peripheral members”. Core members of the community are those individuals and groups who have power and influence. These are generally adults, but can be other non-center groups who are nontheless closer to the center than the infant (such as older children). For us language teachers, it is easy to recognize that our L2 learners are peripheral members of their L2 language communities too.

So, how do the infant-directed approaches to language fit into this system of center and peripheral membership? For the Mayan children, they are required to follow their mother where ever she goes. The communal aspect of the every day life, on average, means that the child will be exposed to a great deal of language and conversation between their caregiver and other adults in the community. In the terms of Ochs and Schieffelin, the children become overhearers. They are legitimate peripheral members of the community. They are welcome to be present. For the American middle-class child however, particularly in traditional nuclear families, the child may spend days in the company of primarily one adult. The child in this situation then, is not overhearing much language at all. And hence, the effort of the caregiver to directly engage the pre-language infant.

For us, the L2TL educator, their are many other important insights that the LS perspective brings, but I just want to highlight the importance of this initial insight. Language learning is always the result of socializing into a community. And to do so, it is necessary to move from the periphery of that community towards the center. For our L2TL students then, helping them gain a legitimate and authentic position as a peripheral member of a community is a crucial step.

It is often assumed that the language classroom itself is that legitimate and authentic community. However, the goal of the language classroom is not to create a community of language classroom L2 users. But instead, to transfer the skills developed and honed in the classroom into a real community of speakers. Creating a positive and welcoming language classroom community is a real and important goal, but it is not itself the community we are aiming for. At least because the language classroom is necessary transitional and temporary, necessarily unstable.

  • So, we see a few important insights, as well as important challenges for L2TL. Membership in a language community is vital, but how to do so in a mostly inauthentic classroom setting?

Task-based Learning and Teaching (TBLT)

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The general structure of a TBLT lesson

Traditionally, TBLT was motivated by the failures of methods such as audio-lingual  and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). Importantly, how each of those methods failed to incorporate vital aspects of the other. In the case of the grammar-translation and audio-lingual, it was the complete lack of social knowledge needed to actually use the grammar rules or pronunciations learned through those methods. And in the case of CLT, the fact that students seemed to make great gains in comprehension of content language, but failed to make similar gains in functional aspects of grammar. TBLT attempts to fix these problems and also motivate students, but marrying real-life language use with problems that needed to be solved through language.

TBLT, in relation to LS, can be seen as a pedagogical means-end approach to L2TL. Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) situate the theoretical foundation of TBLT in communicative language teaching related to functional approaches to language. From this view, it was important that L2TL be applicable to real-world situations and not just the learning of language rules and forms. This end, communication in real-world situations, is achieved through pedagogically valid tasks that act as means to those ends.

A classic example is a hotel checklist task. Originally designed for immigrant ESL learners who had been employed in hotels as maids or other staff. The task, following the diagram above, gives a pair of students the task of cleaning a hotel room. Each learner has a different set of tasks that they have either “done” or “not done”. Most of the tasks, between the two learners, have been done. The goal of the learners is to determine what still needs to be done to successfully prepare the hotel room.

This task has the benefit of being immediately applicable to the learners, it involves words and language structures that will be immediately important and useful to them (words related to working in a hotel). Additionally, the learners must negotiate together to recognize and notice BOTH the content (what still needs to be done) and also the LANGUAGE (by carefully reading through their lists). There are also several problems with tasks like this, and if you’ve been teaching, you may be able to recognize any number of them. What follows is a short list (not comprehensive) of some of the problems that TBLT sometimes face, and how game-design can help us overcome them.

A critique of TBLT from a Game-Design Perspective

For L2TL at the moment, TBLT is the target most teachers are trying to hit. And there are many different approaches, pedagogues and lesson plans that utilize TBLT. However, some have recognized several short-comings in TBLT. In particular, researchers interested in game-design have discovered a short list of items that could be improved, and ways to do it.

Sykes and Reinhardt’s perspective of game-informed language socialization and task-based L2TL are categorized in five problematic areas:

  1. goals and tasks – lack of student agency
  2. interaction – promotes good ideational (semantic) interaction, but can fail to promote adquate interpersonal interaction
  3. feedback – Delayed, hard to give the correct feedback in the moment it will help
  4. context and narrative – Tasks can often be divorced from broader societal narratives and context that drives language learning (from an LS perspective).
  5. motivation – Tasks may motivate for awhile, but often do not lead to sustained, motivated attention over multiple class sessions..

A game-design TBLT perspective views each of the five areas of criteria differently than traditional views might. For this reason, we will briefly introduce them in this section along with a description of what good games do with the five TBLT areas mentioned above.

Sykes and Reinhardt describe goals and tasks in game-designed TBLT as centering around two main ideas: having learner driven tasks and goal-orienting. Learner-driven tasks contrast with learning driven tasks and the difference lies with who gets to decide how learning will happen. A game-informed TBLT perspective focuses on giving students agency and multiple routes of task completion with continually updated goals.

Interaction, Sykes and Reinhardt mention, is possibly the most defining aspect of games when compared with other types of media. For Sykes and Reinhardt, game-designed interaction is built on four levels of interaction. Ideational (or the interaction between learner and language, i.e., their own mind), Interpersonal (the interaction between speakers of a language) and cultural (the interaction of an individual user with the cultural expectations and values). Digital game-informed TBLT improves upon traditional applications by situating the learner into a game-oriented culture. Beyond multiplayer games, which promote both ideational language use and interpersonal, the communities that exist around games is vitally important. Using internet communities to learn, discuss and discover important information to better play the game is a fountain of possible interactions and provides the language learner with literally thousands of possible interpersonal partners.

Feedback in games is the primary way game-designers communicate to players whether or not they are progressing in the game. Actions taken by the player may lead to failure or success. Important then, for game design, is how to communicate to the player that they are failing or succeeding. For Sykes and Reinhardt feedback in games needs to be individualized, discernable and given “exactly at the moment it is needed” (p. 59). Feedback then, can be given both explicitly through the use of messages on the screen, level-ups, and tooltips. Or, it can be implicit through sound effects, or well-scaffolded tasks which teach the player step-by-step through each level of their development.

Narrative for Sykes and Reinhardt, is described as the way people transmit culture. Games generally have very well defined game-designed narratives. However, these narratives are never presented without a player and the player interaction with the game-designed narrative can lead to emergent, different narratives than perhaps the designed one. IThis is markedly different from other media genres such as books or movies. For example, game designers will intentionally create a narrative, build a world and populate it with characters and conflicts. However, unlike a book or a movie, the player then moves about that world making defined choices. Like in other genres, inside the players head there is an interpretation of the world designed by the creators. Unlike those genres however, an emergent narrative can unfold in the game-world itself, and not just in the attendant communities that surround it (such as fan fiction sites).

Motivation, finally, is described by Sykes and Reinhardt in terms of player engagement and flow. Motivation in games is not seen to reside within the individual player, but as an emerging factor in the interaction between the game-design and the player. Motivation in this view, then, is dynamic and continually negotiated and not simply an intrinsic property of the player or game. How the game uses the other four factors listed, it can help or hinder the motivation that the player brings to it themselves. The interactive nature of games can easily lead to a state of flow, or extended focus on the present moment. Flow is something of a mystical feature. We’ve all had the experience of being engrossed in a particularly good book, movie, conversation or other event. This in-the-momentness can lead to extensive exposure to whatever the game is exposing.

Conclusion

So, how can games be leveraged then? Do we just play games in English/Spanish/Korean and assume these principles will play out and, viola, language learned? Of course not. Though, then again, maybe. Some(1) researchers(2) have found(3) that just playing games leads inherently to learning outcomes, and this can be language learning in some cases.

But certainly, with the help of a Vygostkian helper, we can bring our language learners along faster. Reinhardt and Sykes help us with this and developed what they call a “bridging activities” cycle (example). In these cycles teachers help students explore these game worlds, analysis them and then perform them back in their authentic contexts.

 

 

I’m not lesson planning because blog

My 7th graders recently spent some time trying to figure out the difference between “because ______” and “because OF _____” in preparation for their midterm tests.  It caused a whole lot of consternation, even though the answer is fairly straightforward and easy to follow.

Simply, “because [reason]” is used to introduce a secondary clause; while “because of [reasons]” is used, like prepositions do, with noun phrases.

“I can’t go tonight because I have too much homework.”

“I can’t go tonight because of work.”

Simple.

Unfortunately, 7th graders have a hard time understanding the difference between Independent Clauses and Noun Phrases (Hell, I had trouble with the idea of verbs in 7th grade).  So it can actually be more tricky than normal to explain at times.  But since I don’t actually teach grammar, this responsibility mostly fell on the shoulders of my co-teacher.

However, it took almost everything I had to not teach the kids my favorite grammatical structure, which completely breaks this rule.

The “Because reasons” structure.

It’s an emerging usage that I’m sure really annoys a lot of people, but I just can’t get enough of it.  It think it’s funny in almost any situation.  Twitter is abuzz with this usage, here are some examples.

As you can see from the examples, the usage doesn’t exactly replace the “because of” structure.  Instead, it carves out it’s own little category within.  “Because reasons” is used to exaggerate the meaningfulness of the reasons.  Something like,

“I can’t go tonight (and it should be completely obvious why that I’m not even going to waste my time explaining) because reasons.”

Or, it used when there really aren’t any reasons, but the speaker wants to promote their proposition anyway, like this example:

because reasons 1

However, because the “because reasons” structure is used either jovially or emphatically, it can be misused, particularly in situations when stating the reason is actually necessary. Take this example:

because reasons 2

Notice that the writer actually then produces the reasons for disagreement.  The “because reasons” usage feels out of place.  Which is not to say it is ungrammatical. It seems as grammatical as any other use, it just feels less appropriate, or at least less funny.

The grammar of “because reasons” involves the adverbial conjunction “because” changing its part of speech into a preposition.  This is actually more interesting than it sounds, as it is not everyday that a new word becomes a preposition.  Language mavens may lament what they call “Zombie nouns”, but the truth is, one of the beautiful facts of English that words can move in and out of certain categories (like nouns to verbs, or vice versa).  But not all word categories easily do so.  Prepositions are one such category.

The one where I get Final Fantasy VII into a lesson

final_fantasy_vii_advent_children_background_wallpaper-wide

In my 7th graders textbook, the reading portion for our current chapter is focused on art history and linguistically on color/feeling words and “makes me feel” type phrases.  They are taught to associate colors with feelings and then make a commentary on a piece of artwork. (“The blue colors in this picture make me feel calm/sad/relaxed.”)

I am reminded of my high school Jazz class where my director tried to get us to develop at least a sense of perfect pitch.  Part of the exercises included listening to notes individually, over and over, trying to associate or think of a color that you identify with that sound.  I never did develop perfect pitch, but that is hardly the fault of my director.  The exercise wasn’t wasted either, as I was recently reminded of it by a ESL Teacher friend here in South Korea, who did a similar lesson with her students.

Since the students are familiar with making associations between feelings and colors, I thought I would add sounds into the mix.  I grabbed four songs from Final Fantasy VII (yes, a video game).  Video game or movie compositions are good because the music generally evokes specific feelings by design. This makes the whole exercise of sound-feeling association less ambigious (while still free and creative).

Using the music from musician Nobuo Uematsu is also wonderful, because he is highly talented and the music is exciting to listen to, even though it is instrumental.  (My students were asking for Kpop by the end of the lesson,  but no one seemed bored by the music).  For my purposes, I used Sephiroth’s Theme, Cloud’s Theme, Aerith’s Theme and the Fighting music.  I tried to pick music that started in one area of the feelings spectrum, but it could be difficult to differentiate the “love” of arieth and “confidence” or “happiness” of Cloud’s theme.

Here’s a little taste of Mr. Uematsu:

I played each song for the students, asking them to just listen and after each song, they told me what colors they “saw” and the feelings the felt.  After the first song, I explicitly reminded them of the phrase “this song makes me feel ______” and asked them to use it.

To reinforce, I used a trick I like to help them remember all the parts of a phrase.  I assign three parts to the phrase,

“this song (1) makes me feel (2) __________ (3)”.  

This draws the students attention to anything they may have forgotten while also covertly teaching grammatical phrases ( ‘this song’ is a noun phrase.  ‘makes me feel’ is a verb phrase and (3) is the object complement).  I then repeat the phrase and with each part, I lift a finger, so that I have three fingers lifted by the end.  Then, when the students practice using this phrase, I don’t have to wait for them to finish, or interupt them to provide meaningful feedback.  As they speak, I lift fingers, indicating that they are on track or if they have missed a piece.

So, for example, if the student responds with “makes me feel sad!” I lift two of the three fingers (each finger maps 1 to 1 with the phrase, so they will know which piece they have forgotten to include).  After awhile, I stop using my fingers and only start doing it again, if they fall back into one word answers.

The students seemed to enjoy the lesson, and at the end we examined the board (now full of feelings and colors) and I told the students that the music comes from a story.  By just looking at the words, I asked them which song they thought represented the main character, the bad guy, etc.  I was sort of surprised that it was pretty clear from their lists that the first song was Sepiroth’s Theme and that the 3rd song was Cloud’s.  I finally disclosed where I got the songs from, but Final Fantasy VII is too old for these youngsters, they hadn’t even heard of it.

Final Fantasy Colors, Feelings and Sounds

Materials Needed:

Pictures to associate colors with feelings (anger  happiness sadness fear warm-up)
Four sample songs (of any genre or type). (Fighting loop Cloud’s theme Aerith’s Theme Sephiroth’s Theme)
Whiteboard, or some way of writing down for the whole class to see
Powerpoint

Performance Objectives:

Students Will Be Able To (SWBAT): associate colorful pictures with feelings.  Students will organize their thoughts and activate their lexical memory by individually writing down as many color words and feeling words that describe the pictures.  They will evaluate in pairs by comparing their word lists and finally class-wide, the color/feeling words will be presented.

SWBAT understand and prepare for listening and associating sounds with colors and feelings by a short introduction by the teacher using language, gesture, and an audio-visual (powerpoint).

SWBAT associate music with colors and feelings without knowing anything a priori about the music.  In pairs students will discuss which feelings and colors they felt and saw and then the teacher or a volunteer will organize the words and write them on the board under “song #1”.

SWBAT express their feelings using the phrase, “makes me feel” to describe their feeling words to the second song.  Before playing song #2, the teacher will write the phrase, “this song makes me feel ________” on the board and says the phrase while gesturing to their heart on the word “feel”, followed by a mimic of any emotion.  Students will repeat the exercise for song #2, making use of the phrase “this song makes me feel _________”.  For the 3rd song, the teacher will erase, “makes me feel” and repeat the exercise.  Finally on the 4th song, “this song” is erased, and the students must perform the communicative act from memory.

SWBAT use the feeling and color words they said to describe the story the songs convey.  As a class, the students will discuss themes like, “fear” and “love”.  When the discussion ends, the teacher will reveal where the music comes from.

Before Class:

Ensure each song is ready to be played and which portions of the songs you wish to play for maximum effect.
Ensure you are familiar with the gestures and miming that you will use to help with student comprehension in the introduction, presentation and evaluation.

Warm-up: (5 min)

Objectives:
SWBAT associate colorful pictures with feelings.  Students will organize their thoughts and activate their lexical memory by individually writing down as many color words and feeling words that describe the pictures.  They will evaluate in pairs by comparing their word lists and finally class-wide, the color/feeling words will be presented.

A.    Instructional Strategy:
individual, pair, class work
B.    Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual
C.    Task Description:
Following up on prior lessons, reactivate the students memory of color/feeling associations by showing a series of pictures which explicitly express simply feelings (sadness, anger, happiness, love, etc.).  Have the students label a piece of paper on one side as “FEELINGS” and the other “COLORS”.  Draw the students attention to the facial and body language of the pictures and any dominate colors.  Gesture that they should think (point to head, rub chin) of as many colors (point to many colors), and feelings (mimic sad/happy) and then write them down (actually do this on the board).  Give the students 1-2 minutes.After a time, tell the students to work in pairs and grow their list to as many feelings/colors as they think are appropriate for each picture.  Ask for volunteers to describe their color/feelings.  Write them on the board, and give the students a moment to copy any words they may not know.  Clarify any feeling/color that most students may not know (e.g. ‘agony’ or ‘cyan’).

 Introduction: (1-2 min)

Objectives:
SWBAT understand and prepare for listening and associating sounds with colors and feelings by a short introduction by the teacher using language, gesture, and an audio-visual (powerpoint).

A.    Instructional Strategy:
lecture
B.    Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual
C.    Task Description:
Using a simple powerpoint or other visual, explain that the students will take the words they know for feelings and colors and use them to describe music.  Following the powerpoint, explain that they will listen to four different songs and describe the colors the music makes them “see” and the feelings it makes them feel.  Explain that the songs are related and that at the end they will discuss why or how.

Presentation: (10-15 min)

Objectives:
SWBAT associate music with colors and feelings without knowing anything a priori about the music.  In pairs students will discuss which feelings and colors they felt and saw and then the teacher or a volunteer will organize the words and write them on the board under “song #1”.

A.    Instructional Strategy:
lecture, individual, pair, class work
B.    Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual
C.    Task Description:
To begin, start with the most unambiguous (in regards to feelings) song of the four.  You are helping the students understand how this activity works.  Tell them to clear their minds, close their eyes and just listen.  Don’t write anything, don’t say anything.  Just pay attention to the music.  Play the song for them and let them be silent for a moment after. And then in pairs discuss/write down what colors they saw and feelings they felt.Ask for volunteers and write their answers on the board under the title “song 1” separated under colors and feelings.  If they seem hesitant, or unsure, give a few examples and maybe a counter-example (if the song is intended to provoke anger or fear, ask the students if ‘happy’ is appropriate).  Be careful with counter-examples, as this activity necessarily depends on the students free-thinking and creativity.  At the same time, the purpose of the activity is language learning.  So dance that dance.

Practice: (30 min)

Objectives:
SWBAT express their feelings using the phrase, “makes me feel” to describe their feeling words to the second song.  Before playing song #2, the teacher will write the phrase, “this song makes me feel ________” on the board and says the phrase while gesturing to their heart on the word “feel”, followed by a mimic of any emotion.  Students will repeat the exercise for song #2, making use of the phrase “this song makes me feel _________”.  For the 3rd song, the teacher will erase, “makes me feel” and repeat the exercise.  Finally on the 4th song, “this song” is erased, and the students must perform the communicative act from memory.

A.   
Instructional Strategy:
individual, pair, whole-class
B.    Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual
C.    Task Description:
Before moving to the second song, write “this song makes me feel _______” on the board.  Separate the phrase into three parts and label them ‘This song (1) makes me feel (2) _________ (3).  Lift up three fingers and have the students repeat as you lift a finger as they say each phrase.To reinforce, read some of their feelings from song #1, holding your fingers up, say, “This song (lift a finger) makes me feel (lift another finger) nervous (lift the third finger).”  Give another example.  Call on or ask a volunteer to say how song #1 makes them feel.  As they speak, hold up all the fingers that they express. (If they say, “the song makes me feel happy” hold up three fingers.  If they just say “happy” just hold up the third finger.  Prompt until they give the full phrase).
After, play the 2nd song and repeat the exercise.  When working in pairs, circulate and make sure the students are using the phrase, “this song makes me feel” when talking with their partner.  Ask for volunteers and use the finger gesture as necessary to help prompt the students use the full phrase.  After all the feelings/colors are written for the 2nd song, erase “makes me feel” from the board, have the students repeat the phrase and gesture as necessary.  Listen the 3rd song, repeat process.  Erase the phrase from the board before listening to the 4th song.

Application: (10 min)

Objectives:
SWBAT use the feeling and color words they said to describe the story the songs convey.  As a class, the students will discuss themes like, “fear” and “love”.  When the discussion ends, the teacher will reveal where the music comes from.

A.    Instructional Strategy:
pair, whole-class
B.    Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual
C.    Task Description:
After listening to the last song, admire the amount of color and feeling words the students have come up with (the board should be quite full).  Point out to the students that the feeling and color words change from song to song.  Some songs seem to make them feel more nervous or happy or sad.Tell the students that the songs create a story. Ask which song they think represents the protagonist (use simple language “good guy”).  The antagonist? The climactic scene? Love interest?  Allow them to discuss each question in pairs or small groups and then discuss as a class.  This final portion is more free-discussion, try not to limit the students participation or critique language-use.  Instead promote fluency and listening-skills.

Before class ends, reveal where the music came from and see if the students’ guesses about the characters/feelings/music are correct.

Language Exchange Lament (and a lesson plan for Listening)

There is a popular method for informal language learning here in South Korea (and I’m sure other places) that goes by the name “language exchange”.  The name is appealing.  It suggests a business-like approach to the learning of a language, a fair trade in which you give and then take equal shares of a product.

LanguagePartners5

This is what people think is going to happen at a language exchange

Unfortunately, “language exchange” is probably a misnomer for the most part.  Rarely do two people at these events exchange equally and often what is exchanged isn’t exactly a product of the greatest quality.  Most exchanges are, after all, informal events.  So I suppose they can be forgiven on that point.

Language exchanges suffer from two problems, 1) generally one language is favored and 2) if by chance one language isn’t favored, then language acquisition is ignoring a very important piece of the “four strands”, namely, listening.  In language exchanges, what normally is done, is each participant speaks in the target language they are trying to learn to a native speaker of that language.  So I would speak to a Korean in Korean and they would speak to me in English.  This is a fine drill in itself, but it ignores entirely the very important skill of listening and receiving authentic feedback (note: I’m not talking about overt feedback like, “say this instead” or “that was really good!” but covert feedback.  The type where you say something, it is understood and the other person responds authentically.  This sort of feedback is vastly under-acknowledged and far more important than overt feedback).

What actually happens

What actually happens

Of course, other types of language exchange combat this problem by designating a time limit and specifying that during a certain amount of time only English will be spoken and then only Korean in the next time period.  Of course, these events are usually only a couple of hours long and it can be difficult to regulate these periods effectively. If done correctly, this type of language exchange satisfies my complaint.  It is my experience (having visited several different language exchanges around Seoul) that this does not happen regularly.  English is usually the dominate language used by everyone.  I have found one exchange where Korean is the dominate language and I continue to frequent that exchange, though like I noted before, it’s hard to call it an exchange, as I don’t really give anything in return, just take.  I suppose maybe friendship is my gift, not a fair trade, I think!

So what does “listening” look like in a language class as opposed to an exchange?  Well, here’s my go-to method.

Ordered Sentences and Pronunciation Distinguishing

Materials Needed:
pronunciation Powerpoint slides (or pictures that you can hold), listening material (audio or transcript to read), copy of transcript cut into individual sentences for every (or groups of) student(s).

Performance Objectives:
Students will be able to (SWBAT) distinguish between two similar sounds ([i] and [I]).  This is accomplished first by repeating real words after a native speaker.  The speaker draws attention to the position of the articulatory tract.  Using fake words, the speaker draws attention to the sounds by elongating them.  Students mimic the speaker.  Students are then given three minimal pair words (fake or real) one of which does not contain [i] or [I] and the speaker says them one after another.  Students must say which word doesn’t contain [i] or [I].  Students are then given two pictures, each representing a minimal pair of [i]/[I] words.  The speaker says one of the words and the students will point to the picture that represents the word.

SWBAT put the transcript of an audio piece in the correct sequence by listening to a full recording of the transcript.  Students will have a pre-determined amount of times they can listen to the recording. Students will evaluate their performance in pairs, by comparing with their partner how they ordered the transcript.  As a class, the transcript will be read.

SWBAT listen and repeat the transcript (or a portion) from memory.  Students will follow the teacher (or a leader) in a rote-repeat fashion once.  Students will repeat again, waiting 3 seconds, then 5 seconds, between hearing and speaking.  Finally, students will attempt to repeat the transcript (or portion) purely from memory.

SWBAT produce the transcript (or a portion) following a native-speaker rhythm.  Students will follow the teacher (or a leader), repeating the transcript.  The teacher will emphasize stressed syllables within words and stressed words within phrases.  Students will mimic the teacher’s technique.  Students will produce the rhythm again first waiting 3 seconds, then 5 then 10 between listening/seeing and speaking/doing.

Warm-up: (1-5min)

Objectives: Students will prepare their articulatory tract for correct pronunciation by stretching their mouth.

Instructional Strategy:
lecture, whole class work

Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual, kinetic

Task Description:
Students will follow the teacher (or a leader) in stretching their articulatory tract by alternatingly rounding and stretching the lips, opening and closing the mouth, sticking out and putting in the tongue, moving the tongue side to side and finally by doing a vowel chant (a,e,i,o,u).  Finish with a yell if you’d like!

Presentation: (1 min)

Objectives: Prepare students for what the class will be about

Instructional Strategy:
lecture

Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual

Task Description:
Using a powerpoint, or some other material, describe to the students the tasks for that day.  Explain briefly the key objectives, which is successful listening.

Practice: (10-15 min)

Objectives:
Students will be able to (SWBAT) distinguish between two similar sounds ([i] and [I]).  This is accomplished first by repeating real words after a native speaker.  The speaker draws attention to the position of the articulatory tract.  Using fake words, the speaker draws attention to the sounds by elongating them.  Students mimic the speaker.

Instructional Strategy:
lecture, whole class work, individual work

Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual

Task Description:
Using a text, or a prepared powerpoint, draw the students attention to the specific sound (in this case, the [i]/[I] distinction).  Show them words that change only when that specific change happens (e.g. a minimal pair) such as ‘heel/hill’ or ‘seat/sit’.  Using several examples, have the students repeat after a native speaker (or someone in the class who can produce the minimal pairs well enough.  It might be better for the students to hear a non-native speaker produce the sounds correctly, in order for them to hear or believe they can produce the sound themselves).

From there, move on to made up words (this focuses the attention purely onto the sounds, without any interference from semantic or lexical questions).  Slow down the sound, have the students say just the sound for a few seconds and then finish the word (i.e. siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-t/ seeeaaaaaaaa-t).  Speed up slowly.

Pronunciation Powerpoint

Practice: (10-15 min)

Objectives:
Students are then given three minimal pair words (fake or real) one of which does not contain [i] or [I] and the speaker says them one after another.  Students must say which word doesn’t contain [i] or [I].  Students are then given two pictures, each representing a minimal pair of [i]/[I] words.  The speaker says one of the words and the students will point to the picture that represents the word.

Instructional Strategy:
lecture, individual work, whole class work

Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual, kinetic

Task Description:
Following the powerpoint, show three words which are minimal pairs, two of which have [i] and [I] and the last which does not.  Say the words in order and have the students decide which word does not have [i]/[I].  (Another option is to say the words in a random order and have the students order them 1,2,3).

Finally, show two pictures on the screen which represent a [i]/[I] minimal pair.  A picture of a ‘hill’ next to a picture of a ‘heel’.  Say one of the words and have the students point or gesture to the correct picture. Repeat several times with various word pairs.

Presentation: (10 min)

Objectives:
SWBAT put the transcript of an audio piece in the correct sequence by listening to a full recording of the transcript.  Students will have a pre-determined amount of times they can listen to the recording. Students will evaluate their performance in pairs, by comparing with their partner how they ordered the transcript.  As a class, the transcript will be read.

Instructional Strategy:
whole-class work, pair work

Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual, textile

Task Description:
using a prepared script or audio have the students listen to a conversation or monologue of one or two paragraphs, depending on level.  Have the students listen through once.  Before listening, prompt them with questions to answer after listening like, “what is the main idea?”  “who is speaking?” “what are their names?”  “what is the main problem?”  After that, discuss briefly the answers.  Next, hand out the cut-up scripts to the students.  Have them spread them out and look at them.  They can begin putting them in order if they think they know.  Tell the students they will have 2 or 3 opportunities to listen to the recording before you begin again.

Listen to the audio.  Pause between turns to allow the students to think about the order.  After 2 or 3 listenings, have the students compare their order with a partner.  Have them reconcile any differences.  After that, go through with the class the correct order (have the students read them in order, one student per sentence, for example).

Below is a gallery of my own attempt at using this activity.  I used the Intermediate listening activities from a very useful website for learning Korean called “Talk to Me in Korean“. It is the Iyagi – Intermediate lesson. It is a little bit above my Korean level, so it took me a little longer to get it finished, and I used a lot of dialogue.  For my Middle School Students, I will use anywhere between8-15 sentences, but not more than that usually.

Practice (10 minutes)

Objectives:
SWBAT listen and repeat the transcript (or a portion) from memory.  Students will follow the teacher (or a leader) in a rote-repeat fashion once.  Students will repeat again, waiting 3 seconds, then 5 seconds, between hearing and speaking.  Finally, students will attempt to repeat the transcript (or portion) purely from memory.

SWBAT produce the transcript (or a portion) following a native-speaker rhythm.  Students will follow the teacher (or a leader), repeating the transcript.  The teacher will emphasize stressed syllables within words and stressed words within phrases.  Students will mimic the teacher’s technique.  Students will produce the rhythm again first waiting 3 seconds, then 5 then 10 between listening/seeing and speaking/doing.

Instructional Strategy:
whole class work, pair work

Sensory Learning Style:
audio, visual, visual

Task Description:
using the same script the students used for the ordering activity, read the sentences one by one (or choose a couple of sentences or dialogues to work on) with the students repeating. After going through once.  Repeat the activity, only have the students wait 3 seconds before repeating.  Do the activity again with 5 seconds, and then 10 seconds.  If it is a dialogue, you can try to have the students do it from memory (they will have the sentences in front of them from the ordering exercise, if they need them).