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Every semester I that I teach an ESL Academic Writing course, I am convinced that *this* time I’ve developed *the* right way to teach writing. And, of course, by the end of the semester, I come up with yet another list of “things I will change next time.”

But at the beginning of this semester, I felt that things were different this time: I had finally developed a curriculum that really was *the* right way to teach ESL Academic Writing. And yet here I am 4 months later with a To Do list for next year.

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It’s been months since I last blogged. Between becoming a father, struggling through my dissertation, and the regular duties of faculty work, I have let blogging slip. But now that the semester is ending, and I’m about to analyze my course feedback, I figured that I might as well post about the feedback as I did last year. Though I’ll take a different approach this time around.

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These thoughts come from reading an article comparing summarization skills in L1 and L2:

Yu, G. (2008). Reading to summarize in English and Chinese: A tale of two languages? Language Testing 25 (4), 521-551.

  • Reading comprehension is accepted as a prerequisite skill to summarization (pp. 521-522)
  • Summary skills can be used to improve reading ability (p. 522)
  • Summarization ability is necessary for academic succes (p. 522)
  • Is summarization a reading skill or a writing skill, or both. Perhaps neither, it’s a hybrid subskill (p. 522)
  • There has been a recent revival in integrated reading-writing tasks (p. 523)
  • Summarization skills are more complex and seperate from basic reading skills (p. 524)
  • Students with weaker overall proficiency were more likely to do verbatim copying (p. 525)
  • Students who copied claimed that it was easier since they did not have to understand the meaning of the words/phrases (p. 542, 544-545)
  • Problem-solving strategy use was more common among better summarizers (p. 526)
  • L2 summaries tend to be of poorer quality than L1 summaries, have less important information, and have more false information (p. 527)
  • Although general reading comprehension scores slightly relate to summary writing scores, there is still a great deal of difference between the skills (p. 536, 544)
  • General comprehension reading skills may be very different from the reading skills needed for summaries, and other skills or factors may be involved in summarization ability (p. 544)

I ran across this very helpful article recently that does with reading and listening comprehension skills that I have been doing with reading-writing subskills.

Song, M-Y. (2009). Do divisible subskills exists in second language (L2) comprehension? A structural equation modeling approach. Language Testing, 25 (4), 435-464.

In essence, the author asks: to what degree does student performance on a test suggest that reading, listening, and 2-3 identified subskills exist as separate constructs (as evidenced by structural equation modeling)? In comparison, I have been trying to identify the degree to which reading comprehension, writing ability, synthesis comprehension, and paraphrase writing ability are all subskills of reading-to-write tasks. So this article provided quite a bit of theoretical framing and technical analysis that I need to further refine my own study. Continue Reading »

The office that I work for is moving to a new location on campus. As a result, I needed to clean out and pack my booksheveles and cabinets. This also gave me an opportunity to evaluate the books that I had checked out of the library and return those that I had finished or that I had decided not to read after all.

So as I dropped off a handful of books at the libraries circulation desk, I also walked past the “New Books” section, and found a couple more books that peaked my interest. One of them was:

García Mayo, María del Pilar, ed. (2007), Investigating Tasks in Formal Language Learning. New York: Multilingual Matters.

Ultimately, I was disappointed with this book as I was hoping to see more about integrated language tasks. Instead, the book seems fixated on Robinson’s view of task-related theories which I enjoyed reading about, but not over-and-over again in nearly every article. I’m also surprised that although the editor provides an overview of each study in her introduction, she fails to address the apparent contradictions that the individual studies suggest in relation to these task-related theories. Some of the studies suggest that the task complexity encourages more advanced and more accurate language (in support of the Cognition Hypothesis), whereas other studies suggest that task complexity results in the opposite: that student performance drops when the task is more challenging (a la Limited Attention Capacity Model). What gives?

In truth, I can see many variables that would lead to support for one theory over the other, but I was hoping to see how my hypotheses compared with the editor’s. Instead, the book ends without any resolution. As a result, this “edited” book feel like little more than a collection of articles grabbed from an online database using the keywords “SLA” and “task complexity.” It’s unfortunate.

I work with my institution’s international teaching assistant (ITA) program. The program, like those at many universities and colleges in the USA, is designed to provide language and pedagogical training to non-native English speaking graduate students who serve as teaching assistants for their departments.

Last fall, after testing all potential ITAs for oral proficiency training, our program received many concerned calls from departments whose international students did not meet the minimum English language standards to be TAs. In fact, a large number of the students were well below cut-off in the university’s policy regarding ITAs. Departments were concerned that these students needed funding and now they did not qualify to work as TAs due to their oral proficiency. To put it mildly was a very frustrating experience for many stakeholders.

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This holiday does not exist – at least not at any workplace where I have been employed – but I think it would be great. Continue Reading »