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Posts Tagged ‘book review’

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.

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Because my wife and I live in a rural development about 30 minutes south from where we work, we have taken to listening to audio books during our commute. For the most part, we have listened to young adult fiction (entertaining and never contains questionable content like adult fiction), but while I was at the public library one day, I picked up a copy of “Creating Disney Magic” by Lee Cockerell. We had just been to Orlando the month before, so I was curious to see what were the “secrets” behind Disney leadership strategies.

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When I was working on my Master’s degree, my chair suggested that I consider doing some Think Aloud Protocols with the writing raters in order to better understand their rating process. I had read a few articles that used this technique, so I falet fairly confident that it was appropriate, but I wanted a book reference that described the method and its appropriateness in L2 research. That’s when another committee member suggested I check out a new book by Gass and Mackey (2005), which I did. Although the text did have a short section on verbal reports, it did not contain the detail I was hoping for.

That’s why Gass and Mackey expanded on the data elcicitation part of that orginial book, and published a new one dedicated exclusively to L2 research data gathering.

Gass, S. M. & Mackey, A. (2007). Data elicitation for second and foreign language research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum.

I won’t go into great detail about this book except to say that I think it’s a great reference for language researchers who want to investigate a variety of research questions, but want to gain additional insight into the theory and practice of standard and emerging data gathering methods. In any case, this book has cause me to further consider the fact that my dissertation needs to be based on good qualitative research, and the test data and scores should just be a compliment rather than the other way around.

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Last week, I spent a half hour in the depths of the university library searching through the P/PE stacks (the call number section of linguistics and language teaching). I picked up a few books that I hadn’t read before, including this volume that focuses on language learning contexts in India and the Middle East.

Singh, G. (2006). Summarisation skills: An analysis in text comprehension and production. In V. Narang (Ed.), Contemporary Themes and Issues in Language Pedagogy (pp. 17-32). Delhi, India: Nagri Printers.

This chapter summarizes research (from the 1980s) on summarization skills, and then applies those concepts and methodologies to an analysis of summaries generated by graduate student English language students in India. The results suggest that even graduate students struggle to understand source texts and write effective summaries. (more…)

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I just picked this one up off the latest edition of Language Testing journal. I’m always a little cautious of ETS articles written only by ETS researchers. They invariably tend to support ETS practices and promote ETS products. Still, they do lots of research and serve as a model for lots of interesting approaches to language testing, so I don’t begrudge – I just take anything they publish with a grain of salt. After all, any researcher regardless of the institutional association has some agenda or other.

Here’s the reference, and the review is after the jump:

Sawaki, S. Stricker, L. J., and Oranje, A. H. (2008). Factor structure of the TOEFL Internet-based test. Language Testing, 26, 5-30.

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I finally took a moment this afternoon to read through this article that I found at least a couple months ago. It was one of the few cases where my Google Alert actually showed up something useful. In fact, in the last year that I have had that Google Alert, this may have been the ONLY useful link that came through. Even so, I maintain that it was worth it because:

  1. This article came from a journal that I was previously unaware of and would never have thought to browse, and
  2. This article is critically tied to my research topic, and my planned study could be considered the “next step.”

Here’s the full reference citation:

Ascension Delaney, Y. (2008). Investigating the reading-to-write contruct. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 7, 140-150.

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Here are my quick notes on the following article, the next chapter in the book I’ve been reading:

Carson, J. G. (2001). A task analysis of reading and writing in academic contexts. In D. Belcher and A. Hirvela (eds.), Linking literacies: Perspectives on L2 reading-writing connections (pp. 48-83). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Carson conducted a qualitative study into the reading, writing, listening, and speaking demands of students in undergraduate and graduate history, psychology, and biology courses. Her purpose was to identify the degree to which these language skills were required by students in these courses. Of her results, this is what I found most relevant to my research:

  • students writing exams needed to be able to synthesize information (p. 78);
  • the ability to paraphrase was important for students, especially for out-of-class assignments (p.79);
  • writing in these courses was most important in the form of note-taking skills from textbooks or lectures (p. 80);
  • there was no task that did not involve the integration of language skills (R, W, L, S). It was essential that students had strengths in all skills and that they could use them together (p. 80); and
  • Carson states that her study suggests that there is evidence of the “notion that ‘good readers will be good writers'” (p. 81). However, she does not make it clear how/why this may be true. She does point out though that this connection is most valuable when considering specific tasks rather than when considering overall proficiency.

There is overwhelming evidence in addition to Carson that paraphrase, summary, and synthesis skills are essential to academic success. I am also intrigued by the idea that note-taking ability is also seen as important. I always try to teach graphic organizing and note-taking skills in reading and writing classes, and Carson’s assertion that note-taking is an essential skills prompts me to include a measurement for note-taking ability into my research study.

Lastly, although Grabe (in the previous chapter) cited sources that indicated that good reading did not necessaryily mean good writing (and vice versa), Carson here claims there is a connection. This apparent conflict could be resolved by understanding that the Grabe citations were referring to overal R/W abilities, whereas Carson is making the claim in relation to specific integrated tasks in which success in one skill is dependent on success in another.

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