For Your Listening Pleasure

This weekend, my husband and I went Virginia Beach for a weekend getaway. What we didn’t count on is that, with traffic, it would be over 5 hours away. This led to a lot of car time and the need to fill it with something. So, we decided on podcasts, since you can only listen to the Bright Star sound track so many times before you’re sick of the banjo. We started with the Savage Love and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me podcasts, and this got me thinking about podcasts related to linguistics, applied linguistics, and ELT. Here are a few that I’ve since queued up to listen to.

That’s What They Say

This podcast features University of Michigan linguistics professor Anne Curzan as she discusses how the English language has changed and evolved. The podcast is an interesting and engaging take on the topic and helps to make language change a salient one for even the non-specialist listener.

The World in Words

This is an interesting podcast by PRI hosts Patrick Cox and Nina Porzucki. I really like this podcast because it tackles those big questions of language contact and mixing. It looks at the forces behind and reactions to language change and offers a boots on the ground view. It even tackles that sticky question of what happens when a language is no longer used?

Creative Language Learning Podcast

This podcast looks specifically at language learning and is a good go to for ideas. They often have podcasts about language learning tools and suggestions that might be useful to increase student agency as they enhance their proficiency in a language.

This History of English Podcast

This one I love, just because I freaking love the history of the English Language. I’m tempted to try offering this course at NYU Shanghai at some point shortly. This podcast takes you from the invasion ridden beginnings that led up to old English on to the fantastic flow of Chaucer.

So, what podcasts do you listen to as you walk the dog, gather the groceries, or get stuck in hours of traffic? Which ones are the best for maintaining your professional development? Leave me a comment so that I can check it out.

Continuing Development

One of the things that sucked me into academia was the promise of life long learning. I enjoy learning new things: asking questions and seeking the best possible answer. It’s exciting because there are so many perspectives out there—and a fruitful exercise is to consider as many of them as you can before judging any single one too harshly. How does one maintain this life time of learning? Certainly, there is (trying) to keep up with the literature in your chosen field/subfield. But, there is also continued professional development. And, good professional development often occurs at conferences and seminars hosted by the slew of professional organizations that you might belong to (e.g., TESOL, AAAL, NCTE, BAAL, IAWE, IATEFL, TIRF, NABE, etc.). However, if you’re looking for more formalized professional development—beyond the choose your adventure of the literature or conventions—then you have to dig a little deeper. Since I’m based in China for much of the year, I’m a fan of programs that can be done online, since it’s easier to fit into my schedule. Since I’m hitting that end-of-contract slump as I wait for reappointment, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I want to develop this year?”

I’m hitting that end-of-contract slump as I wait for reappointment, I’ve been asking myself, “How do I want to develop this year?” This has led to some rather deep searching of the web-based PD opportunities, as well as considering options like taking up piano or actually sticking to a workout regimen. Here are some of the more exciting options that I’ve found. Please note, I have not been asked to promote any of these. Just sharing my findings.

TESOL International Association

I went to the TESOL convention in 2016 because it was in Baltimore, near my U.S. home, and it was during our spring break. As conferences go, it was a little big for my liking. TESOL, however, is great because it has a slew of practitioner-friendly resources to allow us to continue our professional development. This includes a bunch of great online workshops and seminars to help us continue our professional development, and these are often led by some bang-up people in the field. In the past, they’ve done workshops on teaching grammar and on training teachers (see here for a complete list).  One of my new favorite things though is the certification programs.

They currently have five certification programs, of which I have experience with one and with applying for another one. If you’re interested in transitioning to leadership, I would highly encourage you to take a look at their ELT leadership management certificate program. This is offered both at TESOL and affiliate conferences throughout the year and covers issues in management, hiring and HR, and budgeting and costing. It was an educational experience, even with my experience as a leader at the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL). Then, there’s the advanced practitioner certificate program, which gives you a chance to work with a mentor to do an advanced study on topics like CALL, business English, etc. To me, this is a good opportunity to advance your current credentials by taking a semi-guided look at a new area of interest. The application process is a bit intense, as they require you to submit an application with a couple of essays/statements of purpose, a CV, and two letters of recommendation, one of which has to come from your current supervisor or someone familiar with your teaching. But, I think it’s worth it. I’m currently waiting to hear back about my application to the program.

National Council of Teachers of English

NCTE is another bang up organization, although I’ve only ever been to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), which is also a huge conference. But, NCTE also offers some great, web-based PD resources. They offer three main options: self-paces investigations, web-based seminars, and facilitated online courses. Of these, the self-paced investigations (SPIs) looks the most attractive.

In an SPI, you carry out a short, but intense, examination of current issues in English education, like college/workplace preparedness. You engage with readings and work through some activities. Many of these investigations are targeting K-12 educators, and look fascinating. Personally, I might do the “Building Academic Langauge” module, as it can transfer to higher ed easily, and it’s the population that I would want to work with if I switch over to K-12.

They also have a series of real-time, web-based seminars that you can sign up for, with topics ranging from culturally responsive inquiry and teaching to building confidence for ELLs. I’d encourage you to take a look if you have a solid internet connection and can find one that fits your PD needs. They also have some on-demand seminars on a range of topics if you’re looking for something that you can do at 11 pm after the kids have fallen asleep/you’ve actually finished all of your work for the day.

The Center for Applied Linguistics

Many years ago (2010 to be precise), I considered applying for an internship with CAL, but I didn’t think I’d be competative, so I didn’t. Now, I see that they offer a couple of workshops targeting K-12 professionals continuing PD needs, and they look brilliant. They have three online courses that you can take on instruction for ELLs, Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) fundamentals, and ELL literacy development. Each class is comprised of multiple modules to give you a good grounding in each of the topics at hand. And, they’re entirely self-paced. So, if you have a stack of 70 essays to grade—or, need to take a mental health week, you can do so, and it won’t interrupt your progress.

What else is out there?

I’m curious as to how other people go about sustaining their professional development long-term. So, if you have ideas, share them in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

A New Publication and the Year of Standardized Tests

So, today’s update will be a personal one, instead of tearing into the literature and reflecting on it and on practice. I’m going to share some recent professional milestones and talk about my year of standardized tests.

First, the good news. My latest publication “Queering ESL Teaching: Pedagogical and Materials Creation Issues” is now available in early view with the folks over at TESOL Journal. It’ll be coming out in a full edition shortly.  This marks my fifth publication since starting my new job at NYU Shanghai, which has included an edited volume on L2 Writing (with Tony Silva, Junju Wang, and Cong Zhang as my co-editors) published by Beijing Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press; a short, peer-reviewed newsletter article on queering L2 writing in TESOL’s SLW News. A book review in the Journal of Second Language Writing, and a full article on online writing labs and L2 writing in the Asian EFL Journal. All-in-all, a successful two years when one considers that my appointment at NYU Shanghai doesn’t include a contractual obligation to do research or to publish.

Second, 2017, besides being the year that American politics hit a new low, is also now officially the year of the standardized test. For me, it is, at the very least. It started in February with the HSK 2; the HSK being the Chinese Language Proficiency Exam. I passed level 2 (advanced beginner) with far less trouble than I expected, earning 194/200. So, in April I decided to take HSK 3, intermediate level. Despite the addition of a writing section it was, again, far easier than I imagined. This time I earned 289/300 and learned that my grammar could use some work.

The fast forward to July and I sat for the Praxis I: Pre-professional skills test and the Praxis II: English to Speakers of Other Languages test. I had to take both of these because I’m trying to get an educators certificate in Maryland just in case I don’t get reappointed at NYU Shanghai. And, despite actively teaching ESL students and holding a master’s and a doctorate in the area, Maryland still wanted those test scores…Well, those were also easier than I thought, scoring above average in each test. For Praxis I, I got a 200.200 on reading, a 198/200, and a 176/200 for math. The Praxis II: ESOL test was a little trickier because there were a lot of questions about handling parents, which is something I currently don’t have to do much of in my current position (praise be). Those questions tripped me up, but I still got a 175/200. My personal worst in the tests, but still not too bad.

Since I’ve got one year left on my current contract, I figure we’ll make a push to pass HSK 4 in the spring. After that, there will be a scantron sized hole in my heart that will need to be filled…

CMC and L2 Writing

I just got done reading the early release articles of the upcoming Journal of Second Language Writing special issues on computer-mediated communication (CMC) in second language (L2) writing. And, I can safely say that it seems like it’ll be a rather exciting collection, guest edited by Binbin Zheng and Mark Warschauer, that covers topics ranging from multiliteracies in CMC-moderated L2 writing classes to facilitating collaboration through the thoughtful deployment of CMC in our classes (Zheng & Warschauer, 2017).

I used to work for the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) as a graduate administrator. Despite this, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that my use of technology-supported instruction in the writing classroom has been…limited. I usually fall back on saying that it is because my students have more pressing higher order concerns and rhetorical issues that need to be addressed before I worry about layering on additional task-based confounds by building out a tech-heavy assignment. That being said, the June 2017 special issue of JSLW are beneficial in giving an educator research-based tools for thought to help better integrate CMC into their writing courses. One thing that Zheng and Warschauer point out is that CMC can actually provide a significant site of engagement with writing for our students, as so many of them are daily engaging in writing in and for CMC environments—whether it be posting to WeChat Moments, pounding out updates on their Facebook pages, or humblebragging on Twitter.

CMC environments can also be a good avenue to get students to reflect critically on their linguistic practices. In my Language, Identity, and World Englishes seminar, I have a CMC research assignment about which students get very excited. In it, I require them to analyze their use of language in a short CMC exchange by paying attention to how they use their various linguistic resources to enact their identities in these interactions. The students are apprehensive at first, but I then model the kind of analysis that I want them to do by sharing my CMC exchange with them. They then begin to think in-depth about their language practices. Their outputs last year were rather enthusiastic and well thought out. In their reflections on the assignment and on the course, they found this task type as a useful introduction to writing research reports and to stepping away from topics that they deemed to be, “too academic.”

All of that to say, if you’re looking for a good read, and one that can give you ideas for how to better incorporate CMC into your teaching of writing, you should check out Volume 36 of the Journal of Second Language Writing. If you want to see the assignment sheet for my CMC Analysis assignment, you can check that out by clicking here.

Source Article

Zheng, B., & Warschauer, M. (2017). Epilogue: Second language writing in the age of computer-mediate communication. Journal of Second Language Writing, 36, 61-67.

Engaging with Difficult Material

I closed out last week with a post on Harmony in English Language Teaching. I’ve decided to start this week with some more personal musings that are centered around my concerns about sowing disharmony in the classroom. Allow me to begin by giving some background.

I’m in the process of preparing for my fall humanities seminar Language, Identity, and World Englishes. To do my part in preventing plagiarism, I’ve changed the novels that I’m working with. Last year, my students and I examined the use of local varieties of English in Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy and Ha Jin’s The Bridegroom. This year, we’re working with different novels by the same authors, Swimming in the Monsoon Sea and Nanjing Requiem respectively. Now, this is a sophomore-level class at an American-style university, and I have American-style academic freedom to engage with challenging topics and difficult materials. If I couldn’t, I wouldn’t stay at NYU Shanghai.

Now going into it, I knew that Nanjing Requiem dealt with an uncomfortable topic and, for some, a controversial one—specifically, the Japanese occupation and destruction of the city of Nanjing during World War II. However, I consider the average NYU Shanghai student mature enough to handle this kind of text. Now that I’m reading Nanjing Requiem, I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a misstep. It’s not gratuitous in its portrayal of the atrocities that occurred from the winter of 1937 to the winter of 1938. But, it does paint a vivid picture of the brutalities of war and of the excess of the invading Japanese army, which would go on to kill between 50,000 and 300,000 citizens of Nanjing and the surrounding area. It is a frank and honest portrayal of the horrors of war and the execution of atrocious war crimes by an invading army. When I first read this text, I was a bit taken aback and began to wonder if I should quickly change my textbook order.

There are a few reasons that I considered changing my order. First, I’m up for reappointment this year. I’ve had not luck in securing a well-paying job in the U.S. in the past two years, and—speaking frankly—have no reason to hope that this year will be any different. All of which is fine because I enjoy my job in China and I like living in Shanghai. Take these three things together, and I pray for reappointment. There’s a part of me that’s worried that to assign a novel about such a tumultuous and ruinous time in Chinese history—certainly the nadir of Sino-Japanese relations—could end up risking my reappointment. The other reason is the student make-up of the class. Currently, it’s split about 50/50 American and Chinese students. However, there are two Japanese students on my waiting list. Given increasing nationalism across the globe, and this includes in the younger generation in China and in Japan, I have reason to worry that it will cause classroom strife and hardship for some of the students.

However, the university exists to engage with difficult topics and to learn how to do so in a mature manner that is respectful to all individuals, even if you fundamentally disagree with their opinions. The classroom is also the place where we learn how to separate our views of a person’s beliefs from our views of them as individuals. I may have to, unlike in previous years, give in and give some form of a trigger warning—I dislike that phrase so much—but I may still need to do so just to give students a preview of what’s inside the text. In doing so, I can also prime them for how I want them to engage with the text, which is to look for unique markers of China English.

Also, I feel to have changed textbooks would be doing a dishonor to the victims of the Nanjing Massacre. Certainly, my Chinese students will have learned about this in school. But, in most American history classes, we focus so much on the Holocaust in Europe, because Western history is more accessible through traditional media and documentaries. However, World War II was a global war with terrible acts by all parties involved, even the “heroic” Americans. I feel my American students, in particular, should learn more about just how far reaching that horror was. I also feel that we should, as members of a Sino-American university, remember the victims of Nanjing and honor their memory. I just may have to play peacemaker more this semester than in previous ones. But, that’s what the teacher is there for. To guide students through difficult conversations and to model respectful dialogue and disagreement.