Throwing Ideas into the Ether

I’ve been home for a week now, and it’s been a comfortable life. I must admit that one of the most challenging parts of being a migrant academic with a 9-month teaching load is keeping myself disciplined and still working during the summers. It’s so tempting to just take the dog to the park, play Mass Effect Andromeda or watch Star Trek: The Original Series on infinite loop.

Granted, for the first week, I’ve kept myself busy preparing to sit for the Praxis exams in the hopes of getting my Maryland state teaching license (for a possible career move), working on grant applications, and carrying out revisions to hopeful publications. Oh, and reading. Let’s not forget that any academic worth their salt—and this includes applied linguists—must read and read a lot.

And, I must admit that I am heartened to see one of our professional organizations take such a sustained and multi-angle interest in LGBT+ issues in the field. TESOL International has run some LGBT+ focused newsletter articles for their various interest sections lately, and both TESOL Journal and TESOL Quarterly have had some great articles coming out/in-press on the topic. To quote Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.”

I was reading a recent article in the Social Responsibility-IS newsletter that got me to thinking more. In this article (link below), Kelly and Lewis (2016) discuss four avenues for queering the classroom. It’s their final one, “include topics of sexual literacy”, that I think is the most interesting. It’s interesting because it speaks to material creation issues, which I’ve written about in the past (Paiz, 2015, 2016, in press). Kelly and Lewis go one step further, they start recommending materials that the reader might find useful to queering the classroom.

So, this brings me to the idea. We need a—you guessed it—curated, web-based repository of queer teaching materials and lesson plans appropriate for ESL/EFL students. This pool of resources could include summaries of publicly available materials and how educators have used them in their own classes, scaffolds to make the materials linguistically appropriate/accessible to language learners, and (best of all) teacher created materials with a reflection of how the teacher tailored the content to their institutional context. This could be a massively useful resource and allow us to point early service teachers and those that are new to queering the classroom towards a concrete bank of trusted ideas, best practices, and suitable materials. It’s grant writing time!!! Whose going to join me in making this thing come to life?

Source Materials

Kelly, M., & Lewis, A. (2016, June). Creating inclusive classrooms for LGBTQIA ESL students. TESOLers for Social Responsibility. Accessible from: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolsris/issues/2017-06-07/5.html

Paiz, J.M. (2015). Over the monochrome rainbow: Heteronormativity in ESL reading texts and textbooks. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 4(1), 77-101.

Paiz, J.M. (2016, October). A call to queer L2 writing. SLW News. Accessible from: http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolslwis/issues/2016-10-14/3.html

Paiz, J.M. (Forthcoming). Queering ESL teaching: Pedagogical and materials creation issues. TESOL Journal.

Scientific Writing Project Update

So, my project on supporting scientific writing at NYU Shanghai is almost complete. I’ve just finished revisions to the student writing guide, draft available here. I’m going to see if I can finish one more vidcast before I hand off this project at the end of next week.

Deadheading Some of the Flowers: Pushing back on Translingualism

Now before I’m accused of overly violent language or rampant white privilege, allow me to begin by stating that the “deadhead” portion of this title comes as an echo of Lantolf (1996) and his article “SLA Theory Building: “Letting all the Flowers Bloom!”. In this article, Lantolf discusses the big tent view of SLA and of TESOL, one where our theoretical foundation is varied and polyvocal. That is, there’s no single grand unified theory of SLA/TESOL, nor should we want there to be. The proliferation of theory grants us an agility to acknowledge the dappled perspectives that our researchers, theorists, and practitioners—themselves global academics—bring with them. It allows us flexibility to address questions of language learning, teaching, and acquisition in a globally sensitive way.

The downside to the big tent view is that there tends to be some reduplication of theory in a way that can smother some useful theories just because the name connected to the theory has a certain star power. For example, why should anyone care about a multilingual view of SLA/TESOL that’s being advanced by some no name scholar, when we have a sexy new theory with a buzzy name, like translingualism, and a name with some star power, like Canagarajah. Now, make no mistake, I enjoy the work of Suresh Canagarajah; and in some places, I even agree with him. I truly appreciated his argument for a world Englishes informed view of composition (Canagarajah, 2006). I am an advocated for the rhetorically appropriate deployment of linguistic variation in all writing. However, in other places, like in his recent advancement of the theory of translingualism, I think he’s gone a bit too far and has done so in a way that will only feed into the far-right’s attack on intellectualism, expertise, and college training (Canagarajah, 2013).

The term translingual conceives of language relationships in more dynamic terms. The semiotic resources in one’s repertoire or in society interact more closely, become part of an integrated resource, and enhance each other. The languages mesh in transformative ways, generating new meanings and new grammars. -S. Canagarajah, Translingual Practice, p. 8.

On its surface, there’s nothing wrong with Canagarajah’s definition of translingual, translingualism, or translanguaging. As a matter of fact, I quite agree. However, where he sees some new terminological niche from which to advance his claims, I see the lived realities of billions around the globe—mono- and multilingual alike when they interact with people using differing varieties of language. What he sees as translanguaging, I see as Sociocognitive alignment and the strategic negotiation of that alignment to achieve joint action. There’s nothing different here, to me at least, between this view of language and its use and how Atkinson (2002) would see language and interaction from a sociocognitive perspective. What he sees as translingual practice, I believe that Gee (1990) would see as the deployment and negotiation of various literacies and linguistic practices to engage in social action. As a matter of fact, Canagarajah himself spend the first six pages of the book Translingual Practice outlining the various names for the phenomena that he is relabeling “translingual practice.”

Canagarajah self-identifies his translingual push as representing a sort of “paradigm shift (p. 6)” in applied linguistics. However, all of his exigencies are, quite simply, reality as accepted by most other theories of language, sociality, and communication that I’m familiar with. Telling us that translingualism is going to lead to a radical shift and then keeping so close to what seems almost taken granted fact doesn’t make a strong argument for any change in thinking. It seems, rather, to just be further justification that this is a new name for the accepted reality that has been described using already available linguistic theories and jargon. This to me, is one issue with the theory of translingualism. Not only is it perhaps not the paradigm shift it claims to be, but it muddies the water by using new and unnecessary jargon for phenomena already under examination by applied linguists. This argument was, quite nicely articulated by Chris Cassanave during the 2013 meeting of the American Association for Applied Linguistics. She soundly attacked translingualism—and a few other theories—as adding to the impenetrable jargon that makes it so easy to think that academics live in a world completely disconnect from the realities of our students and the tuition and taxpayers that fund our positions. It also makes it harder to engage in the professionalization of new practitioners and researchers if we have this propagation of theories that are propped up by their names as opposed to being truly representative of a radical shift in thinking. I agree.

Another issue here is that the terms translingual and translanguaging are buzzy terms in part because of their use of the prefix “trans-“ at a time when this prefix is experiencing increased visibility. And, that visibility can be at least partially linked to increased visibility of trans persons as they struggle for rights and protections in every corner of the globe—including in the liberal democratic West. Canagarjah’s theoretical approach to me seems to want to cash in on this buzz, to co-opt this prefix and to affix it to his theory to make it instantly sexy and du jour. To me, this does a disservice to trans-identifying individuals and their advocates—some of whom are also our fellow researchers, practitioners, and most importantly our students.

The final issue, here, is that this theoretical approach, and how it’s outlined in Translingual Practice opens the door to attack from the far-right at a time when conservative parties control the majority of state legislatures in the U.S., as well as the national executive and legislative branch. Part of the reason for this is because the language used in outlining the introduction to Translingual Practice sets up translingual individuals as marginalized—and I don’t deny that L2 writers often are marginalized—but it does so using the discourse of trauma and injury. This discourse, taken to an extreme, is often read as a blanket indictment of racism if you disagree with the theory. If you want a good example of this, just look at the push back against University of Washington Tacoma’s writing center after they released their new policy to be more aware of social justice issues in tutoring writing (click here). This comes at a time when we can ill afford these distractions—especially with almost daily attacks against our L2 migrant/immigrant student populations and their rights to seek out a quality education.

I made it a point to read a lot on translanguaging recently. I wanted to be at least partially convinced. I remain, perhaps sadly, wholly unconvinced. That being said, I think it’s important to engage with theories and positions that we disagree with so that we can better understand the professional landscape that we exist in. I’d love to hear from others on their thoughts about this theoretical approach, as I would appreciate the perspective. I would, however, remind us all that these conversations are most useful when we don’t approach them as evangelicals for our given world-view, or as battleships preparing for a broadside.

Source Articles

Atkinson, D. (2002). Toward a sociocognitive approach to second language acquisition. Modern Language Journal, 86(4), 525-545.

Canagarajah, S. (2006). The place of world Englishes in composition: Pluralization continued. College Composition and Communication, 57(4), 586-619.

Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual practice: Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. London: Routledge.

Gee, J.P. (1990). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideologies in discourses. London: Routledge.

Lantolf, J.P. (1996). SLA theory building: “Letting all the flowers bloom!”. Language Learning, 46(4), 713-749.

Workshop Planning

Earlier this year, I was invited to represent NYU Shanghai by giving a workshop at a pedagogies institute at NYU Washington Square. Well, after much thought, and a dash of dallying, I’ve finally settled on a title and a direction for the workshop. I’m now very much looking forward to what actually happens at the event.

Linguistic Diversity in Student Work: Responding Better to L2 Writing
Responding to student writing helps us personalize learning for our students, and working with linguistically and culturally diverse (LCD) students presents particular challenges and opportunities in this effort. This workshop creates a space to discuss these challenges and to develop tools for response that acknowledge the varied backgrounds and skills of our LCD students.

Foundations of Rhetoric: Logos

This is highly illogical, captian. -Cmd. Spock, Science Officer and XO

The last rhetorical appeal that I’d like to talk about in this blog series is that of Logos. To me, this has alway been the driest one to talk about with students. Pathos is exciting because of the different ways that we can bring it into the classroom—eveything from TV commercials, to print ads, to product placements. Ethos has recently gained new energy for me, as I can see it being something that can also be tied to authorial voice. Logos, however, remains a place where I can personally improve. So, how can we talk to our students about logos in a way that moves beyond merely introducing and identifying logical fallacies?

Well, recently, I led a workshop for our Academic Resource Center (ARC) at NYU Shanghai. The ARC is the one-stop shop for academic support on our campus offering tutoring in everything from physics to calculus to business and writing. The workshop that I was overseeing was to prepare our academic fellows to work with new genres of scientific writing. During that workshop, one activity was met with the most enthusiasm by the participants and was later deemed the most useful—a comparative vivisection of texts.

Now, a vivisection sounds gruesome. It referes to digging into live beings to see how they work, to uncover some truth about life and biology. Now, when it’s done with writing it’s far less bloody, especially if you tell people to leave the red pens at home. I want to argue that the comparative vivisection is a potentially useful tool for teaching students about logos, and there are two ways of doing that I think would be potentially interesting for students. They are promising because they allow us to deploy different kinds of texts for the students to examine, and they enable us to scaffold our students’ engagement in working with ethos.

In the first vivisection, it may be useful to introduce students to logic and its role in persuasion before discussing logical fallacies. Once this foundation is set, it’s time to roll out the “texts” for the vivisection. When I do this work with my students in a few weeks, I plan on starting with video texts from related areas. The first text will be a short snippet of a sales pitch for health and wellness products on a TV sales network like QVC or HSN. Then, I would move on to a video that discusses health and wellness that has been put out by the university health and wellness office. We would then work to compare how these different sources appeal to our sense of reasoning and where, if anywhere, logical fallacies have crept into these texts. To scaffold their understanding, this work will focus on identification and coming to understand better how these appeals influence our reading of a text and its persuasive power.

In the next day’s session, we would build on that knowledge by moving on to more traditional texts from popular media, looking at opinion articles from two moderate news sources on the same issue. This time, however, we would focus on identifying and correcting potential logical fallacies. This way, the students can progress from identifying logos appeals and understanding how they work, to identifying places where logos appeals break down and how to repair the issue.

This is my plan. I’m curious about how other educators make teaching logos more interesting. What novel approaches do all of you have? Get in touch and let me know. I’d like to follow this up in a future post with some of your ideas!