Personal PD (cont.): A New Perspective on My Teaching Philosophy

I’m continuing through the first activity of the TESOL Advanced Practitioner Certificate, which requires you to learn more about a particular aspect of the field. Like the previous entries show, I decided to focus on Computer-assisted language learning, or CALL. As part of my critical reflection on this sustained reading in the area of CALL, I was also required to submit a statement of teaching philosophy for English language teaching (ELT). Since my existing statements are more general, I decided to write a new one focused on ELT and highlighting a new perspective on the philosophy that drives my practice. So, this philosophy isn’t replacing the one that appeared on this site earlier in the month, but it is supplementing it and extending it. They’re both reflections of me and my teaching, but they look at it from different angles.

TESOL Teaching Philosophy

When working with L2 English students, my teaching is grounded in a tripartite framework influenced by the sociocognitive approach to second language acquisition (SLA). First, I believe that all language and learning are simultaneously social and cognitive acts. Second, I believe multilingual students have rich linguistic resources that they must learn to apply to new contexts while managing increasingly complex and diverse cognitive tools. Third, I think that working with students to co-construct knowledge, including knowledge of linguistic systems, can drive student agency and ownership of the learning process. Below, I will discuss what this philosophy looks like in my classes.

Language, as a tool and as an act, is both a social and a cognitive phenomenon. Certainly, we use language for social means–for example, to lay down a social network in a new setting. Likewise, language is also driven and governed by cognitive processes like recursive monitoring. Learning is much the same. We seek to affect mental states, but we do so through a socially negotiated process. In my classes, I strive to make this clear to my students and to help them understand the implications of this view. For example, we can talk about how social context may prime linguistic choice. For example, talking to their classmates about an assigned reading requires one register, while talking to/for a teacher about the same reading requires another. By understanding the influence of the social context on language, we can better understand when and how we can play with language.

The students in my classes are gaining in multiliterate ability every day. I work with them to highlight how this is a strength to be leveraged and not a deficit to be overcome. In my classes, we collaborate to explore how conventions of language work so that they can decide when to deploy their multilingual resources to play with those conventions to make new meaning and to better enact their social identities. In writing classes, for example, we will explore the standard conventions of a genre and how they prime us to make certain linguistic choices. Once we have command over the genre, we can seek out places where we can play with expectations to more effectively make meaning, which may include deploying a localized variety of English over which the student has command to engage in the act of linguistic creativity. First, we do; then, we play because it is in linguistic creativity that new ways of thinking in and about our ecosocial world take shape.

Finally, I firmly believe that learning is the act of co-constructing knowledge with my students. In my classes, this means that I am not the expert. I am the facilitator. I will create educational experiences, and we may encounter places where I do not have the answers. I work to show them that there is nothing wrong with not knowing. Rather, we work together and apply our various experiences, perspectives, and knowledge to come to best-fit answer to our question.


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:

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:

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.