Monday, November 24, 2008
For my candidacy exam, I had to prepare a paper based on one of three topics that were given to me four weeks before the paper was due, and six weeks before the oral exam. The topic that I chose was:
What arguments can you provide for focusing on vocabulary use as the underlying variable that may best reflect English language proficiency; how is lexical diversity and distribution measured and which measure (s) is most useful for providing the insights you seek for establishing thresholds for academic success at university both at entry and over time? What are the distal and proximal effects of vocabulary levels on student writing? What link do you expect to make to academic achievement as reflected in GPA over time?
In answering this question, I proposed that there is a rising awareness of the importance of vocabulary in the field of Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). This can be seen in the increasing numbers of presentations being made at conferences on teaching academic vocabulary, as well as the rise in the literature about vocabulary as an key aspect of English language proficiency. This rise in awareness of vocabulary is accompanied by a rise in the populations of non-native English speaking (NNES) students in the English Canadian school system from kindergarten all the way through the post-secondary years. As increasing numbers of immigrants come to the English speaking parts of Canada and enrol themselves, and more especially their children, in local educational institutions, their success or failure seems to hinge on their ability to muster the linguistic resources to cope with an academic load delivered in English. That their educational success is vital to their newly adopted country is obvious. The benefits accompanying a successful educational experience are a worthy goal of immigrants and their children. However, the road to these educational benefits is one fraught with challenges. Vocabulary is one aspect of these challenges that can be isolated and examined with the purpose of developing ways to overcome these challenges and ease the success of NNES students, when all things being equal, it is English language proficiency that is preventing a full expression of their academic abilities at the K-12 and post-secondary level. Vocabulary can be chosen as an area of research and examination as it appears that vocabulary use is an important underlying variable that reflects English language proficiency, especially in writing. Rich or poor vocabulary production has a number of proximal effects on a piece of writing, with a rich vocabulary giving rise to precise and nuanced meaning and cohesion, and a poor vocabulary contributing to a sense of vagueness and awkwardness. The ways to quantify this rich or poor use of vocabulary are numerous, with lexical frequency profiling offering the best insights for establishing thresholds for academic success at university both at entry and over time. Furthermore, once quantified, there is strong evidence that vocabulary and academic achievement are interconnected, as seen in studies carried out on the distal effects of rich and poor vocabulary production in writing on not only individual writing assignments, but also on GPA, positive and negative university experiences, and other measures of academic outcomes.
It is based on the above that I am soon to start my research into vocabulary richness in first year undergraduate writing for both native speaking and non-native English speaking students at the University of Calgary. I raring to go!
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Friday, September 19, 2008
Hello English for Academic Purposes Fans! Here is a poster that I am presenting next week on some of the research I'm carrying out for my PhD. Basically, I'm looking at the vocabulary that students use for general academic purposes in their first year of undergraduate studies. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Oh no . . . I can't believe that the Stampede Breakfast and the pizza party are going to be on the same day. That's way too much high calorie food for a mere 3 hour period. Usually I love going to the Students' Union Stampede Breakfast. Oh well, at least I got to go to a Stampede Breakfast last Saturday. My local MLA was having his Stampede Breakfast right by my house at the Hillhurst-Sunnyside Community Centre, and I got to enjoy one of the best free breakfasts in town. The thing that makes it so good is that the breakfast always has excellent all-beef sausages every year. They also have hashbrowns, pancakes will all the fixings, and juice and coffee. The coffee is also really excellent too. Usually, at Stampede Breakfasts it's kind of watery and weak, but at the Hillhurst Sunnyside Stampede Breakfast this year, Higher Ground Coffee House (http://www.highergroundcafe.ca/) donated the coffee so it was strong and rich!
Anyway, I hope all the students manage to make it to at least two or three free Stampede breakfasts before Stampede is over!
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Anyway, I'm really glad to be back. I was happy to go back to Montreal to see my uncles, aunts, cousins, and Granny, but it felt good to sleep in my own bed last night. Also, it was kind of a hard trip too because my Granny is 92 years old, and she had trouble recognizing me. It also made me a bit sad to be walking around Montreal and seeing all the old places where I used to hang out. Probably one of the reasons I was so sad was because I have finally realised that I'm not going to be moving back to Montreal. I think for the past 18 years (holy cow - I've been living in Calgary a long time!) I have been thinking I could always move back to Montreal. However, this trip, I finally realised that it is highly unlikely I'll ever be going back to Montreal. It's time to let go, and that's a hard thing to do.
So here I am back. Actually, my poor students, I told them today that the EAP program has found a new teacher to take over the class starting on July 2nd. That means they will have had 4 different teachers by the end of the semester! The problem is that the university needs me to go back to my "real" job (academic coordinator). Because of that, there is a new guy starting next week. I met him before I went to Montreal, and I think he'll be okay. It's always going to be hard coming into a situation where you are taking over from another teacher, but I know that my students are SOOOOOOOOO great that they are going to be perfect model students for him :-) Plus, I'll still be around helping out in the background. I won't totally abandon EAP 1!!!!!
Also, I know they are going to blog and comment lots before the end of the semester . . . right???
Friday, June 20, 2008
Anyway, besides getting to see lots of cousins, uncles, and aunts, I'm also eating all the different kinds of food that I miss so much. Today I got to eat/drink the big three: Montreal Bagels and Cream Cheese, Smoked Meat, and an Orange Julep. The orange julep was so great. Orange julep is a kind of drink with some sort of secret ingredient that makes it so good. The restaurant itself is in the shape of a giant orange. You can't miss it. I have been going there since I was a little boy. The first sip of my orange julep brought back lots of memories!
Say tuned for more blogs about Montreal food . . . but now I have to go and check my students' blogs!
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Anyway, so far so good. It was a bit of a surprise for me when I found out that I had to teach this semester, but I guess it will be a good thing for me before I take my year off from teaching. Starting on August 2nd, 2008 I'm going to be taking a whole year off to finish my PhD. I hope I can get it done in just one year.
Anyway, I just wanted to welcome all of my new students to my blogging universe. I'm really happy that you are here!
Friday, May 09, 2008
Anyway, stay tuned for updates on the curriculum project I am working on for the EAP program!
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I guess the biggest news for today’s blog is that the final exam for the EAP 3 writing and grammar class is already over. I haven’t even looked at the final exams yet for my class, but I have finished looking at the term papers, and I was pretty happy – much happier than with the first term papers. With the first term papers, I had to come up with an emergency solution to prevent most of the class from failing (I wonder if the class knew I was giving them a “free” chance to pass). However, for this term paper, the vast majority of the students did quite fine. That made me happy because it was real evidence that the students were growing as English writers. My next job is to finish marking all of the final exams, and then enter everything into blackboard so that I can calculate the final grades. I have to get all of the grades into the office by the end of next week, and then it is up to the registrar’s office to process all of the marks.
After all of that, I have to get ready for next semester. It is going to be my last semester of teaching for a while because I am taking a year off from teaching in order to finish up my PhD degree. The big surprise from the spring summer semester is that I’m not going to be teaching EAP 3!! Instead, I’m going to be teaching EAP 1. It’s too bad because I was really looking forward to teaching all of the EAP 2’s from this semester. However, I’m sure I’ll have a great time with the new EAP 1’s. Also, Murray is going to be teaching EAP 2, and Regina is moving to EAP 3 instead. Oh well . . . they say change is a good thing!
Anyway, I want to wish the best of luck to this semester’s students. I’m sure you are going to take the campus by storm next semester!
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
However, the best part of the conference so far has been the food! I have been to a deli every day I have been in New York. The sandwiches are amazing! I had a corned beef sandwich on rye bread with mustard that must have been one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten in my life. Corned beef is this slowly cooked meat that is cooked with spices and pepper. It is so good it melts in your mouth! I also have had pieces of New York style cheese cake as big as my head. They were the perfect balance of sweet and tangy cheese . . . so good! I have also had Matzo Ball soup, which is one of my most favourite kinds of soup, but you can’t find it in a restaurant anywhere in Calgary. On top of all that, I have eaten about 10 bagels and cream cheese since I got here. The bagels are so good and so chewy. I think I’m going to miss all of this great food when I get back to Calgary.
Last night, I went to the Broadway Musical “Chicago”. It was really amazing. I went with my doctoral supervisor and another grad student from the University of Calgary. I really felt like I was seeing a piece of real American culture. To be honest, I have never really understood musicals, and how every five minutes people seem to just burst into song for no reason, but having said that, I really enjoyed myself.
Anyway, tomorrow I’m not giving any presentations, but I’ll be in a lot of workshops. Friday is the big day for my presentation on blogs! I can’t wait to show off what my students have been doing this semester! And don’t worry, I’ll make sure I take time off from the conference to look for souvenirs for everyone (cheap ones!)
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Basically, I am going to New York to do two presentations. The presentation that I am most excited about is the one that I am doing on blogs. I think that this going to be my last presentation on blogs for a while, so I really want to do a good job. I have been doing presentations on blogs for four years now. I can’t believe that I have been blogging for four years. That’s a lot of words. Anyway, for this presentation I continued with my blog survey that I have been doing for the last little while, and I analysed the vocabulary in the blogs my students did in the Fall 2007 semester.
The results from my vocabulary analysis were really interesting. I chose 10 students at random from last semester, and I then put them though a vocabulary profiling tool created by Dr. Tom Cobb (http://www.lextutor.ca/). The vocabulary profile told me how many of the words my students wrote were from the first 1000 most common words of English, the second 1000 most common words of English, the academic word list (570 word families – Coxhead, 2000), and words that aren’t on any of those lists. In order to see if there was any change in the way my students use vocabulary, I took approximately the first 500 words they wrote at the beginning of the semester, and I then compared that profile to approximately the last 500 words they wrote at the end of the semester. What was interesting was that 8 of the students showed that they were using a higher percentage of the academic word list at the end of the semester compared to the start of the semester (one student stayed the same, and one student used less). When I saw those results, I felt it confirmed my initial suspicion that blogs are a way for students to grow and consolidate their vocabulary over a semester. This is just a pilot study, and so far, I have only done a graphical analysis. The next step would be to run a statistical analysis to see if what happened with my students’ use of vocabulary is significant. However, in the meantime, I’m pretty impressed! Keep on blogging – it works!
I’ll report on the results of the survey in my next blog.
Wish me luck in NYC!
Friday, March 14, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
It will be interesting to see how this works. On the one hand, I like the idea that I now have a full two hours to focus purely on writing. There is a lot of work that we can get done in an hour. I’ll also have more opportunities for writing in class. On the other hand though, I used to like the flow I sometimes was able to create from the one hour grammar portion of the lesson to the one hour writing portion of the lesson. While I totally believe in teaching grammar, I like to mix it up and take an untraditional approach to teaching the grammar in that I do a lot of activities that force the students to use the grammar structures I am targeting that day rather than traditional “grammar exercises”. It is almost like we are doing a lot of different activities, and the students are unconsciously focusing on the grammar targets for that day because of the activities themselves. After that, I like to then see if the students can apply the grammar I have been targeting in their writing. If I notice that the correct grammar structures are being produced, then I can move on. If I notice that the correct grammar structures are not being produced, then it is time for either more activities, or even some old fashioned grammar lecturing where I explain the grammar rules to the students on the board. More than any of that though I also like forcing the students to come up with their own questions about the grammar. The sneaky thing is that half the time I don’t answer their questions. However, I like to set up the conditions where the students are able to articulate the questions and truly understand what it is that they don’t understand. Once they really know the questions, they should be able to find the answers on their own. I need to do this, because once the students are working by themselves in their regular university courses, they aren’t going to have the benefit of a grammar teacher to answer their questions, so they need to teach themselves how to learn on their own. Additionally, it is impossible to truly understand the “answer” if you don’t really know the “question”. Remember . . . . the answer is 42! What is the question?
Anyway, despite what I have written above, we’ll try this new schedule and see how it works. Naturally, there are arguments for the other side that say that some pure focused and concentrated grammar instruction is just what students need if they wish to speak English accurately and fluently. Anyway, I’d love some feedback!
Thursday, February 28, 2008
While the students had some very valid comments on class size, table shapes, teacher personalities and the time table, I thought I would focus in this blog on the specific comments the students made that related to the EAP 3 Academic Writing and Grammar curriculum. I also thought I would leave out summarizing the compliment part (the bun) of the sandwich. However, I would like to say thank you to all the students who took the time to give me some compliments and brighten my day! It was good to know that some of you like my shoes. Anyway, what you will find below is a synopsis of the important points the students made from both classes of EAP 3 (lectures 1 and 2)
The students provided some interesting feedback for the writing and grammar class. First of all, students are looking for more flexibility choosing their own topics for the writing assignments. This could mean, choosing their own topics for the term papers, or finding new topics that could be added to the topics in the textbook. Some of the students felt that some of the topics were boring and that because the topics were boring, this sometimes made the class boring as well.
Students are also looking for more feedback on their writing assignments so that they can fix their mistakes and perfect a piece of writing before they move onto the next assignment. Thus, the students would like grammar errors not only pointed out in their essays, but also identified so that the students know exactly what their weaknesses are. The students felt that more specific comments on their papers would contribute to greater learning.
Additionally, the students would like to find a balance between writing and grammar instruction (some want more grammar, and some want less). However, basically the students are specifically looking for instruction that will lead to direct improvements in their writing. One example that was mentioned was that students would like to learn more about writing effective introductions and conclusions. While studying skills such as effective introductions and conclusions, the students would like to see a large number of clear examples they can learn from and use as models for their own writing. They would also like to see samples of essays from past semesters that earned top grades, and samples of essays from past semesters that failed. They could then compare their own writing to those essays and identify the gaps between what they are doing and where they need to be.
Along with finding a balance between writing and grammar, the students would like to spend more time writing in class, as opposed to doing the writing assignments strictly for homework. By writing in class, the grammar the students study can then be immediately applied to their writing. In other words, the students would like to see the grammar topics covered in class feed directly into the grammar they need for their writing assignments, and they want the chance to practice it in class. By covering specific writing skills and having grammar instruction to support those skills, the students feel they would be better prepared to analyse their own essays for mistakes. Students would also like more instruction on how to find the errors in their essays and learn how to fix these errors themselves. This means, the grammar curriculum needs to be flexible enough to react to the grammar issues that are arising in class. In other words the problems identified through the writing assignments would be addressed by the grammar instruction.
A final theme that came up more than once in the compliment sandwiches was the time the teachers have for students outside of the regularly scheduled class time. The students have a strong desire for more individual instruction, more time for questions, more personal advice for each student, and for more help after class. This could mean having more office hours, or simply making the teachers more accessible after class. Students indicated that they wanted help specifically from their writing instructors, and didn’t want the writing centre to replace being able to see their own teachers.
Phew, I think this is one of the longest blogs I have ever written! However, I really got a lot of interesting feedback from the students, and now I am trying to think of what I can do to enrich the learning experiences of each and every student enrolled in EAP 3. What I would like now is some more positive advice on how we could address the issues raised in the above blog so that we can put into practice some of the things the students would like to see changed in the EAP 3 curriculum. Feel free to make comments!
P.S. I still love the writing centre!
Sunday, February 24, 2008
I was also an usher for Cineplex Odeon Theatres in 1992. That was a great part time job. I got to see all the movies I wanted to see for free. I could also get free passes to movies for my friends. On the other hand, the uniforms we had to wear were humiliating (burgundy polyester blazers), and once I really embarrassed myself. All the new ushers were told that during the course of each movie, they had to do a "screen test" which involved going up to the big screen at the front of the theatre right in the middle of the movie, and putting your hand on the bottom right hand corner of the screen and feeling it to make sure it didn't get too hot. Needless to say, I only did this once. The audience yelled at me, and the screen itself was totally cool. Gosh, I was stupid!!
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
As for me, I am now officially 38 years old. It was my birthday last Sunday. I can't believe that I am already 38. Since I started teaching full time, I have had 8 birthdays. Amazing. Even more amazing is that I have had the same job for such a long time. Before I became a teacher, I used to change my jobs quite regulary. In order, going backwards from teaching, here are a few of the jobs that I have had before the year 2000:
Flea market vendor (on and off from 1992 - 2000)
On-line antiques dealer
Magazine editor / graphic designer
Barnwood furniture carpenter and marketer
Purchaser for a large oil and gas company
Owner of a souvenir / food shop in Eau Claire Market & Chinook Mall
Assistant for a British important shop and company
Real Estate agent for Royal LePage
Customer Service / Marketing Agent for a tablecloth and linens company
Salesman for Futureshop
Computer assembly technition for an electronics company
Snack shop manager
Activities monitor for the ESL program at the University of Calgary
Bookshop clerk for WHSmith / Classic bookshop
Cook for Dairy Queen
Waiter in a Chinese restaurant
I wonder if I missed anything out there . . . gosh that's a lot of jobs. Basically, that lists what I did roughly from 1988 - 2000. As you can see, not many of those jobs lasted more than a year. Now, what is my point for all of this . . . I guess my point is that it took me a while to "find myself", but once I had found myself I stuck with it. Now look at me . . . I love my job, and I'm pretty happy. Or at least I will be happy until I read all of the term papers . . . . just kidding!!
Monday, February 11, 2008
The adverbial “although” means the same thing as “despite the fact that”. We use “although” at the beginning of a clause which contains information that contrasts in an unexpected or surprising way with information in another clause. For example:
Although it was raining, we went for a walk.
If it is raining, it is surprising that we went for a walk. The walk happened despite the rain. You can also feel that first it was raining, then we went for the walk. We cannot say this:
Although we went for a walk, it was raining.
If we went for a walk, it wasn’t surprising that it was raining. We probably already knew it was raining. The rain did not happen because of the walk. The rain was not an unexpected result of the walk.
Now let’s try but:
It was raining, but we went for a walk.
The coordinating conjunction “but” emphasizes the joining of two contrasting ideas. In the above sentence, you can feel that the two ideas contrast with each other. As a result, you can flip the sentence around.
We went for a walk, but it was raining.
You can add “but” to either of the clauses, but you can’t add “although” to either of the clauses. The coordinating conjunction “but” joins together two equally contrasting ideas. The adverbial “although” does not join together two equal ideas – one of the ideas is an unexpected result of the other clause.
Phew . . . that was hard! I hope that clears up the difference between “although” and “but”. If anyone understood my grammatical explanation, I’d really love some feedback!
Thanks for the great questions in class!
Monday, February 04, 2008
I guess my dream textbooks would be textbooks that covered everything that we need to cover in class, had lots of Canadian content, and weren’t too expensive for the students. Having just those three criteria, however, still doesn’t help me because I don’t think there are any textbooks that fulfill all three of those requirements. s i g h . . . what to do . . . .
Anyway, this is turning out to be a really boring post all about textbooks. I wonder what my students think of as the ideal textbooks . . .
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Anyway, that's enough about the cold . . . . let's talk about title pages instead. I was a bit dissapointed yesterday. Yesterday, both classes of EAP 3 had good copies of their essays on language learning due. In Ilana's class, all of the students except for one had an APA syle cover page, and they all counted how many words they wrote. You could translate that into the statistic that 95% of Ilana's students followed the proper format for a good copy in EAP 3. In my class, only 7 of my students had an APA style cover page and counted the words. That means only 32% of my students followed the proper format for a good copy in EAP 3.
What does this mean? Anyway, I'm handing back the incorrectly formated papers to my students today so that they can do a cover page and count the number of words they wrote. I have to admit I'm a little dissapointed because this year I wrote out an entire sample essay for them to follow. Or is it that I am too lax with my students, or I don't explain myself well enough? I know it seems a bit neurotic to harp on about something like a title page, but if students do follow the conventions set down by the instructor, it reduces their credibility in the eyes of that instructor. Oh well, I have decided not to freak out this time . . . but if it happens for the term paper . . . . . .
Friday, January 18, 2008
Free Drop-in Writing Consultations
Starting February 1, 2008 Drop-in Writing Consultations are available in MLB 205 (located in the Information Commons in MacKimmie Library) at the following times:
Mondays 6:00 - 9:00 pmTuesdays 12:30 - 3:30 pmWednesdays 5:30 - 8:30 pmThursdays 6:00 - 9:00 pm
Appointments are not necessary for the drop-in sessions and may be limited to 15 minutes depending on demand. Sign up is at the IC Service Desk.
I copied all that directly from the website: http://www.efwr.ucalgary.ca/efwr/writingcentre
Anyway, I hope all my students take advantage of the writing centre and use it as much as possible. I bet my students don't know this little fact about me. When I first went to university, my writing was terrible. I actually went to the writing centre a few times, and they quickly showed me how to punctuate correctly and how to format an essay in an academic manner. So you can imagine, if I went to the writing centre when I was an undergraduate student, there is absolutely no shame in going there.
Well, I think I have pestered my students with information about the writing centre enough for today :-)
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Fall 2007 EAP 3