Monday, November 24, 2008

I’m officially a PhD Candidate!

These last few weeks have been really busy for me, but I’m really pleased. I had my PhD candidacy oral on November 4th, and it was successful. Now that I’ve finished that hurdle, I can’t wait to get started on the research for my thesis project. I’m just waiting for ethics approval and then I can begin.

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!

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Research Project

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

Stampede Breakfast Time

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 ( 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

Happy Canada Day!

It's July 2nd, and my legs are in pain! I went hiking yesterday to celebrate Canada Day, and I think this is the first time I have gone hiking in over a year. Anyway, I'm paying for it today. I kind of feel like an old man . . . maybe I am!

Yesterday I went to Lake Louise, and I climbed up to Lake Agnes. It takes about an hour an a half to climb to the top of the mountain, and it's so beautiful up there. There is a huge waterfall, and a lake. Once you get to the top, it feels so good to put your hands in the water and splash it all over your face. Also, at the top, there is a teahouse where you can get a pot of tea made with mountain water. After a long hike, it's amazing! It was the perfect way to spend Canada Day :-)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back in Alberta

Here I am back in Alberta in the computer lab with my students. I arrived last night at about midnight, and I didn't go to bed until after 1 am, so you can imagine I was kind of tired when my alarm went off at 6 am this morning!

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

Orange Julep, Smoked Meat, & Bagels!!!

Here I am in Montreal. I wonder if my students miss me. I hope they are all blogging lots! As for me, I am having a great time. I got to visit my 92 year old grandmother this afternoon. It was good to see her again. She is getting to be kind of forgetful. She asked me a couple of times who I was, and then she was amazed at how much I had grown. She also told me Uncle he was getting a big belly, so it was kind of funny.

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

I'm Blogging Again!!

Hello EAP 1! I can't believe I'm teaching again this semester. I thought I was going to have a semester off teaching so that I could work on the curriculum for the EAP program at the University of Calgary. Unfortunately, the EAP 1 teacher who was supposed to teach this class is no longer teaching in our program, so I had to suddenly step in and start teaching EAP 1. However, I don't mind because this EAP 1 class is totally awesome! So far, I have only been teaching them for about a week, but I think we have already learned a lot together. Naturally, I had to get all of my students blogging!

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

Taking a loooong break

Hello World! I guess this just might be my last blog for a while. You see, I'm not teaching this semester. Instead I have been assigned to work full time on developing curriculum for the EAP program and also to be the full time "Academic Coordinator". That doesn't mean that I won't be popping in here from time to time to blog, but it just won't be as often as in the past. I can't believe that I have been blogging constantly for over four years now. It's amazing. Anyway, as for me, I'll be working in the EAP program for this semester as the academic coordinator, and then I am taking a one year "assisted study leave". It is kind of like a sabbatical for me to finish my PhD. Then, I 'm not sure what I'll be doing. One day at a time, eh?

Anyway, stay tuned for updates on the curriculum project I am working on for the EAP program!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The End of Another Semester

Well, this is the end of another semester. I’m going to wait until tomorrow to read the last blog entries of all of my students as I gave them until midnight tonight to finish their blogs. I really can’t wait to read them tomorrow. Usually I really get a sense of satisfaction at the end of a semester reading the students blogs and seeing their growth from the beginning of the semester until the end. If I ever do another presentation on blogs, I’ll be really proud to show off what my students did this semester. When I was in New York, a lot of people were very impressed with the work of my students from past semesters, and I think I may have even inspired some people to start blogging with their students. It’s amazing to think that I have been blogging for over 4 years now. That’s a lot of words written by both me and all of my students. It’s even more amazing for me to think that I have had 100’s of students since I started blogging 4 years ago, and I got to know them all so much better because of the blogs. I’m sure I became closer to my students because of the ability the blogs gave me to see into their world.

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

One Down One to Go!

Today I finished my first presentation on vocabulary in university writing, and it really went well. You see, today I was part of a doctoral forum where doctoral students like me from all over the world presented their thesis proposals and the research they have been doing. I am still in the early stages of my research, but there were some people who are almost finished, and it was really interesting hearing what they had to say. It was a great opportunity to get some feedback on my research. It was also funny to hear that some Phd students hated APA citations!! It reminded my of my students in my writing class!

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

Going to New York Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the big day when I leave for New York! I feel bad for leaving my students for a whole week, but on the other hand, I’m really excited to get the chance to go to the largest conference of ESL teachers and researchers in the world. Hopefully, I’ll learn some cool teaching tricks I’ll be able to use with the students back home.

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 ( 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

Blogging for Academic Purposes

Gosh, I'm starting to realise more and more that it is really hard to take over a class half way through the semester. There are a lot of little things that I take for granted, that maybe another teacher wouldn't even be concerned about. I guess one of those things would be how I see the role of blogs in an academic writing course.

For me, I take it for granted that blogs are a complete different genre than normal academic writing. That means, all of the rules and conventions that the students are learning in class might not necessary apply when they are writing their blogs. For one thing, blogs are a totally informal forum for the exchange of ideas. When writing a blog, it isn't a one way flow of communication like it is in an essay. Hopefully, in a blog, I can get lots of comments so that this blog is more like a dialogue between me and the world. Also, while the stiff formality of the traditional academic essay has it's place, I feel that worrying too much about academic vocabulary and formal ways of expression will stop the flow of ideas, which is the whole point of the blogs. Anyway, I guess what I'm trying to say is that it is okay to use your everyday language in a blog, and you don't have to worry about stuff like thesis statements, and topic sentences. Also the point of blogs is to get your ideas out of your head. Thus, I don't want people worrying about stuff like spelling, correct grammar, the perfect vocabulary word, or the right punctuation. The most important thing is just to get the ideas down into the blog. In fact, when it comes to vocabulary, if you can't think of the perfect word, just keep typing. You can type around the word, for instance. What I mean is, if you want to say the word "ladder" but you can't remember it, you can say this: I put a thing like some stairs up against the side of a tree and climbed up to pick an apple. See . . . it's the same thing, everyone knows what you are saying, and you don't have to waste your time looking words up in the dictionary.

Also, I find that when students type directly into their blogs, they tend to think in English. There isn't enough time to translate back and forth between their native languages and English. This helps to increase the speed the students can think in English, and it helps them get used to approaching writing tasks in English. However, if they start to worry too much about what they want to say, they might be tempted to start to think of their ideas in their native languages first. If that happens, I generally find that the grammar problems start to get worse and worse.

Anyway, I guess the point of this rant is that I take it for granted that blogs are an informal fun way to practice English and read what the rest of the people are thinking about in class.

Keep it fun!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Reacting to Student Concerns

It’s the first day of a new schedule today, and I wonder what the students think about it. I know that the administration here in the EAP program thought a lot about how to address the concerns of the students and create the optimal conditions for learning, and this is what they came up with. Basically, I am now teaching each writing class for about five hours per week, and the other teacher is going to teach the grammar class for about five hours per week. We are going to alternate the days that we teach so that the students can have a full two hours with one instructor on any given day.

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

Recently, I carried out an activity in my class that I like to call the “compliment sandwich”. Here are the questions I asked:

Top Bun:
Something I like about the EAP 3 Writing Class
General advice I would give to my EAP 3 Writing teacher
Something specific I wish were different about EAP 3 Writing
How I would make my wish come true
Bottom Bun:
Something else I really like about the EAP 3 Writing Class

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 forgot!!

I forgot . . .

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

Happy Reading Week

It's reading week, and all of my students are working hard on their term papers that are due next Monday. I can't wait to read them. I have just finished marking the mid-terms, but I will save comment for a later blog . . . . . . nothing to worry about though!

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
Pub manager
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
French tutor
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


Today in class, we have some good grammar questions! Sam asked me a question about “although” and “but” and it really demonstrated to me how hard it is to explain English grammar sometimes. I mean, because I am a native speaker, I can feel what is correct and what is incorrect. However, to articulate why something is correct and why something is sometimes incorrect can be very difficult. Because of that, I often want to say to my students “trust me – I can feel that this is correct” or “just memorize the difference”, but I know that can be very frustrating for my students! Anyway, I have spent a few minutes thinking about what Sam asked me in class, and this is what I came up with.

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

Textbook Trauma

Well, here it is, only February, and I’m already thinking about what textbooks to use in September. The worst part about picking out textbooks is trying to figure out the exact level of textbooks to match the level of the students in EAP 3. If the textbooks are too easy, they won’t prepare the students for university. However, if the textbooks are too hard, then the students won’t learn anything because they will be struggling too much with the material. There’s that, but then there’s also the fact that there seem like millions of different textbooks available. Some are good at one thing, but others are good at other things. The problem is that none of the textbooks seem to be good at everything.

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

cold cold cold cold cold cold

Holy cow, it is cold outside. I guess there are hundreds of blogs across the Canadian prairies all saying the exact same thing right now, but boy is it cold! Whenever we have cold weather like this, I always freak out about my students, because I'm worried they won't dress warmly enough for the weather. I'll never forget the one time when one of my students got frost bite on his cheeks and nose. Both of his cheeks turned black along with the tip of his nose. It was really terrible to look at and very painful for the student. In the end, the tip of his nose fell off and now he has a frost bite scar on end of his nose. What's the moral of this story? Cover your nose with your scarf!

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.

Ilana 95%
Me 32%

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

I LOVE the Writing Centre

I know, I know . . . perhaps most of my readers aren't quite as convinced as I am as to the wonders of the Effective Writing Centre here on campus, but it seems so cool that there is a place where students can get FREE help with their writing. Personally, I would charge between $150 - $200 an hour for private tutoring. Why spend all that money on a private tutor, when there is somewhere to go on campus? Also, I just found out that there are FREE drop in tutoral sessions available in the library. Here are the details:

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:

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

Another Semester Has Started

Here we are - it is now Winter 2008 already, and we have started a new semester here in the EAP program at the University of Calgary. I wanted to list some of the blogs from the last few semesters here in this post. I hope people check them out from time to time and see what former students of our program are up to. I'm sure that some of them are going to keep blogging. It really makes me proud to think that some people really embrace this format and keep blogging for years after they first started. In fact, for me, I have been blogging for almost four years. That's a lot of words!

Fall 2007 EAP 3

Past Blogs

Past Blogs
Sang Min