Week 3 homework

My class on teaching writing is kind of silly. The homework is sort of challenging, but the classroom exercises seem designed to help the mostly-Korean students improve their own writing skills, so the professor is, in effect, teaching showing us how to teach. I guess the idea is sound, but for the three or four native English speakers in the class it’s laughably easy.


Teaching Writing: Writing Assignment 3 – Letter of Complaint. We were supposed to write a fictional letter of complaint to someone so I went with the Nigerian prince who failed to make me a millionaire. Also, I just now figured out that my $3.3 million share isn’t 20% of the fake money involved. Good thing I’m not a math teacher.

March 24, 2015

His Royal Highness Prince Abu Salami
Noble Defender and Great Steward of Nigeria
1600 Royal Nigerian Way
Lagos, Nigeria

Your Royal Highness,

I am writing to you in reference to a mutual agreement between your son, Mr. Tahmi Salami, and myself, a US citizen residing in Seoul, South Korea. On January 1, 2015, your son and Royal Finance Advisor, Mr. Salami, informed me via email that Your Royal Highness was seeking an overseas partner to assist in releasing US$31.5 million in royal tribute funds that were being held by the National Bank of Nigeria and that my assistance was desperately needed.

Because, as Mr. Salami explained, the release of the funds required the assistance of an overseas trustee as mandated by Nigerian banking laws, I would be entitled to 20% of said funds in return for my cooperation (US$3.3 million). He assured me that I would receive my portion of the funds within 10 business days of wiring the US$5,000 bank processing fee to your royal bank account. I wired those funds on January 2, 2015 yet, despite dozens of attempts to contact him, I have not heard from Mr. Salami since.

Your Royal Highness Prince Salami, Noble Defender and Great Steward of Nigeria, please forgive my insolence but I should have received my $3.3 million long ago. This transaction has dragged on for far too long and I hereby request that Your Royal Highness transfer my share of the funds immediately to my U.S. bank account. Please hurry. Your honor as a Nigerian prince is at stake.

Humbly Yours,

Michael


Teaching Writing focus questions: Raimes, Chapter 2: Techniques in Planning the Class: Seven Basic Questions

1. How does composition help EFL students increase their proficiency in English?

Composition gives L2 students a chance to use the language in all phases: speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and it is also an opportunity for students to use language in a way that is meaningful to them on a personal level rather than just providing perfunctory responses to uninspired writing topics (Raimes, 1983, p. 13). According to Raimes, it is important to find classroom activities that encourage students to “use the new language in a meaningful way” that will boost their confidence in communicating their ideas (p. 14).

When I was teaching conversation classes at Hongik University, most students were anxious for as much “free talking” time as possible and I believe that it was for the exact same reasons that Raimes has stated in reference to writing; students want to use English in ways that are of significance to them, and following a rigidly structured textbook or pre-scripted exchange of phrases was of little interest. Had I been teaching writing at Hongik instead of conversation, I suspect the students would have had similar feelings about the content of the lessons.

2. How important are the various topics used in writing and where can they be found?
As a second language learner myself, I can say with confidence that writing about topics that are of interest to me personally is of far more value than being asked to write about a variety of subjects that have been assembled en masse for the sake of variety. During a period of time when I was actively studying Korean, I took it upon myself to write paragraphs about topics ranging from fantasy football to buying a bicycle from a coworker to having a bucket of water poured over my head as part of a social media fundraising campaign. Not only did this give me a chance to use what I already knew, it also prompted me to seek out vocabulary that I hadn’t learned yet and try out sentence structures that I had been taught but hadn’t yet internalized.

Raimes (1983) agrees that tapping the interests of the students themselves is a valuable resource (p. 15) and, although I didn’t revisit my own topics for further writing opportunities, I do see the usefulness in doing such a thing provided student interest remains at least somewhat strong. I think the tricky thing about writing topics is the difficulty in finding something that will arouse interest in all of the students. Every class will inevitably have a few students who will want to abandon a topic and move on to something else, but I suppose that is something that would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Pleasing every student in any given class might be an exercise in futility, but at the very least we can explore ideas that the students have and let them have a say in what they are going to write.
3. How can composition be made meaningful for students?
“The writer needs to be interested in the task” (Raimes, 1983, p. 16). Truer words have never been spoken. My own love-hate relationship with writing over the years has hinged on that very idea; as a child, I always hated writing about things I wasn’t interested in, and I produced better writing when the interest was there.
Although it may not be practical to always allow students to write only what they want, Raimes (1983) does suggest the addition of a “communicative purpose” (p. 16) to make the writing process more meaningful. For example, instead of instructing students to simply write about their dream job, it would be much more valuable to frame the writing exercise within a meaningful context such as asking them to imagine that their dream job is actually available and that they need to write a letter of application explaining why they should be hired, perhaps allowing for some imaginary qualifications that they are working towards in the real world but have not yet gained. Such an exercise would allow the students to visualize where they might be in the not-too-distant future, what they will need in order to get there, and then express those thoughts in words.

4. How can composition teachers deal with the idea of the audience?
Raimes (1983) astutely observes that, from the student writer’s perspective, the teacher too often plays the role of the writer’s judge rather than the writer’s audience (p. 17). I’ve never really considered this distinction before but, as I consider the number of corrections I mark on student writing at work, it certainly rings true. I also strongly agree with Raimes’s position that writers need an audience to communicate with, and she suggests designating a specific audience that could be just about anyone including the teacher, other students, an imaginary audience, and even the student himself (p. 17-18).

In a former life, when I was heavily involved in web design and online marketing, I was frequently tasked with designing ads and writing copy for various purposes. Each time a new project came up, my first question was about who the audience would be, and that was for jobs that usually required no more than a few words. I can certainly imagine how much easier it must be for student writers if they know who their audience is as well.

5. How can and why should teachers have students cooperate on composition tasks?
Raimes (1983) addresses the questions of why students should cooperate on composition tasks by pointing out that “the students, not the teacher, need practice in language use” (p. 19). This very idea is something that I always try to keep in mind when teaching and, whenever possible, I ask students to focus on talking with each other rather than focusing on me and what I’m saying.

I like Raimes’s (1983) ideas for managing group activities by appointing group leaders and showing flexibility in pairings, and I also like her optimism that students will help each other with things like vocabulary, syntax, and content (p. 20). Students do help each other; I’ve seen it happen and it’s always gratifying when they show that they are learning from each other. One of the pitfalls of any group activity, however, is the unfortunate likelihood that certain students will use the group arrangement as an opportunity to either play around or take a break and do nothing at all. Just last week I ran a group activity in a debate class where students were tasked with working together to develop arguments both for and against the claim that students are required to do too much homework. As a means of motivation, I offered a reward of points (our school’s reward “currency”) for the group that produced the most compelling arguments. There was one student who, based on his history, very predictably chose to do nothing. However, I saw another student working hard with his group despite his reputation for being the class clown. Again, I like Raimes’s ideas, but I think there is another conversation to be had about motivating groups to work as a unit to succeed. University students might be able to stay focused, but younger learners are a different story.

6. How much time should be given to students for composition?
Raimes (1983) makes it clear that “time should not be a constraint” (p. 21) for student writers and, although the realities of the classroom sometimes require that time be limited, I have to agree that writers should be allowed the time they need. Last week we were asked to write a descriptive paragraph for this class, and it took me far longer than I would have ever predicted. Describing an island is, in itself, a pretty simple task. Sand, waves, trees, and sky. There’s really not much to it. It was my process, disorganized as it is, that led me down a path of revisions that ultimately required over two hours before I felt I had written something satisfactory. I spent my first 20 minutes writing a paragraph that was fairly bland and impersonal, and from there I explored word choices and new ideas that resulted in a product that was vastly different from what I had started with.

In a perfect world, time truly should not be a constraint. Students who are unable to finish a piece of writing in class should be allowed to finish it on their own time at home. But, as any professional writer will attest, deadlines loom and must always be met.

7. How can teachers deal with students’ errors?
I like the approach that Raimes (1983) offers for correcting student errors, not only because it serves to cut down on the teacher’s workload, but because it turns errors into learning opportunities. Self-correction is incredibly valuable, and students should be given the time to self-correct whenever possible. Raimes also points to the need to “find out if they can correct” (p. 22) and, in my experience, they most certainly can. Even my first grade students are able to recognize many of their own spelling mistakes and certain grammatical errors, and there are plenty of times when they truly are unable to make a correction… but they know that a correction is needed. I think waiting until a second or third draft to make any corrections is a good policy (p. 23) but, alas, my students are a bit too young and the school’s curriculum is a bit too strict for that type of writing instruction. At the university level, though, I believe all of these things are possible and that students would be very receptive to such practices. Marking up a composition with a sea of red ink is not only disheartening for the student, but it takes the focus away from the real purpose of using English to communicate.

References

Raimes, A. (1983). Techniques in Teaching Writing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

 


Human Learning & Cognition focus questions

 

1. What is verbal learning and what was Ebbinghaus trying to prove with his experiments?
Verbal learning is the learning and retention of lists of words (Terry, 2006, p. 159) and Ebbinghaus’s goal was to show that memory is, indeed, scientifically quantifiable. He experimented on himself by attempting to memorize lists in sequence and measuring how many relearning trials were needed in order to recall the lists accurately and in their entirety. Through these trials he also measured “savings” which indicated how many fewer trials were required to relearn a list after a certain time interval as compared to the number of trials initially required for learning (p. 160). Verbal learning, as rote and mechanical as it may seem, still appears to be in wide use today as Korean students are tasked with committing endless vocabulary lists to memory. I have taught a number of vocabulary classes at the academy where I work, and I have always questioned the value in forcing my students to memorize lists of vocabulary words that are presented with minimal context and sometimes even less discernible value to elementary school children. I realize that my students are memorizing more than just a list of words; they are also attempting to associate meanings with those words, but the ideas set forth by Ebbinghaus still appear to be applicable to their learning and subsequent retention. I have assigned lower-level students the task of seeking out Korean definitions for words before they are presented in class, and then, of course, they are to complete additional exercises for homework, thus giving them multiple exposures to each list of words. The students who do their homework perform significantly better than those who choose not to do the homework and, as a result, deny themselves any relearning opportunities.

2. What is serial learning and what are some of its variables?
Serial learning is the memorization of lists until they can be recalled without error (Terry, 2006, p. 160). Ebbinghaus noted that serial learning, with its requirement that a list be memorized in the same sequence as presented, was susceptible to the “serial-position effect” wherein the words at the beginning and end of any given list were more easily learned than words that occurred in the middle of the list (p. 162). One of the hypothesized reasons for this is that students are viewing the first and last words as anchors to which the middle contents are attached. Another possible explanation is that first and last items are subject to more rehearsal than middle items, and a third hypothetical cause lies in the notion that middle items are subject to more interference from surrounding words, whereas the first and last words in a list are each only connected to one word rather than being sandwiched in between two others (p. 162-165). Another intervening factor in serial learning is the time interval in between relearning trials which Ebbinghaus called the “curve of forgetting.” What he found was that the curve was quite steep immediately after learning a list, but it would level off with the passage of time and additional relearning attempts (p. 161). Lashley (1951, as cited on p. 165) added that “well-learned items are seemingly grouped, or unitized,” an easy example of which can be found in how students often recite the English alphabet in chunks. It is not unusual to hear students recite the alphabet with longer pauses between groups of letters such as A-B-C-D, and then E-F-G, followed by H-I-J-K and so on.
I do not doubt that the serial-position effect is evident in pure serial learning trials, but I can’t really say that I have observed it in my vocabulary classes because our process also includes definitions and context and, to be fair, I have never asked a student to simply recite a list of words verbatim and in sequence. The curve of forgetting, however, is something that I think is greatly significant and serves as evidence that the approach to vocabulary learning that my academy (and probably most others) uses is deeply flawed. Additional relearning attempts are, at best, limited and my rigid curriculum does not afford me the time to plan further relearning into future classes. Another limiting factor is that vocabulary is taught only once a week, so the the time interval between relearning opportunities (if any) could potentially be five to six days. I think this is a shame, and it also seems symptomatic of Korea’s general approach to language learning and the pressure to simply perform well on a test, long-term retention be damned.

3. What is paired-associate learning and how can it be analyzed?
Paired-associate learning bears some similarity to classical conditioning in that it involves a stimulus (the first part of a pair) that is intended to evoke a response (the pair’s second part) (Terry, 2006, p. 167).
One of the variables to be considered in paired-associate learning is
stimulus discrimination where the similarity between two stimuli could result in an incorrect response (p. 168-169). I have experienced this myself as a Korean language learner and, to this day, I still have to think ahead before using the words “wallet” or “job,” two words that sound very similar in Korean (jee-gab and jig-ub, respectively). English, of course, has more than its own share of stimulus discrimination suspects in words like fine/fan/phone/fin and call/coal/kill/cool to name just a few. Terry suggests mitigating this confusion by providing advance exposure to those stimuli and he also made reference to “perceptual learning,” giving an example of how rats were pre-exposed to stimuli in their living environment, much like kindergarten children frequently see the days of the week and months of the year on permanent display in their classrooms (p. 169).
Response learning is another way of dealing with paired-associates and Terry (2006) observes that “meaningful response items are learned more easily,” which points to the importance that familiarity and frequency play in the learning process. If a response already has associations with other words or past experiences, it will be easier to learn (p. 169). This could be why, for some people, names of newly-met people “go in one ear and out the other.” No previous associations have yet been made but that name will become easier to remember after additional time has been spent with that person. Drawing on established associations has obvious benefits, and it is something that I try to do as often as possible. When teaching students about what happens in a story arc, for example, it is useful to frame the lesson within the context of a movie or other story they already know so that they can recognize what happens in the beginning, middle, and end. Where teaching vocabulary is concerned, associations can also be leveraged by showing photos or drawings of things the students are already familiar with.
Terry (2006) also points to
stimulus-response associating as a possible reason for the success or failure of recognizing paired associates. Pre-existing knowledge of a pair could aid in remembering words like “kitchen” and “sink” while pairing “sink” with “garage” would likely be less successful. S-R associations can also be aided by cognitive elaboration which entails giving additional details to help form an association between S and R. Terry’s examples of the short man buying a broom and the large man reading a sign illustrate how connections can be more readily made if additional information is given to link the short man with a small space or a large man with falling through thin ice (p. 170). When dealing with students, it would seem important to provide them with more details whenever possible to aid their success in recalling information. I don’t typically have a need to ask my students to recall individual sentences in the same way that Terry’s examples are described, but I do find that highlighting context clues helps immensely with reading comprehension and I try to do the same in vocabulary by asking students to point out the context clues in fill-in-the-blank exercises.
Direction of associations is the final analysis tool that Terry (2006) presents, noting that the success in identifying paired associates is not always a two-way proposition (p. 171). A student might easily associate “back” with “pack” but may very well give a different response when “pack” is offered as the stimulus. Terry states that failing to recall S when R is given could be a sign that learning has occurred in only one direction, and he recommends giving students practice with recalling stimulus items without the responses being paired (p. 171). Fortunately, this is one concept that most vocabulary textbook publishers seem to have taken notice of and they frequently provide exercises that give practice with backward associations. Being able to associate words and meanings in both directions can help students in several phases of language learning including reading comprehension, composition writing, and verbal communication.

4. What are some of the variables that affect free recall?
Free recall can be affected by a variety of factors including serial position, rehearsal, and organization of items through existing knowledge (Terry, 2006, p. 172). As with serial learning, the position of items in free recall has significance. Items at the beginning of a list may benefit from the
primacy effect of being first, and items at the end could be more easily recalled as a result of the recency effect of being last (p. 173). Atkinson & Shiffrin (1968, as cited on p. 173) posited that the serial-position effect may be the product of both long-term and short-term memory being used in free recall. The idea is that primacy is not only the result of being positioned at the top of the list, but it is also affected by additional rehearsals that are given to the top items and the resulting likelihood of being stored in long-term memory. Recency, on the other hand, is simply the result of the last items being the ones with the most recent exposure and, therefore, are still stored in short-term memory (p. 173).
Keeney, Cannizzo, and Flavell (1967, as cited on p. 173) conducted a
rehearsal experiment where they concluded that “children who were observed to rehearse also recalled more,” and the implication of these results, according to Terry (2006) is that “rehearsal facilitates retention” (p. 174). Further supporting the theory of rehearsal’s positive effect on retention is the observation by Ornstein et al. (1975, as cited on p. 174) that not only did older students rehearse more than younger students, but they also rehearsed differently (p. 175) and that this age gap can be narrowed when younger students are instructed in more effective strategies for rehearsal (Naus, Ornstein, & Aivano, 1977, as cited on p. 175).
Organization, the categorical grouping of similar or related items through existing knowledge (Terry, 2006, p. 175) can increase access to categories of items that might otherwise be forgotten (Tulving and Pearlstone, 1966, as cited on p. 176). For example, if presented with an unorganized list of animals, kitchen utensils, and sports equipment in no specific order, organization could assist recall by grouping these items together where the subject will first name the items in one category and then on to the next and so on. One might not perfectly recall all of the items, but the number of items recalled could be higher than if attempted without organization. According to Terry (p. 175), this strategy reduces memory load, affects the order in which items are recalled, and aids memory search during the recall process.
Students, whether they know it or not, are probably influenced by these free recall variables on a regular basis. While explicit free recall exercises as described in Terry (2008) are not the norm in the classroom, it would appear useful for teachers to be aware of them. The notion of rehearsal is, in my mind, immediately reminiscent of the way in which students do last-minute cramming before being handed a test. While this type of “learning” is less than ideal, in the end it may still serve the student well if even just a portion of the crammed material is retained after the test has been handed in. Organization also seems to have value, especially if the teacher has the freedom to choose which vocabulary words students will be presented or tested on.

5. How do available and accessible memories differ and why do they do so?
Available memories are those that are stored in the brain but not necessary retrievable, and accessible memories are those that can actually be retrieved (Terry, 2006, p. 178). Tulving and Thompson (1973, as cited on p. 181) proposed their “encoding specificity principle” which states that, in order for a memory to be retrieved, its original meaning or context needs to be reinstated. Terry gives the example of recognizing an actor but not being able to recall why (p. 181), but I feel inclined to give the broader example of why it is easier to listen to and understand a foreign language than it is to actually produce it. With listening, much of the meaning and context are provided by the speaker, assuming that one’s level of understanding is on par with the pace and type of speech being heard. Speaking, however, requires the language learner to construct his or her own meanings which is far more difficult. If the meanings are inaccessible, successful speech production thus becomes more of a challenge. This is something that language teachers witness every day yet, somehow, it can be easy to forget.

6. How and why do mnemonics work?
Mnemonic devices are what I would call “artificial” strategies for remembering, with “artificial” meaning that the learner has willfully constructed these strategies for the express purpose of committing something to memory. Willful construction notwithstanding, mnemonics work because they are a way of making a meaningful association between the object to be learned and the device itself whether it is through first-letter memorization, mental images, loci, narrative, or any other form the learner chooses. As Terry (2006) puts it, mnemonics make use of those things from which learning benefits most, including “imagery, meaningfulness, organization, and retrieval cues” (p. 189). It is important to note, however, that some mnemonic devices are better suited for certain learning tasks than others. The narrative story method (Bower & Clark, 1969, as cited on p. 185), for example, may work well with free recall but not necessarily with serial learning tasks (p. 192).
Just about everyone who has ever attended school has probably used mnemonic devices at some point. I still recall a few from my past; my seventh grade math teacher taught my class the order of mathematical operations with the first-letter mnemonic “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” where PEMDAS was shorthand for parenthesis, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. Of course, one of the most famous first-letter mnemonics is for remembering the planets of our solar system, but the recent revocation of Pluto’s planetary status now suggests that the mnemonic might be due for a revision. I have also constructed my own mnemonic devices, such as when I was studying for an art history exam and remembered Bernini’s “The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa” sculpture as “the spaghetti sculpture” because Bernini’s depiction of sunlight shining from the heavens looked like strands of dried spaghetti. It also helped that Bernini was Italian. Imagery also played a part in my learning that < and > are alligators who eat the bigger numbers,
i.e.: “4 < 5” or “5 > 4”. Although I wouldn’t attempt to force any of the more difficult mnemonic strategies (such as narrative or peg words) on students, I do see great value in the devices that are inherently easy to comprehend and require little effort to employ such as imagery and first-letter mnemonics. Generations of learners have used these strategies to their benefit, and for good reason. Mnemonics are effective and, in some ways, can make learning more fun.

 
References

 

Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. Psychology of learning and motivation, 2, 89-195.

 

Keeney, T. J., Cannizzo, S. R., & Flavell, J. H. (1967). Spontaneous and induced verbal rehearsal in a recall task. Child Development, 953-966.

 

Lashley, K. S. (1951). The problem of serial order in behavior. Bobbs-Merrill.

 

Naus, M. J., Ornstein, P. A., & Aivano, S. (1977). Developmental changes in memory: The effects of processing time and rehearsal instructions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 23(2), 237-251.

 

Omstein, P. A., Naus, M. J., & Liberty, C. (1975). Rehearsal and organizational processes in children’s memory. Child Development, 818-830.

 

Terry, W. S. (2006). Learning and memory: Basic principles, process, and procedures (3rd Edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

 

Tulving, E., & Pearlstone, Z. (1966). Availability versus accessibility of information in memory for words. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 5(4), 381-391.

 

Tulving, E., & Thomson, D. M. (1973). Encoding specificity and retrieval processes in episodic memory. Psychological review, 80(5), 352.

 

posted by Michael in Back to School on 3/29/2015 | No Comments