Knowledge and Understanding

I used to hate the history class while I was in junior high/high school. I did have interest in something historical. In fact, I still remember the sensation, sentiment, and sorrow that I felt when I first read the story of 47 Rohnin (Ako Rohshi). I could barely calm down the resentment and sadness that the whole story had brought to me for a long time. However, I didn’t find any significant meaning in what was taught in the history class. It was probably because what was going on in a classroom was only the transmission of facts. What’s on earth the point of remembering the year of 1192 as when the Kamakura Shogunate was founded? There were a whole bunch of years, events, names to remember, and not so much time left for us to contemplate why those events occurred, or what implications the events could’ve had on a later history. Last night at grad school, we discussed the difference between knowledge and understanding based on the designated textbook titled “Understanding by Design (G. Wiggins. & J. McTighe.)” What and how we learned in a history class was one of the topics for our discussions. “Knowledge” is likened to the historical facts that a history teacher or a history textbook tells us, and “Understanding” is likened to know the meaning of facts, to identify a pattern, theory, or implication across all the facts, and to apply them to other contexts. What made me so bored back then in the history class was that the most of the time was devoted just to the transmission of factual knowledge, I suppose. This issue is nothing specific to a history class, though. All the subjects, like mathematics, physics, science, and of course English need to be taken into consideration.

One might argue that unless students have certain amount of knowledge on the subject matter, no further learning will happen. That is absolutely true. Take one English class for instance. The words “big” and “large” and their differences are to be taught today. As you well know, these two words are the adjectives to describe considerable sizes, but when used with “mouth” as in “a big mouth” and “a large mouth”, they’ll start showing the difference. To be able to use “a big mouth” and “a large mouth” properly, the students need to know the words “big” and “large” semantically, syntactically, and phonetically to begin with. They also need to be aware that “big” as in “a big mouth” means being unjustified, pretentious, or excessive. That is still the level of “factual knowledge”, the collection of preexisting facts. But the ultimate goal of the students who just learned the words “big” and “large” along with their differences is to be able to “use” them properly in given contexts applying the theory that they’ve induced and learned. A teacher can prepare tasks in which students will consider given situations, determining whether they’re supposed to talk about the sizes of something or the credibility of something, and make appropriate word choices. It might be put that understanding is to be able to apply the knowledge and transfer it to other contexts, while transforming specific factual knowledge into general transferable rule or theory to be applied. One tricky part is, that things “we think” we know are not necessarily beyond (factual) knowledge. It’s often the case that we don’t understand the matter to the extent in which we can explain theory or logic behind it, or apply the knowledge to the situation or context properly.

Okay, “Knowledge and Understanding” are different, but how our level or degree of understanding can be assessed? In our discussions, one of the native English speaking peers said that TOEIC Part 5 type questions were nonsense. He argued that the words and phrase tested are decontextualized (I could defend that some of them, such as Part 6 ones, are a bit contextualized.), and it’s a multiple-choice question, so the TOEIC test measures only “Knowledge”, not “Understanding” of test-takers. Point taken. I personally think that the TOEIC test measure a portion of test-takers’ understanding by the questions requiring their inferences based on comprehension of what is stated, but I basically agree with my peer’s comment. Well, it’s like “pushing the right button when prompted”. I’ve observed that even 800ers or 900ers who do quite well on Part 5 and 6 questions cannot explain why they have to choose specific answers, and they cannot fill in the blanks of Part 5 and 6 type sentences without multiple word choices. That’s always sad to see that those high score holders cannot produce the language properly. So, not only English teachers, but also standardized test designers are responsible for how English learners’ understanding of the language can be (and should be) assessed.

Specifically speaking, you can access much of your understanding of English grammar and vocabulary by writing essay, journals, or short pieces in English. I daily do Quick Writing. The QW practice helps me see the lack of my understanding of vocabulary and its usage. Writing something in English will surprisingly reveal the lack of your knowledge and the inadequacy of your understanding on grammar and vocabulary. It’s totally a different business than “pushing the right button when prompted”. It may be ideal to have feedback on your writing from someone who has higher proficiency than yours, but you can review and reconsider what you wrote on your own and learn from it. Our discussion on “Knowing vs. Understanding” last night came to a conclusion that either of them is essential for learning, but their balance should be carefully considered depending of the nature of the subjects or goals of learning. But we also agreed that there remains a big issue that we’ll never be able to tell when and how knowledge in learners turns into their understanding because every student has their own pace and path to reach their understanding, which makes our course design and teaching rather complicated, actually. In fact, the professor repeatedly told us, “Learning is really a messy process. It never goes in a linear way. It always goes back and forth.” Well, then, there should never be an ultimate answer or panacea to help transform students’ knowledge into their understanding, and to such extent, learning a language involves a mysterious process.

"Understanding by Design (G. Wiggins. & J. McTighe.)"





人の presentation から学ぶ その2

3/6 に記事化したTESOL コースの英語プレゼンテーションは http://ayay515.blog111.fc2.com/blog-entry-52.html おかげさまで4/8(金)に無事終了しました。その後ネイティブのクラスメートの発表を3つ見たので、今日はそこから学んだことをまとめてみます。このクラスで我々が行っているプレゼンテーションは、第二言語習得論(Second Language Acquisition = SLA)の分野で最近発表された論文を15分に要約して発表、その後グループに分かれてディスカッションした内容をクラスで発表する際の司会をするという、全体で30~40分ほどの課題です。紹介する論文は教授が事前にいくつか候補を提示し、その中から自分で1つ選びます。またその論文はクラス全員が事前に読んでいることが前提です。プレゼンテーションはパワーポイントで行い、教授は後ろの席にいて必要があれば発表中でも発言する、というスタイルです。タイムマネジメントに厳しい教授だとタイマーをセットして時間が来たら即終了、というケースもあるのですが(私はこれに慣れていて、3回ともタイマーが鳴る30秒前に終了しました!)、このクラスではそこまで厳しい形式ではなく、全体としてはリラックスした雰囲気で行われていると思います。


Article:Effects of Varying Lengths of Study-Abroad Experiences on Japanese EFL Students’ L2 Writing Ability and Motivation: A Longitudinal Study (Sasaki, M., 2011)
Abstract http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/tesol/tq/2011/00000045/00000001/art00005

[Note] AH (=At Home) No experience of studying abroad / SA= (Study Abroad +length of stay) Have experience of studying abroad
1. AH students’ writing ability continued to improve while driven by “incentive value of the outcome”.
2. Among groups of SA students who formed “imagined communities”, SA 4 & SA 8-11 group improved significantly than SA1.5-2.
3. Only SA 8-11 group became intrinsically motivated and continued to develop despite impending factors such as “job hunting”.
4. For more influential motivation, L2 related communities are accompanied by specific details of skills and knowledge related target abilities, creating “internal model of reference”. (Dornyei & Otto, 1998)
5. For more enduring motivation, affective support is also important such as teachers’praise

4.スライドに typo があったが、ネタにして乗り切れた(?)
7.堂々とした態度と笑顔を最後まで保てた。(J さん、上手くいきましたよ)


1.早口だった(?) ← いつも駅まで喋りながら帰る Matt に「内容はよかったけど、いつもより少し早口だったね」と言われる。原稿があって何回も練習している内容だったので、いつも二人で話しているときの自分のテンポより速く話せてしまったかも。
2.もっと自分なりのcritical な意見を盛り込めばよかった。 ← 自分のあとに発表したネイティブ3人はこれが出来ていた。
3.もうすこしディープなアイコンタクトをしてもよかった。 ← 資料に目を落とすことはなかったが、スクリーンに顔と身体が向いていることが多く、聴き手に向かって話している時間は全体の6割程度だったように思う。
4.今回はみんなが笑ってくれてそれが "ice breaker" にはなったが、本来はtypoがあってはいけない。 ← "AH (At Home)" を "AM" と打ち間違えたのが一か所。教授がすかさず指摘してくれたのはさすがだと思った。


1.「聴き手に向かって話す」という基本的な attitude が出来ている。
5.スライドからスライドのつなぎが上手い。 ← "With that in mind...", "That said..." など前のスライドに一瞬言及してから次の説明に入る。
7.後ろで聞いている教授をうまく巻き込んでいる。( "apple-polishing" に聞えない程度にとどめる必要あり)
7.ディスカッションの際は相手の発言をしっかり受け止め、そこに自分の意見を乗せている。意見を異にする場合でも、"That's a good point.", "That's likely." などといったん受けてから自分の主張を追加している。自分の知らないことを聞かれても「自分はそこまで調べてはいないが、おそらく~ということだと思う。」と何かしら返答している。

振り返ってみるとTESOLのコースを始めてからこのクラスが7つめ、いままですべてクラスで1回ずつプレゼンテーションをしてきたので、今回で7回めということになります。一番最初に発表した時はパワーポイントすら使ったことがなく(ほんの3年前の話です)、内容もすいぶん稚拙だったと思います。それが今回はプレゼンテーション中に教授とやり取りしたり、15分にわたってディスカッションを仕切ったりと、人間は随分と成長するもんだなぁと我ながら思いました。事前練習では時間を測り、ICレコーダーに録音した自分の声を聴いて内容や発音を修正したりと、以前は決してしなかった準備も今回はしました。ほんと、エラい変わりよう(笑)。私の好きな言葉に "Better late than never." というのがあるのですが、まさにそんな心境です。一生、そんなふうに学び続けていきたいです。





A good refuser

Are you good at refusing requests, offers, or invitations from someone you know? I have to admit that I'm a poor refuser. I'm neither a person of goodwill nor of generosity. I simply hesitate to face the possible risk of offending people to whom I'll have to say "No". Refusal is, in general, regarded as a face-threatening act that requires deliberate presentation in an attempt to maintain good interpersonal relationship. Well, why I bring up this rather awkward topic here is that I wrote a research paper on the effectiveness of teaching written refusals, saying "No" via e-mails or letters during spring semester 2010 at grad school. To my great honor, my paper "Effectiveness of a short-term pragmatics-focused lesson for written refusal to Japanese adult learners" has been published as one of the papers contributed to a grad school journal titled "Developing Learner Pragmatic Competence Through Instructional Intervention". Sounds too cool, huh?

One of the eye-opening facts that I discovered in the course of research and paper-writing was that native speakers of English tend to elaborate much more carefully on their refusals than I expected, especially in case of the ones to someone in higher status and in equal status. They usually adopt several different kinds of refusal strategies to avoid the risk of offending people and to maintain their faces. It's pretty much like what we do in Japanese, don't you think so? I'd like to share those refusal strategies with you, hoping it might be of any help to your strategic refusals in both in Japanese and in English.

1. Opening by thanking
e.g.) Thank you for the invite/ your inquiry/ your interest.
2. Wish
e.g.) I wish I could go…/ I would like to go sometime soon…
3. Statement of regret
e.g.) Unfortunately…/ Regrettably…/ Too bad…
4. Giving a reason and/or explanation
e.g.) I already told that I will be home tonight. / The information has not been finalized
5. Statement of alternatives
e.g.) Can we go later this week? / It will be available in the very near future.
6. Adjuncts to refusals
6-1. Agreement before rejection
e.g.) That’s ideal but…/ That sounds good, but…
6-2. Statement of empathy
e.g.) I realize you are in a difficult situation. / I understand that you are interested in the details.
6-3. Apology
e.g.) My sincere apology for any inconvenience this may cause.
*7. Ending by thanking or well-wishing
e.g.) Thank you again for your interest/ Hope you have a good party.

Reference: Beebe, L.M., Takahashi, T., & Uliss-Weltz, R. (1990). Pragmatic transfer in ESL refusals. In R. Scarcella, E. Anderson, & S. D. Krashen (Eds.), Developing communicative competence in a second language (pp.55-73). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
(Except *)

Okay, here's the deal. Imagine the situation where you’d like to refuse a dinner invitation from one of your colleagues who's interested in going personal with you. You don't want to build a personal relationship at all, but make each other good co-workers just the way you two have been. What would you construct your written refusal as diplomatically as possible? Think about it.

Well, this is an example of how NOT to refuse, probably, but I'd go like:

Hi, ***. Thanks for the invite (1). I wish I could go (2), but too bad (3), I have a sales report due tomorrow morning (4). I've been pretty tied up these days (4), sorry (6). Thanks for asking and have a good day (7)!

Please note that there are no “Statement of alternatives (5)”. You see what I mean. Reminder. I have no one particular in mind.......Correction. I can come up with exceptional few if forced!





Learning Difficulties in L1 and L2

This is my posting on the discussion board of "Second Language Acquisition" course of TESOL program. It's fresh from the press, so to speak ;-) Hope you enjoy reading it.

It seems to me that we are more or less aware of differences in individual foreign language aptitude or existence thereof from our learning and teaching experiences. Obviously, there are people who are equipped with extraordinary so-called “talent” to learn a language realizing near-native ultimate attainment like Julie. USLA Chapter 7 attempts to present various approaches to delve into this issue, among which the following remark makes me reconsider what the issue of foreign language aptitude entails; language aptitude partially overlaps both with traditional intelligence and with early L1 ability, and language-related learning difficulties when learning to read in L1 resurface later on when learning L2.

USLA chapter 7-6 introduces “Linguistic Coding Differences Hypothesis” developed by Sparks and Ganschow (2006) which posits that people differ in ability to handle phonological-orthographical processing operations in their L1 as much as L2, meaning difficulties in L1 may become apparent in the early school years, and later in school or even in college, those who experienced language-based learning difficulties, whether diagnosed or undetected, will face difficulties in learning a foreign language. This hypothesis sounds very reasonable in a sense that people who do not manipulate their mother tongue fully will have hard time learning an additional language. The thing is, however, how to approach this type of learners as a language teacher.

I’m a type of teachers who believe in “Quantity overrides quality”, meaning that regardless of learners’ potentials, to be more specific, “aptitude” they will learn L2 to a certain degree if they try hard enough. This “positive” attitude, unfortunately, sometimes fails to be applied to certain learners. I remember one of the students who had to achieve more than 700 on TOEIC as a graduation requirement struggling with the TOEIC reading section. She was not a bad speaker of English, or rather, has a fairly fluent command of the language in oral discourse. When it comes to reading comprehension though, she demonstrated her ability so poorly that some of the teachers went so far as to suspect if she was dyslexia. She finally managed to achieve the requirement in the last minute due to her hard work and teachers’ attentive support, but the gap between her oral ability and reading comprehension ability was rather shocking to us all.

Some of the universities in Japan require that students earn certain scores on TOEIC or other English proficiency tests by the time of graduation or some other points. I’m concerned about how the students with language-based learning difficulties will overcome a situation in which they have to demonstrate their foreign language proficiency in specific tests under time constraint. As far as I know, there seems to be no convincing rationale or accounts for Japanese universities to set requirements based on certain English proficiency tests, mainly TOEIC, to begin with. I hope those who bear this kind of commitment will see their given circumstances as an opportunity to learn the language as seriously as possible, and hopefully there will be a remedial solution for non-achievers, such as certain score gains can be redeemed as fulfilled requirements.




Sticky error of "plural-s"

This is my posting on the discussion board of "Second Language Acquisition" course of TESOL program. It's fresh from the press, so to speak ;-) Hope you enjoy reading it.

The article presented in the last session is interesting in a sense that both comprehension-based instruction (CBI) and production-based instruction (PBI) are effective for incidental learning, and that features which require a degree of cognitive reorganization on the part of learners, such as "plural-s" to Japanese learners of English, might be best achieved by the task where the recognition of a given feature is the central to its accomplishment. As English teachers are all aware, "plural-s" is always a sticky error of Japanese learners mainly because there is no equivalent notion of singular-plural nouns in their L1. Additionally, since the absence of plural-s may not cause a serious consequence, meaning “the recognition of a given feature is NOT the central to its accomplishment”, Japanese learners won’t take the omission of plural-s very seriously. Coincidentally, the data that I brought to the last session exemplify this phase of learner language development.

The learner is a good speaker of English and she has a strong listening skill as well. She apparently looks like a competent L2 users, but once she starts writing in English, you’ll have to revise evaluation of her proficiency. She has acquired tenses, relative clauses, passive voice and other complicated grammatical features which could be ranked much later in the illustrations in Table 6.4 in the textbook p. 125, “Morpheme accuracy order, from earliest to latest mastery”. However, she constantly omits plural-s as in “There are many place”. The tendency of her error is explained that she omits plural-s after a modifying adjective before noun. The error itself is not surprising to me at all because low and intermediate level learners almost always omit plural-s in that position or wherever. What surprised me is that a good English user like her still cannot get rid of this careless production error until now. I presume that Individual difference or Crosslinguistic influences overpowered the predicted order of acquisition in this case.

For this production error, I think that PBI is not sufficient because she could have overcome the error by now if PBI had been effective enough. What I can do as her teacher is to raise the learner's awareness of the error and have her identify the patter thereof. Then, PBI focused on this particular feature is to be implemented. Most importantly, however, the learner has to be determined to eradicate the error by the tenacoius practice of “focus on form” and “monitor herself”.



English learner


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