Reader Response Journal

Approaching the Grammatical Mass/Count Distinction from a Multimodal Perspective by Derek J. Brown

This is a really interesting short article about how Brown used multimodality to help his Japanese students process the varying ways English groups nouns (and by extension the things they represent) as objects (countable) versus substances (mass/uncountable). Working within a framework of grammar as choice, Brown views the process of determining if a noun is mass or count as a representation of socially constructed understandings of the world, which vary across cultures and languages. Using transmediation, the process of representing meaning across different modes of communication, he helped his students understand the ways mass/count distinctions are constructed in English, and the ways they can vary across situations. For example, depending on the context, the same object can be considered a block of metal, a weight, or simply metal. Factors that influence these distinctions include boundedness (whether the edges/shape are important), internal composition (whether it’s homogenous or not), conceptual integrity and arbitrary divisibility (whether adding or removing more of it changes our perception), perceptual conspicuousness (whether we focus on the similarities or differences within a group) and interaction (what it’s used for). Realizing that his students needed to first understand these different elements of constructing meaning, before they could reliably construct their own assessments of an item’s mass/count-ness, he devised a series of multimodal activities, that, through the process of transmediation, allowed his students to recognize and discuss their underlying conceptions. First, he gave students a list of words and had them draw visual representations of them. The countable nouns, like apple and car, most yielded similar drawings, while mass nouns, like water and coffee, had much greater variability in how they were represented visually. Next, he presented his students with 26 objects, spanning both mass and count nouns, that varied in terms of their size, shape and function, and also crossed boundaries (like including sand, gravel, small stones and rocks). The students used a checklist to classify the relative importance of each item’s boundedness, internal composition, conceptual integrity and function, which helped them sort the objects into countable and uncountable categories. They discussed how Brown would classify the objects as a native English speaker, as well as how the same item could be classified in different ways depending on which features were deemed most important. Lastly, he had his students draw visual representations of different pieces of furniture, and used colored lines to code different features. Then they grouped different items together and used the colored lines to determine whether the grouping was covered by a plural (like chairs), or needed a mass noun (like furniture). This led to the students being able to discuss and examine their conceptualizations. In Brown’s words, “Students had opportunities to see language not as a series of grammatical “equations” that must be memorized and calculated, but as something that can be interacted with, altered, and created.” (p. 606).

This was a really interesting article for me, because I had an entire unit devoted to the mass/count distinction (with food as the topic) with my ninth graders this year, and I definitely realized as I was teaching it how blurry some of the boundaries are (watermelon, for example, can be countable when whole, but becomes a mass noun if it’s cut into cubes). I think using both visual and tactile modalities would really help students understand the underlying thought processes that lead to the nouns being used the ways that they are. I’ve also always been a big fan of multimodality and embodied cognition and seeing how these were realized in actual classroom was useful and inspiring for me. I’m definitely likely to use some of his approaches if/when I teach mass/count nouns next.

Brown, D. J. (2015). Approaching the grammatical mass/count distinction from a multimodal perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 49(3), 601-607.

Reader Response Journal

Empowering Teachers Through Professional Development by Alice Murray

This is a pretty basic, straightforward overview of types of professional development that teachers can engage in. The techniques covered include reflective teaching, keeping a teaching journal, keeping a collaborative journal, analyzing critical incidents, peer mentoring and peer coaching, teacher support groups and teacher support networks involving teachers from multiple schools, local and national teachers’ associations, collaboration between associations, international associations, and workshops and conferences. Murray also notes that reading (or writing) articles is perhaps the simplest form of professional development, but doesn’t elaborate. She uses an example of a teacher in Senegal who maintains a vibrant teaching practice in difficult circumstances because of her commitment to ongoing professional development, to illustrate the impact of these types of practices, and she provides examples from her career for many of the techniques she outlines. She also includes an appendix of advice from the Association of Teachers of English in Senegal on things to consider when starting a teachers’ association.

This is not an article I probably would have read on my own, but as part of the fellowship I’m in here in Ecuador, we have professional learning communities where we meet once a month to discuss teaching. As part of each meeting, we all read an article and use it as a starting point for discussion. As we near the end of our fellowship, one of the other teachers suggested that we read this article and reflect on our professional development throughout our time in Ecuador. The formal professional development components of the fellowship have been the monthly PLC meetings, maintaining a “teacher action plan,” which is an ongoing list of strengths, challenges and goals, and monthly-ish webinars, most of which have been focused on globalization, intercultural communication and international development, rather than teaching and education. We also each complete a fellowship project, which is pretty much whatever we want it to be, to present at our end of service conference. (Mine was a classroom research project on the effect of using multiple intelligence-aligned activities in a unit with my seventh graders.) Reflecting on the PD components of the fellowship has given me a much clearer sense of what works for me and what doesn’t. For example, I’ve been part of two different PLCs during my time here. The first worked much better for me than the second, because it was smaller and much more tightly focused on the month’s theme. We also gave ourselves a time limit for the meeting and separated social time from working time. In contrast, the second group is larger, more social and less focused on the theme, which makes it less effective for me. In addition, I’ve realized that I don’t like the monthly goals of the teacher action plan, so I have also been setting my own goals, using the same format I did during the internship component of my internship. (Murray doesn’t list goal setting as one of her professional development activities in and of itself, but several times throughout the article she mentions the importance of goals in relation to the other strategies.) I’ve been setting longer term goals in the six competency areas of my master’s program and working on them simultaneously, rather than setting one goal per month and not having them overlap. (In case you’re curious, the competency areas I set goals for myself in are 1) language, 2) culture, 3) learners and learning, 4) teachers and teaching, 5) self and others and 6) educational institutions, communities and professional life.) I’ve also found the webinars to not meet my needs, since they are not focused on teaching or education. Instead, I’ve been reading articles independently (and, starting in April, documenting them on this blog), which allows me to target my areas of interest. I’ve also been doing some of Murray’s other suggestions, such as being involved in the TESOL international organization and presenting at conferences. All in all, between this blog, setting and reviewing my six personal goals, conducting my fellowship research project and my writing/editing/presenting work within the field of TESOL, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good ongoing professional development routine worked out for myself.

Murray, A. (2010). Empowering teachers through professional development. English Teaching Forum, 48(1), 2-11.

Reader Response Journal

“I May Be a Native Speaker, But I’m Not Monolingual”: Reimagining All Teachers’ Linguistic Identities in TESOL by Elizabeth M. Ellis

In this article, Ellis explores teachers’ linguistic identities, beyond the NEST/NNEST dichotomy, which she argues simplifies teachers’ experiences of language, since it focuses exclusively on English. In the NEST v. NNEST mindset, NESTs are presumed to be monolingual and NNESTs are presumed to be bilingual, deficient in English and often speakers of the same language of their students and the dominant model of teaching English in English hides teachers’ other language skills. Ellis elicited personal linguistic narratives from 29 English teachers in 7 countries that contradict these constructs. She found that many of the so-called NESTs were in fact multilingual, with varied language learning experiences that sometimes included being able to speak the same language as their students to a high degree of proficiency. In addition, teachers who were perceived as NNESTS not only had broad linguistic repertoires and varied language learning experiences, they also often considered themselves to be native speakers (sometimes with a caveat about their accents). Ellis draws on traditions such as bilingual life-writing (memoirs such as Eva Hoffman’s Lost in Translation), plurilingualism (a European approach that takes a broader view of linguistic repertoires than multilingualism, by acknowledging various levels of competence, attrition and relearning across the languages an individual knows), and the move towards recognizing the learner’s L1 as both a learning tool and an important aspect of their identity, to establish a place for teacher’s multilingual learning experiences as an important aspect of their teaching and teacher identity. She envisions a world where teachers will regularly be asked “how rich is your linguistic repertoire and how can this be deployed as a pedagogical resource?” instead of whether they are a native or nonnative speaker or which variety of English they speak (606).

For me, this article was particularly relevant, because I am a multilingual native English speaker, and I often feel like the rest of my linguistic repertoire gets erased or is invisible to my students. I’ve been using much more of a plurilingual approach to teaching here in Ecuador, where my classes are of necessity a hybrid of Spanish and English. But it was only last week that one group of my students thought to ask me if I speak anything else (which I do, to varying levels of competence). I really think that for students to see their teachers as language learning role models is really powerful, and I wish more teachers would include their language histories when they introduce themselves to new classes. For example, I don’t know how any of my previous language teachers learned their languages and I don’t know if any of them spoke languages beyond English and what we were learning. I think that standardizing the “what is your linguistic repertoire” question as part of the hiring process would be really beneficial. I remember when I first arrived here how frustrating it was that my principal just saw me as a deficient Spanish speaker, rather than a multicompetent user of many languages. As a native English speaker, my L1 is valued, but this experience gave me a sense of the frustrations that I hear my NNEST friends talk about, where they are defined by what they aren’t, rather than recognized for the skills and abilities they do have. I really hope Ellis’ ways of conceptualizing language repertoires catch on within the field, and that differentiating childhood home languages from current dominant languages and accounting for both circumstantial and elective language learning experience becomes more common. I know that they languages I speak benefit me hugely as a teacher, and I think that these experiences should be valued throughout the field. By doing this, we can move away from valuing nativeness as the most important factor in a teacher’s linguistic identity, and start creating more accurate and less biased ways of talking about teachers’ language backgrounds. This would also open the way for more plurilingual classroom pedagogy and structured reflection on past language learning experiences as part of teacher training programs, which would better serve our students.

Ellis, E. M. (2016.) “I may be a native speaker, but I’m not monolingual”: Reimagining all teachers’ linguistic identities in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 50(3), 597-630.

Reader Response Journal

English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States by Rosina Lippi-Green

This book is an excellent overview of language discrimination in the United States, with a particular focus on the racial aspects of that discrimination. Lippi-Green begins the book by laying out some linguistic basics, which non-linguists often don’t know about language, namely that 1) all spoken languages change, 2) all spoken languages have equal potential, 3) grammar and communicative effectiveness are separate issues, 4) written and spoken language are fundamentally different and 5) variation is intrinsic to all spoken languages (Kindle locations 771-776). She then examines the ways language changes over time, the fact that everyone has an accent of some sort and how standard language ideology (SLI) is established. She explains that Standard American English (which she refers to as *SAE) is a myth which doesn’t exist in reality, but which nonetheless strongly influences the ways we think about language and leads to the subordination of other languages and varieties and the types of discriminatory practices she outlines in the rest of the book. She presents a model of subordination, where “language is mystified, authority is claimed, misinformation is generated, targeted languages are trivialized, conformers are held up as positive examples, non-conformers are vilified or marginalized, explicit promises are made and threats are made” (Kindle locations 2591-2593). These messages of SLI and subordination are transmitted through the educational system, children’s movies (particularly those by Disney), and the mass media, all of which she describes in detail. She then examines the consequences by providing overviews of court cases focused on language discrimination in employment, which prove how little the courts are invested in preventing or punishing the perpetuation of linguicism. Lippi-Green then explores the specifics of a number of non-standard varieties of English, including Black English, Southern English, Hawaiian Creole, as well as the language of immigrant groups and their descendants, particularly Latinos and Asians. She also includes two case studies, focused on the moral panic surrounding the Oakland Ebonics controversy and linguistic profiling as an aspect of housing discrimination. She ends by reaffirming that “to speak freely in the mother tongue without intimidation, without standing in the shadow of other languages and peoples” is a basic human right, which language subordination tries to deprive people of (Kindle locations 10429-10430), and reasserts that language discrimination in the US is a cover for racial and ethnic discrimination.

This book was mostly useful for providing lots of examples that prove linguicism is real, along with definitions and context for how standard language ideology benefits powerful groups in the US. The chapter on court cases was depressing, but not surprising, because language is not a protected class in US civil rights/anti-discrimination law, so language discrimination cases fall under the national origin umbrella, and are almost never successful. I also really enjoyed the chapter on Hawaiian Creole, which is a topic I briefly encountered during grad school, for a classmate’s language and power presentation on Pidgin English in Hawaii. It’s definitely interesting and something that I’d be curious in learning more about. I’m also curious about the Northern Cities vowel shift, which as a Wisconsinite, I probably have plenty of exposure to. Lippi-Green’s research on Disney and the way they use foreign accents for primarily bad or evil characters was interesting, and is definitely the most famous part of the book, but didn’t seem that compelling to me. Admittedly, I’ve read a bit about Disney’s racially problematic characterizations, which is an area of research that developed extensively after the publication of the first version of the book, so I’m glad that Lippi-Green was one of the first people to delve into the problematic aspects of Disney movies, but I wish the chapter was stronger. Knowing the basic idea is pretty much enough from me, and the details in the chapter didn’t really illuminate it more for me. I felt similarly about the chapter on the Oakland Ebonics controversy, another area I’ve read several different analyses of. She does a good job laying out how it followed the typical path of a moral panic, but I don’t feel like I understand it any better after reading her take. That said, I was definitely glad I read this book, because linguicism matters and this is one of the foundational books in the area.

Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an accent: Language, ideology and discrimination in the United States (Second Edition). New York, NY: Routledge.

Reader Response Journal

Pluralizing English? Variation in High-Stakes Academic Texts and Challenges of Copyediting by Joel Heng Hartse and Ryuko Kubota

This article looks at the conflict between the move towards greater acceptance of variety in English (World Englishes, ELF, translanguaging, etc.) and the requirements for error-free standard language in academic publishing. The authors use their collaboration on Demystifying Career Paths after Graduate School, a book edited by Kubota, a non-native speaker, and copyedited by Heng Hartse, a native speaker, to look at the tensions between their commitment to pluralization in theory and their actual editing practice, even though they made retaining non-native speaker authors’ voices a deliberate and explicit goal. To frame their discussion of their own work, they outline four approaches to variation in written texts by non-native speakers, the traditional error-based approach, the World Englishes approach, the translingual approach and the written English as a lingua franca approach. The latter three are more inclusive and accepting of variation, but are difficult to reconcile with publishers’ expectations. (Interestingly, a corpus of Written English as a Lingua Franca in Academic settings (WrELFA) was developed by the University of Helsinki and should provide more data for future explorations on non-native speakers’ high-stakes writing.) They explore the ambiguity of most academic journals’ standards in terms of language, and note TESOL Quarterly and the Journal of English as a Lingua Franca as two exceptions that explicitly welcome writers with different norms. Next, they explore the “text history” of their own editing process, looking at specific changes and the reasons they made them while editing their book. Specifically they address changing individual words (would, getting tenure), resolving sentence-level ambiguity, and changing the book’s title to conform to native speaker norms. They acknowledge the role that native speaker intuition played in these changes, despite their desire to edit as lightly as possible. They end the piece with suggestions for more progress towards the recognition of variation by publishers and recommend that second language writing researchers communicate their findings to those in gate keeping positions at publication. They suggest several potential research questions and call on everyone involved in the publication process to balance intelligibility with non-native speakers’ voices, encouraging copyeditors in particular to ask “why do I want this change to be made?” (p. 81) for every change.

I read this article because, as co-editor of the Social Responsibility Interest Section newsletter for TESOL, I’m editing non-native speakers’ writing for publication for the first time, and many of the questions that Heng Hartse asked himself are ones I’ve been wondering about. Second language writing has never been a major area of exploration for me, and most of the students I’ve taught have been at a much lower proficiency level, so this is my first time really thinking about how to give effective feedback to really high level non native speaker writers, and where the line between errors, variation and style is. One thing I was struck by was how much “native speaker intuition” was referred to, which I’m sure is the case in my own editing as well. I’m definitely going to start being more critical of the way I approach my editing work, and distinguishing between what’s actually impeding communication or making the ideas unclear, versus what’s just my own personal preference in terms of style or language use. It’s definitely true that there is a tension between our ideals as advocates of inclusive approaches and the expectations of readers and publishers, but I think TESOL newsletters are exactly the type of publication best positioned to actually incorporate new approaches.

Heng Hartse, J. & Kubota, R. (2014). Pluralizing English? Variation in high-stakes academic writing and challenges of copyediting. Journal of Second Language Writing, 24, 71-82.

Reader Response Journal

Black Lives Matter in TESOL: De-Silencing Race in a Second Language Academic Literacy Course by Anne Marie Guerrettaz and Tara Zahler

This article outlines a course for international college students in the US that sought to develop academic multiliteracies around issues of race, which are current and relevant in US culture. Two white teachers structured a course around the novel A Lesson Before Dying, about a black man in 1940s Louisiana wrongly sentenced to death (Gaines, 1993) and connected it to current racial tensions, such as the Black Lives Matter movement. They used multiliteracies as a framework for the course, with fours phases: 1) experiencing, connecting new knowledge to what they already know, 2) conceptualizing, generating frameworks based on specific examples, 3) analyzing, critical evaluations of interrelationships between the issues and 4) applying, using what they’ve learned in real-world situations (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). Beyond the main text, the teacher supplemented with other sources to help students develop background knowledge necessary to understand the novel, make connections to current events and to incorporate voice, multimodality and intertextuality into the course. They also draw on counterstorytelling to challenge dominant narratives and epistemological racism. The teachers describe how they situated the novel historically (after realizing that some of the students thought the characters were slaves), and gave texts that show the persistence of racial issues today. They analyze the texts using critical intertextual analysis, focusing on themes of language (AAVE) and black masculinity, and helping students understand AAVE as a legitimate language variety (not just “bad English”) and develop empathy for the characters and, by extension, other black people experiencing racial injustice. They also describe the final written assignments for the course, where students drew on what they learned to produce their own essays. Guerrettaz and Zahler list the sources used in the course and call on other teachers to de-silence race in their ESL classes.

Having done as much research as I have on critical race theory, race in TESOL and multiliteracies, the frameworks used in this article were very familiar to me, so it was mostly interesting to see how they connected them in their course design. While the approach seems straightforward, it’s good to have more examples out there for teachers who might be less comfortable with racial issues, providing an example of how they can integrate them into the classroom. While this piece focused exclusively on the teachers’ perceptions of their course design, I would be interested in hearing about students’ perspectives in classes like this, especially since they mentioned that most of their students were Asian, and often race in America gets constructed as a black/white dichotomy and the experiences of Asians and Asian-Americans tend to be sidelined. While I think anti-black racism is particularly pressing, and the exploration of AAVE is interesting from a language equality perspective, race in America is more complicated than that. While I haven’t read Gaines’ novel, I imagine from this article that it focuses on characters who are either black or white. I’m wondering how to keep the focus on anti-blackness in the US, which is absolutely crucial to understanding US culture and definitely something international students in the US should be exposed to, while also not simplifying America’s racial landscape.

I also wished the piece, given its title, did more to actually engage with Black Lives Matter, and how TESOL can better engage with black students, black teachers and black English. (For a really compelling look at Black Lives Matter and bilingual education, check out Nelson Flores’ excellent blog post Do Black Lives Matter in Bilingual Education? and the follow up by Joseph Wiemelt, Do Black Lives Matter in Dual Language Education in Urbana School District 116?)

This article is currently available for free online here.

Gaines, E. J. (1993). A lesson before dying. New York, NY: Random House.

Guerrettaz, A. M. & Zahler, T. (2017). Black Lives Matter in TESOL: De-silencing race in a second language academic literacy course. TESOL Quarterly, 51(1), 193-207.

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2009). “Multiliteracies”: New literacies, new learning. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 4, 164–195.

Reader Response Journal

Racism and Linguicism: Engaging Language-Minority Pre-Service Teachers in Counter-Storytelling by Hyesun Cho

This article examines the ways in which two teachers engaged their Asian non-native speaking teacher education students in counter-storytelling to create a space for them to explore their experiences with racial and linguistic marginalization in academia. This class was a part of a program specifically designed for language-minority teacher candidates, which is important given the disparity between US student and teacher demographics, where 40% of students are racial or ethnic minorities, compared to just 16% of teachers (Kohli, 2014). After explaining the basics of critical race theory, linguicism and counter-storytelling, Cho describes the context of her research. Her study took place in Hawaii and included five undergraduate students, all of whom were non-native English speakers (3 Korean, 1 Chinese and 1 Samoan), as well as herself, a Korean non-native English speaker, and a white native English speaking teacher, who also spoke Spanish. She describes how she encouraged students to tell counter-stories, which included they ways their peers and teachers positioned them as deficient because of their non-native speaking status, despite their academic success, which allowed them to challenge the linguicism they faced. This was done to investigate the ways race and language are enacted in dominant school practices. She then examines the differences in the students’ response to herself, an Asian NNEST, compared to her co-teacher, a white NEST. When the white teacher first brought up issues of race, the students initially defended the white teachers they had, which Cho hypothesizes might be because of the power balance and students not wanting to cause conflict with the white teacher. They also asked the white teacher questions about teaching non-native speakers instead of her own language learning experiences, while they asked Cho about her experiences as a NNES student, and felt like she could relate and empathize with what they were going through, because she was one of them. The students found validation in the way Cho elicited and responded to their stories. In contrast, the white teacher was cognizant of being separate from the rest of the group, due to her racial and linguistic identity. Conscious of not wanting to gloss over her white privilege or influence the students’ ideas as a result, she used race-conscious discourse to denormalize white native speakers as the unmarked default and lessen the power of her own white identity. Cho found that the collaboration between herself and the white teacher was productive because they could explore the differences in the students’ responses. Having a white NEST exposed the students to a white anti-racist and reinforced he idea that these issues are important for everyone to engage with, not just minorities. Having an Asian NNEST created a space where the students more actively engaged with issues of racism and linguicism and lead to increased solidarity due to their shared experiences. While Cho didn’t use the terms counter-storytelling with her students, she recommends using the term in the future, so students understand that their stories have a grounding in critical race theory.

The juxtaposition of the experiences of the white NEST and Asian NNEST experiences were really interesting to me. One of the things I was struck by was the way Cho’s students noticed and felt valued by her reactions to their stories, such as note taking, responding in depth and showing non-verbal support, which are concrete actions that teachers of any race or language background could use. It was also interesting the way Cho foregrounded the white teacher’s bilingualism and language learning experiences, which the students didn’t really engage with. It makes me wonder how much the dominant narrative of white native speakers as being monolingual affected the students relationship to her. Perhaps, solidarity and empathy could have been built up here along language learning lines, with a recognition of the fact that white and non-white language learners are not treated the same in societal discourse. It was also useful for me to see an example of how simple counter-storytelling can be, which makes them seem more accessible, since it’s basically just creating a space for students to discuss their experiences together and encouraging them to engage with racial and linguistic issues as they do. I think mentally framing conversations about personal experiences as counter-stories gives them more weight. It makes me wonder if the students would have perceived them differently if they had been given the label, or if it would have felt heavier somehow and made it more difficult to discuss. Especially, since I have the distance of being a white native speaker already. I wonder when in the process Cho would give students the term counter-storytelling and explain the CRT framework behind it.

Cho, H. (2016). Racism and linguicism: Engaging language minority pre-service teachers in counter-storytelling. Race, Ethnicity and Education. Advance online publication. 

Kohli, R. (2014). Unpacking internalized racism: Teachers of color and their challenge to racial hierarchies in the classroom. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 17(3), 367–387.

Reader Response Journal

Climate Change and TESOL: Language, Literacies, and the Creation of Eco-Ethical Consciousness by Jason Goulah

This is a fascinating article from the most recent TESOL Quarterly, in which Goulah calls on the TESOL field to engage with issues of climate change in order to help students develop value-creative eco-ethical consciousness. He briefly outlines some of the major ecological-based ways of conceptualizing language, which encompass more holistic approaches than traditional environmental education. Since TESOL is interested in both language and content standards, which include climate change, he argues the field needs deeper engagement with environmental issues. Since climate change is a particularly divisive issue, with people’s responses determined more by their cultural, religious and political values than by facts, the discussion is “no longer really about science—it’s about culture.” (Shepard, 2014). He argues that the religious aspect is particularly important to focus on, and his study examines the experiences of religious refugees from the former Soviet Union during a unit on climate change in a US public high school. He situates his study within a value-creation framework, which encompasses “individual gain, social-moral good, and aesthetic beauty” (p. 94). He also draws on kyosei, or creative coexistence, an active and engaged form of interdependence. Together, value-creation and creative coexistence move students towards their greater selves, “rooted in deep respect for the dignity of all life—including one’s own—and the wisdom to perceive the inextricable interdependence of that life.” (p.95). In his study he focuses on two learners, one a 17 year old Belarussian Baptist girl, the other a 17 year old Ukrainian Pentecostal boy. Before the unit, both said that they didn’t believe in climate change, but over the course of the study they developed a religiously grounded eco-ethical consciousness. Goulagh describes the way their teacher integrated language, literacy and content standards for the unit, using a sociodialogical approach for content-base discussions. The first example shows the techniques he used to facilitate vocabulary acquisition while discussing An Inconvenient Truth, including highlighting key terms, asking open questions and scaffolding students’ meaning-making. In the second example, he developed students’ critical literacies by having them examine two advertisements that referenced climate change, engaging the students in sociodialogical meaning making as a class and in small groups. The final example describes a digital video project, where the students worked in groups to create advertisements for being green (although they were also given the option to be against being green). While creating their videos, the students referred back to an earlier reading about evangelical environmentalism, which lead the two focal students to see climate change as akin to Noah’s flood in the Bible. Creating a space for the students’ religion to be incorporated into the discussion helped the two focal students bring their in-class answers in line with their personal views, since both were grounded in their religious understandings.

This article felt really new to me, since I haven’t read much about either religion or climate change in TESOL, and this article combines both. Goulah makes a really strong case for environmental issues to be integrated into English classes from an ethical perspective, that encourages students to really engage and develop their own personal consciousness, rather than just treating environmental issues as another topic for content based instruction. Neither of these are things I’ve done yet, and I think they would be really interesting to explore with my students, although I think there is a certain level of advanced language skills that are necessary to engage in ideas this complex, which my students here just don’t have. I feel like I’ll need to spend some more time thinking about and internalizing these ideas before I know how to adapt them for my context,. Especially since the naturalist intelligence has been the one that’s been hardest to integrate into my teaching for my MI project, this seems important for me to put some more thought into. It’s one of the most original and exciting things I’ve read about TESOL in a while, in part because it challenges me to think about my teaching through a new lens.

Also, at least for the time being, this article is free to download or read online and I highly, highly recommend checking it out.

Goulah, J. (2017). Climate change and TESOL: Language, literacies, and the development of eco-ethical consciousness. TESOL Quarterly, 51(1), 90-114.

Sheppard, K. (2014, May 21). Climate change is the single most divisive political issue, says poll. Huffington Post.

Reader Response Journal

Addressing Gender in the ESL/EFL Classroom by Bonny Norton and Aneta Pavlenko

This forum piece provides an overview of feminist teaching practices in English classrooms int the US, Canada and Japan. Norton and Pavlenko see gender as socially constructed and contextually situated, and therefore an ideal topic for exploration in the intercultural environment of an English class. First, they explore curricular innovations that make English classes more accessible for female students, looking at two programs in the US that incorporate student needs in terms of scheduling, transportation and relevance to their cultures and concerns, as well as two courses for college students and adults in Japan that integrate feminist ideas into linguistic analyses. They also mention two programs that examine male students’ needs, a module for both male and female students to explore gender issues at a university in Japan and the adoption of an English for Occupational Purposes class designed to meet the needs of male Malaysian university students who were disengaged from traditional language classes because they didn’t focus enough on business. These course all reorganized curricula to incorporate the students’ experiences. Feminist classroom practices also involve the choice of materials and topics. Examples include a writing class centered around soap operas in Canada, and two classes in Japan, one designed to create dialogues around feminist textbooks and one that used life writing to get students to explore their own experiences. The third approach they consider is the incorporation of difficult topics into language classes, as a way to explore the societal and cultural construction of gender. They mention a class that used a picture of two lesbian women holding hands to teach modal auxiliaries and a class that explored Chinese family dynamics as an entry point to practicing intonation. They also describe a case study that examined the ways international teaching assistants perceived sexual harassment scenarios, which varied across both gender and culture. The final area that Pavlenko and Norton address is classroom power dynamics. The mention a study that researched how unequal power relations led Japanese girls to be silent in class and an examination of the ways that college writing centers can be sites for feminist composition pedagogy.

Collectively, these examples, while only mentioned briefly, provide an overview of the variety of ways gender and feminist issues can be incorporated into ESL and EFL classes and programs. One thing I was struck by was the fact that virtually all of the examples focused on adults, either in adult education programs or university settings. I think that, as a teacher of children and teenagers, usually in public school settings, it can seem like there are more barriers to incorporating social issues into the classroom, but that its incredibly powerful when these ideas are normalized at a young age. Feminist approaches, such as power sharing and examining texts with feminist themes, can be implemented even with young students, although in these contexts they are more likely to be integrated into preexisting courses (like the modal and intonation examples), rather than serving as the basis for an entire course. While my education was entirely in English, rather than a second language, I remember the ways my elementary school teachers encouraged us to reconsider what we thought of as just and fair and taken for granted, and having that as part of my childhood education was really important. I want to make sure my students get similar exposure to social issues in my classes. I’m also curious what has changed in the years since Norton and Pavlenko wrote this, especially in terms of the way teachers in developing countries are engaging with gender issues, since “gender balance” was such a buzzword when I was in Tanzania.

Norton, B. & Pavlenko, A. (2004). Addressing gender in the ESL/EFL classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 38(3), 504-513.

Reader Response Journal

Plurilingual Pedagogical Practices in a Policy-Constrained Context: A Northern Ugandan Case Study by Doris Maandebo Abiria, Margaret Early and Maureen Kendrick

This article examines the ways a group of teachers at a primary school in Northern Uganda used plurilingual and multimodal techniques in their subject-area classes. In Uganda, schools are allowed to use one local language as the medium of instruction until 3rd grade, but then are expected to switch to English in fourth grade (called P4 for primary 4). While the school in the study was in a Lugbara speaking area, it had students from a number of different countries and language backgrounds, making for a very multilingual student body. Uganda is also an exam-driven context, where the students are expected to take high stakes tests in English, which often have very poor results. The school in question is run by the government and has very few resources (P4 initially had over 100 students per class, until they regrouped them into classes of 77). The six teachers in the study said that when the asked students questions in English, they would get blank stares, so they developed alternative pedagogies to reach them, despite these being in opposition to the stated government policies. The primary strategies that the teachers used were translating into the dominant local language, using students as peer tutors to reach those who spoke other languages and using a wide range of semiotic modes to communicate meaning, including dramas, demonstrations, songs, drawings and role plays. As Abiria, one of the researchers, notes, these strategies were effective because they came from the teachers themselves, rather than being imposed by the Ministry. Despite these innovations, the teachers were conflicted. Challenges they faced included breaking the ministry rules in a context where school inspectors have a lot of power, initial training that was focused on theory rather than practice, lack of on-going professional development opportunities, curriculum restraints, including the need to teach very specialized vocabulary, national examinations conducted exclusively in English, lack of time and resources and large class sizes. Nonetheless, the etchers continued to use a range of linguistic and multimodal resources to communicate content effectively to their students, because according to one teacher “they are so excited…they are free” (p. 587). and the alternative is disengagement and students dropping out. The fact that the head teacher and parents saw the importance of these strategies (and the futility of the monolingual alternative) was also an incentive for the teachers to keep using them.

I am always interested in reading about TESOL practice in Africa, and East Africa in particular. I love comparing the situations in these studies to those at my schools in Tanzania. It’s interesting that Ugandan schools do the same sort of switch of the medium of instruction as in Tanzania, they just do it earlier, and in a country without a single dominant language to serve as a lingua franca between different groups, the way Swahili is in Tanzania, they leave the choice of language of instruction for grades 1-3 up to the local schools. It’s also interesting that Northern Uganda is so multiethnic, multilingual and multinational, because my area of Tanzania was almost exclusively populated by students from the same tribe. However, some of the challenges, including the importance of the national examinations, the lack of resources and the fact that ministry decisions seem out of touch with teacher’s on the ground realities are quite similar. Also, the more I read about plurilingual pedagogies, the more practical they seem to me. Despite the fact that I speak Swahili, in Tanzania I taught almost (but not quite) entirely in English. I wonder how I could have used these teachers’ techniques there. I think the integration of the translanguaging methodologies with other communicative modalities is a particularly important idea, and something I’m trying to use in my classes here in Ecuador, where I use Spanish alongside my MI-based approaches in an attempt to reach the students. Like the Ugandan teachers, I’m a bit conflicted about the approaches I’m using here, but I think they’re better than the alternative of students’ blank stares and lack of comprehension.

Abiria, D. M., Early, M. & Kendrick, M. (2013). Plurilingual pedagogical practices in a policy-constrained context: A northern Ugandan case study. TESOL Quarterly, 47(3), 567-590.