Reader Response Journal

Get Up and Sing! Get Up and Move! Using Songs and Movement with Young Learners of English by Joan Kang Shin

This English Teaching Forum article provides an accessible overview of the ways that songs and gestures can be combined to teach English to young learners. This is a topic that I care very much about (my first conference presentation was on combining music and movement, although I included older learners as well), and Shin is quite prominent in the area. She’s known for pioneering the International Children’s Song Approach, which uses English versions of songs from around the world, instead of just traditional American and British children’s songs. In this article, she outlines some of the benefits of using music and movement for young learners (a term she doesn’t actually define in the piece), highlighting the innate connections between the two, and the benefits for both child development and language learning. These include the emotional and social benefits of music, the authenticity and culture embedded in the songs, as well as the ways singing enhances memory and comprehension. She also notes that according to Howard Gardner (1993), musical intelligence is the first of the multiple intelligences to emerge, which I had forgotten. After outlining the reasons to use music and movement, she lays out some guidelines for teachers, using very convenient checklists. She discusses types of songs that can be used, including traditional English songs, jazz chants and her own International Children’s Song Approach, and encourages teachers to consider whether the song they want to use is connected to the language they’re teaching, simple and repetitive both musically and linguistically, and easy to choose movements for or dramatize. She provides a step by step outline of how to present songs to children, starting with the topic and the vocabulary, followed by listening to the song and repeating line by line before singing it (starting with the refrain and then the verses). She provides some guidance on choosing gestures or other activities that students could do while singing, using specific examples paired with traditional English songs, like the Itsy Bisty Spider or Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. She also includes the lyrics to three classroom management songs she’s written for familiar tunes. Overall, it’s a very useful and teacher friendly article about both why music and movement have a place in the classroom, and some very specific ideas about how teachers can implement it.

I was really pleased to see this article, since I’ve been aware of Shin’s work for a while, but there hadn’t been an easily accessible journal article version of it for me to cite in my own work before this. While I use songs and movements with students of all ages, not just young ones, Shin’s work meshes with my approach, and there are pieces of the way I teach songs that she influenced (gleaned from earlier, less comprehensive sources, like her you tube videos). While her focus is on young learners, I would argue that many of these approaches can be adapted for older students as well, as I’ve done in my classes. Obviously, the attitude you take to singing in the class is different with 18 years, compared to 8 year olds, but many of the benefits she lists, especially the memory benefits, are absolutely transferable. All in all, an article I would recommend, and not just for teachers of young learners.

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. 2nd ed. New York: Basic Books.

Shin, J. K. (2017). Get up and sing! Get up and move! Using songs and movement with young learners of English. English Teaching Forum, 55(2), 14-25.

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

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.

Reader Response Journal

Using Local Languages in English Language Classrooms by Ahmar Mahboob and Angel Lin

This chapter examines why local languages are devalued in ELT pedagogy and proposes a model for incorporating local languages into the classroom in a multimodal way. After the Grammar Translation method fell out of fashion, the inner-circle dominated methodological developments, which meant that techniques were being designed with an ESL context, without a dominant language shared by all students, in mind. In this context, focusing on English-only instruction made sense, but the techniques were exported to other countries as the most current and modern approaches, without adapting to local EFL conditions. The result of the global spread of these inner circle approaches has been the perpetuation of the myths that languages are stable, standardized and rule-governed, rather than socially situated and fluid; the language learning is a zero sum game, where using the local language detracts from students’ ability to learn the target language and that language is a commodity that can be bought, sold and internationally marketed, turning teaching into an exchange of goods. In contrast to these harmful approaches, Mahboob and Lin argue for “more inclusive and context dependent models of language” (p. 9). They argue that local languages can be used in class for ideational, textual and interpersonal functions. They analyze an extract from a study Lin did in 1999, where a bilingual teacher in Hong Kong used codeswitching for Intiation-Response-Feedback exchanges. When the exchanges focused on the story (interpersonal function), all three phases were conducted in Cantonese, but when the exchanges were about language (ideational or textual functions), the initiation and response phases were in either language and were repeated until the student response was in English with the feedback in English as well. In this way, she started where the students were comfortable and built them towards the English expressions. They end their chapter by outlining Lin’s Multimodalities/Entextualization Cycle (MEC) as a method for systematically incorporating local languages into the classroom. In the first phase, students’ interest in the topic is raised through multimodalities and the use of familiar language, either LL or TL. In the second phase, students read a target language text and unpack it using everyday language, either LL or TL, along with multimodal representations of the meaning. In the third stage, students entextualize (put the experience in the text) using scaffolded academic target language in the appropriate genres.

The historical context that they give on why English only instruction is so dominant is really useful for thinking about why its ok to challenge the existing paradigm. Essentially, the use of the inner circle strategies in EFL contexts was never consciously chosen as appropriate (and certainly wasn’t based on research showing its effectiveness), but instead was a quirk of the cultural and economic dominance of the inner circle countries, which were uncritically adopted as normative worldwide, rather than being perceived as locally and contextually specific to the countries the techniques were developed in. The balance between local languages in the class is something I’ve been thinking about a lot here in Ecuador, where I use a fair bit of Spanish in my teaching. The MEC approach and the example of the teacher in Hong Kong both seem worthwhile, but they assume the teacher has full (rather than partial) abilities in the local language. I’m interesting in exploring whether there are any resources or studies out there about teachers who are not native speakers of the local language using it as an effective teaching tool in the classroom, and if so, what the best ways to do that are. It’s also interesting to me how strong the discourse of shame around LL in the classroom is too, which is definitely something I feel here at times. It’m thinking back on World Teach’s training, where they didn’t advocate for an English-only classroom, but they did discourage the use of Spanish to teach English content (instead suggesting it only for procedural information, like directions). It’s a step in the right direction, but not far enough yet. In contrast, the Edificar training was super dismissive of any valid role for Spanish inside the English classroom, which is problematic and increasingly out of date. Reading this now has encouraged me to incorporate plutilingual pedagogy into my EcuaTESOL proposal, alongside multiple intelligences and multimodality.

Mahboob, A., & Lin, A. M. Y. (2016). Using local languages in English language classrooms. In Willy A. Renandya and Handoyo P. Widodo (Eds.), English language teaching today: Building a closer link between theory and practice. New York: Springer.