It's coming this week: TESOL 2011. For those interested in writing sessions, see SLWIS sessions and highlighted sessions

I won't be going this year due to lack of funds, but I wish I could. The highlight for me is SLWIS's "An Evening with Friends of Second Language Writing" at which you get to talk with researchers in second language writing, including well-established scholars, on items of interest to you. All of them are friendly and most are down-right down-to-earth.

Shin and Cimasko, in an article in the latest issue of Computers and Composition, analyzed multimodal web page arguments of ESL students in a first-year composition course.

Their findings include

  • All students placed a higher priority on the linguistic mode, that is, the written word.
  • Only one student used imagery in all of his drafts, although other students used them by the final draft.
  • Only one student included audio files (after the instructor recommended it).
  • Hyperlinks were used but primarily for bibliographies instead of from within the texts of their arguments.
  • Although the written word predominated, non-linguistic additions "added new meanings ... as representations of emotional dimensions that could not be conveyed easily--or appropriately--in traditional academic discourse" (p. 388).
  • Layout in terms of background design and font choice was strongly influenced by written essays with only a few students attempting some variation of color.

Explanation of findings
Shin and Cimasko state that these findings are likely due to

  • students' prior experiences,
  • the writing practices of the students' communities,
  • the context in which they wrote their texts, and
  • students' perceptions of multimodal texts.

As Shin and Cimasko wrote,

Multimodal composition was interpreted as a distraction from the primary goal of developing academic capability through written language. The students thus opted for the traditional and established centrality of linguistic design, resisted new modalities, and applied those new modalities that were used in ways that did not take full advantage of their rhetorical potential.

Comments on article
These findings make sense. People do what they're accustomed to doing and according to their expectations of how they should do something. And it's commonly understood that visuals can enhance understanding in ways that the written word alone cannot do. (However, see "Using videos" in Home Schooling and Videos). And with the authors, I accept that learning the same rhetorical concepts in different modes can enhance understanding of those concepts although the evidence for this position is not without some qualification (see, for example, Multimodal Learning Through Media). Having said that, I question the need for multimodal writing in freshman composition that the authors propose.

The authors support multimodal writing because they believe,

multimodal approaches to composition provide writers who are having difficulty in using language, including those writers for whom English is a second language (ESL), with powerful tools for sharing knowledge and for self-expression. ... ESL students need to gain knowledge of how to use non-linguistic modes at the same time that they are developing their English writing abilities. (p. 377)

However, it's not clear to me that:

  • ESL students in first-year composition need to learn these tools, or that
  • First-year composition is a course that should include self-expression.

Some of the tools noted in the article included using audio, video, and animation. Will they really need these tools in future course work or in future careers? Including instruction on new tools requires time. Should time be sacrificed for learning these modes instead of working on written genre conventions?

Whether or not first-year composition should include self-expression depends on the purpose of the course. Generally speaking—and despite one's personal position on its purpose—it's considered to be an introduction into academic writing, often academic argumentation. Without entering into the debate on voice and identity, let me just say that my ESL students, mostly Generation 1.5 students, have little problem with self-expression. What they do find difficult is writing in an academic register. In such a context, self-expression is not a priority.

In addition, it's not clear that first-year composition is the best place for students to learn how to use visual modes, especially with respect to self-expression. One reason given for this is that some researchers argue that it is necessary for "developing certain kinds of disciplinary knowledge" (p. 377). I managed to get three of the sources cited, but the support was not strong.

One researcher cited was van Leeuwen, who wrote on three principles of multimodality: information value, salience, and framing. However, he did not argue that they were "necessary" for developing disciplinary knowledge. Still, I can imagine that if these three principles are universal across modes, it would be useful to know them.

A second researcher cited, Ann Johns, wrote on how a single student was adept at using graphs and charts to understand her macroeconomics work. Undoubtedly, graphs and charts are a part of academic writing. However, these sorts of visuals are not the type used for "self-expression."

Along these lines, another scholar cited, Miller, wrote,

In short, visuals in academic articles provide data to convince the reader of the validity of the findings and allow the readers to see how the data were obtained and to interpret the data themselves. These visuals are impregnated with theory (Bazerman, 1988) to show not only that they are anchored in the literature but that they have wider implications.

In journalism however, the writer is interested in presenting news rather than in convincing the reader of the validity of the report. In news articles, findings are highlighted, but the means by which the findings were obtained are placed in the background, just the opposite of in science. The reader is not positioned as knowledgeable but as needing to be enticed into the article. The launching point, therefore, is human interest rather than scientific argumentation. (p. 31)

In other words, the visuals used in academic writing are related to data rather than to self-expression. Interestingly, Shin and Cimasko wrote of "emotional" representation, something more akin to the journalistic perspective of "entic[ing']" readers rather than the academic perspective of "convincing" and supporting an argument—the goal of this freshman composition course.

As noted above, generally speaking, I believe that using different ways of presenting the same information can be a valuable pedagogical tool for explaining concepts of rhetoric and composition. Thus, I take a little time to cover presentation principles, including the need for images, and have my students write essays analyzing visual objects, such as advertisements and website designs, to provide a variety of contexts for the same concepts, thus facilitating, I hope, transfer of their writing knowledge. Even so, I hesitate at "fully integrating [multimodal composing] into the work" (p. 391) of first-year composition, especially of the self-expressive sort, thus taking away time from other principles of composition necessary for the development of my students' "academic" writing.

I hesitate for two connected reasons. One is that most of the "composing" that most of these students will do in later classes and on the job, at least in the near future, will be print-based (although see Alex Reid for an opposing opinion). Yes, they may use data-related visuals later on, but most of the writing in freshman composition is not data driven.

The second is that one learns what one practices, and one learns to the extent that one practices. My students need as much time as possible with the English language, with developing their vocabulary, with learning academic textual conventions. Any time that takes away from that practice is to their detriment academically and careerwise. Think about it. Can you imagine a multi-ball training regime in which a basketball player spends time playing tennis, soccer, volleyball, and handball?

A few resources:
Survey of Multimodal Pedagogies in Writing Programs (Composition Studies)
Taking a Traditional Composition Program "Multimodal (Christine Tulley)
Multimodal Writing (Teaching Writing Using Blogs, Wikis ...)
Standards Related to Digital Writing (Teaching Writing Using Blogs, Wikis ...)
Thinking about Multimodal Assessment (Digital Writing, Digital Teaching)
Center for Digital Storytelling

Works cited:
Johns, A. M. (1998). The visual and the verbal: A case study in macroeconomics. English for Specific Purposes, 17, 29-46. 183-197.
Miller, T. (1998). Visual persusasion: A comparison of visuals in academic texts and the popular press. English for Specific Purposes, 17, 29-46.
Shin, D.-S. & Cimasko, T. (2008). Multimodal composition in a college ESL class: New tools, new traditional norms. Computers and Composition, 25, 376-395.
Van Leeuwen, Theo. (2003). A multimodal perspective on composition. In Titus Ensink & Christoph Sauer (Eds.), Framing and perspectivising in discourse (pp. 23–61). Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Russell Stannard, lecturer principal lecturer in Multimedia/ICT at the University of Westminster has some excellent videos on technology and on English language teaching (via Nik Peachey). This month he has a series of videos on How to use Blogger.

Nik Peachey at the blog Quick Shout keeps finding great resources. Here are two:

  • PDF Geni searches and finds free ebooks in a variety of topics, including ESL/EFL.
  • Yappr provides transcribed ESL/EFL videos with the script to the side so students can follow the voice more easily.

And there are many more.

American Educator has a 19-page article titled Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does and Does Not Say (pdf) by Claude Goldenberg, Professor of Education at Stanford University. The article looks at the findings of two reviews of the research, one by the National Literacy Panel and the other by the Center for Education, Diversity, and Excellence. Here's an excerpt from the conclusion:

Although there are numerous areas in which there is insufficient research to guide policy and practice, we can lay claim to some things that matter for the education of ELLs. Chief among these is that 1) teaching children to read in their primary language promotes reading achievement in English; 2) in many important respects, what works for learners in general also works for ELLs; and 3) teachers must make instructional modifications when ELLs are taught in English, primarily because of the students’ language limitations.

Practically, what do these findings and conclusions mean? In spite of the many gaps in what we know, the following is the sort of instructional framework to which our current state of knowledge points:

  • If feasible, children should be taught reading in their primary language. Primary language reading instruction a) develops first language skills, b) promotes reading in English, and c) can be carried out as children are also learning to read, and learning other academic content, in English.
  • As needed, students should be helped to transfer what they know in their first language to learning tasks presented in English; teachers should not assume that transfer is automatic.
  • Teaching in the first and second languages can be approached similarly. However, adjustments or modifications will be necessary, probably for several years and at least for some students, until they reach sufficient familiarity with academic English to permit them to be successful in mainstream instruction; more complex learning might require more instructional adjustments.
  • ELLs need intensive oral English language development (ELD), especially vocabulary and academic English instruction. However, as the sidebar on critical unanswered questions explains (see p. 12), we have much to learn about what type of ELD instruction is most beneficial. Effective ELD provides both explicit teaching of features of English (such as syntax, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and norms of social usage) and ample, meaningful opportunities to use English—but we do not know whether there is an optimal balance between the two (much less what it might be).
  • ELLs also need academic content instruction, just as all students do; although ELD is crucial, it must be in addition to—not instead of—instruction designed to promote content knowledge.

Paul Kei Matsuda has recently set up Symposium for Second Language Writing Interactive. Here's some information from the site:

The purpose of SSLW Interactive is to provide a centralized resource portal for second language writing teachers and researchers from around the world. Currently, SSLW interactive provides the following features:

Blogs. Any registered user can create blog entries to share their experience and perspectives on various issues related to second language writing.

Groups. The site hosts group space for various related groups, including: TESOL Second Language Writing Interest Sections (SLWIS); CCCC Committee on Second Language Writing; CCCC Special Interest Group on Second Language Writing; Symposium on Second Language Writing; and Journal of Second Language Writing, among others.

Forums. Forums provide a space for the discussion of various topics related to second language writing in the traditional, hierarchical list format.

E-lists. A list of email lists related to second language writing. Recent contents are available from this site. Links to subscription information and list archives are also available. If you are aware of any other email lists, please post the description. (Anyone can add an edit the descriptions--you don't have to be the list owner to contribute!)

Conferences. A list of conferences, workshops and other meetings related to second language writing. If you are planning an event that may be relevant to second language writing teachers and researchers, please feel free to add an event.

Journals. A directory of journals that publish articles on second language writing. Please contribute by posting information about your favorite journal. (Anyone can add and edit the descriptions--you don't have to be the editor or the publisher to contribute!)

Programs. A directory of doctoral programs where students can specialize in second language writing. Please post information about programs you are familiar with. (Anyone can add and edit the descriptions--you don't have to be a faculty member or program director to contribute!)

CFPs. A list of call for papers/proposals related to second language writing.

SSLW. Information about the Symposium on Second Language Writing, an annual international gathering of second language writing specialists.

The site is in its infancy now, but it has the potential to become the central interactive clearlnghouse for all things related to second lnaguage writing. That potential, of course, is waiting for your contribution.

Collaborative learning can aid the ESL learner tremendously, which was discussed at length in a recent study by Johnson & Wales University. Luckily, the advent of the Internet has fostered global communiqué between both ESL students and teachers. There are scores of growing online communities that offer support to new students, many of which provide much-needed multilingual support. Below are five such communities, all of which serve as useful resources for both students and teachers.  

  1. The ESL Café – This comprehensive site is friendly to ESL newcomers and provides countless online learning materials. Here, students and teachers can communicate on forums and gain access to ESL-related job leads.

  3. John's ESL – This site is divided into two communities: one for students and one for teachers. Both areas are interactive and informative, offering guidance to those within the ESL world.

  5. English Club – Serving as an online "clubhouse" for ESL learners, this vast community provides welcome lessons and an inviting forum for teachers and students to communicate.

  7. English, Baby! – One of the largest online ESL communities, this site offers free English lessons, as well as live chats and English language forums. Here, fellow ESL learners can meet and help one another.

  9. English Forums – People from all over the world visit the forums on this site to meet others who are transitioning to an English-speaking culture. It can be comforting to speak with other people from your native country who are just learning English.

The sites above provide a comfortable environment for those who are new to the ESL society. With free online communities and online ESL lessons, the Internet offers many wonderful opportunities to those who are new to the language.  



This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of university reviews. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

In addition to my posts on NCTE and NWP, quite a few others posted on their experiences there, too. See NCTE's list of bloggers who posted

Apparently, graduate students are starting to use blogs more in their classes. At Formoosa WPMU Blog is a list of blogs apparently maintained by graduate students in Taiwan studying second language issues. Some apparently stopped writing this summer (class ended?), but others are continuing (perhaps a new course?). Altogether, they review quite a few journal articles, create lesson plans, and write on other items of interest to TESOL folks.

Similarly, at the University of Toronto are the GRAIL (Graduate Researcher's Academic Identity Online) blogs:

The overall goal of this project is to develop a set of social and technical tools that support the formation of an online community to engage graduate students in activities related to educational research across course boundaries and throughout your degree program.

This group of blogs is more wide-ranging in their topics than just TESOL, but still focused on education and learning. There's a lot of value here.

How can we get teachers to collaborate and continue to learn and develop professionally? One answer is inquiry groups.

Christine Berg, Ruth Devlin, Darshna Katwala, and Lynn Welsch presented "Exploring language acquisition, academic literacy, and advocacy for ELLs ", which was about their different inquiry groups, at the 2007 NWP (National Writing Profect) 2007 Annual Meeting yesterday afternoon.

Of course, it makes sense that having people work together on learning will help them become better teachers and better at helping English language learners. Another interesting thing is that successful inquiry groups have both structure and also flexibility.

In Darshna's inquiry group, teachers kept observation journals on things that came up with their students while teaching, read research articles that pertained to those observations, and held weekly discussions at set times on those readings. The flexibility, or perhaps I should say adaptability, came from choosing research articles that pertained to what the teachers were experiencing currently instead of having a set schedule of readings.

Another, apparently crucial, feature that made Darshna's inquiry group successful was Darshna. Apparently, she was the primary recruiter of teachers for the inquiry group, and she continually motivated teachers to keep coming to the groups. From her part of the presentation, it was easy to see her personality: friendly and enthusiastic. In addition, she listened to the other teachers and spent time finding research articles that pertained to their classroom experience. She obviously put a lot of energy (time, effort, and contagious enthusiasm) into making the inquiry group successful.

It seems then that success for any group or endeavor depends upon these three factors:

  • adaptability,
  • structure, and
  • energy (effort and enthusiasm).

The 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature was just awarded to Doris Lessing. From the New York Times:

Ms. Lessing, who turns 88 this month, never finished high school and largely educated herself through voracious reading. She has written dozens of books of fiction, as well as plays, nonfiction and two volumes of autobiography. She is the 11th woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

She never finished high school but won the Nobel Prize. The key to her success was reading, "voracious reading." What slows down students, especially ESL students, is a lack of reading. Without a strong reading background, students lack the vocabulary and the sensitivity to understanding and intuiting how reading and writing works, from such simple mechanical items as spacing, punctuation, and spelling to the critical issues of comprehension; questioning authors and assumptions; analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information; and more

Reading is crucial to all academic endeavors. A few years back, the principal of a charter school in Texas that had a majority of at-risk students, told me,

These students can do the math and science. Their difficulty is they can't read: They can't understand what a problem is asking them to do. But once you explain it to them, they can do it.

Reading is also important for acquiring a second language, especially at the academic level. Although I consider Stephen Krashen's distinction between acquisition and learning to be a specific application of the difference between procedural and declarative knowledge (and thus there is an interface between the two), he is right on the importance of reading. That is, massive reading is important for spelling, vocabulary, literacy development, and language acquisition. Thus, for teachers, a major, probably the major, key to helping their students to learn another language remains creating environments that engage and motivate students to read.

Related posts:
Language Learning vs. Language Acquistion
Engagement and Flow

It's exciting to see our Kean U. ESL students be successful. Nitza M. Gallardo Rodriguez, a student from Puerto Rico, won a higher education scholarship from NJTESOL/NJBE on May 21, 2007.

And tomorrow, Elizabeth Torres, a winner in the American Eagle Outfitter's Live Your Life contest, will be appearing on the CNN live video show Young People Who Rock Friday, August 17, at 3:00 pm.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, governor of California, asserts that "Immersion is the best way to learn a language". Without commenting on the issue itself, the speech is a great study in rhetoric and audience awareness.

Schwarzenegger uses "I" 19 times, mostly when giving his own experience as a second language learner and identifying with second language learners (i.e., he knows what he's talking about). He uses "we" three times in identifying with the people of California and what they ("we") need to do (i.e., we're all in this together). On Proposition 227 and supporting it, he uses the words, "voters" (twice), "experts" (with examples), and "our State Board of Education and Legislature" and "board", and "California" (twice). In other words, it's the decision of the voters, board, and legislature; he just agrees with them.

This article should be interesting to and useful for discussing the rhetorical use of pronouns with L2 (and L1) learners, along with combining personal experience with outside expertise for a stronger argument.

American Eagle Outfitters has selected the six winners for their nationwide "Live Your Life" Contest for teenagers and young adults:

Leading lifestyle retailer American Eagle Outfitters today announced the winners of its highly successful "LIVE YOUR LIFE" contest, a program that encourages young adults around the country to achieve great things by following their dreams. Now in its second year, the contest awards each winner $25,000 to help make his or her dream a reality.

Kicking off last January, AE's contest attracted over 20,000 entries from individuals looking to fulfill their dreams, more than four times the number of applications received last year. Visitors to AE's Web site -- 4.7 million of them -- voted online to select six winners to bring their essays to life and make a difference in the world.

All six winners are amazing. To see them, their essays, and videos, visit the American Eagle "Live Your Life" site. And one of them, Elizabeth Torres, is not only an immigrant to the U.S., but she is also a student at Kean University!

Eleanor Chute ("Slow readers have difficulty trying to catch up, study says," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) writes about the difficulty slow readers have in catching up:

Helping older elementary school children who are struggling to read is even harder than some of the experts think.

A study involving 50 schools in the Allegheny County suburbs -- the largest of its kind in the nation -- showed that the intensive help provided for such students improved skills for third-graders but was less effective for fifth-graders.

And even where there was improvement in both grade levels, the help wasn't enough to catch up with the strong readers, who were continuing to advance.


When she heard that third-graders fared better than fifth-graders, Robin Pleta, a resource support teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Upper St. Clair who participated in the study, likened it to learning a golf swing.

"If you can catch it and correct it early, it's a little bit easier to correct it. By the time you get to fifth grade, you've had five years of practicing skills that haven't served you well," she said.

Dr. Torgesen said he was both surprised and disappointed to discover that the interventions didn't work as well for low-income children.

"This amount of instruction doesn't appear to be enough or the right thing for many of the kids who need it the most," he said.

Stanovich in his classic paper "Matthew effects in reading" wrote about the problem of slow readers falling further behind as they advance through grades. His work suggested that interventions were needed to help students catch up. However, this study shows that it may be too late even by the third grade for native speakers. What do these results say about Generation 1.5 students or language learners in general? Forget about nativelike pronunciation. Can they ever catch up in vocabulary, grammar, and reading in general? How does this study's results inform the bilingual education vs. immersion controversy?

Another finding, as Dr. Torgesen reported, was that poverty works against interventions. This finding matches the California five-year study on Proposition 227 that "the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

Hmm. I wish I knew more about why poverty is such a strong predictor. However, there are always exceptions. I wish I knew more about the successes. That might be more informative about what it takes to become fluent in reading and in language learning.

Beata Chojnicka, a 31-year-old immigrant from Poland one year ago, won (with three others) the Marion Drysdale award for her essay (Daniella Girgenti, The London Free Press).

This year, the essay theme was on "thinking globally." Chojnicka's essay -- entitled Will traditional cultures be eaten by hamburgers? -- concerns her fear that cultural diversity is disappearing.

"People are losing their national identities, languages are disappearing and other cultural things are going away."

A review of Proposition 227's effects commissioned by the State of California has English immersion and bilingual education at a draw, according to Sarah Tribble of the Contra Costa Times (via Kimberly Swygert):

It doesn't matter whether California students who don't know English are taught in bilingual classrooms or fully immersed in the language, according to a five-year study of California's Proposition 227. What matters is the quality of the education they receive.

Some findings from the report:

"we conclude that Proposition 227 focused on the wrong issue. It is not the model of instruction employed, or at least not the name given to it, but rather other factors that are much more operative in distinguishing between failure and success with ELs."

Comparing English immersion to bilingual education, "the best analyses we have been able to conduct given data limitations indicate that differences across models of instruction—holding constant such critical factors as student demographics—are minimal or nonexistent."

"the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

These findings probably apply to instructional approaches for subjects other than just English language learning. That is, social, cultural, and economic factors play a greater role in academic achievement than the method of instruction. Designing curricula requires taking the local environment into consideration.

Complementing the previous entry, Hui Cao, an ESL graduate teaching assistant finds grading native-speakers' papers difficult, frustrating, and rewarding.

"Grading was the toughest job. You had to read 40 papers with the average length of seven--- for twice. You had to write pages of comments on each one and be ready for their arguments. The close reading of their shitty first drafts for days made me sick. It usually took me an entire weekend to finish that. I hided myself under my desk and cried after it was done. When I was able to cry--- believe it or not, that would be my best time. ...

If I was asked whether I was qualified to teach native speakers English composition with my sometimes awkward written English, my answer would be I don't know but certainly I could contribute much to their writing. Writing, especially academic writing which I teach is more a kind of training of people's mind, making them think more logically, rationally, clearly and concisely with the least fallacies. Since mind and language are two separate things, articulating thoughts through language is a kind of art. For academic writing, the art has to be shaped to satisfy public's taste. The strength of rhetorical strategies in the States is so powerful everywhere that they can massage people's life easily. Plus most of the guys do not really know how to think and write. Their over-fluent oral English and simplified reasoning are everywhere in their papers."