Category Archives: Professional Development

Insights from cognitive psychology for the ESL classroom

Reflecting on the question of what recent findings or ideas ESL teaching might take from other fields, I suggest that recent insights on learning from the eld of cognitive psychology are worth exploring. Cognitive psychology is the study of the neural processes that underpin mental operations such as memory, attention, and creative problem-solving, among others. It is a broad, multi-disciplinary area of study, and its empirical findings have been drawn upon by a range of other fields. ESL teachers would do well to take notice of some of these findings.

My remarks here draw exclusively upon Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel’s (2014) fascinating book, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. I highly recommend it to anyone curious about the vast body of research in cognitive psychology.  Continue Reading →

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Literacy lessons

Core Concepts from Multiliteracies for Language Teachers in Contemporary Times

Three nine-year-old boys are sitting on a porch in urban Canada. They are engaged in a multiplayer session of Terraria, a video game that purports to combine the creativity and freedom of a sandbox environment with the strategic requirements of an action game. Each child is holding his own device—an iPod Touch, an iPad, an android tablet. Their eyes are xed on their own screens, sometimes scanning over to the others’, ngers busily pushing and swiping as they build biomes. During the game, one of the boys opens an Internet browser, types in a term from the game, and the children collectively research how to nd an element they want. Through the search results they read blog posts from other players and add their own information to the mix.  Continue Reading →

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The interdisciplinary nature of language teaching

The English language classroom is one of only a handful of settings in which language is used and learned simply for the sake of using and learning it. Beyond the classroom, English is used for a myriad of transactional reasons—getting things done—and relational reasons—using language to build relationships. Just as one’s L2 is used beyond the classroom in innumerable disciplines and for in nite purposes, so too can multifarious elds contribute to our approaches to teaching the language. Here I will touch on three that have in uenced my teaching in ways that have been useful to my students in their real lives, beyond the classroom.

The rst is phonetics (i.e., how the human body makes the sounds of a particular language). How can English learners’ awareness of phonological processes enable them to accurately articulate the sounds of English which do not exist in their native languages?  Continue Reading →

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Let’s remember

Years ago, while I still lived in Vancouver, I came across the Italian translation of Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” online and sent it to my father.

He called as soon as the mail arrived. “Thank you for the nice poesia you sending, so beautiful.”

For a moment, I considered letting him think I wrote the poem. I wondered how bad it would be for my karma to be so low as to claim authorship. This mistaken identity situation happened once before by accident, when my parents wrongly assumed I had written our graduating drama class production—a little known play called Oedipus Rex. I was a member of the chorus, dressed in a black, hooded cloak with my face painted to look skeletal. I crawled around the auditorium stage in this harbinger of doom costume with eleven other teenage girls,  Continue Reading →

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Exploring Rhyme and Reason in Vocabulary and Phraseology

No-one will dispute that language learning is to a large extent a matter of mastering myriads of words and phrases and that it therefore relies heavily on memory. Many pedagogy- minded applied linguists concur that a word or phrase is more likely to be remembered if the learner consciously “engages” with it in one way or another (Schmitt, 2008). This, then, raises the question of what kinds of cognitive engagement with lexical items are relatively fruitful, and how teachers (or materials writers) can prompt students to give these a try. This article considers a handful of proposals for stimulating engagement with words and phrases that are in broad agreement with a school of thought known as Cognitive Linguistics.

Cognitive Linguistics (CL) emerged in the 1980s as an alternative to the then dominant Chomskyan-style descriptions of language,  Continue Reading →

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Steps to English Proficiency

A review of the framework and its writing continua
Abstract

Given the current increased presence of English Language Learners (ELLs) in our Ontario elementary and secondary classrooms, teachers are faced with a challenging task of assessing each student’s language ability, placing students in suitable programs, and tracking progress. The Steps To English Proficiency is a tool developed by the Ministry of Education, team of educators, and experts in assessment and content that will support classroom teachers to make appropriate decisions and continue to track their students’ performance in order to make the most suitable choices for their students. This article will specifically review the writing portion of the framework and hopes to provide insight to teachers who may be interested to adopt this framework by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of this framework.  Continue Reading →

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Language on the Orient Express: A Guide to Mandarin for English Teachers

Foreigners living in 1920s Shanghai apparently counselled new arrivals that “those who learn Chinese go mad” (Kane, 2006, p. 17). Certainly there has been a long tradition of outsiders looking on the Chinese language as a confusing mass of chicken-scratch writing and syncopated bursts of rhyming syllables. In turn, Chinese people themselves were often portrayed by Westerners as aloof, inscrutable and incomprehensible to outsiders. The reasons for surmounting such racist representations are pressing for both English- speaking students of Chinese and teachers of English to Chinese, particularly in light of the crucial role China will play on the global stage in the twenty-first century. With this in mind, this article provides a general overview of Mandarin Chinese geared towards teachers and students who have had limited exposure to the language.  Continue Reading →

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