Dynamic assessment of L2 writing

“But I did everything you said and my grade is still low…” If you teach writing in an ESL or EAP class is quite likely that you routinely have a handful of students expressing their disappointment at the grades they receive. Teaching academic writing is of particular interest in my teaching setting, an EAP language program for international students who intend to pursue a masters in Education. While process writing is reinforced in my course, I often find that my students are feeling ineffective and frustrated with their writing progress. In order to help them develop their writing skills and nurture their confidence as writers I started using dynamic assessment (DA). In this article, I will try to define what dynamic assessment is and provide a model that could be easily adapted to any level.  Continue Reading →

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Assessment, Writing
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The oral group essay

Before I became an English teacher, I was a freelance journalist and a publicist. I wrote almost every day, almost always for publication. I remember working in a newsroom full of reporters, most of them muttering to themselves at their computers as they composed their stories. They would write a sentence, read it aloud, and alter it—or not.

In the classroom, I’d advise my students to read their writing aloud to themselves as they drafted, edited and proofread because that was what I’d learned by observing the professional writers around me. My students, however, were resistant. They thought it was downright crazy to talk out loud to themselves; they believed they could edit perfectly adequately by doing so silently, in their heads; or else they wrote assignments the night before the due date without ever editing their work.  Continue Reading →

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Teaching, Writing
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“Please look at me!”

Cross-cultural competence in the ESL classroom

Our understanding of theories of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and more speci cally teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) has traditionally been grounded in linguistics, psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, and more recently in pragmatics and speech acts. I would like to argue that in order to do the most effective teaching of ESL, especially in light of the many recent newcomers to Canada, we must also have a stronger sense of the theories and best implementation of cross-cultural communication1.

How often have we been in a classroom, intent on being as helpful and constructive as we can, only to nd that some students are resistant or silent or respond in totally unexpected ways? Even when we fully intend to respect the diverse cultures of our students,  Continue Reading →

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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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Editor’s Note

Brett ReynoldsInterest in generative and transformational grammar peaked in the 1970s, while interest in cognitive linguistics (CL) has been growing since the mid 80s. In our lead article, Frank Boers explains how CL can be applied to teaching vocabulary and phraseology.

We have three articles on language tests. Shayla Ahmad reviews the Reading Section of the CELPIP-General Test, an alternative for immigrants wishing to demonstrate English- language ability. Beverly Baker and her colleagues at the University of Ottawa report on their research into telephone oral interview tasks in university admissions. And Elizabeth Jean Larson & Clarissa Lau review the STEP test for elementary and secondary students.

With this issue, we begin a series of articles on the least you should know about various language.  Continue Reading →

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Editor's Note
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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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A Review of the Reading Section of the CELPIP-general Test

The Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program-General (CELPIP-G) Test aims to assess the general English language functional proficiency of individuals for adapting to life in Canada. The distinctiveness of the CELPIP-G Test, in contrast to other leading proficiency tests in the industry, arises from its design and use for Canadian immigration purposes. Apart from IELTS (International English Language Testing System), it is the only test that is accepted by the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) for permanent resident and citizenship purposes (“Citizenship and Immigration Canada”, n.d.). In addition, the test uses the English variety spoken in Canada. Accordingly, it exposes individuals to Canadian English rather than other varieties of English used in other proficiency tests. Using Bachman and Palmer’s qualities of tests (1996) as a framework,  Continue Reading →

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Assessment
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Telephone Oral Interview Tasks in University Admissions Language Testing

Interactive functions and reports of anxiety

We report here on research we undertook to examine the entrance tests for applicants to second-language teaching programs in either English or French. In particular, we were interested in examining the speaking portion of this test, a one-on-one telephone interview. Individual one-on-one interviews are still the most common method of assessing speaking for high stakes contexts such as these (Luoma, 2004), and they are often conducted by telephone for cost and time savings.

This oral interview task follows a standard format, consisting of a warm-up, two separate tasks (a role play with the interviewer and a single long turn discussing an opinion on an issue), and a wind-down. The complete interview lasts approximately 10 to 15 minutes.  Continue Reading →

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Assessment, Research
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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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