Friday, March 30, 2007

Miniature Earth

Here's a short video that will make you stop and think!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

We Have Some Visitors from Taiwan

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Today my former MEI colleague, Dr. Rae Lan, brought four of her students from Soochow University in Taiwan to observe our class, and we took some pictures! Natalie, Marcy, Dorothy and Claire are studying to be English teachers.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Back to Work!

Today was the first day back after spring break. I was in Seattle at the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) Convention, where I picked up lots of good ideas for teaching and learning English, some of which I hope to share with the class in the coming days and weeks.

We are continuing in Quest Chapter 6 and beginning a chapter on adverbial clauses. The students appeared rested and ready to work hard in the second half of the semester. I was disappointed that six students did not come to class today, however. I can't understand how they expect to improve their English enough to pass the class if they do not attend and participate!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Power of Reading

Stephen Krashen, author of The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (first published by Libraries Unlimited in 1993 and now available in an updated second edition), has some interesting things to say about reading, writing, and the relationship between them. When English learners read for pleasure, Krashen writes, they develop the competence they need to move from a beginning level to the point where they can use English for such purposes as academic study, science, business, and so on. When they read for fun, they can improve their English without classes, without teachers, without studying, and even without people to talk to. (p. 84)

Krashen believes that "free voluntary reading," or FVR, positively affects vocabulary size, spelling, reading comprehension, grammar, and writing style; in fact, research indicates that it is better than direct instruction in improving these areas. (pp. 12-13)

In fact, Krashen writes, "writing style does not come from writing, but from reading." (p. 72) He surmises that although research cannot specify exactly what makes writing "good", "it is...sensible to suppose that writing style is not consciously learned, but is largely absorbed, or subconsciously acquired, from reading."

He notes that people read much more than they write: as much as 150 times as much, speaking of educated adults in the United States, and he further states that the amount of extracurricular (pleasure) reading one does is a strong predictor of English proficiency as measured by the TOEFL, whereas the amount one writes does not correlate with proficiency. This makes sense, according to Krashen, since "language acquisition comes from input, not output, from comprehension, not production." (pp. 74-76)

Television, Krashen says, "does not provide high quality linguistic input" because it is less complex than the language of books, although he admits that TV watching may encourage reading through dramatizations of books. This is because TV uses a small word base, probably under 5,000 words. Compare this to the 3,000+ vocabulary of an average American first-grader.). (pp. 78-81)

Go read a book!

[Page numbers refer to the first paperback edition.]

Friday, March 9, 2007

Missing Students

It's Friday morning, grammar quiz time as usual, and only 10 of my 16 students are here taking their quizzes. Yesterday, we had a chapter test and 4 people were absent. This is extremely frustrating for me! When students miss tests and quizzes, I have to administer them outside of class, and the rest of the students have to wait for their papers until everyone has taken the test. Thus, everyone is inconvenienced. But what irks me the most is that some of the students who miss tests and quizzes do not even bother to call me or email me to let me know what the reason for their absence was! They seem to feel that they can take tests whenever they feel like it.

While I have been writing this, two more students have arrived--another irritating thing. Many stuents apparently feel that it is perfectly acceptable to arrive late to class on a regular basis.

Naturally, if students are really sick or have a valid excuse for missing a test or a class or being late, I have no problem accommodating them. It's this cavalier attitude that "anything goes" that drives me nuts.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The World Is Flat

This year, the University of Maryland's First Year Book is The World Is Flat by New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. This book concerns the way certain political events (such as the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989) combined with new technologies (such as the internet and the World Wide Web) and new practices (such as supply-chaining) to enable people all over the globe to compete with people in the "developed nations" for jobs and wealth. Friedman lists 10 "flatteners"--events, technologies and practices that have contributed to these changes. The sections on "outsourcing" and "offshoring" seemed particularly relevant to what we had been studying in class in our chapter on the global economy, so we read a little about outsourcing today in class. Then I had the students analyze the uses of to on two pages of the text. The students worked in groups of three to determine in each case whether to was used as an infinitive or a preposition. It isn't always easy to figure out exactly how to is used in each case!