Saturday, February 27, 2010

Keynote at SLAT Roundtable

Keynote at SLAT Roundtable Matsuda Talks Voice

New media and technology make a point of announcing themselves as making the collapse of time and space capable, so I'm doing my best to counter that process by posting late on a presentation I saw a week ago.

Last week at the Second Language Acquisition Teaching Roundtable, Paul Kei Matsuda delivered the keynote speech on "Voice and Discursive Construction of Identity."

As I have previously posted, I had the opportunity see Dr. Matsuda speak alongside Peter Elbow at the 2009 CCCC convention, and was impressed by not only his presentation skills, but also the ability to engage a ballroom of convention attendees.

Interested in the construction of voice, Matsuda pointed out the difficulty of defining voice because of its connection with content and style. It raises the question of "if you can't define it, then you can't teach it." This arises with those instructing English language learners because so much of voice tends to be its deviation from the norms of academic discourse.

One of the interesting points Matsuda makes about voice is that is the quality that makes impersonation possible.

Matsuda also presented examples of variation of voice in Japanese bloggers, demonstrated through the swapping of the watashi and washi in Katakana by a female blogger who used the more masculine washi in recreations of dialogue with her husband, creating a humorous tone through cognitive dissonance and the juxtaposition of linguistic norms.

Reporting on a broader case study, Matsuda discussed the experiment he ran with editors of academic journals who, on the whole, recognized that they tended to create images of writers in their minds as they read texts, based on voice and other features. Some claimed to be able to recognize sex, age and race.

Matsuda recommended that when teaching voice to English language learners: Teach the principle behind voice—point out certain examples, show how it can mark writing; if non-native maintains solidified usage, then it sounds like its bringing in a potentially new perspective to the subject.

I asked Dr. Matsuda if he had any advice on the development of voice when presenting, but he said that would another entire presentation in and of itself, although he did mention a lot of speakers preferring to use the phrase "in a nutshell."

In a nutshell, I'm planning on keeping this in mind at this year's Cs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Diversity and Inequality round table

Teaching Composition to English Language Learners

Hosting a round table about teaching practices for second language students, the D&I put together a panel of teachers with experience teaching abroad and with English language learners in the U.S. Some of the concerns addressed were grammar vs. content, popular culture, the impact of understanding the culture of the student population, the role of phonics, and the assumptions about teaching in other cultures.

For the most part, the panel tended to agree that, as with most classes, engagement is an important factor. Grammar with English language learners is the same as with most composition students in that if it is the focus without context, students won't necessarily feel any more comfortable performing the language. One participant noted that she'd attended a conference presentation that statistically documented gains in classes with grammar as the focus vs. a class with content with the focus, showing marginally higher gains in the grammar-focused class--the participant noted that this was a single study, and not a ringing endorsement for grammar-based class content.

The consensus on the use of pop-culture was similar in that participants agreed that the more interested the students were in the material, the more success that the activities tended to have. With regard to music, it was recommended to ask the students to bring in their own music, or make suggestions about music in English that could be used in exercises to test recognition of vocabulary. At the same time, the participants were also open to bringing in their own choices of music and letting the discussion take its own direction, just as long as the emphasis is placed on dealing with the issues that the students bring up, even if not completely by design of the instructor (the example discussed began with a piece of music by Miles Davis spawning a discussion about Michael Jackson).

The topic of phonics accompanied a discussion about the varieties of literacy. One of the participants cited working with students who were not literate in their own language, in the sense that they did not know the grammar of their language, so it was difficult to draw a comparison to English. In this case, some of the most basic of motor skills can be addressed in order to build to discussions of grammar--something as simple as spending time on the alphabet can be much more beneficial than practical, yet much too advanced, worksheets.

A participant joked about English as being "not an ordinary language because of all its exceptions--we don't speak grammatically correct, but that's what makes it an extra-ordinary language."

Thanks to round table participants Jake Levine, Katie Silvester and Cassie Wright.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Defaced: A Found Archive

What is said when no one's looking

Here's the link to a video for a showcase of defaced images, which Coriana Close created as an intimate installation showcase. Beginning with the issue of identity and representation, Close displays what she found as she encountered what is expressed in anonymous discourse and how it demonstrates how race continues to be spoken of.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Twitter and the Fractured Sense of Community

Jameson and the Post-Modern Question of Cynical Fragmentation

This might be the wrong way to address the fact that I'm going to experiment with Twitter in the next class I teach, but the idea came to me as I was reading Chela Sandoval's "Fredric Jameson: Postmodernism is a Neocolonizing Global Force." So maybe I had the passing thought before reading about the impact of the electronic/technological revolution on the ability to frame criticisms of the dominant discourse, but I wondered if technology could still be used as a method of bringing back together some of those communities fractured and silenced by technology. Almost all students have cell phones or access to computers, so what kind of impact can we have when collapsing distances of space and time via 140 character tweets to students, prodding them to think about generative classroom themes outside the classroom? This endeavor might have an invasive quality to it, so I'll continue to reflect on it before I make it a part of classroom participation.

If I do follow through with this, I'll be sure to have an anonymous survey available to students so they can evaluate the pros/cons of the collapsed time vs. community building potential. I will be sure to leave some space for comments/opinions, which I will use to gauge whether or not it is something I will continue with for the entire semester. Starting with Jameson's criticism, it might very well sound as though I'm anticipating negative results as a part of some greater self-fulfilling prophesy against an over-reliance of technology in the classroom, but as an educator, I would have little motivation to isolate and discredit a new media object if I didn't believe there could be a potential positive effect on the knowledge building community of the class.
Follow AcademiadeCruz on Twitter