Tag Archives: grammar

NoRedInk for offloading grammar diagnostics, instruction, and practice

2016 KOTESOL International Conference

Davis Ellis and I presented on our experience using NoRedInk with our academic English writing courses in the English Education department at a university in Seoul, South Korea. Our experiences, as well as the students’ experiences, were overall very good. The presentation provides suggestions for future implementations and one sincere desire to have access to the paid version of the site (still waiting on that one).

This study investigated the use of NoRedInk, an online adaptive learning system with a focus on English grammar, by students in a first year writing course in an English Education program at a mid-sized university in Seoul, South Korea. It was noted that students in this course made a broad variety of grammar errors in their writing, which made addressing grammar topics during class time difficult. Previous instructional interventions had been both scattershot and time consuming. The extracurricular use of NoRedInk was seen as a way to address multiple challenges: class time, diagnostics, instruction, and practice. The questions this study addressed were: (1) how did students perceive the implementation of NoRedInk, and (2) did the use of NoRedInk correspond with a reduction of specific grammar errors in student writing. To answer these questions, data—end of course survey/interviews, NoRedInk reports, and student writing pre-/post-intervention assessments—were collected and analyzed. Survey data were analyzed to identify patterns to student perceptions and feedback, with follow-up interviews to further confirm and explore. Data from NoRedInk and the pre-/post-intervention writing assessments were analyzed for change in error rate as correlated with NoRedInk usage and performance. This presentation will detail the implementation of NoRedInk and the subsequent findings regarding student perceptions and performance.

Arizona Grades Teachers on Fluency

PHOENIX—As the academic year winds down, Creighton School Principal Rosemary Agneessens faces a wrenching decision: what to do with veteran teachers whom the state education department says don’t speak English well enough.

The Arizona Department of Education recently began telling school districts that teachers whose spoken English it deems to be heavily accented or ungrammatical must be removed from classes for students still learning English.

State education officials say the move is intended to ensure that students with limited English have teachers who speak the language flawlessly. But some school principals and administrators say the department is imposing arbitrary fluency standards that could undermine students by thinning the ranks of experienced educators.

Really, they are not grading on fluency. At least in this article, fluency is not really addressed. They are really looking at some sort of target accent and grammar use measures. I’m really wondering if the WSJ just didn’t report this with enough accuracy. I can’t imagine that they (the Arizona DoE) would be that messy in proposing evaluation measures.

Honestly, I don’t know what to think of this. The racist scumbags are out in force if you take a look at the comments section, and this is enough to make anyone thing this is a bad idea. However, it is much more than an issue of race or even language identity. This is the ongoing, knock-down, drag out fight on the issue of NESTs (native English-speaking teachers) and NNESTs (non-native English-speaking teachers) in ESL classrooms.

This debate has been hot in TESOL for many years. The growth of interest/belief in World Englishes has kept it at the forefront of criticism, theory, and practice discussions in recent years.

Ordinarily, I fall on the side of the NNESTs on this argument, but my opinion differs depending on the context and the goals of the organization. The policy, at first glance seems reasonable. Teachers with an accent or grammar that impedes communication, should be removed from the classroom (Arizona is only proposing that they are removed from ESL classrooms). This is completely reasonable, BUT….

Oops, we now have the problem of rating these teachers. Should all teachers be accessed by this measure? That would only make sense. There are plenty of native English-speaking teachers out there with terrible grammar and writing skills (also referred to in the article). We should get rid of them to. Or, should the people evaluated just have to be as good as the worse of the native English-speaking teachers? That would set a low bar, wouldn’t it?

What about a teacher with a heavy Scottish accent? I mean, have you ever seen Trainspotting? It may be English, but it’s pretty tough to understand for most Americans. I’d even venture to guess that most Americans understand English with a heavily influenced Spanish accent better. Really, we hear it much more often. So, the Scottish are out. While we are at it, the English, Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans should be out, too. If they don’t speak American they shouldn’t be teaching our fragile children. Oh wait. Canadians. They’re out too. What’s up with that “aboot” thing. That ain’t American, ya know? They’re gone.

OK, so I lapse into a good deal of sarcasm. The question is left unanswered, though. What is the target? This is the slipperiest of slopes in a country where there is no standard. No matter where you live, everyone will insist that their English is standard. That doesn’t mean it won’t impede comprehension when interacting with students from other regions. If we have this much variability at home, what is the standard that we shoot for?

I don’t outright disagree with the Arizona policy; however, I am doubtful that they can come up with a fair assessment of these abilities that take into account the many factors that make a good teacher of English.

Babel’s Dawn: Is Anything Universal in Language?

The question at hand: do the things that all languages have in common reflect certain universals of human thought and experience, or do they reflect the workings of a universal language faculty? Fifty years ago a third answer dominated: languages are learned from scratch and have no universals. That position, however, is still so out of favor that it is not much proposed in the current quarrel.

The latest dispute arises from a stark denial that languages have any peculiar grammatical universals of their own. It amounts to a total rejection of Chomsky’s core idea that the syntax of any individual language reflects an instance of a universal grammar (UG).  Nicholas Evans and Stephen C. Levinson have published a paper in the wonderful journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, “The Myth of Language Universals: Language diversity and its importance for cognitive science” (uncorrected final draft available here). Also published with the paper were a series of responses including many sharp retorts from generative grammarians who still firmly believe in UG. They score their points, but the fact that the issue has returned underlines the basic fact: after fifty years of proclaiming the existence of a UG, we still don’t know what it is. All in all the paper and responses make for a brutal slugfest.

This is a great post, not just for it’s overview and discussion of the topic, but also for pointing to such a great discussion. I’ve always regretted not reading up more on UG and criticisms, beyond basic linguistic courses. This could be a good start to get back in the game 🙂