TESOL 2010 Round-Up

Here are some of the highlights from my week at the 2010 TESOL Convention in cold, windy, snowy Boston …

  • “Re-imagining pedagogy and practice for writing from sources” (Powerpoints and handouts): very useful panel challenging the dominant punitive approach to plagiarism, and encouraging teachers to promote good source use rather than see paraphrasing/summary writing simply as a preventative tool against the dreaded P word. There were several really great activities which focus on the language of summary/paraphrase writing.
  • One of the references in the panel was to Susan Hood’s recent paper in Linguistics and Education, “Summary writing: implicating meaning in processes of change.” Fortunately, Susan Hood spoke more about her work at a colloquium on Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) in ESL. She argued that paraphrasing should be thought of as para-meaning, because changing the wording of a source text inevitably changes the meaning, especially when viewed through the SFL lens of field, tenor, and mode, as well as genre. Paraphrasing is an instance of “re-meaning” as writers alter the text (e.g. by changing the level of generalization), fit the source into the “texture” of their own writing (e.g. by manipulating Theme), and adjust the stance through the APPRAISAL resources of English. I think this has immediate and brilliant implications for teaching academic writing. She also referred to a curiosity of Science (one of the big name journals in the sciences): for some articles, there is a companion text called a perspective, written by a different author, that functions as a summary of the longer paper. So, we can compare a source text (such as this one) and a professional summary (such as this one). This warrants further investigation! She left us with the useful reminder that summary writing improves both writing and reading skills.
  • I was excited to hunt down two SFL sessions at the conference, and heard many references to the Curriculum Cycle (or Teaching-Learning Cycle), developed by Martin, Rose,. and others. Jim Martin and Mary Schleppegrel both spoke about using this model to help writers understand a new genre by deconstructing its phases (steps), jointly constructing a new text with the teacher, and finally writing their own text independently. This is not news to teachers with an SFL-orientation, but it is a welcome change from the suffocating pseudo-process, 5-paragraph-essay model that continues to dominate in North America.
  • More tips from the SFL crew: the overuse of and as a textual Theme (i.e. at the start of a clause) is indicative of spoken language, which is why academic writers tend to use a different set of cohesive devices. In fact, conjunctions overall are more common between clauses in spoken English because of its interactional style. Thematic choices are important (the Theme is basically the first meaningful element in the clause), and a simple analysis of the Themes in a piece of learner’s writing can reveal the lack of development or cohesiveness in the text.
  • Jim Martin reported twice on the SLATE project in Sydney and Hong Kong, an online tutoring collaboration. He presented a model of “glocalization”, in which a focus on the global (genre / curriculum) is merged with a focus on the local (micro-structures of language / teacher-student interaction sequences), in order to help students answer the question: “How does language do the genres?”. This enables teachers to reintroduce “knowledge about language (KAL)” into the classroom since the different levels of reading (and writing) are necessary embedded: genre / register (field, mode, tenor) / discourse semantics (cohesion, coherence), lexico-grammar, grapho-phonics. I like this approach because it sets “grammar” (in its broad, functional sense) at the heart of all reading/writing (see, e.g., the Reading to Learn project). This is a “richer” description of the role of grammar: for example, looking at how conjunctions reinforce the generic structure of a text because of their position in the Theme. The genre approach Martin and others advocate is the opposite of the process/whole language approach: they argue that students shouldn’t be left to figure out how to read/write using vague (often, personal) prompts and texts. Instead, instruction should start with the presentation and analysis of models of the genre in question. As he said, “prevention is better than cure”!
  • Further (more coherent and cohesive!) reading suggested on SFL/ESL/ETC: Derewianka, How Texts Work; Knapp & Watkins, Genre, Text, Grammar; Schleppegrel, The Language of Schooling; Martin and Rose, Genre Relations

Author: Nigel Caplan

Nigel Caplan, Ph.D., is an associate professor of ESL and materials developer in Delaware, in the United States.

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