Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Ko, J, Schallert, D. L., & Walters, K. (2003). Rethinking Scaffolding: Examining Negotiation of Meaning in an ESL Storytelling Task. TESOL Quarterly, 37(2), 303-324.

            Concerning the field of education, scaffolding is an essential process of learning. This Vygotskian term is defined in Jungmin Ko, Diane L. Schallert, and Keith Walter’s article (2003), “Rethinking Scaffolding: Examining Negotiation of Meaning in an ESL Storytelling Task,” as the process of how learning occurs. Ko et al cite the explanation by the “results of the interpsychological support [stemming] from the more knowledgeable [individual] that leads learners to internalize what is being learned” (304). In other educational words, teachers are helping students learn a specific subject or task. In the article, the authors reexamine Vygotsky’s description of scaffolding, and apply this reexamination to the internal learning process of English Language Learners and their negotiation of meaning.

What is negotiation of meaning (NOM)?
            When conversing with an ELLs, one might experience a negotiation of meaning. In Ko et al’s (2003) article, the authors describe negotiation of meaning “when native and nonnative speakers do not understand one another, they modify their conversational structures through the use of repetition, confirmation and comprehension checks, and clarifications requests” (pg. 306). Ko et al advocates that creating a student-centered discourse and engaging in NOM with students, ELLs are able to experience comprehensible input and produce comprehensible output, which rarely happens in teacher-centered discourse (Ko et al, 2003).

How to engage in NOM?
            In Ko et al’s study, the authors decided to examine the internal learning process and negotiation of meaning in ELLs through storytelling. Ko et al (2003), citing Kang (1997), note “storytelling activities offer the possibility of meaningful social interaction among students and between storyteller and teacher” (pg. 307).

The Results of Using storytelling tasks with ELLs
            In the study, students were required to compose a short story about a sad, embarrassing, or happy experience in their life. After the first telling, students would have a small workshop with two peers and the teacher. During the workshop, the teacher used four interactional moves to help students lessen their negotiation of meaning:
            1. Elicit additional information not provided by storyteller
            2. Indentify places where cultural caps might cause confusion with audience
            3. Encouraging audience members to ask questions while keep them on task
            4. Providing help with vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, and pronunciation errors that had made the storyteller’s meaning unclear.
                                                                                                (Ko et al, 2003, pg 313).

After the workshops, the storytellers would retell their story in front of a larger audience.
            The study yielded varying results. Out of twenty-two students, eleven students increase their original scores from their first telling. The remaining students saw a decrease in their scores or no change at all. Ko et al contributed the decrease in scores on the second telling to a number of factors:
            1. The type a story the students decided to share may have been emotional hard for them to share.
            2. Some students may have had a greater fear of trying something new than doing a mediocre job by repeating the first story
            3. The two-way exchange, which is scaffolding, was not exercise by the less knowledgeable individual.
                                                                                                (Ko et al, 2003).
  In Ko et al’s research, the examination of scaffolding and negotiation of meaning sheds light on the effectiveness and difficulties a teacher may have when minimizing an ELL negotiation of meaning; however, mentioned previously, scaffolding is a two-way street. If one party does not fulfill their part, then learning does not take place. As teachers, one thing we can strive for is the consistent use of best practices. Mentioned previously in this summation, the authors mention four practices that would be “current conceptions of effective ESL teaching” (pg 320). Let me reiterate them:
            1. Able to recognize weak places in the stories. In addition, they were also able to lead the storyteller in the right direction to fix those weak elements in their story.
            2. Able to be sensitive to interpretations and presuppositions that came from the storyteller’s cultural knowledge.
            3. Able to encourage members of the audience to ask questions. In addition, they were able to direct and redirect questions focusing on the storyteller’s topic and story.
            4. Able to supply “words, phrases, and idiomatic expressions when storytellers needed them and helped with the pronunciation difficulties that interfered with the storyteller’s meaning” (320).
                                                                                                (Ko et al, 2003).            

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Simplification Versus Elaboration

Oh, S. (2001). Two Types of Input Modification and EFL Reading Comprehension:             Simplification Versus Elaboration. TESOL Quarterly, 35(1), 69-96.

            Sun-Young Oh’s article, “Two Types of Input Modification and EFL Reading Comprehension: Simplification Versus Elaboration,” examines the academic and linguistic benefit of simple and elaborate input modifications.

So what are simple and elaborate input modifications?
            First, input modifications. Oh (2001) defines an input as “all types of linguistic data from a target language that learners are exposed to and from which they learn” (pg 69). From this definition, the reader concludes Oh referring to the various types of modifications to help ELL retain the target language. In her study, she looks at two types of input modifications concerning reading comprehension: simple and elaborate.

Simple Input Modifications:
            Simple input modifications takes a text and modifies the text, or provides a less complex vocabulary and syntax. In addition, it contains shorter utterances, simpler lexis, and deletion of sentence elements or morphological inflections. (Oh, 2001). The pedagogical thought process of using simple input modifications resides in thinking ELLs will have an increase in comprehension, linguistically and academically.

Elaborate Input Modifications:
            In Oh’s article (2001), the authors, Parker and Chaudron, of “The Effects of Linguistic Simplification and Elaborative Modifications on L2 Comprehension,” elaborately define elaborate input modification:
Features such as slower speech, clearer articulation and emphatic stress, paraphrases, synonyms and restatements, rhetorical signaling devices, self-repetition, and suppliance of optional syntactic signals (e.g., relative and complement clause markers) serve neither to “simplify” nor to “complexify” the surface form, . . . rather, they are clarifications of meaning only, opportunities for the listener/reader to better decode the communications.

The authors explain elaborate input modifications are not utilized to increase the difficult of the “surface” of the text, but they are merely providing chances for ELLs to “better decode” (70) the meaning of the text (Oh, 2001).

The Results:
             In Oh’s examination of simple and elaborate input modifications, her research yielded a varying perspective. According to the study, the simple input modification assisted the students reading comprehension; however, this facilitation did not benefit low language proficiency students (Oh, 2001). Nevertheless, the simple input modifications would yield higher language proficient students with better reading comprehension scores due to their current language ability (Oh, 2001).
            On the other side of study, Oh (2001) discovered “elaborated input [modifications] significantly enhanced the reading comprehension of students at both high and low proficiency levels,” and “…elaborated input [modifications] significantly improved [the students’] performance on inference items” (pg 90).
            In other words, Oh’s research informed the reader that simple input modifications were easier to comprehend at the present time; however, elaborate input modifications would help the student significantly throughout his or her continuing education. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Using Email-Writing Task in the ESL Classroom

Yasuda, S. J. (2011). Genre-Based Tasks in Foreign Language Writing: Developing  Writers' Genre Awareness, Linguistic Knowledge, and Writing Competence. Journal of Second Language Writing, 20, 111-133.

            In her article, “Genre-Based Tasks in Foreign Language Writing: Developing Writers' Genre Awareness, Linguistic Knowledge, and Writing Competence,” Sachiko Yasuda examines the pedagogic rewards of developing foreign language writers' genre awareness, linguistic knowledge, and writing competence. In her study at a private university in Japan, Yasuda notes the academic, along with linguistic, growth of 70 Japanese undergraduate students through email-writing tasks. Her main goal? Raise student awareness about writing as a social action.

Why Email-Writing Tasks?
            Yasuda (2011) advocates using email-writing tasks from the “growing interest in the noting of genre and the potential pedagogical value of genre-based writing pedagogies that has been addressed by a number of composition scholars” (112), twenty-two composition scholars to be exact.

Why the Genre-Based Writing Approach?
            When educating students in a second language (L2), a main goal is to help the students become conscious of the various texts in the realm of writing and the particular social value of those texts. By placing an emphasis on the notion of genre, students, writing in their L2, possess an advantage in understanding the relationship between the communicative purpose and the features of various texts at every discourse level (Yasuda, 2011). Yasudo asserts “foreign language (FL) writers” engage in writing tasks with the “belief that such texts are autonomous and [contextually] free” (112). With such an approach, FL writers lack the ability to understand the justification of writing as a social action, which is to “[perform] through interactions of purpose, audience, and linguistic choice” (Yasudo, 2011).

Possible Instruction and Methods for English Language Learners?
The following is a course schedule from Yasudo’s class (pg 118).
             In the course schedule, one can see the various genres the students encountered throughout the course. In addition, she also listed example expressions to help students grow in specific genre writing.
            Throughout the study, Yasudo notes her students knew very little at the beginning of course; however, at the end of the course, the students self-evaluation points to a growth in understanding on how to compose emails.
  (Table 3 from pg 121).

            By using email-writing tasks or other related genre-based methods in a classroom, a teacher, according to Yasudo’s research, is able to help his or her students’ writing ability in a number of ways:

            1. Students will be able to organize or shape generic patterns to achieve a particular purpose (Yasudo, 2011).

            2. Students will become more linguistically diverse in their first language (Yasudo, 2011).

            3. Students’ writing fluency will improve over the course of genre-based instruction (Yasudo, 2011).

            4. Student will be aware of the degrees of formalities, and will be able to “make more appropriate rhetorical choices” (124); moreover, they will be able to control those abilities (Yasudo). 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Basics for Reading Instruction

Janzen, J. (2007). Preparing Teachers of Second Language Reading. TESOL Quarterly, 41(4), 707-729.

Joy Janzen, in her TESOL Quarterly article “Preparing Teachers of Second Language Reading,” examines the pedagogical instruction and philosophy used by six ESOL teachers in a small urban school district in the Midwestern United States. Janzen’s main purpose of the article is to examine reading and reading instruction, and the topics teacher educators should address in methods courses (Janzen, 2007). Before addressing the six main issues identified from Janzen’s research, identifying her methods of collecting information can help the reader see Janzen’s stream of consciousness concerning her article’s formation.

Over a two-year period of study, Janzen interviewed six teachers in the Midwestern United States school district, and scheduled 36 in-class observations of ESOL teachers and the instruction used in the classes. Gathering and analyzing the information from her two-year study, Janzen produced six important issues or concerns formulated from the ESOL teachers she interviewed and observed. Within each issue, Janzen reports on the results.

1. Working with a range of learner proficiencies.
            In the section of results pertaining to working with various language proficiencies, Janzen identified two concerns and two useful methods. The two concerns were school scheduling and teacher availability to assist students individually. The school scheduling made it difficult for teachers to group students by level, and resulted with various language levels in the teachers’ classrooms, especially with secondary students.
            Concerning the two useful methods, the author found cooperative learning and literature circles to help students of different academic levels work together and promote learning in the classroom. According to Janzen (2007), “types of cooperative learning have been used successfully with ELLs” (715). In addition, learning circles also provides students with a role or job within a group, which help promotes participation (Janzen, 2007).

2. The use of materials
            When dealing with material, the author reports one important aspect is the selection of texts “that would either evoke the students’ prior knowledge or, at least, clearly support the text’s content” (Janzen, 2007). However, the interviewed and observed teachers reported that none of them “relied on a single series of texts” (714), but rather stole or modified from various sources to help the students form connections with their texts (Janzen, 2007).
            Lastly, a teacher should continuously or periodically use assessment to “chart [the students] progress in reading and determine [the] placement into proficiency-based reading groups” (Janzen, 2007). By using a continuous or periodical style of assessment, a teacher will be able to efficiently insert necessary instruction to help the growth of their student’s education.  

3. Instructional Practices in the areas of decoding skills, vocabulary, writing, and thematic teaching
            When concerning developing decoding skills, the observed teachers reported that a consistent focus on decoding skills was beneficial in the lower grades; however, the teachers also reported that consistent decoding instruction was not necessary with secondary students (Janzen, 2007).
            When concerning the development of writing skills, Janzen (2007) admits, “the complex ways in which writing and reading interact for ELLs are beyond the scope of this study” (716); however, she describes the importance of beginning writing instruction early, because early writing instruction can help activate prior knowledge abilities, understanding story structure, and demonstrating a student’s reading comprehension (Janzen, 2007).  Some methods to accomplish the previous mentioned abilities utilize “graphic organizers, story retellings, reading logs, pre-reading journals, process writing techniques, and creative writing” (Janzen, 2007).
            When discussing vocabulary development in Janzen’s article, she does not discuss or examine various vocabulary development methods; however, she gives the reader more of a warning: be careful of vocabulary ambitions, because school standards can crush them (Janzen, 2007). For specific vocabulary instruction, the Janzen suggest the use of vocabulary method texts.
            Lastly, Janzen describes the importance of thematic teaching when helping ELLs obtain the target language; for example, Janzen (2007) cites information stating, “reasons frequently cited for using [thematic teaching or approach] agrees with those listed earlier: increased vocabulary learning and greater mainstream academic success because learning is contextualized” (717).

4. Developing students’ love of reading
            When trying to motivate one’s students, many different techniques can help students see the enjoyment of reading. In Janzen’s article, she obviously points to the main element in getting students to enjoy reading, which is motivation. When sparking motivation in a student to enjoy reading, Janzen (2007) identifies a few techniques or methods: “materials, specific activities done with reading, explicit explanation of the value of reading, the use of extrinsic motivation...extensive reading, and providing a flood of books” (718).

5. Coping with mainstream teachers and school demands
            In her article, Janzen discusses the difficulties the teachers had in their school. One major concern is being labeled as a reading teacher, when the teachers are ESOL teachers, or sending students to the ESOL classroom due to behavioral problems.
            Another problem the ESOL teacher reported is instructional time with the students. Even though the teachers are teaching the same instruction regularly, ELLs “often [need] more time and assistance” (Janzen, 2007).
            In addition, Janzen reports the teachers in her study perceive mainstream teachers not prepared to service ELL effective. Janzen support’s the teachers’ perception with a U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. The survey states “45.5% of teachers in the state where this research took place reported teaching ELLS, but only 6.2% reported that they had had 8 or more hours of training in the last 3 years on how to teach ELLs” (Janzen, 2007).

6. Students’ Literacy and Oral Proficiency in their L1s
            In the last section, Janzen reports the essential mastery of an ELL’s L1 (first language). Janzen notes many problems with ELLs and reading instruction comes from their illiteracy in their L1. When ELLs have education in their L1 and begin education in their L2 (second language), academic skills from their L1 can transfer to their L2 reading and other academic tasks; for example, some aspects are “literacy, extent of schooling, and oral proficiency” (Janzen, 2007).

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Before diving into why this blog is dedicated to English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) instruction, I would like to take a few sentences to tell my readers about myself. My name is Alfonse Athas. I am currently an English education student at a major university in Florida, and I will be entering my final internship this fall semester (2011). I have had multiple experiences in real classrooms, including an ESL classroom; however, I still consider myself “green.”

I have decided to create this blog, because I have an innate and strong, passionate interest in teaching English for Students of Other Languages (ESOL); however, during my time at my Floridian university, the second language acquisition instruction required of me seemed satisfactory until I entered an actual ESL classroom. During my time in the classroom, I soon discovered my university ESOL instruction did not translate into a real ESL classroom. Personally, I felt failure. Professionally, I was embarrassed. I soon discovered I was not alone in feeling my education in second language acquisition was less than satisfactory. My fellow peers voiced their same concerns as I have: “How am I going to teach students or other languages English, and how am I going to do it effectively?”

During the summer of 2011, I have been given an opportunity to form this blog and report my findings on various educational articles that deal with ESL instruction and methods. Even though my subject may not be “popular” or have a lot of public interest, I hope the information I present will help students, future teachers, teachers, and anyone else with an interest in ESL instruction obtain additional knowledge on various methods used in the second language acquisition field.

In addition, I would like to reiterate that I am a student, and like the teacher profession, I am continuously learning and trying to better my practice.  Alluded previously, my real world experience is minimal; nevertheless, I hope to increase my pedagogic knowledge to better help me in a real classroom.  I welcome comments, questions, ideas, concerns, and any discourse to help not only myself grow as a profession, but maybe to help other individuals with an interest in this subject to grow as well.