Thursday, March 29, 2007

TESOL Conference highlights

Attending the TESOL Conference in Seattle last week was a wonderful experience for me because I was able to actually go to sessions for the first time in years. As always there were way too many sessions to attend everything I wanted to, so I tended to concentrate my energies on areas of error correction, academic writing, vocabulary and corpus analysis, and some of the plenaries.

I want to list here some of the things I found most interesting:

1. Reference to a paper, Assignments Across the Curriculum: A Survey of College Writing by Dan Melzer published in 2003 in Language and Learning Across the Disciplines. This article provides an analysis of 787 writing assignments from undergraduate courses at 48 higher education institutions in the U.S.

One interesting feature of the analysis is how rare persuasive writing assignments are. They account for only 11% of the total compared to 73% which are informative assignments.

2. I also learned about a free concordancing software program called TEXTSTAT 2.7 that can be downloaded from:

In a very short time I was able to download this program and create a corpus for it from the ELP Reader text. I can now look at the frequency of word occurrence within the ELP reader, look at how words or phrases are collocated in the Reader, and look at words or phrases in the context of short passages extracted from the Reader.

3. Along similar lines, Pat Byrd gave a presentation on “Collocations and Recurrent Phrases in the Academic Word List (AWL)”. She and others are working on a major analysis of the AWL that will be published as a reference text in the near future. Her samples were interesting. For example, under the word family for “require” by far the most common form in the AWL is “required.” More than half of the uses of “required” appear as part of a passive construction. Among these passive voice uses of “required”, the identification of an agent using “by” was relatively rare and when it did occur, the agent was almost always institutional rather than human, e.g. “required by the college.”

In the word family of “persist”, the form “persistent” was the third most commonly occurring and its use appears to be primarily quite technical. For example, the most common collocates of persistent are persistent interaction, persistent http, persistent puckers, persistent endo and persistent sodium!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Have a life

This is my last posting in the series of "seven habits" of language program administrators. The seventh good habit is to have a life. There is an old joke about the only thing worse than things falling apart when you are not around is things not falling apart when you are not around. From my perspective, it is important for a language program to be able to operate well without the Director's constant presence. In some cases, directors become hooked on crisis management. It provides an adrenalin rush, a validation of our importance and a chance to be "the hero." Heady stuff. My sense is that we all need excitement and validation to some degree in our lives, but they are best attained outside of the work environment most of the time. The best way to achieve this is to have a rich and satisfying personal life. This, in theory at least, allows for minimum confusion of a director's personal needs with the needs of the language program. I have seen program directors and other administrators create crises in the workplace where none really existed. My belief is that these crises were manufactured just to satisfy the administrator's need to belong and be important.

Another potential problem of directors not having a life is burnout and exhaustion. If directors feel indispensable and take on too much, they may not be able to respond effectively when they really are needed. Having a life should lead to a good state of rest and readiness to take on the truly important tasks.

In summary, having a life implies establishing and accepting a non-indispensable status at work and finding things to do outside of work that provide excitement, personal validation and a re-charging of emotional and physical batteries. To do this usually means effective delegation of both authority and responsibility to others.

Finding a good balance between work and non-work is not always easy. It requires that we be able to know and evaluate ourselves. One of the things I have found most helpful in this regard is finding opportunities to meet and interact with other directors and administrators outside my own work place such as at conferences and professional association meetings. It is hard for our colleagues where we work to provide the perspective we need to judge how well we may be balancing our lives. Talking with people who are in similar positions, but at different places, provides comparison data that can be very useful in assessing our own situations.

Here endeth my personal list of effective habits for language program administrators. It was intended to give my new colleagues at ICU some sense of how I approach the position of ELP director.

I hope to continue this blog in a less didactic tone and begin sharing ideas on research interests that I am able to pursue for the first time in a long time. I am currently preparing both a paper and presentation proposal for the JALT conference this year on the application of complex systems theory, also known as chaos theory, to language learning and the implications that new paradigm has for language teaching. One of the off-shoots of my research in this area is a book that I just started reading: "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins (2004) New York: Henry Holt. This is an interesting new take on what intelligence is, based on extensive research on how the brain functions. Hawkins rejects the computational model of brain function. Has anyone out there read this book or anything similar?