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!

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