Debbie Poole

DEBBIE POOLE

’m a professor at San Diego State.  I have a split appointment in two departments and I oversee the ESL writing courses for matriculated students but I also teach courses in the teacher training areas and socio-linguists.  I kind of feel like I have a number of hats.

Uhm, well I think that a lot of people feel that articulation, uh, is a burning issue for second language learners um, because, uh, to the extent that we have not articulated well ah, between the educational segments, uhm, it has sometimes had a negative effect on the progress of the second language learners.  So, when we talk about articulation, usually want we are talking about is uhm, the links between the educational segments particularly in public education. So. For example, between high schools and the four year institutions, the high schools and community colleges, community colleges and the four year institutions,  adult ed and any of the others, um, and so to the extent that we um speak the same language, say in terms of say describing proficiency levels, to the extent that we understand the requirements of the other levels are, we just facilitate the passage of our second language learners from one segment to the next.  And so, um, in in the past, I think we haven’t done that so well and you know oddly enough I think sometimes the interest groups in “T-solve” and some of the affiliates encourage us to go with our own segment rather than reaching out and communicating across segments. Um, but a lot of times what happens is second language learners have to backtrack when they go to the next segment because we haven’t had this kind of communication um, to make their passage from one level to the next easier and so that, for example the previous segment understands what the requirements are for the next segment so um, can do a better job, I guess of of getting the students ready and preparing them for whatever it is they are going to meet in that next level, so. 

(next question)
I don’t know if our goal is seamless.  (laughs)  But I think our goal is to have better communication across the segments, um, among the second language professionals so that we understand better where our students have come from and so that we understand better how to prepare our students for whatever the next level is.  Um, (interruption)

I can give you an example from my own institution (interruption)

And that is that students who transfer from community colleges to our four year institution take a a test and if they, they have to take a a  transfer writing assessment and if they don’t pass that test um, they need to take a developmental writing class which to them seems like backtracking because in many cases they have fulfilled the freshman composition requirement and this is a pre-freshman composition course.  So, uhm, we’ve actually done articulation with the local community colleges trying to um, address that very issue. So. But that is a peculiar one.   I don’t…(interruption)

(next question)
I think that K-12 is probably better, that, that, the progression within K-12 is probably better than it is across say going from high school to community college or to the four year institutions.  I think that ‘s where the real breakdown is, but I guess one thing I would say, in response to the question about elementary to high school maybe that the demands of particularly say English and social studies type of classes, um, the language demands may be so heavy um, that the kind of preparation that the L2 kids get at elementary school may not be sufficient for um, them to meet what those demands are.  So. 

(next question)
Assisted performance is a term coined by uh, Ron Gellimore and Ronald, uh, no. Ronald Gellimore and Roland Tharp in their book “Rousing Minds to Life” um, which is sort of a treatise on teaching uh based on the Vagoskian notion of the zone of proximal development and um, what they have done is is um oppose the notion of assisted performance with what they say happens in many classrooms uh or in lots of teaching in the United States.  They say that most teaching in the United States um, is characterized by a model of direct and then perform and evaluate.  So the teacher tells the students what to do, the students then do it, and then they are evaluated.  But the link that’s missing is what happens between telling students or instructing them on what to do and their performance.  And what they want to do is reserve, the uh, the notion of assistance performance to be the definition of teaching.  So what it is that the teacher uh, is able to do to assist the student to do their very best on a given kind of task.  So, um it really puts the teacher right in the midst of the learning process.  So it’s sort of a Vagodskian notion of what can the child do with assistance as opposed to what he or she can do alone. 

(next question)
Um, ---- well I think, um,---- that, I think it’s real – I don’t know if I can answer the question quite that way, but I can talk about it in terms of how I think it applies. (interruption) Um, you know in our second language teaching, particularly as we’ve become more and more communicative, we’ve developed lots of kinds of student oriented activities—student centered activities—we’ve got a whole arsenal of communicative things for students to do in the class.  Um, a lot of times it seems we don’t give the students the assistance they need to actually be able to perform those tasks in a student centered environment where it seems to me a lot of times there isn’t enough assistance.  It’s – we’ve kind of taken student centeredness and then gone back to the direct, perform, evaluate uh sort of mode of teaching, so we tell the groups or the pairs what to do  and then somehow they are supposed to do it, so I think, you know we think like very simple things like modeling, demonstrating, um, you know say demonstrating the teacher and the student in front of the class, so demonstrating maybe with the class as one partner and the teacher as another so that you really assist students and it’s very clear to them what kind of thing they are supposed to do before they actually perform. 

(interruption)
I think that what I just said was going to be my answer to that one. (Laughs) So maybe we could just skip it.

Well, um, in the classroom data that I have looked at, um, what seems to be the case is that uhm through the progression of a teaching sequence if a test is part of that sequence, um, the knowledge tends to get kind of reduced into, sort of manageable components in the sense of something that can be quantified and so, as you progress from teaching to then reviewing before a test to the test itself and then reviewing after a test.  The knowledge seems to be reduced um, so that there is sort of uh, less, um, emotion expressed around it, uh, um, uh, less—fewer subtleties so that by the time you get to what happens after the test—actually what it seems like after the test is what’s less important—um, the knowledge becomes less important and what becomes more important seems to be from the students perspective um, how well they did on the test.  Like what kind of score they had and most of the interaction from the students seems to be geared toward where they fall on the pecking order.  Um, and uh, you know how did they fit—you know how well did they do compared to how well did everybody else do and you don’t see much evidence of real interest in actually learning the material after the fact.  Um, so you get this sort of uh, by the time you’re, you’re giving a test back, what seems to happen is the knowledge has been sort of reduced in minimized from the way it was originally presented and learned and then in addition you get the students who are dealing with that in terms of how did I do on the test.  So---

(Laughs) I did write about this at one time, right!?  Um, (big breath out) Let me see…
Well I think, um, you know it’s important when we think about, the, the, the way that we carry ourselves into the classroom to realize that we are carrying our culture.  Um, and that uh, the kinds of cultural assumptions in terms of what goes on in teaching are not necessarily the same in every classroom in the world.  Um, one of the cultural—very powerful cultural expectations in the United states is that students need to perform.  They, we, somehow  expect them to participate, uh, to speak, um, and to be uh in a sense on display, um, and where in some cultures, um, uh, it’s uh, more expected that you learn through observation and through listening.  Um, and so I think it’s it’s important to realize that maybe people, sometimes the students, come with a different expectation of what uh, um, what the appropriate role of the teacher and the learner are.  Um, another, uh, I think, um, uh, sometimes confusing dimention of this um that , um, teachers in the United states have a tendency to hide their authority.  It’s expressed in very covert ways, but in fact it’s still very much there and if you look at the details of the discourse you can see the teachers is – although they may be asking students for their imput and their opinions – actually are the ones making the decisions.  Um, so we have a tendency to kind of suppress our expression of authority, um, but nevertheless it it’s really there um, and so uh, I think there’s some cases where um, this can be uh, a kind of sort of cultural mismatch maybe between teacher and students. 

(next question)
Um…. I don’t think I could answer that one… I’m sorry. 

(next question)
Well, um, in the United States there is uh, uh, a basic sequence of classroom interaction.  It’s been characterized as the initiation response evaluation or it um, it in other cases the initiation response feedback – where it’s a three turn sequence.  The teacher—within each of these turns, there’s a lot of variation.  But the, but the basic pattern, and you can see it in virtually every classroom from preschool to graduate school classes, um where the teacher initiates in some fashion the student respond in some fashion – it can be one word up to a whole presentation – and the teacher is in the position of responding.  And so then what that does is it brings the turn back to the teacher.  So the teacher is very much in control of the whole uh, discourse sequence of a classroom lesson.  So you initiate but then when you reply then the turn goes back to you as the teacher.  Um, and yet, you can see in that that there is this expectation for the student  to respond.  We also do have a place for student initiation for raising hands and that sort of thing, um, uh, some students may come from school systems where, uh, there is not an expectation of raising ones hand (knocking sound in background) uh, to reply.  (Interruption)

Ok, well uh, in the United States, and actually I think in other countries as well,  most of the classroom discourse research has shown that uh, there is a fundamental, very basic three part sequence of teacher-student interaction.  And it’s, it’s a sequence that signals asymmetry—that signals I’m the authority person and you’re the students.  Um, the sequence has been called the initiation, reply, evaluation.  It’s also been called initiation- reply-feedback.  Um, and I think the second characterization tries to capture the notion that  that the third turn is not always an evaluative one.  Um, within the three turns, whether you call it IRE or IRF, uh there’s lots of variation in terms of what the initiation can be.  The response could be from one word to some kind of long presentation um, there’s lots of different… (Interruption)

Gees—what’s happening?  (laughs)

In classrooms in the United States, you can go from preschool up to graduate school levels, um classroom interaction – lots of it – tends to be characterized by uh fundamental three-part interactional sequence.  Um, the initiation, it’s been called the IRE which stands for Initiation- Reply- Evaluation.  And other accounts it’s called the IRF where the third turn is considered feedback.  And within each of these three uh, interactional slots there’s lots of variation, there are lots of different kinds of initiation moves.  Uh, lots of different lengths and types of student responses or reply moves um, and lots of different kinds of feedback or evaluation moves.  But it’s it nevertheless remains this sort of three part sequence.  And if you think about it, what happens with the evaluation or feedback move is then it becomes again the teacher’s turn.  Ok, so in the unmarked case you can go from initiation, reply, evaluation to another one to another one.  Now we do have places for uh, students to initiate um, but a, as all teachers know, some students are more likely to initiate than others.  WE also, Uh, I think one of the big cultural differences in this is what happens between the initiation and the reply move.  Ok, because how is it that the students come to speak? Do we call on them?  Do we, uh, ask a question and let anybody respond?  And what we know is that some students are likely to respond in that case and others are not.  Um, do we ask them to reply in chorus?  Uh, so where everybody responds together.  So in the United States, we tend um, to either to ask the students to raise their hands or we nominate them.  We seldom ask them to reply in chorus, unless we are in an audio-lingual class (laughs) Whereas in a lot of countries, the main way that students do reply is through chorusing.  And there is very little individual nomination and when there is, that may tend to follow the chorusing routines.  So, um, and um, I think it is also the case, um, there’s some data to show that at least in some cultures, there’s not an expectation of students ever raising their hands to speak. So um, you know, if a culture has, um a norm that is closer to learning through observation or learning through listening they’ll be less emphasis on raising your hand or speaking, um, through your own initiation. 

Well, I think if we think about um, the different kinds of lessons and activities that we use in our second language classrooms we realize that certain kinds of activities have similarities. There are also certain ones that maybe we tend to use again, and again and different teachers have different types that they prefer.  Um, but if you look at a single type of activity, um, I think you can really get insight into what is it that makes that particular kind of activity unique.  Um, and then you can begin to think… how does that one resemble other similar types of activities and then your research might go out to look at something similar and you can see what are the similarities and  and what are the differences.  Um, I can just give you an example from one of my thesis students research who looked at  as jigsaw activity, which um, had been something that I though, uh was something very worthwhile.  And not to say that her research found that it wasn’t worthwhile, but it didn’t – it wasn’t—it didn’t turn out the way that I expected it to.  Um, the students went through the actual jigsaw portion in a very perfunctory manner and they just sort of went through and said here’s my part, here’s your part and they didn’t actually get to talking about uh, it was a reading jigsaw—they didn’t get to really talking about it until they were finished with the task.  Um, and the other thing that was interesting about it was what it showed, um, about their reading skills.  Um, and uh, it it it seemed that their comprehension, this was a you know we talked earlier about assisted performance, about the idea of teachers really preparing the students um, and one of the things that showed was that um, the students really needed the teachers assistance in reading.  Um, that they tended to focus on uh the bold headings—or they focused on very specific examples but in some cases were kind of the things they talked about, uh, sort of illustrated that they were missing the big picture.  And it was, an example where, we had a student centered activity where there wasn’t adequate teacher preparation.  So and the teacher herself was the researcher so she was, felt comfortable critiquing what was going on. So.

And what she found in that, was that if she as the teacher um, took a more active role, that it made a big difference in their ability to interact with the reading and speak about the reading.  So….

Um, I was going to ask you not to ask that one! (laughs)
Did she tell you about the literacy question? 

Um, one of the things that I think is very interesting to look at um, is how we use written language in our classrooms.  Um, when we uh, engage in classroom activity, uh, we have usually some kind of written language that’s part of the interaction that’s very closely connected to the interaction.  We write on the board, we have worksheets, we have books, um, and usually the interaction in a classroom is connected—the spoken interaction is connected to this written language in some way.  So almost all lessons and activities in a classroom are what Heath, Shirley Bryce Heath in her “Ways with Words and uh, What no bedtime story means” pieces in the early 80’s called illiteracy event were spoken and written language are co-occuring or where some piece of written language is integral to the interactions an comprehension of the participants.  And um, we tend, I think, to think about literacy as somehow something separate from speaking  and speaking is somehow something separate from written language.  But in fact, if we look at what actually goes on in classrooms, there very closely tied to one another.  Um, and I think it’s it’s something we, we probably have a cultural assumption that literacy is separate from interaction. So as analysts, um, we tend to think this way, even our teacher training programs—we have courses on listening, speaking, reading and writing.  (laughs) Ok?  And sometimes we don’t have a culminating course that shows how all those need to be linked in actual instruction.  Um, one of the things that uh, I see happening in the the research, in the classroom data that I look at is that there’s a tendency for texts to have a very powerful influence on what it is that you are able to talk about.  Ok, so you come in and a lot of times either the teacher has an agenda or you have a chapter you are talking about, you have a set of exercises that you are going over and those are actually, the, they determine what it is you are allowed to, what topics are allowed to be talked about.  And in the case of students and a lot of times it’s the actual words on the page that they are able to say.  Um, but some, in, in, in a lot of different activities, uh, what they say isn’t in relation to the actual content of the cirriculum doesn’t go very much beyond that.  Um, so I think that’s one of the ways um.  Another is, um I’ve been looking at how teachers explanations of written language differ from that written language.  And a lot of times as teachers we think that we are making something that’s written clearer, but our explanations are so very different from what’s written on the page that’s it’s difficult for students to equate the spoke explanation with what’s actually written on the page.  Um, and so you can see, uh in in examples of some classroom discourse where they’ll be an explanation and the teacher has tried to make it much simpler and so the students are saying, “So what is it?” (laugh) so you can see that sometimes there’s actually a more confusion created.  So thinking about how our spoken language relates to uh, the written language  that sometimes we try to explicate. 

Um, I actually do have a couple of soapbox issues now that you mention it….

Um, one of them, uh relates to second language reading instruction.  I think we have come up with, we have wonderful kinds of reading activities to facilitate uh our students reading instruction.  And sometimes I think we’ve been so good at it, uh, that we have um, allowed our students almost not to read.  That (laughs) um, that we we have facilitated them and we have assisted them to such an extent we do such a good job of background knowledge, um, with helping them you know bring their prior knowledge to bear, um, but sometimes they don’t actually have to grapple with the the actual words on the page, and I think that in our reading—what I’d like to see in our reading instruction is that we really think about how to sort of help our students really grapple with the actual text itself. 

Um, and my other soapbox issue is uh, has to do with the integration of skills in second language teaching.  Um, I think we have as I said, our our teacher training programs tend to have separate emphasis on the different skills – listening, speaking, reading, and writing, um. Research and applied linguistics tends to focus on spoken language or written language um.  The fundamentals of communicative language teaching uh, suggests that uh, development of one skill supports development of another.  And we know, that, I mean, one of the driving forces of communicative language teaching is that in in the real world, we use listening, speaking, reading, writing in an integrated fashion all the time.  And so, I, I’d like us to think about um how we can in both our teacher training  and our teaching practice, uh, maybe be more intentional about how uh, we can fit, fit, the the four skills together in a natural interwoven way that um, happens beyond the classroom. 

(next question)
Um, well I had asked about the literacy, so that uh,…..

(discussion about questions… .literacy, SLA, ….)

Well, in um, in my work with developmental, uh, second language learners uh, at my institution, um I have, c- I have- it’s caused me to really rethink my philosophy of what’s important in language teaching. And I have taught a number of students who have spent um, quite a few years in the public school system with uh, little if any teaching, that focused on form.  And I had been of the opinion that, with, six years or in some cases 10 years of education, um, in an English language setting, that a focus on form, sort of instruction would not be necessary.  And it turns out that I’ve just seen so many students that have convinced me that that’s just not true.  And that we need to figure out ways, I’m not talking about a return to grammar translation or audio-lingual method, uh, but we do need to , um, figure out ways to incorporate focus on form I think with our immigrant English language learners still within a meaningful language teaching context.