Research interests:
bilingualism, bilingual education, heritage language learning, identity, motivation

German bilingual high school visit

Posted: June 22nd, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism, research, teaching | No Comments »

Yesterday I visited a German Gymnasium (academic high school) that offers a German-English bilingual program. It was difficult to arrange because the school year is drawing to a close, but I am grateful to Robin Kiso at the Helene-Lange-Gymnasium for letting me visit. To make it more challenging, my visit occurred just as a storm was rolling through Hamburg and I am thankful the guesthouse provides an umbrella or I would have been soaked upon arrival.

The class I visited was German history, taught in English. This is interesting from the outset since Alberta Bilingual Schools switched away from teaching Social Studies in German because of the difficulty of terminology and the lack of resources. Herr Kiso remarks that terminology is sometimes an issue, but he will use the German terms when it makes sense. Regarding resources, bilingual programs are now common enough in German that publishers are creating specific resources, so I observed that the students had textbooks to accompany their lessons. However, Herr Kiso remarked that he often used other resources, which was evident from his lesson, where he used One Note software and an LCD projection set up to bring visual elements to his lesson. When asked, he noted that he uses technology more than most teachers, which has also been my observation in other schools. The students themselves don’t have access to a computer in the classroom and a sign in the hallway indicated that cell phones should be stowed away and unseen.

The lesson on the first German nation-state started with a picture prompt of the Reichstag. The German educational system values the ability for students to express themselves verbally and that was evident from the time the students spent discussing what they felt the building’s architecture represented, first with a partner and then as a whole class. Since this was a double class, they easily spent 30 minutes expressing their opinions in English. The students are very strong and were able to use precise vocabulary such as “intimidating”, “shows pride”, “minimalist”. Herr Kiso made a point of giving a thumbs up to effective use of vocabulary and reusing the same terms when he spoke to reinforce their meaning. These are all points I tell my students about building academic language skills in the second language classroom. The lesson further involved opportunities to make linkages between students’ current knowledge and opinions about democracy with facts about the first nation-state, which allowed them to draw conclusions about how democratic or non-democratic it was and how aspects of that government and society led to a later constitution that Hitler was able to exploit when he got into power.

Overall, the visit was very interesting. It differed from other school visits I have made in that the link between content and language theory was strongly exhibited in practice and I look forward to another opportunity to visit this school and others in future research visits.

Update: International Symposium on Bilingualism 11 Limerick, Ireland

Posted: June 20th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, Uncategorized | No Comments »

As an update to my post from last week, I have returned from my conference and networking trip to Ireland. Here are a few highlights

  1. I was able to meet with someone from the Study Abroad office and learn about the structure of their education program and international programs. The challenges are similar – their students are in a fixed program and it would take some creative thinking to accommodate an international experience such as Teaching Across Borders (TAB). However, I don’t see this as a stop sign, rather than a time to yield and reflect.
  2. I presented on some initial research on blogging, as a preparation for future research on the use of the Ning blog for reflection during the TAB program.
  3. I networked with several scholars in applied and educational linguistics.
    1. I learned that my research on the linguistic landscape of the classroom is being read by graduate students at a university in Israel.
    2. I reconnected with Aiofe Lenihan, the person who had originally said “You should come to Limerick some day” and learned about her research on Facebook and how it overlaps with mine.
    3. I discussed future research ideas with Francis Hult, who was the external examiner on my dissertation committee and the person who introduced me to nexus analsysis and linguistic landscape analysis.
    4. I learned that Bernard Spolsky is doing a series on language policy management in former colonies. His work on Brazil makes a helpful addition to the body of work that colleagues and I are looking at in our comparative study on conceptualizations of diversity between Canada and Brazil.
  4. On top of all of this, I had a chance to experience Limerick. The conference providers arranged Irish dancers at the Monday evening BBQ, I toured the town and King John’s castle, and enoyed the friendly hospitality of the local people.

It was a full and rewarding trip. I look forward to traveling to Ireland again some day with more time to see the countryside.

Visiting Professor – Faculty of Education, University of Hamburg

Posted: June 9th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, multilingualism, research | No Comments »

For the month of June I have the above title. With funding from the Werklund School of Education, Office of Research and the University of Calgary’s Office of Internationalization, I have embarked upon this short research stay with a few flexible goals in mind:

  1. get to know the people and place of the university, the faculty and the structure of higher education, in particular, pre-service teacher education in Hamburg and in Germany
  2. hold some preliminary meetings and document analysis to see if a larger comparative project examining how Canada and Germany prepare teachers for refugee education
  3.  deliver two talks
    1. one on linguistic diversity in education in Canada
    2. one on the teaching across borders program and how its design is informed by research
  4. take a trip to Limerick, Ireland to attend and present at the International Symposium on Bilingualism and to network with scholars in applied and educational linguistics

Ok, this is starting to look like more than a few goals. There are also the future goals, such as considering whether to suggest Limerick as a future TAB placement or making connections for a research agreement with Uni Hamburg.

What can I share from my first full week in Hamburg:

  1. June is indeed a lovely time to come, the university is well-suited a short walk from parks and the Alster. I have been warmly welcomed, provided with an office and access to printers, etc. A colleague has explained aspects of the train system I can’t figure out from the internet and the Guesthouse is an amazing gathering place for visiting scholars and their families.
  2. a meeting with school officials was arranged and they spent an hour with me. I learned so much about the deliberate efforts to prepare teachers and set up a strong response to the wave of refugees that have come, recognizing the unique need to deal at times with illiteracy, trauma and interupted schooling.
  3. the talks are still to come, but I attended one and was delighted by the interest students showed in the topic
  4. the trip to Limerick is on Sunday and the talk for Monday is prepared. Already I have a mental list of talks to attend and people to connect with.

The value of a trip like this is that people learn so much more in person than from afar and the connections they can make are valuable for any number of future endeavours. This is not my first time in Germany, but this is my first trip as a visiting scholar and my first residence abroad since I was 18. Despite the challenges of getting ready to go and making arrangements both professional and personal for while I am gone, I am optimistic that this trip will be worth the effort.

Research update: Formative feedback research

Posted: May 11th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, teaching | 1 Comment »

In November 2015, I posted about two new research projects and promised an update as they progressed. Here is the update on one of them:

“Investigation of Students’ Receptivity and Use of Formative Feedback in Online Graduate Research Courses” – This is a collaboration with my colleague Dr. Man-Wai Chu and two research assistants Katie Crossman and Brianna Hilman. Our objective was to investigate how students react when peers and the instructor provide feedback to drafts of writing in a graduate course. In addition, we will explore whether they actually use this feedback in their final drafts.

We gathered data from one course that I taught in which students gave each other feedback on their writing for the course. They worked in groups of four so three peers looked at each draft and then I weighted in. Nine students consented to us using their papers as data so it was quite the task for Katie and Brianna to read and categorize each type of feedback and then look at the final versions of each paper of two assignments to see if the students actually used the feedback.

What did we discover? Students valued their peers’feedback almost as much as mine as judged by the amount of each type their took up. We also discovered an important distinction: feedback can be surface-level (fixing typos, etc.), meaning-level (referring to ways to improve the content of the writing) and rhetorical (not requiring any changes, but encouraging or discussing the content). These distinctions helped us look at why students do or do not take up feedback and also revealed the peers are more likely to give surface-level feedback, which is necessary and saves the instructor from having to do it, but does not improve the writing as much as meaning-level feedback. It also leaves the question as to how much rhetorical feedback is ideal and how much is too much, since there is nothing the student is required or asked to do after they read it.

We assumed that if students got valuable feedback they would use it, but that was only true about 80% of the time. This leaves us wondering how to improve the uptake of the feedback that is given. Is it just a factor of time or are students often confused by the feedback they receive? We dove more into the literature and discovered work that suggests students need to be trained to give valuable feedback as well as trained in how to take it up. I did some training in the course, but I also made the assumption that graduate students know how to give it and then what to do with it when they get it. That assumption is not unique to me, so I think one valuable aspect that is coming from this research is the recommendation that training be more explicit and embedded in courses where students are expected to both give and receive feedback.

If you want to here more, we will be presenting at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) conference in Calgary in October I will update this blog with a link to the program when it is available. Look for an upcoming article as well.


Posted: March 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, writing | 1 Comment »

I have written before about the “long road to publication” and “five things I have learned about writing”, but perhaps one of the hardest lessons I have learned to date is “Reviewer #2 is always right”.

There are many internet memes about the notorious Reviewer #2, the nemesis of the would-be author, who seems to wilfully misunderstand the argument of the article, require citations of literature that are irrelevant or suggest numerous edits while warning of the word limit. We have all had “that” reviewer and oddly, it is often the second reviewer in the list.

We are mentored not to take the comments personally: do the work, write a document to accompany the changes, and provide a rationale as to why or why they were not addressed. There is a form a blind dialogue that occurs as this document is mediated by the editor to the reviewers, to keep the identities of both parties on either side a secret.

We have all (except for the newest among us) been a reviewer. It is part of the service we render to the academy. Yet, I would hope that we keep our own experience with “reviewer #2” in mind when we write our responses. I would hope that we strive to explain ourselves with respect for the person who will be receiving the comments, writing as though that person were sitting across the table from us.

Despite my previous experience with reviewers and being a reviewer, I was shocked and unprepared for a recent article submission experience a colleague and I had. We submitted an article to a journal we had chosen based on considerable research into the aims and scope and a look at sample articles on similar topics. We sent a query to the editor as to the suitability of our article based on an abstract and it was received favorably. So, we sent off our manuscript and were delighted when we received a response of “accept with revisions”. There was a considerable list of desired revisions, but we were asked to submit within 30 days, which gave us hope that a publication was forthcoming. We addressed all of the concerns from two reviews in a table format and highlighted them in the revised article for easy of reading. The response from reviewer # 1 came quickly. A few small changes were required. We did those and awaited reviewer #2. Approximately one week later we heard from the editor that reviewer #2 felt we hadn’t addressed the changes and therefore the recommendation was “rejection”.

What? That’s it? We were stunned. We grieved, we complained, we regrouped. We asked our colleagues for advice. Although many had never heard of such a turn of events, a few had. We wrote the editor for an explanation and what we learned was that she had to guard her relationship with her reviewers such that there would be no recourse, no third reviewer, no editorial override. If Reviewer #2 said “rejected!”, there was nothing to do, but lick our wounds and more on.

This incident is too fresh for me to convey all of the learning that will come from it, but for the time being I am reminded that editors value their reviewers and if they have to pick sides, it will be the side of the reviewer. As someone who reviews as well, I in turn, need to have the humility to realize the work and effort authors put into their work and their revisions and remain aware of the great responsibility the role carries. Meanwhile, my co-author and I have resubmitted to a different journal. The waiting game begins again.

Educational Responses to Diversity in Brazil and Canada: Initial Thoughts

Posted: January 7th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: multilingualism, research | No Comments »

A January cold streak sounds like an excellent time to blog about a research trip to sunny, warm Brazil. A colleague of mine is heading up a comparative study of educational responses to diversity in Brazil and Canada. We are working with colleagues in Brasilia and Goiania. For the first phase of the research, we traveled to Brazil in November 2016. There we were a part of a symposium on the topic. Colleagues from Brazil and we, as guests from Canada, presented on perspectives on educational responses to diversity in our respective countries.

As a Canadian with no previous ties to Brazil, I learned a great deal. I discovered an interesting, rich and troubled history of slavery, migration and immigration that has been dealt with over the years with numerous policies that have not consistently been applied in practice. Yet, there were very interesting examples of application that Canada can learn from. For example, we met with someone from the Ministry of Education who works in Indigenous education. She told us about university programs that train Indigenous students to become teachers in Indigenous schools. I listened with great interest since I am involved with a program that targets Indigenous students to become teachers, but we are facing the challenge of finding Indigenous students who have the qualifications to enter the program and reaching adequate numbers of potential students. I am eager to read the transcripts and translation of the recording, since my Portuguese is minimal and our informal interpreter was doing his best to keep up.  This example alone intrigues me to learn more about their pre-service teacher education.

While we were in Goiania, we were able to hold focus groups with professors, graduate students and undergraduate students. At present, the transcripts are being translated. We presented the participants with a number of examples from the Canadian context and asked their opinions as to whether there are similar situations in Brazil, how such a situation might be handled in Brazil and what we could learn from Brazilian responses.

Looking forward, we will begin writing about our initial research with our colleagues, which in and of itself should prove an interesting challenge in light of the differences in language and academic culture, but we also anticipate bringing a few of those colleagues to Canada for a similar symposium to that which we held in Goiania.

So, beyond providing a great break from the November doldrums, this trip resulted into an interesting and potentially very productive research project. Stay tuned.


Writing is like doing a jigsaw puzzle

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, writing | 1 Comment »

A conversation in the hallway created the spark for this blog post. A colleague of mine mentioned that she thinks of doing a jigsaw puzzle as a metaphor for writing. Together we fleshed out a more complete metaphor.Here is how it goes:

  1. The edges – some people love doing the edges of a puzzle. The straight lines provide structure that allows the puzzler to know everything is falling into place. The same goes for writing – some people like the beginning. They outline their argument and organize the data so that they know they can begin and those steps are in themselves a beginning. However, some people leave parts of the border unfinished because they know that straight edges are not always obvious and that searching for them can be frustrating or unfruitful. It is better to wait until part of the puzzle is done and the edges surface. In the same way, some writers leave the outline in a rough form, knowing that the process of writing will inform the structure of the paper. The original outline sometimes gets reordered, in the same way one sometimes ends up moving a large chunk of border to where it fits better.
  2. The middle – while I have never heard anyone say they love the middle of the puzzle, I have encountered those who love taking on the most challenging part – sky, for example. They notice the subtle differences and enjoy the challenge of trying to make pieces fit based on their shape. These people are similar to those who relish the argument or discussion section of the paper because they like to make sense of data or big ideas that surface in the writing. However, just as some puzzlers get frustrated and leave the toughest parts for last, some writers try around the discussion and conclusions in an attempt to get as much structured or straightforward writing done first. That would be me!
  3. The end – someone is always holding on to a piece of the puzzle in order to be the one who puts in the last piece. With great satisfaction it is placed and the final work admired. Most writers gets a great sense of satisfaction in completing an article, although I haven’t seen anyone argue over who gets to write the last edits or even less, format the article for submission. (These people must exist). There are also those puzzlers who, as soon as the puzzle is done, mourn its completion. They wish they could prolong the enjoyment that comes with doing a jigsaw puzzle. The completion of an article can have the same effect. The submission may signal the end of a project, a collaboration, a relationship with the participants

… until the revise and resubmit comes back!


Curriculum development: A learning curve

Posted: January 18th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: academia, service, teaching | No Comments »

This past semester I was tasked with curriculum development: taking two face-to-face undergraduate courses and adapting them for online instruction. One was an introductory course on literacy that had inquiry groups as a part of the structure. The other was a course on interdisciplinary learning which revolved around a large unit plan project.

In some ways I felt well-prepared: I have previously taught a number of online graduate courses and I had previously taught the literacy course face-to-face. This previous experience was helpful in providing me with familiarity with the course content (in the one case) and online pedagogy, which is somewhat transferable from the graduate to undergraduate level. I started with the assumptions that it is possible to adapt these courses such that they meet the same learning objectives and have the same degree of rigour as their counterparts. I knew that some of my students would have connectivity challenges (some because they lived rurally, others because they were on international placements) and I had to wrestle with planning the synchronous online sessions at a time that met the waking hours of several times zones, but those problems were foreseeable, but not predictable, so I did my best to plan for them, but knew I needed to be flexible and adaptable when problems arose.

I also had the luxury of planning time, so I was able to do a number of things in the summer that made the course design and execution easier. I contacted past instructors of the course I had not taught before to discuss with them the successes and challenges they had had and to ask them to envision teaching the course online. This proved helpful for envisioning the course, but also resulted in collegial connections which I benefited from while teaching. I contacted the Teaching and Learning Office of my university and arranged for a tutorial on producing screen capture video. Having someone walk me though new software is my preferred method of digital learning and from there I was able to create several videos during the semester.

The test of curriculum development is in the running of the course. Looking back, I would say that the planning I did paid off. There were however, unanticipated problems that stemmed from assumptions the students and I had that didn’t match. In the case of one course, the second year students viewed online learning as a self-paced correspondence course and, in the first two weeks, oriented themselves toward completing the assignments, not co-constructing knowledge among peers, as was my assumption. Although I had placed information and expectations into the discussion board of the learning management system (LMS), they had gone straight to the content section and grabbed the course outline only. That had been sufficient in their previous uses of the LMS in their first year face-to-face courses, but I had not anticipated it as our online graduate students are well-versed in online learning after the initial course. It took repeated messaging by both of their online instructors in the first two weeks to orient them toward the discussion board. Lesson learned: the expectation of co-construction of knowledge in the discussion board needs to be communicated in advance of the course (and opportunity we had as we had met with them in the summer). Students in both courses struggled with expectations around what to write in the discussion board. The temptation to write at the level of encouragement, rather than critique was strong. Lesson learned: my colleague David Scott blogged about what makes an educationally valuable  academic discussion board post and I shared that with the students.

Having adapted these two courses and taught them both this fall, I look forward to the opportunity to teach them again, improve upon them and expand my repertoire as an online instructor. I will be taking my lessons learned and including them in the preparatory workshops we have when we meet the students the summer before the courses.

Two new research projects!

Posted: November 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: research | No Comments »

I am embarking upon two new research projects:

“Reflective Writing Models for Sojourn Preparation and Debriefing” –  with Dr. Colleen Kawalilak and Dr. Nancy Arthur. This research collaboration with two experienced researchers is funded by a grant from the Werklund School of Education’s Research Office. We will explore how reflective writing can be used in the preparation and debriefing sessions for students in our Teaching Across Borders program. We start this fall with an intensive writing retreat in which we will explore models of reflective writing and create a hybrid version that best suits our purposes which we will then use with the returning Teaching Across Borders students in January. We will then revisit our model, refine it and use it again with the students who will prepare in the summer for a Fall 2016 departure. This collaboration brings together the fields of language learning, adult learning and counseling psychology. Our product will be a working paper and an application for further research.

“Investigation of Students’ Receptivity and Use of Formative Feedback in Online Graduate Research Courses” – with soon-to-be Dr. Man-Wai Chu. This Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant from the Werklund School of Education’s Teaching and Learning Office allows us to investigate how students react when peers and the instructor provide feedback to drafts of writing in a graduate course. In addition, we will explore whether they actually use this feedback in their final drafts. This research will be interesting to all instructors who use formative feedback loops in courses where the feedback is subjective.

Stay tuned for updates to both of these projects on this blog.

Job searched and found

Posted: August 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: academia, Ph.D. journey, Uncategorized | No Comments »

One of my first posts to this blog was about my job search:

“Anticipating the completion of my Ph.D. this academic year, I have been responding to job postings for Assistant Professor (Tenure Track) positions. This has involved the creation of a teaching and researching portfolio of quite some length. Online resources such as youtube videos from university HR departments and sample Statements of Research Experience and Statements of Teaching Philosophy have been insightful as to ways others have found of expressing what they do and why, as well as what employers look for and why. None of this replaces in-person mentorship for which I am extremely grateful to several professors who have been willing to read over my writing and provide me with constructive feedback. The job market for professorial positions is competitive and despite preparations for success, one must somehow also prepare for rejection. I am grateful to those university personnel who take the time to update applicants on the status of one’s application.  Wish me luck!” January 16, 2012

Looking back at this post two things stand out:

1. Oh boy, if I had only known how long it would take!

2. Why didn’t I add hyperlinks to make the post more useful to the reader?

In January 2012, I had just begun to write up my PhD research results into a dissertation. I kept myself to a tight timeline and encourage (nagged) my readers to do the same. As a result, I defended in August of that year and crossed the stage in November. With a PhD in the pipeline, I began that fall as a sessional instructor at the University of Calgary. From December 2011 – December 2014, I sent out job applications for any Assistant Professor and Instructor positions within Canada that I felt qualified for, some in German departments, but mostly in Education faculties. I even sent out two Post-Doc applications. The job applications resulted in three interviews. The first was July 2013, 18 months after I had started applying for positions. Receiving this interview taught me that there was no point in applying for general education positions or any that I was only remotely qualified for. It was a position that closely fit my qualifications that netted me attention. The second interview was for my dream job (on paper, didn’t get to find out for real). The experience was also valuable because I was able to visit a university I only knew by reputation, affording me the thrill of meeting some of my heroes, while also casting the institution in a more realistic light. The third interview was the charm. I was offered the position I now hold: Instructor in an education faculty with an administrative position that draws upon my international research experience and ties in nicely with my work in teacher education. Looking back, three years as a sessional instructor seems like a long time, but as I knew even back in 2012, there aren’t enough positions for all of the wonderful people out there who are qualified, interested and worthy. Still, on one hand, while I wish I had spared myself applying for those positions that weren’t a perfect match, on the other hand, I know that each application and interview was a step toward that one that proved successful and the one in which I believe I will be happiest in.

So, to make up for the lack of hyperlinks in the original post, here are some resources and tips based on what I found helpful in my job search as well as my experience on a hiring committee:

1. The cover letter is the most important item in your package. Taylor it to the job advertisement specifically addressing how you fit what they are asking for. All of the other items may just be glanced at, but if you point out one item in your package that is specifically relevant to the job, it will get more attention if you highlight it in your cover letter. For tips on this and all matters academic job related, visit You can find out why your cover letter sucks and how to stop acting like a grad student.

2. If you are asked to provide a portfolio, put together one document with samples of your best work, rather than a collection of separate documents. I modeled the one I used to land the prestigious university interview after one I found online where someone was applying for tenure. I introduced each section with a brief explanation of what it showed about my skills, relating it back to the job advertisement.

3. Read up (or watch) all you can about academic interviews and take advantage of one of those how to eat properly dinners your university might offer. Going from the free food diet of grad school to the fine dining of (some) academic interviews can quite a challenge. Don’t forget to practice answering those typical academic interview questions out loud! You will be glad you did.

There are a great many tips out there, some useful and some not. Take these for what they are worth and good luck!