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

Research Outbound: Personal and Professional Insights

Posted: June 30th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: academia, multilingualism, research | No Comments »

My one month stay in Hamburg is coming to a close. What a full month it has been! I had both personal and professional goals for this trip. Here are a few of insights.

Personal: I wanted to get to know Germany as it is now. Germany has changed so much since I last stayed here for an extended time. This shouldn’t surprise me, but just as my parents spoke of a Germany that was radically different from the one I encountered in my first stay as an adult; so is the Germany of now different from the Germany from when I was 18. I have caught many of the changes in my visits over the years, but the diversity I see in the city now more closely resembles the diversity in Calgary.

I wanted to improve my German. From a language standpoint, I still marvel at what I know and what I don’t know. Some conversations flow smoothly and others hiccup on an ill-chosen word or a lapse in recall of a word I should know. I have expanded by vocabulary with regards to academic language, but similarities across words in similar categories reminds me of a joke my Dad used to tell: cabbage, carriage, garbage – what’s the difference? For me it is: Antrag, Vortrag, Beitrag. I have to stop and think before I use each word that I have chosen the right one! I watch non-native speakers of English deliver talks in English, while I am still frightened of my first talk in German. It still hasn’t happened since talks in English are valued here, but one day I will convince someone to let me and then the fun will begin.

Professional: Writing up my reports for this trip were a chance to put together a list of activities I intended to do and didn’t, intended to and did, and didn’t expect to do, but did. I tried to be open to opportunities that arose and as a result, I met with four professors I hadn’t anticipated meeting, took in two talks I hadn’t planned, and encountered more documents than I had ever envisioned when I proposed a document analysis.

I hope to return again, soon, to Hamburg. As I have mentioned to many whom I have seen, one goal of this trip was learning the right questions to ask. So, when I return, I would like to visit a preparation class (Internationale Vorbereitungsklasse), guest/co-teach, and conduct a workshop on research methodology for graduate students. On a personal level, I hope to bring along a colleague or family member so they too can see how interesting Hamburg and the University of Hamburg are.


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 http://www.issotl.com/issotl15/node/172. I will update this blog with a link to the program when it is available. Look for an upcoming article as well.


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!

 


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.


“Are you a writer?” or 5 things I have learned about writing

Posted: September 11th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: academia, research, writing | No Comments »

The other day I was discussing a popular novel with an acquaintance and she asked me “are you a writer?” This question took me aback in the context of discussing fiction. No, I don’t write fiction, but yes, I do write as a part of what I do for a living. In fact, this spring I taught a course on Writing Educational Research. In true teacher fashion, I learned as much as my students. Or rather, in discussing writing I realized some of the things about writing I have learned along the way. (My apologies to past English teachers/professors of mine if you find yourself saying “I taught you that”. Honestly, like most students, I had to discover some things myself: the hard way). These observations pertain primarily to academic writing, the genre I work in, as interpreted by APA writing and referencing style.

1. Speaking of the American Psychological Association (APA),  “APA 6th” is more than merely a way of writing out in-text citations and references. While I used to worry about the distinction between sentence and title case in book and journal titles, I now focus on economy of language. That is to say, how can I say what I want in the fewest words possible. Try that again: Be direct because long sentences confuse readers. Contrary to popular belief, academic writing is meant to be clear, not confusing. Terminology and jargon should be explained. Lengthy phrases should be rewritten. The passive should be avoided. Oops, I mean, explain terminology and jargon, rewrite lengthy phrases and write in the active voice. Writing in APA style means writing with effectiveness and parsimony.

2. Learn to embrace the pronoun “I”. Reading a sentence like “the researcher surveyed 100 students regarding their opinion of what makes a good teacher” sounds like you are having an “out of body” experience or not entirely confident about your work if indeed YOU ARE THE RESEARCHER. I encourage my students to own up to what they have done, primarily in the methodology section of their papers. Now, I understand where the caution comes in. The use of “I” in the literature review section could lead to espousing personal opinions such as “I believe every student should have a university instructor who has taught at the K-12 level”. That’s interesting, but do you have anything to back up that claim? If so, then lead with that: “Studies show that students are more satisfied with university instructors who have K-12 teaching experience (insert citations here)”. For further reading on this topic, I recommend reading Timothy McAdoo’s post of the use of the first person in APA style. I have found the use of the pronoun “I” facilitates stronger, clearer writing.

3. Learn the difference between critical analytic writing and descriptive writing. The purpose of academic writing is to persuade the reader that your point is significant and well thought out. You need to argue this in a way that leads the reader to the same conclusion: “yes, I agree, why hadn’t I thought of this before!”

4. End each paragraph with your own thoughts. Tell the reader why the points you mentioned are important and what they add to your main point. For example:

Recently I wrote the following in a first draft:

Two innovative practices serve to reconcile competing discourses:team teaching and translanguaging. Team teaching in this context is understood to be the teaching of two classrooms of students by two teachers who both remain present in the classroom. Translanguaging is defined as an “instructional strategy that integrates and reflects bilingual usage” (Cummins, 2014, p. 14).

After I edited it and strengthened it, it read:

Two innovative practices serve to reconcile competing discourses: team teaching and translanguaging. Team teaching in this context is understood to be the teaching of two classrooms of students by two teachers who both remain present in the classroom. Translanguaging is defined as an “instructional strategy that integrates and reflects bilingual usage” (Cummins, 2014, p. 14). Both practices are currently found in bilingual education in North America, although their role in reconciling competing discourses is newly emerging.

The addition of the final sentence brings the reader back to how the knowledge of these two definitions will help him/her to understand how these concepts impact the study I conducted.

5. Making writing a social process mitigates the pitfalls of an isolated practice. The image of the writer sitting in an office typing for hours on end is just one way to understanding the writing process. Collaboration can include co-writing (either synchronous or asynchronous); mutual editing (I will find your commas if you find my spelling mistakes); mutual support (meeting over coffee to discuss whether each person is meeting their writing goals and encouraging one another through writing challenges); solicited advice (asking respected others for recommendations of suitable journals, sources, or solutions to writing challenges).  Wendy Belcher, in her book Writing Your Journal Article in Twelve Weeks recommends putting your commitment to yourself and other in writing, to solidify the commitment. All or some of these activities can support the writing process from idea to publication.

For me, moving forward as a writer means embracing the process as a continual learning experience, sometimes enjoying it and other times needing the courage to try and fail and try again. Documenting these recent insights facilitate my writing and hopefully the writing of others as well.

 


Formative assessment in online graduate classes

Posted: June 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: research, teaching | No Comments »

In my teaching practice, I instruct a number of online graduate classes a year. With the first course I instructed, I began in the way of most beginner teachers: “teach as you were taught”. After the first course, I reflected upon what worked well and what I felt could be improved. One aspect of online graduate courses that appeared to be missing was formative assessment. In subsequent classes, I looked at how to build formative assessment into the course.

1. I began by requiring students to provide drafts of final reports by a given deadline. This proved popular. Without the deadline, students rarely took up the general offer to have me read over anything they had written and if they did it was usually a small snippet of their writing or very focused questions. What was missing was a chance to read how the student wrote a longer piece. Once I integrated drafts on a deadline, I was able to see how the student wrote: the line of argumentation, use of citations and practical issues such as formatting and APA style. I commented and gave suggested and expected to see a progression from the draft to the final paper.

2. At the same time, I implemented peer editing. Students in online courses are often asked to comment on other student’s posts and there is a danger of “cheerleading” (e.g., “I really liked what you wrote about. . . “) In the Canadian context, this seems to be heightened by our reluctance to criticize. In the first course I implemented peer feedback on writing, all students posted their work and were asked to choose two other pieces of posted work to comment on. This turned out to be problematic. Students didn’t know how far to go in their editing and the results were superficial for the most part.

3. What appeared to be missing was a relationship among the students that would facilitate closer reading of one another’s work, so in the next course I instituted peer editing groups. Groups of three to five students were assigned to work with one another throughout the whole course, beginning with brainstorming, researching and outlining and culminating with reading and commenting on each other’s drafts. Creating these groups allowed the students to focus only on reading and editing a small number of pieces and since they were working together over the duration of the course, they built up relationships of trust. The resulting final papers, compared to the drafts, were outstanding and the improvement was clearly based on more than my comments on their drafts.

4. An added benefit of formative assessment was the privilege of reading each paper twice. Some colleagues have asked me if it isn’t so much extra work for me to read a draft that goes ungraded and then have all of the grading at the end of the course. I always answer that the grading is made so much more manageable by the fact that I am acquainted with the topic. In addition, I feel that the comments that I make on the final paper are more valuable. I no longer feel compelled to comment on minutiae that would only help the student if s/he were intending to work up the paper for publishing, since s/he would never be writing (or possibly even looking at) this paper again. Instead I can give feedback on the work that was done in light of my students’ learning goals and the degree to which they were able to improve the paper over time.

5. My latest challenge has been to improve the feedback I give in the form of comments. I recently read “Embedded Formative Assessment” by Dylan Wiliam  and have taken to hear the research on “feedback that moves learning forward”. I have altered the way I include comments and grades, by separating them physically so that the students read the comments first and then look up their grade in a different part of the online platform. I do not know if this will have the desired effect or just annoy students, but I will be asked the students at the end of this semester if it was effective. I am also trying to limit my comments to the scoring rubric only or, if I do comment on something outside of the rubric, to label it as such and only include it if it is part of the upcoming assignment’s rubric.

Improving formative assessment in online graduate classes will continue to be a goal of mine for improving my teaching practice. Fortunately, successes are almost immediately perceived and as such, the motivation to continue this work remains high.