When I was a kid, I remember thinking "I'll fight you with my bare hands!" meant that your hands were strong like a bear. Anyway, my four-year-old son came up to me the other day and vowed to fight me with his bare hands and I remembered how I understood this phrase as a kid:
Be careful out there!
Spelling mistakes used to bother me a lot and get under my skin, but now I just try to see the humor in it and remind students to re-read their papers slowly. Here is my stock advice that is programmed by a macro to populate a Word comment bubble:
Please spellcheck your essay before submitting it. Try to read through your document slowly by using your finger or the eraser-side of a pencil to slow down your reading. This will help you read more slowly and catch mistakes.
Below is an old cartoon I made a couple years ago based on a typo I found in set of chess instructions. I was so tickled by the image of the shrimp's cousin scuttling across a chess board that I simply had to draw it. I tried to capture a look of defiance on the prawn's face, as if to say, "No, I'm not moving back. Haven't you read the rules?"
Still, I'm thankful for inadvertently funny spelling errors. Without them, grading would be made a little less funny (very easy to do that), and I would never think thoughts like this:
Bonus: A story about my first encounter with a prawn!
A colleague in Japan made a request for tips on teaching the "w" sound, so I made the following video:
This issue doesn't just affect Japanese students. I've noticed it with Koreans, Chinese, and even sometimes Arabic speakers. In the video, and in this post, though, I focus on Japanese students, but the principles are likely at work with other students as well.
With /w/, you likely notice students make mistakes with only certain words, right? Since Japanese has /w/ in words like "watashi" and "wakaranai", or loan words like "week" (ゴールデンウィーク), it might be a matter of a cross-linguistic interference (i.e. they don't realize the "w" sound in Japanese is not the same as the /w/ in English).
With pronouncing [w], I would try to make them aware of what they already know how to do (pronounce [w] at the beginning of words like "water," "why," and "week") and use it as a springboard to what they don't know.
To make matters more complicated, though, you must get them to realize that the /w/ in English is always rounded. They're probably messing it up because in Japanese, the sound they think is like the English "w" only sounds like it (in Japanese, they don't round their lips when pronouncing "watashi" or "wakaranai"). That's the trouble with using your first language to understand a second: They think, "Oh yeah, the 'w' sound--like in the word 'watashi,'" but the problem is that sound isn't the same as the English "w". They then carry over those assumptions into other English words, and while you need not round the w in words like "water", "why", and "which," (i.e. English speakers will probably still understand you), you cannot avoid rounding in words that start with a long and short "oo" sound (would, woo, woman). Not rounding makes them sound like "ould," "oo" and "ooman."
Does that make sense?
It's the same problem as an American thinking the "r" in Japanese is the same as the "r" in English. They are clearly totally different (in Japanese, it's a flap, and in English, it's an approximant), which is why an American who doesn't understand this and tries to say a word like "taberareru" will sound like Scooby Doo.
I hope that makes sense and you can teach these sounds more effectively.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
Here is an old cartoon (for me) but a new cartoon for you. I was teaching the passive voice a while back, and I had to make this point via the white board in response to a very frustrated grammar student asking, "Why can't I say, 'The soup is tasting John'?":
That's why you can't say "the soup is tasting John"! Okay, so it really looks like the soup is eating John (maybe he's a really aggressive taster?), but the point is these two sentences are not equivalent although they may seem like it to students who haven't learned how to use passive voice yet.
Students are also resistant to using it at first and will mark it wrong on a test because they learn that stative verbs cannot take a progressive form. For example, we cannot say "He is being a lawyer now" or "I am seeing a bird out the window now." This sentence ("The soup is being tasted by John") is the passive form of "John is tasting the soup." It is not the copula "is" in the progressive form.
Anyway, have a good one, and don't let any soup taste you!
I posted a new video to my YouTube channel. Here it is:
They finally give up the fight, hang their head in academic shame, and proclaim me the winner...
Actually, it's more like this:
Anyway, there are still 15 actual sounds in Midwestern American English, so there! (runs away quickly)
Quick tangential update: This semester I am teaching some composition courses to American students. The experience has been very neat (and also challenging, but in a good way). I have taught American students over the years when subbing for colleagues, doing a lesson on allophones here or there or finishing a linguistics class while a professor went on medical leave, but I haven't taught an entire semester of Americans since 2011. Mini-pity party: I can't easily use any of my grammatical frameworks! When I teach composition to international students, I can say things like, "since this preposition begins the sentence, you must put a comma before the beginning of the full clause" and they would likely know what I meant (or I could quickly illustrate the difference between a clause and a phrase and they would know). My American students make far fewer grammar errors, but I didn't realize how much I used to use grammar jargon to explain mundane things like where to put a comma or what a fragment is (last night I so badly wanted to say "this gerund phrase cannot be its own sentence" but I restrained myself). My first few weeks of teaching, I felt like I just lost my arm, and I kept habitually asking, "do you know what that word means?" after every remotely infrequent word.
As they finish up their literacy autobiographies (the last essay of the semester!), I really wanted them to see a practical example of an essay that uses dialogue to illustrate a point, so on a whim, I ditched the comma lesson planned for today and wanted to have them focus on some elements of good memoir writing, so I told them to get our their McGraw Hill Guide and read over Tanya Barrientos' "Se Habla Español" essay. The one weak link in this plan is we typically don't do a lot with this book, so only two students brought it to class (cue really super sad bwa-bwa-bwaa music). My backup plan was to read the essay aloud and then discuss it together.
I don't know if it's simply because they had to look at the screen and/or listen to my reading of it in order to keep up (since they didn't have books) or if Barrientos' writing is just really good (I happen to think so), but they all seemed very engaged. I heard some students speak up about the essay during class who usually don't, and they were making clear, specific connections to the reading. It was one of those times when you see a really old school method like "read and talk" really work.
Anyway, here's hoping Barrientos' style inspires them to include some vivid dialogue in their essays!
Students being off-task is nothing new, but the use of smart phones has taken it to a whole new level. Some students are not paying attention and casually browsing the web during class. So what should we do as teachers? This is a very difficult (and in the modern world inevitable) problem to encounter. In my early years of teaching, I would regularly police people dawdling on their phones, but often this is a huge distraction to the others in class (but then again, the texting and browsing itself is also a huge distraction to other students!). If they are doing something particularly blatant--for example, watching a soccer game--I will politely request that those students stop.
Another more passive way to do this is not to rely on volunteers to participate in class. I like to have students volunteer to answer questions and participate. However, this generally favors extroverts and gets hardworking introverts off the hook simply because they are not inclined to speak up (not to mention the generally lazy students who would much rather spend time on Facebook or anything else but class--they are not necessarily lazy, I suppose, but it doesn't do them any favors to appear disengaged). Despite these problems, it's the less threatening option. In other words, if I instead always chose participants at random, more people would realize they have to stay on their toes (or suffer embarrassment as they are called on and they cannot even give a wrong answer but must stammer and be flustered and go: "Huh? What were we talking about?"). I struggle with this idea a lot and try to maintain a balance where students do not feel too much pressure or anxiety--and there are days I require everyone to participate because it simply must be done.
Regarding the act of telling students off, I'm not sure it will really do any good in the long run.
Perhaps my attitude is too fatalistic: I see chronic web browsing during class to be somewhat of an addiction for some students. In other words, I don't know if knowledge alone will help them. For example, a person can have an obvious weight problem and show up to class with a chocolate chip muffin every day, and we can tell him, "Hey, don't you know you're at risk for heart disease and diabetes with that daily sugar cake there?" In a perfect world, the person would go, "Oh my! You're right!" Then he'd throw his muffin in the trash, get a gym membership, maybe even join a support group for compulsive eaters, and be on his way to breaking a lifelong destructive cycle. However, the reality is the person will probably just resent your comment and see it as intrusive, since based on his behavior, he likely doesn't imagine his behavior is an actual problem. Likely this will lead to more blatant shows of rebellion ("More muffins!" i.e. more web browsing), or it will lead to more discreet and shame-driven hiding ("I'm just going to cut this muffin into pieces and small bites and hide it in my backpack so I can eat them more quickly and stealthily so no one can make me feel bad for my behavior," i.e. more stealthy ways of web browsing).
The funny thing is, when I worked as a writing consultant, one of my coworkers sitting next to me at a staff meeting asked me why I was eating such a large chocolate chip muffin all by myself. She followed this with an assertion that I would eventually get diabetes. I told her thanks and then put my muffin into my coat pocket, and I ate it on the way back home when I was free from the Lidless Anti-Muffin Eye of Sauron that so pricked my conscience in the conversation.
On the first day of class, I tell students about the value of note-taking and how increased social media is associated with lower GPAs and all that jazz. However, I also know that information alone is often not enough. People usually don't stop destructive behaviors until they start suffering natural consequences and start asking the hard questions of "man, what am I doing wrong here?" For some students, they might realize they aren't paying enough attention when they get their first grades back and realize: "Uh oh! I'm not paying enough attention!" Or they might manage to squeak by and then feel more emboldened to continue their behavior.
The takeaway for teachers is to look inward and ask hard questions of ourselves: What are we doing to contribute to off-task behavior? Is our approach too boring and thus inviting off-task behavior? Have we somehow disrespected a particular student who is showing a kind of civil disobedience to usurp our authority? Does our participation model invite extroverts to participate and introverts to stay quiet?
Man, I'm not even hungry, but I want a chocolate chip muffin now.
I have corrected (for the many-th time) my students' adverb placement. I've noticed this is a persistent problem even into very high levels, but the rule for it seems rather simple. I know this is probably out on a hundred other grammar websites, but I felt like I had to chime in because it gets under my skin when adverbs are misplaced (then back to grading papers):
Adverbs always go AFTER the helping verb (auxiliary) but BEFORE the main (non-auxiliary) verb:
I was always tired.
I always took a long time.
I was always taking a long time.
I have always taken a long time.
I always have a good time.
I will always have a good time.
I always was tired.*
I took always a long time.*
I was taking always a long time.*
I have taken always taken a long time.*
I have always a good time.*
I will have always a good time*
I just typed this into a student paper and then created a macro using the program ShortKeys. It is a very good program, well-worth the $24.95, and better than my previous MS Word Proofing Tools method (see here for my blog post on poor man's macros). To follow up, when my office upgraded to the newest version of Microsoft Word, I lost ALL of my macros that I had built into the AutoCorrect feature of Word--I felt like the Microsoft Corporation had somehow stolen something very precious from me. Luckily I kept a file that had all of my macros in it, so I was able to paste it into ShortKeys.
For the record, ShortKeys has not paid me to endorse their software, but I still love it.
Also, you can say, "I will have always a good time" and people will understand you, but it's that tiny slip that flags you as a non-native, and it does sound awkward.
Until next time, have a good one and good luck out there!
This expression came up in class last week. During a complicated explanation, I asked the class to bear with me ("be patient with me"), and then I asked them what that phrase meant, and they only knew about the animal bear:
It actually comes from the meaning of the word "bear" which means "to carry." I think the idea is to carry the burden of the communication encounter (when things aren't clear, the load gets pretty heavy on the part of the listener).
Let's all bear with each other!
I apologized to a friend the other day for flaking on him, and then I drew this cartoon. The phrasal verb "to flake on" generally means to cancel meeting someone with rather dubious or strange reasons, or it could mean behaving in a very strange, dodgy manner or being noncommittal in a strange and unexplained way.
The funny thing is I'm pretty sure getting flaked on metaphorically feels just as annoying as it would if someone were pouring corn flakes on your head.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
P.S. If any of you reading this want to see a cartoon of your favorite idiom or expression, let me know by sending me an email. I will do my best to accommodate, and I enjoy a challenge.
I'm going to take a brief break from writing about plagiarism to share a cartoon I made to illustrate how writing is different than speaking. Namely, this illustrates that a good writer imagines and anticipates questions, responding to them before the reader would have a chance to pose them:
In the lower-right, you get to see how my handwriting is when I'm on the spot in the classroom (I added it quickly to show how student writing typically is without elaboration and explanation).
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Teachers: Like It or Not, Students Use New Approaches to Writing with Sources
TL;DR: Student's new writing practices put them at risk for plagiarism, but it can be helped!
I was having my students practice paraphrasing sentences from an academic article, and so I thought I would make it really meta and have them paraphrase an article about international students paraphrasing.
Here is the paragraph they used which is from page 116 of Introna and Hayes (2011) (which happens to be a very informative article on the issues involved in using plagiarism detection software):
I took the underlined sentence and had them try to paraphrase it. Many of them didn't know the phrasal verb "draw upon" and told me the meaning was to draw and color, so in my head, I was thinking like this:
I had to explain about the old meaning of "draw," which survives in their dresser drawer (not like actually lives in there--it's an old meaning that is fossilized in "dresser drawer").
I can remember when I wrote papers in college, I used the text fragment strategy. Since this is becoming a dominant strategy used by students, rather than viciously cling to the old note card system*, I say go with it and offer these words of caution (if these steps are not followed, there is a BIG risk for accidental plagiarism):
Regarding Step 7, this is something I recommend for my ESL students. When teaching native speakers, we tell them to read the source, understand it, and then look away from the source and write what can be remembered from the gist of it. This sounds practical, but for a non-native with a less-than-native vocabulary, it may be very difficult to find other words. Many of my good students (read: conscientious and hardworking) who have plagiarized insist they did not copy and paste but that they typed every word. I like to take this at face value and assume the student is actually telling the truth. The most likely explanation (in my mind, anyway): The students have no other vocabulary to "fall back on" so to speak, so along with the idea (the gist), they get the exact wording stuck in their heads, and they cannot separate this idea from the wording. Therefore, I tell my students to stare the source text in the face and write their paraphrase below it until they can SEE that it is using different vocabulary and grammar.
Soon I will write about paraphrase strategies for ESL students since the "read it and then look away and write your summary/paraphrase" strategy does not work for non-natives.
Have a good one, and good luck out there!
*Comments on the "Note Card Method": When I was in high school, I was required to use note cards for research papers. I loved my high school English teachers, but I hated this approach. It was incredibly frustrating, time-consuming, and unnecessary. I hope no one still does this.
TL;DR: "Most international students who plagiarize aren't trying to pull one over on their teachers."
I've been dealing with a lot of plagiarism lately (well, actually, I deal with plagiarism in my upper level writing classes all the time). There are a couple of issues that I have seen develop out of my many meetings with students, but for this entry, I'm only going to talk about intentionality.
The often knee-jerk reaction to finding out a student copied several sentences or even a paragraph word-for-word is to become insulted, indignant, even wounded. I went through this a lot in my first years of teaching. I got really upset, and it took a lot out of me.
And then it kept happening.
I had to know why. I revisited my teaching on paraphrase and citation, I looked for better teaching materials, I gossiped around water coolers and read stuff online. Eventually I came across the concept of the word "plagiarism" being too broad. Basically, it includes both the malicious plagiarizers and the clueless/accidental/misunderstanding ones. It really exists more on a continuum:
Obviously, egregious stuff like essay purchasing is clearly malicious, and most students couldn't not know that this would upset their teacher. The trouble is that even stuff that is on the far end (deleting one word out of a sentence or leaving material unquoted) can be committed by very sincere and well-meaning students. Let me share how I know this.
Back in 2009, I remember the Director of Composition requiring students to purchase They Say / I Say with Readings. Her rationale was that ENG 101 was a writing course, and so many students were getting bogged down by having to find good sources for the bibliographic essay that it lead to poorly written papers based on sources that very often were not that good to begin with. By giving them a set of sources to start using, it opened up possibilities I had never thought of:
This all ties into a conversation I had on Monday with a coworker who has the same strategy with assigning source texts. She had her students writing annotated bibliographies, and surprise, surprise, some of them were plagiarized.
"It's obviously not malicious. They know that I know all of the sources--so it's not like they're trying to pull one over on me!"
This is the crux of the matter: The high rate of international students plagiarizing cannot all be attributed to deception, especially since it happens even when students are well-meaning and know their teachers cannot be tricked.
I encountered this one at the CMU English Language Institute's Annual Poetry Contest:
If someone says this and they are not handing you a bottle of glue, then they probably just want you to stay wherever you are and not leave.
I looked across the table at the butter dish the other day, and this is what popped into my head:
For my non-native English speakers, when you "butter someone up," it means you do nice things for them or say nice and sweet things to them in the hope that they will do what you want. For example, you might compliment your boss on his hat or agree to read some pages from his new young adult novel so that you can get a promotion or be put on a nice committee.
Good luck persuading people today, but be careful because butter stains!
Hi! I'm Bill.
I'm all about making English more accessible to English language learners and their teachers. Click here to learn more about me and my site.