I read the text for each of my courses three times. The first is the most exciting, but least interesting. The second is the hardest, but most interesting (I get to dive deep). The third is the most fun, as I get to create materials to facilitate participants
I learned how to read academically from a girl. It might have been in the 6th grade (Jennifer Green, never Jenny), or maybe it was Terri Dalrymple in the 8th grade, or Laura Rosenberger in the 9th grade. Inspirations all.
She taught me that I had to read anything 3 times. Fast, slow, fast. I still use this format, but have developed for my grad school courses. First, read it quickly and superficially, like a graduate student (wink), highlighting, maybe even with multiple colors.
The second (researcher) read is in the library, with the catalog at hand, downloading the most important articles. I usually pick one for each week of the class, but for this book, I am guessing about 30 to cover all contingencies. I read, or at least browse them, all the while adding to my notes and comments. Meta-studies are at the top of the list. If a study is described in detail, I will note the n-size, measurement instruments, and note the discussion. I build a database of these articles in Zotero to organize the research.
The third (teacher) read is to pull all of this together into something I can field questions about and point people to. Then I write/create/construct materials and activities for each session of the course.
Right now, I am just finishing up the first reading. I’ve snuck in a little second reading as well. More on each of these in days coming.
I’ve already written about the choice of the book and its place in the course, but wanted to say a few more things. Most of these reflect what I do in my graduate classes, and how I will modify those for this course.
When I pick a book for a course, I want one that I can discuss on different levels. Not just theory and practice. What struck me in this book was that we were talking (yes, I talk with my books) about teaching and learning, linguistics, and SLA. But there is another element. It is wide-ranging and historical enough that we can see the science of SLA. I love science, even though I am not very good at it. When people ask me, “What is the greatest human invention?” some may answer the wheel, or fire, or even currency. I think the height of human evolution is in a process. The most important human invention is the scientific method. Humanity would be so much poorer without it. Indeed, we may have shuffled off or been subsumed without it. Handling the breakneck progress is another skill we are working on.
I studied Psychology undergrad, and in those days it was trying to shake off the mantel of armchair science (ethnography, introspection) to become a real, “hard” science. When I studied Linguistics in grad school, we were at a similar point, moving away from anthropology to hard science. I am happy see here how far linguistics and SLA have come, and where exactly the bare areas are that need filling in. This is a very fulfilling feeling.
The second reason I chose this book was because of my personal journey. A fresh graduate with my psych degree I returned to Barcelona, where I had made many friends on Junior year abroad. I was there from Franco to Felipe, during the development of democracy. I studied at the International House for a certificate of teaching and began my career at the IEN (North American Institute) with 70 other faculty and 3,000 students. I think a left just about when Scott Thornbury got there.
I got a scholarship from IEN in Barcelona for a TESOL Summer Institute at Northwestern. I picked a lawyer turned linguist because he was said to be the toughest. Michael Long had us reading hundreds of pages of research every day, pounding it in every morning. He needed a tennis partner, so I got to be humiliated every afternoon for two weeks. It changed my life. He was getting ready to move to Hawaii and worried about it.
Living in Tokyo has its advantages, but when I landed here in 1984 I never realized it was also so central to SLA and linx. My boss, Kaneko-sensei, and my colleague, Robson sensei were in the first TESOL cohort at Temple Japan. Rod Ellis was a key faculty member. Kaneko-sensei got him to fly in from New Zealand twice a year for intensive courses at our university graduate school, so he was often available for questions. I like questions.
Peter Robinson is (was?) at Aoyama, I’ve lost track. But I will always remember the night we missed the last train and had to drink Hobgoblin until the first train. He went over the research implications of moving to the University of Maryland versus some other university in the UK. Our talk never really touched on his research, but I did get to see a very sharp mind, even after quite a few brews.
Living in Tokyo meant that I got to regularly see the leaders in area like vocabulary acquisition, statistics, testing, and too many others to mention. I’d have to say that the common denominator among those is a great and bustling energy. I wish I could hold a candle to them, but have contented myself to a measured slog with a long horizon to prepare things like this class.
Tomorrow, Reading 1 (of 3), the second step in the process.
While I am the first to decry the use of the textbook as the syllabus, we are going to stick pretty close to this book so we will be able to “cover” (another loaded word) the concepts in this course. Let me give my reasons here. But also note that the class plans will morph depending on the participants. I count it as my job to prepare for as many eventualities as possible. More on that tomorrow.
The book is a part of the Cambridge Applied Linguistics series. Read their blurb, and the iTDi (my) take on it in the course description.
For me, the elephant-and-3-blind-men approach to the theory made the book head and shoulders above others in the field. I am one of the blind men, feeling the elephant as either a wall, a rope, or a trunk. They look at TBLT from five different perspectives (Cognitive, Psycholinguistic, Sociocultural, Psychological, and Educational). I enjoy how each builds upon the others while introducing new aspects. That is what I meant by being inclusive.
Conflicting and controversial viewpoints come up and are hammered out. This is probably the result of having five authors. The richness they bring to the text is astounding. If they could have added Peter Robinson, it would have been a perfect book.
I get the Kindle version for these kind of projects. That makes it easier to “mark up” with highlights, quotes, notes, and even flash cards, then share those with others in the class. It’s also cheaper (US$25).
Last December, Steven Herder at iTDi asked me to lead (coordinate? teach?) a course as part of the new Great Minds series. I am honored to be considered along with my new colleagues Steven, Dorothy Zemach, and Scott Thornbury.
We discussed the shape of the series, and we came to focus on books that contained a diverse look at one specific part of language teaching. Scott chose to look at the work of Earl Stevick, calling the book a festschrift. Steven was fascinated by the work of John Hattie and Visible Learning. Dorothy is looking ahead with a new book on 21st Century Skills. I wish I could take them all.
The closest thing on my bookshelf was a recent (2019) look at Task-Based Langauge Teaching by leaders in the field. It is kind of a festschrift to a body of research that I was heavily involved with, but had wandered away from (to CALL). I wanted to take a deep dive, and thought this the perfect opportunity.
I have been preparing the TBLT course for iTDi since then. Like one of my favorite authors, and many bloggers, I find that posting about my preparation helps me think about the book, the course, and to let the potential participants know a little about what they are getting into.
So the plan is to document my preparation from this point. As I read more, and research more, the excitement builds. I hope it will be evident over the next 70 days, until Day 1 of the course. Maybe I will see you there, but if not enjoy the musings on TBLT.
Stay tuned. (Suggestion, use RSS or find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I will announce new posts there.