Going Down the Memory Lane —Again

Our assigned article for the next week was EFL Writers’ Social Networks: Impact on Advanced Academic Literacy Development by Orna Ferenz. Simply by looking at the title, and the abstract, I’m thinking that perhaps I should’ve presented this article instead. It was an interesting read with a topic (somewhat) in relation with what I’m working on for the proposal. Before I get into the specifics, I have to ask, am I the only one who found it odd seeing a telephone number at the bottom of the page? That’s real confidence, I gotta tell’ya! Anyone who disagrees with the article can simply call the author and have an oral dispute… for hours if needed! I’m actually tempted to do it myself —if only I disagreed with the claim and the research results on the paper.

One of the reasons why I found the article interesting is because it reminded me of my own background. It delves into the notion that social range and attitude toward target language influence the language acquisition. That is something not only I personally experienced but also observed from my classmates, as well as my students in ESL classes. Starting off with the EFL angle, I’d like to recall some of my classmates from the first year of college which took place overseas. If anyone is wondering the difference between ESL and EFL, it is simply based on the setting; second-language learners in the United States (or Canada) are referred to as ESL learners and the ones overseas are referred to as EFL learners. Thus, the disadvantage the EFL students tend to have is being unable to exercise the target language skills outside of school setting, or in very limited capacity at best. That unfortunately slows down their progress in language acquisition significantly.

I might’ve mentioned previously (in another blog post) that I had lived in Canada for six years and attended high school there. Contrast to what I’ve mentioned above, I was able to develop a strong aptitude in speaking English as the opportunities were obviously endless in a country where it was the first language. Once I was back in my home country, that aspect became the thing that a lot of people would notice about me immediately, especially in education settings. When I enrolled in TESOL program in college, which was a Dual-Diploma program —and as I’ve mentioned the first year took place overseas, I noticed that my classmates struggled with the productive skills of English. Hence, I suggested that we should speak in English whenever we spent time together, even outside of campus. The idea was developing a social network in which we could practice speaking, which was not something readily available to them. I figured that I could also continue to keep practicing and keep my proficiency intact. So, it was a win-win (in theory). Oddly enough, most of our professors were reluctant to exercise speaking as I assume they were afraid to reveal that they lacked the aptitude. On paper, everybody is a “master” of a target language but unfortunately speaking is another issue. I should also mention that the reluctance of some of my classmates (as well as my future students) in that social network I attempted to create is what gave me the idea for my research proposal.

The attitude of my classmates toward the target language (English), as one would guess, varied from each other. I remember that some of them were actually interested in the culture and wished to learn everything about the language, including non-academic aspects of it. They were the most enthusiastic about that whole social network thing we were doing. Others were interested in English for professional reasons and it was reflected on their essays as they were… too professional? I don’t know why, but I personally find “over-professional” papers too dense to read, and tend to avoid them. Though, it’s probably not a good thing. There were also some that didn’t care all that much about the language learning thing —why they were even enrolled in the program was a mystery to me. It was still interesting to observe it all with an outsider perspective.

The article also emphasized the process of writing and how EFL learners approach that process. Going back to that TESOL program, I remember that some of my classmates were simply translating what they were able to write in their own language. I’d often attempt to encourage them to write their essays fully in English as the translation process was a limiting aspect in their potentials. They’d often respond by saying that it was just a homework, and they didn’t feel the need to engross themselves in it as much. Of course, that sort of “strategy” in process doesn’t necessarily mean the learner is failing. As indicated in the article, it could be decision made by the learner in relation to their identity in academic settings. I personally wouldn’t encourage it, though. It might be effective to a degree for an EFL student but once the setting is shifted, and the learner becomes an ESL learner, the translation process would become a hindrance too difficult to overcome. My classmates from the first year, who had managed to make it to the second year (and the third) that took place here, at State University of New York, would reveal to me that small social network we had conducted helped them tremendously, even in writing.

I could also talk about my students… but this post is getting a bit too long, so I’ll wrap it up here. Similar to some other articles that I’ve read about second-language acquisition, once again, I’m taken down to memory lane. I’d like to say that examining research article with a similar thesis as the proposal that I’m working on was a great exercise but unfortunately it seemed to focus on presenting the results of the research rather than the topic at hand, which I won’t get a chance to conduct (only in theory). Nevertheless, Ferenz’s article was definitely an interesting read. I’m actually curios to see what kind of class that we’re going to have next week as I assume this particular topic cannot cover the entirety of it. Is there such a thing as a surprise topic? We shall see.

 

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Ferenz, O. (2005). EFL Writers’ Social Networks: Impact on Advanced Academic Literacy Development. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, Vol. 4, 339–351.

Imagining a Research that Could Be

It looks like we’re getting real close to the end of the semester. Once you start working on your final project for the course, you get that feeling of “we’re almost at the end” —I don’t really know how else to describe it. I’m also not so sure if I should be sentimental or overjoyed about that prospect. I guess, I’d know for sure after I hand in the final draft of my research proposal. For now… let’s simply trudge on.

So, I attempted to write the first draft based on the research question that I was previously working on, which I have already mentioned it in my other posts, and not much has changed —at least for the time being. Depending on the feedback, I might do some tweaks (which I also mentioned). In our last class, we briefly went over our research questions. At the time, I had an additional detail in my question and it related to being able to develop autonomy without any help. However, after reading some of my resources (PDF articles), as well as hearing the suggestion made by Dr, Nelson in the class, I’ve decided to drop it. I feared that it could potentially cause a contradiction without me realizing it —something that may still be possible to discover on my paper. I think, I have at least a foundation of sorts to continue on, though.

The biggest challenge was deciding on what sort of task or assignment to use as a means to show my claim/theory. Since the research questions involved development of autonomy, I thought writing assignments could be a good choice. As indicated by many experts (who shall not be named), the writing skill is the most difficult to obtain specifically for non-native students. I figured that it’d particularly require the highest level of autonomy for the student to produce a successfully written paper. Hence, it’d allow the research to be conducted with a proper(?) exercise as it specifically attempts to observe the development of autonomy.

The overall proposal is about discovering a correlation between the learner’s awareness of ineptitude and self-direction. As we were tasked to find a gap in the field, I discovered (or merely assumed) that most research papers either ignored that connection or analyzed it under a positive light. My position is that if the learner is conscious of his or her inability, such as low proficiency level in a target language, then the potential fear of failure could be detrimental in becoming an autonomous learner. Of course, that is simply my assumption for the time being and that I could be totally wrong. Then again, isn’t that the point of conducting research in the first place? Speaking of ‘fear of failure’… I’m glad that we’re not actually conducting a research but rather simply writing a proposal. If I may be frank, I don’t have enough confidence in my abilities to produce a successful research result to prove that theory I’ve put forth above —should I have revealed that here? Oh, well.

Going back to the writing task, I’ve chosen to utilize(?) Flower and Hayes’ writing model for the supposed research. I’m planning on collecting data by tasking learners to write essays in disciplinary fields. The idea is that the selected participants have low proficiency level, which is determined by an examination but without revealing its results, and some of them have serious concerns. Basically, two groups of learners categorized as unconscious incompetents and conscious incompetents respectively. Their task is writing an essay through drafts, and at each draft they are asked to conduct peer review with learners who posses slightly higher proficiency level. At the end of the task duration, each student would be evaluated and interviewed. The interview questions would specifically attempt to determine if the learner managed to develop a general autonomy; asking “how was the overall process”, “if there were any detriments, what were they?”, “how did you feel during the peer-evaluation sessions?”, “any cause for reluctance from your point, and if so, what were the reasons?” …etc. So, in a way, the research is mixed methods as it collects both quantitative and qualitative data. I believe it falls into a case study (maybe?). I’d like to say that it’s a phenomenology method but the phenomenon itself is what the research is trying to determine, so… would that still count? I’m not quite sure.

I believe that is all for the first draft of the proposal. As I’ve mentioned, things could easily change going forward, but I think I’m happy with the way it turned out… for now. I’m “looking forward” to the feedback that I’m going to get in our upcoming class.