Why syntax over morphology

Over the years of teaching and writing I have noticed how much more emphasis had been given to words (morphology) over sentences (syntax). Perhaps it is because sentences are mistakenly thought of as so much harder to pin down. When people see a sentence of twenty words they think of twenty things. Rarely do they think of the sentence as one thing. In my opinion, a sentence is a unit of complete communication. It is not the only unit to be considered complete. Words, of course, are considered (and taught as) complete units. Fair enough. We can use words out of sentence-context and still get some kind of meaning across, but just not very well. But because of the inaccuracy, it seems logical to work with the unit which best gives a “complete” meaning, instead of working with units which do not make a unit of communication. It is for this reason that I believe that syntax should be given priority in teaching and learning.

Periscope as a teaching tool

What is Periscope?
Periscope is a live broadcast service that combines the best of video and instant messaging. The “scoper” or presenter broadcasts live while the viewers instant message the scoper and other viewers. It is like Skype except only only one person is on screen. And It is like a instant messaging chatroom while everyone is watching the same thing or person. It is also like everyone can now have their own live television channel with a Twitter feed on screen (so you can see why Twitter purchased it).

What is different about Periscope?
Periscope’s format is different in three ways to similar services or what had been attempted before. Firstly, open skype-style chatrooms (which Skype did try once and failed dismally) would make it impossible to tell who is talking and who the main speaker is. It would be (or was) like a cacophony of yelling voices at a cocktail party with no one as host. Secondly, live video allows scopers to interact immediately with viewers and other viewers as well, which video blogging on YouTube does not. This is done without distraction to the scoper by separating video and instant messaging between scoper and viewer. Lastly, Everything is instant. Video blogging is instant. Interaction with viewers is instant. Viewer reactions are instant. Gratification for both scoper and viewer are instant. And once you have your gratification you can move on and do other things. It is truly taking the best of all worlds of Skype, YouTube, chat and vlogging.

What is the potential of Periscope for teaching?
Given its instant nature, scoper/viewer interactiveness and visualness it has great potential as a teaching tool. I could do a live class where other students can join in and ask questions. There is no waiting between question and feedback. And as I said earlier it is like having one’s own television channel with a live twitter feed going at once. The videos then can be saved and even uploaded by you to YouTube or others to katch.me.

Using GoodNotes in the classroom

Recently I have been upgrading in the apps department to match my needs for English language teaching. By far the iPad is the best thing for presentation of teaching material on the big screen (the classroom projector screen, that is).

Having held back on forking out money for apps which do similar work to free ones I thought it was high time I tried some to see what all the hype is about.

One apps which I heard recommended over and over again is GoodNotes. Particularly it is the handwriting input system which has caught all the attention. And low and behold I wasn’t disappointed. The implementation of the handwriting by zoom input and auto-shifting (or auto-scrolling, call it what you like) is fantastic. And this works really well with its Presentation Mode which hides all your actions from the students makes it ideal as a teaching tool.

For me I mostly use the projector to show the textbook and teaching material (in PDF format) while we go through it. So being able to annotate there and then is all but crucial. My students love watching the action and it certainly has made my teaching much easier to follow since I use only English to my non-native students. So any instruction tend to be lost or difficult to follow for them.

Checking the answers with students has also made it much easier and more understandable since I can show students exactly where a problem might be for them. By filling in the answers in together as if directly into their textbooks or handouts students tend to respond much better than if checking the answers verbally only.

Ironically it is this aspect of my research about the importance of embodiment which has enhanced and informed my overall teaching skills.

What has Zen got to do with English language teaching?

Everything.

“Revisiting” my master in Zen on YouTube the other day I was compelled to think about what it means to be a language student and how it relates to Zen.

It seems to me many of the students I teach unnecessarily limit themselves with a psychological barrier – they believe they will never achieve native-like fluency. By thinking so they have effectively placed a limit upon what they can achieve.

Language itself already places limits upon you. So for students to place another one upon themselves, the limits become twofold.

But I am not saying that they will achieve native-like fluency either, but rather they make it harder to even remotely make any headway into acquiring a second language. To truly achieve native-like fluency one must have the years of experience in and exposure to the target language and culture. Nothing can replace that.

But nothing can stop you from trying and that is the essence of believing in being able to acquire some resemblance of a second language which is like native-like.

So the next question is how can I possibly teach my students to not place limits upon what they can achieve. Again, for this I will need to think that it is not impossible.