Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beyond the Sentence by Scott Thornbury--Revisited

(Book Review)

I reviewed this book already back in April 2014.

So, why am I now revisiting it, you ask?

Well, it has to do with the book club I started at my work.
Initially this book club started off as an idea to coordinate reading with a couple of colleagues who were also working their way through the DELTA reading list.  But it evolved into a much larger group into which I became the coordinator.

As the group evolved, some of the members said that they could focus better if they were given more guidance on the books, so it was suggested that we choose books that I had already read, so that I could give guiding questions on them.
Other people felt that they lacked motivation to read the book, and wanted more online discussion of the book to help keep them motivated as they read.

So, we agreed to choose this book, because I had already read it, and I did my best to post daily on the book club Facebook page to help keep people motivated.

For whatever it may or may not be worth, I thought I would reproduce here all my posts from that Facebook group, and then let this post stand as an addendum to my original review.

A few quick notes and apologies first:
* Some of my daily Facebook posts were better than others.  In order to come up with something to say for each separate day, I sometimes just resorted to nit-picking small things, or commenting on irrelevant details.
* I also resorted to re-using portions of my original 2014 review at places.
* In order to protect privacy, I'm replacing any proper names with XXXXXX

With those admissions out of the way, here are my Facebook Posts

Day 1
Just a few words introducing this book.
I read this book once before back in 2014.
Actually, I'm given to understand several of us have already read this book, or are reading this book. (XXXXXX already read it once before. XXXXXX and XXXXXX have been reading it.) So you guys let me know if I'm remembering this book wrong, or if your opinion differs from mine.
The title of the book Beyond the Sentence indicates the theme.
Too often, Scott Thornbury says, we English teachers focus on individual sentences in isolation when we teach grammar.
(I'm certainly guilty of this in any number of the grammar sheets I designed).
However, as Scott Thornbury points out, the sentence does not exist in isolation, and it is the type of text, or genre, that determines much of the grammar and word choices of the sentences within it. Therefore teachers and students should be encouraged to think about the text as a whole before analyzing individual sentences.
With a subtitle like Introducing Discourse Analysis, you know ahead of time the book is going to be mostly broccoli. And it is.
And yet, once you get into it, the book actually isn’t half bad. Unlike a lot of teacher-training books, which can often get very pedantic, Scott Thornbury never talks down to his readers. He’s an intelligent author who guides the reader through the subject material very well—never assuming too much, but never over-explaining either.
His insightful explanations caused me to realize any number of things about spoken and written language that I never knew before. (Language is a funny thing—you can use it every day, but never stop to think about how a text is actually constructed.)
Scott Thornbury relies entirely on authentic texts to illustrate the points he is making, and because all of his text analysis is grounded in actual texts from real life, it makes his points all the more interesting.
And he has just the right amount of sly winking humor throughout the book as he subtly pokes fun at many of the texts he analyzes.
All in all, you feel like you’re in the hands of a capable author, and even if the subject isn’t your favorite, you still appreciate the clear straightforward explanations of discourse analysis.

Hopefully we'll get some good discussion out of it.

Day 2
In our discussion of the previous book, I made frequent reference to TEFLology podcasts (which XXXXXX got me listening to.) It can be hit or miss quality wise, but if you put it on in the background, you'll sometimes pick up some interesting information.

Anyway, they have an interview with Scott Thornbury here. They don't talk about this book specifically, but it's an interesting conversation

https://teflology-podcast.com/2015/07/15/tefl-interviews-12-scott-thornbury-on-the-elt-industry/

Day 3
From page 7:
Scott Thornbury writes about the texts often used in the classroom:
"The texts themselves are somewhat bland and are typically inauthentic--that is, they have been especially written for teaching purposes. Literary texts are often treated with suspicion by teachers, as presenting too many problems of both a linguistic and a cultural kind."
The choice of grammar here seems to indicate Scott Thornbury's skepticism of this point of view--as in,he believes that authentic literary text need not present too many problems.
And yet...it is often very difficult to get students through an authentic literary text, is it not?
Just out of curiosity, has anyone tried using authentic literary texts in the classroom? Which ones?
Below are a couple of my lessons. (I used these at my old school, with students who were studying English for Academic Purposes--so very high level students).
For Whom the Bell Tolls,
Peter Pan,
Peter Pan Continued,

Day 4
p.11-12
I have to admit, I found the description of T. Robertson's textbook to be an interesting way to learn a language.
Despite it's flaws, I think maybe you could successfully learn a language this way.
What did you guys think of it?
I think this is a copy of the Spanish version of the book here.
http://cdigital.dgb.uanl.mx/la/1080043963/1080043963_MA.PDF

Day 5
p.12
Normally, I really like Scott Thornbury as a writer, but there was a sentence on page 12 that I thought was poorly written.
"First of all, all the eight different parts of speech are represented, apart from adjectives (unless you classify my and your as adjectives rather than determiners)."
So, I don't get it. Are all eight different parts of speech represented, or not?
Shouldn't he have written "seven out of the eight different parts of speech are represented." ?

Or how about "Of the eight different parts of speech, only adjectives are missing." ?

Day 6
What do you guys think about the "discovery activities?" Do you do them? Do you ignore them?
They seem to be standard in Scott Thornbury books. (The other books I've read by him also had Discovery activities in them). I usually can't be bothered to stop reading and do the activities, though, so I skip straight to the commentary

Day 7
p. 14
Okay, more nitpicking.
On page 14, Thornbury writes: "Like the first Ryokan poem we looked at, this one has a representative range of high frequency features of English, including all the parts of speech (except for prepositions, if you discount the infinitive marker to)."
So...it's not all the parts of speech.
There are, by Thornbury's count, only 8 parts of speech, so I don't know why he keeps saying "all the parts of speech except for..." Just say it has 7/8ths of the parts of speech.
Also, then it's not like the previous poem, because the previous poem had prepositions, but did not have adjectives.
You've really got to watch this Thornbury guy carefully.

Day 8
p.10-16
Scott Thornbury talks about using poems as example texts.
I have, if anyone is interested, a collection of poems I used at my previous school.
I previously used these for input, not for grammar, but they could theoretically be adapted to any number of purposes.
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5QgMDk6npsRZkJyam5fZVJRbEE

Day 9
Original Posting by a colleague:
Hi all,
Has anyone done Discovery Activity 2.3 on pp. 28-29? I agree with all the answers except for number 9 which says "exophoric: refers to the person being addressed". I thought this would be cataphoric reference since we don't know who the 'you' is referring to until we continue reading to find out it's 'the Australian'. It seems to me that the pronoun (you) is anticipating the referent (the Australian), as explained on p.24.
I'm obviously wrong because, you know, Scotty T... but could anyone help explain why?
Cheers

My Response:
I think the confusion is that there are two layers to this text. There is the direct speech itself, and then there is the broader narrative that the direct speech is a part of.
Looking at just the direct speech, the Australian isn't mentioned. So just within the confines of the quotation, it's exophoric. I think that's what Scott Thornbury is thinking.
Within the broader narrative, I think you're right that it is cataphoric.

Day 10
p.15-16
I think I'm going to make an effort to try out some of these classroom applications as I read the book. The one on p.15-16 looked interesting. (I already have in mind a couple of short poems I think I could use, maybe with my J5A class.)
But I do have some concerns.
Looking at the list of questions on page 15 (e.g. "identify the tense, voice and aspect of each verb" or "find any pronouns and identify their referents" or "identify any cohesive devices", etc) I wonder what level this activity is supposed to be aimed at.
Any group of students sophisticated to understand all this metalanguage about verb tense, voice, aspect, pronouns and referents presumably already knows all the grammar that would be contained in a short poem anyway, right?

I guess the challenge is to minimize the meta-language while doing this classroom activity, but Scott Thornbury doesn't really give a lot of guidance on how to do that.

Day 11
Classroom Applications p.15-16
Okay, so I tried this out with my J5A class today. The lesson I used is here.
https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5QgMDk6npsRUXFIRTh3dDQ5Mjg

It went reasonably well. The only big problems were that it was a little bit on the boring side. (Any suggestions on how to make this more fun?) And also I'm not exactly sure what the students really got out of it.
I don't know--it could be that this classroom application was never really that good of an idea to begin with--I was talking to a couple different people yesterday about it. It appears to rely on a lot of metalanguage, and it doesn't really have any practice or production stages.
To try to be fair, I think Scott Thornbury intends this as a consciousness raising activity. (He talks about this in another of his books "Uncovering Grammar". He claims sometimes learners need to have their attention drawn to grammar features in the input in order to begin noticing it. After the grammar is pointed out to them, learners will notice the grammar more in any future input, which will help the input become uptake, which will in turn help the grammar eventually become part of their interlanguage. I think that's what he's intending for this activity here (although he never really explains all that directly). )
But then, this activity, at least as he's written it, doesn't involve any teaching of new features. It just has the learners identifying stuff in the text. (Presumably the learners are familiar with these categories beforehand? I don't know.)
Anyway...
I used the Poem "Lazy Jane" by Shel Silverstein. I used this because it was nice and short (only two lines). And I had used this before with my students in Cambodia, and they had reacted positively to it. (They got a laugh out of it, and they enjoyed repeating it themselves). So I decided to repurpose it here.
I went through all the criteria Scott Thornbury mentions on page 15 in this analysis here. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1l4jjBX2lDmJ3veWw302xZ1ouZa0X8VdI22KOxxysXCU/edit?usp=sharing
But then I decided not all of this was actually worth doing in the classroom, so on the actual worksheets I just chose the ones I thought my J5As could handle, and that would benefit them.
Like I said, it went reasonably well, but it was a bit boring.
It might be an interesting little experiment if we all tried out something like this. Maybe we could pool our resources and make a little archive of lessons based off of analyzing short texts?

Day 12
p.20-21
Scott Thornbury's talking about cohesive devices in a text made me remember another book I've read.
Teaching ESL/EFL Reading and Writing by I.S.P. Nation
In the book, I.S.P. Nation was critical of a lot of the reading comprehension questions typically used in reading exercises. He said these questions don't actually teach the student anything about reading, they just test comprehension.
Instead, Nation says, “When learners study a reading text, we want them to gain knowledge that will help them to understand tomorrow’s reading text. We want them to learn things that apply to all texts. We want them to gain knowledge of the language and ways of dealing with the language rather than an understanding of a particular message” (Nation p. 28)
To do this, Nation has several interesting ideas for designing questions about a text that will focus the learner’s attention on the mechanics of language. For example, questions that ask the student what the reference words (he, she, his, her, this, that, these, those, it, its) in a text refer to.
Or getting students to identify what is the main noun in a noun phrase, or which verbs go with which subjects and objects.
I really liked this idea.
For one thing, as Nation points out, these types of questions are really easy to write, so the teacher won’t have to spend a lot of time preparing.
But more importantly, I’ve noticed in my own classes that it’s often exactly these types of features that trip students up during reading comprehension. Students will misinterpret a reading passage sometimes because they are unclear about what a reference word refers to. Or in a complex sentence with subordinate clauses, students will sometimes be unclear about what the main subject of the sentence is.
Anyway, I've tried to implement this in my reading lessons a couple times. Here is one example of a worksheet for the Reading on page 48 of English World 3 .
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nc-hqP6gnhJejg4lSlJMu64UdIo-IqfMm_J5iEb5Evs/edit?usp=sharing

Day 13
p.21
Scott Thornbury talks about the advertisement for Johnson and Johnson shampoo. He writes:
"Take it from us" also demonstrates how some pronouns do not have referents in the text itself, but rather outside it. Thus, the referent of "us" is not retrievable from the text, either before or after it, but refers to the sponsors of the text (ie Johnson). ... This is also a kind of cohesive device, since it binds the text to its larger context. The technical name for language that makes direct connection to the material world is deixis (adjective deictic)
Note, by the way, that the sponsoring authority (sometimes called the "author") of the text is not necessarily the same individual as the "writer". In this text, for example, the pronoun "us" does not refer to the actual writer, who was no doubt the anonymous employee of some advertising agency, but to the company itself.
(end quote, p.21)
No doubt Scott Thornbury is right, but isn't he being a little bit overly pedantic here with this distinction? When we pick up a text to read, like this, don't we momentarily suspend our disbelief and assume that the writer of the text and the author are the same person, even if we know better?
In other words, isn't it the assumption of the reader that the writer and the author are one-in-the-same?

Day 14
p.23-24
Scott Thornbury talks about the difference between anaphoric, exophoric, and cataphoric. Which, if memory serves, are also necessary to memorize for the Delta module 1 exam.
When I was studying for the Delta module 1, I had the hardest time remembering the differences between anaphoric and cataphoric. (Exophoric was never a problem--I'm pretty sure "exo" means outside anyways, right? Like in exo-skeleton). But anaphoric and cataphoric I could never remember.
The mnemonic I eventually used was the "cataphoric" was like a cat ready to pounce forward on something later in the sentence. It's stupid, I know, but it solved the problem for me.
Anyone else have any mnemonic tips for remembeirng anaphoric, exophoric and cataphoric?

Day 15
p.25
XXXXXX , as I'm catching up to you in the reading, I'm discovering I'm having some of the same questions as you.
In our discussion of pages 28-29, I previously told you that "you" was exophoric, because the referent, the Australian, was part of the narrative but not part of the direct speech.
But then what to make of page 25?
On page 25, Scott Thornbury uses the sentence "Those are beautiful boots indeed" to illustrate his point that "as in the case of spoken language, the referent may be in the immediate physical environment."
But in this case, the referent "boot" is not only in the narrative, it's right in the direct speech. So how to explain this? This strikes me as a cataphoric reference, and not, as Scott Thornbury says, a referent to the immediate physical environment

Day 16
Page 26-27
When Scott Thornbury was talking about the definitive article "the", I thought what he was saying made sense. Or rather, it made sense only if you ignored all the exceptions.
What about all the times in the English language where where there is only one of something in the world and we don't use "the" ? Like, why don't we say "the Vietnam" ? or "the Lake Michigan" ?
To be fair he acknowledges this slightly on page 29 in #6 (He uses the example of personal names), but I thought this was just glossed over in his discussion of definiteness on pages 26-27

Day 17
p.28
The classroom application on this page is very similar to the worksheet I idea already posted in a previous post.

I obviously spoke too soon in that previous post. And I attributed the idea to I.S.P. Nation at the time. Obviously I forgot that Scott Thornbury had the exact same idea in his book. (I originally read Nation's book before I read this book, so I think the idea got stuck in my head in connection with Nation.)
Anyway, if anyone is interested, I've got at least one more worksheets I've done using this idea.
Here's one for Life Elementary Textbook: Unit 11C Should I Go There? p.134-135 .

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1i1WelHgo1KUfzWrdf7PsbOlzF9TdTGTSxK6eo6zKNf4/edit?usp=sharing

I also used this idea a lot at my old school (but the reading textbooks are different there, so no point in sharing those worksheets).
I want to add one note of caution though--something that Scott Thornbury probably should have mentioned, but didn't. A lot of pronouns will actually have no meaning. They're simply dummy pronouns that are there to satisfy the rules of syntax, and don't mean anything at all.
Examples are "it" in:
It is raining
Or
The archbishop found it advisable.
I didn't fully appreciate this when I first started making these kind of worksheets, and as a result I occasionally had students try to identify referents that didn't actually exist.
Scott Thornbury probably should have mentioned this here. (Does he talk about it later in the book? I forget?)

Day 18
p.29-34
My memory from the last time I read this book was that I enjoyed Scott Thornbury's description of textual features. And I agreed with what he identified as problems with student writing. But I was skeptical of his solutions.
This could be my problem. Maybe I give up too quickly in my classes, or maybe I don't put in as much effort as I should because I find too much emphasis on discourse markers in class to be boring.
But with that caveat stated...
Pages 29-34 are an example of a problem I have with the whole book. I thought his analysis of conjuncts was very interesting. I thought he was right on when he described how students mis-use them. But I'm not sure his suggested activities would actually help anything.
For example, on page 34 Thornbury suggests that one way to get rid of students over-reliance on conjuncts is "...to ask learners to remove conjuncts from a text, leaving only those that are absolutely necessary and making any other adjustments (eg in the ordering fot he sentences) that might be required"
I read that activity, and I thought: "That's going to end in disaster. My students will just make a mess of it."
Maybe the assumption behind this activity is that the teacher gives really good feedback, and can explain to the students all the mistakes they made doing this activity.
But how to give good feedback and explain this all to students--that's the question. That's like a whole other book topic in itself.

Day 19
p.38-46
At my previous school in Cambodia, I taught a lot of English for Academic Purposes. (I don't have any training in EAP, but the school I was working at needed people to teach these programs, so it was easy to get your foot in the door.)
When teaching academic writing, I spent a lot of time emphasizing the paragraph structure--i.e. Start with a topic sentence, and make sure all the other sentences in the paragraph are related to your topic sentence. I did this partly because this reflected my own experience in school, and partly because that's what the course textbooks emphasized.
I had a colleague who worked with me on the EAP program, then went back home to work in Scotland for a while, where he worked at the University of Edinburgh teaching EAP to international students (mostly Chinese, apparently) then came back to Cambodia.
When he got back to Cambodia, after having taught at the University of Edinburgh, he told me that the way we were teaching EAP in Cambodia was completely out-dated. At Edinburgh, they apparently didn't even bother with teaching topic sentences or paragraphing structure at all, and instead spent all of the time teaching students to make sentences that moved from what was known to what was unknown. (Apparently this was something the Chinese students struggled with).
So...just a head's up in case anyone is considering moving into teaching English for Academic Purposes. Apparently the main thing now is to help students write sentences that move from known information to new information. Which is what Scott Thornbury highlights in pages p.38-46

Day 20
p.43
Interesting little theory by John Sinclair (as quoted by Scott Thornbury on page 34): that the text is only the immediate sentence.
What do you guys think of this? I've been going back and forth myself as to whether I agree or not.

Day 21
If you'll forgive me a bit of a tangent in another direction...
I was reading pages 44-45, about how the writer is able to take certain risks because the reader assumes the text will be coherent, and will therefore be on the lookout for any meanings that are coherent.
It made me think of something else--arguably unrelated, but I'm going to post it anyway--it made me think of all the times that communication breaks down between the reader and the writer.
Stephen Pinker has a great lecture on why many writers are unable to communicate to their readers.



Day 22
p.46
Scott Thornbury talks about creating exercises in which the students delete rogue sentences.
I've done something similar with an IELTS class. This worksheet here:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1tHCH5xK5YderAOsNj4Inq9t8w08-1dIbi5Hau1hGM4w/edit?usp=sharing
If anyone is interested.

Day 23
p.46
Scott Thornbury writes: "The above exercise is a type of deletion exercise. The opposite process involves insertion. Insertion exercises also require (and therefore test) the ability to recognize how coherence works and are now popular in some public ELT examinations."
First of all, a request for clarification. What is not popular in some public ELT examinations? The insertion exercises, or the deletion exercises, or both?
Secondly, does anyone know which public ELT examinations he's referring to? The only one I'm really intimately familiar with is the IELTS. And the IELTS doesn't really do this. Unless you count the gap fill exercises. Is he referring to the gap fill exercises in the IELTS tests? But that's commonly 1-3 words, and not whole sentences.

Day 24
p.49
I have some activities based off of recognizing the passive voice in sample IELTS Task 1 writing. This isn't exactly what Scott Thornbury was talking about on page 49, but I thought it was maybe related.
Although it's not always written in the worksheets, sometimes I supplement these activities with some class discussion about why the passive voice is used in these sentences.
For whatever they're worth, my worksheets are below:
How a Canal Lock Works,
Cocoa Beans,
Map of Tourist Town,

Day 25
p.50
Looks like I was mistaken earlier when I said Scott Thornbury never talked about dummy pronouns. He mentions it briefly on page 50.
When talking about cleft sentences, Scott Thornbury writes:
(2) [It was] Robin who paid.
In (2), "it was" is in brackets because it's not really a topic at all; it's simply a way of filling in an empty slot, a bit like the "it" in "it was raining"

Day 26
p.48-49 Passive Constructions
I thought this section was very similar to some of the same things Dave Willis talked about in one of our previous book club books: Rules, Patterns and Words.
I don't have my copy in front of me, so I'm going off of memory here, but I thought the comparison of two texts on page 49 (3.8a and 3.8b) was very similar to the Dave Willis's own example of the two different texts written about the castle (one using only the active voice, the other using passive constructions--if I'm remembering right).
It also reminded me of the video I linked to a couple days ago. Which I'll link to again.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV5J6BfToSw
In the video, Stephen Pinker says that often style guides will tell you to avoid the passive voice at all costs, but in reality the passive voice serves a very necessary function in the English language.
What was your experience in high school English class? I definitely remember being told to avoid using the passive voice (in both high school and some college writing classes). Apparently this advice is now out-of-date. Or is it? What do you guys think about using the passive voice?

Day 27
p.52
On page 51-52, Scott Thornbury points out that key words often get repeated in the text, and says: "This suggests some useful classroom activities, both in advance of and after reading a text, and also as a preparation for writing or speaking. In advance of reading a text, for example, learner can be asked to brainstorm all the words they know that are related to the topic of the text, using dictionaries to top up, if necessary. In this way, they are well primed, cognitively speaking, to make sense of the text when they get down to actually reading it."
How do you guys feel about these brainstorming activities?
I've done them before, most frequently for IELTS listening. (IELTS textbooks will often recommend students try to guess the topic, and then brainstorm all the words they know before listening.)
My main problems with it are 1) It takes up a lot of class-time (by the time I set up the activity, let it run, and then do full class feedback on it)
2) I'm not sure students know why they're doing it.
In some of my classes in the past, I got the impression my students didn't fully understand why we were doing brainstorming activities, so I tried to explain to them how lexical priming would be useful for them on a listening test. But it just resulted in a lot of T-T-T as I tried to explain the theory behind the activity, and even then I'm still not sure they got it.

Day 28
p.60-61
I found this quote particularly descriptive of the kind of challenges I face in marking student writing:
“Spaghetti writing is the kind of loose-jointed composition writing which second-language students can produce in paragraph after paragraph. It is characterized by long incoherent sentences and a surfeit of subordinate clauses in search of a main one. All language stimulates expectations, but so often these expectations are not fulfilled in spaghetti writing and a however or a so leads the reader to a wrong conclusion. It is difficult to correct, because tinkering with a relative or a conjunction will not solve the problem, and the usual correction shorthand (Sp, T, Art—spelling/tense/article) is inadequate: short of rewriting the passage, there is little the teacher can do.” (From page 61, although Thornbury is quoting another writer here, D. McDevitt)
This paragraph very eloquently captures the frustration I used to feel in marking EAP essays at my old school (and still feel occasionally when marking IELTS essays at ILA).
At my old school, I had been given a correction code by my school which is similar to the short hand mentioned above (Sp, T, Art—spelling/tense/article), but which is inadequate to correct the types of incoherent sentences my students are writing.
(Thornbury goes on to respond to the above quote by saying that spaghetti writing can not be solved after the fact, but it can be pre-empted before hand if the teacher tells the students to always keep their reader in mind. Personally I’m somewhat pessimistic that the problem will be so easily solved, but I’ll give it a try.)

Day 29
p.62
ESL students are often taught to avoid repeating the same words when writing an essay. (I’ve seen this in a lot of textbooks and materials and occasionally I’ve even taught this myself, usually prompted by the textbooks I was teaching out of.) The idea is that repeating the same word too many times bores the reader, and that students should instead be encouraged to vary their word choice by using pronouns, synonyms, paraphrases.
This is all good in theory, but it can also lead to incomprehensible student writing. When I was teaching EAP (English for Academic Purposes) classes at my former school, I would often come across sentences that make absolutely no sense. However, when I would ask the student to explain the sentence to me, they would usually can give me a clear simple oral explanation of the incomprehensible written sentence.
“Well why didn’t you just write that instead?” I would ask.
“Because I didn’t want to repeat the same words I had already used in the previous sentence,” the student would respond.
The search for synonyms and paraphrasing had lead to incomprehensible writing.
I therefore took interest in Scott Thornbury’s explanation of how good writers will actually repeat the same words over and over again to build cohesion in a text.
As Thornbury writes on page 62: “Explain to writers that lexical repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. Show, using authentic texts, how effective writers use both direct and indirect repetition to convey their argument and to create cohesion.”
Since I read Thornbury, I began telling my students not to worry about lexical repetition, and even encouraging them do to more lexical repetition.
(Although… I do worry somewhat this may be in conflict with the training the students get on the IELTS courses, where they are told that higher scores are awarded for displaying a broad range of vocabulary.)

Day 30
Speaking of Parsnips (something that's in this book somewhere), this popped up in my twitter feed today.




Day 31
I found Scott Thornbury’s section on spoken discourse particularly interesting.
As Thornbury says: “Another effect of the spontaneity of speech is its ‘one-clause-or-phrase-at-a-time’ construction. Rather than being built up in sentence-length units, speech tends to be produced in smaller ‘runs’, each run representing a unit of meaning. These runs are tacked on to each other, rather than being embedded inside larger units (as is typically the case with formal writing) and are often linked by the highly frequent conjunctions and, but, and so…..The cumulative construction principle tolerates the addition of sentence ‘slots’ that in written language would be considered ungrammatical.” (p. 64-65)
This was something I never really thought of before. (Strange how we can speak everyday, but never really give much thought to how we speak—at least in my case.)
As Thornbury explains, because of the processing demands on the speaker, we tend to speak in shorter phrases and chunks that would not be considered grammatical if we wrote them down.
He goes onto explain:
“Of course, this segmentation into bite-sized chunks not only makes production easier, but it makes processing on the part of the listener easier too. This is a fact that is sometimes forgotten when materials writers write texts for listening practice that are constructed out of sentence-length units, rather than clause—or phrase—length ones. In a well intentioned attempt to ‘tidy up’ spoken language, they may, in fact, be making it harder to process. (p.65)
Interesting. I never thought about that before either.

Day 32
p.65
A continuation of the thought I posted yesterday.
On page 65, Scott Thornbury floats the idea that natural speech is actually easier to process than the "cleaned-up" speech that textbooks often use. All the "um"s and "uh.."s help to break the speech up into small phrase length pieces that are easier for the learner to process.
I had a friend/co-worker in Cambodia who attempted to put this into practice with a short lived project that he called TESOL Films

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPp3FifuX0G3fr2WvJuoycA
The short films don't contain listening questions (you'd have to make your own questions up if you were to use these) but they do contain natural speech. In each case, a native speaker was given a rough outline of what story they were going to narrate, but they didn't have time to script their story in advance. The result in each case is a story that contains all the "um"s, "uh..."s and "er"s of natural unscripted speech.
PS--I've got a short cameo in this film (as one of the thieves in the thief cafe) at the 4:08 mark



Day 33
p.66
I just thought this was really interesting. Quoting Scott Thornbury from the bottom of page 66:
Casual conversation is often punctuated by laughter, or at least chuckles. (Interestingly, people who are speaking tend to laugh more than people who are listening.)

Day 34
p.68
Scott Thornbury mentions:
"Transcribed conversations, such as 4.1, are notoriously difficult to make sense of--an issue we will return to shortly."
Did he ever return to that issue? I don't remember.
It is true, though, that transcribed conversations are really difficult to make sense of.
My favorite account of this is from "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker uses the example of the Nixon transcripts to illustrate this, and the example stuck in my mind ever since. Probably because I'm a history major, so these historical examples catch my attention.
I've found a PDF of "The Language Instinct" online.
http://cirpstudents.com/Research%20Library/assets/the-language-instinct.pdf
For the example of the Nixon transcript on the above PDF go to page 226 (226 on the PDF reader, page 222 on the internal page markings).
To quote from part of Pinker's section on the Nixon transcripts:
The Watergate tapes are the most famous and extensive transcripts
of real-life speech ever published. When they were released, Americans were shocked, though not all for the same reason. Some people—a very small number—were surprised that Nixon had taken part in a conspiracy to obstruct justice. A few were surprised that the leader of the free world cussed like a stevedore. But one thing that surprised everyone was what ordinary conversation looks like when it is written down verbatim. Conversation out of context is virtually opaque.
Part of the problem comes from the circumstances of transcription:
the intonation and timing that delineate phrases is lost, and a transcription from anything but the highest-fidelity tape is unreliable.
Indeed, in the White House's independent transcription of this low quality recording, many puzzling passages are rendered more sensibly. For example, I want the, uh, uh, to go is transcribed as I want them, uh, uh, to go. But even when transcribed perfectly, conversation is hard to interpret.
People often speak in fragments, interrupting themselves in midsentence to reformulate the thought or change the subject. It's often unclear who or what is being talked about, because conversers use pronouns (him, them, this, that, we, they, it, one), generic words (do, happen, the thing, the situation, that score, these people, whatever), and ellipses (The U.S. Attorney's Office will and That's why). Intentions are expressed indirectly. In this episode, whether a man would end the year as president of the United States or as a convicted criminal literally hinged on the meaning of get it and on whether What is it that you need? was meant as a request for information or as an implicit offer to provide something.
End Quote
By the way, my all time favorite version of the Nixon Transcripts is from Saturday Night Live: The Nixons Watch "Blind Ambition" (Season 4, episode 20).
I'm really sorry I can't find a video version of this online. The transcript is here.
http://snltranscripts.jt.org/78/78tnixon.phtml
If anyone can find a video of this, let me know. But it does a great job of poking fun at how incomprehensible the Nixon tapes. I'm pretty sure they use the tapes verbatim in part of this sketch, and provide an alternative explanation to why no one is speaking in complete sentences. (At one point in the sketch, Nixon holds up a sign that reads "Let's talk in incomplete sentences" as he and his aids are talking into the recording microphone).

Day 35
p.70
Scott Thornbury mentions Grice and his proposed maxims (or rules) to which speakers adhere to during conversation.
For a good video on Grice's maxims, check out The Ling Space:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzxyjFHh-y8


(There's tons of interesting stuff on The Ling Space channel if you have time to read more.)

Day 36
I thought this was interesting, and related to the PARSNIPS topics that Scott Thornbury talked about in the book.


Day 37
I thought this related to some of chapter 6 and 7




Discussion Day
For the discussion day, I made up a couple things to guide the discussion.
Google Slideshow: slides, pub
A list of quotes from the book: docs, pub



Quotes from the Book for discussion.  (Agree or Disagree)


p.62 on Lexical Repetition
Explain to writers that lexical repetition is not necessarily a bad thing. Show, using authentic texts, how effective writers use both direct and indirect repetition to convey their argument and to create cohesion.


p.64-65  On natural spoken language
Another effect of the spontaneity of speech is its ‘one-clause-or-phrase-at-a-time’ construction. Rather than being built up in sentence-length units, speech tends to be produced in smaller ‘runs’, each run representing a unit of meaning. These runs are tacked on to each other, rather than being embedded inside larger units (as is typically the case with formal writing) and are often linked by the highly frequent conjunctions and, but, and so…..The cumulative construction principle tolerates the addition of sentence ‘slots’ that in written language would be considered ungrammatical.


p.65 On natural spoken language versus textbooks
Of course, this segmentation into bite-sized chunks not only makes production easier, but makes processing on the part of the listener easier too.  This is a fact that is sometimes forgotten when material writers write texts for listening practice that are constructed out of sentence-length units, rather than clause--or phrase--length ones.  In a well intentioned attempt to “tidy up” spoken language, they may, in fact, be making it harder to process.


p.78  On natural spoken language versus textbooks
Also, language models that lack the characteristic “stops and starts” (called disfluencies) of spoken language may convey a misleading message to learners (and some teachers), ie that such disfluencies are mistakes and are to be avoided.  It may come as a relief to learners to discover that native speakers, too, are tongue-tied at times.  There is a good case, then, for exposing them to naturally-occurring, spontaneous (ie unscripted) examples of spoken language.


p.83 On Teacher Talking Time
What learners need, on the other hand, is practice at transferring these skills into their second language.  It may help them do this if they have exposure to models of spoken language that more closely approximate spontaneous, collaborative talk than is often the case.  This may simply involve maximizing opportunities for talk in the classroom.  One of the saddest things I heard a student say was, “Our teacher is very good, but she doesn’t talk to us.”


p.112 On Skimming and Scanning Reading Strategies
...this whole “strategy-based” approach has been called into question.  For a start, it has been argued that encouraging learners to process text at this very superficial level--eg by skimming and scanning--may be counterproductive, since successful reading involves a much greater degree of engagement with the text than such an approach allows.  Successful readers may, indeed, “read every word”, at least some of the time.  By discouraging learners from processing texts at anything other than a very superficial level, teachers may be giving learners the wrong message.

p.142 On the Advantages of Using Literature in the Classroom
So, do literary texts have any advantages over non-literary ones, from a teaching point of view? And do they require a different approach?
There are at least five reasons for using literary texts in the classrooms.
  1. Variety [...]
  2. Language awareness [...]
  3. Challenge and skill [...]
  4. Pleasure [...]
  5. Cultural Knowledge [...]


p.149 On the Ideological Agenda of ESL Coursebooks
This indifference to the content of coursebook texts has been criticized by some writers, who point out that what is not said, as in text 7.12, is also ideological.  In actual fact, the decision to avoid confronting sensitive issues is probably less to do with either the writers’ queasiness or their political affiliation and more to do with the nervousness that educational publishers feel about the possibility of causing offence to a potential market.  Publishers have to tread a narrow line between the need to provide interesting, topical texts, on the one hand, and to avoid controversy on the other.  To this end, guidelines are drawn up for authors both to ensure inclusivity ie avoidance of gender or ethnic bias in the way that people in coursebooks are represented, and appropriacy.  Topics that are considered inappropriate are informally known as the “PARSNIP” topics, ie politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, -isms and pork.  The result is what one critic has called the “soft fudginess” of most EFL material.

Video Review
While I'm revisiting this book, I thought I'd throw in a video review as well.  (Why not.)  Video review here and embedded below



Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky Climate Change Speech 2017

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