Center for Language Studies

A class journal on Campus life (mainly)

May 15, 2015
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Among the skills that a student of a foreign language needs to develop in order to be able to communicate in his target language, writing has an extremely peculiar role. We could think that writing is usually required only in a comparatively small proportion in the everyday communication. You don’t need indeed to write with the grace of John Donne or the majesty of Christopher Marlowe to get the right subway to go to Trafalgar Square, neither in the case your sore throat is very bad. Of course it is important to know how to write an email without being excessively impolite, but still, if we think of the amount of time we spend writing during our day, it will be clear that it cannot be compared with the time that we spend listening, speaking or reading. This point of view is often reflected in the approach used in foreign language teaching. As Homstad and Thorson put it «Until recently, writing has been seen as the “step-child” of the four modalities within all the major approaches to foreign language acquisition. Only the most advanced classes typically involved composition in the target language, and traditionally these composition classes were often little more than workshops in grammar» (cfr. Torild Homstad & Helga Thorson, Using Writing-to-Learn Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom, Technical Report Series No.14, 1996, p.3). But what the quantitative approach — based on the numeric proportion of the time devoted to the four different skills — cannot grasp, is that the time we spend writing has a different quality.

Writing indeed conjugates the strong concentration on the mere linguistic aspects of communication, a feature which belongs to reading as well, with the strongly active attitude, which belongs to speaking as well. When we write in a foreign language indeed we are completely absorbed in the attempt to find the better way to communicate our ideas. We cannot rely on our gestures, or on the expressions of our face, or on the intonation of our voice. If we need some help, we cannot receive it in a passive way, as it happen when, while we are speaking, we ask to our conversant to suggest us the word that we don’t know or that we don’t remember. As the experience teaches us it is extremely easy to forget the words or the rules apprehended in this way. When we are writing instead we are alone with our page. If we lack a word we have to look for it on a dictionary, if we don’t know how to construe a sentence we will search for a model in a book or on the internet. And when we have found a certain number of possible solutions we compare them, evaluating the different nuances of the different expressions, until we individuate the expression that fits best with our purpose. This process is extremely active, and, at a certain degree, we can consider it as a process of linguistic creation. The knowledges that we acquire in this process are usually well interiorized, and can be easily used in the other sectors of communication. We can then think writing as a linguistic laboratory where we can experiment solutions that afterwards can be applied to other communicative situations.

For this very reason it is extremely important to give to the students the opportunity of writing often. Continuity can be very important in this respect, because the difficulties of facing the blank page need a frequent exercise to be overcome. Another aspect that has to be taken in consideration is the importance of giving the students the opportunity of developing their writing skill in a meaningful context. Anyway it can be difficult for the teacher to imagine every time a writing assignment that can stimulate the interest of all the student. It would be certainly better if the students could chose by themselves their arguments, so that they would be adequately motivated to engage in the communication process, but an excess of choice can often be a further difficulty to overcome.

For all the reasons above I intend to sketch a project for a class journal in which the students can write short articles on campus life. The Journal can be an excellent occasion to enhance the student’s autonomy (cfr. Cfr. Lulzime Kamberi, Promoting learner autonomy in foreign language teaching by using student journals, 1st International Interdisciplinary Conference AIIC 2013, 24-26 April, 2013, Azores Portugal), and to develop skills that will then be employed in all the sectors of communication. As Homstadt and aThorson have stressed «The dialog journal is a place in which students can explore various topics and means of expression to develop fluency by writing extensively without fear of the instructor’s red pen» (cfr. Torild Homstad & Helga Thorson, Using Writing-to-Learn Activities in the Foreign Language Classroom, Technical Report Series No.14, 1996, p.25).

The project is designed for an intermediate class (0300). To be able to write their articles the student need indeed to have already acquired the basic grammatical notion and consistent vocabulary skills.

Frequency
The frequency of the publication has to be decided by the instructor, according to the exigencies of the class. Even if my experience in the field is extremely narrow, I think that the journal could come out once every two weeks. This frequency could balance the exigence of attaining continuity in the writing activity with the need to not overburden the class and the instructor with an excessive amount of work. At least anyway the journal should be published monthly.

Support
The journal has to be realized using a digital platform like WordPress or Livejournal. The accession can be limited at the participants or eventually broadened to the department, according to the circumstances. The platform will remain open to comments and replies.

Correction
The main problem in the organization of a journal of this kind regards how to handle the correction of the articles written by the students. As Trong Tuan puts it «The question of correction in journal writing, however, remains vaguely replied to. It is dispiriting if the teacher acts towards the students’ writing as a source of errors to be rectified. On the contrary, how can the students know what aspect of language they should improve without error diagnosis and remedial feedback?» (cfr. Luu Trong Tuan, Enhancing EFL Learners’ Writing Skill via Journal Writing, «English Language Teaching», Vol.3 No. 3, Sept. 2010, p.83). I think that the principal aim of the journal is to give to the students the opportunity of autonomously exercising their writing skills. In order to avoid the arising of bad habits, I think that the articles could be corrected by the teacher before their “publication”. Grades anyway should be avoided, in order to not discourage the student to try their best. At this conditions the correction could even have a positive effect on the willingness of the students to contribute to the journal, in the sense that they will not be afraid to show their errors to the readers.

Articles
The structure of the article has to comprehend both a descriptive part, where the student gives to the reader the informations, and a reflexive part, where the student express is own point of view on the argument.
The articles have to be relatively short, their length will be comprehended between 400 and 700 words, in order to not overcharge both the class and the instructor with an excess of work. More than on the quantity indeed, this activity relies on the continuity.

Categories
The journal will have a number of sections corresponding to the different categories of articles. This division in categories is not meant to discourage the students to write about certain topics but rather its purpose is to facilitate the choice of the subjects. The list of categories can be broadened or restricted, what is important is to allow the students to write in a meaningful context, possibly using their writings as an occasion to reflect on the world they have around.

Campus life:
all that, whether you like it or not, is related to the life on campus: academic events, conferences, courses, sport, people, places, plants and animals, food, habits, gossip, trends, legends, traditions, protests, problems, news.
Reviews:
books, concerts, recordings, exhibitions, theater, movies, readings, performances
Nightlife:
places to eat, to drink, to dance, and more
Crazy things
strange stories that happened to you, to people that you know, or that you have heard about
Receipts:
foods and drinks that you like and that you know how to prepare
On the street
what happens in town


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Language Software and the Communicative Approach

May 15, 2015
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Een man en een vrouwRijst en een appel.

A man and a woman. Rice and an apple.

As I swiftly move along and match beginning level Dutch sentences with the photo representations of their content, the gentle sound of scales encourages me by telling me my choices are correct and flashes a green check mark to confirm it. Looking at me from aside, one might think that I’m grasping the language quite quickly or that maybe I even had some previous knowledge of it. Occasionally, I say out loud words or even short sentences in a language probably unfamiliar to most of the students sitting around me in the library. I do my best to roll my r’s and pronounce the ‘sh’ /ʃ/ sound in meisje (a girl) just right. I think it sounds authentic and, for the most part, Rosetta Stone seems to agree with me and lets me move on to the next picture and sentence to match. I’m gaining momentum on the matching activities. I can’t help but wonder, however, why rice gets paired with an apple for that activity. Is it customary in the Netherlands to eat the two together? I also start to wonder how I can say what I am eating or drinking. So far, I’ve only encountered verbal forms in the third person singular and plural. Or, even better, what my name is and where I am from. I am connecting flights in Amsterdam on my next trip and my hope is to learn some very basic phrases to practice during the five-hour layover at Schiphol.

After 40-45 minutes of these repetitive activities that generally did not focus on the meaning of the language as much as on pattern repetition, listening and matching, I fell into a monotonous habit and lost track of exactly what I was doing. I had tried exploring other languages offered by Rosetta before: German, French and Mandarin Chinese, among others, the latter of which proved to be a most frustrating experience. The prospect of learning a language or at least being exposed to a new language enough to be able to understand simple phrases or recognize basic characters of its script seemed appealing and promising. Especially since all I needed was my computer. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has developed very extensive guidelines on proficiency levels and I was certainly hoping to claim some novice – or maybe even intermediate low for all my dedication – proficiency in Dutch after my Rosetta lessons (please refer to Fig. 1). Nevertheless, the Rosetta Stone proved to be a challenge and, at the end of the day, I did not feel like I had developed a better understanding of the languages I tried to explore. I doubt I am the only one who has had such an encounter with the Rosetta Stone language learning programs.

To be sure, the Rosetta Stone program has its positive qualities and can be useful for some learners and in some contexts. The way new vocabulary and grammar presentation is sequenced is gradual and logical. The learner is first exposed to simple, but key phrases like ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ and then to more complex vocabulary, learning the words for a man and a woman, then several verbs (to eat, to drink, to run, to read), then plural noun and verb forms. The inclusion of visuals certainly helps the learner understand what the phrases are implying better and eliminates the need to rely on his or her native language and – by proxy – on methods of language teaching that used to be widely practiced before, such as the grammar translation method that solely focuses on translation to and from the native language (also sometimes referred to as L1) of the learner. In fact, all activities of the Rosetta Stone programs utilize exclusively the target language, or the language a person is in the process of learning. Additionally, another aspect of the Rosetta Stone that is well done is the frequent repetition of the correct pronunciation of the words or phrases that exposes the learner to consistent auditory input (information) and the correct way of pronouncing the structure.

Finally, new grammar and vocabulary are generally presented implicitly – or indirectly, without bringing attention specifically to them, but rather by incorporating them with the rest of the text – which could be a beneficial strategy in language teaching and learning. For instance, as the learner is practicing matching sentences containing third person singular forms (e.g., the woman is eating; the man is drinking; the young boy is running), third person plural forms are gradually introduced as well. The learner is soon exposed to plural structures (e.g., the women are reading, the men are eating), but the photographs give a clear indication of that, thus avoiding additional confusion. Overall, the Rosetta Stone can be a helpful language learning platform that provides the user with flexibility and the ability to complete the activities on his or own time as well as exposes him to a variety of vocabulary and grammar structures in an easily comprehensible and manageable way. At the end of each level, there is also a ‘milestone’ section that simulates a real situation and a conversation the user can try to have with fictional characters to practice everything that has been learned.

Nevertheless, there are also several aspects of the Rosetta Stone programs that render the process challenging and sometimes ineffective, especially when it comes to more permanent language acquisition. One of the most striking aspects is perhaps the lack of deeper meaning in the activities that could help make them more salient and relevant to the student and his or her life and everyday experiences. While the learner can understand the semantic meaning of the words and sentences that are presented in the units (e.g., apple, water, man, woman), he or she might have a harder time retaining that information. In the beginning units of Level 1 (beginners) language modules, very little information is presented that has direct relevance to the learner. In fact, even the wider use of third person forms rather than first person forms in the program is reflective of that.

Additionally, while all modules rotate the same set of stock photos of men, women and children engaged in different activities, there is no consistent meaning or storyline attached to them. Cutting down the number of unfamiliar and impersonal faces and perhaps coming up with a narrative that links the characters that are visible together, turning the sentences into a meaningful story could be beneficial to learners. The idea that meaning is essential to second language acquisition is at the center of one of the more recent approaches in language teaching – the communicative approach. The communicative approach focuses on meaning negotiation, or engaging students in various forms of communication and presenting them with various forms of the language, which is used as a tool instead of the end goal of the process.[1] The lack of communicative meaning in the Rosetta Stone modules is perhaps one of the biggest drawbacks of the program.

In addition, while the Rosetta Stone language modules have a clear structure that focuses on different language skills such as listening, reading or speaking, the structure of most of the activities in the units is fairly similar. A reading type of activity only differs from a listening activity in that it presents the script or the written text of the sentence. The actual content of the two activities is quite similar and does not go beyond the established form of sentences that focus on certain number of nouns and verbs. The Rosetta Stone provides its users with flexibility and the ability to choose their course of study before they start a language. For Level 1 learners, one could pick from a variety of topics and modules that touch on various language skills: extended with reading intro (teaches characters and sounds), reading and writing with intro, reading and writing focus, extended, speaking and listening focus, standard, extended and standard with reading intro. Nevertheless, what a user who tries different modules will discover is that they are structured in a relatively similar way. Furthermore, the inability of the learner to go back and change the type of course setting once the course is started can prove a frustrating experience and further impede successful language acquisition.

Moreover, perhaps one of the biggest challenges and areas that need improvement in programs like the Rosetta Stone and in computer-mediated language learning platforms in general is corrective feedback. It is difficult to include feedback tailored specifically to the student and the mistakes he or she is making in stride in a pre-programmed platform. In the classroom, when a student makes a mistake, the instructor relies on his or her discretion to decide when and how to provide feedback. Feedback could be direct or it could be in the form of a recast (repeating the structure with the correct form) or metalinguistic feedback (giving the student clues as to where he or she went wrong and letting them understand and correct their own error). The process can be very intuitive and dynamic, which makes it hard to program into a computer platform.

In addition, it is even harder to predict every possible mistake a learner could make (whether it is a more minor pronunciation error or a more substantial grammatical error). Even with the correct models and error feedback mechanisms provided by the Rosetta Stone, the lack of other types of corrective feedback especially in the pronunciation activities can make for a challenge. Once the learner has made a mistake, he or she can take a look at an audio transcript with the recording that also shows the direction of the intonation, but it can still be hard to determine exactly why the pronunciation is not right.

Finally, another subtle, but nevertheless important, element that is somewhat neglected by the Rosetta Stone programs is culture. While the different photos included in the program are diverse and feature people from many cultures, the visuals used by separate language modules are the same and remain constant for each language. The pictures do not form a meaningful storyline, as we discussed earlier, nor do they provide meaningful cultural context. The picture of a geisha is used as a visual for the word woman in the Dutch module. Culture – along with communication, comparisons, communities and connections – is among the five C’s or five goal areas of language learning as defined by the American Council on the Foreign Language Teaching.[2] Unfortunately, most of these elements are not incorporated into the Rosetta Stone modules.

Not all is lost, however, when it comes to the intersection of the communicative approach to language teaching and learning and using technology as a platform to accomplish that in a more effective way. In fact, programs such as the Tactical Language and Culture Training System (TLCTS)[3] which helps users learn communicative language and culture skills by way of virtual simulations, role play games and interactive activities have been developed and are in the process of testing. In addition, language textbooks are acquiring more electronic features and some – such as the newly published electronic Russian textbook Mezhdu nami[4] – effectively combine meaning-based approaches to learning a language with the online features and medium of publication of the book.

Mira Nikolova

Graduate student

Department of Slavic Studies

Brown University

 

Fig. 1. ACTFL proficiency levels cone. For more information on the proficiency scale, please click here.

[1] For more information on communicative language teaching, please refer to Brandl, Klaus. Communicative Language Teaching in Action. Putting Principles to Work. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. Print.

[2] American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. “Standards for Foreign Language Learning. Preparing for the 21st Century.” https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/public/StandardsforFLLexecsumm_rev.pdf Electronic.

[3] Johnson, W. Lewis. “Serious Use of a Serious Game for Language Learning.” Artificial Intelligence in Education. Ed. Rosemary Luckin, Kenneth Koendinger, and Jim Greer. IOS Press, 2007. Electronic.

[4] Debenedette, Lynne, Commer, William, Smyslova, Alla, and Jonathan Perkins. Mezhdu nami. University of Kansas: Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center. Electronic.


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Engaging Authentic Materials in the Language Classroom

May 13, 2015
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Outdated methods of second language acquisition, such as the Audio-Lingual Method or tedious grammar drills, found themselves increasingly inadequate through the late 20th century as further linguistic and pedagogical research made a case for meaningful and communicative approaches to teaching and learning a new language. Grammar drills, for instance, can never appropriately support the learner in his or her journey towards becoming a capable and competent speaker because they have no stake in how language is actually used. Grammar is an important building block for language learning but cannot replace a contextualized discourse. For this reason, even more recent (and more capitalist-minded) ventures, such as Rosetta Stone, cannot provide a fully engaged language learning experience. Being exposed to and then memorizing a series of sentences does not make the learner proficient in understanding or carrying on culturally or socially contextualized discourse. The introduction of authentic language materials is necessary to make this step. The learner needs to use contextually ‘real’ materials (whether these are books, music, movies, photographs, articles or what have you) in order to establish real connections with how real language provides real communication in the target tongue. This obviously begs the question: What is real? What is an authentic material? And, while I do not want to delve into a pedagogical existential crisis, I do hope to present some ideas on what authentic can mean in the classroom and how it could be put to use.

I’d like to state that I do not think there is one perfect way to learn a language. The introduction and utilization of authentic materials, though, seems to me to be an incredible way to really facilitate the learner’s entry into a whole new realm of competency (and hopefully fluency) in their target language. I think of friends of mine that were helped in learning English by watching shows like FRIENDS that ran throughout their adolescence. Watching a sitcom may seem like a kind of stilted, contrived language to a native speaker, but it offers the advantage of exposing the learner to a variety of “real” idiomatic experiences and allows the learner to grow with the characters through the duration of the show’s run. The inherent artifice of a TV show is washed away by the benefits of the characters’ performances of real experiences. Communication is being achieved and modeled for the language learner. In my own experience, I think that music has played a huge role in my experience learning Spanish. From an early age, I listened to singers like Shakira and Selena. Even though both pop singers crooned about seemingly silly topics like love and loss, they offered a window into how real life communication could take place in the target language. I knew that Spanish speakers were listening to Shakira and singing along with her lyrics. They were meaningful to her fans and also to me: a fan and language-learner.

In considering how NBC sitcoms or Latin pop music might help some people, I think it would be useful to more properly define what authenticity really means in a language learning context. Based on various pedagogical and methodological resources, authenticity seems to take on a multitude of definitions, all inter-related but importantly different. The most basic definition of authenticity then might be real language generated by native speakers for native speakers that conveys a real meaning. So, on a very general level, authentic language is language that two native speakers use to converse, write or otherwise communicate. Extending that specific situation, we might think of authentic language as real, meaningful language not just between two speakers, but also between any language-producer and any audience-receptor. In this case, we can start to think about authenticity in terms of a song or a film where real language is produced and intended for reception. I think a more functional definition though might include some sort of description on the relationship between the language producer and receptor. Linguists and pedagogues have often emphasized the importance of social and cultural contextualizations of language, the meaningful task-based production of language or the actual terms and processes of engagement involved in language meaning. I think all of these seemingly complicated or research-specific concepts point to the same important aspect of authenticity. Authentic language is affective and personal. It produces an almost indescribable feeling of connection. It necessarily conveys meaning while simultaneously carrying an underlying emotion, sensibility or affectation. Authentic language makes us feel emotions, recall memories and perceive moods or attitudes. I think some linguistic or pedagogical researchers tend to ignore the affective quality of authentic language as it is demonstrably impossible to quantify and resists objective criteria. It is true that a more personally engaged perspective makes authenticity slippery in that it can mean something different for each individual learner. I hope though that we can start to brainstorm new ways to grasp onto affective and individual registers of language to promote language learning.

We might reconsider the example of learners using a TV show like FRIENDS to achieve proficiency in listening, comprehending and speaking English. Part of their success is indebted to the emotional, comedic or sensational affects of the show’s use of language. As viewers, the language learners become somehow attached and invested in the way that language is used to move the plot of the six main characters. The affective and personal qualities of authentic language are not only models for real language but also motivational tools that connect to our most human sensibilities.

The problem, then, remains: how do instructors and learners take advantage of the almost invisible and intangible aspects of a language? Especially in a classroom setting often inextricably linked to highly structured curricula and the often-contrived language of textbooks, it seems extremely difficult to effectively use authentic materials. I think the first step in any class is creating a policy of emphasis on the individual. The instructor should continually attempt to get to know his or her class on a personal level, using class conversation and discussion prompts to understand what the learners really care about. I believe this individualized approach leads rather seamlessly to an inter-subjective approach in which learners in the class can connect to each other through authentic interests. The instructor should then use every opportunity possible to introduce authentic materials in the target language. While this may be more comfortable for learners at an intermediate and advanced level, I think allowing beginning learners to connect to authentic materials helps promote motivation to keep building new skills and competencies. As well, at beginning levels, it may be more useful to introduce authentic materials as way of analyzing meaning instead of form. Grammar systems might be introduced inductively through authentic materials or as a separate part of a lesson, but what I think is important is an emphasis on negotiating and interpreting meaning without overwhelming the learner. Finally, the scope of a large-scale integration of authentic materials into a curriculum demands a lot of work and, especially, reflection on the part of the instructor. The instructor should be attuned to the class’ needs and interests in order to provide specific and meaningful content for the class. As well, I hope the use of authentic materials promotes authentic reflection in the classroom. If students are not invested in a particular material, it should be noted and re-configured for subsequent classes. In any case, I hope that instructors might start to attend to and refine a more engaging and affective approach to communicative learning. I think, in the end, it will create a culture around second language acquisition that will help deepen meaning and promote continued language learning.

Ian Russell

Brown University

PhD, Hispanic Studies


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Teach Them– Be One Of Them

May 11, 2015
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I can’t remember how many teachers taught me, but I certainly remember how many of them touched a chord in my heart through whatever they were teaching me.

When I remember Managerial Accounting, I remember Prof. Ahmed Salama who unintentionally influenced my career path and had me rethink my entire professional goals, for I wanted to become the professor he was.

When I remember teaching itself, I remember my Italian mentor, Prof. Sabrina Khedr, who taught me how to gaze into my students’ eyes as if they were my newborns, how to let them remember, not only the subject matter, but every single word being said in my classroom—how to relate the subject matter itself to my life and to their lives as well.

I can’t really remember other professors who dwelled only on the knowledge they were passing unto me. I do praise their knowledge and praise their efforts but unfortunately, I cannot praise anything pertinent to their classes beyond that.

So, what was special about professors like Prof. Salama or Prof. Khedr?

Let us first relate their teaching methodologies to Aristotle’s Analysis for Public Speaking, which could be profoundly relatable to teaching as a process that requires a great deal of persuasion as does Public Speaking itself.

The three elements of persuasion are Ethos, Pathos and Logos. The question now is: do we really need Ethos, Pathos and Logos in teaching as three inevitable means of making our classes as lively as they could ever be? Let’s see.

Ethos involves amplifying your credibility in every aspect of the teaching/ learning process. You don’t have to repeatedly state your academic qualifications as a teacher nor do you have to remind the students of the prestigious degree you’re currently holding. You need to amplify your credibility by relating the subject matter to your self—to your personal and professional experiences. You could relate it to your career path as if you are one of them; a student who sought for knowledge of the subject matter because it mattered significantly to him. This will touch a chord in their hearts.

For example, an anecdote of how Contemporary Literature allowed you to better understand the culture of Country X when you recently visited it will definitely have your students become more passionate about it.

Pathos, on the other hand, can be considered the most important one of them all. Why? Because it simply bonds your heart to those of your students.

If Pathos, according to Aristotle, is how you relate yourself to your audience emotionally as a public speaker (as a teacher in our case), thus you’re required to relate the subject matter to the lives of each of your students, to have your students become eager to know all that is relevant to the subject matter inside and outside of your class.

You have to get personal with them, not too personal lest it becomes weird, but you still have to approach them personally via the contents of your course.

It all starts with your ‘credible’ anecdotes through which you can bond yourself emotionally with your students.

Learn from them why they chose what you’re teaching over other subjects. If their motivations are not enough, tell them why you, their instructor, think they MUST learn it. Relate the subject matter to your personal life and then relate it to their personal lives.

Knowing your students’ interests or even hobbies can be significantly important to integrate Pathos into the process of motivating your students to enjoy your class.

For example, when my mentor, Prof. Khedr who taught me teaching itself, knew how much I love watching American movies, she in turn told me that her favorite motion picture is Russell Crow’s Gladiator.

“When my students are smiling at me or when they tell me how much they enjoy my class, I feel like Maximus in the Colosseum—I feel that my students are cheering for me as Maximus’ spectators were chanting: Maximus, Maximus, Maximus. It feels so euphoric,” said Prof. Khedr, an ESL Professor at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime.

A line like the one above was enough to make me love the teacher I was hoping to be one day.

Logos, however, is the analytical presentation of the information given in your class—the subject matter itself.

Aristotle theory for Public Speaking implies that presenting your information must come in the shape of an argument rather than a rigid process of I teach, you learn.

Even in the application of Logos, you’re required to make your students feel comfortable as they learn what you have to ‘theoretically’ teach them—you have to make them believe that you are adding to their (existing) knowledge and that you’re also learning from them regardless to their humble knowledge of the subject matter.

If you ask them: “Do you know anything about the Relativity Theory of Einstein?” and if a student gives a very irrelevant answer, do not say: “that is incorrect.”

Instead, relate his incorrect answer to your falsified understanding of the theory when you were a little kid, for example, or elicit the inadequacy of the student’s answer by saying: “this could have had more sense if Einstein was thinking of X instead of Y, but the right way of plotting Einstein’s theory is,” and then you go about the theory’s explanation.

Many would argue for clearly stating that the student’s answer is incorrect because eventually students must know their correct and incorrect answers as long as they’re still in the learning process of the subject matter.

Based on my humble teaching experience, it always demotivates your students to have them feel ‘wrong’ about something even if they do know that they’re still in the ‘very basic’ stages of the learning process relevant to the subject matter. There are too many ways of ‘adequately’ showing that your student’s answer is incorrect, just make sure that it’s a way that keeps you off of the static process of I teach, you learn.

Indeed Ethos, Pathos and Logos are crucial for making your class as enjoyable as possible, indeed you need to emotionally bond with your students and to make them feel as if you’re pretty much one of them— someone who’s in a learning process that does not differ a lot from that of theirs.

-Omar Al Shehata
Fulbright Arabic TA
Brown University
Center for Language Studies


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