Study Abroad….what is it good for? #researchbites

Once, while talking about students’ travel experiences, I learned that one of my students had spent a semester studying English at a university in North Dakota. My thought was, “North Dakota – Why?” Apparently, this university in the college town of Aberdeen was attracting a lot of Korean students; I later learned a number had studied there. However, it was not this strange choice of study locale that I recall as clearly as what the student said about studying abroad and, in particular, living in America: “It doesn’t really help your English.” My knee jerk reaction, based mostly on what I had learned about immersion, kicked in and I thought that there could be a number of reasons she didn’t feel her English had grown, but studying abroad and immersion must have a profound affect on language learning. But, then I stopped. I thought about my own situation. At that time, 4 years in Korea left me with meager abilities to do all but the most mundane things in Korean. Hadn’t immersion failed me? Maybe she was on to something. Does simply living in a foreign language ensure learning? Continue reading

On Debate and Consensus-Building (a research-inspired activity)

How do differing discourse goals affect students’ abilities to process evidence? Does the act of argument and persuasion mean they read evidence from a biased perspective? If they argue from the opposite side’s perspective, will that change their own opinion? What if they had to come to a mutual decision? Would that affect their opinion? Continue reading

Do coursebook writing tasks engender confirmation bias?

Bias is part of human nature. We all have biases, many of which are implicit. One particular form of this is confirmation bias, the “tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs” (Wikipedia). In other words, it is having an opinion and accepting anything that supports it while rejecting anything that does not. Critical thinking is considered a kind of antithesis or antidote to this type of bias, which is why it and related concepts (i.e. evidence-based thinking) have become so popular lately, being a major part of the United States’ Common Core standards and a skill that is constantly being discussed in all circles of education, ELT included. Continue reading

Rethinking the Five-Paragraph Essay: The Limitations of Formulaic Writing (#TESOL17 report)


Do you remember the scene in The Dead Poets Society where a student reads a passage on how to measure poetry on an X- and Y- axis, and then John Keating (Robin Williams) has students rip out those pages?

How can the muddled mess and maxims of poetry be codified into a formulaic scale of “greatness”? Well, if you agree with that scene, then you probably agree that the five-paragraph essay must go. Continue reading

Off Course: A Comparison of University and EAP Coursebook Writing Tasks – #TESOL2017

Here, you can find both my PowerPoint (in PDF format) and my handout from my presentation today (March 23) at TESOL 2017 In Seattle. My presentation looked at my research comparing university writing tasks and EAP coursebook writing tasks.

Thanks for attending or checking out my material. Comments and feedback are appreciated!

Research Bites: A Pedagogical Approach to Note-Taking Instruction

Most teachers and students would agree that note-taking is an essential skill for academic success. Note-taking is so important that there is quite a bit of research on it in both L1 and L2 domains. While note-taking is considered to be a complicated process that requires the coordination of cognitive and physical abilities, it is even more complicated for taking notes in an L2, which adds in extra layers of difficulties. A number of coursebooks and teachers have been working to address this challenge. Yet, as Siegel argues below, few offer a systematic and scaffolded approach to learning note-taking. Often, the only instruction is “take notes”. The study below, by Joseph Siegel, offers one such approach and gives us insights into its effectiveness. Continue reading

Research Bites: Speech Perception, Speech Production, and Corrective Feedback

Among the numerous factors that influence pronunciation, many have argued that listening – in particular, listening discrimination, plays an important role.

Lee and Lyster (2016) explore this connect between how listening – namely, speech perception, influences speech production. This idea, known as the perception-first view, is well-supported by empirical studies, though it is not without some contention. Lee and Lyster in particular focus on speech perception training and its effect on phonological production (pronunciation). Reviewing a number of studies, the authors indicated that a common training element was corrective feedback. Their study presented below looks at the possible role corrective feedback (CF) may play in moving from accurate speech perception to accurate speech production.

Lee, A. H., & Lyster, R. (2016). Can corrective feedback on second language speech perception errors affect production accuracy?. Applied Psycholinguistics, 1-23. Retrieved from

They conducted their research with 100 Korean learners of English. They divided them into five groups, each of which underwent speech perception training for eight sessions during two weeks through specially designed software. The training included listening to various words that represented words with trouble vowels for Koreans: /i/–/ɪ/ and /ɛ/–/æ/. They were able to listen to each word as many times as they wanted and then they had to choose the word orally represented. For example, they heard /ʃɪp/ and had to choose between “ship” and “sheep”. Based on their answer and the group they were in, they received the following corrective feedback:

Target Group “No, s/he said ‘ship’.” Yes
Nontarget Group “No, not ‘sheep’.” Yes
Combination Group No, s/he said ‘ship’ not ‘sheep’.” Yes
Wrong Group Wrong Right
Control Group None None

The participants were audiorecorded three times (pre, post, delayed post). They had to produce sentences that included the trained words, as well as some untrained words. Analysis of these recordings was done using native English speakers and acoustic analysis software.

Lee and Lyster found the following:

  • Target Group:
    • Production accuracy was significantly higher for trained words at both the post- and delayed posttest;
    • Production accuracy for /ɛ/–/æ/ untrained words was higher at both posttests;
    • Production accuracy for /i/–/ɪ/ untrained words was higher for the immediate posttest only.
  • Nontarget Group:
    • No significant changes for /i/–/ɪ/
    • Production accuracy was higher for /ɛ/–/æ/ trained words at both postests
    • Production accuracy was higher for /i/–/ɪ/ and /ɛ/–/æ/ untrained words at the immediate posttest
  • Combination, Wrong, Control:
    • No significant changes

Overall, they reinforced the idea in the relationship between speech perception and speech production, but CF type was a major factor. They found that providing target feedback (which is akin to a ‘recast’) is more effective than providing negative feedback (which is akin to prompts). That is, giving the target form in response to incorrect perception was better than simply telling them which sound was wrong.

How does this influence improved speech production? The researchers noticed that both target and nontarget groups would verbally respond to CF by trying to produce the correct utterances. The target groups did this more often than the nontarget group, and the other three groups, by the nature of the CF type, did not engage in this behavior. Therefore, speech perception alone is important, but “opportunities for noticing, awareness, and practice, in addition to CF” might be necessary (p. 18).