Saturday, September 20, 2008

chat assignment, cont'd

Sixteen to two to one (see below), really eighteen to two to one, with the one ambivalent student perhaps representing what most truly felt, but, given the results, I had to stop and reflect. My students were telling me loudly and clearly that chat was an informal dialect that is harmful to language learners, and in effect ran counter to what they saw as their goals here. With that kind of resounding opinion, I knew I had to rethink my introduction to chat and chatting with students, which I had carefully justified pedagogically. This same group, by the way, proved to me, in chatting, that they were quite adept at it; while they would whine endlessly about writing a single paragraph, they could create chat streams that I could not keep up with, and that were fluent in several languages at once. We had not in fact chatted much before I asked them to write the essay; they were weak grammatically, and we'd spent most of our class time working on more basic issues. Yet we'd tried, and I'd explained the PROS. They knew where I stood on the issue; they also heard me, I'm sure, when I told them that I was genuinely interested in what they had to say about it and how they felt. Write what you want, I told them, just use the quotes as you were taught to do in writing class. It was a practice final.

Yet, given the chance, these were the essays they produced. Here are some possible reasons so many chose con, if in fact they were ambivalent or even pro:
1. they found it easier to construct the con arguments, given the quotes; they had heard those arguments before, and were most comfortable with familiar, comprehensible arguments. The PRO arguments were perhaps difficult to grasp, or they couldn't quite fit together three good ones;
2. in spite of actively and often chatting with friends, they couldn't conceive of it actually having useful class application; it was for fun, it was not for school, and they knew nobody could stop them from chatting no matter what they argued;
3. they genuinely noticed its ill effects, and were bothered by them, and found that easy to write about;
4. they tend to act as a group; they asked their friends, and went the way the wind was blowing, for the most part;
5. aware that it was being published, they were conscious that the ministry of education or whoever they hoped would hire them, would be able to read the essay, and decided to please what they saw as the powers that be;

Perhaps you can read into my explanations the feeling I have that in general, they are sincere; in reading the essays, you will find their real voice coming out; they are arguing in their best essays. They were not my best EAP2 class; this was a fairly typical stack of essays in terms of quality. I did correct grammar before putting them online, but I do that very minimally, and often miss things, especially in titles. I rarely change meaning; when I suspect they meant something other than what they said, I present several choices to them in hopes that they will use one and express themselves more carefully.

As a result of this stunning development, I stopped using chat directly in these classes, as I realized that I would have to understand more carefully the societal and social objections to chat that were so freely coming to the surface, before I continued. At the same time, I became so busy that I could not only not find the time to document this development, but also not even mark it carefully in my weblog, or here, until now. Busy, huh? Such is life. When you grade huge stacks of twenty, you do pop art on weekends.

Chat assignment: most students blast chat (6-2008)

I looked around for the assignment itself, which I thought I had posted, but found only the wikipedia assigment, which was similar but different topic. Basically students are given quotes for and against; they are asked to decide whether in this case language learners should be encouraged or discouraged from using chat; they must use the quotes to support or as counter argument to refute which they do to various degrees of skill. As I've said, they could be choosing OPPOSED just because it is easier to construct the argument. Nevertheless a resounding majority were AGAINST. Read for yourself:

1. Chat is bad, J. R.
2. Keeping the languages standard, Vicky
3. Chats are killing skills, Carolina
4. Against encouraging chat with students, EunDo
5. Internet style language, Johnny
6. Chat and writing, Fan
7. Problems of new internet words, Tez
8. Chat, Dhay
9. Chatting, GilJae
10. Chat could have fatal effects, Moon
11. Bad effect of using chat, HeeJin
12. Chat problems, Jasim
13. New languages made by children, Dodi
14. Problem of writing ability, JinShu
15. Don't use chatting in class, JiHye

16. English through chatting, Aziz
17. Benefits of chatting rooms, Ghada

18. Chatting can be a useful method of writing, JuHye

19-20. Two students, also CON I believe, failed to put their essays online, but that's par for the course.

students & chat

I was set back in late June, maybe, when I chatted with students, then gave an exercise designed to have them use sources and argue for an opinion, for or against having students chat. I was dumbfounded when virtually all students came out against; only one was clearly for. Their essays ended up in their weblogs and I will try to recover them; I am aware that they could have been against simply because it was easier to construct an argument against, or easier to understand the quotes that were against; I was also aware that virtually all chatted in their own time and at least in their own languages, on the internet.

Chat has now evolved considerably, and three months off of posting here does not represent less interest on my part, but maybe less ability to keep up with the overwhelming volume of things written about chat. To review my original hypotheses, the reasons I started this weblog, I'll put their current variants here:

the explosion in chat worldwide is caused basically by people's ability to communicate instantly online; though it is driven by convenience, it has profound effects on both how we understand language and what will happen to most of ours as we know them;

First, and perhaps most important, the relationship between oral and written language as we have always been comfortable with it has changed for good; it is no longer true that the oral language carries most of the dialects, is most changeable, or even is the "primary" language through which the other is developed;

Second, our understanding of dialect will have to encompass "places" where people meet and chat, and which are isolated from the rest of human discourse, so that they have a chance to evolve with their own dialects, in such a way that people may have trouble, at first, understanding them. I am thinking here of places like Second Life and World of Warcraft, though I know little about them, but I know that when enough chat takes place continuously in a given environment it is bound to undergo dialectical modification

Third, as teachers of language (which I am) we are obligated to teach a language in the environment in which it will be used, and that to me suggests that our students should be practicing chat skills, which are similar in a sense to teaching basic conversational English, in that students need to practice responding quickly yet appropriately under pressure, and manage the medium of expression on top of that.

More to come.