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Visions of Students – Ethnography in Action

Michael Wesch and the students of Kansas State University’s Digital Ethnography Research Team produced this video collage about what it means to be a student today. Over 200 submissions went in to this remix.

Here are some excerpts from the voice over:

  • Discovering knowledge is beyond the power of the student, and is, in any case, none of their business.
  • Recall is the highest form of intellectual achievement, and the collection of unrelated facts is the goal of education.
  • One’s own ideas, and the ideas of one’s classmates, are inconsequential.
  • There is always a single, unambiguous, right answer to a question.
  • The voice of authority is to be trusted, and valued more than independent judgment.
  • What students mostly do in class is guess what the teacher wants them to say.


Sounds like not much has changed since the 19th century.

Education is still about power, submission, paying your dues… bricks and walls.

Also check out Wesch’s YouTube Channel.

Grammar and the ESL Writing Class

Kroll, B. Exploring the dynamics of second language writingFrodesden, J. and Holten, C. (2003). Grammar and the ESL Writing Class. In B. Kroll (Ed.), Exploring the dynamics of second language writing (pp. 141-161). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Frodesden and Holten begin with a brief discussion of the construct of “good writing” and then consider the impact of communicative language teaching methodologies on ESL grammar instruction in the 1980s. The authors begin by asking three questions:

  • Is formal grammar instruction useful for L2 (second language) writers?
  • What is the role of grammar in the drafting process?
  • Is individualized feedback on errors in student writing an effective strategy for improving accuracy and developing overall language proficiency?

Three Questions

To answer each of these questions, the authors give a short review of relevant literature published in the 70s and 80s. Major themes covered are a) the dichotomy between theoretical and pedagogical grammar, b) conceptual constructions of error and c) the degree of focus given to form and to function.  They review criticisms of direct grammar instruction attributed to Krashen and Hartwell and others who suggest that formal grammar instruction has a negligible, or even harmful a effect on writers’ emerging composition skills. They point out that these positions were developed within the context of L1 (first language) instruction, and may not be appropriate to L2 (second language) learners, for whom “focused attention to language features is often beneficial and sometimes necessary” (p. 114).

Turning to drafting, Frodesden and Holten suggest that the dominant view of writing as a recursive process unfolding over multiple drafts means that less attention is now given to accuracy. Process writing, they say,  gives a lot of attention the organization of content and often delays editing to final draft stages. They mention that this practice is supported by research indicating that ‘more effective writers’ – in both L1 and L2 instruction – often delay editing until they are at the final draft stage. Frodesden and Holten then say that L2 writers – especially those who are less proficient – do benefit from feedback on both grammar and content throughout the writing process and state that weaker students who do not receive such feedback often produce final drafts replete with errors which they are unable to correct precisely because they lack the formal grammatical knowledge needed to do so.

The authors conclude with a discussion of whether individual feedback on errors contributes to language proficiency. They refer to Truscott’s 1996 paper in which he asserted that “Grammar correction has no place in writing classes and should be abandoned” (p. 361) and explain that this position is based on both theoretical and empirical evidence. They then review a rebuttal of this position by Ferris and Roberts, who claim that empirical evidence – including some from their own studies – shows that students who receive direct grammar feedback are better able to self-edit than are those who received no direct feedback on grammar errors. They point out that explicit grammar instruction and correction

help students notice grammatical forms, focus explicitly on the gap between their output and what native speakers would write, and expose them to language forms that they may not be ready to acquire immediately, but will at some point in their acquisition trajectory, (p. 147).

Frodesden and Holten conclude by mentioning three potential benefits of explicit error correction: 1) students gain an understanding of how their texts deviate from conventions of standard written English; 2) develop self-editing skills; 3) gain understanding of the importance of clarity and appropriateness of written forms.

#MNLI13 Day 3 Reflection Coding Community

Karen Brennan sparked my thinking today. She presented her work on using Scratch. The programming, games, and stories children created made a large impact on everyone at the conference.

For me it wasn’t the take away of creative computing I found most moving. It was Brennan’s point that making take two things: creating and community. She argued that you can’t have interactive writers without both.

I witnessed this yesterday, but it wasn’t with coding,computers, or even a classroom. I saw the synergy of creating and community in a dingy basement in a dark dusty bar.

Ian and I were heading home after dinner and wanted to stop in somewhere. We like dives. Dust on the floor, ripped stools, and low lights. That brought us to CanTab in Cambridge. It also brought us to a community of creators.

After sitting down we saw a steady stream of people heading to the basement. We asked what was going on. Turns out CanTab is the home venue for the Boston Poetry Slam team. Turns out Wednesday is Open Mic night. Turns out this was the last open mic before Boston hosts the National Poetry Slam.

What we witnessed encapsulated Brennan’s lesson about community. The camaraderie among the poets flowed through the room. Poets did parodies of each other’s work. Talked about revising together. Read about being struggling artists.

For the CanTab crowd community leads to creation, and creation leads to community. This was Karen Brennan’s take away. So what does this mean for teachers and participants at MNLI?

Community of Writers and Readers

When I am awed by quality literacy teachers it always comes back to community. The students in the room feel, no they know, that they are among readers. They know they can turn to other writers for support. Just like the students in Brennan’s study who remixed, offered feedback, and helped each other grow. A great literacy classroom builds upon community.


Each year at MNLI some of the administrators choose the creation of a PLC, professional learning community as their project. I cringe a little. You can’t force community. Most PLC’s that exist in schools are simply committees that meet more frequently than others. Can schools use PLC’s? Yes, but they need to be interest driven and faculty lead. They need to have open memberships and recognize and build expertise.

Coding as Poetry

The CanTab experience was a serendipitous connection for me. I have little experience with code. In 6th grade I did a show and tell using Basic and made a rocket ship take off based on a dice role. Then during my dissertation work I had to edit XML files as we made a simulated environment. I do not know code but I do see poetry in code. I see these patterns that somehow standout like stanzas. What I saw at CanTab was the type of creating Karen Brennan wants out our students.

It isn’t just about creative computing and interactive writers. We also just need learning experience that create a community of learners both offline and online. We need interest driven classrooms that recognize student expertise. We need connected learning.