Saturday, May 10, 2014

Third Space in Pedagogy

I enjoyed reading Dialogical Imagination of (Inter)cultural Spaces: Rethinking the Semiotic Ecology of Second Language and Literacy Learning by Kostogriz, in Hall’s book. I am very impressed by unique concept of third space in pedagogy, which I found rather interesting and applicable to conduct culturally responsive practices in my future teaching.

Nowadays the classroom is more like a mosaic, where students’ cultural and linguistic background, strengths, needs, and interests tend to be highly diverse. Hence, to meet this diversity, it is of great importance for educators to construct such a third space for learners’ meaning-and identity- making process with democratic features and social transformation. In this third space, everybody get involved and everybody learns. I think this idea is quite innovative, because it changes the ways in which literacy learning is organized in multicultural classrooms. The author emphasizes the material-semiotic sphere of the third space pedagogy and the cultural-semiotic diversity requires a semantically rich learning environment by using all the social, cultural, and linguistic resources of its participants. In this way, the learners can bring their cultures to the classroom and the classroom is a place where embraces diverse cultures, which provide students multiple means to learn and know the world from multiple perspectives.

I am thinking about an example about how to construct a third space in an ESL classroom. Probably, we can conduct an activity to ask each student to share and introduce an idiom from their own country. As we know, idioms usually have their own cultural and historical origins, which reflect particular cultures in terms of their values, beliefs, traditions, customs, etc. They can give example of when, where, how, and why they use them with certain situational contexts. In this way, students may reflect their own cultures first and bring them to the classrooms. They can learn from other cultures within this co-constructed third space in the classroom, where they can find the similarity and disparity among cultures as well. Hence, their knowledge is social-culturally constructed and this process of knowing is dialogical.

Cultural Deversity & Intercultural Dialogism

Communication in a Pluralistic Society and Dialogism as a Way of Life in Shields’ book are pretty straightforward, which help me to understand the key terminologies in Bakhtinian conceptual scheme, like heteroglosia, pluralism, dialogue, and relationship.  

Under the trend of globalization, cultural diversity has become a prevalent issue, which exists in the world, a society, or an institution. The heteroglosia among cultures via intercultural dialogue, is essential to promote the coexistence and harmony among various cultural groups. It is of great importance to give voices to them, thus making it possible for other people to know, to respect, and to understand other cultures, which is a way to maintain the diversity among cultures. However, once coin has two sides. Intercultural dialogue may also lead to cultural assimilation. Through acculturation, people from various cultural groups are very likely to adapt to the mainstream culture and hence lose their unique cultural heritages and original cultural practices to certain extent.

The relationship and dialogues interrelate and interact each other. For example, good dialogues promote positive relationship and the relationship between the interlocutors influences their dialogues as well, vice versa. In addition, I like the concept of inner dialogue. For individuals, it is significant to open their ears and eyes to listen and see the world, enabling them to open their minds. The inner dialogue helps them to examine their positions through multiple perspectives and angles, which is like a reaction, generating new thoughts in a dynamic way.

Heteroglossia and Novel

It is interesting to examine the relationship between the nature of language in novel from Bakhtinian heteroglossia perspective and its applied values.

In John Holcombe (2012)’s Discourse in the Novel, the author explained heteroglossia as the multi-layered nature of language and he also pointed out that a novel consists of a variety of voices with their different community of discourse. The speeches in a dialogue can not only shape a vivid image about the contexts, but also build avenues for readers to know the inner world of the characters involved and the connections among them. I am thinking about my personal learning experience as an English major student when I was in the college. We read Oxford Bookworms Series when we were freshmen. I think it was fun and helpful, because the exposure to the authentic input and the engaging plots makes language learning meaningful.
Reading novels has been regarded as one of the best ways for language learners to improve their literacy. I think Bakhtinian heteroglossia canmaximum the outcomes of reading novels in foreign language learning and teaching. First, it helps learners to improve their speech skills. The characters demonstrated various speech genres under certain social-cultural contexts, and what they say reflects their experiences, motivations, thoughts, and demeanor. Hence, language learners may have a chance to learn how they people talk in the novel and they can gradually express their intention more effectively by using the appropriate manners. Second, it helps learners to improve communication skills. The discourse input in novels expose readers to an authentic language environment, where they activate their brains to conversation mode. They may learn how to understand the interlocutor accurately, how to deliver their messages appropriately, and keep the conversation flow back and forth. Last but not least, it helps readers to develop logic thinking skills. Reading a novel, readers may find the connections and conflicts among the characters. Also, they may question and reason why so-and-so decided to say something in certain way, which requires deeper thinking by considering the contexts and relationships between the interlocutors. In sum I think Bakhtinianheteroglossia perspectives have lots of practical values in foreign language teaching classrooms, which can guide our future curriculum designing.
Friends, if you are a language teacher, how will you use Bakhtinianheteroglossia approach to teach reading?

About Authenticity

From Bakhtin’s perspective, communication is a dynamic and dialogic meaning-making process. It is situated in certain social-historical contexts, where languages act as cultural means to mediate thoughts among individuals. Hence, the feature of real language I think is authenticity.

On one hand, authentic language is context-dependent, which is influenced by the specific social and historical factors of the circumstance where people are situated. For example, Chinese people say 恭喜发财(Gong Xi Fa Cai, which means wish you to be prosperous in the coming year.)to each other during the Lunar New Year, which is one of the most common New Year wishes 2014 is the year of the horse in Chinese animal zodiac and lots of people will use some idioms with “horse”, 马(Mǎ), to send family members and friends good wishes, such as一马当先,马到成功 (yi ma dang xian, ma dao cheng gong). Taking the lead and achieving success, horses 马,Mǎ is a perfect combination of power and beauty, which represents speed and strength in Chinese culture. Even Chinese people regards horses as the dragon on the earth. In sum, the utterance of “恭喜发财, 一马当先,马到成功!” is unique due to the cultural-historical context: the lunar new year and the year of the horse, so people use these idioms to express good wishes to the interlocutor.

On the other hand, the individuals make the languages they use authentic. You mean hear "Gong Xi Fa Cai" (pronunced like "gong she fa tsigh" in English) in Mandarin and "Gong Hey Fat Choy" in Cantonese during the lunar new year in China. Even though the pronunciations are a little different, both are written the same way: 恭喜发财. Mandarin Chinese is the official language in China, which is regarded as the standard and prestigious means of communication. However, there are eight major dialects as well. Hence, don’t be surprised if you hear Chinese people from different parts of China talk differently. Probably, people from one side of the mountain might speak a totally different dialect than the people from the other side of the mountain. Dialects represent the local culture and shapes the locals’ identity. When people meet each other, they might use the mandarin with their own accents to greet each other and then they might discuss the topics they are both interested in, which is shaped by each individual’s perspective. Since people all have different life experiences, their perspectives are valuable because of the uniqueness of their personal understandings towards life.

All in all, the authenticity of language relies on both the cultural-historical context and the perspectives of individuals within in it.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Literature, History, and Ideology

        I find it interesting to investigate the relations among literature, history, and ideology.

        It is meaningful to understand historical context in the time a piece of literature was created when pursuing the deeper understanding of the literature. Historical context is the political, social, cultural, and economic setting in a given period of time. The cultural historical contexts influence the language, content, and style of the writing. Literature comes from life, and it is like a mirror, which reflect the world and the life of people in certain historical situations.
         When we read the work of Shakespeare, our teacher introduced the historical background of time of Queen Elizabeth and its leading naval and commercial power of the Western world. London was the cultural and economic center, whose dramatists and poets were among the best of the day. Shakespeare lived in that time and his works represent the world around him at that time. Elizabethan Age reminds me about Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), which was the most prosperous periods in Chinese history. It was also the heyday of classical Chinese poetry. I love reading poems and Du Fu was my favorite poet in that time. His poetry covered politics, social problems, and even his own personal family life.
        We are influenced by the ideologies from the literature we read and the information we perceived. Sometimes the government control the media through censorship, and the news and the books we read are biased to a certain degree. When we heard the perspectives from other ideologies, we feel the propaganda might be like brain-washing to a certain degree. I think the best way to learn about the world is to read from various views with their authentic understandings and then we can make a judgement and construct our own ideologies maybe..

Humor and Satire – The Art of Language

Humor is the art of language. It plays a positive role in education, which can create a healthy relationship and relaxing atmosphere in the classroom. It can lower the stress and affective filter in learning and hence promote learning outcomes. As a learner, I appreciate the professors’ witty remarks in their feedbacks, which is a tacit skill necessary in successful instruction I think. Unlike robots, teachers are real people, who have emotions and creativity. Their responses to students is so dynamic and context-dependent that they cannot be pre-programed and normalized with a mundane pattern. With a sense of humor, teachers can present the art of teaching.

I think it is a great idea to add the carnival element in our instruction. Maybe it sounds crazy to educational professionals who believe that teaching and learning is a serious matter. Education is a critical issue but educators can also educate in a delightful way. According to Bakhtin, “a carnival sense of the world possesses a mighty life-creating and transforming power, an indestructible vitality” (Shields, p. 98). Successful teaching should conduct an enjoyable learning experience to students, where they can play a part in and develop with passion and creativity.
Humor is an attitude and an approach to life, which can be discovered and experienced everywhere. Like humor, satire is another powerful language genre. We learned Chekhov’s The Man in a Case in middle school, which helped us to understand irony in literature. I appreciate the parodic way the author portray the characters in the story and his sardonic humor and pungent satire stirred me profoundly. I was also impressed by the end of the story in O'Henry's The Cop and the Anthem, which gave me a sharp contrast to what I expected.

Mastering Academic English

As an international graduate student, one of the challenges I am facing is to meet the writing demands. I read Braxley’s article about mastering academic English. I feel lots of the issues addressed in this article are same as I have experienced.

For example, I have tense problem in my English writing and I talked with my American friends about it. One of them said, “I've read Chinese and people of other cultures have trouble processing things related to timing and sequences because of the way tenses are used in their languages.” It is true that in Chinese we do not have inflection –ed to change the verb to show past tense. Hence, in order to use the correct tenses, we have to pay attention to it and double check the forms of the verbs we use after we write our papers. Another American friend said, “I don't really think about tenses too much unless I'm switching between tenses and have to keep things straight.” I think the language we use shapes our mind. I find that Americans tend to think and express themselves in a logical manner and a clear structure. They are usally direct to the point and give reasons or details to support their points. However, we, Chinese like to make lots of foreshadowing before giving our positions. Chinese readers can get the messages between the lines. However, English readers often found the purpose of our writing unclear. Hence, when we write in English, I should shake my "Chinese speaker" habits and think more like an English speaker.When we write scholarly articles in English, we should definitely write grammatically correct English. However it is not enough. In order to sound scholarly, we should pay attention to three other main things I think: writing style, structure, and format. The style and register of our language is very important. For example, I wrote “The mom usually talked with the kid in Chinese at home.” The editor changed my sentence into “The mother usually talked with the child in Chinese at home.” “Mother and child” are more formal than “mom and kid. We should be aware of the word we choose. In addition, we also should follow the structure for academic writing - topic sentence and supporting details are tied up in a coherent and cohesive manner - making meaning flow in a logical way. Also, I just realize good writing is not to show large amounts of vocabulary and advanced grammar. It is how we can help the audience understand our ideas in an effective and efficient manner with less confusion and uncomfortableness. Personally, I would appreciate something easy to follow, something succinct and straightforward, and something practical and constructive to the field.  We should also use the right citation format, like APA, which is the norm in academic field.

Last but not least, we should also write with a good reader awareness, since writing is a form of communication. Hence, reader awareness is fundamental in any type of writing. Sometimes we are too hesitate in expressing ourselves, but we did not ask ourselves who the audience are - whether they are professors, doctoral students, administrators, teachers, parents, clinicians, or other professionals - or whom we are writing for. We should think about these questions before, during and after our writing.

Language, Culture, and Self

I enjoyed reading Marchenkova’s chapter on language, culture, and self, which helped me to rethink the relationship among them and how they influence each other and the applied meaning in foreign language instruction.

Language, culture, and self are inter-related as a whole and dialogues are socially constructed, dynamic, and situated in specific contexts. For example, holidays are an essential part of a culture. When teaching preschoolers about Valentine’s Day, we discussed whom we love during the circle time. Then, children can write notes and cards to friends and parents. Even English language learners can get a chance to express themselves by using the target language in such a meaningful context. In this way, they can form positive relationships with peers and get involved in the classroom community.

Here is another story about language and culture, which I want to share. When I first came here, I heard an American mother called her son over the phone. After the call, she said “I love you!” I was kind of shocked, because it is not very common in Asian culture.  I watched the video clip on youtube called Asian Parents and the Awkward "I Love You" I think it is true that in most cases Asian parents do not say “I love you” as much as American parents, which does not mean that they do not like their children. It is actually influenced by the high-context Asian communication style. They cook for the family and pay the tuition for the children. They do lots of things for the children. They just do not say these tree words. They might think we have already know they love us so they do not need to say it explicitly. When American parents send children to school, they give their children hugs and kisses and say, “Love you and have fun!” On the contrary, Asian parents might help children put on the bagpack and say, “Behave well and study hard!” The same context, they dialogues are very different. I am sure the parents from both cultures both love their children. However, just the ways they express themselves are different.

I like her statement on page. 174, “the purpose of teaching second and foreign language us to make communication among people and cultures possible.” As language teachers, we should think about this goal in our lesson planning. To be specific, we should not only introduce the language items in the language, but also to introduce the culture of it. In addition, we should always try our best to give students authentic input and give them opportunities to communicate with people from the target culture.