Friday, July 25, 2014

Three easy steps to your own iCorpus

Several colleagues have asked for a follow up to the chapter  " iCorpus: making corpora meaningful for pre-service teacher education" Alev Ă–zbilgin and I wrote for Innovations in pre-service education and training 
for English language teachers edited by Julian Edge and Steve Mann.  The main requests have been to provide a simple step-by-step guide to creating an iCorpus and using tools to analyze it.

I'm assuming that you have read our chapter and understand the nature of the iCorpus and how it can be used for self-directed language development.  If you don't have time to read the full chapter, I've added a summary at the end (read more) giving a bit of background to the iCorpus-why we saw a need for it, how we developed it, what it is and why it is useful as a language learning tool.  

Step 1:  Building the iCorpus

  1. Create a folder titled "icorpus"
  2. Open any of the writing you want to include in your word processor.
    • Chose the SAVE AS option, and select PLAIN TEXT (sometimes TXT)
    • Make sure you name your files logically.  For example, if this is an academic iCorpus, you could start each file with the course code it was written for.
    • Then direct the SAVE AS option to save into your 'iCorpus' folder.
  3. Continue adding as many of your writings as you want.  

Step 2: Building your reference corpus

  1. In order to analyze your iCorpus, you need to have a 'reference' corpus of writing that represents how you would like to write.
  2. Create a separate folder for your reference corpus, and title it "refcorpus".  
    • You may create different reference corpora, in which case you can name them differently to keep them distinct.
  3. Find articles or writing that represent your target writing.  
    • For an academic reference corpus, this may be articles that you have read in your course, or readings recommended by your instructor.
  4. Depending on the nature of the original files, you need to SAVE AS to get these files into PLAIN TEXT (or TXT) as in building your iCorpus
    • Word processing programs will have a FILE > SAVE AS option to plain text.
    • For PDFs, there is a FILE > SAVE AS TEXT option.  Note, this only works for PDFs created from electronic texts, not scanned pages as images.
    • For web pages, you will need to highlight and copy the text you want.  Then open a text editor like NOTEPAD, paste the content there, and then SAVE as a TXT file.
  5. As with the iCorpus, it would be useful to find a logical file naming protocol, using prefixes to your reference texts to have related texts appear together in the output.
  6. There are some 'pret a porter' reference corpora here for download:  academic corpus, graded reader corpus, British spoken English, British written English, TV English.

Step 3: Putting it all together in ANTONC

  1. Download the ANTCONC program and install it on your computer (note this is free to download and use).
  2. Run the program.
  3. In the main program window, open the iCorpus folder (FILE > OPEN DIR)
  4. All the individual files in your iCorpus will appear in the top left window pane.  It is then easy to interrogate the iCorpus on its own.
    • Click on WORD LIST to see an list of all the words in the iCorpus by frequency.
    • Click on a word in the WORD LIST view, and you will see a KWIC (key word in context) concordance, showing each instance of that word in the iCorpus in context.
    • Click CLUSTERS to see occurrences of groups of words that include that word.
    • Click COLLOCATES to see a list of collocates by frequency
  5. In order to compare the iCorpus with a reference (target) corpus you need to add the corpus
    • Go to TOOLS PREFERENCES > KEYWORD LIST and under "Reference Corpus Options" click CHOOSE FILES to choose a corpus as a single file, or ADD DIRECTORY to choose a corpus that consists of individual files in a folder.
    • You will see the reference corpus file(s) appear in the window pane.
    • Then click APPLY.
  6. Now, in the main program window, click on the KEYWORD tab and then click the START button.
    • You will see a list that functions the same as WORD LIST, but the words listed are those that appear more frequently in the iCorpus than the reference corpus.
  7. To see the 'mirror' list of word that occur more frequently in the reference corpus than in the iCorpus, you can 'swap' the two corpora.
    • Go to TOOLS PREFERENCES > KEYWORD LIST and under "Reference Corpus Options" click SWAP REFMAIN FILES to swap the iCorpus with the reference corpus.
    • You will see the iCorpus file(s) appear in the window pane..
    • Then click APPLY.
  8. Now, in the main program window, click on the KEYWORD tab and then click the START button.
    • You will see a list that functions the same as WORD LIST, but the words listed are those that appear more frequently in the reference corpus than the iCorpus.
  9. You can 'swap' back to the iCorpus at any time using the same procedure.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Homework - what amount and what value for adults learning a foreign language

Vicki Abeles is  the co-director and
producer of the
documentary "Race to Nowhere"
In a recent article on student stress Vicki Abeles, one of the members of the Race to Nowhere movement, recently described how her teenage daughter spent the last few weeks before finals in an anxiety-ridden state, suffering from the flu and allowing herself little sleep to keep up with constant studying. Having completed the finals, she was then glued to the the online site that would report the results of the standardized tests, on which her future academic career rested. As a mother, she asked herself: "Is this what childhood has come to?"

Abeles cites some worrying statistics:
  • teens report feeling stress levels even higher than what adults report
  • adolescent suicides have quadrupled in the last sixty years
  • eating disorders are rampant in teenagers
  • 10% of high school students said they used a "study drug" not prescribed by a doctor.
  • a vast majority of teenagers are sleep-deprived, getting at least two hours less sleep than recommended for their age.
Abeles is referring to American teenagers, but looking at her descriptions of the education of an American teenager, I cannot help but think the situation is even worse in Turkey. In particular, the issue of homework is one that keeps cropping up, with certain 'myths' that have led to more and more homework and less and less of a normal childhood. This short video clip about a 'new vision' for homework puts forward a number of common sense arguments for a rethink on how we educate for a better future.

This all relates to students going through elementary and secondary education in America, but it does seem to fit the Turkish educational experience. It would, in part, explain some of the attitudes of young adults who have made it through the Turkish university entrance exam and find themselves in an English Preparatory School to learn English in order to received English medium instruction at university. Tony Gurr, in his analysis of what needs to be improved in English Preparatory Schools, reports that students often refer to English Preparatory Schools as "Lise 5" -- basically an extension of their high school education. This view is not unsurprising, when one considers the approach to homework often mirrors exactly what happens in "Lise 4".

Surprisingly little has been done in terms of researching the benefits of homework in learning a foreign language with adult learners.  In one recent study, psychologists analyzed the attitudes of 2,342 American adults learning a foreign language toward assigned homework and time spent on assigned homework in relation to their achievement in their foreign language courses.  They found that there was a positive correlation between their ratings for the relevance of homework and the usefulness of feedback and achievement.  However, when they compared the actual time students spent on homework, they found that more time spent doing homework actually resulted in lower achievement.  More research needs to be done on this area, but the researchers speculated that spending more time on 'standardized' homework actually decreased the amount of time students could spend on their own individualized study to work on areas that were relevant to their learning needs.  One conclusion the researchers draw from these findings is that adult learners need to be allowed to work on their own individual language areas, rather than a 'one size fits all' type of homework assignment.  Of course, while it may not be realistic to expect teachers to design tailor-made study programmes for individual students, the common sense approach would be to train students to do this for themselves.  After all, who better knows their own language deficiencies and needs than the learner.  This is especially true of adult learners, who could benefit a lot if given the right support to exercise greater autonomy in deciding how best to complement their in-class learning outside the class.  It's just that they have come to expect the teacher to tell them what to do. But, with a bit of thought and persistence in guiding students to the path of more autonomy, it may reap huge benefits in the long term.