EML514 – Research for TESOL, option B

My Teaching context

My English teaching context has recently changed. At the beginning of 2016 I began working at an English Language School in Melbourne’s South East. The school runs an intensive English language program where students are enrolled for 6-12 months. Many students in the cohort are refugees or in Australia on humanitarian visas. Most students have been disadvantaged in some way, most commonly racial, ethnic or economic discrimination. Many students deal with past and present trauma.

Classes have a combination of first languages and the school does have some Multicultural Teaching Aides. Classes are streamed based on language ability and capped at 15 students. Compared to students in mainstream settings, students are extremely willing to learn and positive about their language learning.

For the purposes of completing EML514 I have completed a mini literature review of three types of research methodology that can be applied to TESOL and my language teaching and learning context in particular; Ethnographic research, Discourse Analysis research and Corpus based research approaches.


Ethnographic Research

Ethnographic research stems from anthropological approaches to examining human behaviour (Murthy, 2008). The main focus is studying language learning in the context in which learning occurs, identifying meanings, measuring understanding and the participants’ identities. Thus,

“Ethnographic research involves the direct observation of human behaviour within particular settings and seeks to understand a social reality from the perspective of those involved.” Starfield, S., 2015, p. 51.

While there are no explicit rules, ethnographic research approaches lend themselves to qualitative research methods as it attempts to gain a ‘holistic’ understanding of the participants in the study (Mackey & Gass, 2005). This holistic approach is essential when studying people from unfamiliar, and sometimes marginalized, cultures. This research methodology encourages the researcher and their audience to interrogate ingrained systems that may oppress some groups; such as the education system (Canagarajah, 1993). For these reasons, ethnographic research is extremely relevant to my own language teaching setting.

One of the most notable aspects of ethnographic research is that it occurs in context. Dressen-Hammouda plots the development of ethnographic research concurrently with the ‘social turn’ in language and literacy studies, where understanding the language use context becomes paramount in the study of language development (2013). Research is carried out from the point of view of the participants, categorizing findings in ways that relate to the group itself. Ethnographic research focuses on the way the individual represents a group, stressing the importance of situating smaller studies within a wider sociocultural context. Thus, “analysis [is] being derived from the data itself rather than being imposed from the outside” (Mackey & Gass, 2005, p.168), meaning research findings are dynamic. This approach to research means that the method and data collection processes are unique, and come with both advantages and limitations for TESOL.

The method used for Ethnographic research depends on the context and the problem being investigated, relying more on the research process rather than the instruments used (Mackey & Gass, 2005). This research is characterized by a sustained time commitment by the researcher, whereby the researcher needs to become immersed in the culture or cultural group being studied. The researcher becomes closer to the participants than conventional researchers. Therefore, the researcher must, as part of the process, reflect on the effect they may have had on the results of the study. Additionally, some quantitative research approaches can be incorporated, where appropriate (Dressen-Hammouda, 2013; Canagarajah, 1993). Research outcomes and objectives often change as the research is being conducted in light of new information or unexpected revelations (Starfield, 2015), meaning that the method is designed to be flexible. Research is usually not hypothesis driven and is non-experimental.

The data collected by ethnographic research, like the method, is flexible. Data collected is primarily qualitative; including observations, interviews, video recordings, existing documents and diaries (Mackey & Gass, 2005; Starfield, 2015). Emic interpretations of the data are a direct result of nature of ethnographic research (Mackey & Gass, 2005). Considering the diverse types of data collected, data must be triangulated to ensure that findings are valid (Dressen-Hammouda, 2013).

This type of research has some distinct advantages, most of which are born from its emphasis on observing the participants from their point of view. It is a particularly relevant research method when researchers are investigating a group that they are unfamiliar with, taking into account flaws, restrictions and opportunities afforded to the group (Serrant-Green, 2007). Ethnographic research looks at an issue in its entirety. For example, if students are not responding to formal instruction in a language classroom, the researcher could examine the context, teacher and student attitudes, influences from home or the wider community as well as cultural nuances (Mackey & Gass, 2005). This could lead the researcher to a more authentic understanding of the problem being investigated, and consequently position them to make advantageous recommendations for the person or group being investigated. Thus, the depth of understanding that this type of research promotes can affect real social change.

However, ethnographic research methodology also comes with limitations. Firstly, this type of research is time consuming. The researcher needs to make a substantial commitment to long-term data collection, detailed and continuous record keeping, and repeated and careful analysis of data obtained from multiple sources. Secondly, researchers need to be aware of the effect they may have on the participants’ behaviour. Thirdly, becoming so immersed in a group can cause conflict between the roles of researcher and participant (Mackey & Gass, 2005). Finally, much of the data collected is observational, the researcher must interpret the actions and interactions of participants (Starfield, 2015); meaning personal biases of the researcher can skew results.

Ethnographic research lends itself to investigating cultures that are unfamiliar to the researcher, and thus apt for TESOL purposes. Firstly, authentic research leads to authentic results that can have a lasting impact on the participants (Dressen-Hammouda, 2013). Authentic understanding of a group of people can lead to pedagogical changes that enhanced language output for the group in question. For example, Canagarajah immersed herself in the language-learning context she taught in in Sri Lanka. Upon discovering that while students did see the necessity for learning English, they simultaneously resented the U.S. centered textbooks that they were learning from. Students were more willing to learn English purely for the purposes of which they needed it, while maintaining their own reliance on their native language for everyday purposes (1993). Thus, the pedagogy was altered to teach the language necessary for the work place, and their language learning became meaningful rather than oppressive.


Discourse Analysis and Critical Discourse Analysis Research

Discourse Analysis is the term used for a range of research methods that study the structure and function of texts and interactions in relation to the contexts in which they occur, moving beyond clauses and utterances to foster a deeper understanding of how language is used (Jones, 2015). Discourse can be defined as symbolic human interaction in its many forms, including spoken and written text, used to achieve a purpose. This discourse is then analysed to establish patterns, identify nuanced language and culturally specific ways of communicating. Authentic Discourse Analysis must be taken from naturally produced texts from their naturally occurring context, in order to better understand the values and social practice of a community group (Bloor & Bloor, 2013; Unknown). Discourse Analysis research is an in-depth analysis and understanding of a person’s language output, and is therefore qualitative. Depending on the researcher’s focus question, it can either be experimental or non-experimental research.

Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a branch of Discourse Analysis that seeks an even deeper understanding of the way that language is used to position individuals within society. CDA works within a ‘critical’ paradigm whereby issues such as ideology, inequality and power relations are examined in an effort to “incorporate social-theoretical insights into discourse analysis and advocates social commitment and interventionism in research” (Blommaert & Bulcaen, 2000, p.447). The purpose of CDA is therefore to unpack ‘opaque’ and ‘transparent’ relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control produced in language (Blommaert & Bulcaen). Considering my own educational setting, investigating CDA research is a necessary measure when applying Discourse Analysis research.

When a researcher is embarking on Discourse Analysis, the methodology is flexible according to the research question, like Ethnographic research. Spoken texts must be transcribed before they can be analysed, and careful consideration must be made into which texts are examined. Discourse is often analysed using Systemic-Functional Linguistics (SFL), the processes of labeling sentences constituents according to class in order to investigate the function of parts of language and the meanings encoded within the language (Butt, Fahey, Feez, Spinks & Yallop, 2000). Researchers are commonly interested in turn taking during conversation, topic focus and genre analysis to uncover power relations embedded within communication (Jones, 2015). Bloor & Bloor argue that Discourse Analysis is multidisciplinary; meaning it draws on anthropology, sociology, ethnography and ethnomethodology (2013). The flexible combination of methods employed depends on the research question and the nature of the social problem being investigated.

Discourse analysis has some particular advantages for TESOL research. Firstly, Discourse Analysis is a productive way of doing social research (Fairclough, 2003). Secondly, it can lead to a better understanding of the values and social norms of a particular community (Unknown). Thirdly, when extending to CDA research, participants can include disadvantaged individuals and has the power to “empower the powerless, giving voices to the voiceless, exposing power abuse, and mobilizing people to remedy social wrongs”, advocating interventionism in response to research conducted (Blommaert & Bulcaen, 2000). Granted, the researcher must choose appropriate participants and texts in order to achieve this end.

The limitations of Discourse Analysis are similar to the limitations of Ethnographic research. A lot of the information collected must be interpreted for deeper meaning by the researcher, leaving results open to individual biases. Additionally, due to qualitative nature of research and in-depth analysis, there is a lot of material to analyse. Thus, researchers must be careful to avoid contradictions in their analysis (Jones, 2015). Researchers must also be critical of the role they play within the research process and ensure they remain objective; otherwise research findings could be inaccurate (Bloor & Bloor, 2013). Like Ethnographic research, Discourse Analysts become entrenched in the research process and face similar limitations and ethical responsibilities during the research process.

Discourse Analysis, due to its close examination of communication and ‘opaque’ uncovering of power relations, makes it well suited to TESOL research. Some theorists have implicated educational institutions in reproducing hegemonic power relations and effecting student identity. Discourse Analysis has been highlighted as one type of research that could help inspire change and become the vehicle for pedagogical development (Blommaert & Bulcaen, 2000). For example, Discourse Analysis of a child’s communication with peers could reveal aggressive language use, which can have negative impacts on a child’s academic and social development. Such language uses may derive from communications taking place in the home or community. Getting to the core of this problem could help alleviate potential future issues for the student (Bloor & Bloor, 2013). Thus, Discourse Analysis approaches to research foster a deep understanding of the individual and the perspective from which they communicate.


Corpus Research Approaches

Finally, Corpus research methods are markedly different to Ethnographic and Discourse Analysis approaches to TESOL research. This research compiles a ‘Corpora’ of words collected from a large variety of texts and observes “the repeated lexical and grammatical choices of a certain community of language users” (Tognini-Bonelli, 2004, p.11). Corpus approaches are large scale, quantitative and digitalized; relying on computerized databases of spoken and written texts focusing on frequency, variation and co-text. Different analysts look at different sized corporas, from a few thousand words to five hundred million words. To begin with, Corporas were developed to make dictionaries, however recently research applications have moved towards TESOL (Granger, 2012; Biber & Conrad, 2001).

The methodology used to conduct Corpus based research relies heavily on the Internet and digitized analytical tools. Corpus data is best obtained through collecting samples from natural language use. Researchers can then choose between a Corpus-based approach; testing a hypothesis against Corpus data, which is often experimental research. Alternatively a Corpus-driven approach can be taken; where observations are generalized in order to build up a theoretical rule, and is non-experimental. Corpus-driven approaches are not hypothesis driven and therefore more flexible. Researchers decide if they need to code information based on their central question (Granger, 2012).

Data collection for Corpus methods is quantitative. Analysts rely heavily on large, and where necessary representative, electronic databases of spoken and written texts. Data collection can be time consuming to undertake due to the magnitude of data that needs collecting, especially when specific language groups are being examined. (Biber & Conrad, 2001; Granger, 2012). The researcher is able to remain much more detached using this research method, and data collected is analysed using a more objective framework.

The advantages of using centralized Corpora of language allows for analysts to identify strong patterns of use within registers and identify differences (Biber & Conrad, 2001). Data collection can be made quicker through the use of technology and can easily gauge feelings and sentiments towards language learning (Griffee, 2012). Through the use of analysis tools, the researcher is able to reduce their interpretation time and focus on coming to sound conclusions.

However, there are numerous disadvantages to this type of research. Firstly, variables such as age, gender and race are not always accounted for. Secondly, when participants have a different native language to the language they are engaging with in the study, participants may not be able to properly express themselves (Granger, 2012). Consistent with most criticism of quantitative research, Corpus approaches can be a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’, and have limited means to establish a cause-and-effect relationships (Griffee, 2012), and deeper understandings of the participants point-of-view.

Despite some limitations, Corpa research approaches have enormous capabilities for TESOL. Many studies are now conducted purely for the development of TESOL pedagogy. For example, Corporas allow for detailed study of specialized vocabulary, which can be used for developing word lists for language classrooms (Granger, 2012; Paltridge & Starfield, 2013). Biber and Conrad also noted that the most frequently used verbs, such as ‘say’, ‘know’ and ‘come’ were not the same verbs most commonly seen in English Language textbooks that commonly feature ‘study’, ‘run’ and ‘play’ amongst others (2001). Thus, researchers can transfer their findings to real pedagogical applications to improve language understanding and be implemented on a large scale.


Reference List

Biber, D., & Conrad, S. (2001). Quantitative corpus-based research: Much more than bean counting. TESOL quarterly, 35(2), 331-336.

Blommaert, J., & Bulcaen, C. (2000). Critical discourse analysis. Annual review of Anthropology, 447-466.

Bloor, M., & Bloor, T. (2013). The practice of critical discourse analysis: An introduction. Oxon, United Kingdom:Routledge.

Butt, D., Fahey, R., Feez, S., Spinks, S., & Yallop, C. (eds) (2000). Using functional grammar: An explorer’s guide. Sydney: NCELTR.

Canagarajah, A. S. (1993). Critical ethnography of a Sri Lankan classroom: Ambiguities in student opposition to reproduction through ESOL. Tesol Quarterly, 27(4), 601-626.

Dressen-Hammouda, D. (2013). Ethnographic Approaches to ESP Research. The Handbook of English for Specific Purposes, 501-517.

Faircough, N, (2003). Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London:Routledge.

Granger, S. (2012). How to use foreign and second language learner corpora. In A. Mackey and S. M. (eds.), Gass Research methods in Second Language Acquisition: A practical guide, 7-29. Chichester, UK:John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Griffee, D. T. (2012). An introduction to second language research methods: Design and data. United States:TESL-EJ Publications

Jones, R. (2015). Discourse Analysis. In Mahboob, A., Paltridge, B., Phakiti, A., Wagner, E., Starfield, S., Burns, A., Jones, R. & De Costa, P. in TESOL Quarterly Research Guidelines, TESOL Quarterly, 50(1), pp. 42-65.

Mackey, A. & Gass, S. (2005). Second language research: Methodology and design. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers: Mahwah, New Jersey.

Murthy, D. (2008). Digital ethnography: An examination of the use of new technologies for social research. Sociology, 42(5), 837-855.

Paltridge, B. & Starfield, S. (2013). The Handbook of English for Specific Purposes. Oxford:John Wiles & Sons Ltd.

Serrant-Green, L., 2007. Ethnographic research. Nurse Researcher, 14(3), pp 4-6.

Starfield, S. (2015). Ethnographic Research. In Mahboob, A., Paltridge, B., Phakiti, A., Wagner, E., Starfield, S., Burns, A., Jones, R. & De Costa, P. in TESOL Quarterly Research Guidelines, TESOL Quarterly, 50(1), pp. 42-65.

Tognini-Bonelli, E. (2004). Working with Corpora: Issues and Insights. In Coffin, E., Hewings, A., & O’Halloran, K. (eds.).  Applying English Grammar: Functional and corpus approaches, pp. 11-23. Great Britain: Arnold, The Open University.

Unknown. Discourse Analysis in Second Language Writing. Accessed from EML509 Module Notes, page 3 http://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/0472089196-ch1.pdf



The other side of the Digital Divide


Section 1

Technology and education have become inseparable in developed Western countries. However, technological resources are not distributed equally within society; this is known as the digital divide. Thus, the critical issue I am examining will focus on the effect of the digital divide on students who have migrated to Australia. Since completing the Critical Reflection as part of assignment one, I have gained employment at a school in a low socioeconomic area of Melbourne with a large Afghani population. Therefore, I will draw on some statistics from Afghanistan in my research.

The Digital Divide examines the way technological resources are unequally distributed within society. As a general rule, demographics tend to dictate where technology can be easily found; this includes racial factors, socioeconomic status and family structure (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). Peoples disenfranchised from dominant Western culture historically are the same people currently being effected by the digital divide (Gorski, 2003). Furthermore, Rye argues that the current digital divide heightens the uneven distribution of wealth, prosperity and well-being (2008).

The ‘Falling through the Net’ survey conducted by the American National Telecommunication and Information Administration body reported, “access to the new digital technology tends to favor male, educated, wealthy, white, young, urban dwellers” (Rye, 2008, pp 172). Schools in white suburban areas are more likely to utalise application packages and software programs that foster higher order thinking skills than their lower income, minority background counterparts (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). Thus, the implications for those on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide are necessary to examine, especially in terms of migrant education.

Students on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide are much less likely to have access to technology at home, which can have wide reaching ramifications. These students are less likely to complete assignments using programs such as word, or engage with software applications. Migrant children who have come from countries were they have limited access to technology can have difficulties adjusting to computer-rich learning (Kalyanpur & Kirmanu, 2005). These students, due to their reduced exposure to technology, are at risk of remaining unaware of the power and complexity that lies within our technology rich society. Students become excluded from the wealth that can be afforded by technical knowledge with social, cultural and economic consequences. The inability to develop the skills required to deal with the digitalization of modern, Western society can inhibit students from developing the skills to become confident navigators of technology (Korrup, 2005). Thus, the digital divide widens and perpetuates.

Adding to the complexity of this issue is the wider cultural beliefs and social beliefs held by those who have been disadvantaged by the digital divide. Kalyanpur & Kirmani examined non-white racial groups in America and their attitudes towards technology. Technology was perceived as ‘only for brainy people’, a middle class thing and neither relevant or interesting (2005).

Education has been one of the greatest casualties of the recent turbulence within Afghanistan. In 1980, 11% of people 25 years or over had received formal education. By 1996, approximately 22% of children were studying in formal schools, with very few females among them (de Silvia, Valsangkar & Khattab, 2014). These are the potential parents and caregivers of the current generation of migrants in Australia. The question therefore posed is; if you have not been encouraged towards education, does technology seem irrelevant? Perhaps having never been afforded the opportunity to engage meaningfully with technology has inhibited parents’ ability to support technology in the home, much like the women abused in Indigenous girl’s boarding schools who have difficulty supporting their children’s educational institutions.

There have been efforts to bridge the digital divide, though sometimes misinformed. Simply giving computers to people with limited or no prior exposure to technology, serves little purpose. Such patriarchal attitudes are simplistic and hollow (Korrup, 2005). This does not take into account social, cultural, political and economic systems of power that have caused the digital divide (Gorski, 2003). Considering the current geopolitical climate, especially in the Middle East, the need for a dynamic approach that responds to increases in migration is essential.

Some positive trends have been observed, which could have implications for classroom and school-wide technology initiatives. Training parents and teachers together, involving parents in the school and keeping them informed about the possibilities of technology can help foster positive attitudes towards technology. This can increase the chance of families investing in a home computer because they understand their relevance, and the fear of technology is reduced (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). A study completed in Afghanistan, focusing on educating parents using mobile technology, observed that the people approached to be participants were initially skeptical. However, by the time they had completed program, all participants said they would participate in a similar program again (Shahnaz, George, Son, Shabnam, Habib, Schroeder & Karim, 2014). Surely, if students are receiving positive encouragement at home as well as school, they will develop their skills at an accelerated rate.

Multilliteracies is one approach that can equip students with the skills they need to respond to our increasingly digital education system. Multiliteracies is a word that explains the need for the expansion of literacy pedagogy beyond traditional literacy. It argues against one idea of literacy, towards a more pluralist and inclusive concept of study worthy material (Mills, 2005). Encouraging students to become multiliterate is the first step towards students being able to use technology efficiently and communicate electronically and clearly. Students need to become multiliterate in order to be able to critically evaluate multimodal information (Butt, Fahey, Feez, Spinks & Yallop, 2000). Unsworth & Bush who base their recommendations on experience working at a school in Sydney where 92% of students were EAL students, advocate for modeled, guided then individual practice (2010).

Being mindful of the cultural heritage of our students enhances their comfort levels and makes them feel accepted within the education system. The cultural heritage model of education argues against a monocultural view of education (Sawyer & Mcfarlane, 2000). This approach, like multilieracies, lends itself towards widening the range of texts we present our students with in an effort to give legitimacy to voices other than those expressed by dominant culture. Building inclusive environments means students are more likely to take risks with their learning (Vale, 2009).

Finally, approaching language learning through the discourse analysis approach can provide students with a flexible environment in which to learn language structures. Discourse analysis approaches also advocate more flexible learning materials. This approach focuses on analyzing texts as a whole with particular emphasis on the social context in which the text was constructed, and the broader cultural context. Thus, discourse analysts focus primarily on the meaning being made, rather than the implementation of traditional English conventions (Unknown). Through this approach, we are once again steered away from projecting hegemonic ideology through education, and moving towards a language approach that promotes authentic learning.

If multiliteracies, Cultural Heritage and Discourse Analysis approaches are combined and implemented as core strategies within the classroom, teachers and students can work together to help bridge the digital divide. Slowly, but surely, positive applications of inclusive language learning, well planned and executed teaching of technology, alongside consorted efforts foster positive attitudes towards digital literacy in the home and at school, will have positive ramifications for migrant students in Australia.

This is therefore the reason I chose to examine the digital divide. Reflecting on Brookfield’s (2009) idea of Critical Inquiry I felt it was necessary to examine whether or not my own current teaching context supports the authentic and relevant acquisition of EAL language skills.

Section 2

Through my collection of evidence I was hoping to gauge any differences in access to technology across the two groups, and also compare the clarity with which they communicate their ideas using technology. 

Presentation of evidence


Part One

Using Edmodo I gave the same quiz to two year 7 classes; class A, a mainstream English class, and class B, a year 7 EAL class. Questions were as follows:

Question: 1

How old were you when you first used a computer?

Question: 2

Do your have access to a computer at home?

Question: 3

If you do have access to a computer, how old were you when you had your first home computer?

Question: 4

Do you have Internet access at home?

Question: 5

If you do have Internet access at home, how old were you when you first got Internet?

Question: 6

Do your parents/caregivers know how to use a computer?

Question: 7

Have you ever sent an email before?

Question: 8

Do you know how to search the web?

Question: 9

Do you feel you have been properly taught how to use computers to help your education?

Question: 10

How comfortable are you with using technology?

Part two

Class A were then asked to complete the following activity:

Once you have completed the Digital literacy quiz, you need to do one more task.

– Write an email that informs me about the hardest thing you have noticed adjusting (getting used to) high school. In particular, whether or not you found it hard to adjust to the use of technology in the classroom.

– Send it to worth.emma.a@edumail.vic.gov.au

Class B were asked to complete the following activity:

Once you have finished the quiz, you have one more task to complete.

– You need to write an email that explains the hardest things about getting used to school in Australia OR getting used to high school. In particular, any problems you might have had, or still have, getting used to the technology used in school.

– Once you have finished this, email your answer to me at worth.emma.a@edumail.vic.gov.au

Results, class A

Part one

Question 1 Question 2 Question 3 Question 4 Question 5
Average age = 5.7 Yes = 17

No = 1

Not sure = 3

Average age of remaining 15 =


Yes = 17

No = 1

Not sure = 5

Average age of remaining 13 =


Question 6 Question 7 Question 8 Question 9 Question 10
Yes = 16

No = 2

Yes = 13

No = 5

Yes = 17

No = 1

Yes = 14

No = 3

Unsure = 1

Very = 14

Yes = 3

Not very = 1

Part two (general comment)

Responses to how students felt about technology were overwhelmingly positive. No students noted that adjusting to the use of technology in high school was difficult. Many took the opportunity to comment on the unwelcomed increase of homework.

Sample written responses

Student 1

Profile – Student 1 is one of the brighter students in the class and ranks approximately in the top quarter of the class.

“when the word technology comes to my ear i straight away know everything to do with it. Ive always been good at using technology as I have contributed in many activities and group tasks in year 6. In year 6 i have contributed in things like the ICT program which is a group of chosen students that have been taken in to participate in helping younger levels in the school with technology issues or if they don’t know how to use the internet/technology. I also participated in making the year 6 graduation video which was very hard to accomplish as we did many things to do with technology like applications & the go pro and converting it to the laptops. Overall i think im good at technology as i have had much experience to do with it.”

Student 2

Profile – Student 2 is amongst the lowest performers in regards to overall literacy and written expression.

‪”Dear Miss Worth,

during the school years i have not had one mistake or problem while using technology at school, i find it easy for me to use certain technology at school. Although there may be challenging things while i’m using certain technology. 

‪From —.”

Student 3

Profile – student 3 is in the lowest quarter of the class. He is one of the students who marked ‘No’ to question 6, and ‘No’ to question 9.

“The hardest thing I notice adjusting about High School is that we get A LOT of homework, we get generally get homework everyday at School.

I find it quite easy to use technology in the classroom.”

Student 4

Profile – student 4 is one of the highest performers in the class.

“It was pretty easy to use a computer in high school because I practically used a computer from the moment I started school. The hardest thing for me about high school is all the stress about the homework given to us and it sort of concerns my parents about getting homework everyday which we do. It is also very hard for me to carry around the laptop and my textbooks and exercise books at the same time. From ——- ——– 7H

Results, class B

Question 1 Question 2 Question 3 Question 4 Question 5
Average age = 7.9 Yes = 6

No = 2

Not sure = 1

Average age of remaining 7 = 8.7

Yes = 8

No = 0

Not sure = 1

Average age of remaining 7 = 9.2

Question 6 Question 7 Question 8 Question 9 Question 10
Yes = 4

No = 4

Yes = 5

No = 3

Yes = 8

No = 0

Yes = 7

No = 1

Very = 2

Yes = 4

Not very = 2

Part two (general comment)

Overall, the 8 responses I got were smaller. Only one student knew how to send an email from their school account, other messages were sent via Edmodo. There was mention of the difficulties with homework in this group, though they were not as frequent.

Student 5

Profile – student 5 is average in terms of literacy in the EAL class. She is an Afghani refugee who came to Australia a year and a half ago. This student answered ‘No’ to question 9, and responded with

no I’m still not allowed to use like Facebook or other things but I still use it for sing up and everything but I haven’t email anything”

Student 5’s response:

“the difficult things in high school is when you get a lot of homework its actually really hard. I always struggle when we do a test I still like the assignments its alright the problem I’ve got is that when we have to sign up for a website or other things.”

Student 6

Profile – student 7 is also a refugee from Afghanistan who has been in Australia for three years.

“the difficulties in high school is usually assignments and essays but now that I have a laptop I can do all of the essay’s and assignments but the problem I have now is getting a little bit use to laptops because I hardly ever got a laptop.”

Student 7

Profile – student 8 is also from Afghanistan, and an average student academically.

“the hardest thing for me was not being able to see my family when I wanted to and school was a disaster because ei couldent understand at all! and tech is preety easy.”

Student 8

Profile – student 9 was the only student in this group that was able to send me an emailed response. She is one of the brighter girls in the class.

“I think that high school was really scary for me when I first stated but now I feel good and like this high school.

I like all of the teacher here and all my friends and here even the homework is fun to do and its easy.”

Analysis of results

The results of the edmodo quiz were as expected, with a few exceptions. The real differences between the classes became apparent during the second part of the task. It is necessary to note however, that if I had been able to compare the year 7 EAL class at my school and a year 7 mainstream class at a school in a more affluent area, results might have been quite different. This evidence is more accurately described as analysis between migrant and non-migrant students who, to varying degrees, all suffer from being disadvantaged by the digital divide.

For both question 3 and 5, whereby students were asked to note their ages respectively about when they got a home computer and when they got home Internet, the aggregate ages of group A participants were higher. To be honest, I was expecting a larger gap. Some students in Group B did note that they had computers in their home country, but they didn’t know how to use them. Some students in Group A noted that their parents had only recently been able to afford the internet. Thus, reinforcing that this is a comparison of students within the digital divide.

Interestingly, most students from Group A noted their parents could use technology, while only half of the students from Group B said their parents were able to use technology. This clear difference is presumably a result of most migrants having recently emigrated from a country with little infrastructure. This is a disparity that will be a key part of the action plan.

While there was a slight amount of disparity between groups in relation to the final two questions. I felt it was interesting both groups were reasonably confident about their ICT educational needs being met and their ability to use computers. However, only one student from Group B was able to actually send me an email, and their written responses were not as clear (although neither group seemed overly worried about grammar). Perhaps there is a disparity between perceived ability and actual ability.

What did arise, which I had not accounted for, was Group B’s overwhelmingly positive attitude towards school in general. Group A did have some positive things to say about school, but the most common theme that ran through their written responses was their disapproval of the increase of homework, harder subjects and more things to carry. Alternatively, Group B noted without prompting the lack of bullying in school which seemed to be taken for granted in Group A and were generally positive about school; student 8 even noted that she liked the homework and the teachers were her ‘friends’.

There was disparity between the groups, most notably how clearly they were able to communicate difficulties they faced. Even student 2, one of the lowest performing students from Group A, conformed to email conventions. Groups A’s prose as a whole was less confusing, they had clearer sentence structures and were able to organise their ideas more logically. This is another key aspect that will be addressed as part of the action plan as we work towards ensuring they are able to communicate clearly even if they do not understand traditional English language conventions.

Action plan

Thorne argues that schools have been implicit in further disenfranchising people who have already been disadvantaged by society (2005). If efforts are not made to close the digital divide, we are further disenfranchising people knowingly. There are three key aspects to this action plan;

  1. Teaching authentic skills to EAL students so that they are able to navigate their way through technology and its applications.
  2. Teaching parents the importance of technology in an effort to foster increased recognition of the importance of technology for education.
  3. Teaching students ways to communicate through language so that their meaning is clear even if they have had reduces exposure to explicit teaching of English language conventions.

Teaching authentic skills to EAL students that allows them to fully understand and access technology requires specific teacher knowledge, careful planning and well executed teaching strategies. Kalyanpur & Kirmani argue that for students to receive the instruction they need “it is crucial that teachers; both pre-service and in-service, acquire training in technology (2005). Others argue even more specific instruction; such as individual instruction for different aspects of multimedia (Macaro, Handley & Walter, 2012). Prichard, who ran an experiment teaching students how to use social media appropriately noted that teachers needed to teach functionality of technology, model how to complete tasks and then guide usage. Additionally, he advocated for the use of social media sites as a place where students can discuss ideas and issues that arise in their studies (2013).

Explicit modeling of technological skills, followed by immediate guided practice could prove beneficial. This way, students can become multiliterate. Our schools’ use of Edmodo could become more dynamic; it could become a place where students are encouraged to ask questions, post materials and talk to their classmates as apposed to the largely one way (teacher to student) communication that currently occurs through the site. Students should be given opportunities to use computers for leisure and interest; thus making them more sophisticated users of technology (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). Students need to engage with the technologies that will help them in the future, such as Gumtree, Seek and Real-estate websites so that students do not see technology as a purely academic tool, but a tool that will help them navigate our increasingly digital world.

Extending this teaching to parents, family members and caregivers of our EAL students could be extremely beneficial. As detailed in Section 1, parents and caregivers are often uncomfortable with technology and do not see how it can benefit. Teachers need to be mindful of cultural sensitivities, remembering to stay within the Cultural Heritage model and not push hegemonic ideology. I do feel it is beneficial to attempt to show these families the capabilities of technology, and probably more importantly, that we as a school are not using technology to strip students of their culture and morph them into little ‘Westerners’, but as a tool they can use well into their futures.

One way to work within the Cultural Heritage model, while simultaneously advocating the use of technology, lies in the approach. An open evening detailing the school’s use of technology, whereby families are invited to attend, could prove beneficial. Parents could see student work samples, presentations made by students could be shown that tell their cultural story. Parents could be taught how they can access class pages for Edmodo and other school learning sites. Parents can see how their children are becoming multimodal, and hopefully see the merit. Thus, connections between home and school can be strengthened, and hopefully parents and caregivers will be less skeptical about the way technology affects their children.

The final approach to my action plan is teaching students how to communicate with emphasis on creating a clear meaning. Students can examine the plethora of communication options, observing language structures, appropriate rhetoric and the functionality of language. Discourse analysis and socio-cultural language approaches are perhaps the most effective. Discourse analysis emphasises meaning and flexibility in the texts we present students, enabling us to personalize learning and increase engagement (Unknown). Secondly, through giving student the opportunity to talk and examine different ways people communicate verbally, their skills have a greater change of becoming internalized (Scott & Palincsar, 2009).

Combining these approaches can hopefully facilitate the clear use of language in students, so that into the future they are able to not only live, but also thrive within Australian society.

Reference list

Butt, D., Fahey, R., Feez, S., Spinks, S., & Yallop, C. (eds) (2000). Using functional grammar: An explorer’s guide. Sydney: NCELTR.

De Silvia, S., Valsangkar, P & Khattab, M (2014). The Impact of Information Technology on the Education Sector in Afganistan. check reference

Gorski, P. (2003). Privilege and Repression in the Digital Era: Rethinking the Sociopolitics of the Digital Divide. Race, Gender & Class, 10(4), 145-176.

Kalyanpur, M., & Kirmani, M. H. (2005). Diversity and Technology: Classroom Implications of the Digital Divide. Journal of Special Education Technology, 20(4), 9-18.

Korrup, S. E. & Szydlik, M. (2005). Causes and Trends of the Digital Divide. European Sociological Review, 21(4), 145-176.

Macaro, E., Handley, Z., & Walter, C. (2012). A systematic review of CALL in English as a second language: Focus on primary and secondary education. Language Teaching, 45(1), 1-43. doi: 10.1017/S0261444811000395

Prichard, C. (2013). Training L2 Learners to Use Facebook Appropriately and Effectively. CALICO Journal. 30(2), 204-225

Rye, S. (2008). Exploring the Gap of the Digital Divide: Conditions of Connectivity and Higher Education Participation. GeoJournal, 71(2/3), 171-184.

Sawyer, W., & Mcfarlane, D. (2000). Reviewing English in years 7-10. A report for the Board of Studies, NSW. Executive Summary (online). Retrieved December, 2005, from http://www.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/manuals/pdf_doc/english_710_reviews.pdf

Scott, S., & Palincsar, A. (2009). Sociocultural Theory Retrieved February 14, 2012, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/sociocultural-theory/

Shahnaz, Q., George, P., Son. V., Sahbhan, H. Habib, S., Schroeder, S & Karim, Q. (2014). Effectiveness of Parent Education through Mobile Technology in Afghanistan. Creative Education, 5(22), 1921-1928.

Thorne, S.L. (2005). Epistemology, Politics, and Ethics in Sociocultural Theory. Modern Language Journal, 89 (3), 393-409.

Unknown. Discourse Analysis in Second Language Writing. Accessed from EML509 Module Notes, page 3 http://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/0472089196-ch1.pdf

Unsworth, L. & Bush, R. (2010). “Introducing Multimodal Literacy to Young Children Learning English as a Second Language (ESL). In Cole, D. & Pullen, D. (eds). Multiliteracies in motion: current theory and practice. Routledge, New York 

Vale, E. (2009). Teaching Secondary Language Learners in the Secondary English Classroom. In Gannon, S., Howie, M. & Sawyer. W (eds). Charged with Meaning, Re-Viewing English: Third Edition. Putney, Australia: Pheonix Education.


Identity crisis

You want to be a Secondary Teacher? Are you mad?

 Are you mad? This is a question I have been asked many times since I committed to changing my double degree to a single, ditching Psychology and focusing solely on becoming a Secondary English and History Teacher. My answers to this question have changed over the years; ‘I love learning, so I want to work in a teaching and learning environment,’ ‘When all goes well it really is the best job’ and at times ‘I really love arguing with teenagers about phones.’

After taking myself out of my middle-class, Anglo-Saxon niche; the place where I grew up, completed both my practicums and got my first teaching job, my views about education changed dramatically. I discovered the hardships others faced in regards to access to education that I had not considered. I had always considered education a ‘right’ that everyone was granted, not a privilege. I decided to move towards a career that helps people who genuinely need extra learning support in order to access what I assumed were ‘rights’.

Identifying Identity: how we see ourselves.

Reeves (2009) describes the change in discourse that occurred when teacher identity, rather than student identity, is examined. Identity is no longer considered an entirely internal manifestation, but a process in which relationships interact with internal perceptions (p.34).

In the quantitative study conducted by Reeves (2009), certain issues relating to Teacher Identity were revealed. The examination of *Neal through the series of interviews revealed that he saw the construction of his own identity as different to other’s. He actively poised himself against other teachers, perceiving his own strategies and approaches as superior. He believed the way to eliminate educational gaps for second language speakers was to ignore educational differences, implement the same rules and deadlines and treat all of his students the same. This, according to Neal, is in the best interests of perfectly capable second language students (p. 37-39). The results of this study revealed that Neal’s approach could be ‘setting students up for failure’ (Reeves, p.39).

Messages extracted from this paper were easily applied to my own Critical Reflection. Teachers’ own misinformed opinions can work against students’ best interests despite honourable intentions. Teachers’ own self-assertions (aka. Hubris), can become a tool used to identify ones’ self as correct, despite contradictions. I too have been guilty of identifying myself in relation to others; as younger, more in-touch and all accepting. However, like Neal, I have never taken ownership of the language development of ESL students’, positioning myself as not to blame for certain students’ apparent stage of ‘arrested development’. My own reluctance to help these students for fear of misinforming them has resulted in directing those students to other people. This redirecting is something I don’t want to do anymore.

And perhaps this is way I now position myself as different to Neal.

A very critical framework; am I as accepting and progressive as I think?

Critical Reflection theory argues that the assumptions we take for granted, our moral compass and our guide that allows us to assess the ‘normality’ of situations, are part of Hegemonic ideas passed down to us (Brookfield, 2009, p.293). Such viewpoints reiterate that the experiences we hold and perceive as ‘normal’ are governed by preordained, institutionalized hegemonic systems that people rarely question, such as education. Due to the nature of these systems, those in power maintain hegemonic ideas about what is ‘normal’ in a consorted effort to maintain their positions of power. Therefore, without knowing it and with honourable intentions, we can find ourselves working within systems that systematically work against the interests of ourselves and those we are trying to help (Brookfield, p.293-296). Furthermore, it has been argued that the schooling system takes part in further marginalizing groups that hawve already been disenfranchised from the dominant culture (Thorne, 2005, p.396 & Brookfield, p.298).

This article highlighted for me the contradiction inherent in TESOL. Arrogance, or audacity, must be the best words to describe someone studying to teach someone to be more like them, while simultaneously making no efforts to learn more about others. However, teaching TESOL in Australia seems to me the best way to help people experience the fullness of Australian culture and overcome language barriers. It is undoubted that we live in a fortunate country, and why not help those who really want to acquire the skills required to fully become part of Australian society? Surely, this is more honourable than teaching native English speaking students about similes whose respond with ‘why do I need English anyway?’

Critical reflection; how critical is too critical?

Critical reflection is the process by which we try to challenge our assumptions and the assumptions that are handed to us and apply logic and open-mindedness to a situation (Seo, 2010). Thus, to challenge the hegemonic perception that people are better off conforming, and decide if one set of values should be perceived as more ‘normal’ that another. Prevailing assumptions generally serve the interests of those in power, and work in conjunction with Capitalist economic policies to keep those groups who are in power in-situ for generations to come. Brookfield (2009) argues that an ethical critical reflection should consider the outcomes for all involved, and whether or not they are moral (p. 293-297).

This process of critical reflection has once more called into question my own Teacher Identity. Studies have shown that when teaching ESL students, language acquisition will be hardest for those that are perhaps in the most need. Younger learners have higher rates of language attainment, but perhaps more poignantly those with higher education levels and language proficiency in their first language are more likely to become fluent in English (Dixon, 2012, p.44-45). It then leaves you to wonder about those who have been disenfranchised in both their native and adoptive societies.

“I’ve travelled the world, I understand what you’re going through, I’ve seen it.”

I have always identified myself as broad-minded and well-informed. Someone who is accepting of political, cultural, religious, racial and social differences that exist within society. However, upon critical reflection I can see the difference between observing, and living with these differences. As a member of what you might call the ‘dominant class’; a white, educated, Catholic (although renounced) native English speaker, it is important to consider how those who do not fall so neatly into ‘Australian society’ must feel about myself. I surmise that there must be a sense that I do not understand the plight of a second language leaner, which essentially is true, though I am trying.

Critical reflection: practicing my practice the sociocultural way.

Sociocultural Theory stresses the importance of social interactions for learning development. Although there are differences with the way theorists interpret Vygotsky’s theory of Sociocultural Development, there are several common currents that permeate each. Learners develop new skills through social interactions. These skills become internalized; learners now have a tool that they can mediate and bring to the fore when needed. These tools can amplify a person’s natural ability for memory retention and organise and communicate knowledge (Lantolf, 2006, p.70 & Turuk, 2008, p.245). In support of this theoretical underpinning is the concept of zone of proximity development (Vygotsky, 1978, as cited in Scott & Palincsar, 2009) examines the relationship between the actual developmental capabilities of a student and the potential development that can occur when a learner is given appropriate assistance. Thus, individual development, even higher order thinking, has its origins in social interaction (Scott & Palincsar).

Sociocultural influences on the study of language acquisition have given rise to innovative ways to teach language, stressing the important of the teacher-learner relationships (Dixon, 2012, p.45). Teaching principals emphasize the paramount importance of openness, collaborative learning, professional development and technology that can be used to help students from a variety of language groups and levels (Dixon; Weimer, 2012; Cheng & Milnes, 2008; Thorne, 2005).

Within the sociocultural theoretical framework, tools become a heightened commodity. Student participation in learning activities enables what Scott & Palincsar (2009) refer to as ‘transformation’; the internalization of cognitive processes that can be organized and employed when necessary. Thus, teachers should be focused on the way people learn, not the outcome. Learning can be scaffolded so that students are able to develop new skills and can be achieved through open-ended research tasks, flexible language presentations and collaborative units that encourage peer mentoring and group problem solving. This is in line with the pedagogy I already employ in the classroom.

Effective use of ICT in language learning has been identified as increasingly important. Thorne (2005) suggests that students should be given the opportunity to speak with people overseas to aid language learning (p.396). Case studies have shown how materials provided in students’ native language; such as Spanish language print materials and videos for Mexican students in the US, helped students language learning and instilled a sense of trust between themselves and their teacher (Dixon, 2012, pg 42). This approach is consistent with the focus on ‘talk’ as a learning tool. This use of ICT is aligned with my own practice; having used Ipads as bilingual dictionaries and interpretation devices, providing subtitles for movies, bilingual classroom posters and learning a few key phrases in students’ native language. I could however strengthen connections between the classroom and the wider world by connecting with other classrooms via social media.

Strengthening teacher-student relationships is another pivotal tool in teaching language through the sociocultural framework. Moves towards socio-cognitive psychology emphasise the importance of a greater focus on the learners and the learning process, while recognising and celebrating diversity and incorporating attempts to engage with the wider world (Farrell & Jacobs, 2010, pg 5-6). This changed dynamic between teachers and students makes learning a more collaborative affair. Enabling students to express and explore their own identity within the classroom, in my experience, increases engagement and provides better outcomes. Students learn better when they feel they are able to take some control over how and what they learn.

The send off…

My teacher identity is still evolving. I have been teaching for three years now, and in three different contexts. Each school I have worked in has had its own challenges, and my teacher identity changed as a response. Over the course of this assignment my teacher identity has evolved further.

Ironically, without knowledge of it, I have been working within sociocultural theoretical frameworks. Hopefully I can use this approach to teach more than appropriate times to use one’s phone.


Brookfield, S. (2009). The concept of critical reflection: promises and contradictions. European Journal of Social Work, 12(3), 293-304. doi: 10.1080/13691450902945215

Cheng, L., & Milnes, T. (2008). Teachers’ Assessment of ESL Students in Mainstream Classes: Challenges, Strategies, and Decision-Making. TESL Canada Journal, 25(2), 49-65.

Dixon, L.Q. (2012). What We Know About Second Language Acquisition: A Synthesis From Four Perspectives. Review of Educational Research, 82(1), 5-60. DOI: 10.3102/003465311433587

Farrell, T. S. C., & Jacobs, G. M. (2010). Essentials for Successful English Language Teaching. Retrieved from http://bit.ly/hRGJeH

Lantolf, J. P. (2006). Sociocultural Theory and L2: State of the Art. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 28(01), 67-109. doi: 10.1017/S0272263106060037

Reeves, J. (2009). Teachers investment in leaner identity. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(1), 34-41. Doi: 10.1016/j.tate.2008.06.003

Scott, S., & Palincsar, A. (2009). Sociocultural Theory Retrieved February 14, 2012, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/sociocultural-theory/

Seo, C. (2010). Return to Critical Thinking. Retrieved from http://catherineaseo.blogspot.com.au/2010/04/return-to-critical-thinking.html 02/04/2015

Thorne, S.L. (2005). Epistemology, Politics, and Ethics in Sociocultural Theory. Modern Language Journal, 89 (3), 393-409.

Turuk, M. C. (2008). The Relevance and Implications of Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory in the Second Language Classroom. Annual Review of Education, Communication, and Language Sciences, 5, 244-262.

Weimer, M. (2012, 23 February). Using Reading Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking. Effective Teaching Strategies. Retreived February 23, 2012, from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-teaching-strategies/using-reading-prompts-to-encourage-critical-thinking