Week 2 homework

I’ll put my Teaching Writing homework first because it’s less boring than my Brain Class homework. Human Learning & Cognition, a.k.a. Brain Class, by the way, really pissed me off. We were supposed to answer four questions based on chapter 2 of some book, and then five questions on chapter 3. Well guess what? Three of the five chapter 3 questions weren’t in chapter 3. Um, hey professor, WHAT THE FUCK??!! That’s not cool. At least I got to write a scholarly account of how I called my brother a nigger at Prince of Peace Sunday School (highlighted in blue, for your convenience). Hey chill out, I was like six years old at the time.

The assignment was to write a descriptive paragraph about a desert island. I wrote it as a paragraph as assigned, but just to show how incredibly sensitive and sentimental I am, I’m going to format my paragraph here as a poem. Hopefully this will get me laid someday.

A Faraway Place Called Someday

When Ordinary People speak of the impossible
When they speak of what spectacular things they would do
with untold riches
They speak of escaping to this white sand
and the peaceful solitude
that embraces it
They speak of clear turquoise waters
that glisten in the sun
They speak of an endless blue sky
carelessly smeared
with thin
wispy clouds
that seem to echo
the blissful laziness of island life
Ordinary People speak of plucking mangoes
and papayas
from the lush greenery
that the island provides
And dining on freshly caught fish
as the sun descends
on the horizon
And then
when paradise is bathed
in moonlight
and the only sounds to be heard
are the gentle lapping of waves
on the shore
and the quiet rustling
of palm fronds
Ordinary People speak longingly
of a faraway place

Michael McCauley

Teaching Writing

Week 2 Questions

1. What does the research into the L2 writing process tell us about the relationship between L1 and L2 writing?

Research into both L1 and L2 writing processes seems to indicate a great deal of similarity between the two. Because “there was not much L2 research to draw upon” (Krapels, 1990, p. 37) until the 1980s, L2 researchers have borrowed the methods of the L1 research community and their findings, although different in context, have “more often than not…concurred with those of their L1 counterparts” (p. 38). Zamel (1984, as cited on p. 38) echoes this notion, stating that “research into second language composing processes seems to corroborate much of what we have learned” (Zamel, 1984, p. 198, as cited on p. 39) from research in L1 writing. Krapels warns, however, that L1 research must not be allowed to “guide or determine (L2) investigations” (p. 39).

2. What are the two main points of view in the second language writing process?
The first point of view presented by Krapels (1990) is that “a lack of competence in composing, rather than a specific lack of L2 linguistic competence” (p. 40) is to blame for difficulties in L2 writing. What this means is that, even though a student’s linguistic L2 skills might be lacking, the quality of that student’s written product will depend more on how she goes about composing her writing. Zamel (1982, as cited on p. 40) also discovered that “when (L2) students understood and experienced composing as a process, their written products would improve” (p. 41). Pfingstag (1984, as cited on p. 41) and Hildenbrand (1985, as cited on p. 41) further supported this point of view with their own studies where it was concluded that “factors beyond the L2 writer’s linguistic competence were found to impede the student’s composing process” (Hildenbrand, 1985, as cited on p. 42).

Raimes (1985a, 1987) added another view of L2 writing where she posits that “the act of writing in a second language is somehow different from that of writing in a first language” (as cited on p. 45) and that the two processes may be related. Several other researchers support the notion that L1 and L2 writing processes are related, but there seems to be widespread disagreement on the nature of that relationship.

Where Raimes saw differences between the two, Edelsky (1982), for example, found that L1 writing knowledge “forms the basis…rather than interferes with writing in another language” (Edelsky, 1982, p. 227, as cited on p. 45). Likewise, while Martin-Betancourt (1986) declared that, aside from two composing behaviors that naturally come with L2 writing (translation and use of more than one language), “the L2 writing process is similar to the L1 process” (as cited on p. 46). Meanwhile, in contrast to both Edelsky and Martin-Betancourt, Arndt (1987) framed her observations as “slight differences in L1 and L2 writing processes” (as cited on p. 47).

I believe the point of these studies is not whether L1 and L2 writing processes are similar or different but that they are indeed related and that we, as English writing teachers, should look for ways to use that relationship to the student’s advantage. As Raimes (1985a) points out, the L2 writer has “no definable type” (p. 44) and students will inevitably need our help to discover the process that works best for them.

3. What are some of the main issues in the second language writing process?
For this question, I’m going to break away from the academic tone I’ve been using here, close the book, and speak from my experience as both a teacher of writing and a learner of writing.

With young Korean students ranging from first to seventh grade, I have seen what I can only interpret as a lack of understanding of how to write in essay form. I have seen writing from students who are otherwise articulate as English speakers produce shockingly little when asked to write about their favorite food, a place they would like to visit, and so on. Perhaps it’s the word “essay” that scares them, or it could just be that they are not only lacking knowledge of the process, but they don’t even know that a process exists. They literally don’t know where to begin. Most of these students are not new to English; they have several years of learning to draw from, and even a lot of my more advanced students have demonstrated that they lack the knowledge to write cohesive paragraphs.

Like most English academies in Korea, my school focuses on the product, not the process. I believe this is because parents believe they are paying for the product when, in fact, their children would most likely get much more out of step-by-step instruction in how to plan what they are being asked to put down on paper. To be fair, the books I have taught from do attempt to address the process, but the patterns of learning presented in these books are, in my opinion, deeply flawed. They ask the student to do very little writing of their own before leading up to the unit’s essay writing exercise, and then they are supposed to magically produce a piece of writing that mirrors the book’s example.

In terms of my own experience of learning how to write English as an L1 learner, I honestly don’t remember a lot of the specific exercises that led me to writing the way I do today. I do recall there being book reports in elementary school, an assignment to interview a family member in sixth grade, and then plenty of essay writing in high school. Some creative writing was also part of the mix. One thing I can say for sure is that there was a lot of output on my part. I wrote and wrote, and my mother sometimes suggested revisions. I would like to believe that the L2 writing students I have encountered so far, young as they may be, could produce a piece of writing every single day, much like our class is doing with the Dialogue Journal. The reality, however, is that these kids at my academy simply don’t have the time or the desire to produce that much writing, and even their parents might be resistant to such a request. Still, I feel like output (or lack thereof) is a major issue that can only be addressed when students are willing to invest themselves in building their writing skills.

4. What issues are yet to be resolved and what can we research to try to resolve them?

There are several outstanding issues in the research of process writing. One such issue is that of research with students who are at the beginning stages of L2 learning. Krapels (1990) pointedly observes that the lack of research on beginning L2 learners calls into question the validity of the idea that written competence is a function of composing competence rather than linguistic competence (p. 52). It is hard to imagine that instruction in the writing process would be of greater benefit than L2 proficiency to a kindergarten student or even an older learner who is just starting out. Krapels notes that most published studies rely on subjects who are advanced L2 learners at the university level (p. 48), making it apparent that lower-level L2 learners of all ages have been vastly underserved in L2 writing research.

Krapels (1990) also notes that “some second language learners seem to depend more on first language use than others” (p. 52) and this is evident in the varying reports of the use of L1 and L1 translation by research subjects. Lay (1982), in her study of Chinese-speaking L2 students, found that “when there are more native language switches…the essays in this study were of better quality” (as cited on p. 45). Most of Zamel’s (1982) subjects stood in stark contrast to Lay’s findings, stating that the use of translation “would be like being pulled by two brains” (as cited on p. 47). In all of these studies it appears that students were never asked to compare two deliberately different writing processes in the same trial, so I think this could be an area worth exploring further.

A final issue to contend with is the failure to consider the subjects’ L1 writing level when assessing their L2 writing (Krapel, 1990, p. 53). It is abundantly clear that the quality of L1 writing produced by native speakers of any language will run the gamut from abysmal to outstanding, and such a consideration does indeed seem significant when examining the process and quality of L2 writing. Krapel acknowledges that it difficult to know how or if students have received L1 writing instruction, and therefore it would seem wise to get a clear picture of each subject’s L1 writing background before making publishing findings about that individual’s L2 writing prowess.

I’m a bit surprised that it took until the 1980s for researchers to begin examining writing closely because it is such an important part of L2 learning. At the same time, my surprise is tempered by the fact that there is no standardized test (that I’m aware of) for measuring a student’s ability to produce high quality written discourse in paragraph form, and that lack of quantitative data perhaps led the research community to focus on things that are far more measurable. Nonetheless, it’s encouraging to know that writing is now on the research community’s radar.


Arndt, V. (1987). Six Writers in Search of Texts: A Protocol Based Study of L1 and L2 Writing. ELT Journal, 41, 257-267.

Edelsky, C. (1982). Writing in a Bilingual Program: The Relation of L1 and L2 Texts. TESOL Quarterly, 16, 211-228.

Hildenbrand, J. (1985). Carmen: A Case Study of an ESL Writer. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Columbia University Teachers College.

Krapels, A.R. (1990). An Overview of Second Language Writing Process Research. In B. Kroll, Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom (pp. 37-56). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Lay, N. (1982). Composing Processes of Adult ESL Learners. TESOL Quarterly, 16, 406.

Martin-Betancourt, M. (1986). The Composing Processes of Puerto Rican College Students of English as a Second Language. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Fordham University.

Pfingstag, N. (1984). Showing Writing: Modelling the Process. TESOL Newsletter, 18, 1-3.

Raimes, A. (1985a). An Investigation of the Composing Processes of ESL Remedial and Nonremedial Students. Paper presented at the 36th Annual CCCC Convention, Minneapolis, Minn., March.

Raimes, A. (1987). Language Proficiency, Writing Ability, and Composing Strategies: A Study of ESL College Student Writers. Language Learning, 37, 439-468.

Zamel, V. (1982). Writing: The Process of Discovering Meaning. TESOL Quarterly, 16, 194-209.

Zamel, V. (1984). In Search of the Key: Research and Practice in Composition. In J. Handscombe, R. Orem, and B. P. Taylor (Eds.), On TESOL ’83: The Question of Control (pp. 195-207). Washington, D.C.: TESOL.

Michael McCauley

Human Learning & Cognition

Week 3 Questions

Week 3 – Questions Lieberman (2004) Chapter 2 Foundations of classical conditioning

1. What is classical conditioning and why is this important?

Classical conditioning is “the pairing of a CS (conditioned stimulus) with a US (unconditioned stimulus) (which) results in an increase in responding to the CS” (Lieberman, 2004, p. 52). In other words, a subject learns to associate the CS with the US because repeated pairings have taught the subject that the two stimuli are connected. This is important because it helps us to understand “the crucial mechanism underlying the brain’s operations” (p. 48). As teachers, it is our job to bring about the Unconditioned Responses of learning and comprehension and, in order to do so, we have to provide the stimuli necessary to make that happen.

2. What is extinction and how does it work?
Extinction is the gradual disappearance of a conditioned response (Lieberman, 2004, p. 53). If a student “learns” the meaning of a word today, that learning will likely be forgotten unless the association that produced the learning is reinforced in the future.

3. How is conditioning related to learning?
According to Pavlov, the pathway connecting two centers in the brain is strengthened when they are activated simultaneously (Lieberman, 2004, p. 76) and Lieberman asserts that “the strength of these connections can be altered by experience” (p. 78). I recall being taught prepositions many years ago by singing them to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy and, to this day, I sometimes still refer to that song when the subject of prepositions comes up. My sixth grade English teacher helped me form a connection between the musical part of my brain with the language part, and the connection that was formed became strong enough that I still remember it decades later.

4. How can classical conditioning be used to explain some language learning phenomenon?
Classical conditioning hinges on the idea of two areas of the brain forming an association with each other. If some type of non-traditional language learning occurs, it could very well be that such learning was caused by the consistent and repeated presence of a certain stimulus or stimuli. Implicit learning, for example, entails “
some kind of adaptation to the regularities of the world that evolves without intention to learn, and without a clear awareness of what we know” (Perruchet & Pacton, 2006). When I was a boy of about five or six years old, I used one of society’s most reviled racial slurs in Sunday School when I referred to my brother by using “the N word.” My brother is white, by the way. The Sunday School teacher was aghast and asked me where I learned such a word and, naturally, my response was, “I don’t know.” I truly didn’t know and, as far as I recall, that word was not something I had ever said before. I just blurted it out in an attempt to be funny, and it is likely that I heard the word numerous times in a context that others around me found humorous. I had implicitly learned a word that, in my mind, was associated with a type of behavior that I mistakenly interpreted as proper and acceptable. The N word was the CS and the (expected) laughter that would ensue was the US that would ultimately result in me feeling happy about having caused that laughter. Extinction followed soon after the Sunday School teacher called my parents.

Lieberman (2004) Chapter 3 Principles and applications of classical conditioning

1. How does contiguity affect conditioning?
Contiguity, “a bond between two events that occur together” (Lieberman, 2004, p. 88), has been shown to affect the strength of conditioning through a variety of experiments by Pavlov and others. Moeller (1954, as cited on p. 89), for example, experimented with CS-US intervals using white noise and electric shock. What he found was that a small gap (a greater bond) between events produced a conditioned response more reliably than did larger gaps between the presentation of the CS and US. Pavlov also investigated simultaneous and backward conditioning which showed that, even though an association was likely to have formed, no conditioned response was produced (p. 90). If a teacher is to help students form meaningful connections in the classroom, those connections should probably be made quickly in order to be effective. Waiting too long to make a baseball motion would not be the most effective way to help students understand the meaning of the word “swing,” nor would it be beneficial to have students practice a newly introduced grammar point long after the lesson has concluded.

2. What is instrumental learning and how does it differ from classical conditioning?
Whereas classical conditioning calls upon stimuli to produce an involuntary reaction or behavior, instrumental learning is a vastly different situation where “the action is instrumentalin causing some outcome” (Dickinson, 2010, p. 45). Perhaps the greatest distinction is in the involuntary nature of Pavlovian conditioning and the decidedly deliberate action (or inaction) of instrumental learning which then carries with a result in the form of a consequence or reward. As a teacher, these differences are quite significant. How we respond to student behavior and performance in the classroom is just as important as the ways in which we attempt to activate learning before it occurs. Praising one student’s effort or giving negative feedback to another student who is struggling will almost certainly affect the choices those students make in the future.

3. What is response learning and what is it importance?
Because response learning (like instrumental learning) was not explicitly addressed in chapter three of Lieberman (2004) and I was unable to locate any specifically-stated meanings from other sources, I am forced to cull my own definition from Terry (2006) where he states that “the ease or difficulty in learning the paired-associate response…can…vary.” He goes on to give the example that “it is easier to learn the word as a response to the definition” rather than to give a definition in response to a word (p. 169). From this information, and from exhaustive online searches for “response learning” that resulted in S-R theory, social learning, and other topics, I am going to define response learning as a paired-associate learning strategy where a specific response is produced by a specific stimulus. Terry notes that “better learning…is determined by the number and quality of the relations constructed between S and R items” (p. 170), and the importance of this would seem to point to the teacher’s role in facilitating how associations are formed by students. Naturally, students will find it easier to recall a single word than a series of words that amount to a definition. However, because “backward association of the response to the stimulus appears much weaker than the forward association” (p. 171), the teacher needs to think about what the ultimate goal is and how the students will be tested on the material, keeping in mind that “individuals who bring a greater breadth of knowledge…may be better paired-associate learners” (p. 170). In my own experience, I have observed that lower-level students seem to have much more trouble with the words and definitions presented in their vocabulary textbooks than do more advanced students, and it seems that the cause would be rooted in the fact that they are equipped with a significantly smaller amount of background knowledge.

4. How do the contingencies of non-reward, punishment, and avoidance work in instrumental conditioning?
It doesn’t appear that these contingencies were discussed in chapter three of Lieberman (2004) but he did discuss operant conditioning in chapter one. Lieberman describes reinforcement as a positive consequence that strengthens a response, such as a reward for studying (p. 35). Non-reward, then, would appear to be the opposite: a reward is not given, and the intended effect would be to weaken a behavior. Punishment seems fairly straightforward; negative behavior results in a negative consequence, also with the intention of weakening the behavior. Avoidance is a bit trickier in that it involves an impending punishment that is cancelled as a result of the avoidance response” (Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, n.d., para. 1). In other words, the student stops misbehaving. All three of these contingencies seem to be, in the behaviorist tradition, behavior modification techniques.

Last semester, in my classes at the academy where I teach, teachers began widespread in-class use of a website called ClassDojo.com. ClassDojo is essentially an online point system that teachers can use to give points (reward) students or take points away (punishment). My experience with this system was mixed but, interestingly, all three of the contingencies of instrumental learning were exhibited in its use. Punishment manifested itself when I would take points away from a student whose behavior was no longer tolerable, and if that student persisted, the next tier of punishment would be a visit with the school’s resident disciplinarian, Miss June, a woman who is a master at striking fear into the hearts of young children. Avoidance was also a common theme with students immediately changing their behavior when they saw me reaching for the mouse to deduct points. Non-reward was a factor in the early stages of the system’s use, and it was a negative change; students became accustomed to earning points on the spot for positive behavior and class participation, but so much attention and class time was consumed by the point system that I had to limit the use of ClassDojo to the end of class. My casual observation was that some students changed their behavior in negative ways in response to the change in how points were awarded. At the end of the semester I concluded that ClassDojo was more burden than blessing and now I use it very sparingly, almost to the point that the students forget it exists. I didn’t like the negative reinforcement that point deductions created both as punishment and cause for avoidance behavior, and I certainly didn’t want to be clicking a mouse every single time a student uttered a correct response. I think there are situations where non-reward, punishment, and avoidance can be effectively used but, until I can devise a way to make ClassDojo a positive experience without it becoming a burden on class time, its use will have to remain minimal.

5. What are some of the main applications of these ideas for us as language teachers?

I think contiguity’s importance is fairly clear. Associations need to be established in order for students to learn that A is followed by B, whether A and B are language concepts or issues in the student-teacher relationship. Instrumental learning feels like a tool that can have great value if applied properly. Used incorrectly, I think instrumental learning has the potential to be quite a detriment to both student and teacher. It seems that the best approach might be to first consider the individual student’s personality rather than attempting to issue a blanket policy to an entire class. No two students are alike and, if the ever-present issue of classroom fairness can be navigated successfully, it might become possible to address student behavior on a case-by-case basis. Response learning, if I have understood it correctly, is also something that I think must be handled with care. Not everyone learns the same way, and I think it would be a mistake to automatically assume that an entire class would benefit from multiple lessons that are heavy with paired associates.

In the end, what I’m taking away from all of this is that learners need to create associations in order to learn, whether it’s associating a consequence with a behavior, a word with a definition, or a visual cue with a concept. As teachers we have the power to put those associations in place and, in doing so, give the students a chance to succeed.


Dickinson, Anthony. “Instrumental conditioning.” Encyclopedia of Psychopharmacology. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2010. 645-649.

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. (n.d.). In Instrumental Conditioning. Retrieved from http://users.ipfw.edu/abbott/314/Avoidance.html.

Lieberman, D. A. (2004). Learning and memory: An integrated approach. Belmont: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Perruchet, P., & Pacton, S. (January 01, 2006). Implicit Learning and Statistical Learning: One Phenomenon, Two Approaches. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 5, 233-8.

Terry, W. S. (2006). Learning and memory: Basic principles, process, and procedures (3rd Edition). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

posted by Michael in Back to School on 3/21/2015 | No Comments