Last week’s homework

This week is week 11! My first semester will be over in about a month. Gonna be busy.

I’ll lead off with brain class homework this time. One of the chapters we had to read was apparently written for fucking brain surgeons so it was pretty hard to digest. Ugh. This is the second shortest homework I’ve turned in so far.

1. Logie and Duff (2007) investigates the relationship between processing and memory span. What is memory span and what do they find about its role in working memory?
Working memory span is “immediate memory” as it functions alongside cognitive processing. It is essentially the extent to which we are able to both process and immediately recall that processed information. Logie and Duff (2007) found that processing and memory, when working together in a combined task of verifying arithmetic sums and recalling the solutions, was only slightly more demanding than each task performed individually (p. 122-124). Similar results were also found in a related experiment that was slightly modified, suggesting that the brain has separate resources that serve both memory and processing which can run concurrently without any significant performance deficit (p. 126-128). This stands in stark contrast to Barrouillet and Camos (2001) who posited that processing and memory were a single resource where one function’s allocation would detract from the performance of the other (as cited in Logie and Duff, 2007, p. 120). If our brains are truly wired to both process and recall simultaneously, then it would stand to reason that actively integrating context into learning might be one of the reasons that this is possible.

2. Martin and Hamilton (2007) propose a model of working memory that has striking differences from the original model proposed by Baddeley. On what evidence do they propose their new model?
Of the three components of working memory outlined by Baddeley and Hitch (1974, as cited in Martin and Hamilton, 2007, p. 183), it seems that the item most directly challenged by Martin and Hamilton is the phonological loop. Martin and Hamilton point to numerous cases that contradict the phonological loop’s proposed purposes in the fact that prose is easier to recall than unrelated words and that various STM patients have demonstrated comprehension of complex sentences despite severe short-term memory loss (p. 184). As an alternative to Baddeley and Hitch’s working memory theory, Martin and Hamilton propose a model of STM wherein language processing functions through separate semantic and phonological components. The logic of this separation can be seen in patients whose semantic short-term memory deficits cause difficulties in recognizing the anomaly in a sentence such as ‘She saw the green, bright, shining sun, which pleased her,’ but not in a similar sentence where the position of the adjectives was changed, as in ‘The sun was bright, shining, and green, which pleased her’ (p. 185). Changing the position of the word
green, the anomaly, allowed the semantically-challenged patients to identify it correctly, but no such pattern was seen in patients whose short-term memory deficits were phonological in nature. Likewise, Freedman, Martin, and Biegler (2004) found that semantic STM patients were at a great disadvantage in comparison with phonological STM patients when asked to name two semantically-related pictures in a single phrase (as cited on p. 186).

3. How is their model different?
Baddeley and Hitch’s (1974) model of working memory relies on the phonological loop to connect working memory and language processing. This theory explains why patients with a phonological STM deficit can comprehend short sentences but not longer ones, but it does not explain why healthy individuals can recall up to six unrelated words but can recall far more words when they are presented as prose (as cited in Martin and Hamilton, 2007, p. 183-184). In order to compensate for this shortcoming, Baddeley (2000) introduced the episodic buffer, a storage system of limited capacity that is separate from, but works with, long-term memory (as cited in Martin and Hamilton, 2007, p. 184-185). Martin and Hamilton’s model proposes separate components for semantics and phonology that both play a role in language processing. This model explains why patients with different types of memory loss perform differently on the same tasks which Baddeley’s model, including the episodic buffer, does not (p. 185, 191).

4. What is the main idea underlying Marklund and Nyberg (2007)?
A common thread throughout nearly all of Marklund and Nyberg’s (2007) findings is the involvement of various parts of the prefrontal cortex in numerous cognitive tasks, most notably both working and episodic memory. Another theme of perhaps greater significance is the PFC’s role in representing, processing, and integrating context during encoding (p. 313-314, 319-320).

5. How might their assertions affect our thoughts about foreign language learning?

Marklund and Nyberg (2007) note that context integration, where “purposeful and intentional” learning are concerned, distinguishes how items are coded (p. 319). Ramnani and Owen (2004) also state that the PFC facilitates context processing in order to coordinate multiple cognitive operations in pursuit of completing a task (as cited on p. 314). It seems unlikely that these operations involving context and memory being placed in the same region of the brain is an evolutionary coincidence; context clearly plays a significant role in learning, and it is something that must be kept in mind in the classroom at all times.


Baddeley, A. (2000). The episodic buffer: a new component of working memory?. Trends in cognitive sciences, 4(11), 417-423.

Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. Psychology of learning and motivation, 8, 47-89.

Barrouillet, P., & Camos, V. (2001). Developmental increase in working memory span: Resource sharing or temporal decay?. Journal of Memory and Language, 45(1), 1-20.

Freedman, M. L., Martin, R. C., & Biegler, K. (2004). Semantic relatedness effects in conjoined noun phrase production: Implications for the role of short-term memory. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 21(2-4), 245-265.

Logie, R. H., & Duff, S. C. (2007). Separating processing from storage in working memory operation span. In Osaka, N., Logie, R., and D’Esposito, M. (Eds.) (2007). The cognitive neuroscience of working memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marklund & Nyberg (2007). Intersecting the divide between working memory and episodic memory. In Osaka, N., Logie, R., and D’Esposito, M. (Eds.) (2007). The cognitive neuroscience of working memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Martin & Hamilton (2007). Implications from cognitive neuropsychology for models of short-term and working memory. In Osaka, N., Logie, R., and D’Esposito, M. (Eds.) (2007). The cognitive neuroscience of working memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Martin, R. C., & Romani, C. (1994). Verbal working memory and sentence comprehension: A multiple-components view. Neuropsychology, 8(4), 506.

Ramnani, N., & Owen, A. M. (2004). Anterior prefrontal cortex: insights into function from anatomy and neuroimaging. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5(3), 184-194.

My Teaching Writing homework was, as usual, very easy compared to brain class. We had to read about a bunch of writing exercises that require students to use all phases of language (read, write, speak, listen).

1. Which ones do you think are better suited to lower level students?
Copy, Complete, Speculate, React
2. Which ones are better for higher level students?
Examine cohesive links, Examine punctuation and grammar, Examine sentence arrangement, Summarize

3. Which are some of the best ones to use for large classes?
I think just about all of these techniques could be adapted to large classes, and Raimes likes to suggest dividing students into groups to accomplish this. Personally I don’t think group work is always helpful to students because a lot of groups tend to be dominated by one or two students who do all the work while the other group members contribute little or nothing. Exercises where each member of the group is able or expected to write individually are, in my opinion, the most useful because all students can participate. Speculate, for instance, includes an example where the students discuss a person’s role and then “they write a letter to the newspaper.” As long as it’s clear that each group member is to write their own letter, this exercise would have value and could be executed with a large class. Each of the “Examine” techniques could also be employed in large classes with students working alone at first, and then pairing up to compare and discuss their answers.

4. What are some things you can do to make these exercises communicative or meaningful?
To me, the word “communicative” usually conjures up images of students milling around, asking each other questions or trying to collectively solve a problem of some sort. In this tradition, an exercise like “examine sentence arrangement” could be conducted with each student having a different sentence or conjunctive phrase, and then they have to find their partners whose sentences and phrase fit what they have. Something similar could be done for the “complete” technique.

5. If you were going to have to use several of these ideas in succession, what could you do? Make a short plan.

a. Do a sentence arrangement exercise with the class where 8-10 sentences are paired with a following sentence. Then the 8-10 sentence pairs have to be put in the correct order to form a short story.
b. Use the assembled story from (a) to examine cohesive links by first finding one or two redundancies as a class, and then have students seek out the remaining redundancies on their own or in pairs. After confirming all of the redundant nouns, have students or pairs replace them with the proper pronouns.
c. Now that the story reads more clearly, ask students to summarize it.
d. This story, of course, is incomplete, and the students are now asked to complete it by writing their own ending.
e. After students have had a chance to write and share their own endings, they can now speculate on certain elements within the story or imagine how the story might continue in a subsequent chapter or sequel.

6. Why is reading input seen as being very suitable to writing development?
Reading is generally seen to be the gateway to writing skills because material that the student reads has the potential to serve as a model upon which writing skills can be learned (Eisterhold, 1990, p. 88). Stotsky (1983) also claims that better readers typically produce “more syntactically mature” writing than students who read at lower levels (as cited in Eisterhold, 1990, p. 88). I have casually observed that my students who write well also tend to read well, but it’s impossible for me to conclude that those writing skills were indeed developed as a result of reading. It could very well be that the students who write well have developed that skill through better study habits than students whose writing is at a lower level. Regardless of how superior writing skills are developed, it stands to reason that advanced reading skills could be a contributing factor but, I personally doubt, the only factor.

7. What are her three hypotheses and how do they work?
Eisterhold (1990) describes three different hypotheses that attempt to define the relationship between reading and writing. The directional hypothesis claims that reading influences writing, but writing does not influence reading. This view is supported by studies by Eckhoff (1983), Taylor & Beach (1984), and Stotsky (1983), all of whom found evidence of a unidirectional effect where reading supported writing, but not vice versa (as cited in Eisterhold, 1990, p. 89-90). The nondirectional hypothesis, on the other hand, views reading and writing as two modalities that have the ability to influence each other. In this view, skills are not limited to being transferred in a single direction, leaving open the possibility for writing to also influence reading. The bidirectional hypothesis, which Eisterhold calls “the most complex as well as the most comprehensive of the three,” posits that reading and writing are both interactive and interdependent. The complexity of the bidirectional hypothesis stems from separate subsystems whose involvement in the reading-writing relationship changes over time. (p. 92-93). For example, Shanahan (1984, as cited on p. 92) found that students in second grade based the reading-writing relationship on word recognition and spelling, but by fifth grade that relationship had come to rely on comprehension and a number of writing variables.

8. How do literacy skills develop in second language and what does transfer have to do with this?
Cummins’s (1981) interdependence hypothesis claims that literacy in L1 will transfer to L2 acquisition as long as there is both exposure to and motivation to learn L2 (as cited in Eisterhold, 1990, p. 95). In other words, L1 literacy is required in order for L2 literacy to develop. Studies by Mace-Matluck et al. (1983), Goldman, Reyes, & Varnhagen (1984), and Canale, Frenette, and Belanger (1988) all drew positive correlations between L1 and L2 literacy (as cited on p. 95). As with all good hypotheses, however, opposing research refutes these claims. Eisterhold outlines three possible views of the transfer of literacy skills from L1 to L2:

  1. A basic, minimal level of L1 proficiency exists which allows L1 skills to transfer to L2.
  2. A basic, minimal level of L1 proficiency and cognitive restructuring exists, allowing L1 skills to transfer to L2.
  3. Separate language systems with cognitively separate language skills exist, and transfer occurs at the intersection of each language’s structurally similar language routines.

Eisterhold summarizes the differences between these three views with the observation that literacy skills can transfer from one language to another, but that transfer may not be automatic and may be subject to variables such as language proficiency and cognitive processes (p. 98). I have to agree that it is unlikely that one view in particular is right while the others are all wrong, as that is rarely ever the case when considering conflicting views of the same issue in L2 acquisition. We may never find a definitive answer to the exact nature of the relationship between L1 literacy and L2 learning, but it is universally agreed that all students learn differently and, dare I say, this question is a borderline moot point for those whose sphere of influence is limited to the second language classroom. Regardless of what we may learn about L1 transfer, we are not in a position to affect L1 literacy and therefore must focus our attention on strategies that will help advance L2 skills. I do believe, however, that it is helpful to consider the relationship between L2 reading and L2 writing and how they may be used to complement each other within a multi-modal curriculum.
Canale, M., Frenette, N., & Belanger, M. (1989). Evaluation of minority student writing in first and second languages. CREFO, IEPO.

Cummins, J. (1981). The role of primary language development in promoting educational success for language minority students. Schooling and language minority students: A theoretical framework, 3-49.

Eckhoff, B. (1983). How reading affects children’s writing. Language Arts, 607-616.

Eisterhold, J.C. (1990). Reading-writing connections: toward a description for second language learners. In B. Kroll, Second Language Writing: Research Insights for the Classroom (pp. 88-101). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Goldman, S. R., Reyes, M., & Varnhagen, C. K. (1984). Understanding fables in first and second languages. NABE Journal, 8(2), 35-66.

Mace-Matluck, B., Dominguez, D., Holtzman, W., & Hoover, W. (1983). Language and literacy in bilingual instruction. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Laboratory.

Shanahan, T. (1984). Nature of the reading–writing relation: An exploratory multivariate analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(3), 466.

Stotsky, S. (1983). Research on reading/writing relationships: A synthesis and suggested directions. Language arts, 627-642.

Taylor, B. M., & Beach, R. W. (1984). The effects of text structure instruction on middle-grade students’ comprehension and production of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly, 134-146.

posted by Michael in Back to School on 5/11/2015 | No Comments