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Dancing with Concordances
Dr Elizabeth Hanson-Smithoriginally published in 1993 in the CAELL Journal 4(2), p. 40
California State University, Sacramento
At the CATESOL conference this past spring, I was carrying on about concordancing, showing an overhead projection of a concordanced page, telling how one could view a text wih the selected word in the center of the page and a surrounding line of context--when a hand shot up. The question was, "Why would you want to do THAT?"
I was taken aback for a moment, as possible answers raced through my head: You could compare written versions of language with spoken. You could analyze (and learn) vocabulary in context. You could study surrounding context clues to meaning. You could examine tense sequences, the use of modals, the forms of irregular pasts. You could . . . when I suddenly realized that I was making many fundamental assumptions about teaching and learning that were not shared by my audience.
Instructors--and administrators--come to the computer room at teacher conferences asking for programs that they can plug students into. They want software that:
(1) is "user-friendly"--students can access it themselves with minimal help from a non-teacher. Preferably, it would work from a file-server or hard drive menu;How do those assumptions differ from my own? (As I thought to myself much later):
(1) Sounds pretty reasonable: we want students to be computer-literate, independent learners anyway.A concordancer won't do (2) and (3), but it makes a great group activity; it exposes students to real language and focuses them on authentic usage; it is self-accessible with a little instruction; and it can be very cheap. I'm waiting for the studies, but I am willing to guess concordancers can do more to change fossilized rammar patterns than any other "exercise." But they do require real teaching.
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