[xmca] The Heterogeneity of Expertise

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Fri Jun 29 2007 - 23:27:38 PDT

Thanks, Tony, for defending the time-honored and honorable practice of blowing your own horn. Now I'd like to tout an upcoming article in the International Journal of Applied Linguistics by Ji-eun Shin and myself which addresses the issue of the heterogeneity of language teaching expertise (should be out next month).
  The Korean Ministry of Education is playing with a number of options to address a perceived lack of English input in primary school (!). One of these is immersion, where content (e.g. science) is taught in English by a Korean teacher. Another is stocking classrooms with "native speaking" teaching assistants, as is done in Japan, Hongkong and private education.
  We did a qualitative and quantitative comparison of a Korean teacher using English to teach her science class and a "native speaker" teamed with a Korean teacher. Interestingly, the Korean teacher had longer sentences, longer exchanges, and fewer grammatical errors. (The kids, however, really loved the native speaker's tattoos!)
  Of course, that a Korean teacher who is REALLY native to the Korean classroom (pardon my caps, Paul!) should have more expertise in classroom English than an expatriate "native speaker" is not that surprising if we consider that expertise is developed along the lines suggested by Bereiter and Scardamalia (Surpassing Ourselves, The Psychology of Composition).
  According to Bereiter and Scardamalia, expertise develops when you are in a "Type Two" environment. The kinds of games that Mark Chen suggests (Bogost games, like trying to be a science journalists) are good examples of this type of environment, because the solution of lower level problems invariably leads to the problems being reformulated at a higher level rather than simply replaced with more of the same, or put to bed and replaced with a completely different set of problems (as they are in Starcraft or the old World of Warcraft games).
  Bereiter and Scardamalia point out that teaching CAN be a Type Two environment. Every teacher (most definitely including me but more importantly including virtually all of my undergraduates) goes through a period of two or three years where they are obsessed with what in retrospect seem fairly trivial matters of classroom management and administration; the day to day struggle to keep order.
  These problems solved, the extra energy CAN be reinvested in reformulating management problems as learning problems. Or you can do what D. H. Lawrence did; he used his spare moments to stare out a window and write very bad poetry about how nasty the teaching profession was (no wonder the kids hated his guts...).
  I apologize to eric and others who don't like me to preview the next issue of MCA, but there is a really ripping article by Wolff-Michael Roth on this phenomenon in a fish hatchery in Canada. A high school graduate is running the joint, and tries very hard to reformulate hatchery problems at a higher (research) level.
  He receives zero encouragement and less funding, so he naturally gives up and invests the time saved through the routinization of procedures into his own leisure activities. Michael uses this to show how EMOTION is really implicated in every zone of proximal development at the micro level (I'm not so sure about his use of Praat phonology software to support this...)
  It seems to me that SOME professions, including teaching, allow us this kind of choice: we can construe our work environment as a Type Two environment where problems can always be reformulated at a higher level or simply take them as Type One environments where problems can be put to bed and the remaining work hours are for skiving. Other professions (including aircraft piloting) do not allow this choice, or do not offer it in such obvious ways.
  On the other hand, the skiveable professions also allow trial and error, which as Bruner argues is an important part of self-scaffolding. Trial and error, on the other hand, is a real lousy way to learn brain surgery.
  These two distinctions doubtless account for some of the extreme heterogeneity we see in the construct of expertise. But I ALSO think that the nature of the tools we work with is also implicated.
  When I write for this list, for example, I find it quite difficult to fit the format that the tool seems to require: short postings, long paragraphs, and certain phrases at just the right level of generality that allows other people to chime in.
  Part of this is my own lack of familiarity. But part of what I am unfamiliar with is this particular tool (as Mark surmised, I am also quite unfamiliar with the latest computer games, so many thanks for patient suggestions, Mark...)
  David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education

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Received on Fri Jun 29 23:29 PDT 2007

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