Author: vfedoretsviuedu

The Shifting Nature of Literacy

by Victoria Fedorets 

In 1907, the following text appeared in Edwin C Woolley’s (1907) Handbook of Composition: A Compendium of Rules Regarding Good English, Grammar, Sentence Structure, Paragraphing, Manuscript Arrangement, Punctuation, Spelling, Essay Writing, and Letter Writing. This handbook was intended to provide guidelines for students to refer to while writing, and for teachers to correct the writing of their students. The handbook included a series of independent rules that were either followed or broken.

The handbook was an active effort to shift from the traditional grammar books of the time that focused on the parts of speech, clause modifiers, etc., to include 350 rules governing writing in the English language and style.

Below are some examples from the book (p. 4):

  1. The contractions don’t, isn’t, haven’t, etc. are not appropriate in formal composition. They are proper in conversation and in composition of a colloquial style that structured descriptive.
  2. Do not use high flow language for plain things.

Bad:  To keep the horsehealthy you must be careful of his environment.

Right: To keep the horse healthy you must be careful of his stable.

Note. Showy language, like showy dress, is in bad taste. The essence of artistic language, as of everything artistic, is not abundant ornament but appropriateness. Straining for high sounding expressions to replace plain English makes a style weak and crude. Call a leg a leg not a limb, book a book not an effort, call a letter a letter not a kind favor, call socks socks not hose, call a house a house, not a residence; say “I went to bed”, not “I retired”, “I got up”, not “I arose”

  1. The use of sentence (except a quoted sentence) as the subject of IS or WAS is crudity.

Crude: I was detained by business is the reason I’m late.

Right: “I was detained by business; that is the reason I’m late.”

  1. Double negative ( i.e., the use in sentence, of two or more negative words not coordinate, -as “I couldn’t find it nowhere”) is forbidden by modern usage..
  2. A composition should treat a single subject and should treat it throughout according to a self- consistent method.
  3. Use to the question mark after the direct question, but not after an indirect question.

Bad: He asked what caused the accident?

Right: He asked what caused the accident.

Right: He asked, “What caused the accident?”

  1. Italicize name of ships.
  2. The postage stamp should be attached in the upper right-hand corner. It should be right side up and its edges should be parallel to edges of the envelope. A postage stamp upside down or affixed in a haphazard fashion raises against the sender of the letter a suspicion of slovenliness.

Writing teachers today would be right at home with Wooley’s grammar. His rules were followed by various handbooks for a while- an immense range of rules to be referred to in order to distinguish the possible errors. His method was different from other writers, like Murray’s (22 rules to be learned by heart); however, Wooley’s 354 grammar rules were memorized and to be used for reference. As opposed to other writing/style guides of the time, rhetorical and spoken language was never mentioned.

Reinking, McKeena Labbo, & Keifer (1998) in their Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in A Post-Typographic World (p.14), refer to a post-typographic world as a time after the printers, typewriters, laser printers and fax machines. That post-typographic time is upon us as we are in the paperless age of television, IPods, Ipads, Tweets, TMS (text messaging services), internet sites, and apps. How do we, as educators, hold students accountable for knowing grammar and writing rules in order to teach literacy? Modern literacy is being merged with media literacy, where the ability to write (i.e., the ability to synthesize ideas and elements to create new text per the core competencies of the public schools) means being media literate. This media literacy is now a necessity for students and teachers alike, as it exists in and out of the classroom.

Referring to Wooley’s (1907) rules, does the metacognitive ability in children provide them with the set of “instruments” to follow the rules of writing as an innate ability while being exposed to the digital and media era? Can—and should— we trace children’s ability of learning a rule as they master their mother tongue? How about the cognate ability of the ESL/EFL speaker? Or that of the L2 and L1 bilingual child raised in the US? Do we have to refer to the “media” rules while educating the individuals K-12 and what are they?



Reinking, D., McKenna, M. C., Labbo, L. D., & Kieffer, R. D. (1998). Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in A Post-typographic World. New York, NY: Routledge.

Woolley, E. C., PhD. (1907). Handbook of Composition: A Compendium of Rules Regarding Good English, Grammar, Sentence Structure, Paragraphing, Manuscript Arrangement, Punctuation, Spelling, Essay Writing, and Letter Writing. Lexington, MNA: DC Heath & Company



Interview with Dr. Rebecca Sachs: Lifelong professional development

The following is an interview between Victoria Fedorets (VF) and Rebecca Sachs (RS).  Victoria is the Academic Coordinator for the School of Education at VIU.  Rebecca Sachs is a full-time faculty member in the School of Education at VIU. 

Victoria (VF): What parts of your life led you to the field of Linguistics?

Rebecca (RS): Well, my family is very multilingual; all of my grandparents or great-grandparents are from other countries. My grandfathers were from Vienna and Montreal; I had a great grandmother from Puerto Rico whose husband was French and a grandmother whose parents were from Ukraine. I also have a grandmother from Romania who lived in Israel for a while and speaks French and German in addition to Romanian and English. I didn’t grow up speaking any of those languages, unfortunately, but when I was in seventh grade, we were given the choice of studying either French or Spanish. I took French throughout junior high and high school and into college and loved it; I think I just got a lot of intrinsic enjoyment out of learning and speaking a different language, so I started taking Spanish in high school as well, then added German on top of those in college, and also took a course in American Sign Language. Then I studied abroad in Niamey, Niger, where the courses were taught in French, and I learned some Hausa and Zarma as well.
When I went to college, my idea was to become a multilingual speech pathologist, so that’s what first got me taking courses in linguistics, including clinical phonetics and semantics, and a course on the anatomy and physiology of the speech mechanism, which I found really interesting. My work-study job involved tutoring immigrants in English as part of Boston University’s Intergenerational Literacy Project, a really valuable program that offers language and literacy classes for adults while also providing language enrichment activities for their kids in another room so that the parents don’t need to worry about childcare. While in Niger, I had the chance to meet some pretty amazing Peace Corps volunteers, and I think that’s when I started thinking that I might go into language teaching instead. I applied for an MA TESOL program so that I would know what I was doing, and my advisor in the TESOL program encouraged me to go on to pursue a PhD in applied linguistics.
VF: Sounds like a life-long process around languages; interesting. Thank you.


VF: Thinking back to graduate school, what part of it did you enjoy the most? What do you remember as a significant moment of your life as a graduate student; what was your most memorable time?

RS: The most valuable aspect of my MA TESOL program, I think, was my teaching assistantship. I taught ESL classes for international students in MSU’s IEP (Michigan State University’s Intensive English Program) every day while I was also taking a full load of courses in the MA TESOL program, so from the very first semester, I was in charge of my own classes, and everything I was learning in my coursework I got to try out and apply and reflect on every day while teaching. It also helped me learn to prioritize and manage my time because every single day (well, except Wednesday since that was the day we were supposed to take students on field trips) I had to show up in both of the ESL classes I was teaching with new lesson plans and materials and graded assignments and everything. Then, of course, I had to do all of the readings and assignments and papers and projects for my own TESOL courses, plus serve on the curriculum committee, proctor and rate placement tests, participate in discussion groups with other TAs and mentor teachers, and so on. The challenge of juggling all of that was a great preparation not only for my PhD at Georgetown, but also for life as a teacher.
What made the MA TESOL program even more special and memorable was that there were several other graduate students in the same situation, so we were going through that tough but rewarding time together, and we built strong connections with each other. The more experienced instructors in the IEP were also an enormous help. They met with us regularly to help us problem-solve issues that were coming up in our classes and shared tons of creative and tried-and-true activities that we could use in our classes. So from the very beginning of our graduate coursework, we also had opportunities to form close collaborative professional relationships with mentors who were generous with their time and talents. That support and the experience as a whole was really transformative and helped to give me a lot of confidence early on in my career as a teacher.
VF: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing.


VF: You currently serve on the board of professional organizations such as WATESOL as well as Co-Chair of VIU’s IRB. So, what do you think it means to be a Teacher Leader today and are you a 21st-century English teacher? How would you envision and rate your approaches?

RS: A major part of being a 21st-century language teacher, whether you’re teaching English or any other language, is being multilingual and having international experience yourself (or at least knowing about other languages and having an international orientation). I have to say, I’m a bit envious of the students we have in our TESOL and Applied Linguistics programs here at VIU because they navigate so well between languages and cultures; it’s impressive and admirable! They come from so many different countries – Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, China, Mongolia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Poland, Brazil, Colombia…. I’m sure I’m missing a few – but anyway, they interact with each other so fluidly, with such great cultural sensitivity; it’s uplifting to witness.
Speaking of the WATESOL Board and leadership, we have an NNEST Caucus which is working to raise awareness of the importance of professional expertise and the valuable benefits that so-called “Non-Native English-Speaking Teachers” can offer, including the fact that they can serve as relatable role models for their students – people who have been through similar processes and experiences and have succeeded. I’m excited for our students to graduate and start teaching or go back to teaching because I think they epitomize 21st-century English teachers better than I do!
VF: Thank you for sharing your vision on that. You are a wonderful teacher and being in this field for so long, and more than sure all your students nowadays look up to you as a role model.


VF: What do you primarily teach nowadays?

RS:  There are about 7 or 8 courses that I teach regularly at VIU. Some of them are introductory courses in linguistics and language acquisition, whereas others are more practically oriented, such as a course on language curriculum and materials design and a course on pedagogical grammar for communicative classrooms. Among the more advanced courses I teach are a seminar on individual differences in language acquisition, a research methods course, and the TESOL practicum. I also serve as a mentor for the thesis course.
VF: Do you have any suggestions or initiatives in mind for the graduate students for the future, something you would like to wish them all.

RS: Sure! I would encourage them all to get involved in professional development opportunities outside the classroom. The School of Education offers so many PD opportunities, from our yearly Conference on Language, Learning, and Culture in April, to our monthly Voices from the Field speaker series. Local professional organizations such as WATESOL (the Washington, DC-area affiliate of TESOL International) also provide a variety of events throughout the year, many of which are free for members or volunteers. All of these are excellent chances not only to gain knowledge and exposure to different perspectives and practical tools, but also to network and build connections with other language education professionals in the community.
VF: You mentioned that in addition to inservice, inhouse conference like CLLC, Voices from the field, you also participated in such events as SLRF, AAAL, WATESOL, and GURT. It is difficult to enumerate how many times you’ve shaped the community in profound way- but can you share your experience about what is the most exciting part of being a presenter at the events mentioned.

RS: Well, besides the excitement of getting exposed to cutting-edge research and having the opportunity to share my work and receive valuable feedback from others, it’s great to form new connections with people who attend my talks and whose talks I attend. It’s also a chance to reconnect with colleagues and friends from grad school who have since moved on to other universities across the US and around the world. We still collaborate on research, so we email each other and discuss our projects over Skype, but it can be so much more enjoyable and productive to meet in person. Plus, in the midst of a million other responsibilities, it’s very motivating to be able to take a step back, devote time to finding out about recent developments, get re-energized with excitement about the field, and make plans to explore new ideas.
VF: What are you currently working on, on some sort of research or project knowing you are always so busy while working on your professional development?

RS: I just finished drafting a chapter on reviewing manuscripts for academic journals that I was invited to write for an edited collection whose goal is to provide advice for graduate students and early-career faculty in the field of applied linguistics. During the school year, I gave conference presentations at SLRF (the Second Language Research Forum) and AAAL (the American Association for Applied Linguistics annual conference) on some research I have been doing on the relationships between individual differences, depth of processing, and language learning in instructional conditions that provide different types of feedback. I measured a variety of learner characteristics, including working memory capacity, visual short-term memory, grammatical sensitivity, metalinguistic knowledge, sensitivity to linguistic ambiguity, enjoyment of grammar, motivation, and others; asked half of the participants in each experimental group to speak their thoughts out loud while they were interacting with a computer-mediated language learning activity; and had all of the participants complete retrospective reflection questionnaires. Then, some colleagues and I transcribed and coded their comments to characterize the thought processes they were apparently engaging in, such as looking for patterns, testing hypotheses, formulating rules, drawing on prior knowledge, trying to memorize, and so on. We analyzed the data to see which individual differences predicted what sorts of cognitive processes, and which cognitive processes were associated with greater learning.
VF: Is that the new data that you are working on or you are collecting the prior available one?

RS: It’s all based on data I collected before I started working at VIU. But I’m collaborating with some colleagues from other universities on designing an experiment that we hope to conduct this summer. In studies of implicit learning, researchers sometimes use subjective measures to assess whether participants have become aware of a particular linguistic target – essentially just by asking them to indicate whether each response is based on a guess, intuition, memory, or a rule. Then, to see whether there’s evidence of implicit knowledge, they check whether participants’ accuracy is at a level that’s greater than chance when they report guessing. We have some doubts about the validity of that approach, and specifically also about whether participants are really guessing when they say they’re guessing, so we’ve come up with a way to try to test that and will also be measuring individual differences in locus of control to see if that’s related to how often participants report guessing, both in a condition where subjective measures are used in the traditional way and in an experimental condition where we try to improve on the method. We’ll also be interviewing the participants about their approaches.
VF: Thank you so much for sharing, Dr. Sachs, and for your time to share your professional experience and other ideas that you have worked and work and good luck on that.

RS: My pleasure! Thanks, Victoria.
VF: Thank you!

Congratulations to Islom, Master of Arts in TESOL Graduate!

As an international student, I chose Virginia International University for two reasons: first, I wanted to experience the university’s diverse cultural atmosphere; second, I wanted to become a more experienced professional in my career – teaching English to the speakers of other languages (TESOL). My two years in the MA in TESOL program at VIU has been truly memorable, and I never regret having made the decision to complete my master’s degree at this university.

When I reflect on my time at Virginia International University, I see that I have been able not only to improve my skills in teaching but also gain a deep understanding of theories in the second language acquisition process. Through lessons with incredibly supportive professors, I was challenged to discover a voice that I didn’t know I had. The knowledge and experience I had at VIU gave me confidence, which serves as an internal force to drive my career further to be able to teach English successfully.

Having been educated in a supportive environment at VIU, I found myself able to understand the second language acquisition process inside out and am ready to put this knowledge into practice. With carefully-chosen textbooks and small group lessons, I became familiar with recent research theories. Through challenging me, my professors have helped me to develop my own critical thinking ability. It was incredibly useful to learn about different aspects of the teaching field and to connect these practices with modern informational technology.

Also, I benefited from the real-life teaching practice in the practicum class at VIU. I was given a tremendous opportunity to work with competent ESL instructors to observe their lessons and learn teaching techniques under their supervision. It was a great experience to teach culturally diverse ESL students at VIU. It was incredibly beneficial in terms of developing my professional teaching.

Moreover, we were exposed innumerable workshops, festivals, student activities and “Voices from the Field” talks. This was another awesome opportunity given by VIU, we gained more valuable knowledge about new achievements in our field of expertise. Through my coursework, I conducted several research case-studies on different aspects of second language acquisition, which I was able to display at VIU’s Academic Showcase to the VIU community and guests.

Having completed my MA in TESOL at VIU, I am excited to go back to my home country – Uzbekistan, to deliver my knowledge to teach the younger generation. By teaching English in my country, I will create a great opportunity for my students to become knowledgeable and see the world. I express my endless gratitude for my mentors who helped me to find who actually I am.

International Students in Higher Education: More Than a Fish Out of Water

Congratulations to Kevin Martin, the Associate Dean of the School of Education, on his chapter, International Students in Higher Education: More Than a Fish Out of Water in Cultural Awareness and Competency Development in Higher Education.

ABSTRACT: The world continues to experience rapid advances in technology and transportation that increasingly expand opportunities and accessibility for international students to study in ways that were not possible even a few decades ago. Such changes create both challenges and solutions for the modern higher education institution in the U.S. With the goal of higher education to work toward opening minds and creating a space for sharing and learning within an open and diverse learning community, it is imperative that international students be incorporated in a way that engages and invigorates the quality of learning on campus. Some of the challenges to this notion include a variety of learner variables influencing how international students integrate into the broader learning community. This chapter focuses on some of these variables impacting international students with an emphasis on the problems, potential solutions, and critical areas for future research.

Access to the chapter can be found here: