Workshop report: Metropolitan State University of Denver

In May of 2020, Crow members Ashley Velázquez, Hadi Banat, and Shelley Staples hosted a workshop with Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) faculty and students. Originally, our workshop was intended to be held during TESOL’s International Conference in Denver, Colorado. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were not able to attend TESOL this year, but we were able to continue our Outreach efforts by advertising our workshop with interested parties. To our delight, several folks at MSU Denver were excited to participate in a virtual workshop with us to learn more about Crow’s online corpus and how our corpus can be used for innovative teaching and research, teacher-training, and its usefulness for Writing Centers.

Slide from our presentation, reading "Using the Corpus and Repository of Writing for Teaching and Research." Two images: concordance lines showing a query for "research," and a cartoon of people of diverse ages, genders, and races saying "Hello" in multiple languages.
“Using Crow for Teaching and Research,” our slide deck

In alignment with our goals for our ACLS Digital Extension Grant, outreach efforts this year have primarily focused on expanding our corpus to include representation of multilingual writers to a new population of heritage Spanish writers at the University of Arizona while also reaching out to other institutions that serve this population of students. MSU Denver is a newly designated HSI, or Hispanic Serving Institution, so it was fitting that we were able to introduce Crow to this particular audience.

Our workshop with MSU focused on both teaching and research. Unlike past workshops, we focused on building an explicit relationship between teaching and research that was accessible to those who have little to zero experience with corpus linguistics. Additionally, unlike other workshops, our audience members, except for one, were all teachers in training and writing center tutors in training, enrolled in the RIDES program. Finally,  we were invited to conduct this workshop as part of a mentoring course for the RIDES program. Until now, the majority of our workshops have been held at, or alongside, conferences (excluding our workshops at Wright State University and Universidad de Sonora). 

We introduced our online corpus by starting with a few simple searches and introducing participants to the various filtering options and asked participants to examine the different information available during these searches while also demonstrating the connection between our corpus and our repository. After demonstrating a few searches, we asked our audience to think of how we might use such searches (e.g., transitions and synonyms) for developing classroom and tutoring-specific activities. For example, for synonyms, we may want to help students develop their vocabulary by noticing nuanced differences between near synonyms like important and significant. Teachers can help students discover and notice these differences by providing authentic examples of these synonyms in use and guiding them with questions and corpus-based activities. 

Finally, we introduced the audience to the repository interface features and the metadata pertaining to the pedagogical materials we are collecting. For example, workshop participants explored the repository searchability tool and filters to look for specific pedagogical materials pertaining to certain assignment genres of interest. By going through metadata filters such as institution, year, semester, course type, modality and length, they got a better sense of the variety in pedagogical materials across Crow sites. We then demonstrated some searches with the repository, focusing specifically how assignment handouts, syllabi, rubrics, and classroom materials may be used during a tutoring session in the writing center and for the purposes of tutor-training. 

What did we learn from hosting the workshop?

The writing center tutors in training at MSU Denver will be part of the RIDES program, a writing center intervention that supports culturally and linguistically diverse students with practical language skill instruction, sometimes not prioritized in a writing center consultation. The audience of tutors were not familiar with corpus driven methods as pedagogical interventions. The time we spent introducing data-driven learning (DDL) pedagogical activities helped them consider nontraditional activities they can use in writing center consultations. One such activity is our “Transition words” activity. This activity introduces students to a variety of transition words and walks them through the process of noticing the types of transition words used, where they’re located in sentences, and the structures used with each transition word. 

Our main takeaways as Crow researchers and teachers keen on sustaining outreach to diverse audiences at Hispanic Serving Institutions are the following:

  • Novice Corpus Users: Continue expanding our reach to audiences who do not have prior experience with corpus linguistics and make corpus-based pedagogical approaches accessible and approachable to nontraditional audiences like writing center tutors, teachers in training, and under-represented minorities.
  • Scaffolded Workshops: Develop a series of workshops, specific to the needs of  novices in corpus linguistics, that scaffolds corpus-based teaching and research. This  may be a beneficial step towards unpacking threshold concepts and making corpus linguistic methods less intimidating.
  • Undergraduate Audiences: Strategically reach out to undergraduate students and make our workshops accessible to this population. This is especially relevant since Crow has experience with working with undergraduates on our research team.
  • Teachers in Training: Explore opportunities to work with teachers in training who may not have sufficient TESOL or TESL background and training. Sometimes lack of training is due to lack of resources, and this realization further helps us address the ACLS funded outreach goals for Crow. 
  • Writing Center Directors: Build relationships with writing center directors who are keen on introducing new pedagogical interventions for writing center consultations and in tutor training programs. Writing center tutorials usually focus on tutee writing, so shifting the paradigm towards mentor texts could be a beneficial intervention with tutees who need more language instruction support. This paradigm shift honors descriptive vs. prescriptive approaches and defies the deficit model in tutoring multilingual writers. 

We thank Rachel Hawley for inviting us and helping us attract an audience. We look forward to applying what we’ve learned to our next workshops.