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CLA Speaker Series: Dwight Atkinson

When Oct 03, 2016
from 03:00 PM to 04:00 PM
Where 126 Business
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The Center for Language Acquisition is pleased to announce an invited lecture by


Dwight Atkinson (University of Arizona)

Homo pedagogicus: The evolutionary nature of second language teaching


Abstract: Second language teacher educators tirelessly teach others how to teach. But how often do we actually define teaching? Without explicit, focused definitional activity on this most fundamental second language teaching (SLT) concept, it remains implicit and intuitive--the opposite of clear, productive understanding.

I therefore explore the definitional question "What is teaching?" in this paper. First, I establish the claim that the SLT literature rarely defines teaching explicitly or in any detail, most likely because of its technical "how-to" focus, and that this is a problem. Second, I introduce the idea of teaching as evolutionarily adaptive behavior (TEAB)--as existing fundamentally because it enables individual and group adaptation to our extremely varied and complex natural and social environments. Perhaps surprisingly in this context, TEAB is not uniquely human; therefore, third, I briefly summarize research on animal teaching to sharpen the focus on what may be special in human teaching. Fourth, I describe teaching as studied by anthropologists--as it varies across the broad tapestry of human societies and cultures. It turns out that classroom teaching is just one form, and a relatively rare and recent one, in our evolutionary past. Fifth and finally, I employ the results of this definitional exercise to examine, in an exploratory way, what happens in SLT environments, at least as I know them.

Dwight Atkinson (Professor of English, University of Arizona) is an applied linguist and second language educator who specializes in writing, qualitative research approaches, and second language acquisition. Current projects include developing a “sociocognitive” approach to second language acquisition and research on the experiences of vernacular language-schooled students in English-language universities in India. Atkinson’s past work has ranged widely, from the history of medical and scientific research writing in English, to critiques of concepts in writing instruction such as critical thinking and voice, to explorations of the concept of culture, to writings on qualitative research methods. Atkinson teaches courses in applied linguistics and second language acquisition at the University of Arizona.