English Prof Kazuko Hiramatsu earns NSF grant to study teaching methods in linguistics

Kazuko Hiramatsu is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the Department of English.

For Associate Professor Kazuko Hiramatsu, it isn’t enough to be an expert in her chosen field of linguistics. She seeks to constantly improve her teaching methods, and wants to help fellow linguistics professors become better educators as well. A grant from the National Science Foundation will help her to create a community of like-minded scholars dedicated to improving the ways in which linguistics is taught to students.

The $67,000 NSF grant, awarded through the Linguistic Society of America, supports Hiramatsu and co-principal investigator Michal Temkin Martinez of Boise State University in creating a year-long Faculty Learning Community (FLC). The group of 12 professors from across the country will focus on the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) in linguistics. Each participant will explore a particular issue they encounter in teaching the subject; no topics have been selected yet, but there are myriad challenges available to study. For example, how is phonetics, the study of speech sounds, best presented in an online class? And how can you best teach syntactic trees, a very visual concept, to visually impaired students?

One possible topic for the Faculty Learning Community to explore is how best to present syntactic trees like this to visually impaired students.

Hiramatsu first became interested in the benefits of FLCs when she participated in an FLC focused on service learning offered through UM-Flint’s own Thompson Center for Teaching & Learning.

“We set the agenda together; we are equal participants in learning from one another. I love that it’s not hierarchical and not structured around committees,” Hiramatsu says. “Through this FLC, we can become ambassadors, in a sense, for our field. I’ve realized the importance of sharing my learning beyond just my own institution. We could help others rethink what they are doing in the classroom.”

Hiramatsu and her colleagues will meet virtually every two weeks to discuss their work, with two in-person workshops. In the first half of the year, the learning community will study existing scholarship on teaching and learning. The second half of the year will be devoted to projects focused on the individual classrooms of participants. Not only will the group discuss their findings among themselves, but they will also create materials to share with the wider linguistics community, helping to advance teaching methods in both K-12 and higher education.

It’s the kind of work that’s perfectly suited for a UM-Flint professor; directly benefitting local students while having a positive impact worldwide.

“We pride ourselves in being teacher-scholars at UM-Flint, and Dr. Hiramatsu’s work in creating this Faculty Learning Community exemplifies those values,” Susan Gano-Phillips, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, explains. “I look forward to the advances made during this project being implemented both here on campus and in schools worldwide.”

Interested in learning more about Linguistics?

Interested in learning more about the scientific study of language? Consider the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. In just 15 credits, you’ll be prepared to teach English across the world.

Courses in linguistics being offered Winter 2020:

Introduction to Linguistics
The Structure of English
Language & Culture
American English