Jazz CALL: Using Jazz history for Internet-based language instruction.


Acquiring a foreign language presents many challenges. The teacher, for instance, may be challenged to create or provide a meaningful context to foster language acquisition. The student may be challenged to maintain enough interest and motivation to participate in that context.  Krashen (1982), nevertheless, has made language acquisition sound easy, claiming that it can occur when a learner is open to ample and slightly challenging comprehensible input. While Krashen’s claim has been criticized for only considering encounters with comprehensible input, he has also been praised for emphasizing its importance (VanPatten, 1987). Surely a promising strategy for foreign language acquisition involves some consideration of other forms of interaction, such as attempts to clear up incomprehensible input. In any case, creating a context to assure language acquisition seems unlikely. However, providing a context that caters to a learner’s interest and ability seems quite possible. This paper proposes that a meaningful context could be supported with a website that appeals to a learner’s specific interest, in this case jazz music.

The Jazz in America (JIA) website is evaluated here for its computer-assisted-language-learning (CALL) value. JIA is not intended for language learning but English-as-a-foreign language (EFL) learners with some jazz familiarity will presumably find jazz history, experienced through a variety of authentic resources (e.g. recordings, stories, images, films and discussions), interesting, motivating and a welcome challenge. Given the resources, and an instructor to facilitate the lessons, the versatility of multimedia CALL is especially appropriate for a jazz-based EFL experience.

The practical concern remains how the learner could possibly interact in the given context to comprehend and possibly acquire language. Listening to jazz will of course be an essential part of the lessons. However, reading and talking about jazz are likely to occupy and challenge the learner most. Accordingly, this paper discusses communicative interactions (Pica, 2002), literature regarding authentic text (Devitt, 1997, August, 2004), vocabulary development (Rosszell, 2006) and content relevance (Chang and Lehman, 2002) to address those challenges. Chapelle’s (1998, p. 21) “seven hypotheses relevant for developing multimedia CALL” are used to assess the pertinence of JIA to second-language acquisition (SLA) theory. More practical CALL concerns are discussed using an evaluation checklist from Son (2005). A prospective lesson plan will also be presented.

Communicative Interaction

The arrangement of learner, instructor and CALL is just a beginning, not a guarantee for language comprehension (Chapelle, 1997, Warschauer and Meskill, 2000). For what might come next, Pica (2002, p. 4) has examined interactions for the “negotiation of meaning” with methods like paraphrasing statements or using synonyms. Pica (2002) suggests that communicative interactions often require such modifications to support comprehension. Pica (2002, p. 5) describes “form-focused intervention” as a type of interaction that deals specifically with comprehension of meaning and uses methods that include “recasts of learner utterances, as well as models, feedback, and other attention-focusing devices that reveal to learners differences between their own inter-language and the requirements of their L2 target.”

A more direct method to aid understanding, according to Pica (2002, p. 6), is “form-focused instruction,” which explicitly corrects problems with form; “especially the ways in which such problems can interfere with the communication of meaning.” In a study using film, literature and culture as content, Pica (2002) examined some choices of interaction and their effectiveness for relating language form with content meaning. The participants, university-level ESL students, were asked to view or read their assignments before returning to class to discuss them. Pica (2002, p.8) reported “a low amount of interaction modified by negotiation and negligible amounts of interaction involving form-focused intervention or instruction.” This came somewhat as a surprise because, Pica (2002) thought, the content seemed useful for drawing attention to relationships of form and meaning; instead, the discussions centered on the content as a whole. Pica (2002) believes that the main form of interaction, teacher-led discussion, was not sufficient for students to freely connect form and meaning.

While Pica (2002) endorses the use of content-based instruction and suggests it has much to offer language learners, she also recommends that, “It needs a broader repertoire of activities than the discussion, if it is to serve student’s many needs and goals,” in particular, activities that could create more student output. Pica’s (2002) endorsement of interaction with authentic materials and her encouragement to develop instructional activities could be useful for considering JIA as CALL since it also includes film, text and cultural aspects. The following comments from August (2004) and Devitt (1997) may therefore help in devising activities as Pica (2002) has recommended.

Authentic text at the intermediate level

August (2004) suggests adult English language learners read literature that is actually intended for youngsters. August (2004, ¶ 21) believes “good” leveled reading books can further language proficiency because they support the development of decoding skills (i.e. matching graphemes with phonemes), and both vocabulary and content knowledge. While the approach could be limited by the natural lack of fluency in learners, August (2004, ¶ 22) claims that by setting the vocabulary recognition level around 80%, the books are then “easily readable, with a vocabulary level just slightly above that of the students” which is notably in keeping with Krashen’s aforesaid claim about comprehensible input.

August (2004) has applied her idea using historical fiction about World War II.  The reading was supplemented with authentic maps, photos, news reports, excerpts from history books and a feature film at the end of the term plus, August (2004, ¶ 31) says, she read “a few chapters aloud” to highlight specific items. August (2004) also conducted short quizzes throughout the semester and promoted discussions to, for example, contrast the present day with the past or further explore various characters. August (2004, ¶ 36) claims her approach has been “enthusiastically received” by students and other faculty who have used the materials.

 Figure 1. Access page to leveled lesson plans (Click image to visit site)

Figure 1 shows how JIA is leveled but for US history and social studies students, Grade 5, 8 and 11. The Grade 5 lesson appears to be the most applicable for intermediate EFL learners. Another feature JIA shares with August (2004) is a variety of authentic material such as recordings, video, photographs and additional information through hyperlinks. August (2004) has presented a reasonable approach for using authentic text that she believes could further language proficiency at an intermediate-level. Next, Devitt (1997) suggests an approach for using authentic text at the beginner-level.

 Authentic text for beginners

Devitt’s (1997) approach counters any suggestion that authentic text may be better suited to intermediate levels because beginners find it too difficult, and advanced learners are not sufficiently challenged. Devitt’s (1997) idea places small groups of beginner-level language learners with individual words of authentic text (e.g. a newspaper article) transposed onto strips of paper. The text is slowly reconstructed through a progression of activities to its original form. Like August (2004), this approach deals with decoding text however Devitt (1997, p. 464) stresses encoding as well “in order to transmit meaning.”

Devitt (1997, p. 464) starts with  “mime” or other ways of conveying word meaning and continues with sentence creation, random story construction, tasks using simplified original text and eventually contrasting these activities with the original authentic text. Throughout the process a native speaker reenacts the activities which, according to Devitt (1997, p. 466), “is valuable as input on pronunciation, stress, and other phonological features.”

Devitt (1997) claims that once the original authentic text is reintroduced it is still complex and read slowly but nevertheless more familiar and therefore easier to process. Devitt (1997) demonstrates a tactile method that might draw attention to the relationship of form and meaning. As a physically interactive strategy, perhaps learners would find the activities interesting, challenging and fun. Devitt (1997) claims his intentions are primarily to raise teacher awareness of how authentic text might be used for beginner-level learners, an admirable effort given the abundance of authentic resources and potential learners.

A method like Devitt’s (1997) seems plausible for JIA as CALL because, besides having a native speaker present, each lesson is concise and printable; there would not be a lot of text to break down and build up. That brevity may also support the type of vocabulary development discussed next by Rosszell (2006).

Vocabulary development

Rosszell (2006) claims sustained vocabulary knowledge can result from extensive reading (ER) with activities focused on the meaning of select words (ER+). Hucklin and Coady (1999, p. 188) also claim explicit vocabulary instruction coupled with ER can produce “significant gains” and in just a few months. Rosszell’s (2006, p. 398)  description of ER+ starts with students, “reading one third of a (teacher selected) graded class reader,” then continues with intensive analysis of ten frequently occurring words, and 20 to 30 minutes discussions using a handout created to prompt oral and written participation.
In a comparative study with Japanese EFL students, Rosszell (2006, p. 401) reported the ER+ group outperformed the ER group on post tests for content recall and vocabulary knowledge after the study’s first and following month; however, “the ER group also made substantial and sustained improvement.” Rosszell (2006) believes the positive result of ER+ was due to additional, directed vocabulary study that “forced students to think about their [words’] meanings and use more deeply and to actually use each of the words in a written sentence.” In addition to a glossary of terms, JIA has a feature shown in Figure 2 that draws attention to certain words that might challenge EFL learners. Also, the brief four or five paragraph essays that comprise each lesson’s textual content appears conducive for identifying particular words to focus on.

 Figure 2. Segment of animated tour that defines and highlights Improvisation (Click image to visit site)

Rosszell’s (2006) efforts contest the idea that explicit vocabulary instruction has a uncertain value (e.g. Krashen, 1989), and demonstrates that if the instruction emphasizes word knowledge, perhaps that form of instructed interaction should not be discounted. Rosszell’s (2006) method also supports the idea that pushing students to produce output furthers language development (Devitt, 1997; Mackey, 1998; Pica, 2002). Like August (2002) and Devitt (1997), Rosszell (2006) has presented another idea for how authentic text such as that in JIA might be incorporated into a language lesson. Next, Chang and Lehman (2002), describe a method to enhance the meaningfulness of authentic text and possibly increase the effort a student puts towards language comprehension.

Embedded relevance

Chang and Lehman (2002, p. 94) claim “embedded relevance” in course content can motivate students to “increase their use of cognitive strategies that improve learning and academic performance.” In their approach, learners interact with content on a personal level. Embedded relevance, according to Chang and Lehman (2002, p. 86), can be motivational language to remind the learner of self-improvements for finishing the instruction as well as relevant language or “personal language to make the learner feel that he/she was being talked to as a person.”

Chang and Lehman (2002, p. 84) tested the effectiveness of content with embedded relevance by first assessing the intrinsic motivation levels of EFL participants at a Taiwanese university, separating high and low indicators and presenting students with a web-based program entitled “The Arts of Criticism – Giving and Taking.” Another group of students, also categorized by high or low intrinsic motivation, conducted the same program with embedded relevance. Upon completion all participants took a comprehension test that, according to Chang and Lehman (2002, p. 90), “focused on how well the learners understood the main idea of the program rather than how much detailed information they remembered.” Students also completed a post test survey of motivational perception.

Chang and Lehmen (2002) reported that learners who had indicated high intrinsic motivation performed better than those with lower indications while learners with high intrinsic motivation and exposure to embedded relevance scored highest of all on both measures. The findings, according to Chang and Lehman (2002, p. 94), suggest that “embedded instructional strategies can enhance learners’ motivation and cognitive performance.” In other words, an embedded sense of relevance and encouragement might make students want to try harder.

The JIA site echoes what Chang and Lehman (2002) have suggested with its commentary, as Figure 3 shows, directed at the student in a personal manner and possibly enhanced by the thought of taking a guided tour through the origins of jazz music.

Figure 3. Student handout lesson 1 with dialogue from animated tour. (Click image to visit site)

Evaluating Jazz in America

Evaluating JIA as CALL presents both technological and pedagogical concerns. Fox (1997, p. 444), has cautioned that “there is a tendency to assume that if a program is technologically at the cutting edge, it is also highly effective has a learning tool.”  Kelly (2000), for instance, has presented “guidelines for designing a good website for ESL [English-as-a-second-language] students” without any reference to SLA theory. Instead he implies that a ‘good’ website for ESL students is one that accounts for technological and general interface issues rather than one designed from an SLA perspective.

The technological aspects are obviously important, but perhaps with increasing software and hardware reliability as well as affordability (Keizer, 2006), it may no longer be necessary to expound on technology beyond what may be most practical. The JIA site, for instance, requires the following items:

  • Windows 98 or higher to run Adobe Flash 9 and RealAudio player.
  • A computer system with speakers.

These specifications are common and have been found on relatively all low-cost computers since 2001 (Keizer, 2006). The pertinent software (e.g. Adobe Flash 9 and RealAudio player), if not included with a computer, should be downloadable from the Internet (through the browser included in Windows) for free. Internet access has also become increasingly available around the world. Chapelle (1998), by contrast, prefers that CALL designers focus on how CALL users might interact with the software to facilitate SLA, suggesting it may be helpful to view the software as a participant in the CALL activity. Figure 4 shows a JIA example of this with an animated version of renowned jazz pianist Herbie Hancock guiding Lesson One as if he and the learner were actually together.

 Figure 4. The animated Herbie, the tour guide. (Click image to visit site)

Chapelle’s (1998, p. 21) concern for SLA in CALL applications has been represented with “seven hypotheses relevant for developing multimedia CALL.” The seven hypotheses also appear useful for explaining some pedagogic possibilities of JIA as CALL:

The seven hypotheses relevant for developing multimedia CALL:

•1. The linguistic characteristics of target language input need to be made salient.

Chapelle (1998, p. 23) stresses a need for targeted language input to be made obvious, to “prompt learners to notice particular syntactic forms.” Devitt’s (1997, p. 457) “multi-layered” approach seems to reflect this idea as authentic text is broken down and built up as components. August (2004) seems to do this as well by reading aloud to draw attention to specific items. Rosszell (2006) too, appears to promote saliency in his explicit approach to developing word knowledge. As previously suggested JIA as CALL lessons could employ each of those ideas. As it stands now, Figure 3 shows how JIA highlights certain vocabulary as blue hyperlinks to more information. Another example of how language input is made salient could be how words or phrases are reinforced in comments like, “Singing as they worked was a way to ease the boredom of this difficult, exhausting, boring work” in Figure 3, paragraph 3. Furthermore, JIA’s sense of embedded relevance may, according to Chang and Lehman (2002), make learners try harder to find the useful input in any case.

•2. Learners should receive help in comprehending semantic and syntactic aspects of linguistic input.

Chapelle (1998, p. 23) suggests that, “input that would be useful to the learner is problematic for the same reason that it is valuable: It contains linguistic forms that the learner does not know.” JIA as CALL includes an instructor to support the learner’s comprehension with, for one, Pica’s (2002) recommendations for negotiation of meaning, as well as Devitt (1997), August (2004) and Rosszell’s (2006) methods for simplifying then progressing up to proficiency. Figure 2 shows how JIA also clarifies words that it suspects the learner would find challenging. Again, according to Chang and Lehman (2002), the sense of embedded relevance, such as that in JIA, could encourage the learner to try harder for comprehension.

•3. Learners need to have opportunities to produce target language output.

Chapelle (1998) suggests learners have an audience to put their practice into play; to find out what works and what needs improvement. The instructor with JIA as CALL serves and may well encourage that purpose as could the activities suggested by Devitt (1997) and August (2004). Also, having clicked on a link to the actual audio, JIA occasionally asks the learner as shown in Figure 5, paragraphs 1- 4, what he or she thought about a band’s performance or an instrument’s sound or to actually sing.

  Figure 5. Interactive/output promoting dialogue from lesson 3. (Click image to visit site)

•4. Learners need to notice errors in their own output.

According to Chapelle (1998, p. 24), “noticing can occur through the learners’ own reflection and monitoring or through triggers provided by others.” Hence the learner may benefit from making adjustments to output based on internal or external feedback. Having an instructor along to directly or tacitly respond to output plus the variety of authentic resources as stimuli could trigger and thereby promote noticing. Also, noticing could possibly be enhanced with learners writing some responses.

•5. Learners need to correct their linguistic output.

Chapelle (1998, 24) believes “focus on form is expected to be beneficial when it occurs during the process of attempting to construct meaning.” This has been discussed in Pica (2002, p. 6), as “form-focused instruction,” which explicitly corrects form issues that “can interfere with the communication of meaning.” Thus correction, if needed, for the purpose of gaining meaning is a resource an instructor brings to JIA as CALL and could be used for written or oral output.

•6. Learners need to engage in target language interaction whose structure can be modified for negotiation of meaning.

According to Chapelle (1998, p. 24), “when the normal conversational interaction is modified because of communication breakdown,” negotiation of meaning can occur. The instructor facilitating each JIA lesson supports and instigates this sort of interaction.

•7. Learners should engage in L2 tasks designed to maximize opportunities for good interaction.

Chapelle (1998, p. 24) claims that communicative tasks may be significant to language learning and “when the tasks require a ‘two way’ interactant relationship, the quality of the interaction is superior.” Fox (1997), shares that belief and stresses that an instructor’s input may be essential to language acquisition. For example, input that has been negotiated for meaning or highlighted through activities from Pica (2002), August (2004), and Devitt (1997). While all of their ideas could be tried, Figure 6 shows how the JIA site alone encourages learning about jazz through social interactions anyway.

Figure 6. An invitation to socially interact with jazz and language. (Click image to visit site)

If taken as guidelines, Chapelle’s (1998) ideas appear useful for adapting JIA as CALL that recognizes SLA in its approach. A more practical criterion for evaluating a CALL site that assigns rankings of “Very Unsatisfactory”; “Unsatisfactory”; “Uncertain”; “Satisfactory”; or “Very Satisfactory” comes from Son (2005, p. 218):

•1. Purpose: Is the purpose clear? Is the content in line with the purpose? Is the website appropriate for the targeted learner?

Very Satisfactory: As content-based instruction about American jazz history, the website provides comprehensive content at several learner levels.

•2. Accuracy: Is the content accurate? Are spelling and grammar accurate?

Satisfactory: The content is factual and consistent with other web resources (e.g. Jazz for Young People at http://www.jalc.org/jazzED/j4yp_curr/contentsPage.html or Jazz in Schools at http://www.neajazzintheschools.org/program/index.php?uv=t ). There is, however, a punctuation issue on the prescribed lesson plans. A question mark has taken the place of several apostrophes.  The problem is apparently computer-related since a box symbol rather than a question mark appeared when JIA was viewed on one other computer. The problem is therefore not reliable and also easily explained to a learner, if it occurs, as an inaccuracy.

•3. Currency: Is the website current? Is the website updated regularly?

Satisfactory: As a historical site, the content is set appropriately and covers the origins of jazz through the 1990’s. Updating the content is not immediately necessary.

•4. Authority: Is there information on the author? Is the author well-recognized for his or her work?

Very Satisfactory: The site is presented by the Thelonious Monk Institute for Jazz as part of their Education Program (see http://www.monkinstitute.com/). The guide in the lessons is Herbie Hancock who is without doubt one of the most respected and influential jazz musicians and composers in its history.

•5. Loading speed: Does the website download fast? Do the content pages download efficiently?

Satisfactory: JIA viewed from a DSL connection in Thailand, including all its video and audio links, loads and performs efficiently.

•6. Usefulness: Does the website provide useful information? Are the language activities or tasks useful?

Very satisfactory: The site provides information and details on the origins of jazz music and the significant names behind its evolution. Each segment includes a comprehension quiz in true or false, multiple choice and cloze formats, and Lesson One offers interactive comprehension checks during its animated presentation. Many lessons include textual prompts for learners to create jazz themselves (e.g. see Lesson Plan in Appendix A).

•7. Organization: Is the website interesting to look at and explore? Are the displays effective?

Very satisfactory: The text is written as if the student were being taken on a personal journey through the history of jazz. The host in Lesson One is the renowned pianist Herbie Hancock. His presentation comes animated for the first lesson and textual in all lessons. There are numerous hyperlinks to recordings, images, video and textual information.

•8. Navigation: Is the website easy to navigate? Are on-screen instructions easy to follow? Is it easy to retrieve information? Are hyperlinks given properly?

Satisfactory: All of the hyperlinks are indicated in blue text and/or in parentheses with the word ‘here’ in blue text (i.e. click ‘here’).

•9. Reliability: Is the website free of bugs and breaks? Is the website free of dead links?

Satisfactory: Aside from the punctuation issue (see point 2) the site has no notable reliability issues.

•10. Authenticity: Are the learning materials authentic? Are authentic materials provided in the appropriate context?

Very satisfactory: The learning materials are authentic and in some cases rare (e.g. pictures of Congo Square in Lesson One).

•11. Interactivity: Is the website interactive? Are methods for user input effectively employed? 

Very Satisfactory: As Figure 5 shows, the website includes hypertext links to images and audio clips for particular points of interest. During the introductory presentation, the learner must answer questions to proceed. As a virtual conversation the content is continually interactive though not at a keyboard or mouse-click level. Lesson activities could explore items of interest that are not hyperlinked but found through an Internet search engine (e.g. see Lesson Plan in Appendix A).

•12. Feedback: Is the feedback on learner responses encouraging? Is error handling meaningful and helpful?

Uncertain: There are numerous opportunities to generate questions however there are no wrong answers. As a face-to-face approach, working towards the best answers through discussions is an essential aspect of the lessons.

•13. Multimedia: Does the website make effective use of graphics, sound and color? Is the level of audio quality, the scale of graphics or video display appropriate for language learning?

Very satisfactory: JIA offers numerous audio clips, photographs, video and additional information through hyperlinks.

•14. Communication: Can the user communicate with real people online through the website? Is online help available?

Uncertain: No online communication is included on the actual JIA site, but lesson-related communications could be arranged between the learner and instructor (e.g. see Lesson Plan in Appendix A).

•15. Integration: Can the learning materials be integrated into a curriculum?

Very satisfactory:  The materials are actually intended for US history and social studies lessons.

Integrating Jazz in America

Chapelle (1998) and Son (2005) offer useful ideas for evaluating or designing a CALL site. From a practical standpoint, access cost and copyright infringement could have also been addressed. JIA in that regard is free to access and teachers are encouraged to use the materials as they see fit. As such, the effectiveness of JIA as a CALL application seems dependent on two requisite conditions: The least important being 1) the learner having some interest in jazz, and more important being 2) an instructor having some knowledge about the music and history.

If the learner lacks some interest in jazz, he or she may not be open to the concept, initially or at all. The instructor must know the content well enough to further ideas and hopefully create interesting and appropriately challenging activities. An instructor without any knowledge or interest in jazz history would probably not utilize JIA to any great extent.

JIA as CALL would seem to work best where jazz has been and remains popular, such as in Japan (Alexander, 2007; Sumatsu, 2006). It seems likely that many learners would be adults, presumably interested in both jazz and EFL, and preoccupied with work or other personal responsibilities. Therefore JIA as CALL would probably work best as individual or small group extra-curricular instruction. This could allow the instructor to cater to individual desires and learning abilities, given the various directions the instruction could take, such as listening comprehension, vocabulary development, pronunciation, reading and writing skills and problem solving.  For example, see the lesson plan in Appendix A.


This paper has shown how http://www.jazzinamerica.org/  could help provide a meaningful context for language comprehension and possible acquisition for EFL learners. The suggestion of JIA as CALL relied upon literature regarding forms of learner interaction with authentic materials (Pica, 2002; August, 2004; Devitt, 1997), vocabulary development (Rosszell, 2006) and content relevance (Chang and Lehman, 2002). The idea assumed and the evaluation depended on two requisite conditions: 1) the learner had an interest in jazz and 2) the instructor had content knowledge to facilitate discussions and devise useful activities. Chapelle (1998) offered criteria to measure the site for its SLA potential. Son (2005) provided an evaluation checklist to address more practical concerns. JIA as CALL appeared to be supported adequately on both measures. Therefore as a site that is not intended for language learning, JIA could nevertheless serve as a basis for a meaningful EFL context enhanced with guidance and multimedia CALL.


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October 25, 2007, from http://www.weekender.co.jp/new/020607/feature-jazz-1.html

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Appendix A


Lesson Plan: Lesson 3

Aim:                Vocabulary development, reading practice and problem solving.

Level:              Intermediate

Number of

students:         1 to 2

Time:              approx. 75 minutes

Preparation: Hardware — Computer with Internet connection.

Software — Windows XP, Adobe Flash 9, RealAudio Player

Procedure:     One week in advance of a meeting, students pre-read Lesson 3 (Grade 5) “Student Handout” from  http://www.jazzinamerica.org/student.asp?LPOrder=3&Grade=5

From pre-reading Lesson 3, the student should be prepared to discuss each of the following points (emailed midweek prior to the meeting):

  • Which would be easier to play, a calliope or a guitar? Why?
  • (Google this answer) What were the “unusual costumes” waitresses wore at Dante’s Inferno? Do you know any clubs with unusual costumes?
  • Describe some of the furniture at the Hey-Hay Club. Do you know of any clubs with unusual furniture? Can you think of an original idea for club furniture? Plan to discuss any ideas.
  • Describe a 12-bar blues
  • What is a riff? Can you think of a famous riff from any kind of music or make up an example?
  • (Search the site to answer) Who were three of the founders of Bebop?

Meeting activities: Read the lesson and visit all the hyperlinks with the instructor. Perform the Call and Response with Count Basie. Improvise a 12-bar blues about the student’s life.

Homework: Write a short 12-bar blues about a daily routine, read the Lesson 4 Student Handout and study the emailed questions of the week.