John Unger’s Profile

April 29, 2016, Cuelt-2016 Adana, Turkey

Some  Pubs:

Unger, J.  (2017). The Rabbit hole is over there. The Human Touch: The Journal of Poetry, Prose and Visual Art, 10, 90-91. 

Unger, J. (2017). Chemo skinless falling. The Human Touch: The Journal of Poetry, Prose and Visual Art, 10, 115.

Unger J. (2016). Shared attentional frames and sentence completion activities: a process based approach to literacy assessment. English Scholarship Beyond Borders, 2(1), 58-120. Retrieved from

Unger,J, Liu R, Scullion V. (2015). Creating joint attentional frames and pointing to evidence in the reading and writing process. The Reading Matrix: An International Online Journal, 15 (2), 1-17. Retrieved from

Unger J. (2015) A future hedge fund trader in Wal-Mart. Aberration Labyrinth, (16) Spring 2015, 3. Retrieved from (look for page 3; unique poetry journal; a bit chaotic, like me)

Unger, J, Liu R, Scullion V. (2015). Language Competency as Semiotic Design: Attempting to Cross Academic Borders with Digital Video Cameras. English Scholarship Beyond Borders. 1(1)

Liu, R, Unger, J., & Scullion, V. (2014). Social justice through literacy: Integrating digital video cameras in reading summaries and responses. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 10 (2), 34-50.

Unger, J. (2014) Finding Rich in the Gulf of Alaska

Unger, J. A., & Scullion, V. A. (2013). Digital video cameras for brainstorming and outlining: The process and potential. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(2), 131-139. Retrived from

Unger, J.A. & Liu, R. (2013). Digital Video Cameras, Main Ideas, and Supporting Details: The   Process and Potential. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 44(1), 105-113.

I am currently an Associate Professor of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) at Georgia Gwinnet College, in Lawrenceville, Georgia, near Atlanta in the southeastern part of the U.S. I have worked and studied in a wide variety of ESL/EFL and developmental English contexts for well over twenty years. I have presented papers and workshops, and taught undergraduate and graduate courses with Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) as a core responsibility and theme, along with related teaching and intensive action-based research projects revolving around the topics of gesture and language, writing, developmental English, linguistics, traditional English grammar and usage, literacy, semiotics and video games, and multilingual/ multicultural education.  I have published a relatively small number of articles and book chapters and worked for several years as an Associate Editor for the Asian EFL Journal.  My editing philosophy was to take authors’ research and papers and shape these into useful, practical resources for researchers and teachers. I am trying to extend this theme to the editing and reviewing work I do for English Scholars Beyond Borders, and to my own writing.

Gunnery School Graduation Feb 1976

This academic life is more or less a second life for me. I joined the U.S. Navy just before my 19th  birthday; then I spent the next 19 years, averaging 4 to 6 months a year at sea or getting ready to go to sea,  first for 4 years in the U.S. Navy ; then for 15 seasons on coastal and deep-sea commercial fishing boats in the Northern Pacific, Gulf of Alaska, and Bering Sea, mainly long-lining for Black Cod (Sablefish) and Halibut.

First Chevron on the USS New Orleans June 1977 Subic Bay Phillipines

unloading a 325 pound Halibut in 1981

Coiling miles and mies and miles of gear 1987

the gear's hung up

I have a Ph.D. in Instructional and Curricular studies with a focus on Literacy and TESL from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I tend to look at universities and colleges as boats, and we are all trying to catch the students’ attention and effectively engage them with the languages of our content areas.

I think this catching and keeping of students’ attention is the most common, prominent challenge teachers encounter worldwide with the teaching of English, a language I am thankful to have learned since birth because I do not think I would or can ever reach the fluency level that I try to teach, much less write, in the proficient academic dialect that so many of my students, colleagues, friends, and family have achieved. I sincerely salute all of you who read this profile and come to academic English from different languages and cultures, and so often, profoundly different formal literacy backgrounds. My research interests are aimed toward unpacking this transition from one specific literacy activity and moment of day-to-day life to a different literacy activity and moment of day-to-day life.

Halibut fishing off the Portlock Banks, 1987 off Kodiak Island, Alaska

I suppose I am trying to capture different moments in the continual movement of the human mind and language, much as we might try to take a picture of the continually moving sea, and use this picture as a way to understand the next semiotic wave we’ll be riding. However, the picture (i.e., a unit for analyses) must be a part of the whole, and this broad approach follows a well known concept from Vygotsky and Luria: to study something, one must investigate the parts as they actually comprise the whole in movement, as in the process of studying oxygen and hydrogen as these elements interact to comprise water. We cannot truly understand how hydrogen and oxygen comprise water, unless we look at the entire interaction; in other words, if we study hydrogen and oxygen as measurable discrete elements apart from the context of their interaction that creates water, we are no longer truly investigating water (Luria, 1979, p. 42;  Vygotsky, 1978, pp. 64-65). This is what we seem to be doing with many instruments we use to report formal language outcomes; it’s like we present oxygen and hydrogen as crucial elements interacting in some mysterious way to create water, without really understanding that the water is an interactive movement, not a static representation of discrete, immutable features. Overall, for a more authentic perspective on the role of language, specifically academic English and the applied sign systems of any academic discipline or applied technology, I truly believe a developmental approach to understanding human activity with language, grounded in ideas from Vygotsky and Luria (ibid), is essential to reach beyond the disciplines and boundaries that we build around ourselves as we live our lives.

Yunnan 2005


Overwhelmed with fish in summer 1991

To use the words and metaphors quoted and paraphrased from Paolo Friere and Mikhail Bakhtin, I am interested in how people read the world and author their lives, specifically when they move from one literacy situation and language identity to another. For example, in what ways do people organize a cacophony of signs when they transition from reading a stoplight and making a left hand turn across a crowded highway, to reading and writing a chemistry lab report; from feeling around in an engine to find and tighten the right screw; to summarizing a main idea from one research source, and using a specific quote or research finding to make a crucial point in the creation of an entirely new idea, to reading a navigational system and making a course adjustment in a 40-knot wind and 20-foot seas; to figuring out how to tackle an algebraic equation, or how much to bet in a particular poker hand, or what to say at a formal academic meeting in response to a bad idea, semiotically dressed as the perfect solution.  Each of these goal-oriented activities involves specific readings of the world and decisions that author one’s life and others, along with the physical environment. Precisely how does this process work, and how are decisions created and carried out with the cacophony of signs that we organize and use to make things happen, specifically shifting from a variety of literacy foundations and languages to the languages of the academic disciplines and applied technologies (e.g., the language of chemists, welders, electricians, physicists, artists, historians, engineers). How can these relationships between language, goals, activities, and identities be used to help students transition from their varied foundational literacies to the literacies of the academic disciplines and applied technologies?

Halibut fishing somewhere off the Shumagin Islands, Alaska 1992

I truly believe that these questions about the mind, language, and activity go beyond any borders we create, and I have found the obvious, which folks often do not want to discuss or examine: the academy and humanity are extremely proficient at creating borders. We just stumbled badly through the first decade of the 21st century; it’s time to move beyond our contrived borders, particularly with the teaching and scholarship of the English language.

2011 Formal Ceremony

Hani Classroom June 2005

Ailo Mountains Yunnan June 2005