Monthly Archives: August 2013

Supporting

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Image courtesy of Britt Reints

During the last visit with my cousin, her husband shared an amusing story about fixing their van. He is a mechanic by trade and certainly know what he is doing, but this recent event left him scratching his head. He had gone into a parts store and asked for an alternator for his vehicle. Upon giving them the year and model number, the person working at the parts department looked up the part number for the alternator and promptly found it for him. Taking it home, my cousin’s husband took the time to look up how to install it on that model, switched out the old alternator for the new one, and attempted to start the vehicle. Nothing. Completely dead. He pored over the schematics and checked everything over once again. Still nothing. So, he took the part back and told them it was defective. The man behind the counter, grabbed another one and exchanged it for him. Same thing. Nothing. Back he went to the shop. This time, they started to accuse him of not installing it properly. He insisted he knew what he was doing. They exchanged it one more time. Same result. So, after some investigation, it was determined that the part he had been sold the first time was for the vehicle one year newer and the car manufacturer had reversed the polarity of the alternator. Everything else was the same, but the direction of the current was reversed. The initial problem had led to a series of exchanges for the same part, never checking on whether he was sold the correct thing in the first place.

It makes me think about how we deal with learning disabilities in the language classroom. Continue reading Supporting

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Travelling

Guidebook action

Image courtesy of Jaymis Loveday

Yesterday, I stumbled upon this article by Ian McGrath on the use of metaphor to describe how teachers and students view coursebooks in the English language classroom. The article was interesting in itself and I may eventually get around to exploring it in depth in a future post, but the topic did cause me to think about which metaphor I would use to describe coursebooks. My metaphor came quickly enough and started to snowball after that. I will try my best to unravel it a bit for you. Continue reading Travelling

Commencing

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 Image courtesy of Maegan Tintari 

When I initially proposed the idea of having an ELT Research Blog Carnival to share what we as English language professionals had been learning through academic journal articles, I never really anticipated the response I would get. Deep down, I thought that this idea wouldn’t really catch on and it would die before it ever got started. I was pleasantly surprised, actually shocked would be more apt here, at the response I received from others. I thought I might be too optimistic to think that 2-3 people would join me in the first run, but instead there are a total of seven posts to share! I believe it shows how much ELT instructors care about learning and growing in their field. They are happy to question and reflect on what is happening in their classroom in order to help their students grow. I am proud to be a part of this community of teaching professionals, even if we don’t always feel like we are treated as such. All I can say is thank you.

To get things rolling here, I am going to summarize each of the posts that people have written for this edition of the blog carnival and provide you with links to each of them. Continue reading Commencing

Presenting

Nathan and Mike

Image courtesy of TESL Canada Conference 2012

As I have mentioned before, my first ‘real’ job was working in a camera store. This was in the days  when we had to use film and get it developed at the photo lab. I worked for a long time in that field before I went away to Lithuania for five months to teach English. Upon my return to Canada and my old job, something new had arrived, the digital camera. It was spectacular and horrendously expensive. We had two models: one with zoom and one without. Both took 0.3 megapixel photos and both went through batteries like water. But that didn’t persuade me away from showing them to customers. I KNEW this was the way of the future.

Fast forward a few years where I am now the manager of the smallest shop in the chain. A money losing store with hardly any customers. Being the youngest manager in the company, this was to be my training ground. I knew that there wasn’t a lot I could do to change the business in regards to location, advertising,  and so forth, so I needed to do what I could within the shop. And then it hit me; sell digital cameras. Make it a destination shop for all things digital imaging. I had already become fascinated with them, so with the long hours of no customers, I read and learned all I could about how they worked, the models, and so on. One day, the general manager called and said the head of the digital department was supposed to give a presentation on digital cameras at our annual open house and he came down sick. He asked if I would I be able to do it on short notice. I jumped at the chance and the rest is history. From that moment on, I travelled around giving training sessions on digital imaging and my job changed to training specialist.

I enjoy giving presentation. After giving so many of them, it isn’t so scary anymore. That initial twinge of anxiety I have just before starting quickly disappears once I get going. I know that I am not the norm here. I wasn’t always that comfortable in front of people. I have tried to take some of what I have learned over the years and used it help my business English students with their presentations. Recently, I have started to wonder about how valuable presentations are in the language classroom. We have all used them, but do we really know how helpful they are to the students? I took some time think about the features of oral presentations in the language classroom and this is what I came up with. Continue reading Presenting

Assessing

exams

Image courtesy of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, Texas A&M

I admit it. I am one of those who actually likes writing tests. I hate marking them, but as a student, I actually looked forward to exams. Why? For the most part, I was able to coast through most of my high school classes and then cram at the end of the term for the final. I could remember most of the thing I needed to get a high enough mark to complete the class. Not the best way of working and that eventually changed in university, but it illustrates a few problems with testing as it is primarily implemented in schools.

I teach adults which is different than teaching children or young adults. For the most part, there is a motivational shift, so what I am about to propose probably wouldn’t transfer as well into the K-12 system. Also, I teach English language students which is different than teaching science or math. Lastly, most of my students were raised in cultures where education is approached differently than in Canada where I teach. Those are my caveats.

I was thinking today about the upcoming term and how I use assessment in my classroom. For the most part, I don’t have a lot of control of what happens since I work for a university and there are some things that need to be done to meet the institutional guidelines for the course. There is some flexibility in what I do beyond the two biggest tests (ie. midterm and final exams), but I can make changes in how I assess beyond that. To this point, I have tried and number of approaches with varying success. All of these assessment types have been set by me according to what I have felt is best for assessing how my students are progressing. Then today, I came across this tweet from the Cambridge University Press ELT department: Continue reading Assessing

Learning

work together

Image courtesy of Alexander Staubo

In my first year of living in Lithuania, I had one of those embarrassing moments when you think you understand something, but you find out that you were completely wrong. One day, I was in my apartment getting ready for work when my phone rang. Not recognizing the number, I answered in Lithuanian even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to take the conversation much further without slipping into English. The lady on the end of the phone spoke very quickly making it difficult for me to determine if she was speaking in Lithuanian or Russian. I thought I heard the word for Russia, so I simply told her that I didn’t speak Russian. There was a pause, she repeated the same thing, only a little slower and louder. Again, I thought I heard the word for Russia, so I repeated what I had said, only slower and louder. This time there was a longer pause followed by three simple words in Lithuanian: DOOR, KEY, NOW! It was in that moment that I realized that I had misunderstood the word for ‘in the cellar’ to be ‘Russia’. The difference is only in the intonation, so I applaud myself for at least recognizing where I went wrong. The story ends with me slinking down the stairs to unlock the cellar door for the property manager and her three (now laughing) plumbers who had come to fix the water main. I, for some unknown reason, was one of only three people who had a key for that door.

Later that day, I told my English students about it and they had a good laugh. No harm done and my students felt that it was okay to make a fool of yourself from time to time when learning a language. This event demonstrates how semantics can be important and not just an academic exercise. Sure, there are times when we get caught up in ‘political correctness’ to the point that it becomes almost laughable, but for the most part, choosing the correct term for something can make a world of difference.

In preparation for my upcoming session at the TESL Ontario conference, I was re-reading one of my favourite books on the use of technology in the classroom, E-Learning in the 21st Century: A framework for research and practice by D. R. Garrison and Terry Anderson (2003). I read the book for my MA TESOL, but I consult it quite often when giving seminars or consulting on technology in the classroom. In the chapter Teaching Presence, Garrison and Anderson start with an explanation on what they call the differences between learner-centred and learning-centred education. Continue reading Learning

Bridging

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Image courtesy of Jeff Fenton

In January, I moved across Canada to start work as an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instructor for a university in Northern Ontario. The program was still really new and had, and is still having, a difficult time bringing in new teachers. It isn’t that the school wants to bring in outsiders, but the lack of local, professionally-trained teachers is posing a real problem. There is a push from the university to raise up teachers from within the local area through the creation of a teacher training program.

The TESL certificate program was in the design phase when I arrived and in April, I was a approached about possibly designing the material for the program as well as teach it. At the time, I was the only one who was qualified to run the program under the guidelines set out by TESL Canada. Full confession here, I hadn’t even considered being a teacher trainer, let alone help design a run a full program, but I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. May rolled around and I found myself on my first day standing in front a group of eager students waiting for the class to start. It hit me. Here I was about to teach others on what it means to teach. Me. I started to think, “What am I doing? These people think I actually know what I am talking about”.

The course set off on its five-week journey followed by a seemingly endless stream of practicums. It was during my observation times that I noticed students making similar ‘errors’ (or as I would define them, anyway) which we had covered in class. I couldn’t figure it out. Why was there such an issue with these things and not in other areas? What did I do wrong? How could I avoid this in the future? I started to reflect on my own first few months as a novice teacher and realized that I had made a number of those same choices even though my instructor had covered them. The problem was not in the instruction, but in the implementation. Bridging the gap from training to teaching was more difficult than I had anticipated. Continue reading Bridging

Languaging

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Image courtesy of  Javier Prazak

I think everyone has had one of those moments where something happens that you just need to share it with someone, anyone. I had one of those instances this afternoon. I was looking for something completely different when I stumbled on this fantastic research article from Merrill Swain and Sharon Lapkin (2011) on the role language plays in creating cognitive change. I’m sorry, what’s that? It doesn’t sound that fascinating to you? It didn’t to me either until I started to read it. For some reason, the subject resonated with me and I will attempt to explain why that is. Continue reading Languaging

Problematising

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Image courtesy of Ethan Lofton

In some of my previous posts, I have talked about how I would like to explore some of the things I have discovered through the use of an action research (AR) study in my classroom. For those who are not exactly sure what AR is, I have decided to do something a little different and have compiled some of the AR books and articles I have read on the subject that I have found helpful for me as a language teacher. Think of this as a pseudo annotated bibliography. It isn’t extensive by any means, but I hope it gives you a better picture of the use of AR as a form of professional development (PD).  Continue reading Problematising

Seizing

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Image courtesy of North Charleston

I hate wristwatches and pretty much always have. I got my first watch for my sixth birthday that had a little boy with a dog on it. I loved the watch to look at, but I just didn’t like wearing. I am one of those strange people that hates having things on their wrist. Drives me completely crazy. As a result of my slightly obsessive behaviour, I was forced to rely on my ‘internal clock’ to keep me on time. I have honed that skill quite nicely, thank you very much, to the point that my wife thinks it is fun to test my from time to time. I am usually within about 10 minutes of the correct time, so I still have some room to grow. For more precise time, I rely on my cell phone, of course.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast that was talking about time and the speaker mentioned that the ancient Greeks used to use two main words for time: chronos for measuring time (ie. seconds, hours, days, etc.), and kairos which has a number of nuances to it, but generally means the quality of the time. Continue reading Seizing