Monthly Archives: September 2013

Hedging

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Image courtesy of Windell Oskay

It is funny how things change as you get older. When I was younger, I swore I would never be a teacher. Both of my parents were teachers and I actually thought they were good at their jobs, but the idea of teaching sounded boring to me. So what did I want to do when I grew up? I wanted to be an inventor. I had this box of old mechanical and electrical components I had scavenged from things I would find around the house and I would attempt to build things from them. My dad even went so far as to buy me a 6V lantern battery as a christmas present one year. It was only one of many unique gifts my parents gave me over the years. Funny thing was, I thought the presents were great.

One day, I decided to solder some random resistors and capacitors together to see what would happen when I plugged them in. Poof. A quick flame and lots of smoke. Oops. Well, at least I didn’t burn the house down. I had no idea that the little coloured bands on the side of the resistor held any relevant information. Nor did I grasp the concept of what a capacitor did. I just took what I thought were relevant parts and assembled them in a way that I thought would work.

For many of my English language students, writing works in the same way. They often piece together formulaic words and phrases that they feel should work in a given situation and PRESTO, you have a sentence that sounds like it was made up of stock words and phrases. Hmmm. Something isn’t working here. Grammatically it is good. Spelling is perfect. Meaning is mostly correct. So what’s wrong? Continue reading Hedging

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Lecturing

lecture

Image courtesy of Ed Brambley

One of the teachers I had in university made heavy use of an overhead projector (OHP). He used the roller type of transparency and he had handwritten notes for each class on separate rolls. He would come into class, put the next ‘scroll’ on the OHP, turn off the lights, plop down beside the OHP, and roll the transparency to the first section. He proceeded to read over the densely packed section and then roll the ‘scroll’ to the next section. The first time this happened, I panicked. Being a novice notetaker, I was attempting to write out his notes word for word, but since he could read out the notes faster than I could write them, I could only get through about a quarter of the page before it scrolled off the screen. I learned very quickly to only jot down what I needed to remember and then expanded on those notes when I got home later that day.

That was me as a university student in my own language with a basic understanding of the topic. Imagine that you are an English language student taking courses in a language you are still learning to understand at a general level. Add technical language, a variance in speaking styles, and the pressure of marks and you have a situation which can cause no end of frustration and heartache for the student. Continue reading Lecturing

Guiding

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Image courtesy of Marcin Wichary

Yesterday, I was reading over a discussion happening on the #AusELT Facebook page about students’ perception regarding games / activities in the language classroom. I don’t think I am alone when I say that I have had similar discussions with students about teaching methodology in my classroom. I haven’t had it happen in a while, but that doesn’t mean that students haven’t been thinking it. I would agree with some others here in saying that I probably don’t do that many activities or games in my class anymore, but my approach to teaching is still quite different from what many of my students are accustomed to.

Language teaching is one of those things that most people have an opinion on how it should be done. Even those who have never stepped into a language classroom already have a mental picture, rightly or wrongly, about what that looks like. There is no way that we can please all of the students all of the time. Someone in the classroom is going to think that things should be more serious or fun or something in between.

Upon further reflections regarding this discussion on Facebook, my mind started to wander in a somewhat different direction (anyone who knows me understands that this is completely normal). One of the comments from Mike Smith was in regards to how to best use the time you have with the students in the classroom. He suggested that there is work that is best done by the student on their own leaving more time in the classroom for more interactive practice. I think Mike is onto something here. To flesh out his point a bit more, I decided to break down the various components of language learning into two camps: teacher guided or led and individual work. There really is two parts to the teacher guided or led, that is one-to-one tutoring and group or classwork, but for the sake of this post, I will clump them together into one inseparable group. Continue reading Guiding

Understanding

respect

Image courtesy of Ben Dalton

I have mentioned in previous posts that I have only two rules in my classroom: have fun and respect one another. At the beginning of each term, I have my students work out what that means based on various topics including cell phone use in the classroom, attendance, and cultures. From that, we build a code of classroom conduct that each of us, including myself, need to follow. It works well and it tells my students I respect them as a person and I hope that they would do the same for me.

A week ago, I came across this news article of a teacher in Mexico who confronted her students about some nasty things that had been tweeted about the teacher by one of the students. I won’t get into details, but the teacher used the classroom to address the issue in a very direct way. The comments on the CNN news article show a number of people in support of the teacher saying, “She is the authority in her classroom,” and “Humiliation is needed in schools, much more of it”. The whole event, from student to teacher to administration to the general public’s reaction has made me feel sad. I don’t think the issue here is ‘putting someone in their place’. I think the real issue is how we view one another as human beings.

After reading the article and watching the video, I started to think about each person or group of people affected by this event and I started to see how complex this issue is and how difficult it is to ‘place blame’ (not that I think we should). I decided to break it down in a sort of chronological order as things progressed. Continue reading Understanding

Reorienting

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Image courtesy of Jonas Maaløe Jespersen

Shortly after my 11th birthday, my parents and I visited Disneyland for the first time with some of my cousins. It was a beautiful December morning in California and we spent most of day getting on as many rides as we could. It was late afternoon before my cousin Rick and myself decided we wanted to go on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride by ourselves. We got into the little ‘boat’ (a glorified rail car on a track sitting in water) and took off with an elderly couple joining us in our 4-seat ‘watercraft’. The ride was okay for the most part and we were reaching the end of our journey when the power flickered and then went off. Nothing. A complete blackout. Since we were sitting in a boat running on a track, we came to a complete stop and were surrounded by shallow water. The biggest problem was that there wasn’t a single light source in the entire room. There we sat for over an hour before a rescue canoe came to take us and our companions to the emergency tunnel where our parents waited for us anxiously. We thought it was fun and ended up getting a single-day pass to come back any time we wanted. It was the first time in Disneyland history that the park had to close due to a power failure. The one thing I remember quite clearly from that time in the dark was how disorienting it was. I remember feeling paralysed, unable to do much to fix our situation. We just had to sit there and wait for help to arrive. Continue reading Reorienting

Stinging

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Image courtesy of Dawn Huczek

Today was one of those days. A day in which you thought things were going really well until the rug was pulled out from under you in the most unexpected way. The kind of day that stings and sits with you for a while. I’m not angry or even sorry that it happened. I’m sorry that something precipitated it, but not the actual event. Continue reading Stinging

Connecting

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Image courtesy of Trevor Leyenhorst

One of my favourite television shows when I was a kid was a program by James Burke called Connections. For those of you who don’t know the series, it was a documentary style show that showed how one item could lead to a completely different thing through a series of ‘connections’. The show attempted to show how one item relied on a series of things happening in order for it to occur.

During my MA TESOL program, I was required to read and interact with the book Language Teaching Awareness: A Guide to Exploring Beliefs and Practices by Jerry G. Gebhard and Robert Oprandy (1999). In this book, the authors explore various ways in which teachers can become more aware of the way they approach their teaching. The process of reading and journalling about what I was learning was quite eye-opening. I became a more reflective teacher as a result and that has continued through the use of this blog and through other means.

In chapter seven of this book, Oprandy talks about ways in which we can reflect on the connections we make between our personal life and our teaching. He does this through a series of connecting questions that he wrote for himself. He encourages teachers to take time to write their own questions based on what they are experiencing. For the sake of this post, I have decided to summarize the responses to his own questions and then attempt to answer those same questions for myself. Here are his results: Continue reading Connecting

Marketing

For Sale

Image courtesy of Diane Parkhouse

Let me start off this post with little caveat, I am not writing this in response to any one person or event. I am not attempting to insult or put down anyone. That is the last thing I want to happen. I apologize in advance if it comes across that way. If you feel I have crossed the line, feel free to let me know directly or through the comment section below. Thank you.

Before I became a teacher, I was involved in retail sales for a number of years. I sold many things including cameras, computers, computer classes, and so on. I will be the first to admit that I am not ‘sold’ on selling techniques. I feel they depersonalize things to the point of almost dehumanizing the purchaser. When you become focussed on the sale more than the person, you are reducing the person to their money. I believe the job of a sales person should be that of assistant. You need to assess what the person needs and then help them find what works best for THEM, not your pocketbook. You are the person who (should) know the product or service best and then connect what the person needs or wants to what matches them.

Being a teaching professional sometimes forces us to take on the role of salesperson. We need to market ourselves in order to get the position we need. Waiting around for the ‘right job’ to come along rarely works and often leads to disappointment. There is a place for ‘selling’ ourselves as professionals, but I fear that we often start to take on the characteristics of the salesperson that we hate the most. Here are some of the things to think about: Continue reading Marketing