My unique Daegu time: with @JosetteLB and 16 Korean teachers.

On Friday October 17th I visited Josette LeBlanc‘s class at Keimyung University. The class situation is pretty unique to me: 16 school teachers have taken a 6-month break off their jobs to go through a full-time teacher training program, which involves various types of language and teaching practice classes.

In fact, there was no class that Friday, as in there was no class that Josette would teach and I would observe. What happened was a discussion, about English language education, Russia, Korea, me, them, students, geography, and my granny. I think I was too verbose, as I usually am as soon as I get emotional. I’d never been in a similar situation and I wish we’d had more time to share our experiences, especially theirs.

My original *big as always* plan had been to write a detailed and thoughtful analysis-type post based on all my many notes (somewhat like this one). Now I think there’s a different way to do it, and also probably a better one – let the teachers of that class speak about our time spent together in their own words.

We asked the teachers to answer one question: “What was significant to you about this discussion?” The teachers were free to put a check on the paper if they didn’t mind their response being shared in this post. Some also wrote down their names. (I thank all of you, teachers of Josette’s class, for being willing to talk, listen, reflect and connect with me!)

So here are their/ your thoughts. My thoughts and comments will follow at the bottom of this post.

 

***** What was significant to you about this discussion? *****

 

… Your personal story about studying English… Taking a glimpse of Russian culture and education system. (Jeong, Hyekyong)

 

You are jealous of our supportive Korean education system and I envy the huge country of yours. Thank you for your advice. Reading and writing are good for fluent speaking. (Kim Yoomi)

 

It was interesting to compare the university education for major of English in Russia and in Korea. We have native professors here. And also your hard work for keeping and improving your English was very impressive and helpful for me. The reason why I attended this course was only that I wanted to improve my English that I started slowly losing. I wanted to tell you this.

 

I checked that there is no royal road in learning English. Practice, practice, practice! Hard work and intensive studying is the only way to improve English. (Choi Jungsook)

 

I think there’s a big difference between Korean English education and Russian’s. The attitude to English is different. It seems like Russia doesn’t think English is so important. That’s why you don’t have teacher training courses like us. Our government treat English as a VIP language, more important than our own language. I hate this but it is true. That’s why we should compete with each other and develop our ability continuously. It’s a too big responsibility. (Geum Eun Ju)

 

It’s good to meet and hear from Anna, stories from a Russian English teacher is quite new and interesting. I was surprised that her English was bad when she started university studies because I didn’t know English classes in Russian secondary school were focused on grammar, reading, and receptive skills. That happened in Korea, too. I admire her courage to quit her job and chase her freedom.

 

 

I also felt I wanted to teach adults, not kids, because I wanted to communicate with students as well as teach. After hearing your words, I have empathy with you. I’m interested in your experience and your process of thinking. I was impressed with your decision and action.

 

I’ve learnt that studying English as a foreign language is difficult for everyone. We need to make some effort to speak it fluently. I remember your sentence: “Expressing your thought in English will help improve your English skill.” I will do the same thing from now on. (Sujin)

 

I considered all circumstances of learning English in Korea as some pressure, but comparing to your situation in Russia, I realized that those are such amazing opportunities to learn a language. We, Koreans, are blessed. Thank your for your insight. :)

 

The most interesting thing to me is in Russia people who want to be teachers have one whole year training course in their last fifth year. In Korea, we usually just have one month training course in our last fourth year.

 

It was good to know the different style of English education in Russia. “Hard work helps, always..” I need to keep that in my mind to improve my English. It’s amazing again how important English is in Korea.

 

The most impressive thing that you said is “Writing in English is helpful for improving English”. I’ll try to follow your advice. Have a good time in Korea. :) (Choi Sukhee)

 

Thank you for sharing your story. I truly felt your heart. Good luck. (Kwon Jihyun)

 

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***** My thoughts and comments *****

 

So, there’s no big need for me to go through the nitty-gritty of our discussion as most interesting points can be seen through the teachers’ lines above. I did talk a lot (which I’m not very happy about because I wish I’d listened more), answering questions and oftentimes being carried away. The topics that were touched upon include:

- Scattered bits of info and a really rough overview of English learning and teaching in a Russian school (based on my experience, so obviously it should not be taken for granted as the only existing way)
– How Russian students get into university (exams before and now)
– Importance of English in Russia vs Korea
– My preparatory year for entering university, curriculum and the basic description of what my 5 years at a teacher training university in Moscow were like
– Native speaker professors at a university level *that we didn’t/ don’t have in Russia*
– Co-teaching practice *that we don’t have in Russia*
– My personal interest in Asia, why and such (that was a tough one!)
– Geography lesson and working with the map to find some Russian cities on it))
– Many specific personal stories/ situations from my life that came to my mind on the spot as I was talking about something
– My experience learning English

I guess the comments the teachers shared with me on those sheets of paper are saying more than I could have said analyzing the discussion. If I am to answer the same question as they were answering, I’d say that it was significant for me to feel these teachers’ willingness to learn from whatever that was that I had to say, reflect through the lenses of their context and experience, compare but not necessarily bear judgement of either of the sides. Some things are similar, some are different.

I’m very glad I’ve joined their group in BAND app and can keep in touch. I’m going to write a letter to these teachers, say what I wanted to say but didn’t have time or the right moment, share the link to this post, invite them to leave a comment.

There is one crucial point I never managed to mention in our too short conversation, though, and I want to have it out here.

Hard work is important. Enjoying English is kind of key, though. I sometimes might forget to say it out loud to my students and just focus on hard work (which I do believe is what moves mountains and brings progress) but… You’ve got to love it. I might be naive but I strongly believe that loving what you do (in this case, learning English) is the right way to eventually becoming good at it.

Thank you, Josette and the 16 teachers of this KIETT course. I feel lucky to have shared time in class with you, and I’m still jealous. :)

 

*** Random but nonetheless very important facts related to this post ***

 

1. This post was typed using my right hand only. As have been and likely will be all of my posts.

2. This weekend I found out I’m not the only person in the world lacking the wonderful skill of typing using both hands. I’m glad Josette is that other person. If there are more of you, Right Hand Only type writers out there, please let us know in the comments below. Thank you.

3. This post is part 2 of the #livebloggingparty series. The glorious idea and plan I want to try and follow through is to meet a teacher-blogger offline, sit down in some place and blog together. Hitting “Publish” simultaneously is part of the deal. Part 1 of the series can be found here (blogging with @KateSpringcait). This post (part 2 of the series) was written sitting next to Josette on the couch in her home in Korean countryside, listening to the chirping of birds and looking at a praying mantis moving around on the window glass in what I take to be its Kung- fu fashion, scheming an attack. I am forever grateful to Josette for this chance. You can read her *excellent* post entitled Turning Points here.
Part 3 of the series might be coming very soon :)

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Final note, added here in order to be very honest with you readers: the post was finished in and published from A Twosome Place cafe area at Dongdaegu Station, Daegu, South Korea. Thanks for reading!

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Actual discussion with @MichaelChesnut2

This post is a largely spontaneous but very welcome follow-up to my observation notes I blogged a couple of days ago (Let’s discuss how to discuss this (c) in @MichaelChesnut’s class). As Mike and I were having our post-observation feedback session chat, more questions registered in my mind and I thought it’d be great to have the teachers whose classes I dissect actually have their say here, too. It’s only fair, and, more than that, gives another angle to look at the same experience. So here they are, a couple of questions from a curious “observer” and thoughts on that from Mike Chesnut.   

 

Q1: Do you think your students will remember you or the English/ the material they learnt with you?

I’m sure some will and some won’t. I think most students will remember some of the vocabulary I highlight and discuss in the articles we work on in class, at least for the quizzes. Whether they remember that language or actually further develop and expand the ways they speak over a longer amount of time I’m less sure about. I’m pretty sure most students will understand, after a semester in my class, the importance of using academic or business-like language in certain settings. I think they’ll be more conscious of how context can shape language use, and in some cases this might be a relatively new realization.

I’ve had some students who really improved their language skills over a year in my classes but it’s tough to say any of that had to do with my classes. Of course other students don’t seem to improve that much over the time they spend with me so there’s that.

“Remember” is a complicated word as well. I think some students may learn a lot during the semester but over the winter and summer breaks a lot can be lost, or students spend a semester or two focusing on another area of study and so when I see them again in different, more advanced class a lot of what we studied earlier needs to be reviewed.

Yea, “remember” and “learn” can be two complicated words or concepts in my opinion, even if in practice they are easily used and understood.

 

Q2: How often and actually how do you contact with other teachers in your department (especially Korean teachers)?

I have almost no contact with Korean teachers who teach English. Actually, that’s wrong. I have no contact with Korean teachers who teach English because there are none in my department and I have no contact with anyone outside of my department.

I’m in very regular contact with different Korean academics who teach interpretation and translation classes, language education classes (SLA or materials development classes for example), and applied linguistics classes, but we mostly talk about research or classroom activities that could be part of research.

I have done some work or co-teaching with Korean academics who teach interpretation and translation, coming into their classes to act as a naïve observer of their interpretation work. In some department meetings, we also talked about integrating language development classes with interpretation and translation classes so that the content would overlap, something like reading about global warming and then discussing that topic with me, and then going into an interpretation and translation class and translating documents related to global warming, but the logistics proved too complicated.

I don’t talk about my classes with the other foreign faculty in my department. It seems like every instructor just teaches their classes how they want, with the hope that by having a wide variety of approaches being used students will have many opportunities to learn in different ways. This is a pretty reasonable approach in my opinion.

 

Q3: How much of the same thing you feel you teach? How much of the same language do you feel you use when talking to students?

I think I use a lot of the same basic language during the most fundamental of my classroom routines: starting class, moving from one activity to another, ending class, and giving homework. However, I don’t recycle much content vocabulary or language more generally from class to class. This is probably something I should do but don’t right now. There are many things I should do but don’t for various reasons.

 

Q4: As the first class started and you introduced me and explained the reason I was in that class, you mentioned it was “for your professional development”. So what did it feel like and how useful (if at all) for “professional development” this experience was for you? 

It was interesting having you in my class. I initially thought I wouldn’t really care or even notice, although I also knew that in some ways I would, but several times I caught myself looking over to almost check with you to see if you were taking notes, nodding along, looking at me or the students. A few times I slowed my speech, focused more on certain students, or asked myself if I was missing anything or anyone more than I would in a regular class, and when you left early I did relax a bit!

I also thought that despite some of my academic interests, and the classes I took on how to teach, I wasn’t really using much of that “heavy teaching stuff” in this class. Instead, I was just going along with the general focus of the department which is having students read a lot outside of class and then “work on” language in class. There are various reasons for this, but again it’s not like I’ve really gone through and built these classes on solid principles, they just kind of came together over time. I also thought of this one academic I know who, while being a really interesting researcher in applied linguistics, said once he just didn’t find language teaching that interesting, so yes he teaches language classes, but generally he doesn’t think about them, talk about them, do research on them, or do much beyond just walking in and doing the class. I guess I thought about how close I was to someone like that…

I’m not sure how this experience is shaping my professional development. Perhaps I’ll just have to wait and see…

 

*****

Thanks again to Mike for taking the time and being honest about the feelings regarding the experience.

Thanks for reading, too! Stay tuned for more, I hope))

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Let’s discuss how to discuss this (c) in @MichaelChesnut2 class

So here I am was on the campus of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, finally taking this first step to start one of my self-imposed projects for my time in Asia. Weird as it may seem to some or many, I want to see English classrooms here and write about them. I’m ever so grateful to my friends and colleagues who agreed to welcome me in their class with no hesitation, or even invited me in by their own free will. This observation experience has nothing to do with research and I feel the need to emphasize this fact: I don’t pursue any aims other than to learn more about how other teachers hold their classes, enrich my own understanding of teaching, record my impressions in this blog, and in this way “train” myself to be more disciplined about writing. Purely selfish reasons, and here’s the exciting First Time.

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Hankuk University of Foreign Studies,  Seoul. Mike Chesnut’s discussion classes.

Before I even begin, I’d like to say a mammoth thanks to Mike for inviting me, being eager to talk it through, agreeing to expose his class like this, through my eyes in this open online space. It takes courage, trust, and certain character, to my mind. So, thanks =)

*****

As we enter the classroom, there are already quite a few students sitting in there, maybe around 10, scattered mostly in the back seats. I pay attention that upon entering the class there’s no real greeting, on either of the parts. This strikes me as somewhat unusual to what I’m used to – and I’m sorry that I’ll keep making references and comparisons with my class as it’s about the only teaching situation I’m an “expert” of. In my practice no matter who comes into a classroom, there’d always be a “hello” and a couple of social niceties, always. This maybe is the way we recognize our presence in the shared classroom space, whether the lesson has already started or not.

In any case, as soon as it’s 1 pm sharp – you can’t be mistaken, you know you’re in class. (Side note: the precision about times for class and breaks is one of the features of Mike’s teaching style I was impressed with.) I pay attention to this several times while observing: Mike is very confident, loud, clear and effective in getting his students’ attention. It’s never a compromise (like it so often is in my case), it’s the teacher’s decision and the class follows it.

I’m now thinking that what I saw, picked, jotted down and labelled as interesting in the lesson flow and proceedings, in the teacher’s ways and students’ behaviour – these could be habits acquired in this certain class, for this certain class. Originally, I had a plan to turn the sketchy and often disconnected notes I was making into a similar kind of a sketchy blog post. Now that the idea of habits has emerged, I’m going to shift the focus that way. Let’s see what happens, and I know you’re kind, forgiving readers = ) I would also like to invite Mike to argue if these points are actual habits and routines or something I totally made up to qualify as such for a smoother text structure here.

 

*possibly* Students’ Habit 1 – speaking English non-stop  

So this being a discussion class, there’s a discussion based on the reading they’ve done at home. The article examines a current problematic issue (Ebola). I realize my perception of this class is bound to be influenced by my own experience seeing students work – and, well, I’m impressed to say the least. The 20 students here in this room are actually discussing the article and following the given tasks – and speaking English all the way. This is impressive. I know now these students are English majors and nearing graduation, and still I’m in deep appreciation of their language command, willingless to communicate solely in a foreign language. Apparently, the majority of them have interesting backgrounds which would account for their competence, and to know more about those wold be exciting, too.

If you’ve read my posts before, you might know I get bored too fast and too easily, so I always need to change activity types, whether I’m learning or teaching. In this class, the discussion of the first 2 paragraphs of the article lasts for almost 25 mins,  and when I look at my watch and note this time, it is still going on actively. To me personally, this is spectacular and deserves praise. Throughout the whole 2 hours I notice only one pair of students who seem to be sort of left out of the conversation, uninterested or having trouble with language/ ideas, I can’t know the reason, but otherwise I don’t see anyone visibly lagging behind.

Anyway, most surprising to me was the total lack of Korean in class among students. Even when I heard they got sidetracked from the task in their conversation, they still continued the “social” chat in English. But was it really non-stop? In fact, as soon as Mike told them to make groups for brainstorming topics for their midterm exam, all students automatically switched into Korean. I walked around and peeked into their list of topics and notes – many of those were in Korean, too.

I stayed for half of Mike’s second class that afternoon, and that group were speaking tangibly less English among themselves and significantly more Korean, logically.

 

*possibly* Students’ Habit 2 – self-discipline

I don’t want to jump ahead and make conclusions about students I don’t know and connect it with their culture, but it could be seen quite distinctly that that particular group were very well aware of the class proceedings, of its requirements and routines. Getting them arrange themselves in groups, assigning the tasks was done in passing, very quickly and casually but nonetheless causing no fuss about it. Hence is my thinking that this is the typical organization of classtime – getting into small groups, comparing summaries of the article, working through the paragraphs in detail. Meanwhile, Mike moved around and helped the groups with more questions or comments related to the points students were talking about, or sometimes with any language issues that arose (like helping them to shape their English into academic discourse type by providing better, more suitable vocabulary).

Mike mentioned that groups of 2 students are best, of 3 – ok and of 4 – getting a bit too much. Among about 20 students present in that class only 6 students arranged their group work space in such a way so that they were facing each other, by moving their desks. I found this interesting. I’m not sure how/if this fact impacted the quality of their discussion, but in my personal opinion (1) groups of 3 are potentially more productive; (2) talking to people as you’re facing them and can use the space around you freely is more natural. When I go to a cafe to talk with a friend, 100% of time we’ll take seats opposite each other.

 

*possibly* Teacher’s Habit 1 – gesticulation  

Being a stiff and rigid Russian that I am, I pay more and more attention these days to how other teachers/ presenters use their body language and facial expressions to help drive their message home. Mike uses interesting gestures to make the point sink in. It gets especially clear when he’s trying to draw attention, for example to their upcoming (very easy!) vocabulary quiz. His gestures mimic and reinforce the intonation pattern of his speech, and it was really exciting to watch how his sentence stress pattern is reflected in gesticulation (especially the “hand hammering” type when the moment gets emotionally intense and important).

I’m making a note here for myself to keep it in mind for watching other teachers in their classes. When I get a chance to see a Russian teacher “in action”, that’d certainly be even more exciting to see if there’s any similarity re this aspect at all. I’d guess not, but that’s an assumption tied to a stereotype and/or based on my own experience.

 

*possibly* Teacher’s Habit 2 – instructing (quite a habit to have for a teacher, I know, sorry for the lame wording)

The reason this caught my eye is solely related to the way I teach my classes. What Mike is doing is mostly bringing students’ attention to language issues and inviting them to “look up, play with the words and phrases”, and then be ready to use those in their exam. With full realization that a discussion class is not exactly the same thing as a language class, I still wonder. I wonder what’s with the students who will keep making mistakes (say, using “even though” incorrectly) in their discussion groups. I wonder if a teacher in a discussion class would know OR needs to know, let alone do something about it. I’m again reminded of self-discipline and general tendency towards self-organization of studies here in this particular teaching situation.

At the same time, it’s my perception that the teacher does a lot of work for the students. Finding the language and putting it in the slides, coming up with discussion questions, then uploading all those into their e-class system – everything’s ready for students to use. We don’t know, or don’t care to know, what’s in their personal notes, unless they ask – and they so rarely did! In fact, the open class interaction took place about 3 times in 2 hours, within the space of 7-10 minutes. There was one language-related question to Mike from a girl (seeking clarity in the difference between “pandemic” and “endemic”), followed by a subsequent comment from another girl, and one more question from a boy looking for an antonym. That was pretty much it, no eliciting or checking back. All the speaking/ interaction the students did was in their groups, talking over the issues they were instructed to discuss in the slides.

When the time alloted for a task was over, Mike brought the class’ attention to himself with a loud clap – and he just started saying what he needed to say. It is/ was amazing for me, as I struggle with interrupting people a lot, in my class and in my life. So the teacher went through the questions himself, giving answers, supplying comments, all very quick and clear. He ran through the language he’d picked out from those paragraphs, giving his own examples of how to use this or that phrase. The language focus (?) never took more than 5 minutes, there was a lot of nodding from the students, but otherwise it’s always Mike talking and instructing…. As opposed to my class that I teach at university. Again, mine is surely different by definition, being more of a genuinely language class, but there’s massive “nursing” I’m doing all the time.

 

Overall impression about the class is this: brisk teaching manner, energetic, always to the point, very smooth and even in pace. There’s no wasting time. The teacher is clearly in control of time and tasks ahead. You might know that one of my regular curiosities and doubts is just how much of the teacher should there be in a lesson. Well, I had a feeling that there’s just the right amount of Mike in his class, even with his unusual (for me) interaction style. Somehow he divides the time into portions when he organically blends with the class, joining groups and their discussions, and then comes to the front and becomes the Instructor. The former portions are significantly prevailing time-wise!

 

***** Random notes *****

1) As I’m not using PowerPoints to teach my class (basically for the reason of having no technology to demonstrate it)), I pay attention to how it’s used. The task is typed on the slide, and I find it both useful (for the teacher and students – saving time, handy for reviewing the material) and also possibly stripping the class of teacher-student interaction. This feeling is haunting me through the whole of classtime – just how much do the Instructor and the Instructed actually get into contact? Another thing regarding PowerPoint is the way Mike types “Ask your instructor” in there – it’s not “me” or “Michael” or any other suitable but more personalized address.

2) One of the main objectives of this course seems to be teaching students the power of rhetorics and making them use the different principles of it in their own speech. Well, this time it is rhetoric for being persuasive by using the principle of narrative (provoking emotions with a personal story). Mike gives the class a task to come up with a “wow really?!”-worthy narrative in response to a comment that students’ life nowadays is exceptionally easy. I joined one group in this task, I can’t say we were particularly successful…but, as I’ve already mentioned above, there was no eliciting the actual “wow” stories. I wondered how students feel about it. Personally, I was very curious to hear some of their speeches))

3) No “Bless you!” for the person sneezing. This is the second time I’ve noticed it, the first being in one of the workshops at KOTESOL. Is it a thing to not say “Bless you”?

4) 9 people in that discussion class were wearing glasses (10 with Mike). I just thought I’d count something, as Scott Thornbury suggested during his presentation at KOTESOL (read a nice review of it here on David Harbinson’s blog or here on Tim Hampson’s blog that I’ve just found myself).

5) One student, quite casually (without even looking at me!), said “Добрый день” (dobry den’ – good afternoon in Russian) to me when passing by on the stairs. I am so obviously Russian-looking, and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies is indeed about languages.

6) “Mammoth” used above in this post is the language I decided to borrow from Mike’s class. I hope his students will also steal it and use in their exam. =)

 

***** Final comment *****

During our great time chatting after the classes Mike asked me what was one thing I would change in his class. I failed to give an articulate answer then and said I hadn’t been focused on looking out for such a thing during classtime – I was simply doing the noticing and trying to be descriptive of what I was seeing. But then later I thought of something. The classroom looked rather spacious to me, with desks and chairs light enough to be carried around and arranged in a different manner. I’m wondering now if making students stand up and move around as part of their discussion tasks could be seen fit. It might reflect my personal issue of having trouble sitting in the same position for a long time, no matter how interesting the conversation is… I would probably make them do part of task standing, or find another way to “fill” the unoccupied classroom space. In fairness, it’s my personal resolution for every single new term to encourage more moving around in class, for various reasons. And for the only reason of being too set and rigid in my teaching ways, I fail it every single new term.

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The very final comment

It’s my first experience dissecting anyone’s class. I almost feel guilty, and certainly uncomfortable. Please let me know which other ways I could approach my future observations, given that my ELT friends will still agree to let me in their class after reading this)))

Big thanks to Michael Chesnut for his trust and hospitality!

Thanks for reading, as ever, and please stay tuned for another post related to this day very soon. =)

 

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In Asia. Part I, Korean. Episode 1, Fragmentary.

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The small white window you're now looking at in that house is mine.
The bird's hole in the wall is right there next to it.

Here I am, sitting in my apartment in Seoul, quite unexpectedly with my pet bird flapping its wings feverishly IN the wall above my bed. It’s been a week already, and this is crazy, as in how crazy fast the time’s passing, how crazy cool my time here has been, how  comfortable and home I’m feeling here. But maybe I need to start from the start.

This October I’m staying in South Korea. Seoul for the most part, but also visiting friends and ELT people I know in other places around the country. Such is the plan and what will emerge of it we’ll have to see. I’m not promising regular blogging (as I’ll surely end up breaking the promise) but writing a lot during this month, in this or that form, is one of my major objectives/ cravings/ aspirations, etc. That said, I want to make it clear upcoming posts might turn out to be a weird mishmash: ELT, travelling, culture, questions, observations, pictures, people, classrooms and such. Markedly personal and at times somewhat professional. That’s my current feeling, and here’s the first entry from Korea.

 

***** written in Dubai (lol) *****

This should have been written earlier and for a different space but I think this way it is maybe even better.

It’s October 1st 0:15 Moscow time. I’m sitting perched up in a lame version of a lotus pose on a seat identical to thousands of similar seats located at the many gates of Dubai international airport. Like quite a few fellow passengers trapped in this airport for the night hours, I’ve taken my sneakers off. Like fewer of them, I’m looking around instead of dozing off.
I’m not much of a traveller in the sense the word carries for me. But from the number of times I’ve done flying around I’ve gathered that this layover time waiting for your connection in an airport of a totally random country you’ve not put on your travel list this time is just the time when I personally feel being part of this world (I know this is a lenthy sentence). Any airport in Moscow is owned by Russians and bears this unmistakable feel of everything Russian. European airports I’ve seen are all alike and are … Well, European. There’s no face that would distinguish such airport for me.
In any case and in odd wording, my idea is that connection time gives a chance to meet the variety of the globe population without necessarily going to all those parts represented. I’m not talking skin colours, languages and looks. I mean, not just them.

I was chatting with my mom in DME some 8 hours ago preparing to leave my home for 70 days. Several times she said something that I couldn’t help but breathe through with (!!) judgement and a bit of a suppressed scorn. Then I soon recovered my spirits because I can understand where she was coming from, what her reasoning had been influenced by. This whole touristy business interferes with opportunities to see a more genuine and real view of the world.
People do live in places other than where we do. They have meals in those places, go shopping, complain about work, chat about the same problems, have relationships, live.
It is not, or should not be, about “ours” as opposed to “theirs”.

(and then I dozed off…))))

 

*****

It is not, or should not be, about “ours” as opposed to “theirs”.

I thought about it again sitting in Mike Griffin’s workshop Cultural Explorations for Teachers: Beyond Confucianism and Excuses at KOTESOL last Friday. The audience in the room was comprised, as I later found out, 90% of Americans.  Participation was very active, and even frighteningly active to my taste, since my workshop came next and it was going to be so NOT about Koreans, or Americans, or Americans in Korea. I couldn’t help noticing the we and they slipping off the tongues, even if the context and implications meant no harm or gave out no opposition as an intended bad thing. Maybe that’s only human and natural to think in we vs they terms, especially when you’re an expat living and teaching in a foreign country. I have no such experience and I’m neither judging nor offering any form of analysis right now. Just an observation, which will be many on my blog from this post on.

There’s a lot and too much of we vs they talk back in Moscow.

 

I’m not sure if there’s anything to discuss here in this first entry from Korea. I feel like I haven’t even started telling you about this week of my life in Asia yet.

I’ll continue then, tomorrow. Ideally, some exciting ELT-related things are going to be blogged about here very soon, alongside with the maybe less exciting personal observations of the place I’ve planted myself in for 70 days, a move I have zero regrets about. =)

 

Thanks for reading.

Who does your language belong to?

Who does my language belong to?

I don’t mean faceless vocabulary that course books are filled with. Here I’m talking about my distress in attempts to claim my own English. That is, are there words that would define my Self in both speaking and writing, the words that would bring colours, wrap up my most mediocre sentences to look nice?..

This thought has long, really long been unsettling for me. I realize in any language I speak or would choose to learn to speak, I’ll be a borrower. I borrow some words for a post or two, and others I never return. At times the realization that this particular word or phrase initially belonged to *name* is almost literally painful.. and the word or phrase is oftentimes dismissed from my list of options to fill the blank.

Just to give you a real feel of what I’m talking about:
I’ll always know swell, lousy and phoney come from Holden Caulfield. Tenterhooks and bated breath from Laura Phelps. With a nonchalant air from a unit in my university course book, year three or something. Scavenge from Morcheeba. On the bandwagon from Kevin Stein. Hubris and listicle from Mike Griffin. Fluid and compassionate from Josette LeBlanc. Lukewarm from an episode of Modern Family. And so on and so forth… books, songs, people own these words in my imagination – because that’s where I first saw them, that’s how they finally got stored in my brain (hopefully, for good).

I may wish to type or say this or that word, because it truly and uniquely fits, but every time I feel like I’m stealing it right out of their mouths. They will know. Everybody will know. It’s just not safe vocabulary for a vain writer. Thesaurus is good at such moments, a true friend.

I’d so much like to cast off those thoughts bugging me but they’re rooted too deeply. I feel like cheating and I’m surely going to be caught red handed.

That is, suddenly, the end to my post. I would like to know if I’m weird and alone in feeling this, or if I’m weird and there’s more of us, pondering the imperfections of acquired language and acquiring language.

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Ironically (because this), I’ve bought a guide on creative writing today. I’ve read 7 pages of this book and written 5 pages of my own since then, at a frantic pace. I stopped to think about a certain word choice every now and then, but generally it was a true spasm for writing that I couldn’t hold back. Every line I read found a response in my mind, heart (or chest, to be more anatomically correct regarding the feeling), and pen in hand in the end. And I’ve thought of this commonplace idea that my writing (as well as my speaking?) might be authentically mine through means other than merely words I use.
*****

warning.
Soon this blog might become even less of an ELT-related space than it already is.
But then I never promised consistency.

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My teaching unprinciples

This post is being written in an unusual (for me) manner, place and situation, and to me this fact is at least just as interesting as the theme of my writing today. More about it at the bottom of the page, just a few paragraphs down. At the moment I’m curious myself about how it’ll go for me. If the end product (=the post) turns out to be of a disputable quality/ value, I’ll blame the change. Because the original idea in my draft, to my mind, was not that bad. :))

*****

In this emerging space of a personal blog it’s time for more personal truths to emerge. They might not be flattering, as personal truths are likely to be.

I have previously mentioned here that I oftentimes envy people who are strongly principled and follow clear directions in their life while making choices, important or less so. I’m probably not always one of them and now is the time to examine briefly and casually how principled a teacher I am.

Following my recent pet trend to look into dictionary definitions for words elemental to my post themes, here’s what Merriam-Webster tells us about a principle:
– a moral rule or belief that helps you know what is right and wrong and that influences your actions;
– a basic truth or theory: an idea that forms the basis of something;
– a law or fact of nature that explains how something works or why something happens.

Keeping those in mind, I want to lay bare some of my personal teacher truths, give comments and drag in the definition ideas where possible. This is going to be so random. Enjoy.

(1) Dialogue.
– Do you give your classes following the communicative approach?
– Mmm… Can you explain what exactly you mean or want me to say here?
– (what sounds and impresses like a word-for-word quote from the approach description)
– Well, there’s a lot of group and pair work in some of my classes, less of that in others. There’s interaction, focus on personal experiences, but, I mean, that’s maybe obvious…? I hope I mostly teach to communicate, yes. I don’t stick to the points of the method description.

It’s not a new talk for most all of you, I know. What’s my point? Maybe it is that feeling class, as in both whole teaching process and a particular lesson, makes more sense to me as a teacher who teaches to communicate than reading into the lines of methods and methodologies and being their slave. CLT is not the basic truth or theory behind my teaching, but neither is any other type of teaching on its own.

(2) I can’t stand being lectured. BUT I have been noticing myself sometimes turning on a lecturer mode while being too emotionally involved in something that I believe (at the moment of conversation) to be right. The realization of this contradiction to my own principled view, when spotted, is quite sickening. Lecturing on the brink of preaching (or is it the other way around?) is going a bit too far in my understanding of what an ordinary teacher should be expected doing in an English class.

(3) I say openly and loudly at presentations, webinars, blogs and meetings: Go for social networks with your students! Explore them, try out with your class, have fun or fail, reflect and try again – that would be pretty much the summary of my belief on the issue.
Just sneak a peek into the Students Connected FB group and judge, by its happenings, how much of that I’m doing myself these days.

Quite often I find myself unconsciously steering the conversation or course line in my class the way I would not normally do, discussing texts and topics I would naturally not want to include (for the reason that they’re trite, mostly).
Quite often I find myself wishing for the calm, regularity and boredom of a coursebook while claiming to be all too pro-coursebookless teaching style (I’m sure that is not a word).

Why did I call those points my “unprinciples”? Many a time I catch myself thinking, saying or doing something that I generally don’t believe to be 100% true or right. And maybe that is so because I don’t believe most things to be 100% true or right, most of the time. I doubt and then I doubt more, but this hesitation, aside from being refreshing, can also prove frustrating.
As anything is possible, I can expect any kind of a choice from myself in class and I’m not always too happy with those choices.

Maybe those uncomfortable un- and semi-principles could be called a compromise?…

Thanks for reading.

*****
image
@KateSpringcait, who can usually be found blogging here, today could also be found blogging when sitting next to me in a cafe in the centre of Moscow. This was her *excellent!* idea and I highly recommend it to others, too. It is fun, it’s the first time I’ve blogged outside of the comfort (and distractions!) of my home, and I want to do this again. In the end, writing alone is not really a principle I hold on to too passionately either.

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Impressions we/ you/ they make

I’ll do my best now to write a non-whiney blog post. Essentially, I’m NOT annoyed much by instances of the behaviour I’ll lay out in this post. I most often try to keep an objective distanced view, make notes, and subsequent *logical* conclusions. And these conclusions is exactly what matters and drove me to be writing this.

This post is also nothing spectacular or new. It’s about impressions we/ you/ they make when communicating with others online. I’ll mostly be referring to emails here.

 

I’m wondering just how much it is a “Russian thing” to seem (be?), sound, and come across as rude while emailing in English. I’m less and less sure that simply teaching the formal/ informal letter templates, useful phrases and email layouts ultimately helps actually writing better letters. By “better letters” I mean those which (a) carry a message across; (b) don’t hurt/ humuliate/ shock the person on the receiving side. 

So, a few instances that brought me to think that I should be teaching more than just typical expressions, structure and style of common letter types.

1)  The other day I heard amusing and slightly disturbing comments related to writing complaint letters. Namely, threats were considered a norm, in addition to quite typical clipped and sharp half-sentences. Yes, the problem is real and does not come from an exciting case-study scenario. Thus, I now realize, emotions are truly involved and making a difference to the process of writing the letter in question. Is this a common practice? How emotional do you get when/if you find yourself in a similar situation? Do you then follow the rules we teach? Just wondering.

 

2) A few months ago there was a vastly comical but also to a large extent pretty sad correspondence thread in my mailbox. Both sides of it are/were connected with English language teaching or at least with the English language (which is L2 for both sides, by the way). The correspondence was around a professional issue, which is exactly what made it look particularly tragic for me. I couldn’t help raising my eyebrows in bewilderment when I saw Dear Anna!!!!!! The last sentence in the letter invited me to be even more excited about the whole thing, as the amount of exclamation marks tripled, I think. Well, in fairness, the main chunk of that letter conveyed the message and was mainly to the point. I smiled and was reasonably excited.

 

3) The same professional issue had to face more online communication but with a different person. The striking, and frankly speaking, somewhat offending thing about this particular thread was the tone (demanding? aggressive? offhand?) and failure to meet the communication target in the first place. I didn’t lose much as a result of this and had to offer my own very polite but unambiguously (as for the reason for it) clipped response. It was very much about the impression my conversation partner made.

 

4) Finally, this point is also about impressions and conclusions. It is less ethical than previous three, though, as it features some copied and pasted lines of real communication which took place.

The story setting: I was looking for an apartment to rent. The country is NOT Russia (which makes me want to dwell more on the culture impact and how far it extends, and also to be more condescending towards us rude and direct Russians). Here are the extracts of three responses I received. My initial messages included general info about myself, my upcoming visit and some specific questions about the apartments.

Response #1

I uploaded other pictures that you can refer. <…> To make your reservation, you should click “Book it!” button. You can also visit here before you make a reservation completed. To do so, just email me.

(Note: I did ask about extra photos. I did mention, too, that I’m not in that country now or in the following several weeks.)

Response #2

My apt is open for you.

(Note: ok.)

Response #3

Hello Anna

Thanks for your message. 
Big welcome to …. (omitted for secrecy and suspence building purpose, to be revealed soon))

Of course, this studio is available for you.

Yes, I have met some nice guests here. Usually they were working in that table.

If you need more information or help, tell me :)

Best,

- … (name)

 

Task: out of these three, choose the person I responded to. 

 

So, to me it all boils down to the impression, even if that sounds harsh. I mean to say, those other apartments could be really great, and I understand that the contact people do not necessarily feel extremely comfortable talking in Engilsh. Also, I’m a language teacher and I’m really understanding. I seriously don’t mind any of those replies, I could deal with that outrageous (to me) correspondence with the Russian ELT people without venting too much.

What matters in the end is that I will rent that other flat.

 

*****

Tell me please if I’m being the worst of an English teacher with these observations jumping out at me as biting my eyes. Where do these issues come from? Should I feel bad about being picky?

Convince me, if you will, that a person, of whatever culture and background, will by all means continue writing grammatically, lexically, stylistically correct letters after you’ve taught them a lesson on it… Throw stones at me but I think it’s about how people think and what they accept as a norm in communicating in their mother tongue.

 

I hope I didn’t sound too arrogant or unprofessional. I’d like to talk more about this.

Thank you. 

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I don’t like this.

Impulsive, prompted by a picture of a fancy salad, post about non-ELT things.

When I was watching the recording of the iTDi Summer School MOOC session by Rose Bard a few days ago, I wrote on Facebook that it’s rich with ideas I relate to. After the session I found a note I’d only half-consciously made while following Rose. The note says:

Help them go beyond “I don’t like this”.

I turned the page of my planner over to this new week and let the note fade away from my memory, without giving it much further thought. Since I’m in this lazy-jelly-brain summer state.

写真 (1)

A few minutes ago (upd: a couple of hours – it takes time to write, even if impulsively) I was flipping casually through the pages of a mag. I saw this picture. I wasn’t hungry, and in fairness I’m no good or satisfactory cook, but I thought it looked fresh and easy. When my eyes glanced through ingredients and saw “300g of pears” there, only a millisecond passed before my mind registered a fleeting but confident “I don’t like pears” line.
I’m sorry for the lack of logic and presence of irrationality here, but this was when I frowned at myself and rushed to this screen to type an incoherent post about the dangers (?) of not liking stuff.

Where am I going with this?

“I don’t like this.”
It sounds like a strong statement of personal will, manifestation of solid knowledge of self, its needs and desires.
It also sounds to me now like a limit, a constraint one willingly prescribes for oneself, to live within and know little better.

And since it’s only human to like and dislike, I imagine I could, in a carefree summer fashion, connect this to teaching and learning.
I don’t like to teach kids. I don’t like to teach, or better say deal with, grammar. I don’t like role-plays. These are major and all have stories of reasons behind. However… What is it about me and liking here? Does liking have a place at all for a teacher, imagining herself to be a more or less professional? Feel free to let me know in a comment.

I don’t like it that I regularly struggle with writing.
I don’t like libraries.
I don’t like Quizlet. (it’s funny just how often this app name makes an appearance in my posts)))

It’s fascinating to me to analyse what lies behind those dislikes binding down our experiences. It’s no less fascinating to imagine now what can happen once I let go of my dislikes. It’s bound to be uncomfortable there out of the homelike confines. I might, in the end, harden in my view and confidently proceed with disliking.
Incidentally, I might just as well reconsider.

*****

I don’t like pears much. If I see them sold at the market I don’t have an impulse to buy a kilo, not even one pear (as opposed to cherries). If I happen to have pears on my dining table, I’ll most likely choose another fruit or nothing. If one feeds me pears I’ll eat and like them, though. I love lemonade made of pears. Pear cakes. The smell of pears. I’m not totally sure what’s behind my dislike. I don’t have a serious point worthy of hours of thinking over with this post. I don’t like cockroaches either, but I’m not inclined to try liking them, or making pets of them, not at this point of my life. Obviously, you can’t rejoice in all things in the world, and indeed why would you?

But seriously, next time I catch myself thinking “I don’t like this”, I’m going to take a step in just the opposite direction. Facing the antipathy, probing for stamina, going beyond my self-imposed prejudice.

The Help them go beyond “I don’t like this” sank deep into my mind and heart, and I want to explore it, for myself and maybe students, too.

*** Late Warning***
It should be obvious I’m musing while being well aware of how far from generalizations this whole line of reasoning is. Thank you.

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Apps. Illusions and facts.

I have just read this post and thought maybe I have more to say on the topic than a reasonably sized blog post comment would fit. It’s about apps, students, and teachers in between (or by the side).

Within 2 years I’ve come quite a way from being frantically and irritably enthusiastic about apps for learning English to being bearably enthusiastic and critical about their content, value and purpose. The history of my iTunes purchases would show you positively more than 50 various apps, either specifically designed and presented as tools for learning a foreign language or fit for that goal from my view (at the moment of purchase). It would be a strong and valid argument that my devices are a curious teacher’s devices, bound to be different from any curious student’s ones.

There are several statements, open for criticism of course, that I believe to be largely true.

1) Students need guidance in choosing apps. Producing a list of apps, whether long or short, is not guidance.
2) To think and hope that students will continually and persistently use apps you recommend, or apps they find on their own, would be an illusion.
3) Some apps will stick, most won’t. It’s highly individual. Most just won’t!
4) Recognize the difference between apps for use in class WITH a teacher and apps for use outside of class.

Random comments now.

On durability:
If you have ever played a game on your phone, you might have noticed that it gets boring pretty soon. Some games last longer in your phone than others but all of them without exception come to a dead end in terms of your interest in them. The same, in my experience, relates to apps for learning a language. Any apps which are not in your day-to-day use will likely have a short life span.

On the key factor:
The key factor being what it is that personally suits your style of… not really learning a language, but rather having a relationship with your phone. My example is this: I’m subscribed to quite a few podcasts. Some of them I rarely but do use in class. Others were added with a fair prospect of listening to in my spare time, or long commute hours. That was an illusion. Fact: there’s something in listening to podcasts as a type of activity that does not tick for me. However, I know people who are regular listeners and do that with pleasure, which I’m jealous of. I’m ready and willing to learn that skill… Some day. :)

On apps used with or without teacher:
There are apps intended to be used in an instruction-led mode, that is for classroom use, for homework, for a course of English. For me the best (or worst) example is Quizlet, which I still can’t imagine to be used by a student of mine, on their own, for the fun of adding own flashcards and playing vocabulary games there is questionable. It looks a nerdy pastime, really, and, as “Jenny” rightfully noted, phones are perceived as a nice way to relax after studying and working hard.

Not to appear overly grumpy, here’s a list of apps designed for autonomous language study but proved working/ popular among my friends and students:
Memrise (mentioned previously here – and, by the way, I gave up on it for now)
Duolingo (recommended by a few teacher and non-teacher friends)
Lingualeo (all-time favorite for Russian learners for several years! Lots of positive comments and nice feedback. Some of my colleagues at the university where I teach use it in class and for homework.)
Busuu (my personal favorite which does work for me, or rather would work if I were a disciplined learner)

Now this is where I see the dissonance that could be mended. The ubiquitous association is “books and notebooks = studying (and doing it hard); phone and apps = friends and fun”. Look at your phone, browse through what’s in it. My guess is your home screen would probably reflect your interests and lifestyle. This is exactly what I see as a chance for those apps to make way into your (= a language learner’s) mobile device. Apps which are not originally made for learning any language could become pleasant and discreet partners in your daily life. Those apps which do not thrust much of focused linguistic exposure on you, but provide you with the content you’re up for, in systematic view and following recognizable patterns. Fotopedia for photos and stories, Instagram for photos and communication with friends, TripAdvisor for travelling, Horoscopes for the lovers of horoscopes, Infographics for the lovers of figures and facts, Fitness for sports and training programmes, Games (first thing on my mind) for anyone – whatever comes along with the specific scope of interests of the cell phone owner looks potentially English-worthy to me. If you’d like to push students’ use of apps, be nagging and ask for feedback on it once in a while. I often chat with my students about it or just show interest in what’s in their phones.

*****
Being a teacher, I might not be a typical learner of a foreign language, but since most of my Japanese studies happen in the realm of mobile devices, here’s what I can share.
– My 日本語 folder is full with 12 apps, only three of which I regularly use.
– Phone itself is set in Japanese, so the majority of all other apps operate in Japanese, too. Which, frankly speaking, is oftentimes frustrating but also fun.
– Blog posts and articles I find online (on culture, language, grammar, whatever else Japanese) are saved in Pocket app. It’s helpful for me to get back to the same things again and again.
– There are a couple of great Japanese-speaking chat partners that agree to chat with me in Line. Stressful, enjoyable, Japanese-only chat time. I love it and hope it is useful, even if unsystematic (or thanks to it maybe?).
– One day I’ll write a separate post on this issue… For now I’ll just admit to reading a guide to Japanese grammar (!!! reading a grammar guide, seriously, me) AND finding it very useful. Yes, it is an app.
*****

My final lines, possibly summarizing all those bits and pieces of facts and thoughts about apps:
Mike asks why Korean students don’t use apps for learning English. I’m not saying it by way of giving an answer, but my belief is that the problem lies in the wording and expectation from this wording – “an app for learning English”. I might very well be wrong in my assumption that Korean/ Russian/ Italian/ Indonesian/ Finnish/ etc learners of English would have the same reasoning as Jenny. They could, though, start using apps for learning English as soon as these apps stop being handed over to them as apps for learning English. Or they could already be using their phones in the ways that they do and enriching their English, without giving it much of a serious thought. And this, to me, is also fine.

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The Life of Me, Teacher

This unembellished narration, telling briefly about almost 9 years of my life as a teacher, among other roles, was written for a reason. The reason is not to say yet more and more about myself – I’m certainly coping with the task to be running a self-centered blog very well. The reason behind writing this is the upcoming IATEFL webinar. On July 19th Barb Sakamoto will be talking about the Lives of English Language Teachers. This story is just one particular professional journey of several years up to now. It does not aim to impress, ask for a moral, or inspire. I’ll say more after the 3 paragraphs of the journey.

A beginning teacher (9 years ago?).
I didn’t enter a teacher training university to become a teacher. I wanted to study English and I wanted to work in a profession that would mean being around people, that was my reasoning. Like most of my university mates, I started tutoring kids when in my second year of studies. That was more of a game at first, having fun making own crosswords and cutting lots of flashcards (apparently, there’s an age when it is a fun game)). Then, as part of our study course, we had to teach for a month in a comprehensive school in the 4th year of studies. That experience involved intensive teaching, planning, observing, feedback receiving and handling extra-curricular activities. Somehow it happened that I, surprisingly for myself, fell for the excitement of working with the kids. A month after this mandatory teaching practice finished, I found myself a job as a part-time English teacher at a small private school. I felt the thrill, pride and importance of being a teacher. Well, to cut a long story short, 2 years after I quit, both happily and with a heavy heart of feeling frustrated about education system in my country that I’d experienced (more about why it so happened in my blog post here).

About halfway, and getting to the tipping point.
For a little over a year after I quit there was downtime and feeling down, too, for me. I toyed with an idea of trying myself in some other job, went to a couple of interviews, and that was enough to realize teaching felt as a best fit for me at that time. I started teaching in-company (both General and Business English), I got employed by a leading university in Russia. All in all, I found myself in a good place, where I finally felt interested and comfortable teaching. I’d describe the time as smooth and routinely exciting. The familiar routine was rocked incidentally by joining Twitter, learning there’s a whole global world of ELT (also learning about the acronym), and meeting Chuck Sandy online, all of that in the spring of 2011. Since that time my life as a teacher has changed in many ways, some of which can be traced online – on iTDi website, on Twitter and Facebook, on my blog.

Now, summer 2014.
I’m still working at the same university and I’m enjoying it. I’m still teaching English to adults, while also helping them to remember (or often to relearn) how to learn. I’ve found out there’s comfort zone and it feels challenging, necessary and rewarding for me to be stretching it by presenting at conferences, talking to other teachers, listening to them, thinking about my classes and writing about these.

I never wanted to be a teacher and I don’t presume I “was born to be one”. It’s my belief that a person can be anything he/ she wants as long as there’s realization about this, confidence, pain and effort, and acceptance of the way to be thorny, though sometimes rosy, too. That totally depends on your perspective. My way now is interesting and inviting, allowing me to have time and chance to think and improvise. Now I’d like to change my teaching context in a way more radical than instructing learners of another education stage (besides, I feel like “a veteran” who’s seen enough of it here – I get the idea of ELT in Russia). I wish to see how I would cope with teaching, students, and teaching students in Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, etc. At the same time, I wish for myself to be writing more and better, about things I know or spend so much of my time contemplating about. I imagine I could very well be anything other than a teacher, still, and maybe I will. A columnist, a psychologist, a gallerist, some other -ist. I wouldn’t mind being a teacher all the while, too. :)

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you there —> Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto – ‘The Lives of English Language Teachers’, July 19th.

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