Monthly Archives: December 2013

Developing kindness, possibly improving on reasoning

If there is any socially useless, purely hedonistic, speculative activity I like to engage myself in, that is amateur self-analysis. If there is any perfect place to shamelessly expose it on, that is this blog. See the header quote line on the top and the category this post fits in. Contemplations. Prepare to be confused as I am right now.

During one weird conversation on Facebook I challenged myself with finding reasons to criticize something. The moment this idea leapt into my mind it looked attractive and special. In ten minutes it lost its vibe and I lost my drive. In an hour I started feeling really bad about having this idea in the first place. I remembered my hard work in trying to exercise kindness and non-judgemental attitude and how repelling the all-set-and-ready-to-criticize me must look to the trying-to-be-better me. Then I thought that maybe there is no large gap or fundamental contradiction in being in two minds. And so I decided to explore the few depths and multiple shallows of my mind.

Here they are, four things I used to be categorical about and now think I am not *that much*. Four things I am not willing to criticize or expand on the goodness of. Just laying my two minds bare.

1) Conferences, ELT events, communities, services in my country.
I have some little experience of attending ELT events both abroad and home. At every conference I go to I take plenty of notes on different aspects, from quotes of speakers and *potentially* useful links and ideas shared during sessions to random thoughts and impressions (people, atmosphere, comparisons, insights, reminders, etc). Just the other day I read through ALL of the dozens of my notes on both devices I have used for that purpose. I haven’t found any evidence that Russian events are not worth visiting. As is my teacher habit, there are pluses and minuses. Personal! And there is more or less balance. Some place more, other place less, but still.
And the most important factor (alongside with a clear lack of experience) is my obvious incompetence in bearing judgements to this sort of thing.

2) Teachers not involved in PD in any format, teachers unwilling to go online for PD.
I have formed a sort of a word-of-mouth community of language teachers, as long as learners, around me. It means that I regularly search for a teacher for some learner, or the other way around, help some teacher find a learner to teach. So I’ve recently recommended one of my former university mates to one of my sister’s friends, to help her child cope with the school English. Today my sister called me and said her friend (a teacher herself) is speechless about this recommended teacher. He/she is impressive in all respects and came across as a true professional.
For all I know, this teacher is not on FB for PD. Neither is he/she on Twitter. I haven’t seen any PD-related status updates from him/her on the Russian social network we’re all using. I can’t be sure of anything that is going on offline in the life of this teacher, but in the end I just know that the students learn from a dedicated professional, and maybe that is what matters. Maybe not, I can’t be sure.

3) Research.
I have already tried to express my mixed feelings about research in an iTDi Blog Research Issue. I was almost categorical then, but not entirely. And now I’m about to embark on my own research. That is something I will surely be writing more about [in the coming years] and that is something I want to explore with more awareness, but for now I’ll just say that research has value which I am now starting to comprehend. To be continued.

4) Kind attitude.
This one is a really risky point to be saying it out loud to the whole world of 44 followers of my blog. So I’ll be brief like a coward. I used to think kindness is exaggerated. That must make me look very cynical in your eyes. Maybe I used lame excuses for myself, such as living in a country like this, being surrounded by a society like this, blah blah like this. This all now sounds to me lame indeed. It doesn’t seem phoney to me anymore that kindness comes from within of all of us, that empathy can/could relate to me, too. I do believe though that it is a quality of the soul that needs to be fed and exercised. In this year 2013 I’ve been trying as much as I’ve never done (or thought of doing) before.

On a practical note, it makes sense to me to talk about all of these as of shifting your perspective, testing and stretching your grounded beliefs, especially when you expect your students to do so. Like I do. In a class a week ago there was a discussion task I’m really keen on. I give my students a statement and then, working in two groups, they have to find arguments to either prove or disagree with a statement. I assign the FOR or AGAINST position myself and they have to work within it. So this one student at that lesson was clearly unable, unwilling and openly against the position he had found himself in. He never tried to open up to a new vision. He took a firm, argumented hold of his opinion which he cares about. What I need from my students in this task is to be able to switch over, look at something from an angle different from what they’re used to. And trying to find sound arguments to try a d support this alternative, often unusual position.

How unbending are you in your beliefs? Are they right? And what is a right belief. Being categorical means to me now possibly regretting it in the future, possibly looking silly, holding too tight to something that might have little value in changed circumstances.

I have a friend who has very strong principles and beliefs and is proud of this fact. There is no reasoning with him when some part of his principle does not work in a certain condition, in an individual case. Verdict: all wrong. No reconsideration. No review. I am again in two minds about it. On the one hand, I feel jealous as it shows a character. On the other hand, I feel lack of balance, lack of an escape, suffocating limits.

And I am not sure how to end this. I suppose it’s got quite bizarre by the finishing lines. There is apparently no conclusion to be made, to match the main idea.

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2 years of ethical hedonism of an #ELT blogger.

This is not a serious title, or it is only partly serious.

There’s still a little bit of December 13th left in some parts of the world (not here where I am, still in Moscow), so I propose a late night toast –  “To my blog!” (cultural note – Russian people are very fond of long, ornate toasts; but apparently my blog deserves only this three-word dedication at the moment), which is roughly two years old today.

Last year I had a present – this EXCEPTIONAL PRESENT FOR MY BLOG’S BIRTHDAY from Rose Bard, a teacher from Brazil, a friend and professional who has never failed to inspire me to be more thoughtful, dig deeper and find reasons.

This year I have a present again. It is a present wrapped into another present in fact.  Here it is.

#ELTworkplaces of @michaelegriffin. From Seoul with love, views, coffee and a cake.

Those of you who remember me in my good old Posterous days may recall a certain project I had going on – #ELTworkplaces. The idea behind it was unimaginative – sharing photos of the workplaces of English language teachers from around the world. Since I had to move the project to Tumblr, nothing has happened to it for about a year. But here it is, my blog birthday box of chocolates workplaces from Michael Griffin, a teacher based in South Korea, a friend, a certain club mate and in general a plentiful, ever-living source of optimism, inspiration for better writing and serious giggle. I am happy to share this present with you as I might not have done with chocolates. Using the opportunity, I’d like to thank Mike once again and invite teachers to take part in this unimportant but fun project. As I have learnt by two years of blogging that sharing makes a difference, even if it’s a very little one.

Getting back to the weird title of my post.

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines ethical hedonism as “the claim that all and only pleasure has positive importance and all and only pain or displeasure has negative importance… Ethical hedonism can be universalist, me-and-my-near-and-dear egocentric, or egoistically focused just on one’s own pleasure. It can also be a claim about value, morality, well-being, rationality, reasons or aesthetics. It can be a claim about grounds for action, belief, motivation or feeling; or a claim about ought, obligation, good and bad, or right and wrong.” 

It’s not the purpose of my post to go too philosophical about the school(s) of hedonism (which, to be quite honest, I wouldn’t be able to do too deep right now). So I think I’m just going to tear pieces of the main idea out of overall context of the term and apply it to my blog and myself as a blogger.

In these two years I have seen it as a condition to write a post when I feel like writing a post and enjoying it. Many times I started typing, read through my draft and got unexcited. “The desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain” has truly been my blogging motto. I also write when I have something to say and when this something seems to me valuable enough to be shared in public. You might argue (and I actually argue myself!) that writing, especially good writing, may/should come through a pain. I agree, and I have written a couple of painful posts and articles (that does not mean I consider them good writing). Life is a paradox. Pain is an enjoyable ingredient of writing process, too. A very weird, non-traditional way to be satisfied.

Also, hedonism seems to be much about the I. Here it’s easy to apply it to my blog – look at my posts if you wish, and you’ll see that every single one comes from an “I” viewpoint. It’s a lot of ego, it’s very subjective, it’s very personal. This I-issue has been on my mind for quite a while as I am not at all sure how much professional value my blog brings to the ELT community. And since I *selfishly* want to make a difference, I care about the value. I’ll be working on it in my future blogging years and I would appreciate every comment of constructive criticism.

This blog is about my changing beliefs, the actions I take in my class and beyond and try to give reason to.

I’ve been exercising my non-judgemental approach for a little over a year and I find it very hard to do so, but it’s my ultimate goal. Trying out a distanced but not indifferent attitude to good&bad, right&wrong is pain but eventually must be gain, too.

Having skimmed through my posts of these two years I”ve noticed one striking thing, which I believe is a sign of a positive tendency and certain influence. My exclamation marks have calmed down significantly =)) As well as the unruly smiles. I’m growing up/old? and reserved. My posts reflect my offline personality more now than they used to. I take pleasure in that in a true hedonistic nature.

Thanks for reading this nonsense till the end. Thanks for reading my posts, leaving comments, caring to have a discussion or just support. There are things I have forgotten to say, but I have more time ahead until WordPress blocks my site for incomprehensible message.

I’m still contemplating thinking about thinking (c).

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Sake, sushi and a kiss

The title of the post can make you think I will be writing about a recent visit to a Japanese restaurant. Or a poem. Or a movie script.
Well, I might. Bear with me and read on.

さけ
すし
ちゅ

A week ago I started to learn Japanese. There’s nothing to feel extremely proud of yet, I haven’t learnt even half of Hiragana syllabary. But I can read something, I can draw some symbols, and I remember these three words very well.
I learnt German at the university – and gave it up. I started to learn Italian, twice – and gave it up. It’s not much of statistics but could probably lead to a thought that I still have chances to fail. Indeed, perseverance without a distinct, articulate, Big Thing purpose is not my story. That is why I like to hope that this time I’ll do better, and not only because I’ve got the Purpose and I’ve exposed my baby-learner status. I am not alone, and I am aware.
More findings of this last week below:

(1) Having the Purpose is helpful but in the long run it can be a little intimidating. When I started to study German my aim sounded something like “I want to read Remarque in original”. This is a bit of a delusion for a beginner in any language. Aspiration, yes, but not too good a goal. At the moment my micro-goals in Japanese include having a decent 15-minute daily lesson and being focused on what I’m learning. That means sitting down at the desk and writing. During the day I try to liven up my long metro commute and study more with the help of two or three apps.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: little aim is a useful aim. Be realistic about what you can do, then do it and stay pleased with yourself, not frustrated at your inability to come up to your own expectations.

(2) During this week I have come to see very clearly one truth about learning a language that I have always known (and it’s nothing revolutionary, you all know it, it’s just nice to think of it from another angle). Language learning does not happen in a linear way. Getting pieces of a language system together comes as a gradual consequence of a chain of tiny discoveries of every single learning moment, of every given (and taken) learning opportunity. My examples:
– I downloaded several apps both for iPhone and iPad and try to use them occasionally, on both devices. One of the apps constitutes my basic “syllabus” of learning to write, pronounce and read hiragana syllables. A couple of others work on different levels (a basic grammar guide, busuu, dictionary, study cards from that hiragana app).
– There is a notebook to practise writing kana (symbols) and simple examples, all coming from the app.
– There is a notebook to record vocabulary I come across (which for now is all mostly passive). In the same notebook I started a Week Recap section, where I basically sum up all I’ve learnt about Japanese from different sources during the week of study.
– I printed out Hiragana syllabary and look at it. (Very useful, give it a try, looking at something)
– I created a photo album in my iPhone for all pics and screenshots connected with studying Japanese. Look at them)
– I downloaded an app which enables me to “sketch” on the phone. So I practise writing on my way. Then I may post a screenshot of some word I like in my Instagram account as my #wordoftheday. I am sure followers, especially the majority of my Russian friends, think I’m nuts.)
– I visited my sister at the weekend and stayed with my 7-year old niece. We practiced learning together. For example, I drew a symbol (like き) and pronounced it (ki), she had to write it in Russian. That was fun.
– There is this good friend (thank you!), who can sometimes be seen online wearing a hat, following newly-born movements (see P.S.) and writing excellent posts, who is not bothered (or is bothered but too kind to say so) to throw in some really tough but real life examples, that is words for me to read. Or I’d say lines of symbols to decipher. These are then supplied with comments of how/ why/ what for that happens in the language. This is all terribly exciting and challenging, too. (Tip for the students – have somebody teach you, who is not formally your teacher, and who will supply you with bits of information about the language in a (yes! Again) non-linear way.)

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: think 360 degrees, 24 hours and other dimensions. Use your imagination.

(3) First time in the two years of my geeky teacher life I’ve started to use Quizlet. I don’t know most vocabulary items I’ve put there. Words out of context and out of a bigger scheme of understanding of how the language works don’t sink in. Obviously except for those, which are either beautiful, or short, or are sake, sushi and kiss.

Moral I’m taking out of this for my students: before suggesting to your students some method or tool for learning a language, try it out for yourself. It’s interesting that last week I showed Quizlet to three of my students. One of them got off it immediately, the other two are still holding to it. The teenage girl went crazy about it, needed no explanation at all how to manage the sets, how to add words and study and play games. Fun!

Whether I fail or make a little progress is not a question. At the moment I perceive these studies as a process I enjoy. Every day I rush home imagining how I will take the pen and start writing these beautiful kana, line after line, like my niece is doing with the Russian letters and syllables. How I’ll combine them, try to give them their sound. Try again.
And there’s more to come.

Here’s a picture with the only aim to be shown as a thumbnail image of this post.

20131203-005435.jpg

P.S. The Glorious #FlashmobELT Movement.

P.P.S. Here are links to the three blogs of teachers/ teacher trainers learning a language, writing about their journeys. Their journeys have been much more exciting (and longer) than mine, they’re definitely worth a read.

Vicky Loras on opening her eyes and starting to study German.
Ken Wilson and his series “Diary of a language learner”
Scott Thornbury’s “(De-)Fossilization Diaries

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