Monthly Archives: January 2014

16 question marks and a soundtrack.

I’ve read it somewhere that getting students to talk about their lives makes them more motivated in learning a language in general and quite excited about your class in particular. I’ve read it, somewhere, many times.

Disturbing moments, anyone? I raise my hand.

Set-up. Mood: feeling calm, confident, expectant.
I thought it’d be so cool to do this activity from Teaching Unplugged, “Up and Down”, in which you get your students to sketch a mood diagram to talk about how they felt during some period of time you choose to talk about (a weekend, a longer holiday). It’s speaking about my learner’s recent personal experience, it’s going to be practising adjectives and participles to describe events and feelings about them. I’ve done it before. Nice one.

Development. Mood: feeling suddenly less calm and more suspicious; the air is getting tense.
I’m so great, my choices are amazing today. I decide to record this activity to later on think about it and analyse. Press the button.
At that point I could have sensed something was going wrong when I glanced at the page and saw that sharp decline. This could have prompted me to stop this, or twist it, or be careful. But the ball had already been set rolling. In the flashback of the moment, now, I am sure I noticed the eyes becoming watery. I didn’t say a word but I could have (Did I have to? Did I need to? Would you?) Is it in fact a point to be concerned about that I could’ve prevented the bad feelings for the student? It was apparently something looking for a way out, for an excuse to stream out like that.

Peak point. Mood: feeling… uneasy? uncomfortable? damaged? psyched? I wouldn’t mind somebody teaching me some words to describe this state.
I hear myself asking “Are you scared?” And I’m pretty sure now I was asking myself. Hectic racking of the brain, but not for what’s in my activity sandbox… Do I have a box of ready-made emphatic solutions? Some plans maybe, worksheets, activities explaining step by step how to fix this. It’s an extreme emergent emotional reaction which I haven’t read in books how to deal with.
Apparently, it was an unhappy vacation.

From that point on something was happening but it’s all more or less a mess in my head now. In the end, the best of all choices I made at that lesson (probably) was choosing to read aloud. My luck to have one of Kevin Stein’s short stories with me, and the one that the student could relate to. Heart thumping subsides. It’s all fine in the end, it seems so, but I only know what I feel and that’s only 50%.

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Post-lesson notes made 10 minutes after the class in an unstoppable flush of extreme emergent emotional reaction of a sensitive teacher. Random, of course.

~ Sometimes at my weakest moments I just feel doing a safe coursebook would spare me (and students) the embarrassment and pain.
~ Is it indeed so very exciting to talk about personal experience?
~ How emphatic do you teacher need to be? Is there any assessment of this ability? Is there anything I can do to learn it? Do I need to learn it? I might not be so sensitive as to cry in front of other people myself, but I feel the pain of others acutely and I’m not at all sure I know how to manage these moments.
~ What did the student learn? It honestly doesn’t matter to me, since the thin fabric of the psyche of my lesson cracked in seams and caused trouble.
~ Now talk about students remembering the knowledge we teachers give, not the teachers themselves (or moments).

I’d like to make it clear that this one is the second post in my impulsive blog post series. It is not about how I handled this particular situation (and a couple of similar ones that I’ve had in my teacher life). It is a story of how we can unknowingly trigger a reaction we are not prepared for, and not necessarily know how to deal with. I think I *half* failed this time.

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The weirdest thing about all this is that I now have 45 minutes of this lesson recorded.

And here is the promised soundtrack.

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I hated that fellow (c) C.G. Jung

This is an impulsive blog post. The idea came about after (during, in fact) watching this interview which this article linked to.

Story #1

Carl Gustav Jung was going through training to be a doctor and was writing his thesis. Once a certain teacher was discussing the papers of his students and took the best first. Jung’s paper was the last on his table. That’s what the teacher said then (these are all quotes from the video, watch the first part of it):

“That would be by far the best paper, if it hadn’t been copied. You’re a thief!… and if I knew where you’ve stolen it I’d fling you out of school. You are a liar!”

Jung’s comment on this, many years later: “I hated that fellow.  And that was the only man that I could have killed, you know, if I had met him once in the dark corner…”

Story #2

My friend was studying at a university here in Moscow. Once a certain teacher was announcing the grades (supplying these with comments) for the papers the students had written and he/she took the best first. My friend’s paper was the last on his/her table. What the teacher said then could repeat the words of a certain teacher of 100 years before. It looked to be the best paper but it had “surely” been copied.

While in fact my friend was the only student in that group who had written it by himself.

Story #3

I was teaching a group of insurance specialists, all ladies 5-7 years older than me. Once the task was to write a review of some film we’d watched. One of the students, actually the brightest one in that class and the one who always liked to “test” me (I was 23 then), handed in a page with printed text which didn’t sound like her writing. I checked online and found the text of the review down the first link in Google. I pulled myself (and my courage, and my sense of fairness) together and scribbled a message for her on that page, something saying I knew she could do better than that. Next class she brought a good review she’d written herself, and I never felt any slightest hint of disrespect again.

I know my students copied and stole for their writing tasks. I always (??) know when that happens. In most cases I make a personal note on that paper. Sometimes I ask to speak about the topic. Sometimes I call the student out on the cheating. There have been moments I can’t be proud of, when I thought the student had copied but he/she hadn’t in fact. There have been worse cases I can’t bring myself to tell about here.

Here’s what this all leads to for me, in the end.

What’s happening in a classroom relies a lot on the choices I make as a teacher. The kind of choices is not limited to picking materials, methods, tasks, tools, management strategies, considering learner types, acting on emergent language and reflecting in/on action. These, and everything else that matters in a classroom (and we know by some blog titles there are the other things that matter), constitute the flesh and bone of a lesson. In a lame attempt to tie Jung in here, let’s say that there’s also psyche of a lesson. Maybe it is the choices we are making (as humans), which are not necessarily rational or right all the time. We are making impulsive choices (ok, maybe I am making impulsive choices, not you). Some of them are intuitive and correct, others can be..well, not disastrous but leaving me feeling awkward, even ashamed at times. 

For all we know there could have been lethal consequences to poor choices teachers made. This exaggeration doesn’t serve to prove anything.

I apologise to those who don’t find psychology enthralling or connected to this post. It’s night time writing again!

Let me know what you think, if there’s anything here to think about. Thanks!

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UPD, because there IS something here to think about. Thank you for this.

Plagiarists and cheats – a blog post by Graham Stanley

The Cheating Art – a blog post with a lesson plan, by David Petrie

Digital Plagiarism vs Digital Citizenship: a war of words – a 2013 IATEFL Hungary talk by Sophia Mavridi, shared by Bethany Cagnol in her post-like comment below

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7 thoughts on blogging

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Warning! Excessive tautology.

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I wrote a blog post for TeachingEnglish. I did my best trying to find arguements convincing enough to show that blogging helps me to be a better teacher. Well, there’s something else left to say. There’s a list of things left to say, random things I find important to say.

1) There are all types of ELT bloggers around, and once you immerse yourself in this ocean of blogs chances are you’ll find yourself drowning. There are blogs advocating one particular approach in language teaching. There are blogs of academics. There are blogs of questions. There are blogs of answers. There are blogs of projects. There are blogs of lesson plans. There are blogs of reflections. There are class blogs. There are edtech blogs. There are bloggers who write for themselves. There are bloggers who write for a community. I believe there are all other types of blogs as well. And every type matters.

It is easy to start by imitating, that’s how I started out. I suppose I’m still imitating, but I’m not worried about it anymore. It took time to decide what my kind of blogging is (sharing and/or getting a message across). These are not mutually exclusive, and I hope they do not necessarily cancel each other out on the pages of annloseva.wordpress.com.

2) I’ve only recently come to truly realize that having a reader is crucial, well at least for me. The perfect reader that you “speak” to and feel that they will understand (or kindly try to, or kindly pretend to try to), nod their head, or boldly tell the bitter truth. The perfect reader cares to express an opinion.

I’m trying to be the perfect reader to my students when they hand in their papers.

3) In one of the feedback sheets two months ago I read this: “Our teacher is broad-minded.” I smiled at the use of active vocabulary then. Now I wonder if my blogging, in all that it entails for me, has indeed helped develop some traits. The paradox I especially like is being both critical and accepting. 

4) Finding out a new blog, reading a new blog post I learn there is a lot to learn for me. I also learn to accept the fact of my ignorance being infinite (which seems to be quite a useful thought for a teacher to have). Most exciting is the variety of teachers’ minds and realities you get a peek into, and the fact that you can take something valuable away from their posts so generously shared with the purpose to be taken away.

5) A teacher who doesn’t blog is not a teacher worse than a teacher who blogs. I don’t know them, the teachers who don’t blog. I don’t hear their voices, I don’t know their beliefs, I don’t have a chance to talk to them. This is the difference.

6) There’s something I wouldn’t do in a class if I hadn’t been blogging. 4 years ago I wouldn’t have given a deeper thought on some topics/ issues that get raised at lessons. To be quite honest, I wouldn’t have done things in a class that could spawn discussions on such topics/ issues. Though, I am still very much unsure what I’d do if some teenage student shared a personal story connected with abortion, for instance.

7) I’m incessantly sharpening my awareness, that probably helps all of the above to happen.

Final lines – on writing.

The obvious automatically gets trite as soon as I see it typed here. So maybe that’s another thing that blogging helps me to do – grope for the value of my thoughts on ELT and around. Or just as likely I merely love writing, with all its pains, night-time miseries, doubts, digressions, distractions, pressures, red eyes and overheated laptops.

There are people in ELT whose writing I adore, admire, look up to and consider supreme. There have been essays written by my students at different times that I wished I could’ve written myself.

Really final lines now. Here’s what people who wrote said about writing (let’s hope we can trust brainyquote):

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. (Ernest Hemingway)

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. (Robert A. Heinlein)

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money. (Moliere)

And finally (for the third, seriously final time), Truman Capote about my blog: That isn’t writing at all, it’s typing.

Thank you for your attention. More (and better) posts on how blogging can help you to be a better teacher you can find down the links: by Graham StanleyVicky Loras, Dave Dodgson, Lizzie Pinard

P.S. Last term my students were made to write more than ever before. More about this in the future posts.

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“To Sasha from A.V. Start writing!”

This is another short ELT post of today, inspired by the original short post by Kevin Stein and his mention of Sandy Millin.

I read Sandy’s Writing journals with students in November 2013 and I liked it very much, like so many of the things she writes about. I also remembered that I attended the session where this idea came from together with Sandy:) And I had it [idea] in my notes all the time, so I was happy to be re-inspired for some action.

Unsurprisingly, my university students, Physics majors, are not at all all keen on writing, that’s why my choice was a teenage girl I teach. She’s dreaming of becoming a journalist, writes short stories and articles in Russian and her English is, well, unsure. In a certain way she reminds me of myself in my teen age.

And because it’s a short post, here’s the end of the story: I presented her a notebook for her birthday and wrote a message for her in it with some questions she’d naturally wish to reply to. So she did, and wrote 3 pages, and asked me questions. And so the story goes on… Mistakes? There were many. I decided not to correct them, yet. You may think/ say it’s my teacher responsibility and what kind of teaching that is.. But for now I’m watching the girl’s confidence appear and grow strong. I see her notes on my messages (translation of words she didn’t know), I see it takes her time to write, she has all the time she needs and then I read her “letter” and catch a phrase or grammar pattern I’d used in my previous message.

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That’s the story. I was thinking of us being connected teachers. Let’s remember to keep this type of connection alive, too.

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[I] Don’t resolve.

Just like Malu Sciamarelli this year I’m not writing resolutions.

I also feel significantly rebellious. Not much linguistically, but rather in regards to the perceptions about teaching I’m gathering from various sources online. Maybe this year I will have the will, spirit and intelligence potential to get a little closer to seeing the picture clearer, to having more understanding, to shaping understanding into thoughts which I’ll then learn, through practice that I’m planning, to put down as less confusing sentences. This is not a resolution as it is so tough to even promise it to myself.

I know I haven’t replied with due respect to all of the taggers for the 11 challenge. I mean to say I haven’t replied or reacted almost at all and only very few (=a couple of) people know why or have been informed that I care a lot about their tag. I use this chance to say so to all of the educators who thought of me in their hectic pre-NY time. Thank you, I appreciate the thought a lot and every tag I got gave me a reason to feel needed, if only for the challenge. As for the grounds of my denial, at the end of the year I had a sudden pang of self-reproach in egocentrism and this challenge did not look very helpful. However, RANDOM is one of my favorite English words, so if you read my posts which I might be writing this year with some new meaning for myself (explained a bit at the bottom of this post), you risk finding random facts about me. Let’s think of it as a really lame way to attract visitors, improve blog stats and also develop your readers’ observation skills. This is not a resolution because of the sheer meaning of “random”.

Unlike my ordinary self this year I cringed at the thought of and detested my routine of meticulously writing up a list (a format so much loved) of achievements of all kinds for the past year. Instead, I let the mind and pen loose which resulted in a one-page something. I didn’t press myself to structure that page and think thoroughly. I now can share with you a random achievement that has just sprung to my mind: I clarified some points regarding punctuation. However, I fear you may find examples of non-compliance to the rules in this very post and many others. It’s all the mind and pen on the loose. At this point I feel I can finally pull the post to the ELT side of it in an extremely random fashion and maybe question myself and you:

How important are the rules in the language we teach? This is actually a real question to you and I’d appreciate your ideas, which are surely better than mine.
I can say I will likely be very serious about spelling mistakes my students make. Pronunciation and twisting of basic grammar patterns make me almost shudder, too. I’m very demanding for ideas and their logics. I am not keen on excessive comma usage so typical of Russian students. And that’s may be it.
I think, I am sure, my being a “connected” teacher with quite a bit of various language exposure online has spoilt me. I’m more relaxed about certain things than I ever was, and that is especially obvious when I overhear some conversations in the staff room – and hold my tongue. I’m afraid this term in particular LAX has been the word to describe both language and discipline in my classes. This is not (though could be in fact) a resolution to do otherwise. But maybe something I would like to muse about: reasons, consequences, impact, for myself and my students.

And finally, there’s the idea which lands here from outer space of my mind.
What’s in a blog for a teacher? A million things depending on who the teacher is and what’s in their head. And possibly it is good if your view of what you need your blog for is strong and standing firm. And possibly it’s just about as good if your answer to the “why do I blog?” does not remain the same as you blog on. My current *momentary* view suggests this space is the space to talk for me. I’m sorry if it’s not always ELT-related (but you may also notice there is nothing in the title of the blog that hints at ELT). Now THIS is a resolution. This year, as I see it for myself now, my blog is to zoom in on some things and zoom out on others. I’ll bring in the focus or have it blurred. So maybe through the planned practice of conscientious reading, reflective thinking and steadfast writing I’ll be a bit more of the type of a teacher and a person I want to be.
You as my community are the source, nudge and support factor. So stay with me, please. Thank you.

Now this is almost over and for those who made it till the end there’s a prize. Last year I did resolve to read certain blogs – and without specifically remembering it I actually did just that (on almost, almost all of them)! A bit of an achievement, too.
Here’s the list of reading I’d include in 2014, in addition to those from 2013 which I am not going to desert.
Unwrapping the Education Box by Divya Madhavan
EFL Notes by Mura Nava
Authentic Teaching by Willy C. Cardoso
Livinglearning by Anne Hendler
AlienTeachers 2.0 by Alex Walsh
The Breathy Vowel by Alex Grevett
Lauraahaha by Laura Patsko
mikejharrison ESOL teacher by Mike Harrison
Anything from Chia Suan Chong that will maybe appear here or on the pages of ETprofessional.
And iTDi Blog quite obviously.

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