Tag Archives: elt

#JALT2016. Notes on the highlights.

Sarah Mercer and Relational Pedagogy

  • Sarah Mercer feels passionate about the importance of the teacher. I feel passionate about it, too.  She also says our well-being comes first. I believe in this, too.
  • When we praise some students in front of the whole class, what are the implicit messages for all other students of that class?
  • Sarah shared the VIA classification of character strengths and I am most thankful to her for that. For one thing, I’m glad the classification, the list already exists. And then this:

Each one of us possess all 24 of the VIA character strengths in varying degrees making up our own unique profiles.

That means all of our students possess those strengths. That said, my most challenging class this semester, which also happens to be the main subject of my journaling, gets another angle to look at. What makes each of those 8 students special? How can I build up on their particular strengths? And then we could start feeling better about our time together in class, maybe.

  • Sarah shared some research which showed that teacher-student relationship is 11th out of 138 most influential factors for learning. Isn’t it quite important, then? Doesn’t it mean that we should invest in this relationship more – notice it, care about it, talk about it, work on it?…
  • Then there was this idea. Just as being around positive, happy people might make you feel happier and more positive, the opposite is also true. The vicious cycle of disengagement:

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And since WE are the adults in our relationships with students (well, when we are), it is up to US to take the effort to start the positive relationship. Ultimately, it is good for US as what we do, the way we do it, will travel that loop and come back amplified.

  • Offer choice no matter how limited.
  • What qualities are important for people in relationships? she asked us. The one that immediately came to my mind was reciprocity. Sarah’s list included that, and also appreciation, equality, empathy, mutual respect, trust, feeling comfortble together, and more… So logic suggests these same qualities should be nurtured between students and teachers, too, as ours is a social relationship just as important, as we’ve seen.

 

John Fanselow and iTDi

  • How many people you know and/or communicate with who are NOT teachers or former students? Talk to non-educators about what is important in their jobs and lives. Take in what they say and relate.
  • “I don’t consider what I do my work,” he said. I share the feeling.
  • Ask your students – What would be great to have in your class and in your classroom? What could make the class better? Quite possibly they have some ideas.
  • Ask them also  – What annoys you about this class? And makes it a pleasant experience?
  • Question everything – How is what you’re doing good? How is it not good? What are the alternative options? Along the same lines… I might think, “it’s a good idea!”… But what if it’s not?…
  • And finally, this: Textbooks leave out the one important skill, which is emotional development.

 

There was much more about JALT, and as usual the most important and memorable was about the people. About our emotional relationships. That’s what stays for me, conference after conference, and likely class after class for our learners, too.

 

Thinking of all the people this past weekend… we hugged, talked, laughed, took pictures, worked in pairs in workshops, shared meals and drinks, shared plans, presented together, tweeted together, learnt together, got tired, felt ignorant and/or knowledgeable together, played games like young learners do, helped each other out… Then we were sad to said goodbye. And now we’re here, at the end of this blogpost.

If you’ve never been to a conference, I hope you do go. I hope you’ll keep an open mind and welcome connections that will flow your way, and then I hope you’ll feel the way I do.

 

As ever, thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

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A very interesting post about blogs, bloggers and their blogging.

Now I’m feeling something. Something of a nerve to write a messy piece about many things at once.

 

Thing number one, about blogging habits.

In her recent post Zhenya Polosatova asked her readers the questions that brought about a storm of responses, both in the comments and as separate blog posts. It’s amazing just how easily *some* bloggers are drawn into analysing their blogging ways, how excited they get. Well to say “they” would be wrong since I’m normally the very first in that eager line. Here’s my short (see Thing number two) take on the topic.

Last year my blogging habits underwent quite an upheaval. I blogged in a cafe, on a beach, on the floor, in a train station, on a couch, on a bench in the park, on a tatami mat (at home at my desk being the habit). I blogged with people and alone (which is the habit). I blogged both in daytime and nighttime (the latter being the habit). I posted without liking my writing (… liking or disliking can’t be called “a habit” I reckon))). I blogged about teaching and about things far from it.

I really don’t know what else I can do. All in all, I’m more than pleased with how my blogging is developing and I feel desire and energy to proceed the way that will feel right. One new ritual I’m looking forward to establishing this year is going through my WP Reader once a week to balance my blog reading. Hope to see you there.

 

Thing number two, which tries to devalue part of Thing number one.

I can’t believe I’ve just written the above first thing! Because in fact it makes me sick to realize just how much I write about myself and my relationship with my writing. Seriously, look:

In this post I say I blog for my own pleasure but hope for shifts in the classroom. Then in no time I come up with a follow-up which is 800 more words about blogging and writing. Here I keep mentioning myself and my plans for writing in what some say are most powerful parts of a blog post – opening and closing paragraphs. If you need more proof of how obsessed I am with writing about (my) writing, don’t hesitate to look here, check this out and click this link.

First I wanted to make a difference. Then I turned into an ego-busting persona. Hedonism? I’m *possibly* done with it. At least with the part which whispers to me that it can be interesting to anyone to go on reading after my “I think that…” At the moment I think that I could think of writing something more exciting.

 

Thing number three, about us Russians.

I am, just like Vedrana Vojkovich here, continuously stunned as I check my blog stats and see that the overwhelming majority of my readers are from Russian Federation. Who are you?! I know a few and I am grateful to them for being ever supportive, plus last year several times my former students left a line or two and it felt great. Otherwise, I am unaware of names and faces of my ghost Russian readership. In any case, everybody is most welcome.

There is yet another, far more critical point to be covered in this part. Russian and Russian-speaking ELT bloggers. A little pre-story: a while ago, in my more energetic Twitter years, I created a public list EFLRussia which I updated with handles of Russian teachers of English who I happened to come across on Twitter (70 now). I haven’t done that for over a year and I’m sure there must be many new faces to be added (my confidence comes from seeing quite a lot of people tweeting at annual E-merging Forums). The situation with the blogs was different. I’m talking about blogs that Russian(-speaking) teachers of English would run in English, so they could be accessed by teachers from the world over. Fortunately, there are now interesting, thoughtful, different blogs that I irregularly follow and will now share the links to here:

iamlearningteaching by Ekaterina Makaryeva aka @springcait

The aforementioned Zhenya Polosatova aka @ZhenyaDnipro and her Wednesday Seminars

Elserga ELT by Elizabeth Bogdanova

ELT Diary by Alexandra Chistyakova aka @AlyaAlexandra

TeachingEnglishNotes by Svetlana Urisman

 

That’s about it. If you happen to know of any other blogs that fit the Russian category, please do share, even if that’ll shamelessly be your own)

One last bit, which is my sincere wish. I wish the following three people started to blog:

Fatima Baste, who has a blog in Russian and also writes about a million things in captions to her pictures on Instagram: languages, teaching, culture, trends, psychology, ideas. Thoroughly enjoyable, entertaining, and educational, so I’m quite certain Fatima should start a blog in English =)))

Masha Andrievich, whose Instagram gives a peek into fragments of her teaching at own school (right?) and her learning (DELTA?). I’d love to have a #livebloggingparty one day, when she starts her blog. =)

Ludmila Malakhova, who is a fantastic lady from Yekaterinburg that I had a real pleasure to meet twice at the Forum I mentioned earlier and who suppported me in a very indecisive time with just the right words.

 

Thing number four, untitled for lack of creativity.

In connection with the previous part, there’s a story back from March 2014. Ludmila reached me and asked to participate online in the teacher training she was doing on-site in Yekaterinburg. That was my first (and only) suchlike experience, and in Russian! For 15-20 minutes I talked to a group of teachers sitting several thousand km away from me, and I talked about Facebook and blogs for English teachers’ PD. It was, as you might understand, a brief and general introduction and of course I am not at all sure what impact it eventually had on the participants, practically, if any. However, it was remarkable to me that the teachers sounded mildly interested and asked me post-session questions, such as:

Which blogs do you follow?

How do you find these blogs in the first place?

There are so many, how do you keep up?

Which platform would you recommend to start own blog?

Should we blog in English or Russian?

All these questions. One might think it’s not a topic that could be conference session worthy: too simple, no activities-interactivities, limited feel of innovation. Yet I’m thinking of doing it. There are so many aspects of online ELT community that I’ve grown to take for granted that it’s easy to forget some of these things still may be new or interesting. Even if a plain session on ELT blogging the way I experience it will not lead to a massive influx of Russians into this particular blogosphere, I’ll personally have a fun time spreading the word about you and your blog… =) What do you think of this idea? It’s a shame the Forum AGAIN does not give a chance to talk/ learn about the things I’m interested in by adding Professional Development strand. (Can it possibly be Russian EFL teachers are NOT interested in PD and the Forum organisers go by some survey results?..)

 

Thing number five, Final Thing, or the Thing of Importance.

It’s been on my mind lately. Namely, from December 2nd.

What else can we, English teachers who are united by ELT blogging addiction, blog about?

I took immense pleasure in taking culture notes in my travels and then publishing this post, as well as other, exclusively personal posts that I had out during my time in Asia. I was thrilled to NOT have it in my mind to make any connections to teaching/ learning, because frankly, I don’t believe a teacher should always, at all times in all situations think about his/ her classes. And while I’m sure we/ you all have our interests that might or might not be reflected in the classes we/ you teach, I don’t really know much about them. I do imagine, though, that there are words to be put into long beautiful/ eloquent/ funny/ witty/ touching  etc sentences.

 

What would you blog about if not ELT? 

 

Thank you for reading and, of course, – happy blogging =)

 

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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. :))

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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.

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@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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Students *supposedly* Connected

Some day it just so happens that you suddenly promise to write a blog post to an audience of about 50+ people. Here it is.

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Preview.

There’s this Facebook group that I’m one of the admins of. It’s called Students Connected and here’s what the group description (which I wrote) says:

This group is designed to help learners of English aged 17-23 get in touch, practice and improve their English in the most natural way – by communicating with one another. It is a closed group which provides safety for all members because teachers invite their own students and we trust the teachers who belong to the group. All activity is on the wall and it’s a good idea to start with introducing yourself. Both teachers and students are welcome to initiate a discussion on whatever might seem interesting. Feel free to upload a photo, give a link to a video, ask a question, or tell a story. Thank you. Engage in discussions. Be friendly and polite.

That was the mission and key principles of the group when I, Michael Stout and Mari Yamauchi originally created it in September 2012. A brief pre-story will tell you that one of my students of that new term came up to me and asked if I knew any place where he could talk to people his age (university students) in English. I never had a positive image of numerous English Clubs we have in Moscow (with no real facts or evidence to support my opinion, so it is notoriously subjective), so I wouldn’t recommend that. Well, Michael and Mari were the first teachers to respond to my tweet that very same day and then in a couple of days the group was set to go, with quite a few Japanese and very few Russian university students on board. The word was spread and more teachers with their students were joining. And have been joining ever since. Factual information at the moment of writing this post states that there are currently 564 members from about 25 countries or so.

Now to the point of this blog post. I’ve long been interested in how social networks can be used in and out of class, for learning English (and really much more than just the language), and I believe there’s a variety of ways. It’s very typical of Russian schoolchildren and university students to create groups in our Russian equivalent of Facebook (VK) for their studies. I think that’s great use of a SN, and I’ve had a group/learning space for my course for more than 2 years now. With time I’ve figured out what I need it for, what I expect my students to do there, what the easiest way to manage it is for me.

Students Connected is different, though. Different and difficult. That’s what this post is about, and now it finally begins.

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My presentation at E-merging Forum 4 last Friday had a terrible title (“International student collaboration on Facebook: what it is and what it isn’t”) which I regretted immediately after I’d sent my submission form. Not only is it long, but also presumptuous and deluding. I have little idea what it is or isn’t. But I do have worries, concerns and struggles about how the group has been developing, why it has been developing in this particular way, what my role in this development is, how responsible I am for the messiness that occasionally happens there, and how I can help it develop in the way that I see the group functioning in the future. That’s what I spoke about, that’s what I’ll now write below.

Articulating some of my and my fellow group administrators’ worries&struggles, and very superficial analysis of their why’s.

Little to no activity from students. This is what has been noted by all admins with no exception. The majority of students couldn’t get past the “introduce yourself” phase. There are few/no comments to posts, few/no comments to comments, and even few/no likes. This tendency of no response has affected teachers as well in that they gradually become less enthusiastic and consistent in posting themselves.

WHY? So many reasons. Fear to make a mistake. Shyness. Low self-confidence. Lack of interest. Lack of motivation. No personal connections. No need to say more. No time. Being used to being “led” and instructed by a teacher. And I’m sure there must be others, too.

FB group wall activity flow. Posts that are up the wall are those most commented or liked. This is a feature of FB groups, there are no separate sections for discussions. It becomes messy and difficult to find something important from previous shares. Also there’s only one possible pinned post.

WHY? It’s a Facebook thing. It can’t be helped I think, or if it can please let me know how.

Keeping track of members. Teachers keep arriving at our space (and initially they were supposed to add their own students). But then, as I made a decision to make other teachers group admins too (to make it transparent for myself who is who), I lost understanding and now have little clue or following of the members inflow. Also as teachers stop teaching their groups they lose contact with students, and these are left “hanging” in our space.

WHY? This looks to be my oversight, or poor management strategy. Having multiple admins, aside from the advantages it has, also creates unnecessary misunderstanding that must be handled.

Teachers being overly encouraging. I believe it’s in the nature of being a teacher. We are too active from the best of our intentions and end up devouring the space we’ve created for students, both by posting and commenting. Sometimes (or very often, or too often) wall shares in the group can be seen with discussion threads of teachers only (I, for sure, have participated not once!).

WHY? Trying to be “present”. Being initiative and genuinely interested in communicating, thinking of it as a possible example for students to follow. The line is truly fine.

Questionable shares. I must warn and apologise in advance – this is my very subjective view. And subjectivity in perceiving what’s right and good for the group, and what’s not, is also an issue. My point, that I’m a bit uncomfortable to write about but will, is that I don’t want “impersonal” shares in this particular space we’re creating (like posters, wisdoms, links). I think there are enough places for that online, other groups and places. Every wall post, from my perspective, should be addressing the students in our group and should carry a message. Like in real communication, when one person turns to another to give information and ask for opinion, share news or some story.

WHY? People are different. And it’s true that rules regarding shares are very vague, or even non-existent, so this is a logical consequence of opting for creating this kind of “free space”.

Thinking of ways to overcome the worries&struggles.

First of all, I now understand that it’s most important to organize efficient communication between teachers in the group. Set the scene and ground rules. We should all have a clear understanding of how many teachers are there, who of them need to be admins, once we opt to go for multiple admins. We should talk things over and think them through together, maybe agree on taking over charge, sharing some responsibilities for the group activities. In order to do this it seems logical to me now to choose a suitable communication channel (mail, Google doc, group messages). Finding a way to talk to students also sounds a good idea, to analyze and see a bigger picture of what’s happening in the group, get their feedback, learn what’s possibly missing. Guidelines for both students AND teachers should be clear, transparent and always available in the group. My reminder to myself would be to also remember it’s not a self-governing space; any Facebook group is a community that needs management, and so I should know something about it. I should be ready to make uneasy decisions (like approaching people re their comments or shares, etc). Another thing I should be ready for is that it’s going to take time and effort, so once I step in I should keep going and doing it well (which I’m afraid I haven’t been).

While I find the above-mentioned crucial and really cornerstones, there are more of course:

Talking to our students in real life, revisiting the idea and gently nudging them to connect by giving reasons why it could be good for them (e.g. authentic use of language). Maybe in order to motivate them it’s worth using classtime to introduce the group or do some activity together, like we once did with my students recording a video with questions to the Japanese members.

Routine is as we know very helpful. Presented in a nice, enjoyable format it can really stimulate students to check the group once in a while. In Students Connected a teacher from Indonesia, one of the “leaders” of the group, Ika Chieka Wibowo has been doing an amazing job with her Saturday Splash activity: every Saturday she suggests a topic for discussion with 3-4 simple questions for us to express our opinion about.

There’s a typical feature of any FB group that it’s good to remember about – it’s the wave-like nature of their online activity. You must “feed” the group, but even then the silence period will happen. There’s no such thing as ever-lasting buzz here, I think.

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Finally, I want to make one more point. I like to view Students Connected group as a space for students to come to. It’s not a project, not a club. Students will come and *hopefully* go (please don’t forget to remind your students leave the group when they don’t need it anymore, and please do the same). The space should stay and be welcoming, not off-putting, to those who come for the first time eager to contribute, take part and learn from and about other cultures. To me, connected is something to always keep in mind and aim for.

A huge thanks to all the teachers and students involved in the group activities and making that space grow and be interesting. I hope I haven’t said anything too wrong or offensive. Let’s talk about how we can turn our group into a glorious space to be part of=)

P.S. There’s a younger sister group for high school students organized just very recently by Kevin Stein and already hosting 70 members. Good luck to them and us all.

 

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The #flashmobELT Movement

What makes an ELT movement launch?
Two teachers in different time zones and a Facebook chat.

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This was my random idea during our chat ten minutes before the lessons began this Thursday morning. It took Michael Griffin literally no time to pick up on this – and in a minute I had an activity description ready in hand. It went something like this (it’s an edited quote, not quite a quote then):

Students are in pairs. One student chooses 10 words from the text (the other person cannot look at this point) to NOT say and then reads the text aloud. The other student that is listening has to try to guess the word based on the context. The speaker has to give hints and examples, say the rest of the sentence, paraphrase. After the listener gets all the words students change roles and do the same thing again. They can choose whatever words they want – hard, easy, interesting, fun. They key is the thinking and talking about language.”

I had planned to work on a certain, very simple coursebook text with one of my lower level groups that day anyway and it was an attractive opportunity to try out something new. Due to my poor time management and the fun we were having discussing the videos my students had watched at home as part of their home task, we only got a chance to do this activity with me modelling it, that is being the reader and them being the listeners. It actually was very good! The students, who are normally incredibly energetic and difficult to manage, were all ears and very active in asking questions and trying to guess the words. After they put the 10 words down I asked them to reconstruct the chunks in which these words were used in the original text. And they nailed it! That was a really positive note to finish our class both for me and for the students. #mikemob was a smooth success!

In his message Mike also asked me to blog about it, which I’m doing now 🙂

And THAT was how the #flashmobELT movement was born.

So, what Mike and I suggest doing is this:

STEP 1. Once a day/ a week/ period of time you like one teacher shares a description of an activity to be done at a lesson. It’s probably convenient to keep all activities in one place and we suggest an easy way to do so – a Lino wall. This is the link for now. Don’t forget to share it then on Twitter, Facebook, blog or a personal mail to a teacher friend. Tag it #flashmobELT and if you wish create your own hashtag (e.g. #mikemob, #achanmob, etc) to make sure your activity is given enough credit while going incredibly viral.
STEP 2. Willing teachers try this activity in class.
STEP 3. Blogging teachers write a blog post about their experience.
STEP 4. Enthusiastic teachers catch the bug and keep the ball of the #flashmobELT Movement rolling.

The rules are subject to change as we still have not entirely agreed on whether there should be any rules except these or not. Watch the space 🙂

This is our thinking. We genuinely hope you support the movement by joining in!

The LINO WALL to post your activity is HERE.

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On constraints, or will you stop counting, please.

Second one in the series of Blogathon reposts, where I say an articulate NO to the tyranny of limits.
250 word count of the Blogathon order is strictly followed.

If you’re on Twitter you might have come across the following collocation: “the tyranny of 140 characters”. I have seen it used many times. I have been the victim of this tyranny not once. My claim of this post is that the tyranny of limits exists in English (as well as in other subjects) and it is manifested profoundly, especially in tests and their writing tasks.

“Answer the question. Write your answer in 100-120 words.”
“Comment on the statement. Write 200-250 words.”
“Express your opinion. Your essay should not exceed 180 words.”

Seriously? A word limit to my opinion? I remember at school I wrote compositions which were several pages long, and they still made the points clear, and I fulfilled the task.

I’ve seen students who don’t have much of an opinion. I’ve seen students who have a lot more to say that limits allow. In both cases, it’s a pressure. The word limit given to creative writing tasks is almost painful for me.

I understand the grounds for this tyranny. First of all, it’s easier to assess a piece of writing. Secondly, it brings order. At last, it forces the person to formulate thoughts clearly. I’m totally ok with these points. Yet…notice the connotations of these words – assess, order, force. Don’t feel too welcoming to me.

I’m law-abiding and obedient, so I will succumb and keep my posts here within the word limit. After all, this post is exactly 250 words and I made my point clear.

(Link to the original post: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/blogs/annloseva/third-post-constraints-i-stop-counting)

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