Tag Archives: writing

Articulated beliefs

“Methods are of little interest” 

L.G. Kelly

I entered my current job with what could be called an average (for an English teacher in Russia) academic background – 5 years at an English Philology department of a pedagogical university – and approximately ten years of teaching experience. In those years, I taught in a variety of classrooms, from General English courses in a small private comprehensive school to an ESP course for Physics majors at a renowned Russian university. Yet, in that range of contexts, over the years, I did not deliberately consider the principles of Communicative Language Teaching when planning my classes. What I did in the classroom was not determined by any particular methodologies but rather by course goals, suggested materials (in the more rigidly structured workplaces that I had to work), and, more recently and importantly, by my students’ needs.

Were I to discuss the “best” ways to teach, I would state without hesitation that these ways, if they even exist, are not wisdoms encapsulated in methods. In fact, methods are nothing without contexts and the teachers and students that constitute these individual contexts. In this way, I am ready to confess that my teaching has been, knowingly or unknowingly, method-free. My teaching beliefs do not originate in methods but rather have developed from my own experience learning foreign languages, from my teaching experience, from professional discussions with colleagues teaching English in various contexts in different countries, and from attending and presenting at ELT conferences.

Below I would like to introduce and comment in a little more detail on the teaching beliefs about learning languages that I value the most, hold true, and attempt to apply, in this or that form, in my lessons. 

  • Language learning should be centered in human nature. Language learning, above all, is a social activity. The people in a classroom are the most significant elements to the learning and teaching that takes place and their interaction determines the quality of classroom experiences. The emotional “bridge” of a connection between students and a teacher, the rapport that is gradually and mutually established, both students’ and teacher’s motivation and involvement in learning process and class activities – these are top priorities and necessary conditions underlying successful learning environments.
  • A language classroom should have plenty of room for flexibility and spontaneity. I see language as more than an entity encompassing combinations of vocabulary chunks and grammar structures, but rather as our interaction with the world in real time. Dogme as sort of a teaching philosophy, in which the central idea is teaching from students’ emergent needs and limiting the reliance on ready-made materials, has been one of the most beneficial influences on my teaching style for the past four years in all of my classrooms.  
  • Writing is a necessary, even crucial skill in language learning. Writing helps and reinforces speaking as it provides sufficient time and focus for organizing thoughts, structuring language both in form and content. Overall, consistent and varied writing experience improves language learning in aspects other than writing itself.
  • Language learning should be a conscious, reflective process and it is a teacher’s job to equip learners with tools for reflection, such as portfolios, learning logs of different types, a chance to co-construct a syllabus, etc. Students need to be aware of what they are doing for their learning in and out of the classroom and why, as well as consider the ways to improve their learning experience and results. Reflection in a systematic way may ensure progress and consistently high levels of motivation.

It might be argued that a few of the aforementioned beliefs could lead to somewhat unstructured classes in which it would be an additional challenge for both a teacher and students to chart progress. While this has sometimes been the case, I have always managed to find balance, remain on track, or adjust initial study plans. I consider myself fortunate to have taught in working environments that allowed me, to a large extent, to practice what I preach and experiment with new ideas. Consequently, my view of language learning as a social, emotionally engaging process that benefits from being, in a sense, unsystematic was confirmed time and again through positive feedback from my students.

During the FEELTA-AsiaTEFL conference held in Vladivostok in July 2016, in his presentation “What drives your classroom teaching?” Dr. Philip Chappell suggested a framework for interrogating teaching beliefs for all practicing teachers. His studies have shown that what teachers believe to be true about language learning and teaching and what teachers really do in class can either converge or diverge. For me in my current position, the dramatic change that this new teaching context brought about for my behavior in class makes more transparent than ever the converging and especially diverging nature of my current teaching practices and my own beliefs. For the sake of clarity, I will classify the beliefs I’ll be talking about into the following three types:

  • converging beliefs – previously held principles that match with my current teaching practice;
  • diverging beliefs – previously held principles that clash with my current teaching practice;
  • emerging beliefs – principles that arose from my current teaching practice.

Converging Beliefs

Language learning should be a conscious, reflective process. From the first lesson in my new job, I could see the significance and potential of using suggested self-assessment lists. The idea of allocating time during class for students to make a reflective pause, analyze their performance, and set their personal goals for the next stage in class (or future lessons) accordingly appealed to me. For every lesson in the term I was using my own variation of a self-check list with every group of students, redesigning it as needed, and developing it to suit my students’ needs as I saw them. New versions of self-check lists incorporated more than the original ticking of the boxes for the used target language: the reflection included gap-fills to assess their own strengths and weaknesses, questions to ask and answer in pairs, and questions to reflect on group discussion performance.

Although the implementation of this way of self-assessment has proven to be quite effective with the majority of students, in the future I would like to bring this reflection to a new level by experimenting with a more extended reflective dialogue. It might include open-ended questions for student-student discussion and/or micro-writing reflective activities for a teacher-student dialogue.

Diverging Beliefs

Language learning should be centered in human nature. In his book “50 Ways to Be a Better Teacher: Professional Development Techniques” Chris Mares suggests that “…we should not only be sensitive to each student in their individuality and entirety, but we should also treat the class as a community that requires nurturing. In this way, the teacher is an integral part of a shared experience, rather than simply a director of activities… Last semester, for what could be the first time in my teaching career I felt very strongly like a director of activities. This “director” leads students through the stages of any given lesson towards expected results step by step, task by task, without an odd minute to pause, breathe, acknowledge the people in the classroom, their moods, needs, real-life problems, and their possible impact on the performance. By the middle of the term I realized that I had failed to establish the quality of rapport that would be satisfactory and in accordance with the expectations that I have of myself as a teacher. A relationship between a class and a teacher takes time to develop (especially so here in Japan, to my observations), but with the rigid plan to stick to at all costs, the very notion and necessity of building a relationship slipped from the area of my priorities, which had quite a negative emotional influence on me. In the first half of the semester there was a significant shift of focus for me, both intentionally and unconsciously, from the people in the classroom to the plan to follow to the letter, from the learning that was taking place to the plan I was/am to follow to the letter. In the next semester I plan to pay more deliberate attention to the process of building and nurturing a community with every group of students that I teach. I will try to remember to communicate more openly and willingly. I will try to remember to acknowledge my students as individuals to empathize and connect with, not merely as recipients of instruction, no matter how student-centered it is.    

Emerging Beliefs

Consistency breeds success. The idea that for most teachers must come as a self-evident matter of course was quite a powerful realization for me: language learners benefit greatly from learning with consistency, learning within a clear system. I have mentioned before that one of the ways my personal teaching beliefs affected my teaching practice in the past was a rather fluid, unstructured, emergent nature of the courses I taught. Last semester, teaching in the *very structured* way I had not taught before, I could observe a tangible, huge improvement most students made in meeting the course goals, and I was convinced.   

While I still hold on to my firm belief that methods are secondary in the success on the path of learning a foreign language, the past four months of teaching gave me an important opportunity to reconsider my beliefs by “doing it another way.” It has certainly been a most eye-opening experience to teach against and in spite of ingrained beliefs. Such an experience, as I have learnt, can be liberating given the right attitude and perspective. Beliefs are not or do not have to be postulates rigidly regulating our teaching behavior and choices for the whole length of our careers. In fact, a lot more can be learnt from the exact opposite context of what we are accustomed to than from persisting in teaching the same way for years on end.

*****

Thank you for making your way through this article to the end. What you’ve read is about 73% (also slightly edited) of my self-reflection “paper” that I was preparing myself for writing in the previous blog post. It was not easy to identify those beliefs but I can recommend anyone to sit down and do so.

And I am thinking now… it is true that we as teachers should be open to change and learning what we can from it. But we should also stay true to who we are, no matter what conditions we find ourselves working in.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

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Drafted to be written

***** Abrupt beginning *****

Time dragged on … And then I had an idea. If I ever come to actually realize one of my deeply held aspirations to become a contributor to a magazine or a columnist, I need to learn to write on demand. So here’s an unnecessary test, consciously self-inflicted pressure: below are the original, unedited titles of my 44 (!) drafts currently saved on this blog, with a few words of an explanation of what I initially had in mind for this or that idea. As it goes for drafts for me personally, they largely hang out in the “Drafts” section. To change that, I appeal to you to choose one blog post idea that you might be interested in reading about and leave it in a comment below. In my turn, I will do my best to write up those posts, which otherwise might just stay neglected, and thus lost forever.
Game on.

1. going, going, gone – reactions of others to my decision to go to Japan and my own emotional storms regarding the same thing

2. in japan, notes – more random culture observations (part I to be found here)

3. Look at my food – lesson plan on Instagram

4. about Peter – what I have to/ want to say about my boss (brave post))

5. answering Sandy’s questions – responding to the questions Sandy Millin left for me in her comment to one of my recent posts

6. read an essay, give it a thought – there’s a quote copied and pasted from somewhere, which obviously sparked an idea in my mind back then but was never followed up on

7. 4 months in Japan. Classroom challenges. – a post based on my presentation at EFL Teachers’ Journeys conference in June 2015

8. things I learnt from my students today – a focused day reflection, an idea which might have been inspired by one of Anne Hendler’s posts

9. Why and how English teachers Instagram – just letting the word out

10. A post-training listicle, or … things I thought about – notes I took during my training days at school

11. TTT (and not what you think) – on my first experience team teaching

12. classes gone wrong – really terrible classes that I whined about on Facebook in May, I guess

13. A paragraph letter to my older teacher self – an inverted response to a popular blog challenge

14. message to students – about how I don’t want to play games in class

15. things my colleagues taught me this week – results of a conscious, focused reflection

16. things my students taught me this week – read above

17. Fanselow training notes – first training in my current job and my thoughts on it

18. 9 towns of Russia – a video my students took for me to share with Japanese students (shame on me for not sharing it months ago!!..)

19. on losing it – on losing confidence and motivation for teaching (after my Asian trip of 2014)

20. Let’s forget it is a lesson. – trying to formulate my belief for this type of class when students study/ learn but don’t feel they are being taught

21. teach travel write about it – my desire to continue travelling, teaching online, visiting classrooms, writing about it

22. Ridiculous vocabulary for EFL learners – examples of such vocabulary items I encountered in textbooks and materials (are now still sparse, collection in progress)

23. something else – about teachers writing something other than ELT-related things

24. 2 countries, 8 classrooms, 8+ teaching ideas – pretty much covered in this post for iTDi, but there could be more to say

25. intro into any post – a template! But it might have already been partially used))

26. challenges ahead analysed when over – challenges I had outlined for myself before going to Asia in the fall of 2014, analysed upon return

27. how Skype classes fail – based on experiences from that same Asia trip

28. learning from spam – classes we could teach using junk mail as material

29. communicative aptitude and emphatic listening – contemplating on my personality flaws in those areas

30. random thought post-holland trip – culture and laguage related notes I took on a trip to the Netherlands in the summer of 2014

31. teacher face – on how I sometimes struggle to maintain a “serious” teacher face and behavior

32. Japanese 9 months – should be born and breathing now – much outdated idea, but there is still a post I could write on my studies and progress in Japanese, or rather a devastating lack of such

33. Focus – rambles on how I sometimes find it hard to keep the focus on, and what it leads to

34. Google doc for building up syllabus – this is one area that can’t already fit into one post since it’s become a prevalent part of my teaching … anyway, this blog post was promised to be written for a joint project with a wonderful lady you all know but the promise came at a wrong time (for me) and was, to my big regret and shame, never fulfilled… With conference presentations on this topic approaching, it just makes sense to finally do it.

35. Camp memoirs – notes I made during the three days I spent in the forest near Ryazan, doing workshops for kids in UP!Camp (June 2014)

36. creativity – paragraphs that did not go into this post for iTDi

37. As teachers, we need/ should/ must… – supposedly my thoughts on these, but the draft is merely a blank page..)

38. superficial elt – another blank draft page! But sounds so promising

39. blog about reflection (possibly doing challenge) – I was honestly determined to participate fully in the reflective practice blogging challenge.

40. withdrawing self – learning to be less of an “I!” kind of blogger and teacher.. failing miserably!

41. annoying words in elt – buzz words that at some point started to seem almost empty to me

42. good school stories – trying to remember bright moments from my two years of working in a school in Moscow (to balance out the blue feelings brought about by this post)

43. making excuses for my expertise – musings on the way I seem to make excuses for expressing personal opinion in my posts, provoked by a discussion of my most recent post with my boss

44. excerpts from tips on writing – processing and summing up the multiple tips and advice from writers

***** Abrupt ending *****

Thanks for reading (and participating, if you choose to). AND for believing I will have enough will power to pursue this! If …

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It will get better, it always does.

***** Part 1. Frustration. *****

  1. Write.

  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.

  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.

 

This is the procedure I haven’t been through for quite some time, at least in a way I would find satisfying, for the writing I would consider coming from my heart. And I want to know why, because it is devastating to my soul and literally makes me feel sick. In these months, everytime I traced a thought worth being expanded in a post, I opened the blog and saved the notes, or more often the title, in a draft. I then stared at the blank screen of the new post, blankly. The right word would not be found. One word would not follow another. My mind would drift away, unwilling to witness the shrinking of self-esteem. For whatever excuses my mind would gratify me with, paragraphs would simply not form. This fact undoubtedly adds to my adjustment to living in Japan, and by “adds” I mean aggravates it. Writing in the staff room is not possible as I cannot hear my thoughts. Writing at home is not happening as I am exhausted of the heat and mental pressure of the day, so all I can force myself to do is mindless cooking, watching endless shows on ororo.tv, or colouring mandalas. Considering my *ridiculous* dream to one day wake up a regular contributor to a magazine, a columnist, and/ or eventually a writer, the situation I’ve landed in, well, in one word, sucks.

WRITE. The word keeps ringing in my head. It is unbearable as I know I will suffer through the process and with every minute I will spend racking my brains for words, I will hate myself more and more.

 

***** Part 2. Drowning. *****

The term is over, students are gone, school is empty, my day at work is anything I make of it. So I started reading, as I see it one of the major reasons why my wrtitng does not tick anymore. First, I got back to reading The Tale That Wags but I can only read at home in the comfort of my bed, which seems to be the most welcoming area in my apartment. At work I turned to reading the blog posts I missed, the iTDi Blog issues, and the brainpickings. A more thorough look through my Facebook feed led me to this page. Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s essays got me all warmed up inside once again, as I returned to imagining my own writing on the digital pages of The New Yorker some day. Laugh all you can and scoff at the daring, one can dream.

The most extraordinary, shocking thing happened- I realized my eyes slip line over line, not concentrating, drifting further and further away, hands clasping mobile phone suddenly and unnecessarily. What is happening??! Reading brings about just as much pain as writing. Trying to balance the unbalanced, reading to revive writing, I ended up drowning.

 

***** Part 3. Questionable wisdoms. *****

Desperate in my search for reasons I fall through with my attempts to write successfully in Japan, one click after another and I found myself on this page, where Stephen King details everything one needs to know to write successfully. So here’s what disturbed me:

 

4. Remove every extraneous word

You want to get up on a soapbox and preach? Fine. Get one and try your local park. You want to write for money? Get to the point. And if you remove all the excess garbage and discover you can’t find the point, tear up what you wrote and start all over again . . . or try something new.

5. Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft

You want to write a story? Fine. Put away your dictionary, your encyclopedias, your World Almanac, and your thesaurus. Better yet, throw your thesaurus into the wastebasket. The only things creepier than a thesaurus are those little paperbacks college students too lazy to read the assigned novels buy around exam time. Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule. You think you might have misspelled a word? O.K., so here is your choice: either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain – or just spell it phonetically and correct it later. Why not? Did you think it was going to go somewhere? And if you need to know the largest city in Brazil and you find you don’t have it in your head, why not write in Miami, or Cleveland? You can check it … but later. When you sit down to write, write. Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.

 

The questions I asked myself and found my answers unsettling:

Would my writing have a point after the excess garbage is removed?

Would I “impress” anyone (most importantly myself) should I choose to not look for better, more suitable words in thesaurus?

Will I ever be content with my vocabulary?

What’s my problem with sitting down to write and just writing?

Why is it that my brain hates me so these days?

 

***** Concluding complaints thoughts. *****

I feel hurt by my own self. Not same as guilty, but causing myself true pain – all because I can’t seem to do what my whole being craves. I struggle to transform my daily classroom and life experiences into letters and words on page.

I feel jealous of people blogging incessantly. I feel down I cannot find the right words.

I keep losing faith in myself.

I am not publishing this post to attract attention or fish for head-patting. I am not finding more excuses, rather spilling the heart and pain in it (which is real and tangible) on the page, in no hopes it cures or magically causes catharsis.

It is so different now, and while I’ve certainly settled down in my routine both at home and at work, this one aspect is my daily torture. I do not clear the bar I set myself.

 

Yeah, it will get better.

 

Thanks for reading.

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A bizarre case against nice colleagues

I was wandering around a park in Tokyo today and my mind was filled with … nothing. It was, in fact, not a bad feeling since I could enjoy the moment, uninterrupted. This is what I’ve been facing lately, still much to my regret and frustration – absolute lack of a connected stream of thoughts in my brain, a trace of something that could lead me to writing. I’ve written two blog posts since I got to Japan, which is more than 2 months already. As it goes, I’ve given myself excuses:

(1) This new life is exhausting to both my body and brain. I simply cannot muster up enough energy for writing, much as I want to.

(2) Speaking English all day long, as well as actually being social all day long, is way beyond my endurance. I want to seal my mouth (figuratively) as I step out of school.

(3) I’m getting less and less confident of my English speaking, let alone writing ability. I don’t read much, which also has a negative effect. I’ve often felt down for those reasons.

(4) With this new lifestyle I can’t afford nighttime writing anymore. Since that type of writing has been found most fruitful and fulfilling for me, the shift of regime for writing, a new habit has not yet developed (to be honest, I don’t even know where to start building it).

Today I’ve been hit by Excuse number 5. It can be an interesting and unusual answer to my pains and struggles, an unfair treatment, or  just a nonsensical supposition that tomorrow will look bizarre. In any case, I’m going to blame my colleagues.

Did you just sniff? Raise your eyebrows? Did you jump straight ahead into judging me? That’s understandable. Yet there is some truth to what I just typed.

 

As I’ve written before, I consider this new job to be the first real experience of working in a team, shoulder to shoulder with colleagues. I used to teach a class and commute to another one, replaying scenes from the lesson in my mind, typing out my thoughts on the phone, talking to and questioning myself. I had long stopped labelling myself as a “lonely teacher” since I have this astounding and precious online community on Facebook, Twitter and blogs. It’s more support and wisdom than any staff room could offer. Actually sometimes more than I can handle without being overwhelmed, but that’s the beauty of the online staff room – it hurts no one if you shut it down (since it is literally just the browser closed). Anyway, here, this blog used to be the place to talk teaching and life for me.

Now what? I teach a class, go down the stairs, flop into my chair and … talk about this class. Out loud, to my colleagues, who listen and empathize, nod and join me in breaking the lesson down to little pieces. I vent, speculate, describe, reflect, and think of alternatives for my next class. I share funny moments and uncomfortable moments. I think out loud and learn to listen. And in the evening, as I walk home, all that fills my mind is … nothing. All that is left on my blog is the titles of drafts, those clever paragraphs I could have written.

About classes which went wrong and made the teacher shrink inside.

A letter to this teacher’s older teacher self.

A message to students about the things the teacher will not promise to do.

About n things that the colleagues (who we are still blaming)) taught me this week.

About n things that the students taught me this week.

About a training day with John Fanselow.

About 9 towns of Russia.

About my decision to go to teach in Japan and people’s reactions to it.

 

 

 

Of course, I don’t seriously blame anyone. I do feel bitter about missing the mark.

If you can, give me 5 counter-excuses, powerful enough to send me to face the keyboard…

 

Thank you for reading.

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Paragraph 2. A year on, still writing.

This paragraph blogging style is liberating and infectuous. It’s just my hunch that it might help me turn my many drafts into actual paragraphs some day. For now, here’s this sequel to the post from a year ago. I recommend you read it first, it’s short, light and will entertain you with three images.

 

 

 

*****

In this year that has passed by only too fast, we’ve talked about any number of topics a teenager could be interested in and could have something to say about. If you’re interested in particulars, we’ve talked about our families and relationships within these families; about our personal dreams and why they were these particular dreams; about my work and her school life; about friends; about how I became a teacher. We’ve talked about movies, literature, traveling, reading, writing, music, talents, and goals. I have been trying my best to keep the flames of the conversation burning, always noting something she could pick upon and develop. I asked questions not because I was a teacher who wanted to see her use of Complex Object or target language. I opened up myself and welcomed her to do the same, as much as she’d feel comfortable to. Emotions filled the pages, displaying sincerety, pointed out by exclamation marks. ……… “I shall never cease to marvel…” As my eyes stared at this turn of a sentence she used in one of her recent letters for a good couple of minutes , something clicked. Last week I asked the girl in my regular letter in the journal to sift through all of her *12* letters to me and notice any kind of progress. That’s what I got to read in response (note: this is an unedited, genuine piece of teenage writing): “I think my writing has improved a little bit. … Because earlier I always sat with an interpreter and tried to translate your letter and then sat and looked for many words to write a response to you. Now it became much easier. I translate from your letters up to 5-7 words and when I wrote too I looked in the dictionary very little.”

FullSizeRender (2)

She sometimes excuses herself for writing too little, a mere page. Just keep writing, I say. Some people blog no more than a mere paragraph and are not in the least ashamed of it.

 

Thanks 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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More about 30 questions

So I blog sporadically here and there (and there) but this particular emerging space is my comfort hub. There’s no, or little if ever, sense of a critical eye frowning over what I post on these pages, which fact makes me feel free to blabber my way from month to month, all through the year into the next. Namely, into Orthodox Christmas day 2015, right into this post about how I asked myself and my students 30 questions.

 

***** Taking personal (and a personal journal) into class *****

 

As much as I’d like to fantasize about myself being special, I really am no different. Every end of the year I look both back and ahead to come up with reflections and resolutions that are then shaped into something on paper. These have been lists, mindmaps, structured passages, incoherent passages, questions and answers. Well, frankly speaking, this is the first time the year analysis came round as answers to 30 questions. You can find the questions themselves in this post I just wrote for TeachingEnglish Blog, and to make your life even simpler here’s an extract from that post to shed some light:

 

In the end of December I decided to do a certain exercise that I’d found on the Psychologies mag webpage (here’s the link, but I feel the need to warn you that the page is in Russian). The idea of this exercise is to help you shape your reflections of the year by asking yourself 30 questions. These questions were picked by the author of the article from the book “My 5 years. 365 questions, 1825 answers.”

 

Unimportant note with a possibly more useful link: after 2 minutes of googling and finding this page for the English (original?) version of the diary book, I realized I’d seen it before. Josette LeBlanc would know where =)

 

As I was thinking, smoothly and effortlessly retrieving the highlights of my year, and methodically writing my way through the questions, I saw this as a perfect task for my class. The following day the following class happened:

* Students (2 girls in their twenties) and I worked together on translating the 30 questions from Russian into English. The task was good for their level, but more importantly, it was a useful time to collect their thoughts for the future answers.

* The task assigned was to pick any 3 questions to talk about; any other 2 questions to write about; 1 more question to ask their partner and ensure some dialogue happens. As I’d brought my journal into class, they could see I’d already answered a few questions myself and kept writing as they were writing. Initially, I had not planned to actually share my answers or participate in the 3-2-1 task but I had no problem doing so when they invited me to.

 

Then we ate gingerbread cookies that I’d cooked and brought, drank cherry tea and were off for holidays, more deserved for the students than for this idle travelling teacher this term. The class was as pleasant and smooth as I’d seen it to be, but the most exciting thing was to find the impact of it in my Instagram feed right on New Year’s Eve. One of these students tagged me in a long post she’d written there (in Russian)), which summed up her reflections of this, important for her, year. It was the first long Instagram caption (post, I insist!) for her, and of this sort, and she mentioned that our class had inspired this. It was undoubtedly the best present and, in plain honest words, – just made me feel happy and even somewhat special for a fleeting second.

 

That’s all that happened. It took me 2 more days to finish my 30 questions which, in fact, did not cover most significant points and shifts in my own year 2014. It was a truly special year and parts of it I have been sharing in this space throughout the year. I will continue to do so with no promise of my posts to be solely about teaching. In the meantime and to finish the first post 2015, here are three of my *23* resolutions for this new promising year, accompanied by 1 image:

1. I will try to write one blog post or an article once a week (“What a lame resolution it is”, I thought to myself as I found this new blog project by David Harbinson!).

2. I will try to look for a chance to write freelance for some online magazine. NON-ELT. Challenge of all types – to create more opportunities for writing with deadlines; to see what I can write about if not about English language teaching. It’s a resolution with roots all the way back to my teenage years, you gotta start some time.

3. I will be this (see the picture). In my class and out of it.

FullSizeRender (1)

My current personal journal, thanks to Cecilia Lemos, still true 3 years after.

Thanks for reading.

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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.

*****
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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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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On Capote and motivation in broken logic.

I’m learning lessons from every situation that gives me a tiny chance at learning something, that is everything that happens with me, everything I do, every consequence and reaction that follows. This post is a perverse version of the original impulsive blog post I drafted a couple of weeks ago, during and right after I watched the movie “Capote”. All this time has allowed impulsiveness to subside. I will now try to work on the draft, in cold blood. I know it will be a bizarre piece of writing, but I can’t keep thinking about having this in my drafts as a very heavy burden anymore, so let me have it out.

*****

As I allowed myself to blog the way I want or see fit for the moment, I’m writing an impulsive post again after I watched “Capote”. In an odd way that is so typical of me, I both enjoyed and suffered watching it. This is exactly the kind of film (not only a film, but a story too) that makes me tick and also gets me have a lump in my throat. This time it was powerful on several levels.

Aside from the non-fictional In Cold Blood story itself (which is one of the books that affected me greatly, as TC character said it would), my mind couldn’t but keep being focused on the writer. That is, on the image of a writer that Philip Seymore Hoffman was picturing for me and which I was closely watching, noticing, paying attention to, getting emotional about.

I see the writer’s pains and torture that lead him to create something extraordinary.
I see how different a writer at a social gathering is from the same man working at his desk.
I see a writer as a sly and tactical man who knows he needs to manipulate people and their emotions for the sake of his art.
I see the way experience has to be lived and suffered through to become real.

For me all these random observations in the flow of the story line, which is a real story line of one particular writer, open up a thinking direction. How knowing or trying to grasp the author’s individuality, intentions, reasons, idiosyncrasies can help me review and re-visualize the image of his writing I have. That idea, I very well understand, must make little sense, for which I apologize and move on to another part of these musings.

*****

I realize it can be seen as absurd to bring together TC writing and students essays or whatever other writing you get them to do.
But maybe – just maybe – … I want to think ELT and just see what happens.

To track my line of thinking this should be helpful:
It wasn’t a plan (it never is) to get myself to write something after I watch the film. On some other day, I might not even finish watching it. But now that it is happening, I’m looking inwards and question myself: how did you get motivated to make these notes in order to later put them together in some more readable form? Zooming this inward look out, the next question is this: how do you motivate anybody to have ideas? Bringing the focus onto my class: how do you find a way to impress each and every student in such a way that they are truly motivated to do stuff?
You can’t know what would make them tick. Even if you think you do (O. likes football and P. is keen on arts and music), you have no idea, in fact.

***** broken logic line *****

Think writing again – just how utterly frustrating it feels to have limited vocabulary. I am fed up with the words I keep using again and again. That just makes me think of students, any level really, who have an idea they want to express immediately – and feel for words as if they’re drowning, and while doing that (I’ve seen it plenty of times) they get distraught at how long and how much effort it takes, so they give up. They either give up on expressing their point, or on their mission to search for a word which would convey the sense of their thought more accurately (possibly never as precise as it is there in their mind).
I’m right there with them, these students. We are none of us Truman Capote.

“I know what “exacerbate” means…there’s not a word or a sentence or a concept that you can illuminate for me.” (quote from the film)

*****

So I keep wondering … how motivation that gets me to write is different or similar to motivation that can get students to do their homework, write in their notebooks in class, listen to what their groupmates say in a class, care to write an assignment on their own. I keep wondering if it’s in my power (or if I need to care about it that much at all) to look for and find this something that can motivate them to think. Even if English is not their most favourite subject, not anything they’d readily spend hours doing, even then. Motivation seems to be a shallow, insufficient term to help this.

I believe there is a lot of confusion for both learners and teachers who are, or crave to be, aware of their learning and teaching.

*****

At the end of this mess of a post I’m thinking 3 words. Move. Motivate. Manipulate. That’s what I’ve seen Truman Capote do in the movie. And here’s what Truman Capote himself said in a film-interview here (I hope you watch this till the end, it’s quite interesting and on another level stunned me with the portrayal of TC that P.S. Hoffman did).

I always have this theory… That if you want to move someone else as an artist …you yourself necessarily must have been deeply moved by what it is that you are writing. But you must keep exploiting that emotion in yourself over and over and over and over till you’ve become completely cold about it… I mean so that you no longer laugh, say, about whatever it is that made you laugh… You see it like it was some extraordinary specimen, but you know that it had that effect on you, personally, so that you know that if you can reproduce it you can make it have exactly the same effect on someone else

*****

The lesson I’ve learnt is to never mix different film genres on one day. The Big Lebowski is a hilarious movie clearly deserving blog posts written about it, but its effect on some impulsive posts has been proven destructive.

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