Monthly Archives: December 2013

Linguistic rebellion and coming of age

Yesterday my friend @JosetteLB asked if people would be interested in blogging together, a sort of blog challenge to share stories of linguistic rebellion.

Earlier today another friend @kevchanwow joined the challenge. 

Another voice recently added: @JohnPfrodresher.

Click their names to read their stories!

We are all interested in hearing your stories, too.

I’m not sure how I feel about sharing these stories. Perhaps you will think differently of me after reading. Perhaps I’m not the person you thought I was. 


I speak standard American English. I’ve spoken it all my life. It has never occurred to me to rebel against it. Who I am and how I think is in part a product of this, and through the stories in this post I hope to show how I see the connection between linguistic intolerance, linguistic policy and linguistic rebellion.

When I was a child of 7 or 8, one of our neighbors across the street was an older Mexican couple. They were very nice people. But I wouldn’t talk to them. They had accents that were hard to understand. And, unforgivably, they called me “Anna” – the Spanish pronunciation of my name. What I did not understand at the time was that this was my first experience with linguistic intolerance – in this case, my own.

The Mexican family was not the only target, nor was I the only guilty party. Flash forward a few years, towards the end of elementary school. Most of the kids who lived in my neighborhood were black. We grew up together, climbed trees together, ran races together, played kickball together, did each other’s hair, had sleepovers.

I remember one day, being up in a tree near Jackie’s house, and talking to her about junior high. She was going at the end of the summer. I had to wait a year. And she told me that we probably couldn’t be friends in junior high. Because our lives would grow apart.

When I got to junior high, I realized what she meant. Looking back, I can see the linguistic rebellion clearly – my friends were under pressure to be “black enough.” Those who weren’t were ostracized for “talking like white people.” I remember my best friend Noelle, coming home crying because people called her an “oreo.” She had to explain to me that students used the word to mean “black on the outside and white on the inside.” She was upset because she was not fitting in with her linguistic community.

In this community linguistic rebellion went two ways: first of all was a large rebellion against the school’s policy of standard English. I didn’t understand at the time, but now I think what happened was this: the majority of students were rebelling against being forced to learn a new dialect to become acceptable to a minority – their teachers and the adults in their lives. They rebelled by ensuring their dialect was the one used within their community. In order to be part of that community, kids had to learn to speak like them. It quickly became the majority dialect in the school. The second form of rebellion, then, were kids like Noelle and a few others who rebelled away from the social dialect towards the standard they had grown up with.

20 years later I have a lot of respect for both of these groups of people, who as young men and women could look in the face of oppressive linguistic policy and choose to fight it by insisting on choosing which dialect they wanted to use. Especially while people like me – their friends – stood silently by, unaffected.

23 years later I have sympathy for the Mexican couple across the road, who were probably quite fluent in English but stymied by intolerance of their dialect. The situation for their linguistic community has only gotten worse in America.

In the end, now that we are adults, the standard language won out. I have grown up, moved overseas, and begun to be appalled by dialect suppression and linguistic oppression where I see it in the world and am deeply ashamed of my intolerant and oblivious young self.

Cinquain Poems for mixed levels

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I did a lesson today that turned out a lot better than I expected. I’m blogging about it because my reflective goal for this month was to start paying attention to the things that go well in class, not just the things that go oh so wrong.

Some background on the class:

Once a week, I have a class where we can do mini-projects to fill some of the gaps in their coursebooks. There are 12 students in this class and they are in the first grade of middle school (around 13 years old). They have been studying English for varying lengths of time, from six or seven years to just a couple years. In my class, they are using the newest edition of Teen Talk, a book which has (in my opinion) a lot more text than a conversation book needs, complete with questions that guide students’ opinions to the “right” answers. And so I try, each week, to introduce opportunities for creative thinking and expression.

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Today’s class:

This is the last class of the day on Thursdays, from 8:30 p.m. to 9:20 p.m. The students have already been in the academy for two hours (Teen Talk at 6:30 and CNN at 7:30). Last Thursday they asked me if we could do something related to Christmas during this week’s class.

Some background on the project:

I learned about cinquain poetry about two years ago. Asked to submit “something creative” for a final class project, I was completely at a loss and made a note to myself never to do that to my students (promptly forgotten). Luckily someone in a different course had mentioned cinquain poetry in passing and I decided to look it up. Not only was it perfect for the “creative” project, it was adaptable enough to use in my classes as well.

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Today’s class: 

I started by writing the word “cinquain” on the board and letting them guess the pronunciation (following from the pronunciation work we’d been doing in the Teen Talk class).

Then I asked them to guess the meaning. One student noticed that the origin looked like French. Another student (the shyest in the class) said that she’d learned a little Spanish when she lived in California. One of them asked for a hint and I told them it is a number. The Spanish-learner started counting on her fingers and her face lit up when she got to five, which she said aloud.*

Cinquain poems have five lines each and look a little like a diamond (although to me they look more like Christmas trees). They are written on a single topic and usually tell a story.

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I explained the three ways of writing cinquain poems:

  • 1) with individual words (1 word, 2 words, 3 words, 4 words, 1 word)
  • 2) with syllables (2 syllables, 4 syllables, 6 syllables, 8 syllables, 2 syllables)
  • 3) with parts of speech (1 noun, 2 adjectives, 3 -ing words, a phrase, a synonym to the original noun)

I explained the rules for the poetry:

  • 1) Write about just one topic.
  • 2) Tell a story.
  • 3) Include an action.
  • 4) Include a feeling.

Someone asked me how to do syllables and we went around the room counting syllables in their English names. This was a great moment, because they (and I) discovered that some of them were much better at this than others.

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I told them that they could choose any of the three styles of poem they want, but that the first one was probably the easiest, but might have a boring result.

The results were telling:

The weaker students in the class all chose the first style. Some of them were able to tell stories and others just wrote words on a Christmas-y topic.

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The mid-level students nearly all went for the syllables style. I was surprised, but maybe they wanted to challenge themselves or maybe they were daunted by parts of speech but wanted to show that they were above isolated words.

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The higher level students used a mix of syllables and parts of speech styles, except one – who asked if she could adapt the words style to 2-4-6-8-2 so she could tell the story she wanted. Another thing I saw in the higher level students was a greater emphasis on the story they wanted to tell. 

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What really fascinated me about the project…

Was how each student took it and made it their own. They adapted it to their own levels and helped each other or asked for help when they ran into difficulties. They practiced until they got it the way they wanted it, then wrote it on colored paper and decorated it.

As a follow-up, I asked them to each come to the front, read their poem, and show the pictures they’d made. And I learned another new thing: none of them know how to read poetry aloud.

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A lesson for another time.



*I can just imagine what her brain did to count to five in Spanish, take a look at how many fingers she’d counted out in Korean and then translate that to the required English that matched the French on the board, all in a split second. Humans are amazing.

Tag – you’re it!

Tag! You’re It! 

Photo by Savihav taken from used under CC license.

Photo by Savihav taken from used under CC license.

I’ve been reading and tweeting a lot of these tagged posts because I love finding out random things about members of my PLN. Recently I was tagged by Vicky Loras, who is one of the most active, kind, supportive and thoughtful people I’ve ever met. I’m delighted to be tagged and for the chance to tag 11 more and learn more about the people who are a part of my digital life.

The rules: 

If you are tagged, here’s what you have to do:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger asked you.
  • Nominate 11 more bloggers
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 things about me:

  1. My favorite thing to bake is apple cinnamon muffins.
  2. I don’t eat most sweets or snacks.
  3. This fall I rode my bike across Korea and got a medal for completing the trek.
  4. I don’t own a TV or watch TV programs on my computer.
  5. I’d rather swim in the ocean or a lake than a swimming pool.
  6. BEARS! Bear Down!
  7. I’m afraid of all things without their own face (including clowns and people dressed up as giant stuffed creatures).
  8. I have been accused of being a reflective practice junkie.
  9. My apartment doesn’t have a bed or chairs, and I like it that way.
  10. With a few exceptions, I hate talking on the phone.
  11. I love tweet-ups and meeting my PLN in person.

Vicky’s questions for me:

1. If you were not an educator, what line of work would you imagine yourself in?
I used to dream of running a dessert cafe on the hills of San Francisco. A sort of coffee shop/ library type place. Now I’d probably choose another country, but back then SF was the most beautiful city I’d ever seen.

2. Which person in ELT would you like to meet in person and why?
I can’t choose just one and I have been privileged in already having met a lot of ELT people. A couple more I’d love to meet are Tony Gurr (and Dexter) and Chuck Sandy. I am sure I’d learn a lot from those guys. 

3. What new activity / hobby would you like to start?
I’d love to learn a new language and alphabet. Maybe Russian or Japanese.

4. Which is the best book you have recently read? Why?
I think every book has something to recommend it. I’m currently reading a work of fiction called “Fortuna’s Bastard.” I like it because the author really got into the minds of the characters and because of its attitude towards the unexplainable.

5. If you could change one thing in the world, what would that be?
I’d make tolerance and acceptance a part of all education systems, normalising rather than hiding the things people think of as “different”.

6. Which is the nicest destination you have visited so far and why?
I think the most beautiful place I’ve visited is Sapa in northern Vietnam. The terraces hills rise as far as the eye can see. I could have spent a lot more time there.

7. If you decided to write a book, what would it be about?
If I decided to write a book it would be full of fictional short stories about everyday objects. 

8. What is your favourite song this period?
I don’t really have a favorite song. But I like listening to birds and crickets and the sound of rain falling.

9. What is your favourite and least favourite food?
My favorite food is pizza. And I think my least favorite food is also pizza. Because there’s pizza and there’s pizza, see. 😉

10. Which is the next conference you plan to attend?
I guess that’s the KOTESOL National Conference in Korea in May 2014.

11. With whom from the PLN was your first meeting in person? What was it like?
My first PLN in-person meeting (outside of Korea) was with Vicky. It was really exciting to visit her in beautiful Zug, get the grand tour, have coffee together, and learn more about someone I really respect and admire. 

I’ve tried not to tag anyone who’s already been tagged by someone else… Anyway: You’re next…. the following 11 bloggers have been tagged! 


And here are your questions (if you have the time to take up the challenge).

1. What was your very first job?
2. What is your most valuable possession?
3. Where do you want to go to retire?
4. What is the most important thing you learned from your parents/ parental figures?
5. Mountains or Ocean?
6. Most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
7. What’s your favorite blog post you’ve written?
8. Favorite education quote?
9. Have you ever done something adventurous? Please share!
10. The correct number of hours of sleep is ______ in 24.
11. What is something you do that has absolutely no connection to TESOL?

Collecting and Using Learner Feedback, a workshop

Those of you who know me know that it’s unusual for me to let myself be talked into speaking in public. I get stage fright, and such a terrible buzzing in my brain that I can’t even hear what I’m saying and can’t remember it after. But I do it, and for two reasons: because of my friends’ unshakeable confidence in me and because of my own belief in what I have to share. 

Last week I gave a workshop about feedback for a lovely group of inservice public school teachers at the request of my friend and my very first trainer, #KELTchatter Matthew Walker (@esltasks – he blogs here). I’d like to share some of the material here.

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The Feedback Box my classes use

Collecting Feedback

We began by exploring some beliefs about feedback through an agree/disagree activity. I really enjoy this activity because it never fails to show how different we all are and open our minds to other ways of thinking. I was most surprised by the variety of responses to “Feedback should be given in Korean.”

In the next part, we talked about why teachers might want (and not want) to collect feedback. I have to admit, I’m coming from a perspective of “collecting feedback is always better than not,” so I was really pleased to hear opinions on both sides of the question from the teachers in the room. I was really interested in the discussion on feedback for evaluation or personal use. I also learned something about how and when feedback is normally collected in Korean schools.

Next we talked about how to collect feedback: deciding what we want to know and making questions that will help us draw that information from our students.

How I collect feedback:

Feedback is a process of trial and error, in my experience. The first time I asked my class for feedback, I left it totally open. I didn’t give any guiding questions. I didn’t know what I wanted to know. I was sort of hoping their feedback would answer that for me. Two things happened: students wrote about other classes or things that were beyond my control, and students wrote useful things that I would never have thought to ask.

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Examples of student feedback (take II)

After that, I structured feedback more, but still experimented. I tried having them give collective feedback on the board. That was a disaster because their comments were shallow, non-specific, and exclusively positive.

I tried colored strips of paper with a lot more success, with the disadvantage that it limited what students were allowed to comment on.

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I like – , I dislike – , Please change – feedback examples (take III)

I tried asking five specific questions about the class – this worked well, but again had the disadvantage of being limiting and also took way too much time.

I tried my variation on exit slips: exit tests where students have to show what they’ve learned before they can leave the classroom. This works well with younger and lower level classes where they have to answer a question or produce a correct sentence in order to leave.

Yesterday I had quite a bit of success with three questions: 1) What did you learn? 2) What parts of the class did you like/ dislike? and 3) I want to tell Anne _____.

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I learned _ , I like/dislike _ , I want to tell Anne _ (Feedback, take IV)

I think one of the reasons feedback collection has been more and more successful each time is because the students are getting practice giving feedback and building trust that 1) it will not be ignored and 2) it will not cause conflict.

Next time I am going to try some of the feedback forms suggested by the teachers in the workshop.

Participants’ feedback ideas:

The teachers displayed three different modes of collecting feedback. One group came up with a feedback tree. I love that idea and would like to adapt it to make a new attempt at group feedback.


Open mind, open feedback!

The other groups designed Likert scales to collect the information they wanted (information related to the four skills). Another variation that I loved was a space for the student’s feeling. I think that feeling can be very relevant to the perception of the class and the feedback they give.

I really regret that I didn’t take pictures of the teachers’ work, but Matthew came to the rescue again:


Gettin’ specific, with little memory icons, but space for free comments as well.



Great way to collect feedback from large classes without getting bogged down.


Part 2: finding out what the students want.

After the groups presented their feedback ideas, we ran out of time. I skirted over reflection and response, even though to me they are as important (or more important) than collecting the feedback.

I know the word count on this post is already getting up there, but this time I don’t want to miss out on reflection and response.

Reflecting on feedback:

Once I’ve collected feedback, I have to decide what to do with it. I look first for common threads. I also look for surprising comments. While it’s possible to reflect on both the positive and the critical aspects of the feedback to great benefit, I’m pretty typical in focusing primarily on what students would like to change.

With common threads (for instance, the nearly unanimous dislike of summary writing in a class of 6th graders), I sit down with a pen and my notebook and write out the description of the class, the students, how I have taught the material, the students’ reactions at the time (as I perceived them), the resultant summaries, and anything else I can think of.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.

My actual real reflective practice notebook.


Then I start thinking of all the possible reasons why they might hate writing summaries. Perhaps it takes a lot of time? Perhaps they still aren’t confident they are doing it correctly? Perhaps it is still difficult for them to understand the material well enough to summarize it? Perhaps they don’t have enough vocabulary to say the same things in different ways? And on and on. These are questions I can clarify when I speak with the students about their feedback.

Finally I need to decide whether I am going to make a change. In this case, I decided not to. Summary writing is an important skill that will improve with practice. So I decided to explain to the students why I want them to continue practicing and promise them more support in the future to try and make it easier.

Responding to feedback:

As I mentioned before, I think it is very important for students to know that their feedback will not be ignored. I think this is true for learners of all ages. And so I take the time to respond. After collecting feedback, I go through it. I create a chart for it and sometimes color-code it based on the questions answered. 

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Then I give the chart to the students. I go over it with them in class. I ask them to identify common threads. I ask them whether they agree or disagree or don’t care about some of the less common feedback. I explain what I can change. We negotiate. Where there are things that cannot be changed or that I am unwilling to change, I explain the reasons behind those decisions. And then I ask what they think about that.

This all takes time, but it’s worth it and usually results in better or more specific feedback the next time.

My thoughts on the workshop:

1) I didn’t have time to get specific feedback from the participants. I wanted to know whether the workshop would change the way they collected feedback in their classes, whether the ideas they got from me and each other would help them collect the kind of feedback that would be useful and manageable, and how they think I can improve this workshop for future groups.

2) I wish I had learned the teachers’ names. I wanted them to know I am really interested in them and their ideas.

3) I wish I had built in more time to share as a group. I learned a lot from these teachers, but I feel I talked too much.

I want to thank the teachers who were willing to spend their morning with me. I learned a lot from them.

You guys are awesome.

You guys are awesome.

Headliners, the activity

This is an activity I shared on the #flashmobELT lino board.

(For more information about #flashmobELT, check out this, this, or this.)

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So here’s how this works:

My 6th grade (13 years old) students had been reading an article about fish farming and we were just wrapping up the unit. I asked them to form teams and choose a scribe for each team. The scribes went to the board and the teams called out all the words they remembered from the unit while the scribes wrote them down – pausing at times to ask for spelling. The result was a board full of words.

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Then the teams went to work together and formed headlines or titles from the words on the board. The rules: they cannot use words that are not on the board, but they can change the part of speech or form of the word. I wrote an example for them.

They wrote their headlines in their notebooks, checking with their groups for ideas and clarification. I checked all the headlines and made some suggestions.

The next step was writing a story to accompany the headline or title. They could, I told them, write any kind of story they want and did not need to stick to the topic or vocabulary from the unit. They attacked the task with determination and some of their resulting stories blew me away.

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The final step was creating a picture to go along with their stories. They could either find a picture they wanted to use or draw their own picture. I gave them paper to re-write their stories and add their pictures and asked them to bring them back the next class.

My original plan had been to post them up on the walls so that the students could walk around and read the stories, but they were a jump ahead of me. As soon as they were seated they started passing their stories around with pride and reading them anyway. Now the stories are all posted on the walls for other classes to read.

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I’m proud of the way my students approached this task, using all the resources at their disposal to help them work with the language and turn input into their very own output.

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