Monthly Archives: April 2014

Something that happened today (#OneThing blog challenge post)

It seems like I come home from work nearly every day and shrug and say, nothing much happened today. Of course that’s pretty silly. Lots of things are always happening and I am just not attaching importance to them. So the purpose of this blog challenge (for myself) is to pay attention to what happens in a day, reflect on it, and share it. I invite you to join me.

butterfly closeup

Image by Josh Kellogg used under Creative Commons license

 

Something that happened today:

H came to class, sat down, and said, “Anne, I didn’t do any of my homework.”
H’s class is one-on-one. His homework was to prepare a presentation about a film or book that he wants to share. Mondays are Presentation Day.
I sighed. “Okay,” I said.
“Let’s work on essay writing more today,” he said.
“Did you write the thesis statement for your compare/contrast essay?”
“No.”
“Did you finish outlining the part about imagery?”
“No.”
“Okay. Did you print the story that you lost?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, let’s try to find specific examples of imagery.”

And that’s what we did for the rest of the class. He re-read parts of the stories in depth, asked questions about words he didn’t know for sure, and underlined examples of imagery. He wrote the examples in his notebook and finally, as the class was ending, I asked him to look at what he’d written for each story. And he had an a-ha moment. I watched his eyes light up as he saw that the examples he had found and written on his own were going to be relevant to his essay – there was clear contrast.

And I had an a-ha moment, too. I realized that while it’s important to read carefully and deeply, it’s also important to pull back sometimes and see the bigger picture. So the class didn’t go the way I thought it would, but learning appears to have happened and I’m content with that.

Image by Didier Descouens used under Creative Commons license

Image by Didier Descouens used under Creative Commons license

RP 5: The Challenge to Generalize

Following is my attempt at the next Reflective Practice Blog Challenge: generalization. 

This challenge was set by Zhenya Polosatova over at John Pfordresher’s blog.

Here are the directions for the challenge: 

Directions for RP Challenge 5: look back at the description and analysis you provided and formulate generalizations about learning, teaching, communication, (personal and professional) awareness, etc. Are you surprised to see the generalizations you wrote? Have you had them for a long time or are they the result of that particular experience you had?

To see how others have approached the challenge, check out Hana’s post on How I see it now and Kate’s post on iamlearningteaching.

 

One thing that I have come to love about reflective practice is exploring my beliefs. When I first started I remember clearly claiming that I didn’t have any beliefs. To me beliefs were things that I couldn’t change my mind about. Sure I had strong feelings on some things, but I didn’t want to be stuck to those in my own mind or anyone else’s. As I’ve been practicing, reflecting and blogging, I’ve started to uncover the beliefs I didn’t think I had, much to my own astonishment. Now I sort of enjoy the process – peering into my practice and saying “Oh, look. This must be a belief!” and then taking a closer look at it to see if stands up to scrutiny. I don’t feel so afraid of being attached to beliefs anymore.

In the interest of uncovering my beliefs, I took the Teaching Perspectives Inventory online. I’ll tell you more about that in another post perhaps. I mention it because my highest score is for Nurturing (this makes sense to me since I think L2 communication requires vulnerability). And this is exactly what I did not do with Josh, which makes me wonder whether what I believe and claim to do is how my students perceive me.

And so with all these things I mind, I begin to generalize from my analysis of my description of the incident in my class.

 

I wrote: He may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.
It seems I believe: It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.

I wrote: It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough.
It seems I believe: Giving students more guidance when approaching new tasks and materials and understanding that students are not always comfortable doing things they’re not sure they can get right is good practice.

I wrote: It is possible that my instructions were unclear.
It seems I believe: Giving clear instructions and checking understanding of those will make an activity more smooth.

I wrote: It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.
It seems I believe: Understanding students’ culture can help avoid misinterpretation of body language.

I wrote (in a comment): The interactive way I teach didn’t register to them as “study” and they thought they’d just been playing around, which is why they weren’t taking it seriously.
It seems I believe: Making objectives of each activity clear to the students can prevent misunderstanding.

 

Most of these statements seem pretty obvious to me. The one that surprises me most is the first one: “It is necessary to give equal attention to all students in a class.” I’m not sure whether I believe or practice this. Not all learners are alike and some are more independent while others if I take my eyes off them for five seconds they might burn the building down.

One thing I didn’t touch on is the role of empathy and whether or how I’m meeting the students’ needs (and my own). This is important to me so I’m surprised by its absence.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration. I look forward to your comments!

Two things that happened today

I want to tell you about two interesting things that happened today.

My first class of the day is with my boss’s son. I’m teaching him reading skills, writing, and presentation skills in preparation to enter a high school in New Zealand. We started working on writing with a personal narrative essay. He’s on the third draft now. Today we went through his writing bit by bit. I circled the words that he chose wrongly (I think he was choosing by sound). I noticed that a lot of them were prepositions and I started thinking: I’ve read that prepositions are among the last things to be acquired in English language acquisition, so how can I help him help himself when he’s just not sure?

The answer, of course, is pretty simple. I turned to COCA. And I taught him how to use a corpus and to select likely combinations and take a look at the context. I didn’t fix a single one of his preposition mistakes but with the help of COCA he fixed them all himself. Granted nothing else I had planned got done in the hour, but he said this is a really helpful tool that he can start to use on his own now.

 

My last class of the day was switched at the last minute. Our middle school students are studying hard for their midterm exams, but a few students felt they’d studied all they could study and even done all the extra problems. They were tired of it. So my boss asked me to take those learners (from a mix of classes) and do something with them. They asked immediately for a game, of course. The first game to catch my eye is one called “Pass the bomb.” It has a plastic toy “bomb” inside with a variable timer that explodes as people pass it. The original game is played with cards. Each card has a topic (the forest, the toy box, the hospital, etc) and the idea is to say something related to the topic on the selected card and pass the bomb before it explodes.

We couldn’t use the bomb – people were studying and it’s too noisy. So I altered the game a bit – I asked them to choose a card at random and try to speak for one minute on the topic. I modeled it first (not very well) to show that it’s not an easy thing to do. They managed it and enjoyed the challenge, but the results were pretty boring so for round two, I asked them to choose a random card and create a story around the topic. That was a lot more interesting as students created stories about mad waiters in restaurants and thieves who steal and eat only fruit and homicidal toys from the toy box (who date, then break up, then date, then break up, then finally the two girl toys start a relationship and live happily ever after – all in heaven because they’d already killed each other at the beginning of the story).

 

Anyway, those are some things that happened today.

GUEST POST: The Breakfast Club’s Guide to ELT

This is the first guest post ever on LivingLearning and I am delighted to welcome my best friend David Mansell (@HebrewH) as its writer. David blogs at Standards and Practising about his life in Korea. David’s been in Korea a number of years and has a lot of insight into the classroom and a creative way of expressing it. 

David bravely and creatively took up Michael Griffin’s blog challenge in his post Major League ELT with this brilliant Guide to ELT from The Breakfast Club. From here on out, I will let him speak for himself. 

 

So this is a bit of a departure for me. I don’t normally do Blogs on TEFL teaching, at least not in a serious way. In fact, not even semi seriously. So,maybe I should preface this by saying the writing will only be semi serious at best. Also, I am sure people in the TESOL community will be tearing their hair out at both my improper use of ELT language, and at the conclusions I have reached in my classroom.

 

Cool beans.
So Anne, my very best friend and an absolute beast of ELT, linked a post to my FB wall, in lieu of having a proper chat because , well, 21st Century. It was an excellent blog post on learning new TEFL philosophy from our favorite movie moments. The blogger in question has done the Big Lebowski and Major League so clearly he is a film connosieur of the Fourth Order. Anne wanted me to do something similar.

 

My problem here of course is that me choosing a movie is next to impossible. I love movies. I love them like a fat person likes pizza. One slice is never enough and the idea of a single favorite topping is rikonkolous. Top Five movies always switch around, so i have chosen a movie that stayed in the Top Five for the longest time.

 
The Breakfast Club.

 
Man, I love the Breakfast Club. I love that it is utterly unlike any school experience I ever had, in my single sex British middle class life. I love that five children would be left alone for an entire day in a school building, to smoke weed and dance. I love that Emilio Estevez pretends to be 17, when he looks like he was born in his thirties. I love that Judd Nelson is bad ass guy from the wrong side of the tracks. HA! Delightful.
And so many lessons….

 
We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.

 
This opening salvo starts off the movie and it is so true. Students often get identified by their teacher by their first meaningful interaction. A kid acts grumpy on his first day of the academy semester, the teacher will mark him down as a problem child. All other interactions will be colored unfavorably from that moment on. If a kid is shy, a teacher sighs and ‘accepts’ they are essentially a lump of meat in the classroom. If a student is a model of virtue, you will trust them with the books forever and a day. Well, hold on Sparky. Are you the same person, the same character every damn day of your life? I think it is fair to say, no, and neither are your students. Little Miss Priss will be cool another day, that perfect student will act out on occasion. Be fluid, roll with the changes.

 
See, you’re afraid that they won’t take you, you don’t belong, so you have to just dump all over it.

 
Said by Claire to Bender. Often, when a teacher works with young kids, the kids are into the stupidest things. What the hell is the deal with the plastic toys they lay on the ground then slap with yet more shapeless plastic lumps? I have no idea. But my kids are into them. Perhaps instead of dumping on them, I can learn more about them. Then I can make a lesson using them, or the mythos surrounding them. Some of my middle schoolers were really into weird japanese stories, examples of Otaku culture. We did almost an entire semester on insider/outsider culture. My previous recalcitrant girls were pushing themselves to express their emotions when talking about a Japanese dude marrying his computer girlfriend. If I had just dumped on their thing, that semester and their english development would have suffered.

 
You ask me one more question and I’m beating the shit out of you.

 
Man, I feel like my kids give me the stink eye Juguleh almost all the time. And it’s totally fair. I am constantly asking questions. I am always interfering. WHAT THE HELL, TEACH? BACK OFF ALREADY. Well, yeah, that’s one great reason why limiting the level of teaching talking time works. Instead of me being the Great Inquisitor, the other students can ask each other. Now they are having a conversation and they can be silly with it. They can check each other’s pronunciation and they are not wilting under the gaze of me and their peers as they struggle to remember an answer.

 
Screws fall out all the time, the world is an imperfect place.

 
Man, lesson plans are great ideas but sometimes, they just fall flat on their face. You can either try to bring it back online, cry in a corner or switch it up. Really, this is similar to my first lesson but the first lesson is soooooo good. Be flexible. Kids like structure in their classroom, but don’t be afraid to read the room. If they are bored, if they are not understanding, if there is not active learning occurring, find a way to keep the lesson going. Do not Corpse and play possum. Your kids will thank you for not freaking them out.

 
Andrew Clark: What do they do to you?

Allison Reynolds: They ignore me.

Andrew Clark: Yeah… yeah.

 
Earlier in this article, I played a nasty experiment on you. I referred to some of my students as Lumps Of Meat. If you didn’t rage and raise your fist at the page and swear vengeance, you failed a little. That’s okay, I still love you. And besides, I also have done it. problem kids get all the negative attention and we clock their hours versus the hours spent on the rest of the class with also a ghoulish fascination. We never notice how much more time we spend on the ‘good’ students, the ones we know will have the correct answer, will put their hands up, the ones we can have a actual conversation with. But how does that make the others feel? you know, the others. The ones you never really learned the names of. You certainly don’t know what they like to do, or what grinds their gears. They can’t be having too much fun in your classroom. I mean all they do is wait for the bell to go. In the classroom, you probably think you are splitting the time equally amongst your students. fact is,you’re probably not and you should probably think it over. Also, outside the classroom, maybe say hello to them. They may love that. They may love any attention. They may respond by working harder, more interactively within the classroom confines. Well done, you just made your own life easier.

 

 

My great thanks go to David for allowing me to post this as a guest post here. 

Readers’ comments are welcome.

The Goat Baby

I asked Sarah to tell a story based on the picture below. She told this story, while I recorded it. I transcribed it for the next lesson and helped her edit it. This is the final product, shared with her permission.

 

Once upon a time, there was a couple who lived in the countryside. They didn’t have a baby, even though they married a long time ago. They worried about it, and then they heard about the fact that if they go to holy place with the goat and pray then they will get a baby.

 

There was one qualification that they have to treat a goat like a baby on the way to the holy place.

 

If they go there with the goat, like a baby, they heard that they will come together with a baby’s ghost on the way back home.

 

So they decided to go there. Before they left, they discussed how to treat the goat like a baby. He thought about the easiest way to carry the goat while he rides a bike. He reminded of his childhood and he remembered that if he was on the back of his mom, he felt comfortable. So he decided to carry a goat on his back.

 

On the way, he met a lot of people who were treating goat like a baby.

 

After they arrived there, they prayed for a new baby like they heard. They came back and they indeed had a baby. But the truth is, the baby resembled a goat.

 

By Sarah Hwang

Goat Baby

RPC 4 – Analysis

It has been a few weeks since my last post in the Reflective Practice Blog Challenge. In the meantime, a lot of things have been going on and a lot has been on my mind to blog, but hasn’t quite it made it onto my blog!

This new challenge comes from Josette LeBlanc as a guest post on Observing the Class. The challenge is to analyse the description from the previous post. 

One thing I am curious about is how the amount of time and space between the original event and the description of it and between the description blog post and the analysis of it affects the process (and my memory). I’m tempted to use a new moment, actually, to sort of start over. But I’m going to give this a chance.

So the challenge is to analyse: “Considering all the facets that you discovered in your description, come up with possible reasons for the actions and reactions. Generate as many possible explanations as you can. Look at the moment from different perspectives. Consider the material, teacher, students, student dynamics, or student-teacher relationship. Recall past teaching, learning, cultural, or life experiences. Refer to the educational, cognitive, and linguistic theories you know. All this will inform your analysis.” 

A second part of the challenge asks us to analyse the experience through the lens of  feelings and needs of all the participants. 

And suddenly describing looks so much easier.

The original description: 

This scenario took place last Wednesday night. It was around 9pm and the final class of the day. The students had already been studying at our academy since 6:30 and the class before mine is a translation class. There are 12 students in this class – five boys and seven girls. One of the girls was absent. The classroom seating is arranged in a circle with all seats facing the board. The students are using Thoughts and Notions – a reading textbook. On the day in question, they were working on a reading about “Umbrellas.” This was their third day with this reading. As homework I had asked them to make umbrellas with main ideas inside and supporting details underneath (an umbrella for each paragraph of the reading).

“Josh,” the subject of this description, had not done this assignment. I selected students to put their umbrellas on the board and we checked them together. Josh did not take this opportunity to complete the homework in his notebook, nor did two others who had not completed the homework. I said, “Anyone who has not completed the homework should write down the main ideas and details in your notebooks. You don’t need to draw umbrellas.” Two other students began writing – one drew umbrellas and the other wrote main ideas and details.

Josh did nothing. He was frowning and looking at his desk. I thought his eyes were kind of glassy. I went over and repeated my instruction. He didn’t even acknowledge that I had spoken. I repeated his name until he looked at me. Then I showed him the umbrellas on the board and pointed to the sentences one by one. I repeated, “You don’t need to draw the umbrellas. Just write the main ideas. That’s all. Then write the details under.” Without verbal acknowledgement he pulled his notebook towards him and started to write. When I checked back later he had completed it and was ready to move on to the worksheet.

Throughout this encounter, I was quite frustrated. My expectations of Josh were higher than he was willing to put forth that day.

Factors I will consider: 

Student’s background:

I’ve only known Josh for around 6 months. During that time his motivation levels seem to vary. Another thing that happened during that time is his little sister was diagnosed with a learning disorder. It is quite possible that the attention to education he once got from his parents has been transferred to his sister.

Josh is a 13 year old boy. He’s at a difficult age going through puberty and just entering middle school where his workload and time in classes (and extra study) has increased dramatically. That’s a lot to manage for someone who just wants to play soccer and definitely doesn’t want to draw pictures. It’s possible as well that anything seen as “babyish” (including legible handwriting) might be anathema to him.

It’s also quite possible that Josh doesn’t learn as well this way (visually?).

Student-teacher(s) relationship:

The teachers discuss Josh as a problem-child quite a bit. My boss, who teaches one of his classes, often asks about him. It could be that because he gets so much attention in his absence, we might hold different expectations of him in the classroom – expect him to cause problems and bear down on him more. Where 80% of the students don’t pay attention, Josh is certain to be singled out. On the other hand, greater efforts are made to motivate and encourage him as well. In any case, he may get a disproportionate amount of attention and that could affect his behaviour as well as how I approach him in class.

Student-student relationships:

Who’s sitting next to Josh affects his focus in class. I’ve been experimenting with seating arrangements and the student next to Josh – normally a motivated learner – inspired a lot of chaos in class time. It could be that Josh has trouble distinguishing between time to focus and time to play, especially when there are playmates nearby. Since I’ve changed the seats, both of them have done a little better but Josh is still last to finish anything.

Materials: 

The book this class is using, Thoughts and Notions, is challenging for them. It is possible that they don’t know how to approach the materials and that I’m not giving them enough guidance. It’s possible that determining main ideas is quite a new task for them and I am not patient enough. It is also possible that they are bored, having dealt with the material in the book before with a previous teacher. We use the same book in different ways (they translate the readings for her and answer the exercises in the book, but they analyse the text for me and work with vocabulary in other contexts).

Instructions: 

It is possible that my instructions were unclear. I didn’t tell the students beforehand to write the assignments in their notebooks if they hadn’t done their homework. It’s also not an activity I’d done often before. It’s possible that Josh wasn’t writing because he didn’t know he was supposed to. It’s also possible that because I was addressing him and not anyone else in the class, he felt he was being singled out. Since I’ve begun doing this sort of exercise regularly, Josh is more willing to write. Another possibility is that the purpose of the activity was not clear to Josh and he couldn’t see any reason why he should do it (and “because I said so” doesn’t cut it for him).

Culture:

It’s likely that Josh didn’t make eye contact because it would be rude to do so in Korean culture when (he thinks) he is in trouble.

Feelings and needs (me):

I was feeling frustrated and a little sad.

I needed to be heard.

Feelings and needs (student):

I imagine Josh might have been feeling frustrated as well. He may have needed to be heard.

Or he may have felt bored. He may have needed mental stimulation.

He may have felt tired. He may have needed rest and to be alone.

 

I’m sure there’s a whole lot more that can be said and I feel like I’ve barely opened the lid of the analysis. But now I need your help, fellow reflectors. What are some questions that might lead me to find what I’m missing?

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