On tall tales in class

This is how I started class the other day:
Hello folks, good morning! I hope everyone is doing well. It’s 9 so let’s get right into it. Today’s start is a bit different as I’m going to ask you for some help. Maybe you don’t know this but I don’t have any classes tomorrow. I’m actually giving a talk at The Asia Society, on the topic of North Korea.  For some reason. I am far from an expert but I was asked to talk to a group of American businesspeople about this topic. I am quite worried because of my lack of expertise but also because I am not accustomed to giving long speeches like that. I’m also worried that my style is a bit too informal or off-register for the setting. Again it’s a group of American businesspeople.  I think they are quite unfamiliar with Korea and North Korea and the whole issue on the peninsula. By the way, the Asia Society is an NGO that is focused on promoting mutual understanding between the US and Asia. I have this big fancy talk there tomorrow.  I’ll wear a tie and everything. I guess it’s a big deal. Can you help me with my intro? Thank you! I’ll read what I have so far, and please let me know if there is anything I should make more formal. This is what I have so far…

mg trumpIt was pretty fun and my students (who are future interpreters) did a nice job finding examples of extreme vagueness as well as things that were off-register. They helped me rework my intro. It went pretty well and I was happy to see what they changed and how they changed it. This process brought up a whole new batch of issues and questions. I was generally pleased with the idea and execution.

An interesting part of this activity was the students uncovering my lie. As you might have guessed by now there was no talk. As the questions mounted and it became more clear there was no talk, one student asked, “Was anything you said true?” Another asked if The Asia Society exists. It does. Another student asked if I was going to wear a tie the next day and I informed her this was extremely unlikely. I will admit to basking in the glory of being praised for my acting ability and lying skills.

I was pleased with how things went but had an ever so-slight bad feeling about the subterfuge which lead us to the (imo) useful practice. They seemed so excited about my talk and perhaps a bit let down that it was not happening. I can’t say for sure but maybe a few of them felt like they’d devoted their energy for something completely made up. At the same time I don’t really feel too bad because it was useful practice any my tiny little lie was helpful to build up motivation.

When I think about teachers fibbing, I’m always reminded of David Deubelbeiss who suggested in his “7 Sensation Sins of Great English Language Teachers” that a great teacher tells tall tales and spins yarns in order to motivate. He writes, “A great teacher twists the facts of his life and gets the students interested in ‘the story.’ When teaching, I would tell my students fantastic stories of my day, my life. I kept them engaged with the language, who cares if it wasn’t ‘fully’ true? A great teacher lies — tells their students things to motivate, damn the truth! Think about it – we do this, so let’s admit the sin and come clean.” Please be sure to check the link above for the other 6 “sins” as that post is well-worth a read.

And, in typical blog post fashion, let’s finish with some questions:

  • Do you ever feel bad about telling tall tales in class?
  • If so, how do you justify it in your mind?
  • Under what circumstances would you feel uncomfortable selling tall tales?
  • Do you see any downsides to such fibbing in class?

Kudos to KOTESOL

Sometimes I catch a vibe that I’ve developed something of a reputation in certain KOTESOL circles. Perhaps I’m seen as a bit of a thorn in their side. Or an outspoken critic. Or a family member who airs dirty laundry without going through the proper channels. Or a whiner who complains without doing anything (probably by those who don’t know or care that I was Associate Editor of “The English Connectionfor nearly 3 years and co-founded one of the more successful and active SIGs). Or a keyboard warrior with grudge. Or someone who doesn’t appreciate all the opportunities I’ve been given. I don’t think of myself as any of those things. I think I’m just a straight-shooter who calls ’em as he sees ’em.

I believe being a straight shooter means not always saying positive things. I think here on this blog (as opposed to at the pub) I’ve attempted to be as fair possible. My most critical piece was posted as a page and not a blog post so as to only share it with just those who would have an interest (and not the wider ELT blog world). I even typed the org’s name as K0TESOL a few times so as to prevent my less positive pieces from appearing in search engines.
*Waits for applause*
*Bows*

I am not saying I’m a hero. But, like, if you said it I might not disagree too strongly. Anyway…

Last year on this here blog I got myself in some lukewarm water when I wondered if KOTESOL, and the whole field in general, was too focused on practical takeaways. I fear my message was slightly misconstrued as being an attack on a specific strand at a particular event. It was not intended as such. I think 10 minute talks are a wonderful thing and to be quite honest I think I prefer them to longer ones. I guess lately, in general, I haven’t enjoyed just sitting and listening to someone talk for an extended period of time. It could be my decreased attention span (damned smartphone) or my desire to talk and learn with others rather than just be talked at. I’m not sure how many 50 minute plenaries I will attend in the near future.

Speaking of the near future, the main point of this post was to share two cool (IMO) things happening in KOTESOL this year. The first is actually this weekend. Seoul KOTESOL is hosting an Un-Conference, which sounds fun, interesting and exciting. The write-up states, “The idea of the Un-Conference is to give voice to participants by exploring their ideas, concerns, and suggestions in various small groups that each have a different focus.” I think it sounds great and hope this is a trend that picks up some steam. It is nice to such innovations trying to meet the needs of members. Bravo.

The second thing that caught my eye in KOTESOL channels lately was a line in the Call for Presentations for the 2017 International Conference. In that document, a new session type was listed, the Dialogue. Here’s what is said about this session type:

 

  • This is a peer-to-peer discussion about a hot topic or question relevant to ELT.
  • The facilitator should have a strong knowledge of the designated topic and be able to engage the audience in the discussion.
  • Audience participation in the discussion is expected.

This sounds both interesting and exciting. I like the emphasis on discussion and the idea of learning from peers. I hope these will be successful and a model for future conferences. Hooray.

I don’t want to read too much into these two things but I feel like these sessions could be harbingers of a more audience-centered world. Am I too optimistic? Am I too simplistic to assume more audience interaction is necessarily a good thing?

One bump, two perspectives

I wrote something about “Cultural Bumps” for an online course I’m teaching related to culture. In one course assignment, participants are asked to write about a conflict or misunderstanding they had with someone from another culture and then are asked to write up the same incident from the perspective of the other person involved. Below is what I wrote as a model. I hope it is somewhat enjoyable or interesting.

 

Mike’s version
A few years ago I was talking to students after class had just finished. From my view, students in my school tend to work extremely hard and are very polite and kind. In this conversation they were complaining about how tight their schedule is and how they have classes all day and no time to rest or even any time to have lunch. They do have a tight schedule and I tried my best to be a good listener and to empathize with them. I agreed they work very hard and even said how impressive their hard work was. As they were talking, I thought they just wanted to be appreciated for their hard work and to feel understood. I acknowledged I knew how hard they worked and sort of just kept saying that I know it is tough. I think I even suggested that they make sure to get enough sleep.  I took the whole conversation as something friendly and maybe that they were trying to develop a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding. I felt like students wanted to be heard and maybe forgiven for being tired. I didn’t even think the conversation was anything unusual or out of the ordinary until a few days later when one of the students enlightened me. She told me they were actually trying to ask if we could start class a little bit later in order to give them time to get some food and have a break before starting my class. My assumption that if they had a concrete request they would just ask me directly about it. I didn’t consider that they could mean anything beyond the words what they were saying. I couldn’t imagine complaining about a busy schedule was actually a request for a slight change in the time to start class. The story ended with me thanking the student who told me about the intended meaning and then suggesting to the whole group we start class a bit later the following week. I think this resolved the issue, though the story is always a good reminder to me that things might not always be as they seem.


Kyoung-Min’s Version 

A few years ago after class with Mike, one of my favorite teachers ever, I had an interesting experience. Class had just finished and we were all sitting around and chatting on a Tuesday night after class. On Tuesdays we had 9 hours of class, all right in a row from 9 am to 6 pm.  Class with Mike was from 3 pm to 6 pm so you can imagine how tired we were after such a long and busy day. So, Mike was packing up and getting ready to go and Sojin mentioned how hard we were working and how long of a day it was. She was trying to suggest that we start class a bit late but she didn’t want to offend him or make him feel bad. I think she was worried Mike might think she was complaining and also worried to make a direct request because it might seem lazy or like we didn’t’ care about his class. Mike smiled and said he understood. He said he knew how hard we were working. He said it was impressive but he didn’t make any mention of changing the starting time. Next, I mentioned how we didn’t even have time to eat and I thought for sure he’d figure out what we were getting at. Mike is usually pretty good at figuring things out and reading the room but not this time. He just kept re-stating that he knew how hard we worked and how impressive it was. This went on for a while and ended with Mike saying something about the importance of sleep. I know he was trying to be helpful but we really just wanted to start class 15 minutes later and we didn’t want to ask directly. We thought it might sound rude to ask directly so we just left increasingly big hints. He never got it. The whole situation was uncomfortable for me and probably all the students. Mike seemed to think it was just fine and normal. He was oblivious! We really thought he’d figure it out, especially by the time the third person explained the situation and mentioned how long and exhausting our days are. Finally, a few days later I mentioned to him privately that we were actually trying to change the starting time for our class with him. He seemed shocked! He changed the schedule and we started class later from then on. My classmates never knew that I’d explained it to him and gave Mike credit for figuring out our request, even though it was later than we expected and hoped.

That one piece of feedback

It has been 159 days since my last blogging.
I’m doing fine, thank you. And you? I’ve been busy and doing a lot of work online and the computer and sometimes the last thing I feel like doing is typing even more at the end of a day.  I’m continually thinking about what I would blog about if I had some time. Well, I find myself at a coffee shop without an internet connection and decided to share a few thoughts, so here goes.

you da bomb

You are.

One of the things I think about most often is feedback. By that I mean observer to teacher feedback, teacher to student feedback, and student to teacher feedback. One aspect of this in particular that’s frequently on my mind is course feedback students give in accordance with university policies and forms, you know, course required administrational feedback (hereafter CRAP). I have long held the view that teachers who collect their own feedback at various points during the course and have open channels for feedback tend to do better on such CRAP forms. I don’t have any evidence to support this, just a feeling and thought based on anecdotal and personal evidence.

Speaking of evidence, I’m sure Russ Mayne would say that CRAP is crap and essentially meaningless. I suppose for me to agree, I’d have to parse out exactly what we mean by meaningless because it surely holds a lot of meaning for those who lose their jobs on the basis of such feedback. “Don’t hate the game, hate the bigger game” as I always say (well from now on I will start saying it.) I think CRAP is meaningful for those who depend on not getting let go as a result of such an admittedly fickle means of measuring. Bean counters gonna count, though.

I still remember shocking a fellow conference attendee when I said I never read my university feedback. I now read through the CRAP and treat it as just one more source of information and as long as it is not dreadful I don’t give it too much thought. The numbers tend to be pretty good and fine and fine and good and nothing to lose sleep over. The comments sometimes show examples of a miscommunication or a misunderstanding and also sometimes provide some valuable ideas for next time (when it is of course too late for the student in question.) I know I could do a better job of collecting feedback while I have the students in my course and still have time to make changes and this is something I often tinker with. Note to self: the term is already ¼ over (!), why not collect some feedback soon?

My main question at the moment is what sort of things does the already busy admin staff look for when analyzing the responses to CRAP sheets? I think the first thing would probably be consistently low numbers, especially in comparison to similar courses. Maybe they’d also briefly look over the comments. I have to think this is (or perhaps should be) particularly challenging for those without a background in education. How can the admin determine which comments should be trusted and valued? I really have no idea. Maybe the seemingly objective numbers would be the most important thing to look at. If anyone has any insights on this I’d love to see them in the comments. I fully realize it would vary from staff to staff and place to place.

As I think about one particular course I’ve taught numerous times I recall the numbers have been pretty high over the past few years while, interestingly, the comments have trended more towards slightly negative as students shared some thoughts on how they wished the course had gone. I’m the type (as I suppose most teachers are) to remember (and occasionally brood over) the negative comments. However a comment that has stuck in my mind for the last 15 months was simply, “You are the BOMB!” It was written in English and punctuated just like that.

bomb-006

I can’t decide if I would have preferred being “da bomb” instead

While it is nice to be considered the bomb, I had questions. As feedback is was essentially useless. What were the most combustible aspects of my class?  How could things have been even more explosive? Still, I think these more detailed questions are perhaps better left to unofficial (non-CRAP) feedback where the teacher writes the questions and gets the answers directly from the students. I tend to believe CRAP is best left as something like quality control and not seen as an important source of information.

My student decided the last words they’d say about my class would be that I am the bomb. I wondered how this comment would be taken by others who read it. Would these readers, without consulting their 1990s slang dictionary (or the Urban Dictionary) , think it means every class was a violent disaster? Assuming  the meaning would be clear enough my central question is about how meaningful such a comment would be for the admin staff. Would “you are the bomb” be less valued than “You are the BOMB?” How many, “meh” comments would be offset by “BOMB” comments? Would the fact that one student thought the teacher was so awesome offset low numbers on the survey? Probably not, right?

I think my silly questions get to something potential important. At the risk of reading far too much into it and being more than a bit arrogant, I wonder how valued is it to have a profound impact on one or a few students or if it is more important to just not mess up and avoid leaving a certain percentage of the class be disappointed.

Even if it was not the most useful feedback in terms of improving my teaching I’m still thinking about 15 months later so that’s something.

Guest post on eportfolios

A while back I made the unusual move of tweeting to ask for suggestions about what to blog about: 

I received some nice ideas but haven’t managed to sit down and write anything yet. I got the following suggestion/question from Benjamin Stewart: 

I told him that I didn’t have too much to say on this topic and wondered if he might be interested in writing a guest post on the blog. He graciously accepted and his post is below.  I thank him for taking the time to share his thoughts on this topic and for giving me (and hopefully you, dear reader) some things to think about. 

Benjamin (whose bio appears at the end of this post) is interested in scheduling a public chat (like a Google hangout or something like that) on the topic of eportfolios. He has a colleague who would also be interested in joining the discussion. If you are interested please contact Benjamin on Twitter or by leaving a comment below. I will now turn it over to Benjamin…

It´s all about evaluation. In formal education, evaluation is simple yet complex. It´s simple in that most would agree evaluating English language learners (ELLs) includes assigning grades based on what they know and can do and is an obligation a teacher has to the profession. It´s complex in that trying to pinpoint how and what to evaluate, when to provide an evaluation, and why to provide it in the first place are likely to generate a wide range of perspectives. Understanding terms like testing, formative assessment, summative assessment, peer assessment, self-assessment, and dynamic assessment can quickly reveal the importance of context (i.e., group sizes, resources, etc.) when trying to narrow down what student evaluation is and how to apply it. Similarly, when to evaluate (or assess) a learner can vary as well: before, during, and/or after a performance; in class and/or outside of class; individually, in small groups, and/or a whole group; etc. Finally, the purpose of assessing English language learners can be influenced by industry or government (e.g., standardized, high-stakes testing), institutional policy (e.g., predetermined, internal standardized exams), and individual learner goals (e.g., getting a job).

Assessment for learning, or formative assessment, in the English language learning classroom underpins the educative experience from a learning standpoint while assessment of learning provides vital measurements of student outcomes. Depending on the situation, institutions may have a particular course book, adhere to a particular method, or invoke mandatory exams that on the face of it, appear to go against reaping the benefits of a more formative-focused approach to learning. But assessing for learning can happen despite having other forms of evaluation that are more summative in nature by finding ways to include both in the overall learning design. One way to incorporate both formative and summative assessments is by employing eportfolios in the classroom, or portfolios that are co-created between learners and the instructor and shared publicly online. Thus, eportfolios provide the means of conjoining and assessing various types of work.

Learner eportfolios

Generally speaking, eportfolios can be described as being either transformative or representative.  Transformative eportfolios reveal how the ELL´s knowledge, skill development, and disposition (KSD) grow over time.  For instance, including different writing samples in an eportfolio can show how iterations improved throughout the course which can also be combined with audio commentary from the learner related to improvements in specific aspects of writing such as unity, coherence, and cohesion.  Representative eportfolios, in contrast, showcase the KSD of the learner by featuring the individual´s best work.  Whether transformative or representative, eportfolios are a means for both formative and summative assessment, testing, peer-assessment, self-assessment, and dynamic assessment depending on the learning design;  objectives of the course; teacher preferences; and learners´ wants, needs, and preferences. The way in which an ELL eportfolio is assessed will depend on the instructor, learner, and course objectives.

Rarely is a single approach to assessing learner eportfolios warranted. Eportfolios for a general English class typically will be distinct from those in other kinds of English classes such as English for specific purposes, business English, English for academic purposes, and content and English language learning, or CLIL. Moreover, assessing a learner eportfolio as part of a requirement for a course is not always the same as assessing the same eportfolio for purposes that extend beyond the course syllabus. That is, ELLs may have particular reasons for designing an eportfolio related to future academic or professional goals which  may require guidance on the part of the instructor but also may not be necessarily a requirement for the class. An instructor should refrain from any lock-step approach to learner eportfolios both in terms of design and feedback.

In addition to adapting and adopting an approach to assessing learner eportfolios, deciding on the types of artifacts to include in an eportfolio will vary as well. Some artifacts to consider include essays, recordings of performance tasks, recognitions or acknowledgements from teachers or schools, slide presentations, audio/video presentations, poems, and case studies to name a few. Depending on whether the eportfolio is transformative or representative, the teacher and the student usually come together in deciding on what artifacts to include. The goal is to assist the learner in becoming a better decision-maker as to what artifacts to include and how to organize the eportfolio in a way that represents the individual as a competent and maturing professional. A learner eportfolio becomes a celebration of what the learner knows and can do and is presented in a way that can potentially lead to some future benefit, whether academic or professional. The best interest of the learner is forefront as the intent is to have the learner assume more responsibility over the eportfolio as evidence of personal growth and academic achievement.

Point of reflection: As an instructor, how will you assess learner eportfolios in a way that not only motivates learners to share their work openly online, but also adhere to an overall school culture and allow learners to engage with the community at large?

Instructor eportfolios

Much like learner eportfolios, instructor eportfolios can also be transformative or representative, or some combination of both. An instructor eportfolio serves as ongoing evidence of one´s professional KSD for the purposes of better job opportunities in the future and connecting with other teacher practitioners in growing one´s personal learning network (PLN). Understanding one´s PLN provides the basis for open, ongoing professional learning that can directly and indirectly impact future job opportunities.

A good place for instructors to start when thinking about how to organize a professional eportfolio is to refer to various professional organizations. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is dedicated to high quality teacher preparation and offers strategic goals and objectives around current issues related to education. Other organizations worth referring to  when organizing a professional eportfolio include: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), Association of Teacher Educators (ATE), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), among others. Associations more related to the teaching and learning of English as an additional language include the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and the Modern Language Association (MLA). A review of the various associations generally reveal a congruity with the following standards which can assist in organizing one´s eportfolio:  the KSD of the educator, the sharing of course content, evidence of student outcomes, professional leadership, professional learning, and professional qualifications. The kinds of artifacts to be included in one´s professional eportfolio will be based on these standards as decided upon by the educator.

The kinds of artifacts may be similar to those of a learner eportfolio but also may include additional types.  Cambell, Cignetti, Melenyzer, Nettles, & Wyman (2010) suggest action research; awards and certificates; educational philosophy; curriculum plans; interviews with teachers, students, or parents; journals; peer critiques; rubrics; and research papers. Herrera (2016) offers an example of an instructor eportfolio that includes a professional bio, courses taught, tutoring services, and important links for students and other educators. Although an instructor eportfolio will likely include different types of artifacts than that of a learner, the instructor is in position to model exemplary practices when it comes to the design and usability of cultivating a unique professional eportfolio.

Point of reflection: How might you create and maintain an instructor eportfolio as an extension of your own PLN that fosters ongoing and transparent professional learning?

Spaces

What makes portfolios electronic is that artifacts are shared both openly (i.e., publicly) and online. Two good websites for hosting an eportfolio are Weebly and Wix, which both offer plenty of free services and flexibility for the novice website designer. Weebly has mobile applications available (aside from normal editing from one´s desktop computer) that make it easier to modify content from an iPhone or iPad whereas Wix offers greater flexibility in positioning content within a webpage. Other hosting options include Wikispaces and Google Sites. Regardless of the site, choose an option that allows easy uploading of PDF documents, audio files, video files, slides, etc. so that one has more options for personalizing the types of artifacts to be shared with others.

By way of example, a group of pre-service English language teachers taking a third-semester composition class were given the option to choose between Weebly, Wix, Wikispaces, and Google Sites for collecting artifacts for a representative (showcase) eportfolio. The artifacts were to include assignments related to the objectives of the course (mainly texts), but could also include artifacts related to prior and concurrent subjects in the bachelor´s degree program in English language training.  Learners had never created a website before, but quickly began personalizing their public space with virtually no assistance, choosing to use either Weebly or Wix (See example 1, example 2, example 3, & example 4).  At the time of this writing, all students only included composition assignments (i.e., texts) to their eportfolio, but were encouraged to continue managing their eportfolio in subsequent classes and even beyond the bachelor´s degree program as a way to become better prepared entering the workforce.

network-63772_960_720

Conclusion

Learner and teacher eportfolios offer situational learning opportunities that can occur both within formal educational situations as well as within professional contexts. This bridge between formal and informal education comprises of the assessment of student outcomes by making the evaluation of KSD more transparent. By making assessment more open and ongoing, the ELL begins to see concretely how life-long learning can become more purposeful. At the same time, instructors can not only use eportfolios for growing their own PLN but also to model exemplary behavior for their learners as daring, sharing, and caring professionals. To define what an eportfolio is to understand its purpose and how individuals interact with each other because of the eportfolio. An eportfolio is consistently a result of prior engagement and at the same time a direct cause for future engagement.

Point of reflection: What role does an eportfolio have in terms of cultivating your own personal learning network that ultimately defines your own personal approach to open, ongoing professional learning?

 

Author’s Biography: Benjamin holds a PhD in curriculum and instructional leadership and a master’s degree in education, curriculum and instruction: technology. He is a full-time EFL teacher educator and researcher at the University of Aguascalientes with an interest in researching personal learning networks and language teaching and learning.  His website can be found at www.benjaminlstewart.com

 

 

Seventeen thoughts about 21st century skills that will not blow your mind!

On Sunday morning (bright and early) at the 2016 KOTESOL International Conference I will be hosting a workshop entitled, “Is it okay to teach English instead of 21st century skills?” Yeah, I think it is a sexy title, too. In this session I mostly just want to talk and think about (what I see as) the push towards 21st century skills. I’d also like to figure out what 21st century skills means to other people. Here is the abstract for the session, which in some ways repeats parts of what I just said:

ic-final

Korea TESOL 2016 International Conference poster Source: http://koreatesol.org/IC2016

The phrase, 21st century skills is something of a buzzword and a common theme of ELT conferences in the region and world. These skills are, of course, related to the theme of this conference. The need for English teachers to focus on these 21st century skills appears to be largely unquestioned. More teachers are focused on enhancing students‘ creativity, critical thinking, and 21st century technology skills. Is this the right path? In this interactive session, reasons for and against these expanding roles will be considered. Participants can expect to walk away from the session with a clearer sense of their actual roles and desired roles as English teachers and their reasons for choosing these roles.

As part (a large part!) of the session I’d like to share some opinions on 21st century skills that I’ve heard and ask the participants to give their thoughts on these. Below is the start (or the rough draft) of my list. If you have any additions please feel free to let me know. Also, if you have any thoughts on any of these please feel free to fire away. Without further delay here are the opinions I’d like to hear participants’ (and your) opinions on:

  1. If you are trying to teach critical thinking skills in an EFL situation where the students are below upper-intermediate you are doing them a disservice. It is hard enough to learn English let alone have to worry about critical thinking too! If you really want to teach critical thinking then you should become a subject teacher in the students’ L1 or work with very high levels.
  2. If you are teaching English to adult students or even college students and you are trying to teach them how to collaborate you are wasting both your time and their time. If they don’t know how to work with others yet they are never going to learn and it is not your duty or concern.
  3. Some people say that 2st century skills are just another fad but I can’t see it like that. These are things students will need and this is not changing anytime soon. We, as a profession, need to step away from our old-fashioned thinking and modernize our teaching practices.
  4. My issue with this push for creativity training (and all the other stuff) is that the teachers who profess the need for it are not adequately trained to do these sorts of things. Kudos to KOTESOL for putting this front and center but there needs to be even more training and support for teachers who are taking the important and necessary plunge into these new waters.
  5. If 21st century skills are so important why do our students even need to waste their time learning to speak English? Why not just teach them to code or something?
  6. 21st century skills is nothing but jargon designed to sell textbooks and bring people to conferences. This term doesn’t mean anything or change anything. Let’s focus on important and real things instead.
  7. I think this push to teach Asian students to be more creative is borderline racist. These teachers come from “native English speaking countries” and try to save students the education system that supposedly kills creativity. Maybe just do the you are hired to do. We don’t need another hero.
  8. This is the ELF era and what is most important is collaboration with people who don’t share an L1. When they start working, many of our students will be speaking on conference calls to English users from places like China, Japan and Malaysia so we need to prepare them for this reality. Old style grammar and writing focused classes are a waste of time and the key is giving students practice in situations they might really be in.
  9. I am afraid that too many teachers these days are attracted to shiny new webtools and use them without considering the pedagogical value of such sites and tools. What we need is a return to solid pedagogical principles.
  10. If you are hired to teach history you teach history. If you are hired to teach English you teach English. It’s very simple. I am not sure why we need to add all these new roles to the job. Our field is filled with this sense of inadequacy and doom so we are always looking to do more. In this case it is shortsighted because it takes away from our main job which is teaching English. Anything else is an unnecessary distraction.
  11. It’s not a just a buzzword when it can change students’ lives for the better. I honestly don’t understand the reluctance of some to face reality. What are they fighting against. We are in the 21st century so of course we should be helping students cope with this in any way we can regardless of our job title.
  12. I think Mike’s title for this workshop (it’s really just a discussion isn’t it?) is a bit off. He asks, “Is it okay to teach English instead of 21st century skills?” Why does it have to be either or? Can’t it be both? Do we have to choose just one?
  13. It is our duty to prepare students for the globalized world out there and if we stick to just teaching grammar and vocab we are robbing students of a chance to compete in the global marketplace.
  14. English is inextricably linked to both the internet and globalization. To attempt to teach English without helping students develop skills related to tech is cruel and unusual punishment.
  15. I feel sad for those students who are stuck with dinosaur teachers who refuse to do anything that is not in the textbook. Creativity is the name of the game these days and the students will suffer from the bad luck of having stubborn and antiquated teachers.
  16. I am sorry but I think the people who are talking  up 21st century skills have never really considered why they are important. What is the big deal? If it is important won’t students learn it on their own?
  17. I think anyone who criticizes focusing on creativity in language class is missing the point! When students’ creativity is explored and exploited they have more fun, activate their brains, and learn more. It is that simple.

Again, any comments and suggested additions are very welcome!

I don’t need your stinkin’ worksheets

Around 4 years ago I was giving a presentation in Seoul. The topic might have been something related to teacher talk but I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember clearly from that day is how a participant (a well-known workshop hijacker, in fact) somewhat interrupted the presentation and handed me one of his worksheets right there in in the middle of my talk. He had it with him and was ready to pounce, I suppose. As I recall, the worksheet was only just tangentially related to the topic of the session.  I considered this share of the worksheet an unusual move so I did what any fake polite presenter would and thanked the man for his kind gift. I told him I’d take a closer look at it after the session. I told myself the same thing. He seemed quite proud of the worksheet. I got the sense he thought there were profound truths and lessons for teachers built right into his worksheet. It was as though he thought the worksheet would elucidate his teaching philosophy while somehow connecting to the session he found himself in. I couldn’t really see the connection and thought maybe it would be more clear after further investigation of the worksheet.

The more I thought about the situation the less interest I had in examining that worksheet in detail and seeking the truths supposedly inherent in it. There are a few reasons for this. It was written for his students in a very different course in a very different program in a very different university from mine. I suspect this teacher and I have different teaching beliefs as well. There are so many variables! His worksheet  was nothing I could ever imagine myself using. Especially in my current context. Given the time I’d much prefer to make my own worksheet (or of course go paper-free).

I’m ready to admit to being less than fully opened-minded on this but I couldn’t see how his worksheet could be much use to me as a teacher. Maybe it was just given as an example and was not intended as something I could potentially use? Fine. Maybe the expectation was that I file it away for the next time I was “doing the present perfect” or something? I hope it was not given with the expectation that I just rip off 11 copies of it and use it on Monday morning.

This worksheet sharing is not a one time thing, though. I have noticed worksheet sharing sessions (“Bring your favorite worksheet!) at a few local ELT group meetings here in Korea. Is the idea to see how others approach certain grammar points (or vocab or whatever) or is it to help participants build a collection of worksheets that can be pulled out of the drawer as needed? Is it to get a sense for the principals of design that others employ? Is it to facilitate discussion on best practices in worksheet creation? Is it to get a peak into others’ classrooms through the papers their students see? I have never actually attended one of these sessions. Maybe I am missing something or a lot of things. Any explanations or experiences shared in the comments would be very helpful and greatly appreciated. If you have ever received a worksheet from someone and found this very helpful I’d love to read about it.

Look, I don’t have any great antipathy for worksheets (or their sharers). I think worksheets are fine and can even be great. I think they are beyond being just a necessary evil. Also, I’m not going to say I’ve never been to busyteacher.org and printed off some sweet and tasty documents. I’ve been there. I can say I believe there are better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon with other teachers than sharing worksheets.

perfect-worksheet

Disclaimers and additions: 

  • I want to mention this post is in no way a response to anything I have seen in the ELT blogosphere recently. I started this post (staring with the title!) about 18 months ago and am now just getting around to polishing (?) and posting it. Please don’t take this post as an indictment of anyone
  • I also want to clearly state for the record (in case it is not obvious) that this is just my own current take on things and I am ready to admit many teachers might be in a different position in terms of time available, time teaching, as well as teaching beliefs and a whole host of things that would impact views on a topic like this.
  • I suppose the title of this post is more aggressive than my actual feelings on the issue.
  • I am pretty crappy at making worksheets and would love some tips on layout and the like. This would be much more interesting (and useful) to me than a collection of random worksheets from people in different contexts.
  • Regarding the group meetings mentioned above, I suspect it is partially a way to get more people involved and not have so many presenter-focused sessions. This is something I’d applaud but I believe there are other ways to do this and certainly other ways which would be fruitful and interesting to me.  I’d much rather hear about someone’s toughest teaching challenge of the year instead of their favorite worksheet of the year. I’d rather hear about how they learned to be a better worksheet creator or how their term without worksheets went. I’d prefer to hear about their thoughts on what makes a good/bad worksheet.
  • Alex Case of the excellent TEFLtastic blog commented below and this reminded me I have used lots of stuff in recent years, especially for lessons focused on business English.