Category: Reflections

From the mailbag [Topic: KOTESOL IC]

mailbagHello folks. I received a question recently and thought it might be worth padding my blog post total sharing the answer here. I have had too many conversations about my treatment of KOTESOL here on this blog. I will never forget, however, a discussion with a member of the KOTESOL brass who said he always appreciates it when I write about KOTESOL because it keeps them on their toes and that I am almost always fair. Tough but fair, perhaps.

The question below is from a friend and prospective attendee for the 2017 KOTESOL International Conference.

I have to admit I have unusually warm and fuzzy feelings towards KOTESOL in the wake of the recent RP SIG Day of Reflection which I found to be an inspiring and thought-provoking day. 


Hey Michael,

Hope you’re well.

Just wondering if you could help me sort out some thoughts about the upcoming KOTESOL International Conference. I’ve been reading your post about past conferences https://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/tag/kotesol/ and perceptions of them and my over riding impression is that aside from networking opportunities there aren’t really much other advantages in comparison to reading articles that people post online. I guess I’m trying to figure out how a physical conference is better in regards to say a FB group.
So – my question is: given that I live in _______ *and would need to commute to Seoul and probably stay there for two days, do you think the benefit(s) would outweigh the cost(s) in terms of time and money? I know the answer is probably subjective but any thoughts you may have would be appreciated.


My answer to the above was something like the following:
(this version has fewer typos and more detail)

Hello NameRemoved,

Nice to hear from you. I hope I can be a bit of help. My general thought is that it’s still pretty worthwhile to go to KOTESOL even if it’s not perfect and there are annoyances. I worry that I might have been a bit overly negative at times because I have generally found the conference to be a good (to great) investment of time and money.

My biggest gripes in the past have been occasional lapses in management and manners but I feel like the last 3 conferences have been very good in these regards. I think my hottest rants were about the attitude on their Facebook group and I have since removed myself from that space but have heard reports it’s far more civil lately.

I am glad you searched my blog for KOTESOL and not K0TESOL as the posts with different labels can be a bit different.

Aside from networking and all I’d generally recommend it…unless someone really didn’t like/prefer seeing something in person. I think this speaks to your point about it being subjective. I mean, if you are the type of person that is never going to get any added value out of seeing a talk in person or discussing things with others at the venue then perhaps it’s not worth it.

This is actually something I have been thinking about for a while, this question of the benefits of all getting together at the same place vs. staying home and livestreaming something in the comfort of your own home without the need for showering, shaving and getting dressed. For me, the idea of listening to a long plenary from a big name speaker when I could just as easily read their book or article doesn’t seem like a good time. That said, I think there are and will be a variety of interesting talks and sessions.

One thing I noticed with this year’s IC is an invited panel discussion on, “The Future of Face-to-Face Conferences in the Digital Era” which might be related to our current conversation. As above, my thought is that unless you are really the type who doesn’t like face-to-face conferencing the KOTESOL IC is truly worth it.

I see that Ted O’Neil (aka @gotanda) will be there. I saw him give a great talk at KOTESOL a few years back and highly recommend seeing him. Marti Anderson (@martianderson7)  will be there and she is a very impressive thinker and presenter. I suspect you are familiar with Nicky Hockly of The Consultants-E? She has a few sessions that look interesting.

Some other sessions that caught my eye include:

  • Michael Free & Elizabeth May’s session “Assessment Dialogue: Let’s Talk about Grading Attendance and Participation”
  • Kalyan Chattopadhyay’s session titled “Analogue Teacher Training for the Digital Teacher: What the Teachers Say and Do”
  • Evan Frendo on “Evolving needs in university English for Specific Purposes”
  • Cameron Romney & John Campbell-Larsen with “Small talk is big talk: Teaching phatic communication”
  • Kathleen Kampa’s “No-Tech, Low-Tech, Active Teaching” session
  • Rob Dickey with “Is Teachers’ Technology Over-rated?”
  • Maria Lisak’s “A Pedagogy of Care and New Chances”
  • Jessica Ives with “Exploring teacher beliefs and classroom practices through reflective practice”

I think the above give a picture of the wide range of sessions available. There is also lots of talk about 21st century skills and you know this is a topic that always catches my interest.

I see there are also  “Tea with the speakers” events. I am not sure what I think about the extra 10,000 won fee for this but I can see how it might be a nice experience.

Speaking of costs. I feel like the cost for the conference itself is quite reasonable. Of course it can add up when you include things like travel, accommodation and food. How much is a movie ticket? Around 10,000 won, right? That is two hours. At the conference you can be entertained (and, more importantly, informed) for many hours. Just a thought.

Perhaps this video might help you make up your mind?

This blog post on reasons not to go might help you make up your mind as well.

Now that you have been so thoroughly convinced I can imagine you are thinking, “Okay, great Mike, thanks. See you then and there!” However, I will not be at the KOTESOL IC this year. If you are super curious where I’ll be instead you can click this link.

Thanks for the question and I hope I was somewhat helpful.

Sincerely,
Mike

Advertisements

Interview with Clare Maas

Below is an interview that was a long time coming! Clare and I talked about doing an interview quite while back and here it is below. We talked about a range of issues including materials development and she offered up a nice range of ideas and links. I thank Clare for taking the time to answer my questions.  Enjoy!

 

clare


Hello Clare, thanks for stopping by. We talked about doing this interview a while back and I’m so glad to be finally doing it.

 

Can I get you a drink? What are you having?

Ooh, I love a good cup of tea! You, know I still get my friends and family to bring me ‘proper’ tea bags when they come and visit me in Germany!

Okay some nice tea coming right up. Please make yourself comfortable. So, what is new?

Thanks! Well, I’m quite busy at the moment, though that in itself is nothing really new! Usually September is a pretty quiet time for me, at work I mean, but I told my parents and some friends in England that, and now I’ve been busy with visitors coming and going for long weekends! But, you know, it’s quite nice doing day trips and whatnot with them – I feel a bit like I’m on holiday, too, and it’s really good to forget about work for a few days! But I’ll be back in the office, and the classroom, soon enough: the new term always comes round so quickly, doesn’t it?

Oh for sure. My term started in late August and it was a bit of a shock to me. So, what do you do exactly?

I teach EAP at Trier University, in Germany. Well, that doesn’t quite capture it! I’m the team leader for EAP teaching within the English Studies Department, on top of my full-time teaching load, which is 16 hours per week. Doesn’t sound much does it? But with all the preparation and marking it can sometimes be more than a full-time job. And I’m also in charge of the Erasmus exchanges for our Department, so for all the students of ours who go to study at our European partner unis and the students from those universities who come to study with us for a term or year. Oh, and on the side I’m a materials writer of sorts – it’s something I’ve just recently started getting into! But the thing that is really ‘my job’, is being an EAP lecturer.

Yes, I’d like to talk about materials development. For now could you please tell us about your students and courses.

So I teach 8 two-hour classes each week, for semesters that run for about 15 weeks. A winter and a summer semester each year. The classes I teach cover a pretty wide spread: from oral presentations and academic writing, to translation, British cultural studies, and phonetics. Translation is probably one of my favourites. My MA was in translation, so I really am a translation nerd! I know it’s not always approved of in the ELT world, but with my generally monolingual groups learners, I think it’s helpful. And it also opens lots of doors to discuss interference from their first language, German, and also cultural differences, for example when a culturally-specific concept pops up in one of the translation texts.

Because I teach within the academic department, rather than a general language centre or whatever, all of my students have English Studies as one of their main degree subjects. Most of them are on degrees that will qualify them to be secondary-school EFL teachers in future. It means that my classes are part of their English Studies modules, and so I only see each group of students once a week. But it also means that the students have actually chosen to study English, so the general level of motivation is quite high. So is their level of English! In Germany, students are expected to leave high school with about a B2 level in English, and most of our students are even better than that. At the master’s level, especially if the students have spent time abroad in an English-speaking country, they’re often C2 level, so basically bilingual! It’s very rewarding to see! But it’s also hard to find materials for them, for their language development.

Oh wow. Many of my students are future translators so I should pick your brain at some point. You mentioned materials writing. We took Katherine Bilsborough’s iTDi course back in June 2016 on Creating ELT Materials. What are your lasting memories of the course. OR What are your takeaways from the course?

Yes, it was a great course, wasn’t it? Kath touched on a lot of things I had kind of already heard about, but it was great to discuss them in detail, and to get them together in my head in a more structured way. I’d say my biggest take-away was about writing instructions. And blurbs. So that other teachers can use the materials I create. In my team, we often share things we’ve made for our classes, but I think it was probably quite hard sometimes for my colleagues to see how I used the materials in the classroom, and so sharing probably wasn’t really effective. But from Kath, and with practice, I’ve learnt how to write clear instructions for the tasks I create, and also clear and concise blurbs or teaching notes, so that other teachers can follow what I intend to be done with the materials. I think Kath’s message, that all teachers are also materials writers in someway, is important, too. There seems to be, well often, a kind of conceptual gap. You know, when teachers think of ‘materials writers’, a lot of them probably just think of the big names, the authors of published textbooks. But most teachers write or adapt materials for their own teaching, so we’re all materials writers, whether we publish them or not. That’s a really key point for me. It was great that Kath emphasised it – it’s really influenced the way I think about materials writing!

I also really liked the community feeling that built up among us participants on that course. I wasn’t sure beforehand how that would pan out on a MOOC, but, you know, I’m still in touch with several of you guys that I ‘met’ on that course!

That is great. I think the sense of community was amazing on that course. On a somewhat similar note, I see you joined Twitter in 2014. How has social networking impacted your development?

Wow! Has it really been so long? I love Twitter! It’s the key way I keep in touch with people in the ELT world, and with you and the other people I met on Kath’s course. I use Twitter for professional networking, for my PLN, and separate that from Facebook, where I’m only ‘friends’ with people I’ve actually met – like old school friends, my immediate colleagues and so on. Although, having said that, I am in a few groups on Facebook that are about English teaching.

But Twitter is the social network I would recommend to anyone interested in CPD as a teacher, especially in ELT. I mean, it’s any easy way to keep up with what’s going on, people post articles and blogs and things like that, which I probably wouldn’t get to know about without Twitter. And also events, webinars, conferences and the like: I usually find out about those from Twitter. And I use it to share my own blog posts.

For me, what I really like about Twitter, is also that it kind of flattens the hierarchy. Do you know what I mean? So, you can be in touch with all those ‘big names’, if you want. It’s like, everyone is equal, valued for their contributions, not for their professional status or whatever.

Good points, for sure. Let’s move on from micro-blogging to blogging. I enjoy your blog. What do you usually write about?

Well, it’s a bit of a mix really! I guess I always kind of figured it would be, since I have so many interests within teaching, which is why I went with the name Clare’s ELT Compendium. I post materials I have created, and ideas on how to teach certain things or handle certain situations, but also my reflections on my own teaching or on what’s going on in ELT. I summarise conference talks I hear, review relevant books, and report on action research I do. So a real mix! But I think it captures me, as a teacher, with all the things that a teacher thinks about and does, it captures all of that. An all-round ELT blog!


Nice! Are there any posts you’d like to share here?  

Haha, all of them?! It depends on what you’re interested in. One post that got quite a bit of attention recently was about a project I did with my MA-level students. We wrote an ebook and published it on smashwords – within a 15-week semester! Lots of people seem interested in how we managed it, so I wrote it up in a blog post.

 

That was very cool and something I remembered quite well. Sorry to interupt. Please continue…

Also, last year, I did a series of posts called “7 Days 7 Ways” all about professional development for ELT teachers. It covers everything that I do for my CPD, like blogs, webinars, reading teaching magazines, etc. That, I’d say, is definitely worth a read!

Excellent. Thank you. You have a talk coming up, right? What is about? 

Actually, I have a couple! The next one is an online talk, “Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing”. I’m giving it as part of the LTSIG and OllRen online conference. It’s on 5th October, at 4.25pm UK time, if you’d like to join!

Sounds interesting for sure. As a note for readers, here is a link about the talk. Do you have more to add on this topic? 

Basically, I’ll be reporting on research I’ve done into developing a procedure of learner-driven feedback on L2 essays. In LDF, as I call it, the feedback is given by the teacher, but the student can decide what they receive feedback on, and in what form, so via email or audio recording or whatever.

I came up with LDF by combining some other feedback ideas I’d heard and read about, and did a study with my students to see how they liked it. I’m going to be giving a talk on more general ideas on feedback at the TEASIG event in Luton at the end of October, too! Feedback has been my ‘baby’, my topic, for a while, so I’ve got plenty to say about it!

Oh, and I’ll also be at the TESOL Spain convention next March, giving a talk that combines two of my other interests – the topic is “How can research inform our ELT materials writing?” It’ll be part of a strand that MaWSIG are running at that convention.

Oh, okay.  Wow. I was right. You are busy! Can you say more about MAWSIG? Like, what is it? What do you do there? How is it pronounced?

Ok, so firstly, we pronounce it like ‘more sig’. It stands for Materials Writing Special Interest Group, which is a bit of a mouthful! It’s one of IATEFL’s special interest groups, SIGs, and we aim to provide networking and professional development for anyone who is involved in creating materials for English language learners. It’s one of the younger SIGs, and also one of the more active ones, I think. I’m on the events team, and we organise meetups, conferences and things like that. Online and face-to-face conferences. Also, one of my biggest contributions so far has been getting a materials writing competition off the ground, aimed at teachers who write, or unpublished materials writers. You can check out the upcoming events and the competition, oh and also a pretty active blog, on our website: mawsig.iatefl.org

Thank you! Are there any books or blog posts or anything you’d recommend to those getting into materials development?

Well, the MaWSIG blog on our website is a great resource for this! Otherwise, I’d recommend people check out the books published by ELTTeacher2Writer, they’re all ‘how to’ type guides on writing different kinds of materials for ELT.

Oh, and recently, ETPedia have brought out a materials writing one, it’s by John Hughes and Lindsay Clandfield. That’s a really easy one to dip into for ideas, too, so a worthwhile investment!

Thank you for this. I’d sort of forgotten to keep checking back with some of these so it was a nice chance to catch up. Stepping away from ELT for a moment, what are some non-ELT books you’d like to recommend?

I like to read general teaching books, too. One that I really liked was ‘How to Teach so Students Remember’, it’s by Marilee Sprenger.

If you’re talking about fiction, I like crime mysteries, like by Elizabeth George or P.J. Tracy, and also novels that include social criticism, like by Ben Elton. My all-time favourite is George Orwell’s ‘1984’.

The last one is a favorite of mine so I will have to check out the others! Thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s been a pleasure and I hope and believe it’s been helpful for readers as well. Thank you! I won’t pressure you about a guest post just yet!

Thank you, Mike! Bye!

(Crowdsourced) Tips for Learning English

I was just now looking for an old file on my Google Drive and encountered the list below. I am not sure exactly when it was from but I thought there were some useful (and some interesting but perhaps not that useful) pieces of advice there.

The docucument I found had the following message:

Hello!
I (@michaelegriffin)  thought it would be fun and interesting to crowdsource some tips related to learning English. My idea is to use the tips in an upcoming discussion class. I’d like to have my students evaluate them and create their own lists. So, the idea for this page is to share tips you have heard or given in the past. It doesn’t matter if you think the tips are good or useful because my students will be asked to evaluate the tips.
Just for reference, my students are graduate students who are roughly intermediate to upper-intermediate in terms of English skills.

Please go ahead and add any tips that come to to mind! Thank you!
I might post the collection of them on my blog.

My original idea for this list was to use it in class and have students evaluate the advice and consider what might be useful and not so useful. I also hoped students would consider possible downsides to certain pieces of advice. as well.

It is so nice I was able to get such a variety of responses and ideas. I remember my students truly appreciated the ideas and the chance to think about the ideas and add their own.

I should note that most of the silly ones were from me (but not the one specifically about one Mr. Michael Griffin).

I thought it might be interesting or useful to share the pieces of advice here. I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to those who contributed ideas to this document! It would be so fun for me to hear about anyone using this list in class so please feel free to do so! Enjoy the list and thank you again to those who shared ideas.

  • Talk to yourself as you walk down the street and ride public transportation.
  • Read as much as you can. Read for fun.
  • Use an app to memorize words.
  • Never memorize single words, you need to remember words as a part of a chunk.
  • Listen to podcasts as much as you can.
  • Talk only to native speakers because you don’t want to pick up the wrong accent.
  • Get surgery on your tongue if you have trouble with particular sounds.
  • ‘Read like a writer’- Read a text (anything really) and ask yourself why the writer chose to write that phrase, sentence, or paragraph they way they did. Ask yourself about word choices, collocations, grammar, and more. If you cannot answer your own questions or your answers lead to more questions, ask someone else those questions.
  • Read according to your interest. You will probably pick up vocabulary and phrases you can use sooner rather than later.
  • Find a teacher like Michael Griffin. Seriously. Lol.
  • Listen more. Listen a lot to sites like EnglishCentral. Randalls ESL Lab. ELLLO.org. Watch episodes of your favorite sitcom over and over in English. Not CSI Miami type complex stuff, Friends, Third Rock from the Sun or the Simpsons is better.
  • Don’t asked for help by natives speaker because they’re grammars are shockingly worst!
  • Use sites such as memrise or quizlet for vocabulary practice.
  • If you start listening or reading something, make sure you listen/read all the way to the end, even if you don’t find it interesting or if it’s too hard/easy.  You’ll always learn something from it.
  • Short and regular bursts of any activity to learn English are better than longer & less frequent ones.
  • Recording yourself speaking in English and listening to it afterwards can be a revealing experience.
  • Make an appointment with yourself in your weekly diary for when you’ll do your English activity.  If you don’t write it down it probably won’t happen!
  • Commit to doing some practice every single day, even if it’s only 10 minutes.
  • Go to the library and ask the librarians how to use the library e.g. online courses, events, using the catalogue; then join the library!
  • Switch the language preferences on your TV, phone, software, wikipedia, so that you can integrate little bits of English into your everyday life.
  • Don’t wait to be perfect before speaking the language: start by speaking out loud to yourself, record yourself, find a speaking safe space with a trusted friend, make a low stakes phone call in familiar context
  • Choose someone who has the same L1 as you and whose English skills you admire. Think about why you admire their English: Fluency? Pronunciation? Confidence? Use this person as a non-native model.
  • Keep a record of the time you spend learning English between classes – 10 minutes a day, every day for 6 months. Use smiley faces for work done, but don’t beat yourself up when you don’t have enough time. Just start again.
  • Make personalised sentences whenever you come across new chunks of vocabulary. Try new expressions out in real life (with friend or teacher) as soon as you can.
  • Choose a goal for using the language that will keep you motivated.
  • Try to remember what you learned last week, test yourself.
  • Record yourself with sound recorder or video camera on your mobile phone to practise pronunciation.
  • Language can be full of surprises, exceptions, and ambiguity, Don’t let this hold you back.
  • Use Google’s speech-to-text function to test your pronunciation.
  • Use freely available material interesting to you to practice listening, like dramas and documentaries on YouTube.
  • Get a part-time job where you’ll need to use some English.
  • Sing along to (English language) pop songs you like. Singing’s healthy, too.  
  • Start a conversation with a random person in the street – you could ask them the time, for example. This works if you’re in a country where the language you’re learning is spoken. Do this every day.
  • Find your own best way to practise: Try a couple of the tips and see how they work for you. Stick to the ones that seem to be working well for you, do them on a regular basis-because they work well, they won’t feel like burden. Then you can try a couple more and so on and so forth. You can find a million tips, the trick is to find the one(s) for you! Good Luck 🙂

It finally happened

No, I didn’t finally get someone to take that Canadian quarter of mine.

Something just as interesting and unlikely happened, though.

*dramatic pause*

A current student found, read, and mentioned my blog in class. I never thought it would happen in my current teaching world. I would have bet a few coins (Canadian or otherwise) against this. In fact, a few years back I had a very interesting discussion about this possibility with Florentina Taylor (who, sadly, is no longer on Twitter but is featured in an interview on this very blog here). She was surprised by a post of mine where I said the group I was teaching “was probably the nicest collection of students I have ever taught in my nearly 15 years teaching.” Dr. Taylor was concerned that former students would read it and feel bad at not being considered the nicest. My thought different.  I thought since I was talking about a whole range of classes in different departments none of my former (or future?) students would feel slighted at all. I am not sure if I was right about that, to be honest.

One thing I was surely wrong about was that my students (future, current or past) would read my blog. At least one student did.  Let’s call her Melissa.

If I remember correctly, it was after class or during a break. Melissa said something like “I have a question unrelated to our course… I read your blog post about using untrue stories in class and I wondered about something we did last year. In class you had us plan a travel itinerary for your friend who was coming to Korea. So, my question is… was that real?” I gave a somewhat convoluted answer saying was real in spirit and that I’ve had a few friends from high school visit the fair city of Seoul. Aspects of that lesson were untrue in that Jeff was not really coming to Korea soon (and in fact had already been). I think this is the kind of white lie that is worthwhile and reasonable. Perhaps in the interest of full-disclosure I could have said it was not strictly 100% true but when David visited this year the information we gathered was helpful. Regardless of the thruthiness issue, it was interesting to talk about something on my blog with a real-life student.

nobody reads your blog

Again, this was something I didn’t expect to happen. I figured my students would not be interested in anything I’d have to say about teaching  and I also thought they’d be too busy with their own studies to worry about my little corner of the blogosphere. I also thought they’d be unlikely to take the initiate to find my blog without me telling them the exact URL. I maybe had some thought most of them would be using Naver more than Google and wouldn’t be searching for any Michael Griffin related things. I recall in some classes the fact I have a blog came up and some students showed interest and asked me the address. I said something coy like, “I think you can find it if you really want to.” I just didn’t feel like sharing it, especially since I am not in it for the hits.

In not directly sharing my blog with previous students I suppose I was also worried just a little about certain things like being too honest, cursing just a bit too much, not putting my best foot forward , or not quite capturing my own views as clearly as I’d like. I worried I could paint myself in a bad way which could alter students’ perceptions of me. At the same time, I was fully aware that the internet is forever and how anything I write could conceivably be read by anyone.

Now, Melissa is a smart, cool, inquisitive, and understanding person. Hi, Melissa! I was not worried about students like her. I can’t expect all students to be like her. I was (am?) perhaps worried about students who already had an axe to grind using some nonsense I wrote to show I’m a bad person or something like that. As an example, I wrote, “Couldn’t teach today because of Confucianism” a while back and teachers presumably without any reason to think the worst of the author (and presumably with very strong reading skills) read it without the irony intended. I can sort of imagine a student talking about the author’s lack or respect for Korean culture and using this post to show how lazy and out of touch the teacher is.

I suppose this blog post is not really about anything. The title could be, “I finally have proof that the thing which was a distinct possibility all along happened and nothing really changes at all.” That is, of course, not a snappy title.  Ultimately, the realization that Dr. Taylor was right about students reading the blog doesn’t change much. Maybe we’ll see a 12% reduction in F-bombs. I can’t really see any major changes here at ELT RRR.

I should say clearly and emphatically that concerns about students reading this blog were not among the reasons for my slight hibernation ( which are detailed here). It was truly just a coincidence.

In classic “Blog Like a Boss” fashion I’ll go ahead and finish with some questions for the community.

  • Do you think about students potentially reading what you write?
  • Would your writing be different if you were sure students would never read it?
  • Have your students ever talked about your blog with you?
  • Have you ever heard of a teacher getting in hot water with a student based on what they wrote on a blog?
  • Do you have guidelines for yourself or from your institutions about what you can and should write about on blogs or elsewhere?

A Post on World Suicide Prevention Day

It was just around a year ago. I’ll never forget it. I got the message on Facebook through a mutual friend. I was told my friend passed away unexpectedly. No details were given. I was asked not to tell anyone else about it. I wondered what happened but decided it was best to respect the privacy of those more closely involved.  After a month or so I pieced things together and figured out my friend had taken his own life. I don’t actually know the specifics and I wouldn’t really wish to share them here anyway.

This post is not about my detective skills. It’s not actually about me at all even if I thought it was or in some ways wanted it to be at certain times. When I heard the news I jumped to thoughts like, “What could I have done?” and “Is it somehow my fault?” “Was it my sins of omission or commission that caused this?” Intellectually I knew it was not about me but I couldn’t help but wonder, “What if I’d emailed him in August just to check in as I’d planned?” and “What if I’d never encouraged him to change jobs?” and “What if I’d made more time for the coffee and chats we’d scheduled and rescheduled and put off till a better time?” Again, when I step back I can see that these thoughts are somewhere between pointless and silly and that they don’t really help me or anyone at all.

Pushing myself out of the equation, I still found myself wondering about various other “what ifs.” For example, “What if he’d  been more aware of how much he was loved and respected?” And, “What if he knew more about the resources (I presume) are out there?” To be honest, I have no idea how aware he was or wasn’t about the resources, help, and organizations out there. Below I share some links on the chance that someone reading this is unaware of what is out there. I’d invite comments with additional links and resources.

To my mind and experience, mental health is stigmatized and not talked about much in professional circles. There are some notable examples were this trend is not followed. Here are a few examples that jumped out to me:

I truly hope that sharing these might be helpful.

In some brief research and checking my memory I found Innovate ELT, and Gangwon KOTESOL included topics related to mental health in  their conferences. I think that is a positive step. I wonder if this is something that is generally not seen as part of professional development and thus not featured at conferences?

I hoped to include some links and suggestions for people in Korea who might not speak Korean well enough to talk about such things in Korean. Here are a few:

This is, I think, an incomplete list but I thought it could be a start. If anyone has any additional suggestions I will gratefully add them to the post.

I hesitated about writing this for ages as I worried it would be something like fishing for sympathy or something like that. I worried that I couldn’t capture the nuance I wanted. I feared I wouldn’t share my thoughts in an appropriate way. Today I finally decided to write it in the hope it might be helpful for someone. The fact today is World Suicide Prevention Day gave me the final push I needed to post it.

But what if we’re wrong?

Well, everyone knows extensive reading is the best way to acquire vocabulary. What this post presupposes is… maybe it isn’t?

eli cash

Please note this post has little to do with extensive reading. It’s more about beliefs and changing beliefs and temporally suspending our beliefs or imagining we didn’t have them or had different ones.

Teachers have their beliefs and presumably (but of course not always) take actions in accordance with these beliefs. I think teacher beliefs are a good thing. I think talking about them is a good thing. I also think it’s always worth remembering that they are just beliefs. I feel like acknowledging our beliefs as just beliefs (and not facts) is a useful tool when thinking about our teaching..

My sense is teachers are not often asked to consider or articulate the beliefs they have. In Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers Graves notes, “Most teachers don’t have opportunities make their beliefs explicit  because the institutions in which they work do not generally ask them to articulate their beliefs not do they place a value on such articulation.” (p 26) I wonder if this sounds familiar or matches your experiences, dear reader.

I think giving time to discuss, revisit, and evaluate our beliefs can be an important and valuable step in professional development. Graves suggests it doesn’t happen often in workplaces and I would also suggest it doesn’t happen often in face-to-face professional development meetings like conferences. either. I could be wrong but that is just my sense.

I feel like in workshops and the like it might be a good idea to give participants a chance to consider and articulate their beliefs while creating non-threatening chances to consider, reconsider, and evaluate those beliefs. Of particular importance, I think, is creating an atmosphere of discovery so people don’t feel pushed to change anything at the risk they might become even more entrenched in the beliefs. Even though they are “just beliefs” it can be hard to let them go without a fight. My idea is that giving people a place and space to explore teaching beliefs (whether or not these beliefs have been articulated previously) can be helpful for teachers.

A nice, if not particularly new place (and if you have another suggestions I’d love to hear them) to get started on thinking and talking about beliefs is this questionnaire adapted from  The ELT curriculum: Design, Innovation and Management by Ronald V. White:

  1. Language is a system of grammatical rules.
  2. Vocabulary is the most important part of a language.
  3. Language is basically establishing and maintaining social relationships. Language learning is best promoted through using the language in authentic situations in the classroom.
  4. Meaning is best conveyed through translation between the target language and the mother tongue.
  5. There is no transfer from one skill to another when learning a language.
  6. Language learning is best when the focus is on something other than the language itself.
  7. A syllabus should take students’ wants and interests into account even when these are different from their needs.
  8. A syllabus should be based on known areas of difficulty in grammar and pronunciation.
  9. A syllabus should be based on the students’ communicative needs outside the classroom.
  10. The teacher must teach to the test since exam results affect students’ future choices.
  11. The teacher must encourage collaboration to help facilitate learning.
  12. The teacher must correct students’ errors at all times.
  13. The teacher must remain in full control of the class at all times.
  14. The teacher must avoid deviating from the syllabus, the lesson plan, or the textbook.
  15. Students need to be kept active and interested by the teacher.
  16. Students usually do not know what’s good for them.
  17. Students achieve best in a competitive atmosphere.
  18. Students pick up mistakes from one another, so all language in the class must be controlled and checked by the teacher.
  19. Spontaneous interaction helps students to learn to communicate.
  20. Students in a language class feel very vulnerable and sensitive.
    (pp 158-162)

I think we can expand on and enhance discussions of our beliefs by considering what it would mean for our teaching  if we didn’t have the beliefs we have. Even further, to the extent that beliefs can be “wrong” what if our strongest held beliefs are found to be “wrong?” What would be different? What if we wake up tomorrow and it’s discovered, for example, Learning Styles are (or are not, I guess) really a thing and our teaching should (or shouldn’t) be guided by them? How would your teaching change? What would it mean for your classes? What would it mean if suddenly your beliefs were the opposite of what they are now?

I think this type of examination can lead to some powerful insights. As luck would have it, this very topic and mental exercise will be the basis of my upcoming session at the KOTESOL RPSIG Day of Reflection” on Sept 30. It promises to be an interesting and insight producing day, so if you have a chance, I’d recommend coming along.

Day of Reflection 2017 Poster  iv.jpg

 

Finally, here is my abstract in case you are into that sort of thing.

But what if we are wrong? 

Uncovering beliefs, articulating them, reflecting upon them, and considering how they (or how they don’t or might better) translate into action in the classroom can be extremely valuable for teacher development. In this interactive session, we will explore and consider some of our more tightly held beliefs. Part of this exploration will be bringing our beliefs to the light of day and examining where they come from and what purpose they serve. Part of this exploration will be to imagine the beliefs we hold dear are simply “wrong.” What would that mean for us? How might our beliefs being “wrong” be impact our classroom practices and ourselves as teachers? These are the types of questions that will be considered and discussed in the workshop. Participants can expect to walk away with a better understanding of their beliefs or a sense of confusion and a series of questions to consider.

And yes, the title was totally “borrowed” from Chuck Klosterman’s book of the same name. I’d say this book is worth reading.

Review of Classroom Community Builders: Activities for the First Day & Beyond

It’s September (already!?) and lots of people are starting new terms and school years. It’s a good time to think about icebreakers and also consider stepping away from the same old first day of class ideas. I find it very easy to get stuck with such activities but also feel rewarded when I try something new or return to something I haven’t done in a while. The new book, Classroom Community Builders: Activities for the First Day & Beyond by Walton Burns from Alphabet Publishing could be a useful one for teachers in the same situation. Please find my review of the book below below. 

I should mention, in the interests of full disclosure, Walton sent me an advance copy of his book and asked me for comments. He is also a nice guy, a passionate educator, and a fellow Nutmegger. 

walton book.jpg

I once worked in a language academy where first day getting-to-know-you ice-breaking type activities were not allowed! It was always a bit strange to me to just jump into the grammar or whatever without students learning each others’ names or anything about each other. I never liked that rule but I think it came from students’ complaints about teachers wasting too much time on touchy feely, fluffy, mindless activities unrelated to learning or class content.  I wonder if things would have been different if we’d had access to Classroom Community Builders: Activities for the First Day & Beyond, a helpful book published by Alphabet Publishing, which shares a variety of useful activities. The book is well-organized collection activities for teachers interested in incorporating community building into their classes.

Burns states in the intro that he wanted to get away from “empty” and meaningless ice-breakers and instead focus on activities “relevant to the content of the class. Rather than choosing between teaching our subject or doing community building activities, we need to find activities that do both.” This is a noble goal and I’d say it is achieved. Throughout the book is a clear emphasis on collaborating, creativity, community building and fun. I also like how many of the activities have students get out of their chairs and work in different ways.

I especially liked the Book Scan, Syllabus Scavenger Hunt,  Classroom Rules Negotiation activities because they seem like they could “kill two birds with one stone” by addressing typical first day of class information while keeping the focus on building a community. I feel like this speaks to the concerns the Director in my previous job where these activities were banned. It be easy to forget about the content when aiming to break the ice and I think it can be important to keep them both in mind.

I also like the way the activities handle potentially challenging topics (like classroom rules)  by giving students a chance to think and talk about them rather than listen to edicts from the teacher. Of course, this can also add to student buy in and can help students feel they have a voice in how things will go in the course. I think this is a nice and useful angle. I think the nuanced approach to these conversations and decisions would be very helpful for teachers who are not so comfortable with such things.

If I had to criticize anything it would be that I feel like I have seen (or done) a version of many of the activities in the book. That said, I think it’s nice to have everything in the same place, right there in this handy book. Also, even though I was familiar with many of the activities variations and wrinkles are provided and this adds a new level to activities I’m familiar with. As an example, I have done Sentence Auctions numerous times but seeing how it is detailed step-by-step here was still helpful for me. I tend to play with slightly different rules so it was worthwhile to reflect on why I set up the game in the manner I do.

Additionally, variations on many activities are suggested and these could surely spice up teaching routines for activities that teachers are already familiar with. There are also extensions and suggestions for additional sources. I can imagine these suggestions and additional links being very helpful for a teacher who would like to add a new wrinkle on activities they are already comfortable with.

Also provided is a list of materials needed (often including the materials themselves) and the steps to take for each activity which could also be helpful information even when we have done an activity a few times already. Example sentences and texts are supplied and these could act as support for a teacher interested in making their own or could simply be printed off and used as is. In any case, the examples provide a firm basis for teachers to try out the activities.

An interesting aspect of the book is how tried and true activities (like sentence auctions or cloze paragraphs) are categorized as community builders. I think simply shifting how we think of these from say, strictly a grammar activity to a community building activity is a useful mental exercise that could potentially yield even better results. This was a helpful reminder for me and something I will try to keep in mind this autumn term and beyond.

I found the book to be personal, thoughtful, and engaging.
I’m looking forward to trying out a few activities in September. I will be sure to try out Follow the Directions in the first few weeks of class.  Thank you for reading and thank you to Walton for sharing the book with me (and for writing it).