Long time no listicle

  1. Long time no post, too. Well here I am posting after avery long lay-off. Let’s just get right into it.
  2. I hope, dear reader, that things are going well or as well as possible for you.
  3. I am doing very well considering *gestures* all this . I’m fine and good.
  4. There is so much happening in the world which makes what I might want to write on this blog feel extremely trivial.
  5. Listicle is considered a spelling mistake by WordPress or Google or whoever I’ve got doing the spellchecking here. You can probably guess the first suggestion. If you can’t guess all I will say on this very clean ELT blog is that it’s more like testes than tests.

    Get it? Because it’s an ELT blog I mentioned assessment.

    Perhaps I erred. It seems like the first spelling suggestion is legalistic. Anyway.
  6. This one of the worst listicles ever because there is not even a theme.
  7. I think I once told a friend that the key to getting back into blogging was to just post something and build the momentum from there. I suppose this might contain some truth. Let’s see.
  8. Point 4 is something of an excuse for this long layoff from blogging but not a particularly interesting or compelling one.
  9. But I mean, really, does anyone care about what I think about the finer points of pre-teaching lexis in a reading lesson?
    (Rhetorical question).
  10. While I have not been blogging here I am the editor/curator of the New School TESOL blog, Uncharted TESOL, and there have been some great posts there lately (with more to come, in fact).
  11. This new “block” business on WordPress sort of sux takes some time to get used to. This is not an excuse for not blogging at all. Just an observation.
  12. I wrote/revised three abstracts for a conference today. That seems like a lot. I didn’t see anything about a maximum on the website.
  13. It might eventually turn into a blog post someday but I was 0/2 for this same conference in terms of acceptances last year. To be quite frank it was a bit of a blow to the old ego as I’d been on a nice streak of acceptances.
  14. I get the sense that the conference organizers for this particular one want super hyper practical stuff and I guess that is not really my interest at the moment, especially in terms of sharing some hot new idea and then giving participants a chance to practice or something like. No disrespect or shade to the organizers or those who are into that sort of thing.
  15. I had a look at the page on this blog where I listed the sessions and workshops I’ve done and realized a) that page is outdated b) there is not so much practical stuff there. If I squint I can see a trend sort of getting away from practical sessions. I wonder if this is common.
  16. Note to self: Go ahead and update that about page soon, big fella.
  17. This is the sort of hard-hitting breaking news you read this kind of a post for. Only two abstracts are allowed to be submitted for that conference and now I need to decide which one to cull. That was fun.
    (I had a feeling only two were allowed and I was feeling sort of unethical about sending three anyway.)
  18. I am thinking that I will cut the abstract that seems least fun to me and least like the one I want to do. Uncoincidentally, I also think it would be the most likely to be accepted.
  19. You might have been wondering about all the above business about a conference and thinking I am confused, foolish, or overly optimistic. This conference is scheduled to be in Vietnam and that is where I am now. This article from the IMF explains how Vietnam handled/is handling things with the virus. Also, this piece from an American English teacher offers a more personalized view.
  20. Depending on how you count it, in the past few weeks I had my 20th anniversary of being in ELT.

Polishing Turds [Guest post] 

It’s a great pleasure to welcome back the most frequent guest poster here on ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections. The author, Mr. Tim Thompson, is a friend. We were discussing the recent experience he describes below and he got to writing about. When he had about 300 words down and said, “It feels like an ELT Rant and Reflection” and I said I’d be glad to publish it here (instead of his personal blog because I thought it was interesting and enjoyable and also because it was a bit of a reflective rant. I hope you will enjoy it! I will turn things over to Tim…

I really wanted that bonus, and honestly it shouldn’t have been that hard to get. An average feedback score of four out of five for a corporate training course on a subject that I know really well? That’s a B.  80%. No sweat. But it didn’t happen and I’m pretty sure I know why.

Reason 1: It wasn’t my course. I didn’t design it. There was a company that was contracted by the client to develop the content and I was subcontracted to do the training alongside the company’s internal trainers. The participants just didn’t like the course. So the course got panned and indirectly so did I.  

Reason 2: I didn’t/couldn’t find out what the participants were asked to evaluate. Was is about the way I ran my sessions or was it more how they felt about the program? Were they evaluating things I could control, like my energy level and preparation, or was it more about things I had no control over such as the pace of the course and its content? It appears to have been the latter based on some overall course feedback that I saw. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve walked into a training session feeling like I was being asked to sell defective goods. I’ve had to work with other people’s and organizations’ materials and curricula before, and it’s really hard because 1) you’re not as familiar with it as you would be with your own stuff and 2) if it isn’t very good, 99% of the time they won’t let you fix it. Sometimes they don’t see that it’s weak and/or flawed and other times they know it’s not great but they think you should be able to “bring it to life” like you do with your own materials. If only it worked that way.

I guess I’m writing this post for two reasons (wow, I’m sensing a real theme here). The first is to vent, and I suppose this blog is as good a place to “rant” as anywhere on the interwebs. The second is to warn readers that when you stand in front of a group of people and expect them to give you their time and attention, to step out of their comfort zone to try something new, you need to bring a big personality and you also need the right tools for the job. (Does this qualify as a reflection?) Tiger Woods shouldn’t play the final round of a major tournament with a set of borrowed clubs from a guy who missed the cut. Likewise, be really careful risking your reputation trying to salvage a mediocre course.

So, what should you do if you have the opportunity to make some money using someone else’s materials and you don’t feel like they are that strong?  First of all, how much money is it? Seriously, this gig paid really well so I wasn’t going to threaten to quit if they didn’t do things my way. I went in there like a good soldier and fired where they pointed.  If the money was average, I might have turned it down. Here’s why: I don’t think I made the impression that I wanted to make. Honestly, I felt like I was training the participants with one hand tied behind my back.  They didn’t take my course so they didn’t get the best me. If you run your own business, YOU are the brand. That means every talk you give and every training session you lead affects what people think of you, and thus your company.  If you are going to potentially do damage to your brand, it better pay really well! 

Postscript: After finding out there would be no bonus due to the low overall course feedback scores, I contacted the company and suggested they consider using my materials and curriculum for future training sessions. I’m offering a program that I have run for major corporations and government research centers and the feedback is always stellar. The company said they will consider it but I don’t know if they can convince the client to make the wholesale changes required for the training course to be conducted successfully.  Michael will tell you that I can be a bit of a control freak so not being able to run the show might mean this professional relationship needs to end. At the end of the day I’d rather pick and choose the best opportunities to showcase what I can do than stay busy polishing turds.

Discussion on Culture in the EFL Classroom

Hello dear reader. Welcome. Imagine you are asked to answer the following questions:

  1. In your experience, as either a student or a teacher, reflect on a time when you witnessed how culture impacted language learning. Describe the incident briefly.
  2. How did you or your teacher deal with the situation?
  3. What do you think about it now?  What changes or modifications would you like to make to the approach that you or your teacher used?

Do any examples come to mind? If so I would truly appreciate it if you could share your response in the comments of this post. I would likely share it with future training course participants (unless you tell me you’d prefer me not to).

If you have a few minutes and are interested please do share your response. You might even choose to type it up before you read on. Please do give the questions some thought.

Don’t just skip to the next section. Yeah, you.

hippo

Does this hippo look embarrassed to you? Source


I doesn’t seem fair to just ask for replies without offering anything in return. I’d like to share the background for this and some of the responses I’ve seen and perhaps some food for thought. This task is from an online course on CBI I’ve been teaching on for a while.

Quite often participants (EFL teachers from around the world) respond with things like the following partially fictionalized responses.

  • In my L1 bread is countable but in English it’s not so I need to teach students more about this and sometimes I bring bread as an example.
  • In my L1 (Spanish) embarazada (pregnant) is not the same thing as embarrassed in English. Students get confused and maybe sometimes, ahem embarrassed, by this false friend and I need to teach them about the crucial difference. False cognates are tough.
  • In Korea and Korean we count by ten thousands and in English they count by hundreds and thousands and millions and so on. It’s really hard for students to think differently. I have no idea how to handle this except for more practice.
  • In Chinese we actually have so many borrowed words from English and sometimes the meaning is different in Chinese or Chinese English than “real” English. It’s tough to keep up with. Toast is one such example. Students can’t seem to realize that, by definition, toast needs to have been placed in a toaster and otherwise it’s probably just bread.
  • My students were amazed to see that a word from their L1 is actually used in English. They thought it was amazing that flamingo, the bird, would be known by most native speakers in North America.

flamingo-4241034_960_720

In Portuguese this is called a “flamingo” Source

Do these answers match what you thought about for the original questions? To me they are a bit off the mark as I think they are about language more than culture. I try not to get into a whole thing on Whorfianism but I try to nudge participants to think less about language and more about the culture of learning for this assignment. I get that language and culture are linked and intertwined. I get that students can get confused about such things.

I guess for me, the “X is different in English than my language” is important but not central to a conversation about culture in the classroom. I also think such posts don’t lend themselves to a deep discussion. The takeaway is often something like, “I will focus more on this in class and make sure students get it.” Also many of the above answers are not really describing an incident but rather a difference (or similarity ) between languages. 

As you might imagine, I try to provide models of answers that I think work well (and yes my initial request above is related to that) and also try to nudge participants in what I think is a more productive direction. I am also thinking about ways to revise the instructions and text that precedes this discussion.

To be clear, I don’t think the responses above are particularly bad or wrong but rather just not the most productive track for a discussion on how culture can impact learning. What do you think?