Tagged: random

David and Me

It was autumn 2008 and I was a young, fresh faced new MATESOL student. I was working in a job that I enjoyed at a “unigwon” in Seoul. I was teaching adults and college students in an intensive English program. There were many issues with the job and the program (which have been detailed at times on this blog) but on the whole I loved the job and loved working with adults and young adults. I was attending my first K0TESOL conference in a long time. I had just accosted met Scott Thornbury. I was feeling extremely enthusiastic about the field and my place in it. Then I saw David Graddol’s plenary and suddenly I was feeling less excited. I was downright nervous. My feelings were more along the lines of “What in the hell have I gotten myself into?” In the talk there was a lot of talk about demographics and probably even demography. There were charts. Lotsa charts. There was doom and gloom and a lack of hope, from what I recall. I remember thinking, “This is a sinking ship. Why would you get an MA in a field that will evaporate before your very eyes? This is just your  first term. Maybe you can consider this a sunk cost and escape while there is still time and still hope. This whole TESOL game is rigged and the peak is coming in 2010. That is awfully soon. Abort the mission! Get out while you can!” In the aftermath of Graddol’s talk I was seriously reconsidering my choice to get more deeply involved in the industry. It was as hilarious as it was shocking to me. How did I manage to not know that the field was crumbling? How did I not do the required research before diving headfirst into this MA? I remember thinking, “Really, Mike, you didn’t think to check on this stuff?”

2008-Poster-cropped (1)

A poster from the event that served as my introduction to David Graddol.

A week or after the conference I saw a chat between Mssrs. Thornbury and Graddol in which perhaps some of my fears were allayed a bit.  Graddol said he didn’t have much fear for those just starting out. He said that English teachers have always been changing and adapting and “English teachers have to be constantly transforming themselves and  reinventing themselves.”  The whole video of this discussion/interview is less than 3 minutes and is worth a look in my humble and not so scared opinion. It’s right here. Watch it.

Even if my fears were slightly assuaged, Graddol’s talk at K0TESOL had a big impact on me. To give one example, it actually gave me a bit of a push to get into teacher training. My thinking was if jobs figure to dry up teaching English to adults there will be more jobs training teachers  of younger learners (for a time at least). Watching his talk gave me the necessary nudge to pursue something I had been thinking about for a while. Perhaps I took his exhortation to transform to heart. By spring 2009 I was working as a teacher trainer full time. I was also immersed in English Next, a (free!!) book from Graddol (commissioned by the British Council) all about the trends of English all around the world. It is from 2006 and is thus a bit out of date in such a rapidly changing area but I still think it is worth a read or at least a flip through.

I hadn’t really thought about Graddol all that much for a few years (though of course some of the ideas and stats and charts came to mind from time to time) until this year.  Suddenly, there he was back in my life and on my radar. He gave big plenary/keynote type-talks at both TESOL and IATEFL this year. There was a #KELTchat on Tuesday discussing these recent talks. The preview for the chat (which has lots of good links including links to the talks themselves) is here and a Storified collection of the 12 hour (!) chat is here. I think the chat offers a nice variety of thoughts, questions, worries, wonders, explanations, beliefs, prognostications, and links.

Though my initial encounter with Graddol was one of trepidation I have to say that now seeing his charts and his ideas are like meeting an old friend. An old friend that when I see him, memories of a different and more emotional time come flooding in. I thank you very much for reading and I hope it was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to reminisce about. For now and perhaps looking ahead maybe I *should go ahead check out his book about profiling English in China.

English Teaching Knowledge

There are a good many ideas out there about what it takes to be a good English teacher and I’d like to share some of them here.
How can anyone just point out the important factors in teaching English in just a few hundred words?
I’m not sure if this can be done as I intended it to be but I will try.
Student-centered learning is key. Many T’s are all about the TTT (teacher talking time) which should be reduced. Aim for 20%.
I+1  is also an incredibly important factor. We need to make sure all our lessons are pitched at this level.
Students work better when their affective filters are reduced. This is something teachers need to be concerned with.
Teachers also need to be sure they are empowering students. Students work better and learn more when they are empowered.
Of course, just doing the above is not enough. Lessons need to be planned appropriately. Proper scaffolding at each stage!
The stages of the lesson need to follow the correct frameworks and have the interaction appropriately planned for each section.
All the above is important but doesn’t really mean anything if we are not eliciting creativity from students, which we should do.
Let’s be clear, in the 21st century it is the responsibility of teachers of all subjects to foster creativity in all students.
But we need to be sure to consider students’ different learning styles and multiple intelligences or it will all be for naught.
Unless we create lessons that match the unique needs of all our learners we will be wasting our time and theirs.
Learners are all different. Our lessons need to match their styles and intelligences plus wants and needs and moods and more.
Learner’s needs must be considered and we must also ensure that we are developing their critical thinking skills. This is a must.
Students need to be given tools to succeed in the modern era. We should remember most of our students are digital natives.
However we do it, as teachers we need to be sure that we do and remember everything listed above and make them a priority.
I hope and believe I have offered some useful ideas and starting points here. 
hough, if all the above fails you can just flip the classroom or employ gamification.

Exclusive: Journal of a first day teacher trainer

January 5, 2009

Wow. What a crazy day. We had orientation in the morning and then we did level testing from 9:30. There was a bit of confusion about the rooms and stuff like that but in the end everything worked out. It took students a bit longer to get started on the task that we set for them, but it was OK. They generally spoke in English and worked on the questions that we gave them. I noticed that most groups took a few minutes to get to know each other. This makes perfect sense. I would never just start talking to random people about how I teach writing or listening without getting to know them first. It is possible that these teachers might not have spoken much English in a very long time. I think it took them some time to get warmed up.

I met my first class in the afternoon. They were really great. I felt like the lesson went pretty well. There were of course, some problems. The first was that the room was absolutely freezing. One teacher said that she didn’t want to sit down. That was when I felt like it was really cold. I wonder if I should have checked on another room or something like that immediately. I think that I was a bit stubborn and just wanted to get the lesson started. The course is classroom management so I hoped that I could give students an example of how to roll with the punches. I thought that once everyone came in and starting talking and working that the body heat would warm things up. I was, as always, hot. More hot than usual because I was wearing a sports coat and I was moving around a lot. Right when I was making a point about why I never say, “What is your hobby?” an office staff member came in and asked us to move. I felt like I did a pretty good job to continue with the lesson with all the interruptions and confusion. I think that the students are quite strong at English but they need a bit of help using English in the classroom. I thought that the students were really good and that they got a lot out of my class. I told the students that I hoped that this class would be the most practical and the most useful for when they start teaching again in Feb (March?). I really believe that. I have a feeling that it will be a really good week.

One interesting thing that happened in the class was when I was talking about syllables. I always focus students’ attention on syllables because I think it is an important thing to think about when speaking English. I know that lots of Korean students have problems with this and I think that a bit of a focus early on would help students speak English better. Anyway, I was introducing the question, “How many syllables are there in ____?” and one teacher commented that her students would not know this word or question. I wondered why not. I told her that I felt that teachers should teach this and that it should be the teacher’s responsibility to make sure students know it. I hope that I was not too aggressive with my answer because it was the first class. Her question and point was a very good one and I think that these are the kind of issues that we will explore in the coming weeks.

Another interesting thing happened in my second class of the day. I was asking students for possible rules for the classroom and one teacher said, “no microphones.” I think she must have confused my question because she was answering about rules for teachers in her school. She said that her principal says that microphones are not allowed in the classrooms because they are too noisy and distract other people. I had never thought of microphones in the classroom. Actually they kind of teased me because my voice is so loud and they said that I don’t need a microphone. After the student mentioned microphones the other teachers really sprung into life. An older guy said that she was young and that she needed to train her voice(vocal cords). A few other people disagreed with him and one woman said that talking too much makes her voice husky. She asked me how I manage to talk so loudly and have so much energy for such a long time. I thought this was a perfect opportunity to include some theory. I mentioned that my classes are usually quite student-centered and that I try not to talk for more than 5 minutes of a 50 minute lesson. I got the feeling that they believed me but that they thought it was not really practical for their current situations. After this a bit of a free discussion broke out and teachers were talking about their experiences and situations. Not bad for the first day!

The day is nearly finished and I am ready for bed. I am really excited about this course and I think that I will be able to help these teachers a lot and that it will be a good experience for everyone involved.

I guess that is all for now.


My first day training
(Teaching math for some reason)

2014 Thoughts 

The above is my words written just about 5 years ago.
(I made 3 minor changes including editing out a name, adding a comma and fixing a typo)

The word “student” and not “trainee”or”participant” jumped out at me. C’mon Mike, knowing the lingo is part of playing the part. Rookie mistake. Well, in fairness, it was your first rodeo.

It is interesting to note how much talk there was of organization type things and room temperature as compared to actual classroom choices and happenings.

I enjoyed some of the moments of description there. I would have loved to see even more but since it is the first one, I’ll let it go.

I felt like there was a bit of cheerleading, expectation setting, and excuse making there which I think relates to this being shared with participants (which I talk more about below). “I am really excited about this course and I think that I will be able to help these teachers a lot and that it will be a good experience for everyone involved’ is a pretty confident line from a first day trainer, in my view.

I liked the aspect of bringing the “practical for the participants’ contexts” question to the forefront. I am glad to see this was on my mind from the start and that I gave some room for not everything to fit so nicely into participants’ contexts either.

One thing I have been thinking about for a while is how I chose to share these entries with course participants.I think this idea has some good and some potentially not-so-good points. I think it could be good as a model. I mean model in two ways:

a) as a model in the sense of, “Hey look, my trainer is keeping a reflective journal too. Maybe he really values this process and is not just asking us to do this crap for the sake of it.”

b) as a model in the sense of, “Oh this is one way to reflect, thanks for sharing it with me, trainer.” I am not convinced this particular sample was great or even passable in that regard but I think the idea has some potential.

I think the other side of sharing these journal entries with participants is that it could potentially (and in fact did) turn more into a line of communication between me and the participants that chose to read the journal. I think this could potentially (and in fact did) detract from the reflection aspect. I believe changing or adding the audience  limited what I felt comfortable sharing or writing about. I also fell into what I now consider a trap of using the journal as my mouthpiece for addressing issues within the group. I recall one particular journal entry in which I pouted a bit about participants’  behavior and what I perceived as a lack of respect. I don’t think my shared journal was an appropriate place for such sharing. This is in part because I wasn’t sure that everyone was reading it and especially because by focusing on what I perceived as rude behavior from participants and chastising them in this backdoor way I got away from the reflective aspect and into something else. I don’t want to say that having such a channel of communication is automatically a bad idea, just that it can be confusing about what the purpose of such a document and habit is. So, for me, I’d like to be more clear on what the purpose of such journals are and what I’d hope the readers can get out of reading them.

I guess that is all for now.
Thanks for reading.

[A bit of background on the course: The participants were Korean high school teachers who were on the course for 3 weeks of their winter vacation. There were 6 trainers and 6 strands. Mine was about classroom management as I mentioned. There was also the aspect of working in English and trying to improve English which in my view got away from the training aspect a bit. I am not sure if this makes things any clearer but I thought I’d try)