Tagged: reflection

The Wire, Twitter, and Reflective Practice

What ties the three things in the title together? Well, I love them all and I have personally found them all useful. It’s more than that, though. I have also found myself “selling” these things to others.  I am pretty much convinced that The Wire is the best television show of all time and it’s provided me with much needed distraction on numerous occasions. Reflective Practice has helped me make sense of teaching and learn from experience. Twitter has connected to me a network (ok, fine, a personal learning network) of ELT professionals all around the world and it has been incredibly useful, inspirational and fun for me.

When meeting friends and colleagues lately I’ve sometimes noticed myself going on and on about the latter 2 things. Also, I have presented on RP quite a few times and will be presenting about #KELTchat along with other #KELTchatters at the KOTESOL International Conference. Countless dinners and drinks over the last 10 months have featured me rattling on about Twitter and how great it has been for me.  I suppose that is fine as it is something that I am very excited about. I am not, however, so comfortable with the proselytizing aspect at the moment. I don’t really know the source of this discomfort but I thought sharing some thoughts here would be helpful.

I have a friend that has heard me talk about The Wire for years now and has yet to watch a single episode. I am positive he will love it. He said, “I am sure I will like it but I just don’t have  time.” I said exactly the same thing to my brother who was always talking about The Wire and telling me how much I would like it. I was full of “yeah buts” and reasons I didn’t yet get into the show. It wasn’t until I was a guest at his home and he plied me with beers after a lovely meal and insisted that we were going to watch a few episodes and if I didn’t like it we could stop after 2 episodes. He was sure I would like it. He was right. I loved it.

It seems like “I don’t have time to” is a common reason given for people not blogging or using Twitter. It also seems like this is an easily mocked or criticized comment by those that truly believe in professional development through these ways.

My friend from above who has never watched The Wire is the same person that had Understanding Teaching Through Learning  (an amazing book that I strongly suggest you get if you can…whoops here I go preaching again) untouched on his nightstand for nearly 2 years. By the way, he loved it when he finally opened it and now swears by it. On some levels, I am happy that my friend enjoyed the book. I suppose that my ego is pleased that I was right in choosing a book that would be a good fit for him. I suspect the book has helped him out and even made some sessions a bit better or at least easier to organize and was thus better for his trainee teachers which potentially makes things better for students. Ok. But, I am not really sure what benefits, if any,  I have personally received my suggestions and pestering.

Thinking back to The Wire, I can’t really see what benefits I would actually get if  my friend suddenly became a huge fan. I would be happy that he spent his free time in a fun and interesting way but maybe that is about it. I guess we could also have some laughs about the antics of McNulty and Bunk but that is about it.

I am really wondering why I care(d) so much about how other people (non-training course participant people, I mean) choose to spend their time and how they choose to develop.

I wrote above that The Wire, RP and Twitter have been extremely useful for me personally. Maybe they won’t be as useful for others and I think that is totally fine. Maybe Twitter is not so useful for everyone. Maybe they are fine with their own professional development and maybe my thoughts on how they *should be developing are not really all that important to them. Maybe I *should just chill out a bit and worry about myself and what works for me and those incredible people in my PLN.

I feel like in the next few months or so I will just talk about how great RP and Twitter (and The Wire too I suppose) have been for me and let people know that I will be keen to talk about these things if they choose to get involved. I will resist the urge to push and will just let people make up their own minds.

Questions that come to mind include:

  • Do you have any experience “selling” things like Twitter and RP? How did it go?
  • Have you ever had discomfort “selling” such things? How did you deal with it?
  • Why do you care about the professional development of others?
    (I guess this question is especially relevant if you are not paid to do so)
  • What am I missing?

Related (?) Links:

My most recent blog post on reasons for (Korean) teachers to join twitter

#ELTchat Summary on Introducing CPD to Dinosaurs

#Eltchat review on why the word “dinosaurs” isn’t helpful

A blog post by a teacher who chooses not to develop online 

Talking to myself about pushing students

[A few weeks ago I was searching the dogme yahoo group archives for some quotes and thoughts about “English Only” classes for my friend Alex Walsh and I discovered some posts from myself. It was quite a trip and I thought I’d share a post from 2008 Mike and some responses from 2012 Mike. I welcome any responses to either of us in the comments.
I should also mention that the dogme yahoo group is an incredible resource that I highly recommend to anyone that is curious about dogme or ELT in general.
Here is Alex’s blog post about English only classrooms.]
(April 2008)
Ahh, I think I wrote two posts back-to-back just as the term ended.
I guess I had a lot of energy and questions. 
As I just wrote, I just finished a 10 week cycle (as part of a 20 week
intensive program). One of my classes was listening. Another was
“Practical English” which, “is intended to improve the speaking
ability of advanced English learners, through accuracy based tasks and
activities. Pre-existing bad habits regarding spoken English need to
be addressed and corrected, in conjunction with word usage and
appropriateness. This course is also concerned with euphemisms,
colloquialisms, idioms and pronunciation. The intrinsic interests of
students are extremely important for subject material and lesson plans
need to reflect these interests.” 
I sure hope I didn’t write that description but I might have. I still don’t really know what “Practical English”  means. I don’t think it occurred to me at the time but the description is only about what students will learn about and now what they will be able to do. Hmm. 
The class that I was teaching for this course was composed of 13
people Most of them work for the government in some capacity and
studying English is like a reward, a time-killer between
appointments,or a step before studying abroad. I really liked the
class and teaching them was very rewarding.
I remember this group! They were a lot of fun! I think I am friends with one of them on Facebook. 
They were at a nominally high level, but a lot of polishing occurred in the 10 weeks. They were with me for about 8 hours of their 30 hours a week studying. They were willing to try anything and we had a lot of fun. In fact, I often pushed back my plans because they were so talkative that I didn’t have
the heart to stop them.
I suppose sometimes it is not just enough that students are talking. What are they talking about and how are they handling it? 
They only problem was that they simply would not do work out of class. Many of them are married and have families and they are trying to enjoy their “vacations” from work. I decided early on not to push it. I basically said that I have tons of homework assignments for anyone who is interested but since the consensus was not to have much I would follow. (possible mistake alert)
I can’t say that my opinion has changed so much about this. I mean they are adults and they (or someone) paid for them to be there. I still have a hard time forcing students to do much work out of class, especially if it is not graded and there are not clear things that they need to be able to do by the end of the course. 
One of my colleagues had the task of teaching them writing. Perhaps she went a bit overboard on homework, but she found that only 3 people competed
Ok, maybe there was a possible middle ground with the group. I mean maybe they would have done a few assignments from each teacher throughout. 
I am also wondering if there was an element of helping students see the value of the assignments or the solo work that I was expecting. 
One of the ways that I tried to maximize the time that students spoke
in class was to write common errors/reviews/examples/answered
questions on a blog.
I did not spend nearly as much time on this blog
as on the one that I had last year at this time (when I was certainly
blog crazy and might have believed that blogs were the panacea for any
and all ills).
Ohh the blog crazy days of 2007.
Haha, I have slightly fond memories of that. 
I felt that the blog was a useful way to save time and
to give student some links and ideas on how to study on their own. Of
the 13 students in the class 6 students left a comment over the whole
10 weeks.
I am not sure how important “leaving a comment” was to the whole process. Perhaps this was another issue, I wasn’t really sure how I wanted Ss to interact with the blog. 
Safely said, it was not heavily trafficked. Around the time
of the mid-term test there were more hits than the previous 2 weeks.
The tests at my school do not matter for anything. In fact, students
are unlikely to get their grades until after the course is finished.
I am thinking about the (lack of a)  link between the assessments and the instruction. Maybe the blog wasn’t seen as important until test time came up. 
Some students crammed for their exams and I could not help but wonder
why they didn’t study continuously throughout.
Fair point…but I can’t really understand why they studied so much for the exam! I guess perhaps even the sound “exam” strikes fear into the hearts of students even if the grade has no impact on their lives. 
One of the indelible images that I have from this job was a student
last term who was extremely lazy in and out of class cramming and
smoking in the freezing cold of December in Seoul.
Well, 2008 Mike, you were right about that image being indelible. You will be able to call it up at will in 2012. 
Anyway, last week I was having lunch with the class that I described
above. We were having a nice lunch while laughing and joking. The
subject of my blog came up and a few people praised it effusively.
They mentioned that K printed it out. I joked with K, who is studying
about E-business, online communities and the paperless office that he
of all people should not have printed out all the paper and destroyed
the environment.
Printing out the blog posts is still pretty funny to me. 
He loved the joke and came and talked to me. He told
me how much he enjoyed the class and that the blog was really useful.We talked for a while and finally it was time for him to offer advice.
I can vaguely recall this. I think he was trying to choose his words very carefully so as not to hurt my feelings. 
He was very polite and friendly with his advice so I tried my best not
to take it the wrong way. He said that the class and the blog were
very useful but I needed to make students study harder.
Wow…its seems like some expectations were not met. I feel like we had different concepts about what the role of the teacher in such a program. 
I mentioned the writing class and my simple 15 minute assignment that went undone the previous week.
 Interesting defense. I guess maybe I had an expectation that all the assignments *should be done and if not I might not ask for so many assignments. 
He went on to tell me that he liked me and my class but that I didn’t understand Korean students and that they need to be pushed to study.
Very interesting point. Is this “a Korean thing”? What  exactly? 
It seems to me that there might be a cultural element. I don’t really like to think of myself as a drill-master but perhaps in this group there were some students that would have preferred such an approach. 
The only thought that I have now in terms of what I might do differently would be to collect more feedback earlier and to try to get a clearer picture of the students needs and expectations. Maybe I could have been a bit stricter for those that wanted and needed it. I don’t know. 
I said that I wanted them to study the blog because
they wanted to be better at English. We a had a nice goodbye, but I
was left struggling to understand the best course of action.
Well 2008 Mike, if it is any consolation, you will completely forget about this confusion soon after the course. 

Reflecting vs. complaining

I recently had the great opportunity to do a “remix” of my friend and colleague Josette LeBlanc’s great presentation on The Experiential Learning Cycle (The ELC). Click here for slides/materials and reflections and here for her pre-presentation thoughts. In the presentation that I did a few weeks later I mostly followed her format but I added in some personal stories and details. I’d like to share one of these stories below. This is sort of how I imagined saying it. 

I have been in this field for just about 12 years and more than 7 of these have been in Korea. I first started working in Jinju, which is a city in the south. It is a pretty small city and back then there weren’t many foreigners around. This was over 10 years ago, remember. Actually, for the first few weeks the only non-Koreans that I knew were the two guys that I worked with till one day I bumped into, actually literally bumped into, an American lady from California. She was nice enough. She was quite friendly and she told me that I should join her and her friends for a drink sometime. I was excited because I liked the occasional beverage.  I also thought it would be nice to meet some different people. I was excited and then she said something that I have remembered and thought about for a long time. She said, “Yeah you should come meet us at _____ bar, because we all get together and bitch about teaching every Friday night.”

Bitching or reflecting or neither?

I had only been teaching for a few weeks and this sounded just terrible to me. I mean, why would they bitch about teaching? What was there to bitch about? Why would I want to sit around and listen to people bitch? I thought I’d be happier just having drinks with happier people. This is what I thought after three weeks. Well, after three years and more it became easier and easier to bitch, but I don’t think it became any more productive. I think it is just too easy to complain but I really don’t think it helps much. Maybe we feel better for a moment but we don’t really get anywhere with it.

Though I taught for nearly 8 years till I got into reflection I don’t think I really developed much till then.  I always liked teaching. I enjoyed it. I liked seeing students’ progress. I liked interacting with students. My students seemed to like my class and they seemed to improve. I got rehired. I got better jobs. I got good evaluations. But again, I don’t think that I really improved much until I started reflecting and thinking about what was really going on in class and how the choices that I make might impact this. I’ve found using the ELC is one of the best ways for me to do this.

(End of story) 

To be honest, I can’t really say that I have totally quit bitching! I can say that when I get started on a solid roll of complaints I am much more aware of it. I can unload my feelings and I can push myself into the description zone and try to recall and think about what really happened. I find that going through the ELC and creating action plans pushes me behind simply complaining and being bothered. I find it to be much more productive and also easier to handle the real difficulties that might arise in teaching. 

I find myself wondering if teachers complain more than those in other jobs. I feel like it is all too easy to get caught in the circle of complaining. I find that the ELC is a good way for me to avoid this. I wonder what strategies other teachers employ.