Vlog #8: update from the air conditioner

5 minutes of general updates: it’s hot, I got my work permit, I catch myself being professionally self-depreciating, and a few other things to do with my job…

Apologies for some shaky camera work, unseemly scruffiness, and – before I caught myself – even the hint of a suggestion that I or any committed teacher should be exceedingly grateful for the timely delivery of a nominally living wage and contract-specified expenses being reimbursed. We earn everything we get and typically much more than we get.

That reminds me of something that I hope doesn’t sound to some like pointless boasting: I was told by some student teachers after 10 minutes of sketchy discussion about lesson planning (‘sketchy’ in that I sketched some ‘lesson shape’ visuals as I described a couple frameworks) that they so wished I’d been the teacher for their course on that topic when they were juniors. They didn’t feel they knew what they were doing, and recognized that I was…there to help.

This is what that suggests to me, in hashtag form because I’m a prisoner of twitter:

#iamprobablyworthit

Teaching Practicum Supervisor Diary #3: state us your status (a vlog re: what I’m doing right now)

This is a 15-minute vlog post in which I…

  • Describe my role in a teaching practicum scheme. 
  • Talk about the tasks I’m working on at my desk this very day.
  • Talk about one way I’m learning on-the-job: 

giphy

  • Describe formal lesson planning in a pretty odd way involving Vatican II. 
  • Touch on a few other things as I roll along. 

…not necessarily in that order.

Update 1: since I recorded the video one more thing has been added to the upcoming *Sunday Workshop* to-do list. This is: cooperative planning for ‘substitute teaching’ by me of a lesson in each of the 3 teacher’s grades. They will observe with specific (and I hope personalized) observation & reflection tasks. Haven’t yet thought about these yet, but one thing I do know is that I’d like them to focus on the learners more than the teacher. If all goes to plan and the starts align, success will be a shift in their perception of the parameters of their learners’ capacity for success in a CLT-style interactive learning conditions that are effectively managed. And yes, this last sentence shall commence to report the juuust-perceptible “gulping” sound on the part of its author the person responsible for successfully creating those conditions in a one-off on-site demo lesson in a non-AC public high school in semi-rural Ratchaburi province some time next week.

Update 2: I’m changing my ‘loop input’ demo lessons around so rather than a reading lesson on lesson planning and a vocab lesson on teaching vocab, I’ll do a reading lesson on teaching vocab and a vocab lesson on lesson planning. (Whew, right?! I’m really quite sure you’re as glad I set the record straight here as I am).  Anyway, it’ll be slightly less loopy, that’s the idea.

Update 3: No need to do two separate demo lessons. The reading lesson about lesson planning will have a vocabulary section. Efficiency ho!

As always, please leave any kind of comment in the space provided below and do feel free to expect some kind of response – even if just in the form of a smiling emoji thing. (I’m most certainly not talking to you though, recent comment section spambots!).

And have a great weekend, dear reader… 🙂

[This blogpost is dedicated to my friend Anne Hendler, whose comment on twitter made me immediately want to go make and post something].

Teaching Practicum Supervisor Diary #2: Something that keeps popping up…

It’s a thing that I’d say first started popping up maybe a year ago when I was still slaving away blissfully working as a CELTA tutor in Seattle, WA but seems an as strong if not stronger popper-upper than ever before now, frequently figuring into the input & feedback I’m giving to the student teachers I work with.

What is it? It’s the idea of “X will make things easier for you”. Emphasis (contrastive stress?) can be placed in two spots there:  EASIER for you (focused on causes of stress and difficulty for the teacher) and easier for YOU (focused on disentangling notions about “student-centeredness” from sensible teacher self-care…that it’s OKAY VITAL to consider any X’s effect on YOU, too).

Confession time, I don’t actually have time to write the blog post that really explores all this further (damn shame, really…reality bites)! Instead, I’m just going to lay down a digital clipping, diary scrapbook-stylee, from some materials I’m putting together for my student teachers. In it, we can see one instance of this idea popping up.

I didn’t fully realize this until just now, today: I have a rather strong feeling that the bullet points you see below would be tragically incomplete without the third one. It is essential. This is why I intend to far more consistently include X’s effect on the teacher in all input, guidance materials, and feedback I give to trainee/student teachers and others. I’m certain that this was an extremely rare feature in my work until recently. I believe (absent any research…as of yet?) that it’s an extremely rare feature in teacher training/education materials generally. I haven’t looked at a CB teacher’s guide for a while and I’m trying to imagine much of it there. It’s hard.

After the slide below I go on to describe this “hamburger” task management idea and along with giving reasons why this or that step benefits the learner or group dynamics or assessment opportunities, I try to acknowledge, too, how and why it benefits us, the human teachers who are all-in on using a “student-centered approach” but also have normal, healthy needs for things like self-expression, ease, and respect. If the way we teach denies us these things in some kind of viciously subtle way, everyone loses.

You know what’s pretty cool though? Certain things that are the best for us are also the best for the students. As I’m thinking about this, I want to mumble out a maxim-in-early-development:

a healthy approach to teaching is: prioritizing the work of becoming increasingly attuned to the effects of each aspect of our method on both the learners and ourselves…with a good long-term professional development goal being: to ‘harmonize’ our teaching practices to the extent that student and teacher wellness are as aligned as possible

What do you think?

The snippet:

hamburg.jpeg
(from a slide of a presentation about a task-planning/management strategy)

I hope to revisit this idea more in the future. It might be unclear precisely what I mean by acknowledging X’s effect on the teacher. More examples may be needed. I’m going to start collecting them and digging into this area more. I’m excited. I’m also hungry, much hungrier than when I began writing this post. I wonder why. The task before me is clear, and I shall monitor myself. Nom nom!

🙂

Some notes on a note…

  • I like hand-written materials. Maybe I was born a bit too late – meant to be a hippy ELT materials writer of that bygone era when coursebooks were full of calligraphic fonts, fun (if sometimes loaded) cartoons, and often creative presentations sans sophisticated corporate editorship.
  • So…teachers I work with sometimes get pic-snaps of stuff like the below, which is just a snippet of a 4-pager about some conventional basic technique-options when teaching a new vocabulary item.
  • I’m post-CELTA (hopefully not terminally) but not “post-CELTA”; here I go suggesting so-called “CCQs”, the bread-n’-butter ITT course ubermove.
  • This snippet is less sketch-notey than other bits. I think it’s a combination of being vaguely bored (?), enjoying doodling, and having some sense that in the absence of hand-on demonstration, illustration at least gives some life to this stuff for a teacher who might find acronym-laden directives a bit dry that leads me to that kind of thing. Trainees in the past have given some positive feedback about it.
  • On the previous page of the note below I wrote out an imagined T-Ss elicitation that leads to nobody knowing, and the teacher asking if they know the L1 word (seen here), and then telling them that in English, it’s “ingredient”. I thought this was pretty realistic. I’m hypersensitive about the over-extension of “eliciting” as a teaching tool. I usually call it an effective engagement technique.
  • I also like the idea that CCQing isn’t just for checking and confirming comprehension but also a kind of ‘cognitive classroom management’ move that helps assess (and sustain, if they’re not boring) attention levels.
  • I never want to suggest CCQs are the *one and only* way we should wrap up a focus on an item’s semantic meaning in lessons. Always automatic CCQing? Nobody does that, and they really shouldn’t! So here it’s #1 (ask CCQs) but followed by other ideas.

EDIT: Just glanced at twitter and saw someone liked a tweet from last year where I shared this pic of a training-room poster I made:

…which, looking at it there, I guess is clear further evidence of my interest in ‘illustrated text’ in educative materials.

I’ll try to find and post more examples of this when I can.

Teaching Practicum Supervisor Diary #1: What’s what…

atcq

…it’s “heel up, wheel up” for me as I start in a new position here at a university program in central Thailand, and my mind juices are flowing as I commence supervising teachers on their practicums. I’d like to have a powerful impact, but I need to be patient and cautious – NOT as if “shot out of a cannon”. I’ll write about various aspects of it here but, as usual, not particularly extensively. So there may be some imagination required – even some attempted “mind-reading” – if you would like to get beyond what’s on the screen. Or you can always leave a comment and ask a question if there are any curiosities that call out for answers! 

Where to start? Well, since I’m only just right out of the gate, the basic scenario:

  • I’m the ‘lesson plan supervisor’ for 3 student teachers in their 5th year of a 5-year TEFL BA program. They are teaching at a public middle/high school for the semester. I will observe lessons over the next 3 weeks (before others observe them further), and receive and give feedback on all their lesson plans for 9 weeks.
  • One teaches 7th grade, another 10th, the other 12th. They teach 9 periods/week, 3 times each to three class sections of their grade.
  • They have their university-based lesson plan supervisor & lesson observers as well as a school-based mentor teacher. Theirs is a highly experienced teacher who is head of the English language instruction at their school.
  • The school serves a poorer population of families in the neighboring province, and the average English language proficiency level is on the lower end for this region.
  • I have been to the school only once to meet my three student teachers and their mentor teacher. I had short tour of the school from which I can assess the facilities as basic but functional.
  • I will drop-in observe lessons this week with a focus on the learner population and school/classroom context. Next week I will initiate teacher observations more formally.
  • The three student teachers and I have established an effective and active channel of communication via a private Line App group. This was quickly set up by one of them at the outset of the semester. I am also using Google Drive to host their lesson plans with my written feedback, and I’m using Google Forms to collect more info from them re: teacher beliefs, personal experiences as ELLs, resources, needs, etc.
 img_1798

That’s all for now – just setting the scene today (for you, dear reader) and taking account (for me, dear delf).

Right. So yeah, I’ll likely use this blog to keep some kind of simple running diary over the next little while, focused on how this practicum unfolds/ideas and issues that come up. I expect it to help me a) organize my thoughts in order to deliver effective supervision (reflection-for-action), as well as b) meditate on my experiences in order to imagine alternatives (reflection-on-action).

I may also continue to strrrretch to somehow someway include references to 1990s rap music as above here ;). Why? Because that kind of thing, I’ve found, tends to help make reflective practice activities feel more fun, creative, and vibrant to me. There’s sometimes an air of stifling ‘seriousness’ around (self-)reflective practice that I can find make it less-than-uninspiring. Even calling blogpost-writing ‘reflective’ seems to add a lacquer of translucent stiffness. RP or RIP? Maybe it’s just me being spoiled feeling like fun/vaguely clever pop-culture references, etc. effectively disarm encroaching formality. Is it just me who needs this to be fun? I don’t think it is – I’d say I learned how this sorta kinda works (for me, for some) from the likes of Michael Griffin. Anyway, this might be a kind of ‘reflection on reflection’ thread I’m initiating here for this particular ‘diary’ series…we’ll see if it has legs.

***

Anyway, back to what’s actually going down right here, right now. Here is one bit of…I dunno, meta-advice? what do you call it…that I gave them just now:

newgrab

In a future diary entry I’d like to write a bit about why I believe that this would be something important to acknowledge/establish early on. Cheers.

Theorizing Down

In this brilliant talk at KOTESOL from 2013, Dick Allwright explains:

Theorizing down for me…means looking for what I would call a ‘livable understanding’. What the scientists are supposed to do is come up with a statable explanation…I’m saying what it makes more sense to do, in practice, is to theorize down in the sense of looking for understandings that you can live, that help you live even if you can’t tell people exactly what it is you’ve understood.

I don’t actually have a lot to say here except that *geez Louise* does Allwright eloquently describe the whole point, for me personally, of reflecting – both intellectually and emotionally – on teaching/training experiences! And the whole point of studying, reading ELT blogs and books and articles. And of connecting with a PLN in person and online. And of writing this blog. Every post. This post.

It’s the final bit, the “even if you can’t tell people exactly what it is you’ve understood” that is the truly priceless recognition that makes this different and makes this very special to me. I’m not kidding in the slightest when I say this makes me want to hug him. I mean REALLY hug him big. Why?

Because this is Allwright setting to rights, for me, so much of what generates a good deal of tension, and confusion, and disappointment around the so-called ‘theory-practice divide’ from a teacher’s perspective. The very idea of a ‘divide’ tends to connote a horizontal chasm that therefore requires the problematization of movement ‘over’ and ‘across’. But that’s all wrong. The real issue is with ‘up’ and ‘down’!

And this is Allwright assuaging my anxiety about being so often disappointingly inarticulate around what I thought I understood through experience and reflection.

And maybe even various means of reflection I use need not come in for the occasional caustic self-doubt that they do because they don’t always conform to X or Y set of recommendations/requirements.

There’s more, maybe a lot more on the list of what this does for me that I’ll have to sit with a while before I can write it here.

“Theorizing down” – damn that’s a good referent for…this thing! My thing. Maybe your thing too, for your reasons. Your deeper focus on teaching and learning work in the lab of your own heart and mind. Whatever words are used to describe it, it’s something I know I’ve always tried to be good at and want to be better at. This is why I really appreciate Dick Allwright’s fascinating and very, very heartful work on “understanding classroom life” and I’m excited to continue exploring it.

On that ‘appreciation’ note, I recall that I ended my first ‘Research Bite’ here with this (fixed up a little bit):

By letting the description of Ann’s practice ‘speak for itself’, this study accords with Dick Allwright’s view of practitioners as “people trying to reach locally helpful understandings, not new knowledge” and inspires, in me, appreciation of research which actually serves practitioners (especially me!) in that effort.

Maybe a couple other connections before I wrap it up:

  • Perhaps this supports questioning required/formalized reflection on initial teacher training courses – it should be voluntary and more flexible in how it can be performed.
  • Perhaps, if they would like to help ‘close the theory-practice’ divide, more researchers who are focused on teachers (even – especially! – the more hip/woke ones who do work on reflection, etc.) should be *very mindful* of how the language they use can strike teachers as being ‘talked down’ to. This is not a good kind of ‘down’. And they should more often recognize, acknowledge, and maybe even explore (though leaving this part up to teachers will probably be just fine, too – maybe, just maybe, you’re not “needed”) this profound truth: teachers are NOT interested, (all the meanings of that word) in producing the same type of knowledge that you are.
*all apologies from this yank for turning Allwright’s Ss into Zs here.

ListeNotes #2 (Part 1): Interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016

What is “ListeNotes”?

Well, according to me (Noble, 2016) it’s “a new genre of blogpost [where] I listen to a podcast, take notes, clean them up a bit, and post ’em on up! That’s it.” My first “ListeNotes” post was published back in February ’16. In it, I listened to Anthony Ash’s appearance on The TEFL Show with Marek Kiczkowiak.

Now, at (very!) long last, I’ve decided to give ListeNotes another go. After all, having declared “ListeNotes” to be a whole new blogpost genre, I feel that I’m kinda sorta on the hook to actually do it more than just the once. This time I’m listening to an interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham.

scrive

Jim Scrivener (semi-regular tweets here) is a well-known author and trainer and is and currently “Teacher Training Ambassador” at Bell. Readers of this blog probably need no introduction to JS, but here’s his bio from the Bell site:

js bio.jpeg

The interview took place shortly after JS’s talk on ‘simplifying’ teacher training. (I searched for slides from or posts about the talk itself, but failed to find them).

The “interview description” reads: Jim talks about shaking up teacher training by simplifying messages and allowing more personal, deeper thought and exploration in practice. Trainers can start with a naive seed of thought and teach teachers how to confidently explore their own assumptions.

Here we go… #amlistening

First they joke a bit about JS’s job title “teacher training ambassador”. I can’t help but imagine this getting Geoffrey Jordon’s back all the way up. 😉 Then JS describes what his talk was about.

JS: “My talk was a suggestion that maybe we tend to over-complicate stuff [in] initial teacher training”. I think the way JS describes his conference presentation here, “talk = suggestion“, is kind of interesting in itself. It sounds so very casual. Of course, conference talks of every type are, for most teachers at least, “suggestions” of varying degrees of explicitness. I like that he simply describes it as such…and I like how one of ELT’s elder statesmen clearly feels less-than-fully content about the state of teacher training in ELT but is remaining calm and presenting his own input into things with this soft touch. I think he models some really attractive habits of mind here. He comes across as having emotional intelligence and an ability to bring it to bear on his work. He’s not offering challenges, manifestos, calls to arms – nope….simply…a suggestion. Nothing intimidating here; he uses the word ‘maybe’ a couple of times.

Stepping back and adjusting my critical monocle a bit, it also occurs to me that perhaps it’s precisely someone like JS who could frame a conference talk so casually. Some might imagine JS, having earned his ‘ambassadorship’ along with such financial success from some arguably “complicating” books used ubiquitously on CELTA courses, hopping around the ELT globe floating these “suggestions” and wielding words of wisdom but NOT, fully, his power and influence to set things to rights more incisively.

That monocle I adjusted isn’t really mine. I borrow it from some of the more seriouser folks in my PLN for whom JS represents an ‘old guard’ of ELT which shares the blame for its sorry state. They aren’t satisfied with the suggestion givers. Geoffrey Jordan, mentioned above, being perhaps the most conspicuous among them. Is everything political? I’d say basically yes – I think there’s politics in/of everything, but…I move in and out of thinking in political terms when it comes to ELT issues – for better or for worse, in all honesty, I’m not very consistent with it. But this also was a thing that came up in my head as I listened to ‘Ambassador Scrivener’!

For the record, I am and have always been a huge fan of JS’s stuff: Learning Teaching holds up better than most ELT methodology books and don’t think it’s necessarily ‘complicating’. From the very title of it onwards, yes. And here’s the kicker: since at least the 3rd edition that book has contained one chapter (pretty much at the end, called ‘The pack of cards’) that is pretty much a 52-item list of really good “naive seeds”. So he’s been practicing what he’s preaching here for a while. That section has become by far my favorite and most-used part of a book I’ve gotten a LOT of mileage out of since I met it on my own CELTA in 2005 (the other part of the book I’ve used most: the DVD!).

pack

There’s also a number of his presentations I’ve seen at TESOLs that are sincerely memorable. I can quote from ‘hyperlink heroin‘ to this day and think about how dynamic it was when I’m prepping for any talk. And there’s the Demand High idea(s), which I have found very helpful for my development.

Okay, moving on to the idea that we over-complicate things in ITT, um…yes. Yes. Yes. Let’s keep listening then…

The way CELTA and other ITT courses tend to be delivered, JS says, “weighs people down” by trainers bringing so much of “other people’s expertise, and knowledge, and good practice and everything on [their] shoulders…”. 

JS mentions that this notion came to him one day as he was preparing to deliver a CELTA input session on reading and realized that it was all just. way. too. much. As a course tutor I can very easily relate! I absolutely often found myself ‘up all night’ deciding what to bring into a 75-minute introductory session on such-n’-such for CELTA, and struggling to ‘fit’ what I wanted to include into the time given because I had it in my head that ‘more is better’. Despite the fact that I was consciously anti-clutter in my philosophy of teaching/training by the time I started in teaching training. I was dogme’d. If you look at my old blog you can see me pro-actively working against this, trying to supplant it with more zen-tinged minimalism. But it’s a battle against the magnetic attraction of more, more, more.

At least as much as not, I’d have that ‘pop’ moment and realize that I was struggling up a steepness I’d built up myself unnecessary. I’d get the urge for more out of my system, I guess, and end up using a couple of bits for a good (enough) input session.

Scrivener calls what he’d rather be brought into these decluttered training sessions a “naive seed”, which could even be a single sentence or two, for example, for a listening workshop: “give them lots of chances to listen, and give them feedback on what they do”. The way I see it, the idea is to supply some simple ‘gateway’ information, an invitation to inquiry, a ‘spark’ for trainees’ exploration. I like this…but like dogme teaching, however, less is more not only for the students but also for the teacher or trainer! What do I mean? A key skill that trainers clearly need to bring for this approach to work is the ability to work with the emergent language ideas that come up productively, continuing to feed and guide the exploration expertly. This ain’t easy. And it’s not just that kind of skill – it’s actually, I’d say, all that same knowledge (and maybe then some?) that you’d have been cramming into sessions before you dog’d it. I found that in the most successful of those input sessions I’d over-prepared but then ended up running based on a much simpler set of information/materials/activities, I ended up needing most of the stuff I’d chosen not to explicitly front-load to be fresh in my mind anyway. It wasn’t always presented fully, but it informed how I responded and guided things ‘in flow’.

PS – I suppose I’m just restating what I think is an oft-made defense of dogme: it’s not just lazy teaching! (In lazy teaching or training less is less).

PPS – I googled “naive seed” and got nothing at all. Google just gives you results for “native seed”. It’s a striking and original coinage by JS, I’m left to assume!

PPPS – just today there’s a profound (and profane) Secret DOS post related to dogme (original vs. mainstream) and planning.

JS: “…maybe [this approach] actually interferes with people’s ability to look intelligently at what they’re doing and to think for themselves…maybe there’s a case for encouraging trainers to start from simplicity rather than complexity”. 

JS: “…wouldn’t that be a better starting point for a new teacher?”.  

Actually, the very first thing that comes to mind in terms of simplifying CELTA is Anthony Gaughan asking ‘Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?‘ (it turns out I blogged about it in 2014 here). Having met a handful of CELTA trainers over the last few years I’d say we’re all on a spectrum. It’s also not so linear…I mean, we’ve all got jagged profiles. Thinking of one trainer, if you saw the way they approach, say, tutorials (high structure), you might be surprised by the way they approach input sessions (low structure), etc.

“Starting from simplicity” really DOES seem like a better starting point. Where’s the research on this? (No, seriously…where?!?!).

This brings up the recurring debate (seems to me like it comes to the fore every couple of years) about the inadequacies of the popular 4-week ITT format. Seems to me that part of what makes even me, zen-master CELTA tutor wannabe minimalist, keep coming back to feed at the trough of more is the awareness that for fucks’ sake we’ve got FOUR SHORT WEEKS to get these people into teacher shape! Let’s GOOOOOO! Cram babies, craaaam!

That’s not ideal. That’s not good.

Right, thus (abruptly?) ends Part 1. I’m only about two minutes into the eight minute interview here, so expect lots more ListeNotes on this interview to follow soon! 🙂

I hope there’s a little bit of there there to provide some food for thought. As always, I’ll encourage you to use the comment function to leave a note if you’re so inclined!