Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
I have been following the yahoo group for Research Special Interest Group (RESIG) over recent months with great interest. It’s a great chance to get in on conversations about research and research articles, and is organized nicely so over a week. They have great events including upcoming things with Dick Allwright, Anne Burns, and Zoltan Dornyrei.
So yesterday was RESIG day. The whole day was anchored to the theme of Teaching as Researching. The distinction between research that is non-pedagogic (i.e.: doesn’t necessarily fit in with our usual classroom work) and that uses regular classroom activities as data generation. The sessions three main speakers were Richard Smith, Sarah Mercer and Ema Ushioda was inspirational. I had pages of notes, most of which pertain to ideas for dissertation possibilities which is great. It was also great to hear from other post-graduate researchers Yasmin, Ana, and Paula who produced a mini-newsletter for the conference. Big ups! (and Nellie too!)
I was inspired (despite looking a bit asleep in the photo above) by the talk of new genres of writing, new ways of presenting research, and the emphasis on teaching as research, rather than researching teaching and learning. Smith talked in lay man’s terms about how teasing out learner feedback, and investigating it and intervening before measuring the impact of this. This teasing out of issues, and the process of problematizing the feedback was interesting and we had hands on experience of doing so.
He also problematized the student satisfaction / scorecard questionnaire that we are all so familiar with. This tool, that is so often used by schools / management to get insight into the training/class room, does lack depth. Smith engaged with issues in his own context at Warwick Uni.
Sarah Mercer talked about getting student narratives, and using these learning histories, in Graz, to inform planning and benefit the relationships we have with our learners. This example of ‘teaching as research’ uses students’ work, written at home about themselves to inform not only on language needs but also into a broader piece of research.
Rounding off was lovely Ema Ushioda who took us through the process of doing i-statement analysis, which contrasted with Mercer’s more holistic analysis to data. I-statements (not a new kind of designer sunglasses from apple) are a way of categorizing informant/student data. Again, it was good to have the change to have a go at doing this procedure. This would have been useful for systematizing my data analysis.
The noisy drama people next door, wow they sounded like they were having a hoot.
After a work meeting, and a nice meet, and remeet with lots of old faces from around the network. So many people whose names I knew but faces were unknown….bit embarrassing at times, but still very nice…. it was on to the North Star ELT Karaoke night with Nick Turner and briefly managed to shout buckfast at singer and pop start (and spy) Shell Terrell. We also got to see Jim Scriv, the Peach, Petya Pointer and many of the PLN / ELT Chat folk. Was fun but needed to eat…
Haggis for breakfast – yum!!
Monday, March 12, 2012
So, for the first time I get to join the great ELT flock and travel as part of the annual migration to a UK destination for IATEFL.
This year it's Glasgow. It's been ten years of wanting to go, not being able to afford to go, and good fortune that I am going this year. I'd like to be presenting something, but due to the last minute nature of it all won't be able to, I will find other ways to contribute. This blog post for one :)
- Plenty of presentations about flashy tech stuff most of which is currently exclusive to the wealthy, on line, connected 20% of the world...love it but...
- PLNs / PLEs - something impacting on my life, very useful stuff for the teacher without helpful colleagues, or who wants to develop in and out of school setting...
- Lots of Apple Macing and smart phoning - and me being jealous of my inability to participate on the back channel on a Steve Jobs Machine...
- I will buy an apple computer before the week is out :)
- Someone will read their presentation from a power point and it will be awful...happens at every conference, will it happen at IATEFL too?
- There will be a difficult audience member (me?) who asks difficult, critical, obtuse questions...
- I will end up (unknowingly) in a commercial presentation of some kind, and I won't like it that what i thought was about learning and teaching is more about me being sold a product / service. This will be as annoying as those films where it's just one big product placement...unless you like flash gimicks and gadgets
- Dogme - there will be stuff on dogme, from the dogmeists of planet dogme, they will not plan their sessions, and they will not place products, or will they?
- There will be lots of hangovers after all the evening 'receptions'
- Someone will go way to far with the buckfast, not realising how mental it turns people (me?)
- There will be karaoke to a near professional standard that will make you think that the singer has been practising that song for months
- Pecha-Kucha will be great
- Someone will offer to share (like it's new) the talking lift that doesn't cope with Scotish accents video
- There will be lots of talk about the weather, Scottish nationalism
- There will be red TEFL blood....
After Christmas I was back at uni again, doing another Classroom Language course. This training provided an opportunity for some undergraduate English literature and language students to do some of our training. They enjoyed it and some of them will go onto build from this in their professional lives; which is ultimately the aim of doing these sessions. Yet, ‘behind the scenes’, in the wings, there were a few tensions and conflict (the good kind you can learn from).
The classroom language course is quite a challenge for trainers and trainees alike. The language and pedagogical content mean that is a tasty sandwich for all to get their teeth into. I co-trained on this most recent course with a more qualified and more experienced Palestinian ELT trainer at a University, Palestine. The University is a long-standing partner and the trainer had observed some of the previous course I had led. For the bosses it seems a logical way to make this kind of course more sustainable, and at the same time keep the novelty (am I a novelty, or an experienced ELT professional?) of having a member of staff from outside of the faculty involved in the training.
The trainer and I scheduled 2 pre-meetings, but feeling confident that our professional culture would bridge our other differences, and time poor, settled for just one meeting. In this meeting we framed the upcoming course as a learning experience for both of us. In retrospect, there were a number of basic things absent from this conversation.
Although, we had had lunch on the earlier course, we didn’t know each other, we didn’t know too much about each other’s classroom experiences as teachers or trainers, our educational backgrounds in any real detail, we didn’t understand each others’ perceptions about teaching and learning: we didn’t share expectations about what this course would be like. This left a lot unspoken and meant our professional culture would bridge a 30 year age difference, among others.
My co-trainer and I hadn’t had enough time to build our professional discourse. What I mean by this is that terms like, for example, the communicative approach to teaching (or training), which we both used, were practiced in different ways. So, weirdly we spoke the same language, but the meanings of the words were different. These false friends then became more problematic as we were attempting to co-train, bringing life to these terms.
It’s important that I say that I am no chauvinist, or TEFL fascist, I am not saying that my way of understanding, or doing say, participant centred training, is the ‘right way’. In fact, I believe that there are many ways of skinning a cat when TEFL, and training, but I do try to, practice what I preach. These approaches to teaching suit me, and mesh well with my background and educational experiences (both as a teacher and student).
Feedback was another term that proved an issue. For me feedback is feedback, explicitly different from error correction, or appraisal. When I asked for feedback, I received (polite) glowing praise, great I thought… My personal feeling about this kind of feedback is that it has little value though, it’s nice to hear, (how does it help me to grow)? My feedback for him, reflected my respect for him as a professional and was questioning and critical of his practice as I am engaged with my own teaching in just this way.
I explained that my exploratory questions were, I thought, in the spirit of our learning, of (our) professional growth. Yet, it became clear, I was off target, had overstepped a boundary, or said something unexpected to a teacher and trainer who had been working for decades (possibly without much observation or appraisal). We smoothed things over before leaving, but we were both a bit off key.
The following day I felt I should apologise for my unsupportive comments, I framed this as a realisation that I needed to be more focused and forward looking in my feedback (something that I strongly adhere to in my teaching) and I made a document to focus the observing trainer. Despite this, at the end of the second day, the time short feedback session was a bit jaded (to be expected I guess).
My co-trainer was interested in the success, or failure of his performance. I was, honestly, offended by the proposition that my role was to judge him. Support him, okay, explore our practice together, fine, but judging him seemed unprofessional to me. This clash in expectations again was based on a contrasting understanding for our motivation for being there. Perhaps he felt I was there to judge him, to report on him (which I am doing now, but writing this blog wasn’t my intention then).
The key thing that I think I learnt from all this, was that giving time before training creates opportunities for relationships to seed. The professor and I have grown closer through this experience, and certainly know each other better, but having more time really would have helped. After sessions time is also an important factor allowing for trainers to de-pressurise before doing peer-feedback.
By smoothing out our expectations, and clarifying our roles, this could have been a smoother experience for us both. At the same time it is a case my co-trainer and I have eventually, been able to learn from this experience. It serves as an example of how you can learn through experiences and how a shared professional culture helped us bridge bigger differences, yet within this community of English Language Teachers (and Trainers) there is also a broad understanding of teaching and learning.