Saturday, October 26, 2013

Topic Task 3

                Every teaching situation presents its own unique characteristics.  I have taught in the Middle East for most of my teaching career.  Each country, each school, and I could argue each student has been distinctive and different.  Having said that, I believe good teaching practices are good no matter what country, socio-economic background or culture you work in.  Myself, I believe that student (self motivation) and teacher attitude can go a long way to defining a good classroom.  Because my learning and ultimately how I teach is Western, and my students have been Middle Eastern, there are some things that really are different.  The use of the KE-LeGe Table #4 is useful to a certain extent for comparisons or one could argue for analyzing ones teaching methodology and style.  As an outsider, trying to analyze a student's role can only be accomplished by analyzing my own experiences and my own class observations because I'm not a student and I didn't experience being a student first hand here in the Middle East.  I do however, believe that I am a good observer and I have talked to my own children as well as my own students.  From my own perspective Middle Eastern methods of teaching rely heavily on rote memorization.  Al-Omari (2008:19) gives a cultural reason for this as, "A good example is rote learning.  In some cultures, such as Arabic and Chinese cultures, rote learning is an integral part of the education system, whereas it has become redundant in many Western cultures.  In the Arabic world, the ability to recite poetry and the need for leaders to be good orators remains strong."  In its own time and space this teaching methodology works.  More to the point, my student have been in the system of education for about 12 years.  This is a long time in any system.  Then my students are moved into a "western" teaching philosophy situation in which their entire thinking process has to adjust if they wish to be successful.  Some of my students are able and do this quite well.  A majority of my students struggle to cope with opposing methodologies that they have known all their lives.  Some of my students do not cope well at all and we both find the situation to be quite stressful. 
               There are a couple of areas that I think need to be highlighted:  group work and critical thinking.  One of the most difficult aspects for me as a teacher to deal with has been that my classes wish to discuss and share every answer.  If I give an in class assignment, they are always checking with their classmates.  At the beginning of my teaching career, I found this behavior extremely annoying and disruptive (only because of my western idea of coming up with the answer on your own).  From my students perspective, they would rather check/seek the correct answer before speaking/sharing with the class so they can save themselves (and the class) embarrassment.  They see nothing wrong in sharing.  I wouldn't either except that their assessments are based on the "western" idea of multiple choice and fill in the blank high stakes testing – not on rote memorization.  We are asking our students to analyze, synthesize, create, etc., when for 12 years that is not how they were taught, nor how they learned.  Albon (2009) shares her autoethnographical ideas such as, "They (the parents of UAE students) wanted the text books back that they had used in the past and where were the tests for this new curriculum?  The parents were also concerned that their daughters where not bringing home text books."  These are the exact same concerns my students share with me now.  This affects the entire atmosphere of the class.  The students question every move you make as if you aren't an authority figure to them unless you are demanding that they memorize and spit out a list of information.  My students have a very hard time with the Socrative method of teaching.  When asked to analyze, synthesize, or just plain think for themselves, they find this task very difficult.  This shapes even how creative they are.  When asked to produce a piece of writing from their imagination, they are stymied.  Give them a formula and words to use, they could produce a decent essay, but if asked to produce one out of thin air, forget it. 

All of this wouldn't be so much of a problem except that my students must show a level of proficiency of English that demonstrates that they are able to function in a college level course at a level of English that is able to perform in that said class.  The fact that not just my college, but the entire world is moving toward more online courses and more e-learning in general is good for my students as they thrive in a collaborative environment.  E-learning breaks down the cultural barriers that may or may not exist.  As Pratt (1999) says when defining the term 'contact zone' to refer to social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other in finding a way forward, "…experiments in transculturation and collaborative work and in the arts of critique, parody, and comparison (including unseemly comparisons between elite and vernacular cultural forms): …ground rules for communication across lines of difference and hierarchy that go beyond politeness but maintain mutual respect; a systematic approach to the all-important concept of cultural mediation."    
So how do I move forward now?  I try to make a safe place in my class.  A place where students are free to discuss any idea they wish.  Most of the time the ideas are fairly mundane, and I wouldn't risk my job discussing any idea that I felt could cost me my position.  That still leaves a broad base to choose from.  My biggest struggle has been just getting my students to make even a first step….thinking for themselves.  They really struggle with that concept.  But I will carry on because we still give multiple choice exams, and essays that require their opinions. 

I believe that the world and ultimately the world of education is getting smaller and larger at the same time and that my students will and would benefit from exposure to more of this 'world'. 

Albon, N., & Australian Teacher Education Association, (. (2009). Beyond the Abaya: School Reform in the Middle East. Australian Teacher Education Association,

Al-Omari, J. (2008))
                                                                                                                    Understanding the Arabic culture. U.K.: How to Books Ltd.

Pratt, M. (1999) Arts of the contact zone.
                                                                          In Ways of Reading, 5th edition, ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petroksky
New York: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Topic 3 Identity Task

          My own teacher training was unconventional – in that I became a teacher without the formal teacher training usually required for my job, but learned everything I know about ESL teaching from that first job. I didn't “know” what a participle was, not sure I do now, but my mentor taught me how to ‘teach’ grammar.  More than that, my first students were from Japan – one of the most unlike American students around. 

  My students were JAL employees’ children. I had to learn how to pick up on extremely subtle verbal cues, and how to read understanding without looking someone in the eye.  It is an extreme example, but it taught me so much about the fundamentals of teaching, so much so, that to this day I still recall some of the advice I received back then more than 25 years ago.  From this immersion by fire if you will, I chose to go to the knowledge wasteland.  I moved to Gaza, Palestine.  Not exactly the knowledge capital of the world.  Back then, you couldn't even order books – it wasn’t allowed.  If you wanted text books, you brought them with you and copied them.  Yes, I know I was breaking copyright laws, but it was the only thing available.  When I got an email/internet connection in 1995 it changed my life and primarily, my students’ lives.  I became the ‘queen’ of the search.  If I didn’t know something, or wanted to explore an idea, I would search for it. 
Most of you don’t eve know what this logo stands for….for me it was for freedom….freedom from Internet Explorer (which I still despise), freedom from those who would keep anyone from education.  The internet literally opened up the world for me and my students.  It would be years before the whole of Gaza became ‘connected’, but for me and mine, we could go anywhere, and know anything.  My students were so starved of general information that any and all were consumed voraciously. 

This time around I didn't suffer too much culture shock because I was more interested in being assimilated rather than keeping my own identity. I “went native” to coin an American expression. It means to become like the people you are living amongst (if they are different than you.)

When I finally did go back to school to get my “formal” training to be a teacher – I was lucky enough to find a program that fit my idea of what a teacher should be, and not the other way around.  I’m not sure what I would have done if it had been the other way around.  Which raises the point of what do students do who don’t necessarily agree with the teaching style, manner, or delivery of a course.  What are their options?  We as teachers strive to incorporate the different learning styles, but cultural differences are a bit trickier in my mind.  As I have been reading these articles an idea that I can’t seem to get rid of is….Is there a generic teaching method?  A truly one size fits all way/method/style of teaching?  And would we want that? Do we want McTeaching?  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013



      For me this is a great metaphor for my life.  If you think of how small your feet were when you were young, and compare them with how large and calloused they are now....what a difference.  The same could be said for my own knowledge and experience.  I took a country (visit) survey - I've been to approximately 40 different countries.  I've lived in about six for any length of time.  I would hope that gives me a global perspective.  My husband jokes that we should be citizens of the world - not of individual countries with arbitrary borders.  

       When I was young, my favorite shoes were my ballet shoes.  I was light, skinny, and agile.  I would like to think my mind and understanding of the world were of the same.  Some could consider that naivete, but I choose not to.  

     As a teenager I experimented with what can only be described as army boots that were swapped with high heels or cowboy boots.  Again, I believe my mind was trying to hunker down and protect itself from outside influences while at the same time trying to attract the opposite sex.   I believe most teenagers are like that - trying to be their own person, but also trying to find their way in this crazy world.  

        Fast forward to now.  I'm a wife, a mother, and even a grandmother, but I refuse to wear "grandma" shoes - the ugly orthopedic ones.  I wear fancy sandals, and sports shoes.  I even wear an occasional high heel.  
        How does all this relate to my teaching?  I would like to think that I change my shoes to fit my needs - and I change my teaching methods and styles to fit my needs and more importantly to fit my student's needs i.e., what I am able to do or not do (like wear high heels) [or to get my students to study when they don't want to].  I can be practical (sneakers) when I need to like when we are pushing for an exam etc.  Or, I can be fun and impractical (high heels) on a special occasion.
       I think I need to be as flexible as possible.  I need to be able to change shoes - sometimes in the middle of the lesson.  I miss my ballet shoes, but I have been known to bust a move in the class room.  
       For me, I think that I must realize what shoes my students are wearing - flats, heels, vans, high top sneakers - and still be able to get such a diverse group to gel right from the first class.  
      Occasionally someone will stumble (my middle name should be grace because I fall so much), but it is my job and my pleasure to help pick them up, dust them off and send them on their merry way.  
      One could argue that in the future we may not need to walk to do anything so we won't need shoes, but I can't see women giving up their Manolo Blahniks anytime soon!  
      I as a teacher, need to remember that my student wear many shoes and that even if they show up in army boots - they are "my" students and they won't wear them forever!  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Candy Crush and/or Life


As I mark another year on this planet, I thought I should make a comment about my time here. I also thought I would combine my thoughts with my obsession of the moment – Candy Crush. They are both:
- not easy
- harder as you go along, but just as fun, even more so as you know what to expect
- it takes a bit of luck (but I believe luck is created)
- you always need a little help from friends
- takes planning, fore thought. If you don’t plan ahead, you will get a long, but you won’t progress as far or as fast as possible
- when you combine (meet) the right candy (or people) wonderful things can happen

Candy Crush and Life:
striped candy (can only go in one direction) We all know people who are like this, stiff
double striped (can go vertical, or horizontal, but only one line) People who are a tiny bit flexible, but not good outside their comfort zone
a wrapped candy (this explodes not once but twice) A lot like me – could go off at any time, and then watch out, because once the fuse it lit….
a striped and a wrapped candy – this wipes out three rows vertically, and horizontally. This is when someone is having a really bad day.
two wrapped candy – this is even bigger than the previous one. I call this a nuclear meltdown. Thank goodness this doesn’t happen very often
sprinkled ball – it eliminates one candy color from the board. You can only dream of getting these in quantities. I would like to take out certain people – did I say that out loud?
two sprinkled balls – when you find that special someone it takes out the whole world (board). I have met my sprinkled candy, and he is the best!
jelly – most of the time you must hit the space twice before it disappears. Life can be like that as well, you must keep doing something over and over until you get it right.
sucker – sometimes you must take a sucker (sledge hammer) to life and knock the crap out of something
chocolate – can be very tasty but in the game it takes over and covers all the spaces. Life can be like that sometimes, when things start to take over and you just don’t think you can take back your life and then wham - it's all clear again only to have to fight the damn chocolate again and again. Did I mention that I'm addicted to chocolate now?
bomb – sometimes we just simply run out of move (time). Sometimes we get lucky and get a little more time, sometimes life just explodes all over us. Your just going along minding your own business and then boom, you've exploded if you haven't paid attention.

But I think I have learned that no matter how, or how long you play the game, it’s the point that you’re playing that matters! You need to enjoy every minute – whether you are losing or winning doesn’t matter, you’re here! So go out and have a great day no matter who you are, or where you are! That is my birthday wish for everyone!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

End of Semester blues

While waiting for the next class, I was talking with a colleague about how unmotivated our students are at this particular moment in time.  If the student is going to pass, they don't need to worry too much as they have been studying all along.  If they aren't going to pass, there is nothing they can do at this stage anyway either.  So both sets of students are not happy to be here at all.  I have nothing new to give them.  I have drilled, and drilled, and occasionally thrown in some fun here and there.  Either they will pass or they won't.  I just need to get through the next couple of days.

On another point, I came up with the idea that our foundation students are looking for a "lego" education.  They want us to provide them with little pieces, that they can memorize, put together and use at will, and regurgitate on any given exam.  Take for instance the most recent writing exam.  Almost down to the student, an entire class wrote, "No one can deny..."  While teaching the correct use of opening lines is all well and good, and I have been known to use my own formulaic writing outline, to have an entire class use that one line is astonishing.  But I shouldn't be that surprised as the best adjectives they could come up with for an in class game were the ones I had used as examples!  For the life of them, they couldn't be creative!  Even the nouns were taken from the room they were in.

I have been their teacher for at least two semesters, and for a couple almost three.  They still couldn't tell me what a noun was, or an adjective.  I know even a native speaker would have a hard time with definition, but when I've been the teacher, and I know what I have taught them?  Come on people!  I guess I'm suffering from end of the term let down.  Or maybe I feel I've let them down somehow because I didn't change the world completely?  But I take heart in knowing that there will be another term to start over again.  Tomorrow really is another day!