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?