Teaching Academic Writing – The Challenges (Part 2)

No, there was definitely no touch of madness where academic writing is concerned (or maybe it was me who almost got driven to madness, more like it).

Sigh. Well, back to blogging.

In my previous post, I provided some background information on my Academic Writing class. It’s best for you to read that post, before moving on to this one.  Well, to be honest, this might just be a place where my rants are going to blow its’ sirens; I had a tiring, tough, challenging 3 months with my class for many reasons. Teaching writing is no easy task,and and there are several factors that made it even more challenging:

a) CLASS SIZE
I had a whopping number of 40 students in the class. Well, it may be quite common for some of you, but it wasn’t for me. It was really tough giving feedback for each of the writing activity that took place (although students were placed in groups of 4), as this was academic writing. While I gave feedback to some, the other groups tended to chatter away. I did not attempt any other form of feedback (peer feedback, self editing) in the classroom; I just could not see it happening! Student’s have never been exposed to academic writing before, and I knew (and felt) that they totally relied on me for the feedback that they received.

b) STUDENT ATTITUDE  
Well, to be honest, a lot of them did not read the materials that they were supposed to have read at home; I don’t think they considered this writing class to be an important one (perhaps some did, but a selected few). THey were, after all, dentistry and medical students, and as one of them put it “Miss, we have a lot of other important assignments for our core subjects; this is taking too much of our time!” It was a lose-lose situation on my end; If I proceeded without going over the notes, they’d be left in the dark; If I went through the notes in class, it would’ve taken a lot of time! I did try out some strategies, though, which worked to a certain extend. Then again, I kept reminding myself that this was a writing class – they HAD to get their “hands dirty” by getting into the writing part, regardless of whether they read the notes or not.

C) TIME CONSTRAINT
7 face to face sessions (with 2 hours per session) was a ridiculously short time. It was way too short a time to teach something as “heavy” as synthesis writing. The large class size didn’t help as well. It really felt like I was “cramming” as much as I could within the short span of time. Also, I felt like I was working around the clock, as a lot of the communication was online as well. I had to constantly reply fb messages, email messages, online assessment on the portal (which took up A LOT of time), vetting assignment topics, screening their outlines. A lot of times I found myself getting so exasperated. It felt like I was working around the clock, 24/7! Tough job. Yes, I it was jolly molly tough!

D) EXPECTATION ON STUDENTS
Or maybe this was my problem. I found that the teaching did not equate to the expectations that was placed on students. There were so many issues that had to be dealt with at a very basic level. Firstly, a significant number of these learners were weak in writing – they had basic grammatical issues, inability to link and connect ideas in sentences and between paragraphs, wrong usage of linking words, inability to logically arrange their ideas in order to increase the meaningfulness in writing. These are the issues that need to be dealt with first, even before they enrol into the academic writing class. It would be great if the university could have a “remedial writing” or “Introduction to Academic Writing” to help build their basic writing skills prior to enrolling into this module. In that case, yes, 7 face to face would be sufficient.

E) MODULE
Before I get into this, I must say that the head of department is a lovely, open minded person, willing to take in feedback and ideas to help improvise this module. Perhaps I could give her the link to my blog!  Anyway, getting back to the module, I do feel that the module needs to be reordered and edited again – some of the terms were wrongly used (thesis statement and topic statement were used intermittently when they actually did not mean the same thing!). Also, some of the journal articles selected were way too challenging for the students –  the contents were too complex. Yes, I do understanding their reasoning as to why these articles were selected – these were medical students, after all. My argument is, though, that this writing course was aimed at building learners skills in terms of scanning for main ideas, extracting these ideas, paraphrasing them, using citations, synthesizing these ideas using synthesis-specific language which all, then, led to the writing itself. If this was to be successful, the content definitely needs to be simpler. Students, will then, not be faced with the challenge of trying to understand and make out the content first, before getting into the writing task (which I found, took so much of time in class). Of course, another way is for them to read the articles at home before getting into the writing task, but as mentioned earlier, they fail to see the importance of doing so.

F) TASK SHEETS AND ASSIGNMENTS
It was a great attempt to get students to do the tasksheets at home. I do think that the number of task sheets could be reduced – some did not seem to serve the purpose, and did take too much of a time. Also, rather than having individually written assignments, it might’ve been better to have the first assignment done as pairs, and the 2nd one individually. There are several reasons for this: Firstly, the world of academic writing can be very daunting to students. It would’ve helped to build their confidence gradually, where they could first collaborate on a piece of writing before attempting the second one by themselves. They could also have learned and helped each other out. Perhaps, conducting an initial placement test in writing, and using the results to pair stronger and weaker students together for the first assignment might have helped. It’s sure worth a shot!

G) CLASS TIMING
Long shot, yes. I don’t think much could’ve been done to change this – the university issues the schedule. Classes were usually between 4-6pm. I think, by then, students would’ve had a long day!

On the overall, I found that the classes were rather teacher centered, at least in terms of feedback given. In my next post, I’m going to list down some of the strategies I tried using to help make my large class more student centered and most of all, . Ironically, a lot of the CELTA methods wouldn’t have worked! 😉

Coming up next – Strategies for teaching academic writing……

Teaching Academic Writing – Part 1 (The Overview)

I just realized that I last blogged about 2 months back, reason being – it’s been an absolutely crazy 3 months, teaching 3 EAP classes (2 of which being Academic Writing) to about 35-40 undergraduate students per class. I’m going to break this blog post into several parts, because, yes, I still have loads of marking to do (and keep telling myself  “this too shall pass” . In this part of the post, I’ll touch on my job scope, student background and attitude towards the Academic Writing class.

JOB SCOPE

My job scope includes the following:

a) Face to face contact hours (which includes teaching, class feedback, writing workshops)

b) Vetting of assignment topics (individual assignments – I need to give online feedback -via the varsity’s portal – to each student, await updates on changes, and provide feedback again)

c) Assessing written assignments (both online via the varsity’s intranet website AND feedback on written assignments). Written assignments include group writing tasks, formative tests, and 2 assignments per semester (all individual work)

d) Final reports

e) Dealing with student problems such as : “Ms, I can’t upload my assignment on elearn” OR “The system is too slow” OR “I don’t know what happened, my computer just crashed” – (Ironically you get all these the minute after the deadline)

f) Assessing task sheets – Task sheets are in class assignments given as homework to students. This needs to be marked (and that means I’d have to mark around 35 – 40 tasksheets for each individual student).

It’s been a tough and busy few months. I feel like I’m working throughout the week and on weekends as well. And the endless marking really does take it’s toll. But above all, teaching academic writing to such a large group of undergraduates can really be energy consuming. How do I give individual feedback? How do I select areas in writing that need to be prioritized and addressed in the class? Can I even help them improve their writing skills via weekly 2 hour classes within a 2 month time span (perhaps, around 8 face to face classes)?

Well, honestly, I don’t know. I just thought of using this blog to reflect on my teaching practice, note down observations of my class, students and the strategies I attempted with the hope that it did, make, some form of change.

STUDENT BACKGROUND

The students who enrolled for this module were either psychology, medical or dentistry majors. This means they are proficient in the language. When I asked them as to why they enrolled for the course, their answers include the following:

“I need to improve my writing”

“I don’t have a choice. This is a core module”. 

“I don’t know why I need to do writing, Miss. My major is psychology, and I have assignments that are much more important that writing”.

“My writing is very weak, especially with academic writing. I don’t know what academic writing is, and I want to know”. 

So, I guess we can say that the group was of a mixed motivation. Also, most of them were Malaysians, with a handful of foreigners from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the Maldives, and Canada. Most of the students have either completed their A-Levels, Diploma, or Matriculation. However, I don’t think they were prepared, or even had the slightest inclination about what they were getting into. Also, Malaysians are generally, very very poor readers. A lot of us (me included, at their age) read mostly fiction. We hardly read non-fiction. Academic journal articles were definitely a far cry. Also, a lot of these learners came from schools where English was a foreign language (Chinese schools). For these learners, the situation could be worse – they’d be very hesitant to participate, inquire and express their thoughts in class.

COURSE AND MODULE OUTLINE AND ASSESSMENT

It was a pretty interesting outline, I’d say. The course included blended learning and the flipped classroom method. It spanned for over 3 months, with 7 (2 hour) face to face session. Prior to each face to face session, students were required to read up materials that were uploaded onto the varsity’s online portal, so that class hours was used for the actual writing practice and feedback sessions. The class mainly focused on synthesis writing (which was pretty much a class on writing literature reviews), with the notes containing the following must-read materials:

a) Overview of the module

b) Explanation on thesis statement and introductory paragraph

c) Introduction to referencing

d) Introduction to classification essay and writing introductory paragraphs

e) Writing workshops

f) In-class group writing

Students were assessed in several ways, and this included two written assignments, one formative test (which was to be assessed online), group writing workshops (which were also assessed online), and 5 (out of 12) tasksheets that need to be submitted to the teacher. These tasksheets contained various parts of the writing process, and needs to be marked by the teacher as well.  The final assessment was via the final exam. We were encouraged to used the materials given by the university. Any other supplementary material needs to be ‘declared’ and provided to the other teachers as well to ensure standardized dissemination of information.

 

 

Fluent Enough – A guest post

Having just gotten back from getting my CELTA done (which definitely requires some blogging on!), I’m now well on my way to get back into blogging with a bang! What better way than to start off with a guest post from a lovely friend of mine, Anthony Vaughan?

Let me fill you in about this person. Anthony is a teacher and a teacher trainer who has taught both in Kuala Lumpur and Bali over the last few years. He blogs at www.anthonyvaughan.com/category/blog/. Among the things that has left such a lasting impression of working with him is his ability to pick up languages so fast! Anthony spoke Malay (Malaysian’s official language) so fluently that I was always left in awe. In fact, he even managed to pronounce words exactly the way it sounds and spoke pidgin Malay so well too! He, obviously, became a favorite among many of us here. I have always been curious as to how he managed to learn Malay so fast and so well, and invited him to write a post on my blog. And here he is – presenting to you the wonderful post entitled “Fluent Enough”  by Anthony Vaughan. A very interesting read, I assure you! And of course, please do leave your thoughts here, and he’ll definitely get back to you 🙂

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I find languages to be fascinating. I love the sounds. Even more than that, people who have grown up speaking more than one language intrigue me. I used to sit in the office and listen to Ratna (the owner of this blog who has so kindly asked me to contribute this piece) speaking to her colleague in a mixture of English, Malay and Tamil. Their hearty laughter told me that when using three languages to communicate simultaneously, conversations become three times as funny.

This is the backstory to this post. I asked my friend Ratna to write for my blog about this trilingual phenomenon. In turn, she has asked me how someone who grew up speaking only one language has managed to pick up multiple languages so fast.

It’s a good question. Most people learning languages want to learn fast. They want to learn to be fluent. They want to learn everything in the language. So they can say: “I’m fluent.”

Then I would ask, what does “fluent” mean? Being fluent means different things to different people.

For me, it means that if I’m in a foreign country, I can do everything I need to do during the day using that language. If I’m studying at a University in France and I can understand my lectures, I’m fluent. Or should I say fluent enough. If I’m an English teacher in a foreign country and I can order food and speak to colleagues about simple things, then I’m also fluent enough.

Maybe for other people, being fluent means learning all the grammar rules of the language and knowing thousands of vocabulary items. But then, would you ever become fluent if you were not a native speaker. That’s no fun. Outside of professional contexts, it’s funny when you’re not fluent, because you have to lose a bit of yourself to communicate your meaning. Or laugh when you can’t communicate what you mean.

I met Ratna when I was working with her in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She tells me she is quite impressed with how quickly I became “fluent” in Malay. (Thank you for the compliment Ratna. You’re too kind!) So, here I am, sharing with you that my fluency is part illusion, part “cutting to the chase”.

Cutting to the chase

For me, I start with the sounds in the language. The languages I have learned generally have some sounds which are the same as English. You can eliminate those sounds from your study as you can already make them. Even Chinese, which admittedly I failed to learn, has some corresponding sounds, though don’t get me started on those tones.

Next, you need to have fun trying to copy the weird sounds which do not exist in your own language. Your mouth has never made them before. So you have to work out which muscles are doing what. You need to know what your mouth should look like. Native speakers will find this endlessly hilarious and as accurately as you manage to do it, they’ll possibly tell you its still wrong. I blush a lot at this point, but it’s worth it. Later on, as you’ve progressed with the language and speak it more often, your own mouth muscles will start to remember the new positions and eventually you’ll be able to do it. And if not, it doesn’t really matter. But if you can, well done!

Then, study a bit of grammar. I studied linguistics in a past life, so I do enjoy this part. If you don’t, you might need to find a cheat guide, like the condensed subject guides that university students read before exams. It should give you an overview of the grammar and the parts that are different from English. If you can’t find one, try Wikipedia. But do go too crazy. When you are in country, you don’t actually use a lot of the complex grammar that is taught in school foreign language classes. Or you can find a short cut. There is often more than one grammatical way to say the same thing. As long as you can understand it, it’s enough. Just learn the grammar necessary between past, present and future. If there is more than one of each tense, just learn the easiest one first. That way, at least you can distinguish between different periods of time. Some languages are not so fixated on this like in English, so if they don’t, just take note of that and work out how they do differentiate the time (it might be just contextual or using clear time words like “yesterday” or “tomorrow”, as in Malay and Indonesian).

Next, learn some vocabulary. Just enough vocabulary. Don’t learn too much. I have heard it said that you can remember 7 to 8 new words in a study session. So don’t waste your energy learning thousands too quickly, it will take time.

Finally, pretend that you know what’s going on most of the time. This is the “illusion” part I eluded to. The concept of fluency depends on how you define it and your language goals. For example, if you just want to buy some rice from a street vendor, you can smile, point at a picture and then say thank you in the local language. That will be enough to get the ball rolling. Later on, you can try some simple sentences. If you give the illusion that you can understand more than you can, people will speak to you more. This will give you a chance to hear the sounds more and to practice the little that you have learned. Overtime, you start to learn more. Then you will be fluent enough. Whatever that may be for you.

Happy Belated Birthday! – A personal letter to my blog

Dearest bloggie,

Before anything, please accept my biggest apologies for not wishing you on time. But late’s better than never, am I right? So here you go : HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY TO YOU and many many more lovely years to come! Yaay! Bring on the cakes and balloons, oh and oh, I hope you love the ‘taste’ of the red velvet cupcake I’ve made you. Big hugs to you!

And now, for the second biggest apology : I’m so sorry for not updating you as often as I wanted to. Sometimes there’s just so much going on in life that I find myself both physically and emotionally drained of energy that awakening the intellect posed as a bit of a challenge. At other times, I just seem to hit a dead end where blogging is concerned; I just don’t know what to write about. In those times, I find myself admiring individuals who are able to update their blogs several times a week, writing on such interesting topics at that. I never fail to wonder –> how did they come up with such brilliant ideas to write about? Where did they get their ideas from? How do they write so engagingly? Why don’t I get these ideas to write as well?  But you know, bloggie (you know I just LOVEEEE calling you that), come to think of it, we’re all on our own personal journeys as educators, growing in different ways under different circumstances. Blogging is not about being a part of the rat-race, is it? It’s more of a diary on our journey along the various ELT paths that lead to a several shared objectives :

a) Striving to continuously improve ourselves as educators – it’s a life long pursuit

b) Keeping a personal log of what works and what needs to be improved on in our classroom

c) As our very own branch of professional development (which, in my case, is such an attraction when included in my resume)

In that sense, I can’t really compare my ELT journey with another, but I can be inspired by what others have experienced on their paths. Which is exactly how I feel right now. Reading every ELT blog has made me realize how “rich” the ELT world is. Some blogs have been such great inspiration and motivation to me that these are the one I find myself often turning to for my drive to keep materializing my thoughts through you (despite the irregularity of the frequency per se). I will give you my word, bloggie, that no matter how tough life gets or even if I hit the next blank wall, I will not stop writing. You, bloggie, will always hear from me. I am not going to promise you but I’ll do my best!

Did you know that the past year (from the time you were born) has been a true eye-opener of all sorts for me in terms of developing myself as a teacher. It was a whole new world! I broke out of my shell consisting of the single question of “how can I continue developing professionally as a teacher”. The memory of how it all started seems fuzzy. I remember browsing through ITDI’s website and the next thing I knew, Chuck Sandy was cajolling me into writing an article for ITDI. I vividly remember the Skype conversation with him : “But Chuck, I am JUST a teacher! What can I write about?” and I clearly remember his answer “Write from your heart. Keep it simple and have your own style. Do not try to emulate other people’s writing; You are a unique individual with your own style”. I have never forgotten that advice until today.

Chuck did one of the things he did best : he helped me connect with me flair for writing and got me connected with some wonderful teachers in Korea (here’s to you Josette). I also stumbled upon several blogs by teachers based in Korea while attempting to land myself a job there (hello Mike!). I remember leaving a comment on Mike Griffin’s blog and reading his reply made me so excited! He actually replied! From these teachers, I got to know other teachers whom I met at the KOTESOL International Conference 2012 in Seoul  (here’s to you  Anne, Mike, Gemma, John, Alex, Barry Jameson, Tim) and the PLN just took off from there (James Taylor, Chiew Pang, Kevin Stein, Icha, Ann Loseva, Malu, Barb, Debbie, Rose, Vicky and the list just goes on).

You know bloggie, I am so very glad to have quit my job and followed my partner to Korea. The extra time I had in hand came to good use as I explored different areas of professional development in teaching. I got the opportunity to write for ITDI, start my own blog (migrating from posterous to wordpress midway, an experience in itself!), attend online workshops, talk and be among other encouraging teachers (all of it online), presented at 2 conferences(both online and live), attended online professional development workshops, read other blogs with such an abundance of ideas and most of all, just connecting with educators from around the world!  It feels that in 365 days, my entire outlook on professional development got a complete makeover! The best part about it is, everything went down on my resume and when I got back to Malaysia, most universities that I applied to liked what they saw on my resume.

The support I got from my group of teacher friends is really impossible to describe. Their words and their very own journeys have sometimes been the best inspirations on days that I felt the lowest. In one year, I learned more than I ever did in my 5 year career back in Malaysia. I know that I’m not alone on the teaching path; there are so many others who are there together with me, facing similar challenges, working on similar ideas, supporting, motivating making their presence felt and just being there for me. For that, I need to thank them ever so gratefully!

So there you go, bloggie! I may not be right there where many teachers are, but comparing myself with others is pointless. I think I’ve done pretty okay in the past year. And one last thing: thank you very much for putting up with my irregular blogging habits and lending your ears when I needed to get something off my chest. Let’s raise both our glasses for togetherness in years to come. Cheers!

Yours sincerely,

Ratna

Experimenting with The Flipped Classroom

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I’ve been reading a lot about the flipped classroom method lately; I’m guessing that it’s been around for quite a bit, but has resurfaced and greatly sensationalized thanks to the power of technology and by word of “PLN” s mouth. There are lots of online resources providing information about the flipped classroom that it’s impossible for me to list all.  But some that I’ve read include the ones below:

http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/
http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/eli7081.pdf
http://www.edudemic.com/2013/07/flipping-education-freeing-up-class-time-for-interactive-learning/

Generally, the outcomes of the flipped classroom model appears to be of great benefit to learners, so I decided to experiment with it during the last month of the term. I F.L.I.P.P.E.D my Business English classroom.

So, what is the Flipped Classroom Model? 
Very simple concept, it is. Learners read lecture notes at home (prior to attending class) and the subsequent day’s classroom time is used for working on assignments, homework, or tasks with the teacher as a guide.

How did I go about it?
It was the best time of the term for me to experiment with this method. I was teaching ‘Writing Research Reports’, where learners were required to conduct a mini research and present their findings in the form of an academic report. Teaching research report writing can be a bit tricky; it’s not so much about raising their awareness on the kind of lexical conventions involved in writing research; the challenge was more in helping them hone their research skills as well – framing the research problem, objectives, deriving the hypothesis, designing questionnaires and so on. I realized that as important as classroom lecture notes were in providing the theoretical know-hows of conducting the research, the most learning would only take place when learners get themselves immersed in the actual research itself.

To start off, I prepared and posted a series of PowerPoint lecture notes on the class’s Facebook group. Each part of the series was posted about 3 days in advance of class. At the end of the PowerPoint presentation was the task we’d be working on in class the next day. The reason I mentioned the task was to ensure that learners could source for the necessary materials that would help them complete the task in the class.

What did my students feel about the flipped classroom?
They were very happy to have more teacher-learner time for discussions about the assignment / research. Of course, I had some irresponsible and uncommitted learners who did not do their “homework” – reading up the slides at home. I’m guessing that they were bent for time, or plainly thought that reading up was irrelevant and unimportant, taking for granted that I’d explain it in class the very next day. However, after the second class, they started feeling the pressure of being left behind when their classmates were moving forward with their research (of having studied the lecture notes at home and spending quality time in discussing the tasks with me in the class). Without having much of a choice but to get a grip of themselves and catch up (fortunately for me), all flipped classroom sessions seemed to turn out to be dynamic and well-spent indeed.

What did I think about the flipped classroom?
I loved it. Classroom time was used in a very productive manner and I sensed a great amount of learning taking place. I’ve become quite an advocate of the flipped classroom. However, there are several areas that I think teachers need to be aware of prior to implementing this method in the class:

SIMPLICITY OF LECTURE NOTES
We need to remember that learners are reading the notes at home, and they’re new to the idea of having to read it by themselves and not have the teacher explain it to them. I made my notes as simple as possible, avoiding complicated jargon and unfamiliar research terminologies. Even if I had to, I defined these terms in simplistic, easily understandable ways. Also, rather than writing long sentences, I drew up charts and diagrams using PowerPoint tools, with sufficient examples for each new concept that was introduced. I could’ve designed videos to make my lecture notes more interactive, but that would take time and I need to get more familiarized with this area of technology.

CONCEPT CHECKING
I totally forgot about this part :(. Ideally, at the end of your lecture notes, it would be good to write up some questions that help learners to gauge their understanding of what’s been read. Nikolaos Chatzopoulos has also suggested some very effective ideas that can help engage and captivate learners’ attention on the lecture materials. He suggested that in key parts of the lecture notes, learners pause the presentation / video, and answer a question, take notes, make a prediction or work on a short problem that helps to apply the newly acquired knowledge.  This can be read in detail in his article here.

APPLICABILITY
Although the flipped method has, on most parts, been discussed in positive lights, I still question its’ applicability across the board.

TIME FACTOR
It is more time consuming for teachers, as more attention needs to be given in preparing the lecture materials for self-study purposes. Teachers need to be a couple of steps ahead of class, sourcing a wide variety of materials that can span into a couple of days. I felt burned out at times, because this wasn’t the only class that I was teaching. A lot of attention and focus were given on creating simple and comprehensible lecture materials.

Would I flip my classroom again, then?
For sure I would. I don’t think I’d have had enough “working time” with my learners with the traditional method. It was fulfilling to watch them grow to be the little researchers they were. Of course, I’d not be able to do it in every class; it would then become boring, both for me and my learners.

Experiential Learning – Memoirs from the Past

Sometimes in life, you meet individuals with such profound greatness that they leave a mark so deep within yourself.

When I started writing this post, my initial intention was to dive straight into the experiential-learning lesson that I conducted a couple weeks back. But then I saw the need to introduce you to THAT profound person who inspired this lesson : the late Professor Emeritus Hyacinth Marie Gaudart.

You see, Prof.  Hyacinth (as we lovingly called her) is truly one of a kind. She was a legendary Malaysian educationist who left a deep impact in both my postgraduate education and my heart. And I’m sure EVERY one who’s worked with her will nod their heads in agreement.

For one, she was , and still is remembered for playing one of the key roles in establishing the Bachelor of Education (TESL) programme in the University of Malaya, founding  the Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA), as well as initiating and spearheading the Rural Outreach Program for English (ROPE) project here in Malaysia in the 1990s. And these are only the cream on the cake. Prof Hyacinth’s contributions to the ELT industry are actually immeasurable.

Also being known for her creativity, brilliance, passion ,dedication and warmth, Prof. Hyacinth was someone who could laugh with us with that a twinkle in her eyes or bark thunderously at us for the lack of quality in our academic work.

Uh-oh, when it came to work, she was a no-nonsense person. Her lectures were remarkable; In a 4 hour class, she took a couple of minutes to give us an overview of the day’s lesson and we then had to dive head-on into the task, struggling and swimming our way across the ocean, literally. But she was always there behind us, subtly noosing and goading us as to not go off course. Oh yea, sometimes she gleefully let us drown and just at the moment where life seemed to slip off our fingers, she’d yank us out again. Such was the kind of experiential learning that I experienced with her in my postgraduate classes.

And one last thing. She loved food. It was a way she bonded even more closely with us. The last 30 minutes of class was always time for merriment; Each week, learners’ of different nationalities brought a range of scrumptious fare to the class. We ate, laughed and became almost like a family. Such was the magic of Hyacinth Gaudart.

When I close my eyes and let memories of her wash over me, I only feel rays of light, intellect, dedication and intense love. And the tears of sadness and tightness in throat when I heard of her demise last year.

Note : This post is dedicated to the late Professor Hyacinth Gaudart, who, in all honestly, I hope, is training future teachers in the inner worlds right now. May her physical body rest in peace.

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Reflecting on the 6th iELT Conference 2013 – The True Story

Funny how one can feel rather disconnected at an international conference. Perhaps it was my fault to have set high expectations on the outcome of the event. Or, the fact that this was my first time at the iELT Conference which was rather small-scaled (having always attended the MELTA and ASIA TEFL conferences previously,  also the awesome KOTESOL Conference in 2012 where I met loads of wonderful, wonderful teachers (Alex GrevettAnne Hendler,  Josette Le BlancMike Griffin,  John Pfordresher, Gemma Lunn and many more, whom I immediately connected to!).

Hmmm……and to think of it, iELT Conference 2013 was something I PHYSICALLY attended. It wasn’t the virtual world. After all, I had the chance to interact with people face to face!

Yet I felt the “vacuum” in a lot of these interactions. It was almost like people reciprocated because they “had to”, or “for the formality of it”. No additional questions to build that professional relationship. Or maybe I had to be a plenary speaker for that, eh?

Absolutely ironic that I feel a great sense of belonging to a wonderful group of teachers whom I’ve never met, but have been providing such amazing support as we walk hand in hand in our own individual teaching worlds (my warm hugs and shoutout shoutout goes to Chuck Sandy, Barb Sakamoto, Icha, Kevin Stein, Rose Bard, Ann Loseva, Vladka, James Taylor, Barry Jameson and a whole lot of other lovely educators).

Oh, no no, don’t get me wrong here. Now, I DID meet a number of remarkably committed, passionate and intelligent individuals but the number was small. Wish I had met more!

So, thinking back (sorry for plagiarizing the word, Mike!) –> I came back with mixed feelings….

For these reasons (which are EXTREMELY judgmental and entirely mine):

  •  The most interesting workshops were the ones with the simplest, most workable ideas (Anthony Newman’s “Discovering your voice as a writer”, Woo Yee Saik’s “The voice of influence : Be a Trim Tab”, Moses Samuel’s “Inter-textuality in the classroom”, Derek Straat’s “Verb Tenses Live”,  to name a few). Simplicity DOES count.
  • The plenary speakers are well-read and very experienced in the ELT field, but whose speeches were B.O.R.I.N.G.  Nothing new, nothing enlightening. Good topic (professionalism and networking), but mostly very very theoretical (eg : what are the types of professional dev? DUH!). To my utter dismay, one of them just “read it out” completely from the notes. TEACHERS WANT OPTIONS FOR DEVELOPING. not theory. grrrrrrrrrrr. MOVE FORWARD, FOLKS. Learn a thing or two from the delightful Scott Thornbury or Ken Wilson.
  • I believe I missed an interesting plenary talk by Anthony Newman on “The 12 features of highly Effective Teachers”  ; my workshop was right after it!
  • Some interesting workshops were held during the same session, forcing me to regrettably chose one over the other.
  • Some teacher trainers (appointed by the Ministry of Education) were not as warm as I thought they’d be, rather arrogant and all puffed up (imposing their ideas in groupwork during workshops, walking in and out as they liked, not wanting to “listen”). Hmmm, makes me wonder how they work with teachers in school? Knowing Malaysian school teachers who can sometimes feel rather intimidated and small when working with “white people” (sorry for the rather racist comment but it’s really true!). Amusingly, their professional profiles weren’t that impressive. I ABSOLUTELY agree with Mike Griffin about avoiding to sit beside white guys above 40!
  • The international plenary speakers were very friendly. The local ones didn’t smile back when you did. They looked through you.
  • No one tweeted about anything.
  • Nothing much on tech-savvy teaching.

MY CONCLUSION : We need to move forward and keep up with the current ELT trends in Malaysia. The overall conference gave me the feeling that I “stepped back in time” in the world of ELT.

P/S : I had some great time during group discussions.

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Oh, and not to mention that the after conference street food exploration was explosively delightful! :)))))

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Cool things that happened today….and is probably going to double tomorrow…

I’ve not particularly been keeping the promise I made to myself for the past two months – to blog on a weekly basis. Somehow the whole process of getting back to homeland has gotten a hold over me; reconnecting ties, delving into the new teaching role, redecorating the home (and more to come I’m sure) have seemed to have taken the front row where priorities are concerned.

Hence, it was by chance that I stumbled upon Mike Griffin‘s blog challenge while hogging onto the-oh-so-sinful- facebook (yes, guilthy as charged, your honour).  Ann Loseva had reposted Kevin Stein‘s blog post, where he took up Mike’s challenge to list down cool things that happened for the day, in his life. And I thought, hey, I probably should do it myself (speak about non-original idea, tsk tsk tsk) because today, has definitely been a pretty exhilaratingly exciting day for me. Ultra coolness grooving around me with a total turn of events that caught me off guard, probably leading to something bigger. May spell trouble for me, may not. But hey, I did what I had to do and it was totally worth it! You know what they say about fighting til the last breath escapes your very being. 

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(courtesy of http://sajabla.files.wordpress.com)

So here goes to all the cool things that happened for the day:

a) A letter of frustration that I wrote to a friend about my utter dissatisfaction about the Malaysian Government’s actions with regards to the ELT industry got published in the opinion column of a renowned, well-read online Malaysian tabloid. You can find the link  here. Now, some of my friends may stop becoming my friends right here because of the obvious mentions of nationality / nations, but whatever I said was true and yes, things that’ve been bugging me, and yes, things that N.E.E.D to be changed in my country. Awake! Arise!

b) The letter’s gone (and still going) viral in the Malaysian social media. Last I checked (and this happened within the last 12-24hours), this is the number of tweets, reposts, emails, and sharing USING forms of social media that’s taken place:

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I think that’s an amazing, amazing number of reposts. Malaysians ARE concerned about our ELT education. I’ve probably raised some very pressing issues here judging from the number of comments and reposts.

c) Now comes the even juicier part. As a result (I think), the Deputy Chief Editor has requested me to write up a detailed article on the directions that can lead towards change. Exactly what I’ve been wanting to do since I got back. Now I get to write about what every Malaysian English language teacher should be doing to becoming global – professional development. I’m going to draw from my AND my wonderful, dynamic PLN’s experience as well. The best part of it is, it’s going to be read by the entire nation (well, literally) and it’s going to spread like wildfire in the Malaysian social media. It’s showtime, baby!

d) I met up a wonderful friend for lunch, and had loads of fun laughing together. We both parted with such a warm, light heart. 

e) As I reached home, I got a postal package from the same friend – my bridesmaid’s outfit that she bought me, for her wedding. Is it coincidence that I meet her today, and get the package later ON THE SAME DAY? You tell me.

f) I got a call that my timetable for the upcoming semester has been rescheduled, where I have the same teaching hours, but only need to go in thrice a week (as opposed to 4 times a week before). It means I save another day of travelling time, traffic jam, petrol, toll, and most of all, TIME! –> to do thing that I want to do.

g) My carpet arrived today. And it’s totally transformed the way my home looks – so yummilicious! I just rolled around on the carpet with bliss all over my face,as long as I can remember as my husband watched me with a smile.

h) A group of my old students sent me a facebook message about how they told a “bunch of new friends that they’d “never be able to meet the best teacher we”ve ever had because she doesn’t work here anymore”. I sat in front of the computer with a goofy smile on my face for a long time.

i) The group of students also told me that they wanted to meet up for a game of bowling and dinner at any time that I’m free. They will come anywhere that I suggest on any day.

And that’s it. Full of ultra cool goodness for the day. Surely there’s more to come tomorrow. But for now, I’ll bask in the glory of the current ones.

Thanks so much Mike, Kevin, and Anna for inspiring me to getting this done. I feel good all over. Like totally. How cool is that now?

The Lil’ Goodies of Delight That Matter…..

There’s a new bakery that’s just opened at the corner of my street. It’s almost impossible for one not to notice the quaintness and warmth of this little place that is tucked away cozily between two well-known eateries of this town.

Each time I walked pass it to get to the gym, I could never help feasting my eyes on the pastries that’ve all been stacked up so close together that they almost give me the feeling that they’re cheekily huddling in merriment against the cold autumny season.

Oh, and have I mentioned the oh-so-delightful scent of freshly baked bread that wafts around you as you walk by?

Bakery
(Image courtesy of InfoMoto on flickr)So, one fine day I decide to walked into the place. The enticement was way too strong, you see.I was met by a petite, cheerful Korean lady with a very bright “Anyeonghaseyo!!” for a greeting. She stood at the cashier; I presumed she was the owner of the joint. As I strolled around the place, checking goodies out, she watched me with great interest.

I finally decided upon a loaf of multigrain bread. I took it her, paid for it, and she handed it back to me, all packed up nicely. She had a certain twinkle in her eye and smile. Or was it just my imagination? I wondered.

As I walked back home, I couldn’t help thinking about that twinkle. Absorbed in my own thoughts, I absentmindedly put my hands into the package. And lo and behold, guess what I found? She had slipped a piece of muffin into my bag! Aha, so that was the cause of the twinkle! I quickly scanned through my receipt, and no, she hadn’t charged me for it. I thanked my lucky stars, and indulged into this lil treat the minute I got back home.

What did I do, then, in the next couple of days?I went to the bakery again of course!

Oh no, not because of the treat, but because of the gratitude I felt towards her for her act of kindness. This time, I bought a lovely, sticky cinnamon bun. And she did it again. Slipped another lil treat for me into my bag. Same smile, same twinkle, right in front of my eyes this time! My oh my!

AND it’s been happening each time around, until I found myself thinking that perhaps it was some sort of a promotional strategy (can I be blamed for that?).

So, the next time I went, I played Ms. Smarty Pants. I observed her actions eyefully while standing in the line to pay for my fare. To my utter astonishment, no one else got anything!

But when it came to my turn, she did it AGAIN! And this time, it was a piece of chocolate cake.

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(Image courtesy of Brett Jordan on flickr)


The Lil Delights that Matter….

I’ve been thinking so much about this humbling, yet touching gesture of the wonderful bakery owner.

How did she make me feel ? — Very special indeed.

Were the lil delights costly ? — Not at all, really.

Did it matter at all that they weren’t costly ? — Absolutely not, isn’t the thought what matters the most?

And how has this thoughtful gesture affected me? — In ways that cannot be described by words.  And I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.

Taking The Goodies of Delight into the language Classroom…

You’ve got to admit this. Each one of us, no matter how old we are, LOVES to receive goodies. May it be a piece of cake, or a complimentary gift, anything at all. A goodie is a goodie, isn’t it? But how do we take this concept into a language classroom?

See, it all depends on what you term “goodie” to be. Some teachers may call it rewards, some may call it gifts, and others may call it prizes. There are loads of past research that have provided contradicting evidence on ‘rewarding’ learners. Some say it’s a source of motivation for learners, but others say that learner motivation might dissipate once the reward’s been revoked (Schimdt, R., Boraie, D., and Kassagby, O. 1996).

Well, I don’t intend to divulge into this argument. My only intention is to look at this beyond what research is concerned, more from a humanistic perspective; something coming from my heart; something I’ve done in my classroom and been duely ‘rewarded’ with contentment and satisfaction. And when I talk about Goodies of Delight, I don’t attach a monetary value to it, because I totally understand that not every teacher receives a hefty salary!

So, what are the lil’ Goodies of Delight? Oh, there are loads of it, we just gotta get a bit creative and be that source of inspiration and drive within our learners minds!

a) Inspirational Note slips : Write short, power-packed inspirational notes on colored stick-on papers, stick them as a form of feedback on leaner’s assignments.

b) Quote books : Small, hand carry quote books are very cheap and can be purchased almost anywhere – bookshops, newsstands, used bookshops. Observe learners, lookout for those who’re having the toughest moments in life. Hold them back after classroom, look them in the eye, and give it to them as a gift. Of course, make sure that the language is understandable to     the learner! And add a personal touch with a short, inspiring note and your signature.

c) Smiley face stickers : These are really cheap and can be bought in many places. Use them when responding to learners work. The number of stickers can determine how satisfied you are    with their work!

d) Sweets : Well, I see some of you in doubt there. Trust me, even the least costliest piece of sweet would catch any learner by surprise. However, I wouldn’t advocate using sweets as rewards for young learners, they might throw a tantrum if they don’t get one!

e) handmade cards : You don’t even have to be very creative or spend too much time on this. It can be on colored papers, with a very personalized note from you to the earner. Pictures can be printed from the internet. Make it funny; make it inspirational; make it thought-provoking.        And you could sign off with a funny photo of yourself, re-sized and stuck at the end.

f) personalized messages on fb or other social media : I’m sure you know where to draw the line when personalization is concerned. Be emphathetic, not symphathetic. Relate to them, connect with them. Express your concern genuinely. They’ll know and feel it when you do.

g) Minute Soft toys : soft toys can be given to both males and females. If you look around, you’d surely find some really cool soft-toys that relate to each individual  learners. Again, stick    a note to it with some positive words from you.

h) Hand-written letter : no matter how advanced we’ve gotten into the digital world, the old-fashioned way never fails to capture the magic of connection. At the end of the term, reflect on each student and write a personalized, short letter to each one of them. End the teaching term with a bang by leaving a huge imprint of yourself in their minds and hearts.

i) Postcards : The key here is how to metaphorically relate the picture in the postcard to how you want the learner to be inspired. Make connections between the picture and your words. It WILL, mark my words, WILL make a difference. Then, give it to them.

The Goodies of Delight have tremendous effects on our learners. It ‘wakes’ them, ‘enlightens’, inspires, motivates, drives, and most of all, gives them a sense of belonging within the classroom. I’ve seen this increase classroom dynamics, rapport, respect, and understanding. It is a great tool especially among learners who’re unable to express themselves outwardly as much as they want to. Most of all, it takes them to great heights and makes them believe in themselves. As a teacher, you actually have a great impact in our learners’ lives. Make each learner feel special. Create that bond with them. You’ll see how it really pays off at the end!

My ideas above might not be new; You’ve probably encountered them at some points in ur life. But if you do have anything newer and funkier, please please do share it with me! I’d love to hear about it…

And, now I wonder…

Do YOU have any Goodies of Delights for me? Surely you know I love surprises, don’t you…..

Surprise

(Image courtesy of anacik on flickr )

The Beginning of a Journey….or should I say the continuation?……

Is teaching a career?

I wouldn’t say so. To me, teaching is a journey. It’s a path of self-discovery. It helps you explore your innate nature; who you were, who you are, and who you’ll be. It leads you to try things you’ve never thought of trying, to challenge yourself, to bypass personalities and peer into an individual’s very being.

I’m an English language teacher. I love every minute detail about teaching. Every class is an adventure that leads you to new discoveries. I had a wonderful teaching career back in Malaysia; multinational learners, opportunities to conduct trainings, and trying out new methodologies in the classroom.

And then…one fine day my husband got a job in Korea. I quit my job, packed my bags and followed suite. And nothing has ever been the same again, truly. Why do I say this?

Well, the honest truth is, I’m a non-native teacher. It means I come from a country which does not belong in the “native speakers” category. Which means that it doesn’t matter that I’ve got postgraduate qualification in teaching English. Or a TESOL certification. Or experience with learners from literally around the world (Korea included). Or that I have a native speaker like ability (or almost). Or the very fact that I love and am absolutely passionate about what I do. It doesn’t. Period.

And this truth really affected me deep down to my core. Here I am, being able to contribute towards educating the people of Korea, and yet, I’m turned down for not being a “native-speaker”. What can I say?

Well, I have to do SOMETHING, right? Can’t just be hovering over the “Oh-I’m-feeling-dejected” mode. So, I started making friends. I started learning Korean. I started speaking to people at the park that I go to, in broken Korean, amidst the fit of laughter that I get. And this eventually led me to meeting a local Korean teacher. She observed me teach a group of middle-aged ladies at a local cultural center, and things have never really been the same again!

And why have I forgotten the fact that when, one door closes, another opens? And this one being a giant fairytale of sorts. A remarkable person named Chuck Sandy gave me an opportunity to do a writeup on the International Teacher Development Institute’s (ITDI) blog. He opened doors for me to meet English language teachers around Korea. He introduced me to the concept of “community of practice”, and he was the doorkeeper of the huge fairytale door I was telling you about. And what a sight it was on other side of the door!

So, am I happy in Korea? Yes, I am.

Am I regretting not having a full-time job? Well, not really.

Am I successful? It depends on what you define as being successful. If success means having the opportunity to connect with like-minded teachers from around the world, then yes, I am successful.

And lastly, do I regret leaving my job in Malaysia? Not in a single day. That was the best decision I made this year.

As I said, when one door closes, another opens. Perhaps more to come!

They can’t be wrong when they say “An end is usually a beginning”, can they?