Saturday, August 09, 2014

When did metadata become something men thought they knew more about?

[Just a heads up that this post has very little to do with language teaching and learning or e-learning :-) ]

A story in the news this week on ‘metadata’, followed by a program on the radio about 'women coders' reminded me of how far we still have to go with some gender equity issues.

The first was the Australian government's proposal to change the policy on the retention of communication data (see Infographic: Metadata and data retention explained and Attorney-General George Brandis struggles to explain Government's metadata proposal).

The second was this week’s episode of Download This Show on ABC Radio National
Data Retention, women coders, second Second Life? , which discussed the government's proposed scheme, and also a story on encouraging women into software development.

Years ago when I was consulting on a project to develop a portal for government information, one of the things I was responsible for was ‘metadata’.  This was probably the first time I had heard the term, but from what I read about it, it seemed to be the stuff I’d been doing for years as a librarian, but with a specifically IT focus.  I went along to a government workshop on metadata to find out more, and was surprised to find that most of the workshop participants were information ‘technology’ people and not information ‘management’ people.  During the workshop introduction, most of the questions thrown out to the group were answered by either myself or the only other woman there (amongst about 30-40 men), who also turned out to be a librarian.  When it came to the practical session, we all had to share computers.  The blokey-bloke I was paired with, who had until then been hogging the computer, pushed the keyboard across to me and said, “You can do this as it’s obviously librarian’s work”. I am absolutely sure this was intended in a very derogatory way, as in “this is obviously women’s work”, as he and most of the other blokes had mostly lost interest once the group had determined that metadata wasn’t some sexy new IT thing but the stuff that librarians had been doing for years!  I just as quickly slid the keyboard back to him saying, “On the contrary, this is something you need to learn!”  I’m pretty sure that most of those blokes learnt nothing and went back to their offices and decided that some lesser beings (women/librarians/women librarians?) should be doing all the metadata stuff while they focused on something more fitting to their superior skills.

Long before I was in this consulting job, I had worked as a systems analyst/computer programmer.  In my department we had 6 staff developing software (including the manager), and 3 of us were women.  This was a higher percentage of men than in my previous work as a librarian, but I don’t remember feeling it was different or unusual at the time.  I do remember getting odd, possibly sexist, comments from some of the staff at that workplace, but had at the time thought that was also possibly due to fact that I had moved from being a librarian there to the programming job.  But as I reflected on that time following the radio program this morning, I started recalling more instances that made me rethink this analysis.  I remember clearly one comment from when I went out to fix a printer (we did everything in those days IT related: installing cables, backing up the mainframe, training users in the programs we wrote, help desk, etc.) and a bloke asked if I knew what I was doing - I responded by pointing out that I’d been fixing photocopiers in the library for years, “Printer, photocopier, same difference!”  I remember another bloke expressing great surprise seeing me sitting on the floor soldering cables to connect the PC in his office.  I think I stayed quiet that time, hoping he would crawl back into his cave.  I also remember my manager returning from an IT expo and mentioning that one of the vendors had "girlies in fishnet stockings and sailor hats" handing out brochures to the (almost entirely male) customers - blech!

The radio program worried me as I would have hoped that we had moved on from this type of scenario in the intervening 20-25 years, but it seems that women and girls may not even be considering work in IT areas as an option.  I've since changed careers yet again and now work as an English language teacher, which seems to be a profession as heavily female-dominated as librarianship (at least in my workplace, but also judging by the participants at a recent conference I attended) so I haven't given this much thought for a while.

So this week I have been thinking about this and, as I asked at the beginning, "When did metadata become something men thought they knew more about?"  I almost felt sorry for the Attorney-General, except that I feel people in these roles need to make sure they are across all the issues before fronting up to the press, and should take questions on notice when they're not sure of the answers.    On the other hand, I wonder what the media coverage would have been like if the Attorney-General making the comments had been a woman?  Would she have been ridiculed further, possibly with a suggestion that it was too much to expect a woman to know about such 'technical' things?  But then there was another story this week (*) that suggests that another government minister thinks there is a place for women and that place isn't dentistry and law, and probably isn't politics either (sigh!).

I'm not sure this post even belongs on this blog it being so off-topic, but I couldn't help sharing my thoughts on this, even though I suspect no one will read them :-)
 

(*) Full interview here: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2014/s4062352.htm

UPDATE: Excellent recent article on similar themes:
What India Can Teach Silicon Valley About Its Gender Problem By Vikram Chandra


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why attend conferences if you don't want to learn?


Mike Griffin recently posted his reflections on, and apologies for, judging teachers possibly unfairly in the past in Sorry for judging on his excellent ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections blog.  His final apology under the heading 'Going to a conference but not attending sessions from others', touched a nerve in me, or probably more correctly opened a long festering sore :-)
Mike said:
Going to a conference but not attending sessions from others  
I did this a few weeks ago. Yikes. When I saw this move from a few people 5 years ago I thought it was rude, egocentric and telling. I thought it conveyed a message of, “I have learned all I need to know” and don’t need to learn from you people, but come to my session please.” Having been guilty of this sin very recently I can see there are a variety of possible reasons for this and it doesn’t necessarily imply a massive ego or disdain for others in the field.
I immediately wrote a long comment in response, which turned into this blog post of my own once I realised I'd gone beyond the bounds of comment ettiquette in terms of length and off-topicness. 

I could have written Mike's final point myself. My judgement is possibly clouded because I have met people at conferences who have made it quite clear they were there for presenting and not receiving information or even networking.

My worst personal experience of this was when I presented at one of the last sessions on the last day of a 4-day e-learning conference, when it seemed the only people left to attend one of the final sessions were colleagues or friends of the presenters or one of the other presenters in your session. Indeed, at that conference, probably less than a quarter of delegates were present on the final day, even for the morning keynote! I imagine there were "a variety of reasons" (*) why 300-400 people hadn't bothered to stay for the duration, but I did talk to a few people during the conference who said they had only come to the conference present their own paper (some even admitted they were going to present their paper then head to the beach - this was an international conference held in a small coastal city in a south-East Asian country). At this conference there was one person I had been very much looking forward to meeting, as the trials I had been conducting and was presenting on were in the same area he was working in. When I approached him after his presentation and invited him to mine, he told me he was leaving after his second presentation and didn't even show much interest in discussing what I'd been doing. He was very polite, but I certainly got the "I have learned all I need to know and don’t need to learn from you people, but come to my session please.” (*) message from him.

I had a similar earlier experience when I co-presented at a lingusitics seminar with two fellow post-graduate students on a small research project we were conducting. The person whose theory we used as the basis of our research and other academics and PhD students were our audience.  We had some very interesting early results to report on, but we were shut down quickly (I'd say 'shot down' except it may sound a little too dramatic), and the impression certainly was that they felt we weren't worth their valuable time - some of these people weren't even that polite!

I have also heard participants of conferences say they only came to the conference to present on their Masters or PhD project because they had to as one of the requirements of their program, and they had no interest in attending other sessions as they felt they weren't relevant to them.  I felt sorry for some of these people, as they seemed to have been so focused on their own narrow area of study for so long that they had forgotten about other areas of their wider subject that made them pursue study in the first place. 

Mike's post caused me to reflect on these experiences, and I realised as I was rehashing them for this comment that I'm not ready to take off my judgy pants (*) because there are people out there who attend conferences solely to deliver and not to receive.  However, I also reflected on many very positive experiences too, so I don't immediately expect the worst.  I have been to some fantastic conferences where everyone seems to be there to learn.  CamTESOL last year stands out clearly as the best example - I didn't meet any overblown egos there, but I did meet many passionate educators, including @michaelegriffin, and I'm glad I did!

What is your experience of this?  What are some of the "variety of possible reasons" for "going to a conference but not attending sessions from others" (*)?   I'd really like to know!  And I'd like people out there to know how demoralising it is for novice presenters when no one bothers turning up to your session, not because you don't have anything worth hearing, but because most of the rest of the delegates (I can't use the word 'participants') have gone to the beach!


(*) Griffin, M. (2014). Sorry for judging. ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections. http://eltrantsreviewsreflections.wordpress.com/2014/06/27/sorry-for-judging/ 
  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Extensive Reading – a summary of an #AusELT chat

EXTENSIVE READING was the chosen topic of the inaugural #AusELT slowburn on Thursday 3rd April 2014.

Unlike the usual one-hour chats, the slowburn was spread out over 12 hours. Participants were free to start and follow whatever conversations they liked on this topic. Read more about the format here: http://auselt.com/2014/04/02/inaugural-auselt-slowburn/

The chat was kicked off with the question:

Q: What is the value of extensive reading?

  • It allows learners to engage with the text in a meaningful way, which the tiny reading 'bites' in coursebooks don't.
  • I'm a big fan of reading in general so if I can get my students reading in class then I'm all for it!
  • Vocabulary and the unconscious acquisition of language patterns is the biggest plus. Great, convenient exposure to L2.
  • I've done quite bit of exploration on ER with interesting results. One student said " I think in English now" ‏@Ratnavathy
This comment:
  • I think it helps if you are a reader yourself. You understand the need for choice, time, and quiet.
led to a discussion of teacher fears and obsession:
  • I also like the idea of valuing silence in classrooms. Teachers and learners shouldn't see silence as unproductive
  • One of the unintended consequences of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT): fear of silence.
  • I think we touched on this fear before in the chat on writing. Teachers must relax and allow silence to happen.
  • Also a fear of reading 'long' texts, bite-sized things are the norm.
  • It also reflects general obsession with product over process 'comprehension approach' to reading and listening 
Following a statement that, if students are given solid orientation to ER and select appropriate texts, they meet with a lot of success, the question was asked:

Q: What does a "solid orientation" to ER involve? How can we set students up to take advantage of ER?

  • Start with something they've read in their own language.
  • Absolutely need to explain how ER works. Provide research evidence and testimonials from previous students.
Another thread which emerged was around the issue of Classroom management and Scheduling for ER:

Q: At what stage in the lesson would you organise ER?  Better at the end? Or before the break?

  • Different times each day so students can't predict and avoid.
  • I questioned the teacher I observed about her choice to put it at the start. There was 20 minutes ER and the students did not want to put their books down.
  • Once a week, 15 minutes at start of class, student choice. Did it with a CMB (?) class with good student feedback

Q: Should teacher dedicate class time to silent, student-selected ER? How much? Would students complain?

  • They should. Classtime may be the only time students are in an environment which is conducive to ER
    • What is 'conducive'? Not sure lack of opportunity is the issue (bus, breaks, bedtime, bathroom)
    • Time given over to ER, quiet, expected, no judgement because everyone is doing the same thing
  • It's also a good opportunity to develop ER habits that may not have been there before
  • Drop Everything and Read - read texts of personal interest then tell the class what you read
    • Students read what peers had recommended according to their interests
    • Worked so well with reluctant readers because they chose their own texts. Over a few weeks they read a lot.

Q: Day and Bamford say that the teacher needs to be a role model … How can we do this?

  • Read and read and read and love it
  • Let students know you love reading. Read during ER time. Talk about what you read.
  • Show them you are practising what you preach in your own L2 learning
  •  “I've done ER in Japanese along with students. Share my test scores with them too. Why not?” “It's been a while but when I was studying for/taking Japanese LPT we had a kind of team thing going. And sometimes just misery loves company (or empathy if you prefer) after test day. “ @gotanda

Q: What are your views on having students read eBooks in ER time?

  • On one hand might get them reading, but would it need more policing?
  • Depends if they read naturally eBooks or not? Whatever is closest to what they do normally would work best I think

Q: How do you get love for books in English when they hate reading in their first language?

  • Not everyone likes reading even in L1. 'Reading is caught, not taught' (Nutall).
  • Ensure you're not just offering fiction. Pop science, topical writing, bios, etc. can engage where a story might not.
    • “A good mixed diet of junk food, meat and three veges and a sprinkling of quinoa.” @chimponobo
  • I remember seeing a doco where a guy gamified the reading experience with primary kids who hated readings (parents as well). He did like a reading World Cup and each student's reading contributed to team's score. By the end most were engaged. @chimponobo
    • That's a nice idea for competitive classes.
    • I saw that too. He also got students to decide what books the school bought. Mixed success was the outcome if I recall. @trylingual

Q: What are you suggestions for how students should select texts for ER?

  • Have them read 1st 100 words of book. If they don't know more than 3 words, put it back. Then see if they can answer these 2 questions: 1) Do you want to keep reading? 2) Why do you want to keep reading? @kevchanwow
  • Many people like to look at front cover, blurb, get recommendations - we can leverage this in ER programs.
  • Start with something they've read in their own language … and LOVED
  • Students chose own books.
  • Students select their own here. This seems to work well for B2 and upwards.
  • Some of our teachers do excursions to a local 2nd hand bookshop. Students always buy one book, and by choice too!

Coursebook/textbook readings didn't seem to be considered useful as part of an ER program:
  • Textbook readings often don't resemble anything from real life and not motivating to boot.
  • An 'interesting' coursebook text is still nothing like being glued to a thriller.
so...

Q: What types of text students get interested?

  • Genre fiction, such as the thriller, follows rules our students understand, reduces need to build schema.
    • I remember doing an observation once where the teacher started with ER, and one student was completely absorbed in his copy of "Dorian Gray" @Penultimate_K
  • English as it is actually written and not how the coursebook thinks it should be. Natural language patterns.
  • Teachers can influence success of ER by recommending books that work. Not yucky graded classics. Young Adult fiction for example.
  • Graphic novels!
  • Most borrowed from our library = non-fiction. Least borrowed = graded classics (except Sherlock Holmes)
  • Movie tie-ins very popular.
  • Comic books work, but superhero stuff actually riddled with low frequency words.
    • Personally I'd rather read superhero stuff :) Do low frequency words matter less in a visually supported context?
      • Think it depends. Superhero stuff has lots of exposition without visual clues. You know monologuing. That's impenetrable.
      • Visually supported texts sometime interfere with vocabulary acquisition. Had students say, "can't remember the word, can only see the picture"
      • Interesting - at least they remember there WAS a word! Is there research on visuals interfering with word memory?
      • I was always thought visuals enhance memory. Like the usage of mnemonics
    • This was a plenary on using comic books in the classroom http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/turkey/key-plenary-samantha-lewis-using-graphic-novels-comics-teens-story-sharing-web-conference  @chimponobo
    • Micky Mouse goes down well.
    • Some students really loved Archie, Betty & Veronica. Longer stories better than strips. Too many idiom gags.
    • There are so many great 'comics' though. Watchmen, Walking Dead, Sandman…Am not thinking of kids, obviously...
    • Persepolis and American Splendor too. Lots to work with there, especially non-explosive movie tie-ins.
  • I have a box set of Roald Dahl books in my classroom for students - fiction & autobiographies. I love Dahl and so do many of my students!
  • I'd love to share more authentic texts that work eg, many texts for "teens" or "YA" are perfect for ER

Q: It sounds like ER is often treated as reading books (or comics) - does it have to be? What else do you include?

  • I love reading short stories, so I often share favourites with students.
  • I find dual language books (first language and second language side by side) in my Thai reading really helpful. @chimponobo

Q: What other types of techniques help students get interested?

  • Giving students time to do book exchanges/recommendations at the beginning of an ER session works well.
  • Also letting students write one line reviews (with 5 star ratings) in the back of books works well
    • I guess now they could do reviews in 140 characters on Twitter as well
  • Used exam as motivation for practising ER in class (to ensure students saw value)
  • Being stubborn? Bring extra books, mags, newspapers, in case students forget
  • Teacher reads what students recommend? Teacher outlines what he/she enjoys and students confer to choose book. Teacher reads during ER and then gives feedback.

Q: "Grading" texts is much touted in ER. Is this really necessary? How do you/your students feel about it?

For:
  • I had a good range of graded Penguin readers at my previous place. We had ER twice a week, with truly fruitful results.
Against:
  • I find students enjoy the challenge of straight up natural texts, particularly if they like the book.
  • I feel a bit uncomfortable giving (*) adults heavily graded versions of 'grownup' books. Not convinced it's necessary (*students choose from the publisher’s selection of graded readers).
I came across this after the chat and thought it might be of interest: Graded readers in ELT: the benefits and ways of using them (#ELTchat 30 November 2013)

Q: What type of texts work well for low level learners? ‏

There were questions re this, but no responses during the chat – if you have suggestions, feel free to add via a comment here, a tweet using the #AusELT‏ hashtag, or start a discussion thread on our #AusELT Facebook group.
  • Q: Any suggestions for interesting reading materials for adults who speak well but who are very low level of literacy in L2? @JoHorsburgh1
  • Q: What type of texts work well for low level learners? ‏@trylingual

Suggested resources and websites

Student/Reading resources

Teacher resources

     I thought these summaries of chats on related topics from #ELTchat might be of interest:
     And I heard about this new Lab project from The Round as I was writing this summary:
  • A Community of Readers by Michael McCollister
    Extensive reading (ER) is an approach to language learning that has experienced enormous growth in many parts of the world, though most noticeably in Asia. In contrast to intensive reading, its older, more established brother, ER asks students to read lots and lots of easy material, slowly building up greater understanding and control over one level of linguistic material before moving on to a slightly more challenging level. Slow, but steady.
    The purpose of this collection is not to offer a prescribed set of rules regarding extensive reading as it to ask readers to participate in a discussion of ER theory and practice.

Finally, the quote of the chat from @SophiaKhan4:
  • Reading is about curiosity. EVERYONE is curious about something, we just have to help them find it. 

NOTES:

For ease of summary writing I’ve dropped off who made the various statements – please check the transcript if you need to check the source of various statements:
Transcript: inaugural #AusELT slowburn on extensive reading (Thurs 2rd April, 2014)

Usual disclaimer and apology: I hope I haven’t misrepresented anyone’s views by putting their comment out of context, or left out any comment.  I find doing these difficult, as I have to summarise the chat but I think every comment is important and should be included -  something has to give! If you’re not sure what I mean, put up your hand for the next chat summary ☺  If you do notice any mistakes, errors, omissions, etc. please let me know.

 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tagged again!


I've been tagged again in this blog challenge, this time by Hana Ticha @HanaTicha
Here is Hanna's post: 11 Random Facts  Love her photos!

I won't try to come up with another 11 random facts about myself - see my previous post for those, but here are my answers to Hana's questions: 

1. If you could change one thing about education in your country, what would it be?
That governments consult with and listen to the teachers about what they need, rather than imposing ever more administrative burden and other tasks not related to teaching and learning that take them away from teaching and learning.

2.  Have you ever thought of quitting your job as an educator? Why?
No, this is my third major career change, and there have been several minor ones in each of those. I did dabble in educational design and technology for a term recently, but missed the ELT too much.

3.  What's your earliest memory as an educator?
I can remember my first day on the job very clearly, but the day that I remember most was when someone asked me what I did, and I answered without hesitation “I’m a teacher here.” and it suddenly dawned on me that I was a teacher and I had earned the title. 

 4.  Is education valued where you live? If not, what is the main reason?
Depends who you talk to.  We always seem to be fighting for adequate and fair funding from various levels of government, so that indicates that it isn't valued enough.

5.  How do you think we could help to make teaching a more prestigious job?
Acknowledge all the unpaid work that teachers do, the ‘above and beyond’. That would probably require teachers to first stop doing it for free which is not going to happen because most of us care too much.

6.  Apart from burning-out, what's the biggest danger for a teacher?
Caring too much and wanting to do everything they can to help every single student. Not enough time, not humanly possible.

7.  Did anyone try to put you off teaching in the past?
Yes, some of my teachers - not explicitly, but in the way they did their job.  But the great ones were great!

8.  Why do you think teaching can bring so much satisfaction but also frustration?
See 6 - you can’t do everything for everyone.

9.  What makes you happy?
Life, the universe, everything.  The same things that can sometimes make me sad, confused, angry, ...

10.  When did you last laugh out loud?
Thursday evening while celebrating a colleague’s 25-years service at my college.  Everyone shared stories of the past 25-years and there were tears of laughter all around.

11.  If your child/best friend wanted to become a teacher, what piece of advice would you give him or her?
Do it, it’s the best job! (Unless teaching clearly wasn’t a good match for that person’s skills, attitude, etc, and then I’d have a longer chat.)


Thanks Hana, lovely to read you post and share my thoughts with you.
  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tagged, Blogged, Broken ...

Thanks Marisa Constantinides for tagging me for this "kind of a chain blog post in which one blogger tags you on their blog and challenges you to answer some questions and then pass the ball to eleven more bloggers!"  I feel quite honoured as Marisa is a champion to me.  Which is the only reason I'm spending time posting on my one free day between a very hectic end-of-semester rush and packing for 4 weeks away.

Here are the bits of the task that Marisa has invited me to step up to, that I have stepped up to …
  • Share 11 random facts about myself.
  • Answer the 11 questions Marisa has created for me.
  • Post 11 questions for others to answer
 I'm passing on the tagging of others part, see below for my explanation.

11 random facts about myself

  1. My education seems to run in sets of two: I attended two infants schools, 2 primary schools, 2 high schools.  While I’ve attended more than 2 universities, I do have 2 post-graduate diplomas and 2 masters degrees :-)
  2. Before I was an English language teacher I was a web developer, computer programmer, systems analyst, and other ICT roles.
  3. Before I worked in the areas mentioned above I was a librarian, indexer, specialist database searcher, and other information management roles.
  4. And I have mixed the skills developed in 2 & 3 and worked as a systems librarian, and an information architect.
  5. Teaching is the hardest job I’ve ever had, but by far the best and most satisfying thing I’ve ever done.
  6. My favourite sports all involve moving across water: rowing, sailing, kayaking
  7. The only artistic thing I have ever been reasonably successful with has been photography.
  8. I love reading … anything!
  9. My favourite food is bananas - the one food I would really miss if they were no longer around.
  10. I’ve learned little bits of lots of languages, but never stuck with one long enough to progress very far, including: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Polish, Pitjantjatjara
  11. I much prefer hot weather to cold.

My answers to Marisa’s questions - my answers in purple

  1. How long does it usually take you to draft and finalise a blog post?
    Marisa, did you write this question just for me? You know how long it takes me to write an #ELTchat summary - a long time - and you know I need prodding to finalise one.  Most of my blog posts are like that, which is why I'm a very occasional blogger. But sometimes I do whip one off very quickly (like this one - took a long time to start, but I wrote it very quickly).
  2. Which ICT tools do you actually use with your classes?
    Moodle, SMARTboard, iPhone (my own - mostly for dictionaries, recording, quick web searches, and more), iPad (my own - for recording, screencasting feedback of student writing, and more), YouTube, VoiceThread, and more...
  3. What is your absolute dream job?
    Right now, it would be teaching just what students want and need, without any restrictions from a prescribed curriculum, and without the mountain of administrative tasks around reporting, etc.
  4. Which classroom activity do you absolutely enjoy using with your students? One is all I need
    Only one?! The first that comes to mind is Dictogloss - works on so many levels, on many skills, is collaborative and enables me to focus on individual students' needs.
  5. How many of your current friendships  were started through a social network?
    Too many to count!
  6. Which household chore do you hate the most and which one do you love the best?
    Hate: cleaning the toilet, Love: ... still thinking... :-)
  7. Name your 10 desert island CD’s
    Only 10?!  Tough!  When I travelled around Australia I had about 100 CDs in my bus!  If pushed, I'd probably choose these, but I reserve the right to change my mind before being stranded on a desert island.  No particular order...
    • Ed Kuepper - The Butterfly Net
    • The Cruel Sea - The Honeymoon is Over
    • Dave Graney and the Coral Snakes - Night of the Wolverine
    • Deborah Conway - Bitch Epic
    • The Boat That Rocked (soundtrack)
    • The Key of Sea
    • Warsaw Village Band - People's Spring
    • Rodriguez - Cold Fact
    • The Saints - Prehistoric Sounds
    • The Goddess of 1967 (soundtrack)
    Interesting that all except two of these are Australian!
  8. Do you wish you had studied something other than what you did study? Do say what, if the answer is yes.
    No, I think I've studied everything I've wanted to and doubt I've finished studying :-) 
    Maybe wish I'd stuck with one language long enough to master it.
  9. Describe the naughtiest thing you have ever done – within reason, of course
    Probably the naughtiest was riding my motorbike up and down the stairs of the local primary school.  Hope that the statute of limitations protects me from prosecution! But it was when I was around 12 to 15 so I'm probably safe :-)
  10. What artistic aspirations or skills do you have?
    I'd love to be artistic; would especially love to be able to create gorgeous music. But I don't think I have it in me, or perhaps it's because I appreciate good art/music too much to tolerate my piddling efforts.
  11. Which TV series or film do you keep watching again and again?
    Gillian Armstrong's Starstruck - could never get sick of it!

My questions

Like Sue Annan, I will just put out 11 questions without tagging anyone.  I think everyone I know with a blog has already been tagged, and given this almost felt like a chore I had to finish (but not too arduous Marisa), I didn’t want to burden anyone.  And I've always been the person who has broken the chain on any type of chain letters, emails, etc. dating back to my school days.  So, sorry to be a party-pooper, but... the chain stops here!

If anyone gets this far and wants to play, and it is fun responding, here are some questions that I would actually be very interested in reading answers to from any of my PLN-friends:
  1. If you were going to make any New Year’s resolutions, what is the first that comes to mind?
  2. What is your favourite book that you read in 2013?
  3. What musical instrument would you most like to play that you can't already play? 
  4. Are you a morning person or a night person?
  5. What's your favourite song to use with a class, and how do you use it?
  6. What are you like as a language learner?
  7. What is one thing have you taken from your own language learning experience and used in your own teaching?
  8. What is one thing from your own language learning experience that you would never use in a class? 
  9. Where would you first take a visitor to in your home town?
  10. Which country would you most like to visit that you haven't already been?
  11. What is one thing you can suggest to encourage colleagues to share in an online environment? (I'd really love some ideas here :-) )
Thanks again Marisa.  It was fun, and I'm pleased and honoured to have been tagged by you.
 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Dealing with multi-aged English language classrooms: An #ELTchat summary

When I saw the topic for #ELTchat on 9th October was Dealing with multi-aged classrooms, I wanted to take part, even though the second chat is now at 7am my time and I that’s when I’m out walking in the bush near my house.  I struggled to keep up on my phone, at the same time trying not to trip over anything and keeping one eye on the dog ☺.  Fortunately there weren’t as many participants as usual, so it was easier to follow and I even managed to send off a few tweets of my own.  

I have had a lot of students who have migrated to Australia to perform grandparent duties, that is, helping to care for grandchildren while their parents are working. Consequently they often come to my evening class where the predominant group are younger migrants (though this still varies from 18-60) who are working or studying, so often getting a lot more English input day to day. In contrast, often the ‘grandparents’ don’t have much exposure to English outside of class, particularly when they have come with very low-level English language skills.  I've also had classes with some very young adults who are struggling with making a new life in a new country, often without their family and friends, and sometimes alone.  So this chat was one I didn't want to miss.


The #ELTchat Summary

First of all we chatted about the age ranges we are seeing, or have seen in our classes. 

There were a few of us dealing mostly with adults, with groups from around 18-88 in one class

There were others teaching younger learners - teens and children.  Spans reported were 5 -11, 10-17 and 12-15 year olds, which were variously described as “a challenge”, “a nightmare”, but others found that it wasn’t so problematic and could work well.  @Shaunwilden mentioned that a class with a 6-year age span “covers quite a lot of child development”.

And others reported having classes with mixed teens and adults, with someone mentioning they’d had students as young as 14 years old in an adult class.

This thread prompted @ELTExperiences to ask, Why do we assume that there are greater issues between Young Learners and Adults? adding that “perhaps most issues are with adults than expected”.  The responses included comments that it may be because YLs are more open about showing feelings, where adults keep them in filter; with adults there are benefits that balance any drawbacks; kids want to play and adults want to 'learn'; kids don't want to play with younger kids; intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation.

What other differences did chat participants see in learners of different ages?

While there seemed to be general agreement that it depends very much on the individual learner, there were a few observations from participants regarding

> Fluency vs accuracy…
Some felt that younger students are more fluent and older more accurate, while others thought that the older students might be more cautious rather than accurate, or possibly more hung up on accuracy (or even more cautious and that's why more accurate.  Though this wasn’t everyone’s experience.   

> Dependency on translation and grammar explanations
There was a suggestion that older students are more dependent on translation and grammar explanations.  But other have seen the opposite, so it was agred that it usually depends on their educational background and there are exceptions.

> (English) language learning experience
Some older students have experience of communicating in other additional language, and some may have been learning English for many years and have (or have experienced) a different approach.  These were seen as an advantages which could be exploited in the classroom

> Time, will and motivation to learn
Sometimes older students (e.g. retired) have a lot more time to dedicate to studying.  As well as more will and motivation, especially as some teens are obligated by parents and don't really want to be there.   

> Creativity vs knowledge
Someone suggested that younger students are much more creative, while older students 'know' more, which was a good combination.

Are there any limitations to those mixed age groups you would prefer to have - e.g. no teens and grandads or what?

@Marisa_C posed this question, and there were a range of responses, which included: not really if they're all adults; a limit of +14 for "adult" classes; a preference to have teens separate and elders separate (if they want it); and that younger groups (under 17/18) need to be divided.   

Issues & Problems

> Materials
It is hard to find relevant materials to suit all ages, so need to find 'themes' to engage all students.   Fortunately in a country such as Australia, 'settlement' is common, though even 'settlement' is different at different ages too!   

> Discipline
Discipline was mentioned as an issue by quite a few people, in both adult and YL classes.  However, having older adults can help with discipline of younger learners (more on that later). 
There was also the issues of having a parent and child, or a boss and a worker, in the same class

> Past education experiences and expectations
With large age gap there are bound to be different experiences of education and what students expect from a lesson.  Also, how accustomed to studying they are.  There can be an even wider range of past educational experiences in a multicultural class – the teacher can make no assumptions!

> Rates of assimilation   

> Pace
This was seen as a problem especially with the teen/older adult mix.

Teens are at the prime of their L2 acquisition - after 16 all downhill – and it could be hard for a, say, 60 year old to keep up.  But again this does depend on the individuals too - @cerirhiannon had seen some very slow teens!!

Someone felt that teens needs quicker transitions, but another comment was that they think they need quicker transitions but sometimes they... do things too quickly.   

@Shaunwilden mentioned a BBC programme that talked about how critical 2-4 years is: Toddler brain scan gives language insight http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24446292   

Benefits of mixed aged classes, or ways teachers are working with the differences:

Many of the differences that were mentioned in learners at different ages (also stages, learning styles, etc.) can be exploited in mixed-aged classes, such as: the accuracy vs fluency distinction; that younger students don't need to understand every word; that some older students have experience of communicating in other L2.
   
Having grandparently types in with younger students can help with discipline.  (as can having a nun or two!).  Having 'older' people in a class with teenagers means that the teacher I can share the job of being the ‘parent’ as there's more than one person they need to respect, which keeps them in line.

There was a side discussion about whether the younger students really respect the adults in the class or accept them as peers?  It can a mixture of both. If everyone is there to learn then the respect is there, but it could be hard for older adults who feel they lose face/respect in class. Some younger students benefit from the diligence of more mature classmates and from participating in grown up conversation.     

Often it’s the older people that are harder work.  @Marisa_C recalled one 75+ year-old keen student roping in a young guy to be his translator – though she said they had a ball!    This type of scenario is an opportunity to work with the differences., getting them to share stories, ideas, experiences.
   
> Teaching separate lessons for different age groups or using projects
@cerirhiannon commented that, with 5 - 11 year olds, she ended up teaching 3 or 4 separate lessons at the same time.  She finds this hard work but fun and elaborated on how she manages this challenging situation: It wasn't a big class - between 10 and 12 depending on the day and some were brothers and sisters. We had a big table, rugs and cushions on the floor, with games and various activities.  It was like monitoring group work, but on double speed!  We used to have every 4th lesson mixed (ages & levels) in a team-teaching class.  While it was hard work, it was fun and definitely good for the teacher’s fitness ;-)

@HanaTicha felt the mixed age groups seems to work great with project work.  Now and then they do 'project' days and mix classes and found it a good experience.  She felt there could have be a limit to how this would work with different age groups, but that 10-15 is

> Different roles for different age groups
If the group is mostly young then the older students could be scribes during roleplays and discussions! This could serve to gives them a status (@mary28sou)   

A lot of the discussion about mixed ages in a class covered the same ground as discussions about mixed ability levels in a class.

With mixed age groups, we may be seeing mixed abilities, different attitudes not just levels, plus a wider range of needs/wants and learning styles too.    While some felt that teaching different ages is as complex as teaching multiple levels, others felt it was fine if the different ages shared the same level,

@harrisonmike weighed in with another tricky situation: Try virtually pre-literate in L1 alongside PhD level qualified students in same class!   

And as with mixed level/ability classes, some of the same ideas were suggested, such as, arranging tasks and activities so that everyone has chance to 'shine' in class at some time (as well as struggle!).

@Marisa_C summed it up nicely… I think inevitable then we are talking about mixed ability teaching with a sprig of something about different attitudes not just levels.
 

After the chat - an extension activity...

One of the issues that didn’t come up during the chat was that of use of technology.  Given that we could expect to see a big gap with experience with and comfort level with technology between younger students and much older students, this was a little surprising.   I’ve had older students (60+) who avoid anything to do with computers or other technology, including one memorable student in her late 60s who usually disappeared on the way to the computer lab.  She had basic computer use skills, but felt using a computer for learning English was a waste of time.  However, when I managed to get her to the lab with the rest of the class, she was pleasantly surprised to find that the activity was interesting and useful.  But then she disappeared on the way to the lab the following week again!  At the other end of the scale was another late-60s student who had never used a computer before, and who was terrified the first time I took the class to the lab. I sat with her and helped her through every part of the activity.  The following week I started off giving her a lot of support but she quickly demonstrated that she didn’t need me so much, and the next week proudly told me her son-in-law had bought her a laptop so she could access our LMS at home.  The first time the same student recorded herself speaking in a language lab activity, she was amazed - it was the first time she had heard her own voice! 

Another interesting observation is when I take a class on an excursion.  Being in the centre of our nation’s capital city, we are very fortunate that there are many national institutions (museums, galleries, etc.) within easy walking or ‘bus and walking’ distance.  I usually find that the older students stride ahead with me and then we have to wait on each corner for the students (who are between a half to a third of their age) to catch up!  When I’ve given them a choice between walking or driving somewhere, it’s usually the older ones who want to walk!


For the purpose of the summary, I thought I’d do a quick search to see what I might find on the Web.

This one looked interesting:
Mathews-Aydinli, J. & Van Horne, R. (2006). Promoting the Success of Multilevel ESL Classes: What Teachers and Administrators Can Do. Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA) http://www.cal.org/caela/esl_resources/briefs/multilevel.html
Age. Young adults (16-18) differ socially and cognitively from older adults. Although adolescents tend to progress more quickly in their language learning, they also need more structure, guidance, and support to stay motivated (Weber, 2004; Young, 2005). Senior learners also have unique concerns that need to be taken into consideration, such as issues of physical health or hearing and visual acuity (Grognet, 1997).

And:
For elderly refugees it has been particularly difficult. At a time in their lives when they should be looking forward to respect and reverence, they find themselves transplanted in a culture which is focused on youth. They have lost their homes, probably many of their family members, and most of all, their honored status
Grognet, A.G. (1997). Elderly refugees and language learning. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. Denver, CO: Spring Institute for International Studies.
http://www.springinstitute.org/Files/refugeescomingtotheu.pdf

For those interested, there is also mention of elderly learners in this:
AMEP Research Centre Fact sheet – Retention of adult migrant learners
http://www.ameprc.mq.edu.au/docs/fact_sheets/Misc_Retention.pdf

And issues related to teaching youth in mixed-aged classes here:
AMEP Research Centre Fact sheet – Youth in the AMEP
http://www.ameprc.mq.edu.au/docs/fact_sheets/07Teachingissues.pdf

And finally, this one:
Harding, L., & Wigglesworth, G. (2005). Different generations, different needs: Migrant youth in English language programs. Prospect, 20(3), 6–23
This recent Australian study provides a survey of language programs for migrant youth in the AMEP, and details the views of young migrant learners and their teachers/program directors. The authors propose a number of recommendations for the provision of language education for young people in both youth-specific and mixed-age classes.
http://www.ameprc.mq.edu.au/docs/prospect_journal/volume_20_no_3/20_3_2_Harding.pdf

A few of these refer to the AMEP, which is the Adult Migrant English Program. The most recent statistics I could find on age ranges in the AMEP (right across Australia) are from 2011-12:
Department of Immigration and Citizenship Annual Report 2011–12 (p.250)
http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/2011-12/pdf/report-on-performance.pdf


#ELTchat participants for this chat:
•    @cioccas
•    @Shaunwilden
•    @HanaTicha 
•    @theteacherjames
•    @cerirhiannon
•    @mattellman
•    @Marisa_C
•    @ELTExperiences
•    @SueAnnan
•    @MicaelaCarey
•    @mary28sou

[Image source: http://eltchat.org/wordpress/summary/dealing-with-multi-aged-english-language-classrooms-an-eltchat-summary-09102013/  ]

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why Teaching is the Greatest Job in the World - TeachMEET ACT, August 2013

I've been following the TeachMEET phenomenon for a few years now, and wishing there was one I could attend locally, but without the time or energy, let alone the contacts to organise one myself :-)   So, when I spotted a notice about a TeachMEET in Canberra, I didn't hesitate and registered immediately.

The theme for the TeachMEET was designated as "Why Teaching is the Greatest Job in the World".

Not only did I register to attend but, wanting to be as involved as possible, I submitted a 2-minute presentation on my favourite topic:
Talking and Sharing Online
You know teaching is the greatest job because so many teachers are spending their leisure time learning and sharing online. I want to briefly share some of the enthusiasm and passion I've experienced first hand with teachers around the world who are sharing and learning together online.

The links I shared were the Twitter chat schedules for Australia and global chats on education:
Australian Based Twitter Hashtag Chat Times
Cybraryman's Internet Catalogue - Chats on Twitter
I had promoted the TeachMEET to my faculty at work and also to my local professional association members, and on Twitter, but there were no familiar faces in attendance.  All of the teachers I met were from the schools sector, primary and secondary, but teachers from any and every sector are welcome.

Here's a brief overview of the session, from my perspective of course...

Serendipity Outside the Classroom
Shaun @shaunhaidon spoke about the opportunity for serendipitous moments that occur in teaching that make you realise what a great job it is.
... Especially when you take the students out of the classroom
... or bring guest speakers in
... or getting students involved in competitions
My favourite quote, which sums up Shaun's talk for me:  
"Plan for it, but let the moment happen."

In another serendipitous moment, I learned that Shaun is in the Better Linkages group addressing adult language literacy and numeracy skills that I'm going to be working with at CIT this term.

The greatest thing about teaching is...
Bruce @Bruce1979, the organiser of this TeachMEET,  presented his Top Ten reasons why teaching is the greatest job.  There was a lot more to each of them - you had to be there - but this might give you some idea:
  1. Awareness
    ... of what the students are into
  2. Autonomy
    .... of the teaching job
  3. Intellectual engagement
    ... keep me at the forefront of my intellectual area (and others)
  4. Variety
    ... every day is different
  5. Showcasing students
    ... what they know, do and learn (especially to parents, and to the community)
  6. Community relationships
    ... built more relationships in local community through my job than any other way
  7. Professional growth
    ... no excuse for teachers say they can't access PD
    ... it's the best available in any profession
  8. Other teachers
    ... teachers who are really engaged in their profession are some of the most engaged people in any job
  9. Knowing students
    ... personally
  10. A-Ha!
    ... those a-ha! moment, like the ones Shaun mentioned and so many more!
See Bruce's slides here

Bruce had arranged the program to show videos interspersed between speakers.  There was a brief informal discussion after each video.

Taylor Mali - What Teachers Make

What Teachers Make from DevlinPix on Vimeo.

Leadership from a Dancing Guy


Bruce pointed out that he sees the speakers at this TeachMEET (and earlier meetings) as the leaders, the teachers who got up and danced alone (however well or badly).  And he hoped that it would lead to others jumping up to join in. I kind of like the idea of being one of the first to jump up and be willing to look a little silly, especially since one of the reasons I keep putting my hand up to do presentations like this is in an attempt to overcome my fear of doing presentations like this :-)
After the 'programmed' part of the meeting, a few other teachers offered their own testimonials from the floor.  I enjoyed hearing other teachers share their passion and enthusiasm, which in turn reminded me why I love my job so much!  What an affirming evening this was!

A brief personal reflection

I think my talk went very well, at least I got a lot of very positive feedback afterwards and on Twitter.  I think the teachers at the meeting were very receptive to my message, and ready to hear it, since most, if not all, are already using social media personally and professionally.  I've given similar talks to other groups of teachers who I think have been so far from understanding what social media is all about, that it's a big leap of faith for them to see how it can support professional development.  If those teachers had got anything from my talk, they may have only seen what they could take, not what (and how) they could share.  Whereas the teachers at the TeachMEET were there because they wanted to share!  It was good to preach to the converted for a change :-) 

For more information about TeachMEET ACT: