Even though I’ve been travelling for more than a week now, I was able to have a look at a couple of interesting blog posts prior to getting to the US. As you most certainly know, there are lots of good texts out there. These are just a couple of posts I enjoyed reading in January 2013. In case you haven’t read them, perhaps you’d like to take a look at what you may have missed:
- ELT Blogs I’m looking forward to in 2013 – Mike Griffin points us to some nice blogs he’ll be keeping an eye on in 2013 and, what the hey, why shouldn’t we, right?! This could be the starting point for you to open your mind and start reading a couple more blogs this year. The blogs he mentions are, indeed, quite interesting and worth the while!
- Three reasons I like to read not-so-well-known blogs – This one is non-ELT or education related, but it certainly has very good reasons (3 of them) to look out for great reads in places you wouldn’t normally expect to find them. OK, this was from December 2012, but I only stumbled upon it in January… and to be fair, I instantly like the style used by Bottledworder, as she’s known in the blogging world.
- The Greatest Creative Writing Activity Ever – Adam shares an activity that is sure to foster creativity and natural use of the language at the same time. I agree with him on the possible uses for this activity and how easily adaptable it is. It’s also a good starting point for a different first-day activity. Perhaps you could vary the questions, or just use them as they are. I have a feeling students would have a good deal of fun anyway.
- Confidence Through Connectedness – Tom Whitby writes about the benefits of a well-founded and properly used PLN. This is not just a post about the benefits of twitter or any other social media site that connects educators. It’s a post about the importance of confidence in teaching and how this may change in this connected world of ours. Well, to be honest, just by being a post by Tom Whitby it is worth reading.
- Professional Development for Now and for the Future – Vicky Loras expands on what Mike Griffin had written about and beautifully tells us some sound reasons for us to keep pursuing our professional growth and how to effectively make it happen. This is a great post to start the year as you may find some inspiration for the whole year.
- Augmented Reality in Education – Isil Boy will give you some suggestions of tools you may use to, as she wrote, connect the virtual to the real world in your classroom. If you have got no idea where to start with this augmented reality thing, perhaps you could start from here. Are you looking into integrating more tech into your teaching?
- English for Prostitutes – Willy Cardoso starts his blogging year by inviting us to look at a piece of news that an association of prostitutes in Brazil will offer English classes to its members with the aim of helping them during the world cup in 2014. He asks just the right questions to help us look at things from a much broader perspective really go beyond what the media (or a first glance) might suggest.
- A is for Accommodation – Scott Thornbury resumes his blogging activities with an amazing, as usual, post on accommodation and the questions this might pose for English teaching. With a new post set to be written every Sunday, and as usually his posts are brilliant, I recommend you subscribe to his blog. Oh, and make sure you have plenty of time to read this, as you should definitely follow the comment thread on each one of the posts!
- Forget about learners, let’s hear it for teachers – Ken Wilson addresses a rather serious issue, in my humble opinion. This is a post for you to reflect a bit on how the shift towards the focus on the learner has made you, well, forget about the teachers. There are a couple of reasons for us to visualise (in case you’ve forgotten about them) the importance of the teacher. It’s definitely worth the while.
- Is there any connection between music practice and language practice? – Jeremy Harmer invistes us to think about how important practice is, but, most importantly, what exactly we should mean when we talk about the importance of practice. By making use of a comparison with the kind of practice musicians need, Jeremy certainly provides us with some food for thought!
- Time to Raise Questions: Back at Past Reflective Experiences – Rose Bard raises the questions that we should answer. In fact, she does a lot more than that. As this is the beginning of the year, it’s yet another chance for us to remember the importance of reflecting on our practices and, perhaps, make this year a lot better than last year.
As I said, these are just some of the posts I was able to read and keep track of before travelling. What about you? Have you read anything interesting this January?
On November 3rd 2009, I posted my very first blog post. When I first started blogging, I honestly didn’t know where it’d take me. I’d tried creating blogs on topics completely unrelated to education, but now, when I look back, I believe the reasons and the drive were not right. Or at least they were not right for me. You see, when I thought of creating blogs on many different topics I was a lot more interested in being able to write a blog that’d have thousands of visitors after the first post. That’d never work for me, or at least it wouldn’t work currently. The thing is I suck at advertising, especially when it comes to self-advertising, which is something I’ve learned about the hard way after (no puns intended) doing some thinking about a lot of things I’ve been through.
I must say that creating a blog on ELT had never been a goal – I usually feel like I’m preaching to the choir when writing or when presenting a workshop or lecture to teachers on ELT. I mean, what usually springs to mind is that if I know it, pretty much everyone else must know it as well. But I do have a passion for teaching and learning, this is something I can’t deny. I can easily spend hours of my free time discussing education – ELT has always been the starting point, but education in general is a point of interest. It was only after I started following a couple of blogs on ELT that I found out how good it was to have, in blogs, a space to share my views. It all started with the comments. A blog was still not in mind.
To be honest, having found myself amidst conversations with loads of teachers who also shared a passion for education was enough. That’s when I saw it even more clearly that writing helps me organise my thoughts. And then some comments felt like they were just way too big to clutter somebody’s post. I never had a problem with how big the comments are, but I read somewhere it’s good practice not to do so. In case you’re wondering, I do love thoughtful comments, regardless of how many words they may have. Fortunately, the reason why I started blogging was to have a place to share my thoughts. I write what I believe in, and I don’t really have a problem with changing my mind later on.
It was through the blog (and twitter, I must say) that I was able to “meet” lots of other interesting teachers who have helped me do some MORE thinking. I never thought I’d be able to keep writing for 2 years, and sometimes I did feel like not writing here any longer. I still hope I’ll one day be able to meet you all in person. This is what I’ve gained from blogging. If nothing else, it’s been nice to hear praises, compliments, criticism and exchange ideas with all readers who paid Doing Some Thinking a visit. If you look on the side, this blog hasn’t received any kind badges for awards, nominations or anything like that, but I can guarantee that what I have gained from keeping it going for these two years is worth a lot more than any kind of award. It’s already been mentioned by people I respect and admire, and what’s better than having the recognition of those you look up to?
I guess finding your true passion does make a difference, and to me, the passion is being able to interact with all of you who read the blog. There are just way too many fantastic blogs on ELT in the blogosphere, and the fact that some of you do take a little of your time to read what I’ve got to say means a lot. I only wish I could have already met most of you. If only I’d been to one of the many conferences in Europe, I’m sure I’d have even more reasons to be thankful for all that Doing Some Thinking has done to me.
Now, two years on, I’d like to ask you two things:
- How many posts do you think there have been in these 2 years?
- If you may, is there any old post you particularly enjoyed reading? One of the challenges I participated was about finding the gems in the blogosphere. I’d love to hear which blog posts I’ve written were somehow interesting to you.
And one last time, I’d just like to thank you for your time to read the posts, for sharing your thoughts, and for helping me grow professionally. I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for all the feedback I’ve received. You’ve certainly helped me keep it up!
Here’s to some more time doing some thinking together.
On her last blog post, my dear friend Cecília posed a question that may intrigue many teachers out there. Are we indeed that humble so as to concede all merits for learning for the students, and yet be as worried as one can be when a group is not doing so well? Why is it that we tend to praise our students’ accomplishments so much more than our own? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I do believe we should worry a lot more about students’ learning than with our teaching, but this doesn’t mean I think teaching should be underestimated. It’s more a matter of a change in our mindset and understanding of teaching than anything else. If only I were able to be succinct, I could probably sum it up in a sentence or two. As I can’t do it, I may still guide you to a previous post of mine: about teaching. Moving on to my answer to Cecília’s post, why should teachers take it personally?
In her post, Cecília asks a couple of questions, such as this:
Why do we see our students’ failure as our fault, and on the other hand their success as something they’ve achieved all on their own rather than something we’ve helped them achieve?
If only I could say I had an answer for that question, but I can venture a guess. I’m pretty sure many teachers have already been asked why they have chosen to be teachers. There’s a big difference between being a teacher and being someone who goes into a classroom to teach a certain subject while still looking for a job. I’ve even had a skype chat with Cecília herself in which we briefly talked about why people choose to be teachers when we know for a fact we’re going to have a hard time making a living (at least in Brazil). Truth is, I don’t think we choose to become teachers – we simply are. There’s something altruistic about being a teacher, and our biggest rewards is our students’ mastery of whatever it is we’re trying to teach them. Teachers, in my humble opinion, enjoy seeing their students thrive, and as we see some struggle while others succeed, it might be only natural for us to believe that we play a very small role in their learning experience.
We couldn’t possible make a bigger mistake. Whenever I’m asked about a language course by any of my friends, my answer is always the same. And this is true for any kind of course. It doesn’t matter what you’ll find in this or that course; what truly matters is who you’ll find. After having been through a series of learning experiences, I’ve come to the conclusion that nothing replaces the teacher when it comes to learning – and it’s the teacher’s job to make him or herself unnecessary as time goes by. Contradictory? I’m sure most readers of this blog will agree with me. Teachers expect their learners to be able to walk on their own feet, to be able to discover new things and thread uncharted territories on their own. One of the best graduation speeches I heard was one in which the teacher said, “You’re now ready to learn the language.” We give them the tools, we teach them how to use them, and we are sure they’ll be able to use them effectively when the time comes and we’re not there.
Perhaps it’s because we care so much that it’s easy for us to concede all credits to students when they succeed, and it’s only because we care so much that we think we’re the ones failing when they seem to be struggling to learn something. If we didn’t care that much, we’d perhaps think differently, but, let’s face it, if we didn’t care as much, we wouldn’t be real teachers, would we?
To answer the last question in Cecília’s post:
When it comes to your students’ learning – or lack of – who’s responsible?
If we’re ever capable to analyse the situation from a more rational perspective when things happen to us, we’ll come to terms with the fact that we’re teachers and there’s only as much that we can do. There’s absolutely no way we can please everyone. We can only do our best to foster an environment conducive to learning, we can try to motivate learners, get to know them better so that our classes are more interesting. In the end, though, it’s paramount we understand we are not ultimately responsible for their learning – there’s a part of the process that depends on them and them alone. Teachers can make a huge difference, but they cannot be solely responsible for learning or lack of it. However, there’s one thing I’m sure of: good teachers can certainly help good learners to live up to their full potential and help learners with difficulties succeed. If a student has got a lot of potential but his or her teacher isn’t capable to challenge and push, it’ll all go to waste. That’s our responsibility – to make a difference. Theirs is to be the difference.
Today I received an email from my dad with the text below. After reading it, I thought it would be nice to share it here on the blog. After a quick search (needless to say, there was no mention of the author’s name in the email), I found out it had been written by Marnie Louise Froberg (she keeps a blog called “Smiling Buddha Cabaret“) as a guest post on this other blog. Marnie has kindly allowed me to republish the post here. Instead of writing my reflections on this text, I leave it to you to post the comments – perhaps there’s a post coming with my own reflections in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
“Some time ago I got into a conversation. It didn’t start out as a conversation. In fact it began as some rather snarky comments and smarty-pants blog posts. Then it turned into a tentative dialogue. And it finally resulted in a meaningful conversation. That’s an unusual accomplishment over the Internet.
There is a lot of talk in contemporary life: talk radio, talk shows, talk therapy, talking points, talking heads, small talk, pillow talk, Google talk, double talk, girl talk, “talk to the hand”, “walk the talk”, “all talk and no action”, straight talk, talk dirty, sweet talk, money talks.
Talk is a rather one-sided affair. Someone says something and perhaps others give it some amount of attention. There may or may not be the opportunity to respond to the talker depending upon the format. Responses are usually limited to points made by the originator of the talk. And then it’s finished.
Talks are different than conversations. Talks are used for the imparting of information or points of view and audiences are expected to absorb the information in a somewhat passive manner. There is an unequal balance between the speaker and the hearer. Conversation is trying to understand and accept the information. Conversations involve two, or sometimes more people each contributing fully to the moment. They may not contribute an equal number of words but they do contribute full attention to other participants. There is much listening, considering and responding.
The talk mode dominates the Internet. Through blogs, comments, YouTube videos, podcasts, streaming media and informational websites there is an assumption of audience. The audience is also assumed to be minimally participant in the production of the talk based element. Sometimes the audience is even overlooked in favor of expression of personal viewpoints. Talk is sometimes reduced to an expulsion of thought and emotion without much regard to effects.
Conversation is about making connections. It goes beyond simply being heard and becomes about being understood and understanding. Conversations can be somewhat daunting experiences. They ask a lot more of the participants. I am reminded of a couple of lines from the Bruce Springsteen song Tunnel of Love:
“Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us
You me and all that stuff we’re so scared of”
Whether we are conversing with someone close to us like a lover or family member or with someone at some emotional distance conversation requires a certain amount of risk. The risk is in allowing vulnerability to emerge and defenses to drop. This is where conversations can go awry and simply become talks.
When conversations get loud and talk-like it usually means one of the parties has stopped listening. Some reasons can include anger or hurt. Other reasons, especially in a group context can be a desire for attention, to be noticed in the crowd.
Real conversation brings resolution. It’s not always pleasant nor does it always end with smiles. Sometimes the conversation first needs to be about being heard. Sometimes the conversation has to be about endings as much as beginnings. Sometimes it has to be about pain rather than pleasure. But it always leads to clarification and furthers understanding.
Behind real conversations, whatever the twists and turns and degrees of discomfort, if participants have emotional intelligence , then valuable meaning will be exchanged. Once we realize that vulnerability is not a weakness to be disguised by aggression, silence, nonchalance or all the other fronts we put up, then meaning can happen.
Conversation is far more intimate than talk. It comes and goes from the heart. It’s not enough to smile, minds must be ready to be engaged, and I think even confront, but able to avoid the potential contagion of anger. Participants need the maturity to understand that they actually are the other, or at least able to put their mind in the place of the other.
When we notice the talk mode coming to dominate our speech there is a chance to temper that and broaden our inclusiveness. The audience can become a participant. We can then notice who is in need of some meaningful conversation. And maybe we can even accept that it is us.”
A while ago, Darren wrote a post claiming that theres a vast pool of human knowledge that’s been neglected. On his post he asked us to revisit some of the blogs we usually visit and find some #hiddengems (twitter hashtag) to make the topic active again. Even though when I commented I said I was going to do my homework, this doesn’t feel like homework. I can still remember a couple of blogposts from my early days here, and I just need to spot them again. Here goes:
1. On books, publishers & teachers – This is a post by Gavin Dudeney and he puts forth some interesting ideas regarding, well, books and publishers. I’ve already had the chance to talk to some people about such ideas, and most seem to find them quite sound. I wonder whether publishing houses think the same…
2. None for the teacher, none for the students? – Jim Burke talks about his experience with blogs and using blogs with students. There’s also a file to download with some guidelines so you can do the same thing with your students.
3. Thoughts on assessment 1: a response – Greg Thompson writes about rethinking school and other educational matters on his blog. His blog posts are always thought-provoking and insightful. This piece is one I like for two reasons: his sound ideas and arguments, and also because this was the first post written in response to one of my posts. It certainly was responsible for truly making me feel part of the blogosphere. I don’t think I ever got to thank Greg properly, so here it is! I hope he’s still following my blog.
4. Highly qualified teachers: who’s paying for it? – I really enjoy the personal tone Mary Beth Hertz puts in her blog posts. In this particular piece, she writes about teacher qualification and makes us think about something we all know – teacher’s pay checks. I’ve had the chance to meet many teachers who said they wouldn’t bother improving because they wouldn’t be recognised for their efforts and if they’re not going to be paid more, why should they spend more on qualification… people who have found themselves in any profession will go out of their way to do what it takes to become better professionals. This is what MB has done.
5. Thank you so much! – Nick Jaworski‘s blog has been on my blogroll from the very beginning. This post is a good example of how joining the blogosphere and interacting online can help in one’s growth. If only more people could understand that spending time on blogs and twitter (to name but a few) isn’t a waste of time…
So, these are my #hiddengems. I hope you’ll also benefit from any of these posts.