Reflective practice: not just for teachers

Here in Japan it is nearly the end of the academic year. A whole academic year of the fallout from COVID-19. Anyway, clearly anything to do with that is horrid, so I want to write about something good. Maybe even useful.

I have been teaching Authentic Listening at one of the universities I work at for 3 years now, although this is the first year that I have taught it at the advanced level. We had a lot of students that couldn’t go on their study abroad programmes this year and they needed courses at the appropriate level. I planned the syllabus out kind of last minute because I wasn’t 100% sure I would end up teaching it. Anyway, it has been largely successful, with one or two caveats which are the same caveats that come up in all remote teaching this year (i.e. students aren’t used to learning online, synchronously, and universities are not willing to reduce the course load on teachers sufficiently to make asynchronous teaching practical). The best thing, in my opinion, has been my shift to focus students more upon reflective practice (which I also did in my Rapid Reading classes this year).

What did the students reflect on?

I got my students to reflect upon their difficulties and successes in listening. Reflecting on the difficulties also entailed thinking about possible solutions to lessen the difficulties, but in an autonomous way. This is because I can’t always be there to help. A lot of the difficulty is possibly because students have not really considered how they might be able to help themselves, nor have they even been given sufficient time to reflect on their difficulties.

Some students found this so difficult to do in a meaningful way at first (mainly due to the reluctance to interact with students they don’t know, I think), but later there were some very good ideas indeed. In final presentations (worth 10% of grades) there were excellent ideas about future autonomous listening study, and the students who were quiet and not interacting with others very much showed me that actually they were invested in the class and not just faffing while their cameras and mics were off. I am quite an insecure person and I know that most people don’t care nearly as much about listening skills development as I do, but this class showed me that actually, interaction is not a proxy for skills development or a proxy for attention to information/applying the information.

Outcomes

Basically, a lot of students realised that their phonological knowledge improved if they paid attention to it and used the IPA to take notes of things, though this is difficult. They also became more amenable to not attempting to write down every single thing that was spoken in the things they listened to. Some students even went further and tried to find out about aspects of connected speech, segmentation and juncture, and intonation related to problems they had with their listening. The best part was not that these are solved problems, but that my students realize that they are only partially solved but they have the tools to work on the solutions outside of the (virtual) classroom.

Conclusion

Reflection can be a good thing but it needs to be structured if it is going to be useful at all, otherwise you get fake reflection, or reflection without further action. Here, part of a difficult skill is made the responsibility of the learners rather than the teacher(s) so classroom time can be devoted to things that actually need more intensive teacher involvement, or teacher advice.

The ongoing mentoring experiment experience

A couple of months ago I put out a call on Twitter to say that I was interested in mentoring teachers who thought they might benefit from it. To be utterly transparent, I was interested in the conversation between a less/differently experienced teacher and me, the grizzled journeyman. I was not disappointed.

A whiteboard with several clarification questions written on it.

I won’t say my mentee’s name here, but I will say that they are far too modest about their experience and knowledge. They have a first degree in TESOL and unlike arrogant/ignorant younger me who thought teaching in a foreign country would be a lark and finance my novel writing, they are volunteering to build experience before seeking paid work. And still they want to get better at what they do.

So far we have chatted about giving learners more responsibility and taking a bit more agency in selecting what parts of the class materials are used, not used, and how this can still be cohesive and assure student parents and managers of the organizational that everything is educationally sound.

We have also wondered about online teaching of older children and teens and how to engage them more than just going through the motions, which is probably quite a lot more complex than it seems.

Anyhow, I look forward to our next meeting and email. I get the chance to reflect about things that I haven’t really considered at a deep level for some time. Hopefully I have shown a bit of a possible route ahead.

Pronunciation Resource Roundup Thing

Thanks to @ClareBurkeELT for suggesting this might be a useful post.

ugly man with a beard pronuncing the /a/ sound, with badly drawn IPA symbol overlaid.

ELF Pron: https://elfpron.wordpress.com/ – a really useful blog about English as a Lingua Franca and pronunciation.

Pron Bites: http://pronunciationbites.blogspot.com/ – Marina’s blog is full of good stuff!

Pron SIG: website https://pronsig.iatefl.org/ – The Pronunciation SIG of IATEFL.

Richard Cauldwell’s Speech in Action: https://www.speechinaction.org/ Lots about pronunciation, more about listening.

Hancock Mcdonald website: http://hancockmcdonald.com/ Home of the best IPA chart for teachers and learners, in my opinion.

Seeing Speech: https://www.seeingspeech.ac.uk/ipa-charts/ Does what it says. Click an IPA chart symbol and see an ultrasound or MRI video with sound.

And here’s a word from me below to demonstrate how I might demonstrate stress in tone units.

Other pronunciation posts from me.

If you have anything else you think I’ve missed, that’s what the comments are for.

Structuring Task Stages for Students – Resource

These sheets are both two-page PDFs that I have used to help students structure task-based lesson stages, especially the courses detailed in my series of posts on my role-playing game-structured courses. I also used transcription as homework as per York’s (2019) Kotoba Rollers framework.

Basically, there is planning, doing, and reflecting. The sheet shouldn’t be used in the doing stage. After the reflection, the review sheet can be used a few weeks later (I used three reviews in a 14 or 15 week course).

References

York, J. (2019). “Kotoba Rollers” walkthrough: Board games, TBLT, and player progression in a university EFL classroom

Radical Pedagogy Reading Group: Freire, P. (2000) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Penguin.

A picture of Godzilla

With people from Mastodon, I have joined a Radical Pedagogy reading group. It’s an area that I’ve got gaps in my knowledge about, despite my education in a post-structuralist, Marxist-sympathetic BA Film and Media programme.

Freire is somebody that I’d read bits by, and I had read bits from Pedagogy of the Oppressed before, but never the whole lot. So, time to put that right.

One of the main impressions that the book left me with were:

  • This doesn’t even nearly go far enough! It seems a bit weak to be saying ‘listen to the people and learn from them’. Maybe it’s not so radical nowadays. Maybe I am too experienced now? Is reading The Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the first time after teaching for 17 years like reading The Catcher in the Rye for the first time at 40 years old? (Thanks Maloki!)
  • How patrician is this? At points he makes the right noises about being at one with the workers and then at other points sounds fairly outside looking in.
  • Quoting Mao, Castro and Guevara. In the 1970s. I can possibly accept that the full horrors of the Cuban regime might not have come to light. However, Maoism caused the displacement of loads of Chinese people fleeing the so-called Cultural Revolution.

That said, there are some good bits. Like this:

“No pedagogy which is truly liberating can remain distant from the oppressed by treating them as unfortunates and by presenting for their emulation models from among the oppressors. The oppressed must be their own example in the struggle for their redemption.”

(p. 54)

But it gets marred a bit by some of the patrician tone which rears up in Chapters 3 and 4.

The way that people can make quite poor choices in their learning also comes up.

“at a certain point in their existential experience the oppressed feel an irresistible attraction towards the oppressors and their way of life. Sharing this way of life becomes an overpowering aspiration.”

(p. 62)

I think this echoes a lot of what happens with native-speakerism and native-speaker framing.

“Problem-posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and, as such, hopeful).”

(p.84)

Contrast with the whole ‘we are preparing our children for the 65% of jobs that do not exist yet’ palaver. Is Freire’s futurity one that we predict assuredly, or one we gamble upon? I believe it requires information from learners, stakeholders and circumstances/context, to make a reasonable prediction.

And a paragraph that made me just think ‘this is commercial ELT all over’ was:

“For cultural invasion to succeed, it is essential that those invaded become convinced of their intrinsic inferiority. Since everything has its opposite, if those who are invaded consider themselves inferior, they must necessarily recognize the superiority of the invaders. The values of the latter thereby become the pattern for the former. The more invasion is accentuated and those invaded are alienated from the spirit of their own culture and from themselves, the more the latter want to be like the invaders: to walk like them, dress like them, talk like them.”

(p. 153)

The whole white-people, implicitly and often even explicitly cis, hetero, middle-class nature of coursebooks and language school marketing materials. I mean, this was being theorised best part of 50 years ago and still it manifests itself! Is an anti-cultural-imperialist ELT a lost cause?

So, I didn’t love the book. It might be a victim of hype, or just hasn’t aged well, or maybe I just have a ‘wrong’ ideology. However, I am looking forward to the next book for the group, whatever it may be.

Teaching Online: Problems & Learnings 1: PowerPoint

For my main job, I use Google Meet for teaching online and a lot of our teacher input is based on using PowerPoint slides. This is not my choice, but it was what was in place and the materials get updated every year from existing materials.

Problem

Sometimes the slideshow ‘jams’ in Google Meet presentations.

Previous solution

Don’t use slideshows, just show each slide and go through manually.

This looks terrible and sometimes there are animations in the slides that really should only be visible after students have talked about the previous point.

What I learned

In PowerPoint 2013 (yes, I know, but why would I pay for PowerPoint when it’s not actually as good as my institutional Google Slides?) you can go to the ribbon menu and select slideshow settings then disable ‘hardware graphic acceleration’.

Picture of the PowerPoint settings menu with Hardware Graphics Acceleration disabled.

You can also check whether your slides have ‘jammed’ by right clicking the slideshow in progress and select ‘show presenter mode’. You would already have selected the open slideshow to present so you don’t actually share presenter mode with your students. You can also open the task bar from speaker mode, or by right clicking in the slideshow again.

Picture of a Powerpoint slide with the right-click menu options.

This is more for me to search how I did this in about three weeks time, but hopefully it will be helpful to you too! I bet the Japanese menus are a bit difficult for some people, but, er, not much I can do.

The Exchange

I thought that maybe we’d get some sense of community to work through problems we face in society, it looks like the status quo is still very much alive and well. Instead, so many people crave normality. Normality was unfair and rubbish.

The tools are there to be had in our little corner of English language teaching. We’ve got pay-what-you-want services, open source software, and even beyond that, we have exchange of services and knowledge. We should be more open to this if we truly believe that teachers can learn from students and that it isn’t just one-way transmission of knowledge. Yes, I know I have a Patreon; am I not allowed to be paid for things I write?

Anyway, talk costs nothing. Deeds matter. I am going to try a low-stakes experiment. I think that starting in September or October, I have time to mentor about two people, probably a mixture of email and video chat, or even Discord, for about four months. Let’s leave it open at the minute to see what happens. It costs nothing. All I want is permission to blog about what I learn from the experience over that time. You get my 17 years of experience working in education, and I get what you bring.

If you’re interested, contact me.

Open Research in English Language Teaching – Resource

I would like to share the ORE Directory (Open Research in English Language Teaching). This is a brilliant resource that I came across on Twitter, thanks to Huw Jarvis. Basically, it’s a directory of Open Access journals on (English) language teaching-related topics. There is a similar function in DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals) but that doesn’t seem to be actively maintained.

ORE would be great for anybody looking for work from a specific country, or just in general to see some different journals. It would be especially good for DipTESOL and Delta candidates, too.

FTSD Podcast – Episode 2: Future Proofing Careers

In this episode of the podcast, I talk about future proofing our careers in English Language Teaching and the difficulties associated with this. It is entirely from my own point of view, so things may be different for you. Feel free to comment below!

Download this file!

References

Boon, A. (2020). “Moving on: life after eikaiwa.” In Hooper, D. & Hashimoto, N. (Eds.) Teacher narratives from the eikaiwa classroom: moving beyond McEnglish. pp. 159-169. Smashwords affiliate link:

Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1988). A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

Kleon, A. (2012). Steal Like An Artist. Workman.

I’m on the Teacher Talking Time Podcast

If you miss the sound of my voice since the pilot episode of the FTSD podcast (which will be coming back, promise!), you can catch me yammering about listening on the Teacher Talking Time Podcast with the frankly ace Chiara Bruzzano.

If you have a spare couple of hours, you could do worse. I’m perhaps more bearable than usual, and the time it was recorded corresponded to me feeling a bit tired and wired so, yes, I’m entirely misanthropic, but hopefully not depressing.