No longer freelance

Well, the title says it all, doesn’t it? As of next Monday, I work my final freelance lesson so as to better manage my life and mental health. It’s been a bit weird in my newish job: I thought reducing the number of workplaces I go to would reduce the mental load but instead, stupidly, brain makes tons of suggestions of things to do. I also started some different research projects which are exciting (to me) but also time consuming.

Now, even though I am not a freelancer any more (for the time being?), I am very much doing my own thing with my professional development. Work is very laissez-faire about what I do but I can as to order any number of books for our intensive course teachers’ library, and have had this for a while and honestly it’s brill to just know that I can get stuff basically whenever.

Anyway, this is a bit of a rambling post, but basically, some stuff that I have been looking at that relates very much to TESOL teaching issues and such are:

Giulia’s post about her bag, which is essentially any freelancer’s office.

Bullet Journal, which I have dabbled with, went to buy a different book about productivity and couldn’t find it so bought Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method.

The latest Teachers as Workers post on working conditions (which says that working conditions in Germany are similar to those in Japan); keep your eyes peeled for a new post by me on the iTDi blog, too.

I am also looking quite critically at task-based language teaching stuff: not especially negatively, just critically, and hopefully will have a paper out about it sometime in the next year or something.

Anyway, those of you on holidays, enjoy them. Those still teaching, thanks for stopping by while you are so busy.

Creating creative creativity in ELT. ExcitELT summary

Went to ExcitELT on Sunday. The theme was creativity, which is a horrible word in that it’s so positive and everyone wants to be seen positively or as nurturing/fostering positive attributes. Of the plenaries in the morning, what sticks in the midweek after? We develop skills and use these creatively, according to Stephen Ryan. Chhayankdhar Singh Rathore was saying that we create our relationships with our students. Of the afternoon plenaries, Lina Gordyshevskaya gave an overview of foreign language anxiety, and Drienne Verla Uchida did some stuff about rejigging a set curriculum that was set by administrators. The evening plenary stuff I remember was Russ Mayne and Julia Fearn-Wannan talking about cognitive biases.

The standout feature of ExcitELT for me are the hangout sessions, because they are dialogic. James York did a session on games and/versus gamification and which I learned about some games I want to find and try. Amanda Harper’s session on mixed media was informative. Peter Brereton and Shoko Kita’s hangout was hybrid presentation and hangout on creativity in our jobs, and these themes were touched upon by Julia Fearn-Wannan in her hangout on self-directed professional development, which was a must see given the name of this blog. Anna Bordilovskaya looked at creativity across cultures in the classroom and reinforced for me the impossibility of using creativity as any kind of metric for assessment because it’s so fuzzy and too subjective.

I missed the video plenary because of a mixture of ADHD-assisted ants in my pants and fatigue.

Anyway, glad I went. I kind of wish that some sessions were longer so as to go deeper. I think I should also have taken a rest for a session as well, but with interesting stuff available, the brain wants what the brain wants.

Reaction to Paula Rebolledo Cortés’ IATEFL Plenary

Unlike some of my favourite people on Twitter, I haven’t gone to IATEFL conference in Liverpool. It would have been nice to meet people I know face-to-face, especially colleagues in the SLB co-op. Anyway, this isn’t about that. It’s about Paula Rebolledo Cortés’ plenary on Teacher Empowerment. Loads of people were tweeting about it. I was wondering if it might live up to the hype, which says more about me (horrible, hard to please, cynical) than about her.

Against ‘gurus’

In my opinion, as somebody who tends to fixate on side details, I wondered about the tweets which said Ms. Rebolledo was sick of gurus. I guess yes, it was true but it wasn’t the kind of anti-expert stuff that’s sending half the world (at least) to hell. It was about claiming expertise in our own experience and also examining it carefully and reflecting and testing our assumptions. She was championing classroom research, which is very important, even on a personal level but also more widely because we can compare and contrast between classroom experiences and outcomes.

‘Empowerment’ doesn’t mean anything

One of the biggest things for me was that Ms. Robelledo seemed quite annoyed by spurious claims of empowerment made by people trying to sell stuff or promote themselves. Yeah, I know, I am blogging, and am part of a Task-Based Language Teaching course but I am not eating foie gras with Bill Gates in Davos. My main job is very much based around my 30-odd contact hours of teaching at universities. Anyway, empowerment happens when development and education are supported and appreciated but teachers feel. disempowered when this development and education is rejected.

So, this is a flashback to the immediate aftermath of my DipTESOL. All this effort and learning and what happened with the language school/agency I worked for? Complaints that I was teaching beyond the materials. What happened at school? I got to change things a bit, through ‘job-crafting’ (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001; Falout & Murphey, 2018), often without permission, if I am totally honest. This is where I think I have to go off on a tangent about being empowered.

Empowerment is everything

You have power, at least some of the time. I mean, obviously there’s a difference between the circumstances of needing to get money to actually provide food and shelter in the short term and the slack that comes with having savings and low unemployment. In my case, I could just quit if I wanted to because I was with five different employers at that time. You might also have the power if it’s more inconvenient for your boss to fire you than to keep you even when you don’t agree with their decisions and undermine them when it’s justified. This sounds unprofessional, and I suppose it is if you see professionalism as sycophantic in support of business and capitalism; however, I see it as highly professional because I was supporting my own expertise and knowledge, and more importantly my students’ learning opportunities.

It’s the connection in my head between this plenary talk and Rage Against The Machine. “We gotta take the power back!” (Rage Against The Machine, 1992). My worry when I heard about this plenary was that it gives the corporate pigs at the ELT industry trough enough of an opportunity to assimilate teacher empowerment into the hegemonic narrative, and turn it into something it isn’t. There could end up being moves made to ’empower’ teachers through student monitoring exercises written into poor coursebooks that don’t address the needs or desires of the people in the room. However, what we could see is the teachers who can afford IATEFL tickets standing up to their bosses and not compromising on principles for the sake of purely financial concerns. Hopefully, this trickles down in stories to other teachers elsewhere and then maybe we might have a chance at getting the profession into the state it deserves to be in.

References

Falout, J., & Murphey, T. (2018) Teachers Crafting Job Crafting. In Mercer, S. & Kostoulas, A. (Eds.) Language Teacher Psychology. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Rage Against The Machine (1992) ‘Take The Power Back” in Rage Against The Machine (Track 3). Sony Music.

Rebolledo Cortés, P. (2019) Teacher Empowerment: Leaving the Twilight Zone. IATEFL 2nd April 2019. Liverpool.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001) Crafting a job: Revisioning plus as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review 26 (2), 179-201.

How Have I Developed? How Can I Develop?

I think I’m a pretty busy person as a teacher, in that my teaching load is quite large (for a part timer at three universities, freelancer and co-op member) and I juggle quite a lot on top for continuous professional development. Sometimes it stresses me out – the actual balancing of the things I want to do with the things I should do and the things I absolutely have to do.

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Why on Earth am I so bothered about developing professionally anyway?

I don’t know whether it is pride in my work or not. Probably a sense of reward in knowing that I haven’t messed up, and have helped people learn something faster than Continue reading “How Have I Developed? How Can I Develop?”

Beyond Utility in Task-Based Language Teaching

As my two regular readers know, I am rather given toward task-based language teaching (TBLT). Quite often it has a good reputation (such as it being aligned with what we know about how languages are learned). However, it can get criticised as being rather utilitarian (see, for example, Richards & Rogers, 2001). In my opinion, and experience, it does not have to be this way.

Why does it get this reputation?

In the literature that covers TBLT we mainly see the following settings:

Continue reading “Beyond Utility in Task-Based Language Teaching”

4 Ways to Teach Like a Holistic Detective

The past couple of days have seen me on a total geeky binge of the Netflix show Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I got totally sucked in by the surrealism, stayed for the action, and who doesn’t love fantastic costume design? Anyway, this is not a review, it’s a post that asks what can oddball television shows remind you about teaching English.

Be Holistic

Dirk gets where he wants to be by being holistic. “Everything’s connected” he would say. So, while you might have a plan for a lesson, don’t be afraid to go off piste. Remember that you don’t teach lessons, you teach people. You need to react to the situation, not keep going toward something you’d planned upon even if it isn’t the right time. You’ll get there if you need to.

Be Kind

The people we teach probably look at their second language skills as a measure of their worth. This might lead them to look at themselves as not good enough. Dirk would make them feel better. He might make them feel like life is chaos (and it is when you’re operating in a second language), but that doesn’t mean that they of feel like an arsehole. Far from it. Be kind. Be a friend.

Don’t Ignore the Evidence

While Dirk says he isn’t the kind of detective who looks for clues, he doesn’t blindly ignore it either. Follow hunches, but assess them, too. If other people know about things consult them. If there are written records, read them. Inform your hunches.

Get the Fear Sucked Out of You

Teaching can be fraught with anxiety. Learners don’t always agree with us, which can lead us teachers into states of panic where we dwell on ‘people hating us’ and that ‘this lesson is going to be shit’. Sometimes, what you need is some terrifying punks to feed on your panic and help you out. Sometimes your most antagonistic colleagues might be the ones you need most. I know when I was still only about five years in to my career, there was a colleague who seemed very aloof. I thought he didn’t really like me, too be honest. But after a ‘bad lesson’ he was the one who called me out. “You’re not shit, you just had a lesson that felt like shit. There’s a difference. Shit teachers don’t care and don’t know they’re shit; good teachers have shit lessons sometimes and that’s OK. You live and learn.”

Any other reflections on language teaching linked to sci-fi/fantasy in the comments are much appreciated.

More Utopian Thinking

An air freshener called Sanity

Today has been a thinking day. First Achilleas Kostoulas posted about some nonsense, then Michael Griffin asked ‘Are we there yet?’ (regarding his imminent keynote-plenary thing at KOTESOL Gwangju) to which I replied ‘We haven’t even met the scarecrow yet.’ Mura Nava then asked ‘Why are we (teachers) not in driving position? Who’s driving?’ Which I replied to saying that we lack sufficient scholarly leadership. I think what I meant is somebody who can spread a message with credibility but who doesn’t dumb down. Somebody who makes people feel clever and worthwhile.

Continue reading “More Utopian Thinking”

This is a Journey into Sound: Part 1

Yes, it’s a comic.

Further reading

Best C. T. (1995) A direct realist view of cross-language speech perception, in Strange, W. (ed.) Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience. York Press. 171-206. Retrieved April 25th 2017 from http://www.haskins.yale.edu/Reprints/HL0996.pdf

Best, C.T. & Tyler, M. D. (2007) Nonnative and second-language speech perception. Bohn, O., & Munro, M. J. (Eds.). (2007). Language experience in second language speech learning : in honor of James Emil Flege. John Benjamins.

Flege, J. (1995) Second-language Speech Learning: Theory, Findings, and Problems. In Strange, W. (Ed) Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience: Issues in Cross-language research. Timonium, MD: York Press, pp. 229-273.

Flege, J. (2007) Language contact in bilingualism: Phonetic system interactions. In Cole, J. & Hualde, J. I. (Eds.), Laboratory Phonology Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 353-380.

Kuhl P. K., Williams, K.A., Lacerda, F, Stevens, K. N. , Lindblom, B. (1992) Linguistic experience altersphonetic perception in infants by 6 months of age. Science. 1992 Jan 31;255(5044) pp.606-8.

How Do I Plan a New Course? A Guide

You get your schedule for the new teaching year. You have a new course to teach. Oh no! How much work?! Yes, it is a lot. Hopefully I can help streamline out the panic. Learn from my mistakes instead of your own.

Getting Started

What kind of course is it? Is it discrete skills, a mish-mash of skills, content, or merely an idea crafted by nymphs from a gossamer of buzzwords? This is going to dictate a lot about how you approach it.

If it’s all four skills, what can’t the learners do yet that you want them to do? If you aren’t sure, ask or have a good think. What kinds of people are your learners? Pope-Ruark (2018) advocates creating stakeholder profiles for your course. Put yourself in these different people’s shoes. Make them as realistic as possible. ‘Talk’ to them in your head. Ask questions to them and let them answer your questions and it makes this process easier. Yes, I know this sounds like the ravings of a man possessed but trust me here, or give it a try and if you don’t like it, try it your way.

Continue reading “How Do I Plan a New Course? A Guide”