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Stories from the trenches 4

This story comes from my time teaching at Bloor and Bay, 5th floor, N.E tower – Language Connections International. I was teaching new immigrants to Canada part of the day, foreign students the other half. Small classrooms with one wall all windows facing busy Bloor street, downtown Toronto.

I was teaching a usual class, reviewing how to open a bank account and role playing this. All of a sudden there was incredible screaming and shreeking, squealing. I turned around and saw two of my students jumping up and down and pounding on the windows. The noise was deafening, the teacher in the next classroom came busting into ours. All the other students were looking at these two women, two classmates, jumping up and down and screaming.

What was it? They had seen small, tiny, tiny flakes of snow coming down. They were Brazilian and this was the first time they’d ever seen snow!

window

Suffice to say, the rest of the lesson was a bust. We brainstormed words about snow and talked about the first time we did “X”. A great teachable moment and I just went with it for the next 40 minutes.

But this experience really stayed with me. I’m sure there are a lot of take aways for a teacher but for me what hit home was that each student was so unique, bringing so much of their own lives and experiences to the classroom. It is incumbent and even mandatory for teachers to harness this and even more, try to be sensitive and aware of this as part of the language teaching dynamic. There are no “students” only this student, that student, this student, that student ……. Even in a class where all the students are from the same culture, we still have individuality and students who will bring their differences into the classroom …..

If Teachers Were Doctors …..

rx-symbolThe other night I watched an interesting news program profiling a doctor who writes out prescriptions for exercise to many of his patients. He writes out what they should do every day and like medicine, expects it to be done and completed just like we should take our medicine until the bottle is empty.

I thought this pretty cool and it got me thinking …. what if teachers were doctors? What would we prescribe as a natural remedy? What do our students REALLY need so that we aren’t just masking symptoms and giving false hopes to students (which we do by giving them class lessons, grammar pills, explicit error correction etc …. by playing teacher and not “healer”).

Here are a couple things I think teachers should prescribe in a perfect world, if they want their students to really get educated, learn and achieve in the classroom.

1. Money, money, more money. Yes, the number on reason so many students do poorly in school is tied to their socio-economic status. We’d do much better pursuing public and equitable education where each student has access to the things they need to succeed – be that books, technology, 3 meals a day, a family life not stressed by need …… Research shows dramatically that this is the most effective remedy for student achievement across the board – just like exercise in many cases is the most effective way to achieve health.

2. Friends. Yes, I’m serious. Connect students with friends who have the same interests and get them connecting. Education is constructed and so strongly constructed through peer relationships. In TESOL, we should not be teaching but prescribing friends from overseas so our students can use their English purposefully. Why not a project which entails connecting daily / weekly with a real buddy overseas? So easy now with skype and SN (social networking). Unless English is purposefully used, classroom study is futile and it is a waste of money on teachers, classrooms, resources. A colossal waste. I spent 13 years, 5 hours a week, being taught French in school. I always passed, did well but couldn’t even ask where the washroom was after all that “study”. Not until I lived in France did I ever begin to speak and REALLY learn French. A pox on all school systems that teach English without a connection to the real world.

What would you prescribe as a teacher-doctor? What could we prescribe to really solve the major illness of our students studying English in class for years but never learning a thing? Be honest!

Using photos when teaching

mostimportantIn a few weeks, The Image Conference is being held in Barcelona, Spain. I won’t be able to attend but EnglishCentral will be a sponsor. The future of language learning and teaching is visual, is controlled reality.

I got to thinking about all the powerful ways of using images when teaching. I’ll most certainly be making a “50 Ways” list but I was also reminded of a presentation I painstakingly put together several years ago:  The Best Photos Of All Time.

                                                  Get the version with commentary about the images HERE.  PPT HERE.

Here are a few ways a teacher might use these images in the classroom. 

1.  Discussion & Play and Pause.  Have students describe the photo and state the reason for its significance.

2.  Give students a photo and have them research it.  Use the 5Ws.  Present the background and information to the class.

3.  Describe and Draw.  A 2 way task students each describe their photo to the other who must listen and draw. Then compare against the original.

4.  Timeline.  Ask students to research the presentation and put the photos on an historical timeline.

5.  Ask students to list their top 5 photos in the presentation.  Debate in a group and then explain their group choices to the class.

6.  What makes a great photo?  Students can brainstorm and then share together the main criteria of what makes a photo “iconic”.

7.  Vocabulary.   Give students a photo and have them pull out the vocabulary in the photo, label and then share with the class.

 If you liked this post, you might also like some of the other posts tagged “photos”

Saying NO (more)

May 1st has come and gone but how many of us teachers really challenged our students to learn about the place and importance of “the working class” in our teaching?  How many of us challenged students to think about how we get the things we adorn our lives with – ipads, bicycles, cool t-shirts, gourmet coffee or the sheets we curl up in?

I introduce this post and challenge teachers after thinking about this while in Turkey presenting and teacher training. At the recent Istek ELT conference I attended a presentation by a teacher who has started “The No Project”.  A project seeking to inform students world wide about human exploitation and slavery. A heavy topic but one we need to keep in our radar.

I have been one who when challenged, asked, has told teachers to steer clear of this subject and others like religion, sexual oriention, politics, racism and so forth ….   Thought our place as teachers was to help paying students with their English and there were plenty of other “safe” topics.  I don’t advocate this anymore.

Think of the recent news from Bangladesh and the murder of hundreds of garment workers. Yes, murder. Anyone who dies unnecessarily and through no fault of their own is murdered.   But what has the news shown us? Nothing but a news story.  Deaths and facts and that’s all. No learning.  Manufacturers carry on like it is business as usual. Yes, some have said they’ll offer compensation etc… But this is just PR, it isn’t really changing their value system (stockholder value) or giving workers support, proper pay and sharing wealth. We owe it to ourselves as educators to take a moment and ask our students, explain to our students how this came about.  How the cheap goods we get in our Walmart or Costco, cost, cost lives and even worse daily pain and suffering.  [a nice place to start is "The Story of Stuff"]

During the presentation about The No Project, several teachers questioned how they could ever bring up this topic in class. Impossible they said.  And yes, I sympathize with teachers who are in this situation (most of us). However, be it the official curriculum or the hidden curriculum (often what isn’t in the textbooks and by omission sends a message), we need to be subversive in our own way and can do so if we are smart educators. Doesn’t have to be a full lesson or written into the lesson plan. Can just be a few moments, a video, a song. Nothing direct but we can inductively turn on our students minds to be critical thinkers and seers – good educators do this. I’ve spoken with them and they are magicians in how they bring into the official curriculum, the real world and the important issues.

When I was teaching ESL, I always did it at the beginning of the day. Every day, I’d scoop up 20-30 issues of the Metro newspaper on the subway. I’d bring them to class and students could read during the 20 minutes before school started and when they had to be at their desks. Then when class started, I directed conversation about what was happening in the world. This was our kitchen table, my way of bringing up questions about the world not in the official and “purile” curriculum.

Think about it.  Several decades ago, we couldn’t mention or spend time on the environment. It was a non issue.  Publishers would say nobody was interested in “green” and it wasn’t the role of the teacher to use this kind of topic. However nowadays, you can’t buy a textbook with the subject being prominent.  Yet, today, other issues don’t get into the official curriculum, like “peace” , like “human slavery” , like “sexual orientation” – why not? Can we wait 20 more years until they become timely? I say no, we can’t wait. Each of us teachers needs to be subversive, needs to bring this to our class, our kitchen table.

I’ve always valued people (teachers or otherwise) who call things as they are. They stand for values and find schools and work that allows them to be who they are.  I’ve become convinced I have to be the same. So I’m making plans to change my life and really stop just standing at the pulpit but put things into practice. Also, help those in need.  And I think big or small, all teachers can do this, we really can.  Otherwise if we don’t – we as teachers are exploited and by default, our students also.

Scott Thornbury has a recent post on this about “Representation”. As always, the comments on his post are very insightful. It mostly deals with textbooks and their lack of “critical pedagogy” but also about how we as teachers have a responsibility to bring the world into our classrooms, given that textbooks and official materials don’t.

Please look more at The No Project and think about what you as a teacher can do.  I want to do more also. My Project Peace helped but really think the classroom is the front line.  This video might be a start.

Is “Long form” dead?

A number of recent events have had this question swirling around in my head.

First and foremost, the recent ELT Blog Carnival I hosted and promoted. Not too many entries and not a lot of interest from those I emailed about it. “Too busy” everyone politely replied (and then they were off to check their social media feeds). Secondly, been noticing how few people have continued to blog in ELT. There have been a few new bloggers but the old hands are posting less and less and I notice that even new bloggers post a flurry and then they too just don’t keep at it. I’m wondering what’s up?

I know ever few years this topic rears its head. However, this year, it seems more real and may I say, lethal. Not many taking the time to read at length – I’ve noticed on this blog, a much shorter time spent on any page. Has social media killed long form? If so, is that good or bad?

I grew up what one must consider a bibliophile. I treasure my books and library like they are my children. But even myself, I find I don’t sit and read “whole” heartily like I used to. I’ll sit and read my NY Times Review of Books first page to last but that’s it. I’m busy with this task or that. Checking this feed or browsing the latest links. Keeping abreast. But I do think I’m not going anywhere and just treading water – the rat-ta-tat-tat of social media seems to keep one spinning and in one place. Every day, groundhog day. Posts, titillation, quips, funny images, cat videos, look at me I’m flying to “X” messages, eating pizza in “Y” notifications — so much self absorption and not enough absorption in the word, the mind, the thought. However, this blog remains one place, one island where I may loaf and lolligag and let my mind wander and fingers tap treasured words and ideas.

I digress but let me digress again (it is my blog!). This weekend on a long drive and well out of cell phone range, I listened to the only distraction available, the radio. Pundits were discussing Yahoo’s 30 million dollar acquisition of an app that parses articles into 400 word “Coles notes” (remember them?). David Pogue, NYT’s columnist and media panelist on CBC’s Q stated like I would, “When I’m typing, every word is a shiny diamond, every word a perfectly considered sound” and bemoaned the fact that such apps would ever be considered, saying, “This guy made money by taking what we do and turning it into red mist ….” The host asked, “Do you think it is another nail in the coffin of long form writing?” and Pogue finished brilliantly – “I’ve been watching those nails go in forever …. we just will not die. I’m the walking dead, these zombies will continue to roam among us.”

So to say it loud and clear, there may be much fewer of us left but us zombies, us bloggers and blusterers will continue to belch and bellow through blogs. We are zombies and walking dead does not equal “dead”. I’ll return and keep returning to my favorite long term bloggers that have survived, endured, triumphed through the years. Ill keep posting here and taking the hour, two, three or four that it takes to make a thoughtful blog post. My blog is my PhD, as David Truss used to say (another long form, long term zombie).

David

P.S.

Want to read “long form” online? Try one of my fav. bloggers Ira Socol SpeED. He makes each thought and post shine. Eschew such pretenders like Seth Godin, who write a few words and dress words up as “smart” instead of at their core being smart.

Reformation not reform

Last week I watched the “Reinvent Learning” roundtable with Howard Reingold. As I walked and ran on my treadmill (got in a good 14 k), I listened to the pronouncements of all the experts about what is happening or should happen in education right now. Lots of food for thought but two things really got me questioning this leadership and that despite their great ideas – they don’t quite “get it” and live in a little bit of a plastic bubble.

1. Communication. I was struck by their “lingo”. Now, I’m well versed in it but even I had a hard time following each person’s plethora of terms and labels. If you can’t communicate in a simple fashion, what should be done and why – it doesn’t stand a chance of ever getting done. We have to get rid of all this “educationalese” before any substantial reform will happen in the constituency that counts – students, parents, the common man. We as educators have to speak simply, commuicate the essential of what education really is and its importance.

2. Power. There seemed to be a pink elephant in the room that nobody wanted to talk about – namely “who has the right to tell anyone what they need and must learn?” The point was touched on ever briefly but I feel it is central to what is happening in the present learning revolution. Also, who has the right to tell a person, even a child, they must go to school?

We need a real reformation in education, not just reform. Having read my Erasmus, the reformation was all about challenging the powers that be, decentralizing and making it about the people and not pronouncements and power.  The reformation had a profound effect and a reformation in education could have the same. It could take the power to certify, to graduate, to say “who passes Go” out of the hands of the academic watch towers and into the hands of the community and the people actually teaching and learning.  It would give value to learning and not just “doing time”. This to me IS the issue and focus of change these days. Everything revolves around it.  Technologies allow access to knowledge/learning for pennies to all – how we handle this, just like the Reformation eliminating intermediaries between man and god, is what we’ll be judged by. Not whether we are  for or against digital learning etc ….

We need to begin making our schooling our education (to paraphrase and reference Twain’s famous quote). That process begins today with all of us tearing down the walls, the authority, the ivory towers that stand between the student and learning.

School and Student restraint and confinement

I watched this CBS special report about the use of “solitary confinement” and restraints in US schools and have been thinking about it all week. Disturbing. View it below.

It was a good reminder, disturbing as it is. A reminder to me that our schools must be abandoned. They can’t be fixed or repaired. They are broken and must be replaced. If I hear the word school reform one more time, I think I’m going to burst …..

 

My sister and I often have the same argument (she’s also a teacher and I’ll offer the disclaimer that she thinks I’m detached from the reality on the ground, in academia, training teachers etc… but forgets I spent years in classrooms long before she ever thought of teaching.). My sister would be all in favor of these kinds of “treatments”.  I think a lot of practicing teachers would also. Of course they would never do things “so extreme”, or so they’d say. But it is a very, very slippery slope – controlling students in these manners.

My sister is at school for and loves the obedient, eager students. The insolent, disobedient, disrespectful students she detests. And she’ll tell you there are so many of them! She feels they are the product of a society that gives them too many rights, that allows them too much freedom. What they need is to do a good days work, discipline and to see how the real world works.  I disagree.

Student behavior (or misbehavior) is a product and reaction to the present wider society and culture. No amount of coersion, shock therapy or force will change that. If teachers want “better” behaved students in school – they need to join a wider revolution within society and make for change. As it stands our society, our families produce these “problem” students.  A teacher, like any citizen IS part of the problem.  We can’t punish students and make the world turn back into 1953.

Furthermore, we have an environment in school and out that treats children as second class citizens. Students today grow up so fast, gain so much “intelligence” so quick – of course they figure out quickly how irrelevant school is in this day and age. How they have no rights and are daily ordered like prisoners to do this, go here, be that. What might Carl Rogers say at how ill school is at the most fundamental feature of education – creating strong social relationships and personal “value”.  As he says, student must feel “at a deep level that their subjective experience is both respected and progressively understood.”

The cure is not more restraints, nor more punishments. Education, teaching is about “doing no harm” and creating citizens and a society we want. Why do we continue down the road of competition and ranking students by intelligence when the end goal is to create a well adjusted individual? Shouldn’t the students we applaud be those who are happy, who have independent personalities and inner strength and will?

I look at our society and I feel shame. Perhaps besides being a teacher, that is why I am a poet. I want the world to see how shameful it is, as it is.  I’m shamed that we would do these things to children. I’m shamed that our culture is so militant and violent, passively violent.  I’m shamed how the Ultimate Fighter can be part of school curriculum yet peace is given such short thrift. I’m ashamed that teachers don’t have the freedom to teach nor students the freedom or permission to learn. I’m ashamed how students spend hours and hours in school and learn all the wrong things. I’m ashamed how teachers the world over never, ever, ever ask their students what they’d like to learn today.

Last week, took down Summerhill from my bookshelf for a read on the toilet. I read over his thoughts describing the difference between license and freedom – the free and unfree child. They should be required reading for all teachers. I’ll end with a few quotes

I believe to impose anything by authority is wrong (in school). The child should not do anything until he comes to the opinion – his own opinion – that it should be done. The curse of humanity is the external compulsion whether it comes from the Pope or the state or the teacher or the parent. It is fascism in toto. pg 114.

It is this distinction between freedom and license that many parents cannot grasp.  In the disciplined home (school), the children have no rights. In the spoiled home (school), they have all the rights. The proper home is on e in whcih children and adults have equal rights. And the same applies to school.pg 107

People who protest the granting of freedom to children (students) and use this argument (that life is hard, we need to teach children to obey and have discipline – my entry), do not realize that they start with an unfounded assumption – the assumption that a child will not grow or develop unless forced to do so. Yet the entire thirty nine years of experience of Summerhill disproves this assumption.  pg. 109

People are always saying to me, “But how will your free children ever adapt themselves to the drudgery of life? I hope that these free children will be pioneers in abolishing the drudgery of life. pg 114.

Call me a rosy, academic idealistic, my sister certainly would. But look around, do you see much else working?  I do hope one day to have my own school and “cultivez ma jardin” and be the change through some boots on the ground. Until then, these mere words and a beating heart must suffice.

 PS. I wanted to throw a lot of links/references into this post but decided against. Used my own voice and that should suffice.

Opening up our schools

The one thing I have always wished about school – that it was a marketplace of ideas/learning where all in the community could come and go as they please. A doors open, windows blowing fresh air through policy.

This is far from how it works. Going to school is mandatory for students, a criminal sentence. Many or most parents have to book an appointment to go to their child’s classroom. Invite guests into your classroom? Be prepared for reams of paperwork and forms to be approved. Grandparents in the classroom? Forget it – what if they had a heart attach, god forbid we have children learn that people die!

I’m not joking. We need to do everything in our power to get our schools to be OPEN. To use the resources, especially the human resources of our communities. Teaching is not just the domain of the teacher – this is where we have to begin.  The biggest factor dragging down our student achievement is the system itself, how it is set up. Ira Socol writes eloquently about this, “System Effect”.

Sugata Mitra for English language teaching has his “granny cloud” – grandmothers in the UK teaching Indian students via skype. And here’s an innovative practice in the states – “Foster Grandparents”. The elderly going to classrooms, rolling up their sleeves and helping out. Wonderful! Now let’s get working on the other stuff to make our classrooms a marketplace of learning and ideas…. there are a lot of customers out there.

If you liked this post, you may enjoy - Student Learning and Trust.

Linguistic Chauvinism

I just finished watching my daily hour of PBS news and I’m irate. Sometimes American insularity and small mindedness is cute and amusing (as De Tocqueville imagined) but sometimes it isn’t. Listening to a Republican senator ramble on about how “English First” is what true Americans insist on, just “got my goat” – a policy and mindset that is simply racist and racism to me isn’t very American. I’m speaking about the Republican fantasy of creating an America where everyone speaks English and drinks beer and goes to church – that’s it in a nutshell.

English Only is something I’ve seen as a teacher in our school system. Question.

A teacher has 1.5 hours a day for “English”. In the grade 4 class are many ESL students. The teacher allows students to read for pleasure for 30 minutes of the period. The students can choose their own book. Some of the ESL students choose books in their own language – Tamil, Irdu, Farsi, Somali, Korean. The teacher allows this, no questions asked. Should the teacher be reprimanded?

I’ll give you my answer in a moment but I’ll first take the long route.

There is a very deep misunderstanding of the relationship bwtween literacy in an L1 and literacy in an L2. Most, many teachers too, believe that they are distinct and separate. You gain competence in each separately. If you want to get better at English, read English. If you want to get better at Icelandic, watch Icelandic movies.

This is a very dangerous myth pervading our profession, us English teachers. Literacy is not discrete knowledge. There is only one kind of literacy and it isn’t language specific. It is something deep and beyond a language itself. It is a way of thinking about text, sound and “fury”. As you build literacy in one language, you so build literacy in another….. The best thing you can do for a young second language student especially is to not neglect their own L1 literacy and language skills. These are crucial and make for a successful, intelligent adult. Here’s a presentation that gives a great overview of this topic – a must read. Also, this book is the ideal reference for any serious teacher’s shelf.

Durgunoglu, A. & Goldenberg, C. (Eds.) (2010). Language and literacy development in bilingual settings. New York: Guilford.

Now back to the question. No, certainly not, the teacher shouldn’t be reprimanded but applauded. But the reality is quite different. That example is true and what I used to do in my own ESL classroom. However, I had to do it secretly, in our little portable, with the children sworn to a code of secrecy (no kidding). Otherwise, I’d have been asked to explain and despite research and truth on my side,  power and old perceptions would win the day. We’d all be “English Only”.

And that’s the card Republican’s are playing. No thought about what’s right, what’s researched, what helps a student succeed in the long term. Only subversive thoughts of purity and cleanliness (to borrow Claude Levi Strauss’ term for the most evil and universal archetype. ).

A country is its people. Period. Not its language or the color of its eyes or the money in its bank. Let’s get our students loving language and the learning will arrive. To end my rant – some levity, some comedy. You’ll enjoy this if you’ve read this far….

Pronunciation and Vocabulary Courses (like you’ve never seen before)

Today, EnglishCentral released the first version of their Pronunciation and Vocabulary courses. They’ll be making some changes and additions as they go along but what they have right now is just “out of this world” and a great leap forward in how students can both gain clear pronunciation and build academic vocabulary quickly.

Join my Pronunciation and Vocabulary course (click Enroll Now) and I’ll upgrade you to try them out as a Premium teacher! (make sure to Enroll As A Teacher)

Pronunciation Courses:

Tailored to the students L1, they allow students to review the major challenges they face regarding pronunciation. The language is presented through highly contextualized video context. To work on specific sounds, students may purchase individual sound units for practice.  Demo the Free Course /I/


Vocabulary Courses:

Made to ensure students gain a lot of practice recycling the vocabulary item and learning it in highly contextualized video segments – students first study each word in the patented speech recognition player. After studying in the player, students take a quiz of all the words in the unit. See all the courses available but more are forthcoming. Students can study the whole AWL and get prepared for study at an English university.  Demo the Free Starter Course

Interested in using EnglishCentral and our patented “Teacher Tools” LMS with your students this semester? Please take a look at our Academic Pricing and contact me. I’ll offer a full tour and can address any questions you may have.

 

pronandvocab from EnglishCentral on Vimeo.

Commencement. Commencing What?

Tomorrow my students are graduating with their B.Ed. There will be the usual big ceremony, the speeches, the dinner and so on and so on….. Each year over and over like a giant gristmill.

I’m happy with my students. So happy. Also very proud of this bunch of new teachers, they kept their idealism and passion all year and no doubt will bring this energy into teaching, into education. I’m so happy they are graduating. However, I’m not going to be there.

More and more, coming to the realization (for me) that graduation isn’t celebrating the right things. Rather, it is celebrating completions rather than beginnings. Or rather beginnings rather than continuings. It is all about “getting them out the door”. Schools and higher education especially, have become depersonalizing exercises and experiences. Big business. I’m generalizing of course, I know there are programs out there that keep more community after graduation than just sending an alumni donation request and a reunion appeal. I know there are schools out there who are more about fostering lifelong learning than making the time students spend there into a competitive 100m dash. I know. However, it’s summer and again I’m discontent, so I’m not going.

A few commencement addresses this season (yeah, it is a season, kind of like sports, a lifting of the cup and then it is a whole new go around) have tried to be honest about what school is. Michael Lewis stirred things up by bluntly telling graduates they were “lucky” and there (at Princeton) because of luck, not merit. David McCullough looked graduates straight in the eye and told them “you’re not special”. Hard realism and though it has good shock value, it is not the message I would give. I’ll let you guess what I’d do (if you’ve read this far) but it would be similar to the exhortation of my fav. graduation speech by Bill Cosby.

I’m not making much sense and now talking to myself, about why I’m not going to commencement. Usually the truest things are those you are least able to describe…….


Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0
If you liked this post, you might enjoy – Teaching is …

Summer Reading: Books by teachers about teaching

I recently was contacted by a fellow English language teacher about promoting a book he wrote. I’m always happy to help and will buy it and review ( Teaching with Chopsticks: TEFL from the frontline ). However, it got me thinking about books by teachers about their own classrooms and teaching. Got me thinking about the list I give out to my “teachers to be” each year and also the books I really love in this genre.

See my list below and please comment and add your own recommendation. A book written by a teacher that is autobiographical, about their life and times as a teacher. No essays, no philosophy and rants about the educational system – just relating what happened to them as teachers and how they felt about it.

One of the “homerun” books that really got me to be a teacher was A.S. Neill’s Summerhill (get a preview copy here in our Essential Books category). He spoke in his own voice and that spoke to me. I felt like I was at the school and stepping through the hallways with him and his students.

Here’s the list I give to my students to start the year (see many in detail on my Goodreads list). Maybe something will inspire you to do some summer reading!

Teachers About Teaching

 

More of Eflclassroom’s books »

Book recommendations, book reviews, quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists


Educating Esme – Esme Raji Codell
Teacher Man – Frank McCourt
Freedom Writers Diary – Zlata Filipovic
Finding Mrs. Warneke – Cindi Rigsby
Tomorrow is School- Don Sawyer
The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read – John Corcoron
The Accidental Teacher – Eric Mandel
I become a teacher – Cratis Williams
Losing My Faculties – Brendan Halpin
The Emergency Teacher – Christina Asquith
There are no shortcuts Rafe Esquith
Teach like your hair is on fire – Rafe Esquith
Letters to a young teacher – Jonathan Kozol
Summerhill – O’Neill
Cries from the corridors – Peter McLaren
The Students Are Watching – Theodore Sizer
Ms Hempel Chronicles – Sarah Shun-Lien
Among Schoolchildren – Tracy Kidder
The Passionate Teacher – Robert Fried
The Courage to teach – Parker Palmer
Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key – Jack Gantos

The #1 ….. factor effecting teacher performance

Number One** Not your ordinary, endless list – just what’s number 1.

 
  $$ Teacher Salary and Benefits $$

The Gates Foundation is pouring money into “better educational outcomes”. Lots of money. But little of it is going into the pockets of working teachers. In fact, most of it is going into designing tests, creating standardized curriculum and what I call, “fudging”, designing a system that will give improvement by the book but hides an underlying lack of learning and preparation for the future. The Gates foundation preports to know what makes a “great teacher” and thus can judge teachers, fire the bad ones and make the whole system better. Their constant refrain is that the most important factor in improving student outcome is the teacher. Very true. However, you aren’t going to do it without paying teachers well. That’s the bottom line.

The only direct factor across the board that makes an educational system strong is the support of teachers through respectable salaries, job security, benefits. The ONLY thing that works. It is the prerequisite to any reform of the system. All the nations that truly have great results according to PISA are all paying their teachers VERY well, giving them job security and benefits to rival higher income earners in their own country. As the saying goes, you have to “put your money where your mouth is”. That there is no talk of dramatically increasing teacher salaries – really speaks to how hollow their good intentions are.

You don’t need piles of fancy curriculum and glossy textbooks or blinking technology to get great student results. You also don’t need fancy buildings and an Ivy league look. Nor draconian school environments which control students behavior through brainwashing regiments of school discipline and “school pride”. You don’t need fervent testing and longer hours of study. None of this. What you do need is to pay teachers well and make them happy in their job. Attract the best – you’ll get great outcomes. It’s that simple and any other fix for education is just snake oil.

Some background. I’m a capitalist at heart. I love the fact that money created “common ground” and value where none existed before. Money, along with the wheel and the printing press (widespread literacy) is a human invention without equal. But we so often tend to think other things are causing problems and it isn’t “money” – we get sidetracked.

I began teaching as a steelworker. I “fell” into teaching, literally. Spent weeks in the hospital and woke up to become a teacher. Lots of accidents in the steel erecting industry and a lot of people trying to fix it and make it safer. But these fixes won’t work until steelworkers are paid a living, a good wage. Then safety will come and good outcomes. The metaphor works for teaching too. I watched this Frontline program last night and the metaphor hit me. In this documentary, they explore why hundreds of workers are dying while building towers so our cellphones work. Governments have been trying to do many things to stop these deaths. But they keep happening. And why? Well, these tower erectors get paid $10 an hour that’s why. No regulations will work until you pay the workers better. You’ll attract a better tower climber, one with experience and who knows how to do the job safely. Companies will have an incentive to keep the employee too. You’ll have better outcomes, less deaths – its the same with teaching. I urge you to watch the program and see how the metaphor works for teaching too.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy – The Freedom To Teach

Sell On Facebook

This blog post is a follow up on my recent post “Disrupting ELT: ebooks“.  I’m really keen on the new possibilities web 2.0 and technologies have for “the little guy”, us practicing teachers.

We can now share and produce our own materials quite easily. This community is a testament to that. We don’t have to go through the publisher’s bottleneck. However, one big ;problem remains – MARKETING.

The big companies have BIG money to spend on advertising. They have a web of ties that money has bound and weaved for them. Everyone is hooked into their marketing web and system. These connections will be hard to work against. The bookstores are addicted to their cash, the salespeople want to keep their own income etc…. etc….

One thing I’ve been waiting for is the power to sell on Facebook. Yes, they have a marketplace but it isn’t well done, it is for local exposure and doesn’t really work for ELT services, lessons, materials. But now we have to wait no longer. View our Market Page on the EFL Classroom 2.0 Facebook page.

It is beta but works perfectly. YOU can sell and market your lessons, your online teaching self, your materials/books through the huge exposure and virality that Facebook offers. Just click START SELLING and you are set.

Help us build this store. Like it, share it, spread the news. The more teachers selling here, the more we can transform the power of one!

Let’s give the gift of a click

As many of you might know, I returned “home” to Canada, the north of Canada this year. After years spent wandering the globe teaching, decided to be in one place, with family and friends.

The transition has gone better than I expected. Love spending time with my lovely parents on the farm. Love my sisters and kids. Love just exploring my old town and trails. Got a great job at the local university. I have lots to be happy about. However, life can kick you in the chops and it has this year.

I wrote previously about losing my dear coach, Mr. Z this year. A tragic ATV (all terrain vehicle) accident. Weeks later, a young student, Carter (pictured), avid skateboarder was also killed on an ATV. Tragic and makes you doubt your time and place. Made me do so…..

However, I’m a positive man. I want to do something about it rather than stand still and let it kill me.

But I need your help. 

Carter was an incredible kid, a skateboarder. We are trying to get a skateboard park in the community, under his name. The most votes will get the money.  Read about it.

What I am asking is for each and every person who reads this, who is part of this community, to give. Give a vote.  It just takes a click a day.

You have to register but you can just use your Facebook page. Vote daily and lets do something for Carter. I’d like you to help me make a difference. 

Thanks to all for participating, now let’s do it!

Don’t Vote For Me!

I’ll leave it at that. This “voting” season count me, count EFL Classroom 2.o out.

Please read my post from last year or “The Competitive Side of Schooling“. I used to rush for acclaim but now I think it is better we just collaborate and help each other “bring home the bacon”. My job and my joy is helping teachers find the things that help their students and make them contribute to ideas/knowledge/skills. Forget the cajoling and online breast beating. Where’s the beef?

Don’t vote for me!

PS. I do love Edublogs and that’s why I’m here on Edublogs. I want educators to find them and use them. So in no way is this dissing Edublogs, only the Edublog awards.

This video sums things up for me.


Gems of EFL 2.0 – our newsletter

Here is the latest version of our newsletter – scoopit style! Get the archive of our newsletters HERE.



Get more gems all month as we highlight them here.

The next blog carnival – FUN!

EFL Classroom 2.0 will be hosting the next blog carnival, Jan. 01!  The theme for this blog carnival is FUN. Submit any blog post, past or present, that really exhibits the power and potential of FUN in the classroom.

It’s a great chance to share and let the world know about your ideas.

Submit your entry in our handy Blog Carnival Submission Form.

Get your entries in by Dec. 31st. They’ll be a prize for all entrants (free enrollment into the forthcoming Using Technology In The Language Classroom course on The School of TEFL). I can say without a doubt – it will be very creative and smashing! See our last hosting HERE.


Reality check – TEFL Certificate Course


I will also add to this, “Give a man a fish and he’ll just expect to not work for any more. Make him pay a little and he’ll value that fish and his work to purchase it”.

I’m saying this as background to some reflection I’ve been doing based on the recent FREE TEFL Certificate course I launched.

It has always been my goal to provide free or low cost assess to knowledge and materials for teachers. I’ve worked night and day, year in and year out,  to counter so much of the blatant commercialism that pervades TEFL. Worked tirelessly to “fight the good fight” and use the possibilities of new technologies to the utmost benefit of hard working and low paid teachers. Sharing, community, can empower us.

However, both on my community EFL Classroom 2.0 and especially with the launch of the new TEFL Certificate course, I’ve learned an important lesson. If teachers get it for free, some really don’t value what they get. Not everyone but my guess is a good majority. Not blaming or accusing any one person – it is just human nature.

I won’t go into all the emails of support and so positive in nature. I also won’t go into how many emails I got from so many who seemed “entitled” and being very aggressive about why “this wasn’t there” or “there was a dead link, quit wasting my time”. Not going there. Want to relate something else.

With the low cost TEFL Course, I was gladly going to pay the cost/ student that is incurred. My paying it forward for education. However, never thought so many would take advantage of this (I expected 20-30/month – we now have over 300 and close to 200 students taking the course right now). But most importantly, never thought so many would just NOT watch the videos, think about the ideas but rather whiz through the quizzes, just trying to complete them and get the certificate.

The nice thing about the school’s LMS is that I see everything. Loads of student data. I can tell how long a teacher stayed on a page, interacted with the content. How many times they took a quiz, the results etc… To my amazement, over 70% of teachers were just clicking the quizzes and trying to run through the lessons like it was some video game.

Example: A great student.

Example: A “quick” student.

So, I tried limiting the attempts. Also, monitoring the time on task. However, still teachers are taking very little time watching videos and reflecting/interacting with the ideas in the PDFs. And there isn’t a lot I can do.

So I’m now going to make teachers pay a minimal user fee for the course. I think this will make it so they will value the community, the resources and the certificate that results. Sorry it has to be this way but I guess I have to learn the hard way.

All those who pay the $40 will get my Teach | Learn coursebook when they graduate + a great certificate of completion. Also, 3 months of access to the resources (and to complete the course). The course will also serve as a pre requisite to the 120 hour accredited certificate I’ll offer in Jan. 2012.

Those who’ve already signed up for the class will get it free. I hope they slow down and savor the lessons! All those presently doing the course will have a month to graduate. Good luck! I also think this course would be a great “primer” for any teacher training program and hope trainers out there might encourage their students to take it. Even plan a course around it.

I do hope all teachers understand and realize the truth of what I’m saying, where I’m coming from. I thank you all for your support and again, not accusing any one teacher at all.

David

Dancing to the pied “textbook” piper

I spent a few hours looking at the conference offerings this coming fall. Something I’m used to doing and invigorated by – I’m energized by the pursuit of knowledge and no better place than a conference, a meeting of minds. Yet, this usually vitalizing activity got me very depressed.

Why?

Well, it seems there is within the “leadership” (if I may use that word and ruse), there is within this speakerhood of conference presenters, a very bitter hypocrisy.  I mean, so many are professing to be on the boat of humanistic teaching, of student centeredness, of being cutting edge and knowing of where the world of language teaching is going. And all this may be true. However, almost all are parading to the tune of the pied “textbook”  piper.

Let’s face it – the era of the textbook as we know it is dead. Yet, so many of these astute presenters are a generation born, bred and still getting their sustenance from the textbook absurdities of  12 units – speak, pronounce, vocab, read and write and you know English.  It’s all packaged differently, it’s all wrapped in a million layers of “newness”,  they’ll all swear their book is different but at the end of the day they are selling yesterday.  What’s worse – I find nobody calling them on it.

So next time you are at a conference with some veritable “name” on the stage. First, ask yourself if what they did (the textbooking they put their name upon) really has benefited students and led to learning and not dependence, to profit. Then, ask  yourself if what they are saying isn’t a bit hypocritical, given their publishing record. Finally, stand up and ask them this question – “if you could do it all over again, not needing money or fame and having a steady income from your inheritance, would you still dance to the tune of the pied  ”textbook”  piper?