All posts by deyna13

“Me or Him”/Her (laughter)

Here is the question: “Why do we need research? Or why research is important?” I’m 99% positive that among all the possible answers one will be stated the most, perhaps in various forms but having the same meaning: “to give voice to the voiceless, to hear them out and to empower”. Then there is another question: “What are the limitations or disadvantages of a qualitative study?” Again, can you guess the most probable answer? “The most probable” according to me, of course. And you are absolutely right. It’s more subjective.

Although it is a total exaggeration to say that a qualitative approach has an inherently subjective nature, there is no denying that a researcher brings in his or her positionality, bias and personal interpretation of the stories told by people. So the next question arises: How as a novice researcher do I not confuse their voices with mine? Or as Participant 6 put it when asked about his or her teaching beliefs towards the role of a student in the classroom:

“Do you mean the issue of “me or him” (laughing)? Well, to be honest, I am not yet sure about it.”

Me or him”. Me or them.

It got me wondering during the research tasting stage i.e. data collection and analysis.  I knew that some of the interviews went not so well, not as I had expected them to go. That is even if I knew from theory that I should not be pushy, or interrupt the respondent, or lead them towards the anticipated answer, I still did it. Also, I found myself to be an unfocused listener. At times, it was difficult to concentrate on what they were saying.

Now I am at the stage of consolidating my coding framework and preparing to write the results chapter followed by a discussion of findings. Even if I ground my interpretations in literature and conceptual framework, how can I be sure that it is the most accurate interpretation? Interpretation of what they think not an interpretation of what I think.  Because sometimes when reading different studies I find myself questioning the conclusions that authors made.  Especially, if there is a long direct quote from a participant and we interpret it differently.

I think I got better towards last interviews where I listened more carefully and let my respondents talk freely. Lesson learned: we need to listen. Also I think that the quote from a respondent that got me thinking is a very good example. As even if there is any other different twist to it, it is necessary to consider it through critical and analytical lens first. Lesson to be learned: to try to let them be a priority in my study as much as possible by being more critical.

This post is more of a reflection on data analysis process. It might seem over exaggerated or oversimplified to some extent, but I do believe that the question raised by one of my participants is worth thinking about.

Advertisements

Pop culture

tumblr_oyp2gmCqA81wdw96xo1_500

 

It doesn’t really matter what your attitude towards popular culture is, whether you think it is good or bad, assimilationist or political, interesting, destructive or escapist it is out there and each of us is familiar and engage with it to a smaller or greater extent every day. However, there is a distinct group of people that have experienced its pervasive force more than others have. English language learners. Thus, I would like to talk about the role of popular culture in English language learning and teaching. And when I say popular culture I mean literature, television, music, social media, and art.

There are plenty of arguments of why including pop culture into the classroom is a bad idea and that it may possibly result in learners’ immersion with the exclusion of other different cultures. On the other hand, let’s not forget that there have been written thousands of pages on the importance of integrating students own culture and of the others. Thus, given the awareness about both sides of the coin, I still think that popular culture is of paramount importance in the process of language learning.

First of all, the inclusion of popular culture works well with the main principle of teaching and learning the language which is the use of language in the context. And guess what? What else can possibly encourage students to engage in the learning process than discussing their favorite TV shows or any other popular culture manifestation? In addition, all of the learning comes from authentic context-bound resources. For example, using a high fantasy fiction books or movies, news or even comic books will expose students to the everyday language and more importantly, to real-life agenda which in turn will allow them shaping their perspectives and opinions about things. Isn’t that the very aim of communicative approach?

Moreover, based on my personal experience, I can state that the very notion of popular culture extends further and deeper than songs by Britney Spears and binge watching a popular TV-show. As for me, popular culture became a catalyst for my motivation to learn different languages. As American popular culture served as a channel to many other cultures and it inspired me to create different interesting ways to personalize my learning outside the classroom and triggered my curiosity about various notions prevalent within and outside popular culture.

As one of those millions of English language learners, I would say that popular culture has played an immense role not only in the language learning process but may have possibly constituted the notion of universal cultural background and shaped the way I view and perceive the world.  Thus, educators might draw some implications about language teaching if they do a little research on the interests of their students.

Dear professor…

phd072508s

4/18/2015

Dear Professor,

I am very sorry about the lateness of my assignments. And my absences during the semester. I am graduating after this semester and I found myself swamped with a ton of work I was not expecting. All of this piled up with vet visits, caring for my new puppy, and other things getting in the way I lost a lot of my energy this semester. I’ve attached all the assignments in this email. And if there is anything else I can give you please let me know.

Thank you for a great semester and for understanding,

All the best,
William

This is a real e-mail to a real professor who teaches art history at a number of universities across New York City and is an author of the book titled “Dear Professor: A Chronicle of absences” and is a guest of the Teaching Matters podcast Episode 102: Stories of Students’ Apologies.

This book is a compilation of 200 hundred students’ emails explaining and apologizing for absences and the podcast is aimed at exploring the motivation behind publishing the book and lessons to be learned about the electronic way of communication with students and how it changed the nature of the teacher-student interaction.

There is no denying that digital age has had huge both positive and negative influence on teaching and learning; however, e-mails are rarely considered to be the factor as they blend in so nicely into our everyday communication. Professors and teachers are one of those categories of people who deal with e-mails every day. More often they receive e-mails from their students than they send them. Regarding the e-mails containing excuses for the absence, the author states that some of them are pragmatic, but most are aimed at getting sympathy or understanding. There are a lot of oversharing or details that professor would prefer not to know about, and there is as he puts it “a sense of entitlement” as if he was a private tutor that is available 24/7.

First, I had the impression that the professor is quite cynical towards the students and their problems as I was listening from a student’s perspective. As we as students do not really think about a professor as a human being and are occupied with what we have. However, as you listen to the podcast you get the sense that he actually is sympathetic and tries to read between the lines that maybe there is something there that is not written directly. He explains that those are “a portrait of the modern student body in the USA”. Those are real voices from real students who deal with real problems as commitment, entitlement, anxiety, exhaustion, insecurity, depression and a desperate need of individual attention.

It was then when I started thinking from a professor’s perspective, as it must be overwhelmingly difficult to deal with unexpected and serious situations when there is a need to decide upon the seriousness or truthfulness of the situation and react appropriately. In addition, how to find balance and not to be caught up in the routine of trying to be sympathetic in every situation and finding the way to secure a student good grade. As the author of the book puts it there is “a moral and ethical dilemma”.

One of the main statements that author wanted to make by publishing his book is that the nature of teacher-student rapport has changed due to the information-driven and rapid decision-making society. It has changed but not for the better. The emotional distance and easy access via e-mail somehow imply that the roles of teachers and students changed to “teachers as service providers or private tutors, and students appear as more customers”. I find this statement something that is difficult to disagree with. Unfortunately, the author does not offer a solution to this problem.

In sum, I would definitely recommend listening to the episode as it provided me with the insights about teacher-student online rapport and interaction. Even though it is not considered to be “a problem” in a Kazakhstani context I think that there is a great message* that we should listen closely to what students have to say as behind each voice there is a person.

*pun unintended

 

R for Research

research-4_1024x1024

Truth be told research has become an integral part of our lives. And here, I am referring not only to “oh my god, what did I do to deserve this” formal definition of research but also to less academic, more prosaic and by no means less conceptual manifestation of research. For instance, what do we do when we want to know why friendship is important or which yoghurt is more healthy? We search the internet, ask everyone around, read reviews, compare and analyse the information. In other words, we conduct research.

More often than not, we do not consider research to be a powerful tool until we get a closer look at it. I am not an exception. Once I got familiar with the term during my undergraduate studies, scientific-research and methodology courses captivated my interest the most, because not only they provide valuable insights into language learning and teaching practices, but because it is interesting to seek further clarifications when confronted by complex issues. However, that is just a tip of the iceberg comparing to what the research is capable of doing in practice or academically speaking “in the field”. It contributes to our knowledge and understanding of theoretical concepts, different cultures, human behavior, educational processes; it enables governments and societies to solve problems on a various levels; and most importantly, it allows us to hear the voices of vulnerable, oppressed or silenced populations, thus making change in the world we live.

As for my personal experience, I am at the stage of tasting what research process is really like. Although there are many scary words as literature review, methodology and data collection, having heard some of the rural teachers’ stories and being a part of an international project on inclusive education motivate me to become a  researcher even if the chance to make a difference is not guaranteed.

Some ways to incorporate ICC into the language classroom

Multicultural kids with globe art_0

In recent years, the concept of culture has become an integral component of English language teaching and learning. In fact, Damen (1987) defines culture as “the fifth dimension” of language teaching in addition to other four language skills.

Defining intercultural competence is a complex task. However, its essence lies in the preparation of individuals to interact appropriately and effectively with those from other cultural backgrounds. The use of the term “intercultural” reflects the view that EFL learners have to gain insight into both, their own and the foreign culture (Byram & Planet, 2000). It refers to the “ability to ensure a shared understanding by people of different social identities, and ability to interact with people as complex human beings with multiple identities and their own individuality” (Sercu, 2005, p. 3). Moreover, this competency highlights the negotiation between different cultures, the ability to look at oneself from an “external” perspective, analyse and adapt one’s own behaviours, values and beliefs (Moran, 2001).

However, to integrate the cultural dimension into the language learning process, educators need to keep in mind that social interaction among people from the different cultural background will be successful only if  “they bring to the situation their knowledge about their own country and of the others’ (Bayram & Planet, 2000).

Thus, here are some ways how teachers could integrate the cultural dimension into the language learning process:

  1. Cultural awareness of one’s own culture

One of the aims of intercultural approach to language teaching/learning is to facilitate learner’s exploration of their own culture. For example, learners can be engaged in pair or group discussions and use some brainstorming or mapping techniques to gather different ideas of their understanding of a particular cultural concept. This task will show the diversity in awareness within learners and exchange with some unknown views or information. Learners can also develop their cultural awareness through associations they have when they think about a particular topic which will reflect the learners’ own culture. For example, the word cow may produce associations with food or milk, or chocolate or even God, depending on the culture. Or the topic of social networks must be very close to learners as social networking is very popular among their peer group. They can discuss the attitudes towards spending time socialising virtually or positive or harmful effects on health and education. So reflecting on thought and ideas is very important in terms that learner will now have a general idea on a cultural issue and prepared to acquire knowledge about other cultures.

  1. Cultural awareness of other cultures

An important aspect of language teaching/learning is creating an authentic meaningful situation (Byram & Planet, 2000) where language can be learned.  Also creating an authentic situation or bringing real objects will increase learners’ interest, motivation and curiosity for culture learning. For example, teachers can create an account in a social network that learners frequently use and create a group where students can share what they found or learned about target culture with classmates. Or a teacher may give students a task to find a pen friend from other country and conduct an interview and then discuss it in class. Another useful tool in facilitating cultural awareness of other culture is watching videos. From videos, students develop their ability to observe the cultural behaviour of people. Or an interview with a native speaker can serve as a great source of cultural information and be a real intercultural situation where learners can practice their intercultural competencies.  Such activities will make the lessons more interesting and learners will feel more motivated in learning about the target culture.

  1. Comparing cultures

First of all in order to compare cultures learners need to have an understanding of their own culture because “no-one can be sure to know enough about his/her own culture” (Byram & Planet, 2000). This is regarded as a foundation for learning the target language culture. Culture always changes and students should be aware of this so that they can have a better understanding of their own and the target culture. Each culture has different values and none of the values in one culture is better than the others in another culture.

In conclusion, I want to say that learning the foreign language should move beyond teaching just grammar and factual knowledge about the western cultures such as “London is a capital of Great Britain”, but involve and embrace the diversity and foster the development of attitudes of openness and tolerance in learners.

References:

Byram, M., & Planet, M.T. (2000). Social identity and European dimension: Intercultural competence through foreign language learning. Graz: Council of Europe Publishing

Damen, L. (1987). Culture learning: The fifth dimension on the language classroom. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Moran, P.R. (2001), Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice, Boston, Mass.: Heinle and Heinle

Sercu, L. (2005) Testing intercultural competence in a foreign language. Current approaches and future challenges. BELL (Belgian Journal of Language and Literature)

“Every kid deserves a champion” (deconstruction)

Veteran educator Rita Pierson in her speech titled “Every Kid Needs a Champion” states that “Every child deserves a champion – an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be”. She reminisces about her experience in education, starting from her way to school as a child to 40 years of being a teacher. But it is not only memories and experiences, but a perspective from an insider who realised that motivation and self-confidence fostered by adults like teachers of parents is a key to success for children. And Pierson highlights the necessity of a role model in children’s life that will motivate and inspire them to perform to the best of their abilities.

Rita Pierson brings up the incredibly important argument of a power of the relationship between a parent and a child, a teacher and a student and people in general. She recognises and proves on her experience that rapport with all students is so much more than just teaching a lesson or even education policy. And most of all, she believes that it is possible to change the situation and encourage students to grow no matter what level they are at. Thus, she argues that every kid deserves a chance. A chance not only to succeed in the academic path but also to become an individual or as she puts it “somebody”.

I personally totally agree with each claim that she made because growing up I had my parents and some of the teachers who provided me with support and motivation. But again there were kids who were lacking this kind of attention. Because of their low academic performance or just because teachers did not like them. This is a problem for our education system. Because Rita in her speech makes another claim about the teaching profession and how it goes beyond simple delivery of the material to the question of vocation and mission. Thus, every educator should watch or listen to the talk and reconsider their attitude towards what they do because they “were born to make a difference” in every kid’s life.

To all procrastinators out there..

42672f41-f0de-426a-acfc-40c2b13290c0

Procrastination. A ubiquitous term permeated our everyday lives so deeply that each of us can relate to a habit of putting off things until the last moment. Interestingly enough, that long before people became obsessed with efficiency and productivity ancient Egyptians had two different verbs for denoting procrastination: one for laziness; the other for waiting for the right time. Almost poetic, isn’t it?

Well, it could be. If people weren’t prone to think of it as the root of all-evil. Not that it is completely untrue; but Adam Grant (2016) in his book titled “Originals” debunks the common assumption and assures that even though procrastination can be “a vice for productivity” it can serve as “a resource for creativity” (p. 95).

 2c1bf3e9-c47b-45f7-802e-4b8433fa76c7

As it turns out, there are three types of people in this world. First, are pre-crastinators, the ones who rush in and cannot live without finishing everything in advance. Then, there are chronic yet moderate or “strategic” procrastinators. Ideally, this is the type you would want to be. And, as you may have already guessed the third ones just wait til the very last moment and miss the benefits of procrastination that it has to offer if it’s done right.

Speaking of which, procrastination makes you more creative and leaves room for improvisation and spontaneity (Grant, 2016). To prove the theory, Grant, who finished his thesis four months [FOUR MONTHS] before the deadline and is a vivid example of pre-crastinator, with his procrastinator student have run a series of surveys and experiments.

So, what they did is they accessed several companies and conducted a survey among employees about their procrastination experiences. After, the employers were asked to rate their employees’ level of creativity. Surprisingly, procrastinators got higher scores. However, they did not stop there and designed an experiment where people were asked to generate business ideas. They had two control groups: the first group had to start immediately; second were given 5 minutes to play a computer game, i.e. to procrastinate. Again, the ideas of procrastinators were rated 28 % more original and creative.

The key point here is that people were more creative only if they knew about the task before they started to procrastinate. Thus, it is only when we start thinking about the problem and then procrastinate on its solution we open the door for the diversity of ideas. Because even if we are not directly involved in doing the task, it is still active somewhere in the “palaces of our mind”. So, when we actually start working on the problem our subconscious allows us to think in creative and non-linear ways.

Moreover, it “keeps us open to improvisation” (p. 100). Usually, we tend to plan our steps and try to stick to it, otherwise why plan in the first place, right? Studies of numerous successful executives have shown that the habit of procrastination made them more strategically flexible. Of course, as a great procrastinator you still need to plan, at least make a plan for your procrastination and “test and refine different possibilities” as they cross your mind (p.102). And do not wait until the last night before the X day. Just don’t.

If you’re not convinced and feel like it got out of control, check these guides on how to deal with procrastination and how to avoid our common frenemy. It won’t hurt for sure. However, if you think that you’ve already lost the battle don’t stress out either. Instead, learn how to make it work for your benefit. In other words, learn how to procrastinate wisely.

And don’t forget to remember “they call it procrastination, we call it thinking” (Sorkin, 2002).

References:

Grant, A. (2016). Originals: How Non-conformists Move the World. New York: Viking

Couric, K. (2002, May, 22). Interview with Aaron Sorkin. Retrieved from http://www.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/flatview?cuecard=2090

How much is enough: 10 000 hours?

greatness-3-hours-per-day

Malcolm Gladwell introduced the rule according to which one in order to achieve significant success in any field must invest (practice) 10 000 hours of their life. Since then a myth of “10 000 hours rule” became one of the most extremely popular and persistent stereotypes in the field of psychology.

Supposedly, this rule can make anyone extremely successful in any field; however, the problem of this rule is that it is only half-true. A psychologist Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence” (1995) debunks this theory and presents a more complex nature of the issue. If you are new to the game of golf and constantly make the same mistake practicing it for 10,000 hours will not improve your skills and the level of the game or as he (1995) puts it “You’ll still be a duffer, albeit an older one”. Thus, the mechanical repetition of actions will bring you somewhere, but you need to adjust the performance of certain tasks repeatedly.

Perhaps the following will sound very familiar and obvious but the key to steady improvement is not the amount of time we invest, but its quality. Despite knowing that we still often expect to become successful solely on the amount of time that we devote to the solution of a problem. Instead, we need to concentrate on the deliberate practice that is continuous training, in which we concentrate entirely, following the instructions of a qualified expert or mentor. This approach is fundamentally different from the approach of measuring success only by the number of hours dedicated to training.

Feedback is a necessary element that allows us to identify mistakes and fix them. Ideally, feedback should come from an expert in the field: without such kind of feedback, one would hardly ever succeed. It is also important to think realistically. Dreams have a creative advantage, but in the context of focused practice, they only dilute the effectiveness of the process. Goleman (1995) says that listening to music or watching TV during practice will not “boost the mind’s processing speed, strengthen synaptic connections, and expand or create neural networks”. However, he adds “at least at first”. Because once we get used to the case, which was once new, we start doing it well automatically.

At this point, it is important not to become a hostage of “okay-plateau” which prevents from growth and development. I am sure that we can all relate to that “good enough” level of performance where we are able to perform the desired action with ease and more or less effortlessly. Thus, if you are going to achieve brilliant success, it is time to move from the autopilot back to the stage of active attention.

Even if the quality issue has been resolved, the amount of time issue is still open. How much deliberate practice of full concentration is enough to achieve perfection?

References:

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

Towards the definition of an “expert teacher”

expert

Teachers are one of the most important components of the educational process because they are the facilitators of many processes that take place in the classroom as they conduct their teaching.  Thus, many researchers have been interested in what teachers think before or during the lesson; what qualities do constitute good teachers, or what are their feelings about particular issues, etc. Tsui (2003) states that classrooms include “multidimensionality, simultaneity, immediacy, and unpredictability…and teachers need to be able to process simultaneously transmitted information very quickly, to attend to multiple events simultaneously” (p.30). Therefore, to handle academic, behavioral and other processes that take place in the classroom teachers should have a particular set of qualities and experience. However, not everyone is able to do that, except for “experts”.

Some say that an “expert” is a person who can do or perform his or her job on a very high level without putting efforts so much so that it looks automatic and easy. Others would state that “experts” are the best representatives of their field and are very experienced and knowledgeable (Farrell, 2013). If the question of knowledge is undoubtedly connected to expertise, as Johnson highlights it “it is the quality of knowledge that is important” (p. 13) the link between being an expert and experience has now been questioned by some scholars (Tsui 2003, 2000). Because this two characteristics (knowledge and experience) are not the only ones that embrace experts in any field, including teaching.

Continuing the definition of expertise many scholars add a category of reflective practices (Smith and Strahan, 2004; Farrel, 2003) as the realization of one’s strength and weaknesses and willingness to grow, develop, and build on the experience they already have. Moreover, it is the “only way to achieve the change from an experienced teacher to an expert teacher” (Gun, 2014, p. 4). As we can see, there is no “exact” definition of expertise in teaching as it involves many factors.

However, as a current student and a future professional in the sphere of education, I would like to investigate what qualities and characteristics constitute an expert teacher. Moreover, I believe that being an expert teacher is more than just having knowledge and experience. What do you think?

 

References:

Farrell, T. S. C. (2013). Reflecting on ESL teacher expertise: A case study. System, 41(4), 1070–1082.

Gün, B. (2014). Making sense of experienced teachers’ interactive decisions: Implications for expertise in teaching. International Journal of Instruction, 7(1), 75–90.

Smith, T. W., & Strahan, D. (2004). Toward a Prototype of Expertise in Teaching: A Descriptive Case Study. Journal of Teacher Education, 55(4), 357–371.

Tsui, A. (2003). Understanding expertise in teaching: Case studies in ESL teaching teachers. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

 

To cheat or not to cheat? A teacher’s perspective

atlanta-cheaters-450

Photo credit: LA Progressive

Steven D. Levitt (2006) says that just about anyone cheats if they got their interest in it. Cannot argue with that. Some might deny and say I don’t cheat no matter what the stakes are. But, then they might recall moments when they at least attempted cheating, let’s say in a board game or when they looked up an answer in Google to solve a crossword puzzle. Levitt (2006) gives a simple definition for this feature of human nature: “getting more for less” (p.21). Again it is not only the financial directors, bankers, politicians or sportsmen who cheat.

It is a high-school graduate, worried about not passing the standardized test (for example, UNT) or not getting a state grant, who finds a sophisticated way to cheat during the exam. Well, it is a thing about schoolchildren, right? They start to think about the most effective way to cheat once they hear a word “test” because they want a good grade. However, one more actor has an incentive to cheat as well. A teacher. A teacher who is worried about a class or school ratings and possible positive or negative consequences depending on the results of testing.

The introduction of high-stakes testing, where the stakes are high not only because tests measure students’ progress, but because schools are accountable for their performance, created a reason to cheat for teachers in the USA. There, if the whole school would score low on the testing then it would be at risk of shutting down with its staff dismissed or reassigned. Individual teachers whose students perform poorly could be fired. However, there is also a positive side where successful educators get promotion or bonuses from the state government.  Thus, it is not surprising that some teachers would somehow try to adulterate the scores and be reinforced by another incentive: people do not consider that teachers could possibly cheat.

A more recent example happened in 2015: 11 Atlanta public school teachers were sentenced for “essentially making copies, erasing pencil marks on paper, and filling in different bubbles” (“Atlanta teacher”, 2015). This is an instance of outrageous and brazen cheating. But there are much more occurrences of teachers’ cheating that might have less severe consequences than falsification of the results. To name a few: giving extra time for completing a test, teaching strategies to pass the test, teaching specifically for the test topics, giving students answers in advance or simply “ignoring” students’ cheating.

All of these happens because of the education system that is focused on the test scores, rather than on the education itself. Teachers are victims of the “testocracy” and the system does not leave much choice. Yet, maybe some teachers need to focus on a good teaching, not a good cheating.

References:

Levitt, S. D., & Dubner, S. J. (2006). Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything.

Singer. (2015, April 3). Atlanta Teacher RICO Conviction Is Blood Sacrifice to the Testocracy. Retrieved from https://www.laprogressive.com/atlanta-teachers-cheating-scandal/