All posts by mariaminu

The research legacy of MA 1 in the spring semester

 

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This post is dedicated to all students of MA in Multilingual education program who have studied hard this semester to share their knowledge, express their thoughts and advance their language skills through the blog writing. Their blogs merit special attention.

Why are they so important?

They are scholarly but personal.

                                     They concern education and life.

                                                  They demonstrate our accomplishments and future plans.

While reading each post I could see the variety of interests and perspectives of each author. Easy calculations:  thanks to 27 students we have got 189 masterpieces about anything in the world (but mostly about education, of course). They write with passion and joy; address sensitive, controversial and ambiguous topics; add their voice and style to each work. With this post I would like to give credits to all the authors of this semester who opened my eyes to a variety of existing problems and possible solutions; who shared their stories, analyzed speeches and discourses; who searched for engaging pictures and videos; who invented ingenious titles and experimented with design; who did their best to add to the scope of knowledge of other people. Welcome to the temple of knowledge built by amazing students of MA in Multilingual education!

The diversity of topics covered is just incredible. It is impossible to mention all of the blogs in one writing but I would like to synthesize some of them to show how much we can change in the educational system in terms of curriculum, classroom environment, and teaching approach if we just start working together and transmit knowledge and experience to others.

A lot of discussions were raised about the learning environment and creating comfortable conditions for students. As sashaxxxx mentioned, emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in students’ learning that is why the issues of appropriate class size (uaxi), studying hours (bayanassylbek), and discipline maintenance (chsherbakov) should be considered. The need of school uniform (farihandro) is not always justified when it comes to sustaining the emotional well-being of students but including animals (alinatatiyeva) into the learning process is definitely an effective way to relieve stress and anxiety. It was all about the form but looking at the content of education MA students also suggested some ideas how to improve it.

The curriculum should be renewed to include the development of skills for learners’ future life and keep them mentally strong. Aigulizat and gulzhaina13 emphasized on the positive influence of arts and music on the children’s well-being and argued for the increase of the time devoted to these disciplines in school. Also, as Kazakhstan is multilingual and multicultural country, we can benefit from it using the method of tandem learning (ariyavvv) as well as showing the importance of intercultural competence (danasan13) in the modern world. This could be done by organizing special Multilingual clubs (assema001) which allow to explore other cultures not only in theory but in real communication. Arai4ona and khakimkenzhetayev addressed the reading habits of learners and gave their recommendations both on how to read effectively and use this skill in the classroom to learn through the story-telling. Even such topic as the total spread of fast food was not left without attention. Makha09 shared Japan’s experience of including food education in the school curriculum and its positive outcomes.  Some of these initiatives could be really helpful for children’s development and additional research would induce the Ministry of Education and Science to consider them.

However, it is not only the work of the Ministry to raise healthy and intelligent children. As educators (and parents) we should not restrict our children too much (asselt) because of our fears for their physical and mental health but should teach them that mistakes and failures (asselshmidt) are opportunities for further improvement. We should help them to become responsible, independent individuals who are able to plan their time, cope with deadlines (ayanairis), and choose what disciplines (maira1291) they want to study more. Also, it is necessary to develop a variety of soft skills (aidana17) for their future life such as “social skills, communication, higher-order thinking, self-control and self-concept”. Supporting children we support our future but the teachers’ problems should not be neglected in the process of change.

Many works were devoted to teaching practice and teachers training. Gulnarbakytzhanova created some steps that will help them to learn three languages as part of their preparation to the implementation of trilingual reform. The question of educators’ professionalism (lenerakezlevli), and its connection to teacher-student relationship (akalya77) especially with introverted children (sharapat812) became an important part of students’ discussions. In addition to that, yasawi859 and soothsayer presented innovative approaches of teaching with the use of modern technology such as IPADs and video essays.

In conclusion, I agree with aigerimkazhigalieva who writes about blogs as an effective way to improve language skills and express one’s thoughts. Personally, I enjoyed writing them very much. But I enjoyed reading my groupmates’ works even more. So I want to thank you all for the tremendous work you have done and ask you one question: if we consider all these points raised above, will our educational system become the best example of success in education?

P.S. My answer is that maybe it is too much, I do not know. What I know is that if young researchers choose to put their efforts into the search of the solutions for the better world, they will definitely find them.

The change in the discourse of multilingualism in Kazakhstan in the last decade

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(Photo: Dean C.K. Cox, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64170)

During certain periods of time, the increase of tensions regarding language situation in Kazakhstan is observed. It is connected with the unsuccessful attempt to switch solely to the Kazakh language in the political, economic, and social lives of the citizens of Kazakhstan after a long period of the Russian language dominance in the Soviet time. The discourse analysis is a useful approach to trace the development of ideas and attitudes among the population of Kazakhstan. In this blog, I will analyze the period of 2007 – 2015, almost a decade when one of the largest conflicts about the linguistic issues appeared.

The following two paragraphs are from the interviews with an educational leader and social activist who express different views on the role of Kazakh and Russian in the society as the starting point of the coming tensions.

“Kazakh-language teaching is gradually being introduced into all Russian-language schools, but there are no plans to close Russian-language schools. In the Soviet Union, there was discrimination against Kazakh. Now there is a revival of Kazakh, but Russian is functioning alongside it. There is no discrimination” (Eurasianet July 23, 2007; a quote from Svetlana Chzhao, the official in charge of Karaganda city’s general and secondary education)

“Policy seems to be specially constructed around removing Russian-speakers from state structures. I think for the authorities it is advantageous if [Russian speakers] do not know [Kazakh].” (Eurasianet July 23, 2007; a quote from Ksenia Makhotina, a local activist for the unregistered Alga! Party)

The expert Chzhao emphasized on the “gradual” introduction of the Kazakh language into schools with Russian medium of instruction. This type of introduction was not quite clear explained because in the year 2007 the Kazakh language had already been introduced as a subject in all schools throughout the country. In the case of the Kazakh language, the process of language revitalization (Fishman, 1991) was taking place due to its underdevelopment during the Soviet Period. She considered that this positive trend does not go at the expense of the Russian language. However, according to Makhotina, not the “gradual” development of the Kazakh language but the gradual replacement of Russian speaking people from authority positions is taking place in Kazakhstan. Thus, the concern of spreading language discrimination was expressed by some public figures in 2007.

These concerns were probably justified because several years later the slight tension turned into an attempt to raise a social conflict where some parties demanded the total exclusion of the Russian language from the use in Kazakhstan.

“Serious passions flared up this week in Kazakhstan. The war for the Russian language. It has begun with a letter, addressed to the President, which was signed by over a hundred people. Among those who signed are poets, deputies, and even astronauts. The main requirement is to protect the Kazakh language, and for this purpose to exclude Pushkin’s language from public life. Otherwise, the defenders of the state language ‘are willing to go to extreme measures’, as is stated in their letter” (Mir24 September 11, 2011: a quote from the reporter of the news program)

The use of words is particularly interesting. “Among those who signed are poets, deputies, and even cosmonauts” which means that even people who are not directly connected to language policy or linguistic issues contribute to the debate. Reporters do not illustrate what “extreme measures” activists claim and it means that those who announce it probably do not have anything to threat with but express the seriousness of their intentions. Also, the use of “Pushkin’s language” instead of the Russian language is an extra contrast between the languages of Russians and Kazakhs, Pushkin and Abai and consequently between Russia and Kazakhstan. This emphasizes that the Russian language is appropriate for Russia and in Kazakhstan Abai’s language should be spoken. The assimilationist discourse is mainly negative here because is likely to involve forced shift to the Kazakh language polarizing Russian and Kazakh to each other.

The conflict was resolved without any extreme measures and in 2015 the expert of Central Eurasian studies, professor of Indiana University William Fierman, comments on the linguistic situation in Kazakhstan.

After a short period of unrealistic expectations [after the Independence] of the Kazakh language policy has been and remains moderate. […] In my opinion, citizens should have the right to speak in Kazakh, Russian or any other language they choose. However, the policy was not sufficiently tight to ensure that all citizens who have gone through the Kazakhstani education know the state language.

Under “unrealistic expectations” Fierman implies the period after the gaining the Independence when radically minded public figures intended to exclude the Russian language from the use of the population of Kazakhstan in several years. These ambitious plans failed because the President of the Republic strengthened the status of the Russian language in the Constitution as a language of interethnic communication. This change was made in order to keep harmony and peace between two main ethnic groups: Russians and Kazakhs. Afterward, the language policy was very deliberate and according to some experts too cautious. The main problem in current language policy is its incapacity to turn the Russian-speaking population into learning the Kazakh language and use it on the everyday basis.

As a conclusion, we see that despite the moderate language policy regarding official languages in Kazakhstan, the intention to make the Kazakh language the only language used in all spheres of social and political life still gets public support. The year 2011 was a critical point when dissatisfaction with too lenient measures regarding the Kazakh language development caused a new wave of the controversy of the language’s usage in Kazakhstan. After this significant debate followed the period of relative calm in this question which, however, can be calm before the storm if some political figures decide to provoke a conflict on the basis of language.  That is why policymakers and multilingual leaders should be precise and careful in elaborating language policies in order to sustain mutual understanding in the society as this is a very sensitive topic and can be easily used for some interested parties’ purposes.

 References

De Jong, E. J. (2011). Foundations for multilingualism in education: From principles to practice. Philadelphia, PA: Caslon Publishing.

Experty: voina protiv russkogo yazika raskolet Kazakhstan [Experts: the war against the Russian language will split Kazakhstan]. (2011, September 9). Retrieved from http://mir24.tv/news/society/4251838

Fishman, J. A. (1991). Reversing language Shift: Theory and Practice of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon : Multilingual Matters.

Lillis, J. (2007, July 23). Kazakhstan: Officials Adopt Low-Key Approach on Language Policy. Retrieved from http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav072407.shtml

Uilyam Fierman: yazikovaya politika v Kazakhstane umerennaya [William Fierman: the language policy in Kazakhstan in moderate]. (2015, June 26). Retrieved from https://liter.kz/ru/interview/show/10167-uilyam_fierman_yazykovaya_politika_v_kazahstane_umerennaya_

Little by little to a new mentality

I was inspired by a very sensitive blog post of dilshatkalshabek who presents the story of one girl in a wheelchair who was treated with sympathy, arrogance, pride, and rudeness just being outside alone.  The author writes how important it is to “transform the mindset” of people, to make it more open to diversity and, as a result, to inclusion because nowadays people with disabilities are treated in a thousand different ways but not as normal people. I do agree that we should change something about it and make our society inclusive so that anybody could feel respected and appreciated.

In order to understand someone’s problems, we need to know about them first. In order to stop treating people with special needs with pity, we should know about their real needs and abilities. So I started to think and search for some ideas of how we can “transform” the views of the society.

  1. Admit that with disabilities are capable of amazing things

I have found a website of CARA – the national organization of Ireland which provides physically disabled with opportunities to sport and other activities.  They support many social activities, create materials for coaches, and increase awareness of their work in the community. One fascinating idea is CAMP ABILITIES – the camp for children with visual impairments. The program is developed to empower children and show how much they can; they are not limited to anything!

 

2. Encourage others to care

Another initiative is also from CARA – National Inclusion Awards which honors entrepreneurs and activists contributing to the expansion of people’s with special needs participation in sport and physical activities. It started in 2012 and has already become a “gold standard of outstanding work of organizations and individuals” who create conditions for inclusion in their communities. Such award is great in terms of increasing appreciation of the care and equal access to different activities.

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3. Support with information

However, not all the people with special needs have an opportunity or desire to go in for sports. They just live and face world’s cruelty on the daily basis. And we should admit that many times it is not the cruelty itself, it is just the lack of knowledge of others how to behave ordinarily. On this problem, I have found one very engaging resource http://connectability.ca which is a virtual community with information and different tools for people with disabilities and their families. They post many materials, games, articles for and about communication. Look at the Responding To Disability Quiz which demonstrates with short stories examples how people’s attitude towards disabled individuals varies and why it should not. The quiz is short but very informative. Try it yourself and you will see that next time you meet someone with special needs you will not be concerned about your “pitiful” behavior.

4. Start with ourselves

The most important thing on our way to inclusive society is to be a human. Just kind and careful human. To accept diverse minds, faces, bodies.  And here is an amazing video with some tips how to manage it.

In order to increase awareness of people about real abilities of those with special needs, we should go against our prejudices, encourage people to participate in the creating of activities common for all, and give the enough food for thought on our relationship with each other. The transformation of the mentality is a long process but effective steps taken can shorten the time needed for change. I tried to suggest some practices from other parts of the world but if the readers have anything to share we can create much more and start our own initiatives here, in Kazakhstan.

Deconstruction of the “Universities should ban PowerPoint — It makes students stupid and professors boring”

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Photo credit: https://www.slideshare.net/pmhollinger/brain-rules-for-presenters-3053463

The article by Bent Meier Sorensen, professor of Copenhagen Business School, states the author’s stance right from the title. It attracts attention by the use of strong words such as “ban”, “stupid”, and “boring”. The author wants us to believe that PowerPoint slides presented by the professors at universities do not make students smarter or more thinking, but the opposite. The suggested measure is quite radical – to ban them! However, if we look at the evidence we can find some inconsistency there.

The main problem of the PowerPoint presentations is revealed in the first words of the body paragraph “Overreliance on slides…” claiming that slides sometimes replace home readings and problem-solving situations and create fake literacy of the students.However, we cannot agree with this point because it is an example of an extreme case when the teacher relies only on the slide presentation and does not interact much with the audience. We need a facilitator in the classroom who controls the discussion; and it is the main teacher’s role, not the PowerPoint’s. Consequently, we cannot talk about the harmful influence of slides on students’ performance considering only the classes where professors read aloud the whole lecture from the screen.

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Photo credit: http://inspiringwomen.org.au/oh-no-not-another-boring-presentation/

The argument that universities just follow students preferences regarding this issue is also quite questionable. The author means that if a professor does not give PowerPoint presentations students’ satisfaction decreases sharply. However, from my personal experience as a student, I would say that such factors as course content, regular practice, and brain challenges play a bigger role in my fulfillment with the course than the design of the slides.

According to US researchers Arum and Roksa (2010), one-third of students do not improve their skills during their years in college. More specifically, that is Sorensen’s interpretation. If we look at the book content we see that the findings are slightly different. First, students do not show any significant improvement after their second year, not after the graduation. Second, the main reasons for that are students’ adjusting to social life, work or getting acquainted with the institutional culture which prevents them from developing critical thinking or gaining professional skills. There is not a word about PowerPoint and its stupidity. Stop Chasing Bullet Points

Also, he mentions that the information on slides is oversimplified and presented in bullet points which demotivate students from going deeper in their research and limit them to just simple ideas without any theoretical background behind. In this case, the words of Albert Einstein come to my mind “If you cannot explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough”. The role of the teacher is to lead students through a discipline once they have grasped the core point. Not a complicated lecture trains problem-solving skills, but the meaningful discussion based on the mutual understanding of the information.

Photo credit: http://thecontextofthings.com/2015/06/22/stop-chasing-bullet-points/

Overall, if we ban slides we should replace them with something new. However, the author does not give us any suggestions to that except for the humble “alternative methods [of teaching]”. Moreover, it is not the shortcoming of the program that lectures are boring and not fruitful for students; it is up to the teacher to present the material interactively and raise an interesting discussion in the classroom or spend an hour reading to students. Many professors encourage students in the class and do it with  PowerPoint too. My solution is not to ban electronic presentations but help teachers make them a useful tool for engaging the audience.

Plurilingual or polyglot?

Imagine someone comes to you and asks: “Who is a polyglot?” You probably answer: “Someone who speaks several languages”. Well, good. Proud of yourself you forget this conversation and then another person comes to you and asks: “Who is a plurilingual then?” Hesitating slightly you would repeat “Someone who speaks several languages…”. That is where we seem to have a little problem. If the words mean the same what is the point to use both?

dialogue check list

Photo credit: http://www.yeahwrite.org/?p=2548

First of all, let’s try to draw some parallels between these concepts. Many of the readers of this blog are plurilingual because to some extent they can speak Russian, Kazakh, English, and many other languages. However, not many of us would dare to call themselves polyglots. When I hear the word “polyglot” I recall a number of amazing stories about people who learned five, seven, ten and more languages in a very short period of time. Somebody like Timothy Doner or  Mabou Loiseau. However, thinking about plurilinguals, no exceptional stories come to my mind (apart from my fantastic groupmates). So does it mean that polyglots learn languages faster than plurilinguals? No. Does it mean that they know more languages? No. Does it mean that they are polyglots because it is just a fancy way to call them? It sounds a little fancier, but no.

The main difference between these terms is in the way people acquire the languages. Marta Krzeminska, a language coach on the Languages Around the World portal, writes that polyglot is someone who learns languages deliberately because finds joy in it.  The plurilingual person is competent in several languages too but uses them in different linguistic situations; there is no emphasis on whether the languages were acquired simultaneously in one’s childhood or just added to the repertoire later.

Again, if we refer to Quora, the website where people share knowledge from a variety of fields, linguists, language learners, and linguistic enthusiasts claim that polyglot and plurilingual individual have a different attitude toward language and its learning. Polyglots learn because of their interest, plurilinguals are competent due to some external factors (multilingual society, family languages). Consequently, the word combination “plurilingual polyglot” expresses how I perceive myself. Plurilingual due to the environmental influence and the number of languages spoken; polyglot because I still enjoy learning other languages a lot.

The question is getting clearer if we go into the details but I still think that it is the matter of someone’s own perception whether to be a polyglot or a plurilingual individual. What is important is that we learn languages. The more the better.

 

We are creative, innovative and effective, aren’t we?

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Photo credits: http://xn--80ab2boc1d.kz/home

Educational problems are too exceptional and important to solve them in the usual way; they require innovations and new approaches. The problem: not all children in Kazakhstan can get the preschool education due to various reasons. The solution: in order to cover 100% of children with it by 2020 (MoES, 2016), starting from January 2017, the platform отбасы.kz is organized for parents, whose 1-6-year-old children cannot get a preschool education (Turkestanova, 2016). Отбасы.kz is a web-portal with the most useful information for parents in a format of the online course.

I have done my own analysis of this web-portal as if I were a parent who needed support in raising my child and want to share the results. 

  1. Languages

The first to be explored by a linguist are the language options of the platform. Even though on the main page there are symbols of three languages available, some articles are posted only in Kazakh, some only in Russian. As for English, only the titles of sections can be found in this language. One surprising thing that I have noticed while looking through the “experts – tests” section is a small test to evaluate children’s attentiveness where they should find grammar and semantic mistakes. Instructions are in Russian and the text for reading is in Russian as well. However, if you choose the Kazakh version of the site you will see the instructions in Kazakh with THE SAME text in Russian. I am not sure parents will be able to assess the attentiveness of their Kazakh speaking children with this test… (although English speaking children are even less fortunate; they have to read instructions in Russian).

  1. Structure of the course

“REMOTE COURSES PARENTS” is proudly written on the web page. However, there is no clear structure of topics and articles. There is a division on three age groups of children but the range of materials is too narrow to be called “a course” (mostly random articles from the internet) and none of them is available for downloading and printing. As a result, even if I have found the article of my interest there, I can only read it in the small window of the site and have to search for it every time I switch on my computer.

  1. Professional advice

I was impressed by the “experts-professional advice” section as I expected the contact information of different specialists and organizations where I could get necessary information and support in parenting. However, it turned out to be the second part of the “library” with some articles and PowerPoint presentations of these specialists. The materials were probably written for professional journals because their titles were so filled with terminology that I did not even dare to open one.

  1.  Content

The content itself is either too difficult for a non-professional educator or presented in plain text, with no pictures, keywords or subtitles. I was constantly struggling with myself to close the window and find more engaging, comprehensible and just better-looking source somewhere else on the Internet.

  1. Legal support

The section “Regulatory and legal base” contained some normative documents and educational standards which could be very useful for parents who have some legal issues regarding documentation and children’s registration. However, there is no “search” option. So it is quite complicated to find the necessary file and I personally prefer to use browser search then.

  1. Feedback and interaction

Finally, I decided to try to register and create my own profile, because it was claimed that I could get weekly newsletters from the best specialists in the educational field and contribute with my own comments and suggestions. However, after clicking “sign in”  nothing has happened… I did not even receive a notification letter with warm congratulations on my registration and first professional advice. The most obscure thing is that there is no contact information (e-mail address, telephone number or anything) that I could use to address my questions and suggestions. I suppose there are only two alternatives left: to write to the Ministry of Education directly (which I do not plan to do at this stage) or just to leave my opinion to myself.

In conclusion, I would say that the initiative to provide parents with an informative resource for parents of preschool children is a foresight gesture of the Ministry of Education. However, such factors as an unsightly interface, lack of particular structure of the reading material, major gaps in languages distribution, the total absence of contact information make these “courses” not effective and not engaging for users. Surely, a substantial amount of budget was spent on the creation of this platform but the final product is of low quality and unlikely to attract many readers or help any parent in solving educational dilemmas. Of course, all the shortcomings can and should be improved in order to attract the audience and inspire people to interact. The more people know and share their ideas the more creative and effective this page and courses can become.

References

MoES (Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan). (2016, March 1). State program of education and science development in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2016-2019. Retrieved from http://online.zakon.kz/Document/?doc_id=32372771#pos=0;0

Turkestanova, L. (2016, March 29). Um razvivat’ chem ran’she, tem luchshe [The sooner mind to be developed the better]. Retrieved February 6, 2017 from http://bilimdinews.kz/index.php/kursy-treningi/item/1634-um-razvivat-chem-ranshe-tem-luchshe

 

 

 

To group, or not to group…

Studies at GSE involve performing a substantial number of different activities which vary from course to course. But one thing that you find almost in every course syllabus is a group work. I am not going to write how important it is to develop team working skills or what roles you can take. Today’s blog is about how groups are different in their working style based on my personal experience of being a student at GSE.

After the first semester, I realized that some features of a group performance allow me to classify it into three categories, or styles of work. The first working style I would call “Follow me!” There is a strong leader whose opinion dominates in the team. Other members are either too quiet or too sleepy to contribute. It may probably be an effective way to do the task if the leader is willing to do all the work and others are ok to follow the instructions. But I believe that what you get at the end of such cooperation is a relief that the project is finally done.

Another type of a team work I would call “See you on the due date!”. It means that the minimum time is spent together between the first and last meetings of this team. Members of the group complete arranged parts of the project separately and bring revised (or nor revised, who knows) works  before the deadline to compile a single project. I was a bit shocked when we did so because all the authors’ points were great by themselves but did not work together at all. We tried to give more sense to the flow of ideas and at the end of the day everybody felt so tired that we just submitted the work because we had no will (and no time of course) to make what we thought of a “perfect work”.

I was trying to find a good name for my last experience in a group work but “work + fun = result” probably fits best. I think that is the way the group work is supposed to be built. You meet first and make sure everybody gets some work to do before the next meeting. Next time you revise together what you have so the work is developed smoothly step by step. We enjoyed working together and it was fine to be a little ineffective sometimes and have fun. But no matter what, everybody’s ideas were listened to and discussed. Everybody’s opinion was important. Everybody’s joke mattered.

I believe this working style is the best for one reason: you do not get tired working on your project. You do not feel exhausted like after a long run, you feel inspired. I am so glad I had a chance to get such experience during my studying here. The question is: do you get the same feelings working in groups?