Sunday, October 16, 2011

The drudgery of teaching

I love teaching. I love it so much that I often do it for free. I'm happy to spend hours planning lessons, and I feel energized at the end of a class. But I'm definitely in the minority, especially among teachers of English here in China.

I don't really understand the dissatisfaction. Is it the low salary that teachers get? Is it the shock of living in an unfamiliar culture? Is it the loneliness of being away from friends and family? Or could it be that many English teachers abroad are not really teachers at heart?

Teaching English overseas is seen by many as a time filler, a layover on the way to some other more prestigious career. As a result, morale is low, turnover is high, and institutions are reluctant to invest in professional development since the teachers will be gone in a year anyway.

I recently came across this post addressing the issue of disgrunt among EFL teachers, in which the author suggests improving an otherwise horrible day at work by going to ESL/EFL conferences and reading up on the industry - essentially by engaging in professional development.

Perhaps teachers feel unprepared to do a job they thought would be easy-peasy. Perhaps if these overseas institutions stepped in at the beginning and invested more time and energy in professional development for teachers, they would understand their jobs better and thus be more likely to enjoy it, and maybe even stay a bit longer.

Are there any other ESL/EFL teachers out there? Is the attitude the same among English teachers the world over?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

NYT: Inflating the software report card

In this article from the New York Times, the author writes:

And Intel, in a Web document urging schools to buy computers for every student, acknowledges that “there are no longitudinal, randomized trials linking eLearning to positive learning outcomes.” Yet it nonetheless argues that research shows that technology can lead to more engaged and economically successful students, happier teachers and more involved parents. 

Of course there are no longitudinal studies on e-learning. Longitudinal studies are done over time, and since e-learning is a relatively new field, the data over time is not in yet. But that doesn't disprove technology's effect on learning.

However, it is important to evaluate e-learning platforms for their potential effectiveness, rather than adopting e-learning tools willy nilly. I jury is still out on the most effective way to present learning online, but I'm excited to be a part of the discovery.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sharing learning

Todd posted about a cyber salon he attended in Phoenix last month (my home town!), and how he appreciated the chance to share ideas with other teaching professionals. He questioned whether it should be considered professional development, since no one was getting paid to be there.

I work for an English language training company in Shanghai, China. Every Friday the content editors (or curriculum developers, if you will) meet for an informal talk on something related to language learning. There is a different presenter each week, and they can choose whatever topic they want. The talks are not mandatory, but they have become quite popular.

One of the appeals of the talks is being able to break away from the week's routine for an hour to talk about subjects we're passionate about, regardless of whether they're related to our current projects. And I do see passion in the participants. We want to be there discussing language acquisition, and often stay over to delve even further into a topic. Isn't that what it's all about?

I'd say that, if you're passionate about what you do, then even the fun stuff - especially the fun stuff - can be called professional development.

Matt Damon supports teachers
And again behind the scenes

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. -Steve Jobs

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

On writing

In a post from Week 2, Mark Thornhill writes:

I authored a blog a few years ago and I feverishly kept it up thinking that I was doing the universe a service by keeping everyone informed of my whimsy and then it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, nobody was paying attention . . So that blog experience kind of died.

In response, Lisa said:

I decided that I was blogging for me.

I totally agree. If we write so that others will read it, we are writing for the wrong audience. But if you have something to say, why not say it, regardless if anyone's listening. Who knows, you might be writing to your future self.

A great website to help get the words flowing:

(Apologies, Mark, for not posting directly on your blog. Edublogs is blocked in China.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Silent students: The fear of being monitored

I apologize for not including links to previous blog posts on this topic. I forgot who sent me on this tangent. Feel free to add links in the comments.

Perhaps some students are quiet in class not because they don't have anything to say, but because they think what they have to say won't be seen by the teacher as the "right" answer. Even outside of the classroom, we often quell our comments for fear of being "wrong".

Maybe we could change that. Maybe we could make it perfectly clear that discussion sessions are not about right and wrong answers, but about exploring topics, fleshing out ideas, making mistakes. Mistakes are so important to the learning process, and if students were given the opportunity to make mistakes without it reflecting in their grade, perhaps they'd say more.

Facebook groups are one way to help overcome the reluctance to speak in class. Any other ideas?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Student as teacher

All this talk about the flipped classroom has gotten me thinking - not only can we relegate lectures as homework and use the classroom for practice work, we might also be able to flip roles with our students. Make the students into teachers. I touched on this in an earlier post, but thought I'd flesh it out a little more here.

I know from personal experience that the best way (for me) to learn something is to teach it. That's how I learned to speak Spanish, and that's how I'm improving my Chinese. Having to explain concepts to others in a way that they can understand them helps to make those concepts more concreate in one's own mind. Therefore, if students were made to take more of a teaching role, they might be more successful. Learn by doing.

That's not to say that students should be left to their own devices. Teachers definitely still have a place in the doing = knowing model. (Perhaps that's my own self preservation screaming forth!) But instead of being recepticles of information from which students scoop out what will be on the test, teachers can step away from the forefront and become guides in the autonomous learning process.

I keep envisioning a baby taking their first steps - a parent hovering but not helping.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dave Ragett's HTML: A shortcut

For those of us who are not proficient in HTML, it really looks like a big mess. How in the world can we learn all this code? But on further inspection, it's really not that hard. In fact, you don't need to know any HTML code at all to be able to write HTML.

If you see something on a web page that you like and want to include it on your own page, just look at the source code. To do this, all you really need to know is Dave's trick: click on the “View” menu, then on “Source”. There are enough words in plain English on the source page to guide you to the code you're looking for.

Let's take Dave's site for an example.

Suppose you like the way Dave made his photo a link to his home page. Open up the source file and take a look at the code. HTML code starts at the top left corner of the page and continues left to right, top to bottom, so you can safely assume that the code for Dave's photo will be close to the top of the HTML document.

As you scroll through the HTML, you will notice phrases that you can see on the actual web page (highlighted here in red).

<body bgcolor="white" text="black" background="book.jpg">
<p class="navbar"><a href=""><img alt="W3C" width="72"
height="48" border="0" src=""></a><br>
<a href="Advanced.html">Advanced HTML</a> | <a href="Style.html">Adding a
touch of style
<h1><a href=""><img src="dsr.jpg"
alt="Dave Raggett" align="middle" border="0"></a>
&nbsp;&nbsp;Getting started with HTML</h1>
<p><em><a href="">Dave Raggett</a>,
revised 24 May 2005.</em></p>

Now you know you're in the right section of the code. We can narrow it down even further, since we know that the image is between "Adding a touch of style" and "Getting started with HTML".

We need to know that the start of a command is written like this: <a>, and the end of the command is written like this: </a>. The actual text might differ, but the brackets will look the same. Look for that part of the code that surrounds the command involving a photo - probably a .jpg file.

<a href=""><img src="dsr.jpg"
alt="Dave Raggett" align="middle" border="0"></a>

Now, just copy this part of the code. Replace Dave's web address, image file name, and image title with your own. Drop it into your HTML document or blog, and save. Then you can forget about HTML until the next time.