(Note: This post contains lots of speculation and generalizations based on some extremely subjective observations, without any hard data to back it up. I’m not claiming I’m right about any of this! I’d love to get different points of view, so please comment. Thanks!)
I’m on Twitter as talkclouds. Since I’m currently working as a private instructor/editor, it’s been invaluable for staying connected. The e-mail groups that I joined as part of my various professional organizations are mostly dormant, and conferences are infrequent. Twitter lets me ask questions, discuss issues, and (best of all) share resources. In the last couple of days, I’ve found out about an event in San Francisco with the Japanese ambassador, two open-source textbook websites (more on that soon!), a JapaneseEnglish iPhone app, a new Pearson Longman site for teachers, an article on teaching English in Taiwan, where I could watch part of a Pecha Kucha session at the IATEFL conference in the UK live online, etc.
That leads to me my next question, which is — is it just me, or are UK-based teachers more with it when it comes to twenty-first century communication tools like Twitter and Pecha Kucha*? It’s frustrated me for a long time that technology seems more alien to English teachers than to, say, librarians–ALA (American Library Association) conference websites are usually more advanced than TESOL/affiliate conference websites, there are librarians all over Twitter, and so on. Meanwhile, CALL and TELL are basically niches, and even many of their advocates focus mainly on twentieth-century “language lab”-style stuff.
At any rate, I thought it was English teachers as a whole that were behind, but when my Twitter list exploded with #iatefl tags (see above), I realized that might not be the case. (Putting a # in front of a word in a post/”tweet” makes it into a “hashtag,” which makes it a clickable, searchable term collecting all the tweets on that particular topic/at that particular venue/etc.) So many people were tweeting from the conference, whereas TESOL’s conference just a couple of weeks before in Boston hardly even registered on my Twitter radar. One person I chatted with, who was at both TESOL and IATEFL, indicated that not only were there very few “tweechers” (Twittering teachers) at TESOL, but mentions of it were not received with favor or interest.
(Alternatively, is it not a North America/UK divide, but an ESL/EFL divide? If IATEFL is really focused on EFL, as the name indicates, and is not a general UK-based ELT association–I confess I don’t know–then that might be part of the difference. Most of TESOL’s membership is composed of ESL instructors, and many of them teach composition rather than or in addition to communication-oriented English classes. The former generally have less in common with EFL instructors than the latter. I’ve noticed a relative lack of interest in using technology other than basic computer applications among many composition instructors.)
I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should get on Twitter.** It’s not for everyone; lots of people will just find it annoying even after putting in the time needed to get used to it and learn its culture. (After all, I’ve tried Second Life twice and just can’t get into it.) But I think more people need to try it out–after all, teachers also need support and “personal learning networks.” Twitter is great for that. It’s also very casual; there’s not a lot of Twitter etiquette*** to worry about. You can follow (add) and unfollow (remove) people freely, and you don’t need to worry about catching every tweet.
My Twitter stream is like a magic cafe filled with English teachers from all over the world, plus some international journalists, cultural critics, general educators, linguists, and so on, all chatting to each other and to me. No one is making speeches, since it’s not a lecture hall–although someone may hand me a paper to read later. If I pop in, I can catch all kinds of interesting things and share my own thoughts (and due to the magic properties of the cafe, I can rewind a bit too). I have three other accounts–one for my personal life, one for English learners, and one where I post local news and events for my area. I just think the people in these “cafes” would be bored or confused by each other, so I’ve kept them mostly separate. Most people don’t go quite that far, although a lot of people have both professional and personal accounts. Fortunately, many Twitter clients and apps (small programs that just run Twitter) make handling multiple accounts easy.
CATESOL is in a few days, and I would love to propose a tweetup (a meetup organized through Twitter)–however, I’ve only heard from two other people who are going. I wonder if there are enough of us for a tweetup. You would think California would be cutting edge, right? So far that hasn’t really been my experience.
Any theories on what’s up? Am I and the other people I talked to just wrong and just not hooked into the North American ESL twitter community? Anyone want to talk about how it is in other places and disciplines?
* Pecha Kucha is not especially high-tech, nor are unconferences, but you could argue that both are part of the spirit of TED Talks and other tech-communication related innovations, and Pecha Kucha first came to the attention of many outside Japan though Wired magazine.
** I included this digression because I knew some people were going to think “What is the point of Twitter, anyway?” — as I did before I started using it and, to a certain extent, while I only had my personal account and didn’t have my @talkclouds account.
*** Previous link deleted due to a malware report [on the site I linked to, not here] by Google.
It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, so it occurred to me it might be timely to post on this topic, which has surprising intersections with issues of racism and classism. (Language-based discrimination often does.)
An issue that is close to my heart is the status of English teachers who learned English as a second or additional language themselves (often called NNESTs–non-native English-speaking teachers). Throughout the world, most ESL and EFL teachers are in this category. However, that’s not reflected in the textbook industry, the leadership of many ELT organizations, the popular image of English teachers, and so on. Sometimes, they experience subtle or direct discrimination and bias in hiring, promotion, salaries, and assignments, and they may be treated differently from their native English-speaking counterparts by their colleagues and students. This is despite the fact that many of these teachers are among the best suited to teach English. They have generally mastered English themselves, are often fully bi- or multilingual, may have a lot in common with their students, may have far more awareness of English grammar and any potential problems, may be better at explaining features of English explicitly, and so on. Many studies back up NNESTs’ skills in these areas, which often outstrip their native-speaker counterparts, and while students are sometimes initially skeptical, course-end evaluations usually indicate that students picked up on these strengths and appreciated them. Meanwhile, many of their native-speaking colleagues are teaching a second language or are doing teacher training–teaching second language acquisition–without having ever experienced the full acquisition of a second language. I don’t know, it’s like teaching mechanics without ever having repaired anything yourself, or something like that. (Obviously not all or any of these conditions are true all of the time, but this is frequently the situation. I’m one of the latter teachers myself; I am not yet fluent in a second language, and although I’m trying, I don’t know if I ever will be.)
EDIT: This is not even mentioning the common EFL condition in which “native speaker teachers” or “foreign teachers” have no genuine language-teaching training at all and are not professional teachers by career, in which case a well-educated, English-fluent professional local teacher would be far preferable. However, so many students have swallowed the myth of the native speaker’s perfection that few would make the right choice (and few are aware of the many studies backing up the usefulness of the well-educated NNEST even as opposed to an equally-qualified NEST). In an ideal world, I think real team teaching with a pair of true professionals from both the L1 and L2 backgrounds would be the perfect EFL learning condition, but many nations are short on both the former and the latter–native speakers are often hired willy-nilly with little regard for competency, and local teachers are not often given the chance to study international teaching methods, etc.
At any rate, I learned so much from the many international graduate students and bilingual-bicultural Americans in my certificate and MATESOL programs at CSU East Bay, and I also really enjoyed getting to know them. They’re great people, and it’s not right that the happenstance of my birthplace and schooling and accent mean that some schools will value me more than them. I think it is essential for all English-language teachers to pay attention to “NNEST issues,” whether you are a non-native speaker of English yourself or are a native speaker of English who may accidentally benefit from a system that is often unfair and ignorant of context.
Anyway, the WATESOL (a Washington, D. C. Area TESOL group) NNEST Caucus has published their Annual Review. It includes multiple papers that you can read online using Google Docs or download. Titles include “All Teachers are Equal, but Some Teachers are More Equal than Others: Trend Analysis of Job Advertisements in English Language Teaching” by Ali Fuad Selvi, “Students’ Appraisal of Their Native and Non-native English-speaking Teachers” by Caroline Lipovsky & Ahmar Mahboob, “Teaching as a Native (Chinese) Speaker and a Non-native (English) Speaker: Different Identities, Similar Needs” by Huijin Yan, “‘She Immediately Understood What I Was Trying to Say’: Student Perceptions of NNESTs as Writing Tutors” by Sunyoung Park & Sarah Shin, and more–there’s even a piece on accents by George Braine, one of the most famous writers on the topic of NNESTs.*
The papers are freely available, well written, and interesting. I recommend reading them whether you are a native speaker of English or another language (or English and another language or two). I think doing so can help us improve how we treat each other, how we respect the importance of each other’s languages, and and how we teach.
*I don’t really like the “NNEST” terminology, and I’m resisting putting in a NNEST tag, because it seems weird to me to create an “other” category–particularly when teachers who are not native speakers of English are the default and not the exception. Yet virtually no one seems to actually use the counterpart term “NEST.” If I revisit the topic, which I expect to, I’ll probably have to resolve this to make the posts easier to find. (Never mind that “native speaker” itself is actually rather hard to define and more than a bit problematic.)
On the eighth day, we’re taking a moment to focus on a service that’s mostly of use only to folks working in the US, although there are some ways in which it could be useful to people with a lot of American friends and family. If that isn’t you at all, well, happy new year and see you tomorrow–I’ll do better then!
At any rate, a lot of people have heard of Google Voice, but quite a few people are still asking “What is it good for?” Well, a lot of things…
Google will provide you with a phone number (I picked one with a local area code, which may not be possible for everyone, and messed around with the available numbers till I found a combination that was easy to remember). It’s a kind of virtual phone line that forwards instantly to whatever real phone numbers you specify, such as your home, work, and cell numbers. You can control the forwarding by who’s calling and when: individual calling number, groups of calling numbers, time of day, etc.
If you’re a “freeway flyer” whose students need to get in touch with you, but you don’t necessarily want to give out your home or personal cell phone, this is a fantastic service. Give the Google Voice number to your students, and you can control when and where they can contact you. For example, you could set it up so they can reach you at your XYZ College office during your office hours there, your ABC College office during your office hours there, and then have it on “mute” (voice mail) the rest of the time–except during a special project when you unmute it at home until 9 PM, when you have it automatically mute itself. If they can’t get through, they’ll leave a voice mail, which will arrive in your e-mail as a sound file. (Google will also attempt to transcribe it, which works OK some of the time, but isn’t very good with any kind of regional or international accent or cell-phone sound quality problems.)
You can also receive text messages and reply to them for free (SMS), either having them sent to your phone or sent to your e-mail address (or leaving them to not be shown unless you log into Google Voice). If you reply by e-mail from your computer, it’ll be sent as a text message at no charge to you. My husband has some students who don’t really have access to e-mail at home, and being able to communicate them by text messages without actually texting is really useful, since he wants to be able to help them out but he doesn’t want to have to try to type on his phone. (International SMS is not currently supported.)
There are a lot of other features like being able to customize the greeting by caller (this could be useful for other TESOL professionals who are working for themselves, or if you want to customize messages by class, etc.), being able to record calls by pressing a button, very cheap international calls, and so on. The ability to have phone calls follow you could also be useful if you’re looking for a full-time job, etc. It’s really just one of those services where the more you use it, the more useful it becomes. Lifehacker did a pretty good job with their article “Google Voice is Cool, But Do You Need It?” I think it’s a good roundup of the pros and cons, although I haven’t noticed any delay to speak of and I benefit from it despite rarely using it with my cell phone.
However, there are a couple of big catches:
1) It’s US-only. US phone numbers only, US texting only, and access to a US phone number is required for setup. After you get the invitation (see below), there needs to be someone who can answer an automated phone call at a US number you enter during the setup process and enter a two-digit code from the e-mail. In theory, if you wanted to use the voice mail and texting services to get messages from US-based friends and family while you were outside of the US, you could, but you’d need to coordinate that initial setup. It could be handy to set up if you’re returning from working overseas and don’t have a living or working situation pinned down yet, though!
2) Invitations are still even harder to get for Google Voice than for Google Wave. You can sign up to go on the waiting list here, but it may be a long time before you get the invitation. However, my husband has kindly agreed to donate two Google Voice invitations! It’s the same system as the Google Wave invitations–if you are an English/ESL/EFL or other second/foreign language educator or educator-in-training who would like a Google Voice invitation, please go to the Contact Me form and tell me what kind of school/other teaching situation you work in and what level you teach at (or where you’re studying and for what degree). Make sure to give me your Gmail address or another e-mail address to which you’d like the invitation sent. (Do not comment here to get the invitation–you don’t want your e-mail address posted for the whole internet to see!) You must be a language educator to get an invitation.
I do apologize for the US-centric nature of this post, and I’ll try not to do it too often! That said, it’s been very useful for my business and for my husband’s teaching.
Very serious here on the sixth day, after photo fun yesterday! Is one of your New Year’s resolutions going to involve professional development? Read on for free self-guided online courses you can do from the comfort of your own computer! I’ll mostly focus on a set of courses for adult educators, but there are more at the end, including for K-12.
ProfessionalStudiesAE.org is a “portal for online professional development” with lots of courses aimed at adult education. They also offer sessions that require registration fees, but many of the listed courses have no charge at all. Here are some of the free, self-paced mini-classes you can take:
Adult Multiple Intelligences Theory and Adult Multiple Intelligences in Practice (two different classes)
Ideas for Teaching Reading
Using Authentic Curriculum and Materials
Activity-based Instruction: Why and How
Overcoming Poverty Through Action-based Literacy
Health Literacy: New Field, New Opportunities
Creating a Volunteer Program in the ABE/ESL Classroom
The mini-courses mostly consist of guided readings and reflections, but they may be useful if you’ve changed which level you teach, started teaching before you had a chance to do formal study, want a refresher, have a new topic you want to learn about, etc.
A friend let me know about a project at his university which is geared toward helping teachers prepare for the PRAXIS II K-12 certification test. Visit http://blackboard.fhsu.edu/ and enter the username esol and password FHSUESOL123 — click on ESL Workshop on the top right to get started.
TESOL, the major international organization, has recently started offering free online workshops (usually to members only), but they’ll be having a session on trends in the profession sometime in February 2010, which will be open to members and nonmembers. Details to be posted here, presumably. TESOL also sponsors the Electronic Village Online Sessions, which are associated with the annual international conference but for which you don’t have to be a TESOL member or registered for the conference. Registration will start January 4, and sessions include “Bringing Language Alive through Process Drama,” “Online Games for ESL/EFL” (I’m thinking about signing up for that!), “Internet 4 Young Learners,” and more.
Finally, Benjamin over at Collaborative Understandings will be hosting a workshop on using Moodle, the course management (and then some) system. Read all about it here and sign up right away–it’s free and it starts on January 4th. Via Collaborative Understandings, I also discovered Integrating Technology, which offers free courses on “how to integrate technology for active learning via blended and blended online learning.” They also seem to have a lot of courses available, but I haven’t explored them because (free) registration is required.
I’m sure there are lots more out there. If I missed a great professional development resource, let me know and I’ll highlight it here (if it’s time-sensitive) or write about it in a future post!
If you’re in the USA, you’ve probably heard about the various disasters befalling the California college and university systems. In light of that, it’s particularly nice to hear about more support for the community college system coming from the White House. Previously, I wrote that Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, is a community college English teacher. Recently, she spoke about the importance of community colleges in her keynote address at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2009 World Conference on Higher Education in Paris (read more at the White House blog). Even better, however, is the just-announced American Graduation Initiative. It’s supposed to lead to more funding and additional community college graduates. I hope this leads to real action and genuine support, not just verbal support. Here’s where you can get more information:
“A new national goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world”
“An additional 5 million community college degrees and certificates by 2020″
“A new research center with a mission to develop and implement new measures of community colleges’ success so prospective students and businesses could get a clear sense of how effective schools are in helping students — including the most disadvantaged — learn, graduate, and secure good jobs”
“Create a New Online Skills Laboratory … The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department’s distributed learning network, explore ways to award academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours, and rigorously evaluate the results”
Various financial reforms including expanding Pell grants, reforming student loan programs, simplifying the FAFSA, expanding the Perkins loan program, improving 529 savings plans, etc.
Much more–go read it, and let me know what you think, community college instructors and administrators!
Bee gathering pollen from a California poppy (by me)
My husband is a math teacher, and I like to think he’s learned some things from talking to me about topics like intensive reading–he’s actually started a kind of reading database/blog for his community college students, because he’s come to the conclusion that improving their reading skills through pleasure reading would make doing both real-world math and school math easier for them. (Real-world math–things like a newspaper story on chances of the Iranian election shaving been rigged, or figuring out the best terms for a loan, or trying to understand the instructions for adjusting an injection, which I had to do last week–is all about reading information and figuring out what’s relevant, after all.) I’ve also had some interesting conversations with him about cross-cultural math (something that TESOL sometimes reports on), and his unusually enlightened college even had an English-Math interdisciplinary committee. My husband was so interested in seeing what he could get out of this kind of “cross-pollination” that he’s attended a couple of CATESOL and writing center conferences. So if you get the chance to peek into some other teaching field’s conferences, journals, or pedagogical conversations (literal or metaphorical), I really recommend it. Who knows what you might find out or be able to contribute? Chances are many of them are dying for a chance to talk to an ESL expert, as well!
I like to read the blogs at ScienceBlogs.com, and one recent post that reminded me of this cross-pollination principle is this “Interview with Stacy Baker.” She is a high school biology teacher and biologist who says, in the interview,
At the risk of upsetting the traditionalists, I believe there is total lunacy in allowing a person to teach science who has never actually practiced science. You can’t learn science by reading textbooks or taking educational methodology classes. Every science teacher needs to have the experience of participating in original research and they need to routinely refresh their skills.
Wow. You know, I’ve often said that I think nearly every aspect of our K-16 educational system in the US is broken, but this is an aspect I hadn’t though of before. I think she’s right! (Just as I think TESOL professionals who are native English speakers and not already multilingual really must seriously attempt to learn a second language, preferably a non-Western-European language.) But, of course, as she points out immediately, under our current system it’s pretty impractical, and with current budgets it veers into quixotic even if you think about special grants to give teachers this experience. In the long run, though, I wonder if we couldn’t remove a lot of the disconnect that I always perceived as a kid by somehow heading in this direction. What do you think? I had a couple of good science teachers, but on the whole it seems like it’d be better to have scientist-teachers, practitioner-teachers. It’s really weird to have non-practitioners teaching so many subjects…
Since I first started to learn about pedagogy as a discipline, it quickly became my firm belief that university professors in the United States are in dire need of it. Very few professors have any pedagogical training at all, either general or specific, and for a lot of them it shows. Some had a single class as a grad student, but that is totally insufficient for a career that is supposed to consist of teaching as well as writing and research–I realize some “R1″ and other professors seem to resent the teaching aspect of their jobs, but who knows, maybe they’d resent it less if they had some idea of how to go about it. (Of course, a few are natural teachers–at least, for the natural learners in the class. Remember, if you’re a naturally academically inclined person, you can’t easily comment on whether someone is an effective teacher for those who really need it. This lesson took me a LONG time to learn during my MATESOL program, but I got it eventually! So I suspect that even many of the people I thought of as great teachers could have done with some pedagogical training.) K-12 teachers are far more likely to have pedagogical training, but 1) they often don’t have age- or subject-specific pedagogical training for all of the subjects and ages they’re teaching; 2) they’re often teaching a subject for which they don’t have subject-specific academic training; and 3) they are often teaching a subject in which they don’t have practical or research experience, as Stacy Baker mentions above. (Please forgive me for the general statements. I know it varies wildly by state and I fully admit that I haven’t taught K-12 in the US and don’t want to because it’s so challenging!)
Anyway, as you can see, despite originating in a science-teaching blog post, that got me thinking about all kinds of things. Have you learned anything from reading about teachers or teaching in other disciplines? Leave a comment and tell everyone about it!
I confess that during the election, I didn’t read anything about the Democratic vice-presidential candidate’s spouse. However, I would have been happy if I had, because Vice President Joe Biden’s wife, Dr. Jill Biden, is an ESL teacher! She seems to be serious about her job, too: she has two master’s degrees (English and education) and a PhD in educational leadership (with a dissertation on community college student retention, 2007). In fact, this Washington Post article reports that she has just accepted an adjunct position teaching ESL and developmental English at Northern Virginia Community College. Of course, I don’t know if she has any real training in TESOL (many English teachers don’t, but teach ESL courses anyway). Still, just the fact that she’s hoping to be an advocate for community colleges is a good thing for ESL teachers, many of whom work in community colleges. While the Bidens won’t actually be living in the White House, Dr. Biden should at least be able to communicate with President Obama through Vice President Biden.
Of course, it’s not as though having Laura Bush (a librarian and former teacher) in the White House did anything for the cause of literacy or education in the United States, so there’s no guarantee of anything. Still, I’m choosing to be hopeful at this point.
Like most US Americans, I’ve always had opinions about the citizenship process without really knowing the details. It’s complicated stuff! Now that I have clients who are curious about the process, I’m trying to become better informed–and really, I should have done this ages ago.
Now, if you make it to the final level, you have a test to pass. There’s a new citizenship/naturalization test as of October 1, 2008, which looks to be more complex than the old ones. CNN reported on it and included a quiz with 5 old-style and 5 new-style questions. (Of course, this test is easier than the real thing, which is oral and not multiple-choice.)
There’s also an English reading and writing test, which isn’t described in detail on the above page. From the PDF linked for the rubric, I guess it’s something like this:
For reading, you’re given three written sentences. You have to choose one sentence (your choice, I think) and read it out loud. Accent doesn’t matter. Some pauses are OK, but they shouldn’t be long pauses. Content words should all be included, but it’s OK if a few short words are missed without affecting meaning. Pronunciation or intonation mistakes are OK if they don’t affect meaning or comprehensibility. My friends who took this a few years ago say the sentences were fairly simple.
For writing: The tester reads a sentence out loud and you have to write it down. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation mistakes are OK unless they interfere with meaning. The written sentence needs to be about the same as the spoken sentence, but a few missed words are OK if they don’t interfere with meaning.
At least, that’s how I understand it. Since this test is new (other than the English portion), there’s not a lot of first-hand information online. If you have corrections or if you’ve read a personal account online of the current test–October 2008 onward–, please let me know.
(I apologize again for the erratic nature of my posts–medical issues continue to come up with my friends, family, and me, so there’s been a lot going on.)
Ruben Navarrette, Jr., is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune; today I read one of his columns printed in the San Jose Mercury News. It’s an excellent column addressing the ridiculous “controversy” over two Vietnamese-American valedictorians in Louisiana who included snippets of Vietnamese in their speeches thanking their parents. Their speeches were almost entirely in English, mind you; they just included a single line or so each in Vietnamese. School officials hit the ceiling, apparently, and are considering banning anything other than English in future speeches. (If this school has a Latin motto, like many schools do, then this consideration becomes even more hilariously wrongheaded, on top of already being racist and xenophobic.) As far as I’m concerned, the two young women demonstrated their commendable virtues of intelligence, multilingualism, good judgment, and respect for their parents.
Anyway, Navarrette’s column does an excellent job of responding to the controversy. He quotes a Louisiana school official who said “I don’t like them addressing in [a] foreign language,” and responds eloquently and forcefully:
Here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like it when busybody officials think that because they don’t like something, they have to outlaw it. I don’t like that language has become a proxy for the immigration debate and the anxiety that some people feel over a changing cultural landscape.
I don’t like it that some American teenagers barely speak proper English, much less a foreign language, and that they will eventually be outmatched in the global job market if they come up against someone from Europe, Asia or Latin America who speaks two or three languages. I don’t like it that some of these same American kids resent the very notion of competition, and that English-only policies enable them by making everyone the same so that no one has a leg up because he knows more than one language.
Well, I think Navarrette may be engaging in some misplaced value judgments of his own in the last paragraph quoted–I presume he’s referring to the slang and “txt” speak of teenagers, or something along those lines. Many teens are fully capable of expressing themselves in more than one mode, so they shouldn’t be scolded for that. Other teens have been raised in text-poor environments with drastically underfunded schools and few opportunities to cultivate a love of reading and self-expression. Adult voters and politicians are to blame for that. If, however, he is referring to those teens who have plenty of opportunities but simply ignore them, then I can agree with him. And I definitely feel that English-only policies reflect a stunning belittling and devaluing of the notions of communication, cosmopolitanism, and genuine literacy, as well as a peculiar kind of entitlement-based blindness about the rest of the world and the future.
Despite my nitpick above, I was moved by Navarrette’s column and I feel that it’s worth reading and sharing. You can read the rest of the piece, “Afraid of Anything but English?”, at the newspaper’s website.