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On Blogging

First of all, I would like to thank Sirja and Zenya for their inspiring posts on blogging. After reading them I couldn’t but take up the challenge, too. In fact, I wanted to write about blogging a long while ago but kept on postponing for the reasons I’m going to discuss in this post. But now with renewed energy and motivation and all doubts set aside, here I am with the story of my blogging.

I should admit, and you can actually see it from the number of the posts on my blog, that I don’t write much. So you may ask me, Why I blog? What blogging means to me? Why I keep writing every time and then? And what stops me from writing more?

I started my blog about two years ago and, at first, I thought it was just cool to have a blog of my own. But once I started writing I immediately realized that a blog is a great opportunity to make my voice heard. Through my blog, I can share my teaching experience with other teachers and I can tell them what actually I’m doing and what is happening in my classroom.

But in a while, when the first euphoria dispersed, I started writing less and less, and, finally, I found myself in the grip of doubts. I was plagued with questions like these:

1. Who do I write my posts for?
2. Aren’t my posts just nothing but stating the obvious?
3. Where can I take the material that would be informative, useful and fresh for my readers?
4. Isn’t blogging just self-admiration and boasting?
5. Why does it feel so embarrassing to tell others about my new blog post? Isn’t it some sort of self-advertising?
6. Why are there so few people who like or comment on my blog posts?
7. Am I doing it wrong? If yes, what should I change? The content? The style?
8. Why do I actually feel reluctant about writing a new blog post? Why does it feel so overwhelming and frustrating?

To blog or not to blog?Well, I still don’t have answers to most of these questions, but recently I found out what was actually blocking me from writing. I started noticing that nagging feeling I got whenever I thought of writing a new blog post. The task seemed to me arduous and offputting. It was clear: it wasn’t the lack of ideas that was stopping me. (In fact, I’ve got a bag fully packed with notes with ideas for blogposts.) It was something else that averted me from writing.

After some reflection, I came to realize that it was the amount of time and energy I spent on writing a single post. Indeed, it took me no less then five hours to complete a post, and it always felt as if I was laboriously cutting it in stone like a sculptor chipping off bits of granite. Not surprising, that the whole task looked monstrous, and the sheer thought of it drained all energy and motivation out of me.

So I decided I needed to do something with the way I write posts. I needed to optimize the process. I usually write posts this way: I think the ideas through, I write and rewrite a draft on paper and then I type it on computer and copy it onto the blog. I like writing down my ideas on paper. This old-fashioned way stimulates my creativity and thinking abilities best of all. A blank page inspires me to reflect and create while I feel totally blank in front of a blank computer screen. (Talk of different types of blank! 🙂 ) So this part of writing is no problem to me. But it all changes when it comes to typing the draft on the computer. What a tediuos, mind-numbing and time-consuming task it is! And this is the real huge granite stumbling block on my way to writing more! Gosh! How much I hate it!

Eureka!

So it became clear to me: I needed to do something about typing drafts on the computer. And all of the sudden, the solution came to me like a flash of lightning!

Speech-to-text apps!!!

I can just dictate my drafts to the computer instead of painstakingly typing them! And then copy-paste the text onto my blog, proof-read it, edit it and – voilà! – the post is ready! 🙂

So this is exactly what I did when I was writing the previous blog post! It was all fun reading my text aloud and practicing English pronunciation on the way.

I used the Dragon Dictation app for iPhone. I dictated bits of text to it, edited them in the app and then copy-pasted them into Google Doc app where I did proof-reading and some additional editing. After that, I copy-pasted the ready-made draft into the WordPress app and hit the publish button! So simple and easy!

However, I have to admit that the WordPress app isn’t very convenient for editing texts. So it’s still better to insert media and edit the layout of the post on the webpage.

But nevertheless, the process of actual writing of a blog post has become much easier and more pleasant to me. So I hope that this optimization will result in more post on my blog this year!

And look, January hasn’t finished yet, and I’ve already got two posts on my blog which amounts to two thirds of last year’s total number of posts. That’s an achievement for me! Whooohooo!!! 🙂

To blog! - That is the answer.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in ELT Reflections

 

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No response

How much time does it take you to feel and know the atmosphere in a new group of students? Surely, we feel atmosphere straight in the first lesson but the real knowing comes a little later, maybe, in a couple of lessons or so.

During this time the students and the teacher are testing the waters, they get to know each other better and develop a suitable communication style. Needless to say, a teacher’s personality greatly influences the atmosphere in the classroom. However, the atmosphere largely depends on the students and their relationships within the group. So, it’s not surprising, that with some groups we, teachers, feel more comfortable than with the others. So to say, you unmistakenly know when you on the same wavelength with your students, and your communication is going smoothly.

It is always enjoyable and energising to work in such an atmosphere. However, we don’t always have groups like this. Very often, we have to invest time and energy into bridging up a communication gap with our students.

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I haven’t had any communication glitches with my students for a long while. Even so, I can’t even remember any case when I had any miscommunication with groups of students. Of course, there have always been some troublemakers, but these were certain individuals not the whole groups of students.

But last semester I came across a surprising and seemingly new to me situation. It wasn’t the lack of feedback as such. My students did respond to my questions and tasks but only if I asked them directly and personally.

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The problem was that my students lacked the willingness or at least readiness to respond and participate. Whenever I ask them a question to reflect and to express their ideas on, or any other simple or challenging question, all I saw was downcast eyes, dull facial expressions and dead silence. With their body language the students cried out to me, “Not me! Not me! Don’t ask me!”

It once culminated in one of my students asking me back, “Do you want us to answer your question?”

At first I was puzzled, I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to elicit responses from my students. But one day, when I asked them just another simple question I looked up at them just to see them all ill at ease, perched at their desks like small little sparrows on a rainy day. I couldn’t help laughing at the their look! Then I explained to them why I was laughing. I told them that I could understand what was happening and described what they looked like at that moment. I assured them that I wasn’t asking questions for form’s sake and that I was truly interested in their ideas. They looked up at me, smiled and relaxed a bit. I think this was the moment when the ice broke.

I can’t say that the students became exceptionally cooperative and willing to participate in the lesson, but I can admit there was much more response from them since then.

Who or What to blame?

When I was reflecting on the causes of the situation I had a suspicion that my students didn’t like me or felt very indifferent towards me as a personality. If this was the case, there was very little I could do to change the situation and make them like me (or could I?).

But later in the semester I had a chance to clearly see that my personality or my teaching style was not the real cause of the problem.

Once a student of mine was making a presentation in front of the rest of the class. He started his presentation with a question just to see how much his listeners knew about his topic and also to grasp the attention. To his frustration he didn’t receive any answer: everybody just lowered their heads and cast their eyes down. The speaker’s frustration lasted for a couple of seconds while he was waiting for a response. Not having received any, he addressed to his fellow student by his name who confusedly mumbled something in response. Finally, on getting at least some feedback, the speaker hastily went on with his presentation never asking his audience any questions again.

This incident was enough for me to understand that I wasn’t the reason why my students refrained from cooperation as they reacted to their fellow student’s question just in the same way as they reacted to mine. Clearly, there were some other reasons for the lack of response from students.

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So, Who or What is to blame, then?

A brief note: Here I am going to speak exclusively about Russian educational situation as I have no experience of any formal schooling outside Russia. However, you might find some similarities with what you have to deal with in your countries.

So once I realised that the lack of response was due to some reasons not related to my personality I tried to figure out what the real causes were.

And here is what I thought.

I believe students didn’t respond because …

1. they didn’t have anything to say. This could be blamed on the teacher who asked too complicated or irrelevant questions. But I’m sure this wasn’t the main reason as I was asking students questions of various complexity while the lack of response was almost the same in all the cases.

2. students are intimidated to speak out. This, I believe, is the main reason in my situation. My students came from the same schooling system as me, so I can easily put myself into their shoes. I know from my sometimes bitter personal experience that learners’ initiative is not welcome at schools and, even more so, is sometimes punished.

3. also, students grow to be afraid to express an opinion of their own or to give any answer it at all because they are afraid of making a mistake. And mistake is considered something shameful and unacceptable especially if it is made in public.

In this connection, I have to say that a widespread tradition to immediately give a mark to a student for whatever they say in the lesson is counter-productive and even harmful. This way learners are inhibited to think freely and imaginatively, they fear to be immediately labelled wrong and punished with a bad mark.

So, to avoid the nasty feeling of being publicly humiliated, students learn the worst lesson they can be possibly taught at school: it is better sit still and keep a low profile.

Not surprising, that we are very often baffled and alarmed at how passive, indifferent and inert our fellow citizens are. Sorry, but we all have been through school with the its carrots-and-sticks (mostly sticks, though) system.

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What to do?

Below is what I think is essential to do if we really want to see more open-minded, confident and proactive people around. Of course, the list is not exhaustive and any other ideas are most welcome!

1. Friendly and welcoming atmosphere in the class where students feel comfortable and know that they matter and their voice is heard and appreciated. I am sure you don’t knew to be convinced of this: this prerequisite is self evident and fundamental to all the other measures. However, not every teacher shares this view. I remember two of my schoolteachers – the Russian language teacher and the teacher of English – who could serve as the blatant example of how teaching should not be done. They both were exceptionally stringent and unfriendly, reserved and distant, prescriptive and gloomy. The sheer thought of their lessons made me sick. Needless to say, these teachers’ lessons were all painand a complete waste of time for me: I wasn’t learning anything there except for the fear.

2. Lots of the whole class mingling and pair or small-group interactive activities that can take stress and tension away. They are also the salvation for timid and vulnerable students who are scared to be the centre of attention and speak in public.

3. Problem-solving, inventive and imaginative activities and tasks which would foster imagination, critical and creative thinking.

4. Individual and team work through which students can learn to cooperate and work together towards a common goal, share responsibility and try out various roles within a social group. Also, individual work is necessary for learners to elaborate their own opinion and style and be ready to stand up for their own viewpoint.

5. A larger set of various assessment techniques should be put into practice too. This will help to avoid the too straightforward and imperative assessment which learners fear so much. Click on the following link to find a rich collection of alternative assessment techniques you can try and use in your classroom.

I believe the alternative way of assessment and activities like the above could be incorporated in lessons on any subject: from chemistry and maths to languages and history.

All these measures may help teachers to create a comfortable and stimulating environment for learners’ creativity and initiative to flourish. This might not work every time and with every student, but this will surely help students to relax, open up and respond. So I hope that we will see much more raised hands and wideopen eyes looking straight into our eyes.

For further reading I recommend Luba Vangelova’s article which goes in line with my blog post and develops some ideas expressed here.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2015 in ELT Reflections

 

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The Right for a Mistake

Even after almost nine years of teaching, I still feel somewhat frustrated when something goes wrong in the lesson.

I strongly believe that a good lesson should be informative, dynamic, engaging and very well-paced.

Unfortunately, not all of my lessons live up to my idea of a good lesson.

I feel guilty when my students are just doing the tasks I gave them without being actively involved in the task. For me this is the sign that I haven’t thought the task through thoroughly enough to make it appealing to my students, to make my students want to do it.

I love when my students are leaving the classroom brimming with enthusiasm and humming with heated discussions we started in the lesson. Whenever my students are satisfied with the way they spent their time in my lesson, I feel happy and satisfied too. I know I’ve done a good job.

But is it possible to make each and every lesson this satisfying and inspiring? What do I need to do for that?

Do I need to grow up to some certain level of professionalism to be able to design only successful lessons? Or do I need to teach myself to be more sensitive to my students’ mood? Or do I need to spend even more time getting ready for the lessons?

Or is this sort of perfection unattainable and unrealistic? Is it just a haunting dream of an inveterate perfectionist?

I know too well, mistakes are inevitable and necessary for growth. I have heard many times before people say that in each mistake there is a learning opportunity. I’m very well prepared for that. This is not actually what I’m worried about. All I just want to be sure about is whether it is possible to make fewer and fewer mistakes as you learn and develop?

Question Mark Black

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in ELT Reflections