I took part in one of the previous #eci831 courses and I really enjoyed it. I was a pivotal experience for me despite the fact that I was more of a lurker, not a very active participant.
I have joined a few other mooc’s since then, mostly of the cMOOC variety. I did take part in and benefited from the xMOOC on Fantasy and Science Fiction on Coursera but I realised that my real interest lies in learning communities rather than following a prescribed curriculum, which focuses more on the love of teaching materials instead of people, communities and the joy of learning.
I am really looking forward to this course.
Here’s the list of topics we are covering in the next few weeks:
Welcome (Jan 13-19): Welcome Event & Orientation to #etmooc
The rest of the week I am planning to spend writing a proper blog post about my plans and expectations and (most importantly) check out what the others are posting and interacting with this great community of teachers, who are a bit different from the usual ELT crowd I hang out with.
I missed the first great topic on the TESOL Greece blog challenge, and I was determined to write a post for the second even before a gentle nudge from Elinda. (Thanks for that, it did push me to put my act together.)
Then when I saw the topic, I was even more excited to write about it.: Personalisation (customisation) in the English classroom. It’s a huge topic but I feel very passionate about, and – perhaps a bit uncharacteristically of me – proud of the strides English language teaching has made in this area.
I believe personalisation in education is the single most important global impact English language teaching has had. English as a foreign language was the first school subject that recognised the immense influence that individual interest, knowledge and experience have on lasting and successful learning.
OK, perhaps the ancient Greek academia was also student centred. Thanks for that, Greece – and for the many other things we have got from you.
Medieval scholastic tradition and in the 19th century the factory model schools became institutions that delivered standardised knowledge, which was ultimate, unquestionable and absolute. Of course, there were great teachers who believed in the individual along the way, but in this instance I refer to a complete set of methods and principles applied across institutions, countries and continents.
It was the advocates of the communicative approach who a few decades ago designed tasks and activities which encouraged students to build on their own experience, using their interests and opinions as a source and the foreign language as a tool. This was an immense breakthrough after literally centuries of curricula that prescribed what students were to be tested on.
Another important shift brought about by personalisation and more attention to individual differences is that we focus much more on what each student is capable of learning at a certain age and we devise ways in which that learning can be more relevant and suitable for each individual student.
Our learners are used to receiving personalised advertising on Facebook, however surprisingly inappropriate it might look. They become decision-makers in terms of what they want to do/watch/play with from a very early age. They are used to being cheered and encouraged for their achievements. They get hundreds of “Likes” for saying something clever or doing something brave. These learners will definitely not be happy with being treated as an unrecognisable atom in a grey mass.
Similarly, there are more and more teachers who now come with the same kind of attitude. They are not the teaching slaves, or “the day labourers of the nation” (as we refer to them in Hungary*) any more. Their pedagogy is already student-centred and individualistic; they look for ways in which they can improve their own and their students’ knowledge, in places that don’t rely on curriculum descriptors and coursebooks. This new generation of teachers asks open questions, sets challenges and does not expect students to come up with the one correct answer. They want their students to ask the next clever question that takes the conversation – and by default, the learning – forward. Teachers of English were the first to institute games, activities, tasks instead of tests and exercises.
Does this mean that we are done and it’s all good, we can rest, the great work is done**? Oh no. You don’t need me to tell you how many teachers are still delivering the material, teaching to the test, applying the curriculum unconditionally and uncritically. They need guidance and support to find ways in which they can kill two birds with one stone: meet external expectations and provide for the effective and lasting learning for each and every one of their students. (I used to think these terms were mutually exclusive. Now, I think that “bringing down the system from within”*** is the way forward: be mindful of what is expected of you in administrative, curriculum and assessment terms, and do your utmost to achieve these as well as give the most possible individual development opportunities for your students. No, I did not say this was easy. On the contrary, I think this is the really hard part of our job these days. It’s not impossible but it IS hard work and requires a lot of dedication, time, energy and a fair bit of non-conformist attitude.)
Of course, there is all the work we need to do on integrating technology focusing on providing students with individual learning opportunities. (Because this is what I believe is great about technology in the classroom.)
Also, there are the teachers of other subjects who claim that it’s easy enough for an English teacher, but biochemistry can’t be taught in a personalised way. I’m sure this was the first reaction of English teachers at the beginning. It takes time to realise all that we can do if we put our minds to it.
We must not forget the other huge responsibility that arises: we can only create independent learners and provide personalised learning opportunities if we ourselves are learners who seek new things to learn in new ways, challenging our beliefs, routines and principles.
Thanks for the opportunity to write about this fascinating topic, I really enjoy thinking about how much we have achieved and how much more we’ve got to do.
Have a great 2013 full of learning and a little bit of teaching
*I have just found out that the term was originally used by Gereben Vas, a popular 19th century Hungarian writer, to refer to actors. Slowly the saying became attached to teachers and today it almost exclusively refers to teachers.
** Another Hungarian reference to one of the greatest plays ever written in Hungarian: Imre Madach: Tragedy of The Man (If interested you can find it in English translation here and a short entry about it in English on Wikipedia)
*** Yes, you guessed it, one last Hungarian reference. This was the sarcastic reaction of many Hungarians after 1990 to more and more ex-party members joining and profiting from the new democracy, and claiming to have worked on bringing down the communist system from within.
This was supposed to be a post about the Mentoring EVO starting next week, but I got carried away again…
There is so much to look forward to this year. Apart from the day-to-day fun of being a full-time dad, there are a few other excitements awaiting me in the next few months.
If you want to know what its like to be a full-time dad, watch this. I have to admit that there is no way I could cope with 5.
So, here’s a list of a few of the things I am really looking forward to this year.
1. EVO Mentoring
I am lucky to be working with a group of great teachers for the next 6 weeks on a free online professional development event for teachers. Last year I took part in the Developing Mentoring Skills EVO. I enjoyed it it very much and I wanted to become part of the moderating team. I and Daniela, a colleague I met on the course last year, were given a chance and got involved in organising the session together. We have been developing the session for over 6 months and it has been a very interesting and useful learning experience.
We are just one week away from the launch of the session. Registration opens this week and we are looking forward to working with teachers to discuss different aspects of mentoring, while focusing on the psychological and practical aspects of creating relationships that work.
If you are interested you can sign up here.
There are many other great courses organised by TESOL’s CALL Interest Section starting at the same time . If you would like to find out more about them, click here.
2. I’m doing a workshop at the TESOL Arabia Dubai Chapter on January 19. It’s the first time I’m doing this since we returned to Dubai and I am very excited to present with Rehab.
3. I get to dust my dormant passport for the first time since we arrived in March last year. I’m travelling to one of my favourite places in the Middle East, Jordan, to meet one of my absolute favourite ex-colleagues, Jacqueline, and some of the great teachers at one of the best ELT events in Amman organised by the National Orthodox School and the British Council. (May Gussous, head of English at the school, wrote a lovely post about her realtionship with the BC and the role of the conference in her life here.)
4. I’m co-facilitating two workshops with Chuck Sandy at the annual TESOL Arabia Conference in Dubai. How awesome is that?! I’m burning with excitement already. And if this wasn’t enough in itself, one of the people I am indebted to forever for his support and kindness, Ken Wilson, will also be at the conference. It will be wonderful to see him again.
5. I have taken over the TESOL Arabia Dubai Chapter blog from the inimitable Rehab Rajab. I am very excited about working on the Dubai Chapter Committee with a few very interesting professionals.
6. The unstoppable Kevin Simpson started a fantastic online community for teachers living and working in the UAE, and I am looking forward to getting a bit more involved and active in this. I think it’s a great initiative and there is so much we can do to make life and work more enjoyable and less frustrating for teachers who come here for the first time or those who have been here a long time and feel a bit demotivated.
7. iTDi – another pet project, another great community I am proud of being a part of. I have been a bit quiet about this recently, it’s time I got a bit more active.
8. My blog – I am hoping to be able to spend a bit more time on this site this year. I enjoy writing these posts and I love getting involved in conversations about teaching, learning and education.
9. Google reader – I have just clicked on the “Mark all read” button – admitting defeat. I hope I will be able to keep up with the 100-200 new posts aggregated every day from the fantastic sources I have collected over the last 5 years.
10. Twitter/Facebook: My Facebook posts have been almost exclusively related to my kids – they play such an important part of my life that I can’t promise to do away with these posts but I do want to get more involved in the conversations that go on. And yes, the political commentary on what the hell is going on in Hungary is also to remain. (A solemn promise, though I will not, never, ever post quotes and words of wisdom to educate my friends, unless they come straight from the horse’s mouth in a pub or at a conference )
11. Cycling – I did manage to finish the 92 km Spinney’s Challenge in December 2012. Now the aim is to improve my time (there were people who completed it in less then half the time I did!). It was a great experience. It is great to know that I can do it, and now I am motivated to do it even better.
This year has already brought Jasmin’s first independent steps.
2013 will almost certainly see Sophie on her rollerblades and riding her bike alone, experimenting with musical instruments and activities to find her passions, and Jasmin talking. I will have been married for five years next week and continue to fall in love with my wife every day.
So yes, there is so much to look forward to and there is so much to learn. It’s looking like a really cool year full of fun. What more is there to hope for?!
I hope you have at least this much to look forward to. What are the things you look forward to?