TESL 928 Reflection Paper

18 03 2015

Here is my reflection paper from my first class ….  Not sure how I feel about it.  But I got an A in the class, so musn’t have been that bad 😉

Self Reflection Paper:                                                                                                 Magda Vince

February 23 – March 14, 2015

For me The Element and Ken Robinson’s ideas about finding that magically something, was a touchy and slightly difficult topic.  While the studies and cases that Robinson talks about are interesting, and I agree that finding passions and following happiness are the way to go.  I personally have always struggled with my own “element” and as such I find it to be a difficult thing to foster in others.  I find a lot of people who I discuss this sort of topic with are just as lost as I am on the subject when it comes to how it relates to them and their lives.  What do you like? Lots of things.  Ok, what do you have a passion for?  Nothing really, well not for any extended time.  What are you good, or talented at?  Many things, and at the same time, none. Nothing stands out.  In the end you end up feeling even more lost and inadequate because you can’t even identify a passion, that can be disheartening.

On the other hand, I really feel that there is something there.  I agree whole heartedly with Robinson when he says ” For most of us the problem isn’t that we aim to high and fail – it’s just the opposite – we aim too low and succeed.”  I have always believed in setting the bar for my students and their progress high, foolishly high some might say.  But, and here is what I consider to be key, I communicate with the students.  I tell them, depending on their age, motivation and lot in life, that other people think it’s too hard  and it may well be but I think they can do it.  I also lay it out, using lines on the board or my hands saying, if we aim for here most of us will make it, a few people will ‘excel’ and a few of us might miss the mark.  But if we aim up here, this lofty goal, and just try to reach it something special will happen.  There will be no ‘good enough’, everyone will exceed “the other expectation” the one other people think we should do, some by a little some by a lot.. and heck we may even surprise ourselves by reaching that lofty goal!  It’s worth a shot, let’s show “them”, them being the common enemy that doesn’t believe in us.  This has always brought out the “HEY, who do they think they are, holding us down.  We can so do this” in my students in Taiwan.  I suspect that a lot of this has to do with cultural attitudes and expectations here, but at the same time I think there is something universal about it.  I always say I think they can do it, I believe in them, and they usually rise to the challenge.

I try to foster an environment where it is ok to make mistakes and it’s ok to be wrong.  I teach my students that the most important thing is that we are learning from the mistakes.  That it is perfectly reasonable to get something wrong, but pay attention, learn from it, get better, stronger, more confident.  Which can be a challenging concept for anyone, but especially in Taiwan where it is more of a say nothing unless you are certain that you are correct environment.  As a result, I find that kids will berate themselves, tear themselves down and give up.  I have had this exact conversation with many kids over the years. “Are you smart?” And they say “No.”  I ask, why they would say that? Who told them that they aren’t smart?  Because I am their teacher and I know they are smart, I ask them to repeat ” I am smart” and tell them if I know it, they should too.  Invariably, I see an improvement in that student’s performance and attitude in class, it is such a small thing but seems to make such a difference in how they see themselves and then how they project themselves to the world.

I found it quite interesting that when you used the word pedagogy in your email to me, the first thing I thought was “Hang on, what the heck is pedagogy?”  I have a pretty expansive vocabulary, though I will admit that living in a non English speaking country has stolen a plethora of my words, and I was pretty surprised to find a word that I had to look up.  It is interesting that I have never run into the word before, but then again perhaps it is because I did not seek out teaching as a path for myself.  This is a career that I fell into, I happened to be pretty good at it, and I find it satisfying and rewarding.  Would I call it my element? No, but I am somewhat convinced that some of us may not have one, or perhaps we do not have just ONE.

You asked if I have made connections between pedagogy and culture, and to be entirely honest, I do not know.  I have only worked and taught in this culture, but I come from a western culture.  I have tutored at home, I taught my friend Becky grade nine math because her teachers wrote her off when I was in grade twelve.  But have I been a formal teacher with my own classroom in Canada?  No.  As a result I am not entirely certain that I really know or understand teaching culture back home.  I do have my own beliefs about the role of education and the teacher’s role, but I honestly don’t feel that my philosophy is a reflection of the education that I received in the past as much as what I have learned and come to believe over the years via trial, error, and my own experiences.

I believe that my role as a teacher is to guide and direct the students into learning on their own, to be independent in their education and to ultimately make myself somewhat redundant.  I want my students to be confident that they can achieve what they want, or that they are attempting to learn, on their own and come to me to discuss, confirm, and help them when they get stuck.  That is not to say I abandon them, but that I spend a lot of time and effort trying to give them the tools to learn with minimal interference on my part.  I believe that my role should be more of that of a guide than a leader.  This is certainly not the educational culture here in Taiwan, here is it more I am your teacher, nay your god.  I have all the wisdom and knowledge and you will soak it up, you will study what I say and memorize everything.  I often buck the system, trying to convince and show my bosses or parents that while I may be doing something different that they do not fully understand, it is effective.  Something that I hope I give my students, are the skills to compensate for a teacher that is less interested or dedicated to their future.  Because that is a reality that most kids will have to face, that I had to face, teachers that are just going through the motions and do not really care what you learn.

Ultimately though, does this come from my culture as Canadian, or my own personal culture?  I have been an expat for most of my adult life, and I know that it has coloured my experiences and views on life, the universe, and everything.

While reading this text on the SIOP model, I was frequently struck by the thought “Of course, who doesn’t do this?”  Then I realized this book, and the whole method, is written and aimed at teachers in the states who are expecting to be teaching “American” kids.  Who may not be trained, or in any way prepared to deal with language and cultural barriers.  How to cope with a student that doesn’t understand what you are saying and how to reach those kids, to give them the language to be functional and even succeed in English.  I come the from the unique, or perhaps not so unique in our class in Taipei, perspective of teaching primarily ESL students.  And on top of that, they are homogenous ESL, they all come from the same or at least similar cultural and language backgrounds.  I even speak their mother tongue well enough to assist them in L1, and have lived in their country and culture long enough that most of it is very familiar to me.

Not to suggest that there was nothing new or interesting to glean from the book or the model.  I for one, almost never clearly state the objectives, language or otherwise, before a lesson.  Stating and posting my objectives in class has even been suggested to me in the past, and I have completely failed to see any point in it.  “It’s too hard, it’s above the students, it would just confuse them, they don’t need to know that”, are among the reasons I had for resisting.  But after reading about the SIOP model, I found a lot of clarity as to how and why having clearly stated objectives can be helpful to students and the teacher.  For myself it reminds me to stay on task and for the students it can help them focus and to have a better understanding of where the lesson and the class will be going.

I believe I may have less formal teacher training than some of the other students in our class at Framingham, so one thing that I found interesting and positive for myself from studying the SIOP model was validation.  There are many techniques and suggested activities and methods that I frequently use in my own classes, and to see that they have been studied by others and have been proven to not only be effective, but also practices to be modeled by others is very gratifying.  Methods such as activities with getting the students to discuss background knowledge, group activities, getting creative in the activities, scaffolding and strategic starter sentences are all things that I personal have found very useful in my own classrooms in the past.

On one hand, I found the idea of using the whole protocol in a single lesson to be daunting and to be frank, somewhat impossible.  So when Richard and I attempted to include all thirty features in our presentation, I was concerned and felt quite overwhelmed.  Once I got into the groove though, I discovered that most of it is what I believe most teachers do, or at least try to do in most lessons.  And for me, what I got from trying to use the protocol to build our lesson on the Review and Assessment feature, was that while it may not be possible or even practical to include all the elements or features in a single lesson a lot more can be achieved by keeping it all in mind.  That we can enrich our lessons and the classroom experience by having the list handy when planning lessons.  And while the focus on this is to be teaching content and language at the same time, I think that it really can and does apply to all teachers all the time regardless of the students that you’re teaching.  They may all have the same social, economic, cultural and language backgrounds or not but elements and parts of the SIOP model can be used to round out your lessons and make sure that you are reaching more students and using your time in class effectively.

For myself, one of the most appealing aspects of this program is the human factor.  There is a real, live, in person professor, a classroom and students.  I’m fully aware that there are many ways to study and learn, and that while many may find studying online courses and on their own to be effective,  it is just not the way for me.  And I would like to think that it is a good thing that I have learned and accepted that about myself, I think it is important to try to be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses.  Personally I like, and have always responded well to,  collaboration, discussion, debate, and the human experience as it were.

I had a job a while back, they called it ‘editing’ but essentially we were marking stacks written papers.  There was zero interaction with students, the ‘teacher’ lectured to a hall of anywhere from two hundred to six hundred high school students.   They wrote essays, that were then brought to us in a small office or back room, we were not supposed to speak to each other or really interact in anyway, just mark and grade the fifty to seventy papers we had been given as quickly as possible.  I hated it.  It took away everything that I enjoyed about teaching, the connections I make with students, the laughs, the excitement of seeing understanding, or engagement, the humanity of it all.  The students could not come to me and ask, why I had marked this as incorrect, or why I had changed this or that.  I could not ask them what they meant in order to help them clarify and correct.  I hated it.   I learned something about myself as a teacher at that job, that what draws me to education is the human connection.  Naturally, that sort of learning also appeals to me for myself, I stand firmly behind the idea that it is far more effective than “here read this, memorize, write a test” for anyone in any circumstance.

I feel that this class has been a wonderful experience for me, for several reasons.  As I had mentioned at Mary Jane’s Pizza that Friday evening, I’ve had some negative experiences in the past couple of years that have clearly affected and scarred me.  I was terrified of the first presentation, not that I would have issues standing up and speaking in front of others, but that I would do it “wrong” and that would have long reaching adverse effects.  The discussions we had in class, and after, watching others present and then finally presenting myself with Richard was a wonderfully cathartic experience.  And even though I was not particularly happy about the topic and was concerned about the second presentation, I was able to find myself, my voice and (even though we had a little tug of war going) managed to produce a decent product that I was pretty happy with.  If only there had been more time!

I found the discussions in class to be interesting, many of the teachers (classmates) come from the same background as I and then at the same time completely different.  I didn’t always agree with what some of my classmates postulated , however it was very engaging.  I thought a lot about myself, and what I have learned and how I teach, and in sharing that found a lot of support and validation that I didn’t even realize I wanted or perhaps even needed until it was there.

In conclusion, I feel that the course was over all an extremely positive experience for me.  The material and content were good, but ultimately I have been an ESL teacher for 13 years, living and working in cultures outside of my own, Taiwan, Brazil, France, and traveling all over Europe and South East Asia, so the majority of the content was not particularly new to me.  However, the lively discussion, presentations and building my own presentations as well as the experience of taking a class with a group of adults, who all wanted to be there and are dedicated to something, was the meat and potatoes of the experience for me.  I am more energized and excited about teaching and future possibilities.  Which is something I feel that I really needed; a push, a boost in a more positive and productive direction.

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One response

19 04 2015
Casey Payne

Everyone has an “element” and I can prove it most simply to you. I’m sure if you’re teaching kindergarten now, but think back to when you were. Every single one of them had an “element” that was as plane as day. I may not have been specific, but you could see some truly enjoyed art, while others enjoyed the logical things. Given the time and environment to grow they would have turned into crystal clear “elements” (assuming I know what an element is…) The educational system and societal norms kill some students’ element and fosters others. It’s funny, I have a Ken Robinson video in a tab right now, waiting to be viewed (before reading this).

If you haven’t already, check out Sugata Mitra. Teachers already are redundant. We just don’t design classes this way and teachers like thinking they’re “special” (not saying you’re one of those that do).

I think if you, reflected WAY back. Back to before whatever childish dreams you had were crushed by “reality,” you’d find some glint of an “element.” Since you know me, I’ve long said I wished the road to being a Martial Arts teacher was better paved. Perhaps it isn’t for a reason. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to be and all I’ve ever chased. I bring it up because there are a lot of things I could have been, that would have money me all kinds of different monies. None of those things mattered because of me “element” (hold on, I’m about to look this shit up)…

That said, I don’t know if it’s really necessary for everyone to be chasing their “element.” I mean, at the end of the day, someone has to clean bathrooms and pick tomatoes. Societaly we’re pretty far from living in a world where we can all be chasing our elements.

I do love me some teaching though.

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