Celebrate The Banal – John F. Fanselow

Celebrate The Banal 


— John F. Fanselow

What have I learned? What am I learning?

The first thought I had when asked me to write something in response to these questions was that anything that I wrote would be banal—obvious and boring. I was a bit relieved to find that the origin of banal was “common to all” which heartened me. I was heartened because one of the lessons I have learned is that if we explore what we are doing together and listen to points of view that are different from our own we can learn much more. I realize that listening to those with a different perspective seems to contradict the “common to all” idea. But I interpret “common to all” meaning all have something to contribute.

I have learned through the years that it is just as important to get students’ opinions as colleagues. In the beginning, students tend to say only what they think you want them to say. But when I tell them to write 2 things that they do not like and 2 things that they do like, with no names on the comments, they begin to write what they feel and believe. I have learned that a few words from a student who is weak is just as valuable as many words from a student who is strong. What do the words weak and strong mean anyway?  So I am continuing to learn ways that I can translate the words “common to all” into practice.

I studied literature in university. Though we read some literary criticism, many of my professors kept asking us to write what a poem or short story or book chapter meant to us. After we shared our interpretations we saw how we each quite different ideas of the meanings of what we read. The professors then shared their reflections and pointed out what various critics had written.

For my dissertation, I asked students to react to short stories that they read. Most of them simply retold the story. They made hardly any interpretations. They did not identify with the characters. They had no emotional responses. I was distressed by what they said. But when I looked at the textbooks they were using the majority of questions about what they read asked for recall! So it was clear that the authors of the textbooks had different ideas from my literature professors and my focus on “common to all”.

Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, a former colleague of mine at Teachers College, Columbia University is a historian. In 2000, she published a book which she subtitled “The Troubling History of Education Research”. She contrasts the ideas of two often-quoted professors from Teachers College: Thorndike and Dewey. Thorndike said that we can measure everything. Dewey was keen for teachers and students to explore, not prepare for tests or be tested all the time. She points out that though there is a quote from Dewey above the entry to Teachers College, there is no building named after him. There is one named after Thorndike.

Those who measure are very much in control these days. But from my days at university to my teaching since then I have learned how detrimental measurement can be. Eleanor Duckworth who has taught in the Department of Education at Harvard for many years edited a book called “Tell me more” in 2001. The subtitle is “Listening to learners explain.” Though she was not in any of my classes in college, she is advocating what my professors practiced: everyone has something to offer.

The first book I produced was a collection of lesson plans from fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who like me had taught in Nigeria for two years. One purpose of the book—Teaching English in Exhilarating Circumstances—was to provide suggestions that we would have found useful when we started our teaching. But another purpose was to remind the new teachers that if they shared plans with each other as well as with their students they could learn more than if they just read books produced by commercial publishers.

I just completed my first on line live iTDi course with 35 teachers from 8 countries. I was moved by the candor of most of the participants. And both they and I saw how teachers with different amounts of experience and levels of English and in very different settings could learn from each other.

States in the US are signing up to require all schools in their states to follow what is called the Common Core Standards. These so called standards represent to me the opposite of my idea that all have something to contribute. Tragically, what I continue to learn is that people are constantly assaulting the idea that everyone has something to offer and that we can all learn from each other. Nothing new here. Emerson, Thoreau, Freire, Sylvia Ashton-Warner, Whitman, Dewey, Montessori, Gatto, Postman, Frank Smith, to name a few of my soul mates, all showed how Common Core Standards are detrimental to learning. Celebrate the banal!

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What I learned in 2012 – Scott

A Fairly Tech-y Year  

Scott Thornbury
Academic Director

What have I learned this year? What am I still learning?

It’s significant perhaps that most of my learning experiences this year have related to the uses of educational technology, not in the language classroom, but more as an aid to my day-job as teacher educator.  For example,

I learned how to write and design a complete MA TESOL module, and how to upload it onto a learning management system, without having to prevail upon our IT team back in New York. Previous courses I have written I simply handed over to them to put up. But, having learnt how to edit existing courses, I figured that it was not a major step to design and mount a whole course from scratch. I managed fine, and am proud of the fact that the course is multimodal, including text, videos, links to external material, and so on. The only thing I couldn’t master was pop-up answer windows. A learning objective for 2013?

I learned how to improve my webinar technique – I did three or four this year, including one with 700 online viewers and a Global Webinar for iTDi.  I’m still not happy with the way I handle interactivity in this medium, easier obviously, with smaller groups, but they lack of eyeball-to-eyeball contact, and the continuous chat stream, is a challenge I’m not yet comfortable with. I’m still learning that one.

I learned about the power of blogging, and that even when you stop blogging, the blog has a life of its own. My blog continues to get a fair few hits on a regular basis, even though I haven’t posted for six months. I also learned that it’s very useful to have an index on your blog, and the number of hits this gets is testimony to its usefulness for people looking for specific posts.

I also learned that adapting blog posts for e-book publication is more challenging than I had expected: trying to condense and summarize the comment threads and to incorporate these into the body of the text was an interesting exercise, while the more frozen form of an e-book – more like a book than a blog – requires a degree of concision and precision that blogging normally doesn’t. I’ll be interested to see how it turns out.

I already knew how useful YouTube is as a medium for broadcasting short video clips about matters relating to methodology and language, but this year I’ve learned how to incorporate text and graphics into video clips, such that they have become a substitute for blogging, perhaps.

I learned – through doing a Pecha Kucha on second language acquisition at an iTDi event following the JALT conference in Japan  – how much content can be packed into less than seven minutes:  it’s salutary to know that even big ideas can be delivered in small packages, especially when accompanied by some kind of mnemonic scaffolding – and I don’t mean a lot text! The value of concision, logical sequencing and simplicity was also something that I’ve been learning as I write and edit the lessons for the iTDi Teacher Development course.

I’ve learned the value of occasional Skype calls with my online students, both as an opportunity to touch base but also as a way of personalizing the somewhat faceless online learning environment.

Finally I’ve learned how to use Twitter for mainly public and professional purposes (announcing talks, forwarding interesting links, etc) and to use Facebook for the private and personal. But I’m not sure I haven’t got it the wrong way round!

So, all in all, it’s been a fairly tech-y year.  Maybe, as counterbalance, next year I need to get back in to real classrooms, low tech, and blackboards with a small b?

What I learned in 2012 – Yitzha

My 2012 Ride Icha

Wow! I can’t believe that this year is almost over! I felt like I’ve only just begun actually. It has been such a full and amazing year for me. I literally started the year as a little Kindergarten teacher who was just starting my PLN and eager to learn a lot.

Well, I haven’t done a lot really, but what I did this year was to be willing to try and learn new things. After joining #teachmeet at the end of 2011, I certainly was ready to take on more challenges. I started my class blog and have been having fun with it. My class has joined some projects —  having skype session with classes from Australia and then we also did a Voicethread project together.

This year with the help of the amazing Vicky Loras and Ceres Pioquinto, I had the chance to write for ETAS Journal for their spring 2012 Issue, and I also had the honor of being featured in one of the #ELTChat podcasts for their 5th episode, thanks to James Taylor.

I think one of the highlights for me this year was being able to present in a conference. My first ever was at the JELTA Conference in Jakarta this September where as nervous as I was, I was very happy to have some of  my PLN around me including the lovely Barbara Sakamoto, Adi Cerman, Marlene Yosefien and Trika Simandjuntak. Marlene and Trika had also helped me to introduce iTDi among the participants of the conference. Now that’s the true power of PLN in my opinion J . I was also very lucky to have the chance to attend and stood by Barbara’s side as her co-presenter along with the incredible Marco Brazil at the 2012 JALT Conference in Hamamatsu, Japan. Not only that, I also got to meet and learnt from a lot of incredible people! It was a wonderful time indeed!

Oh and one other thing that I’m proud of; I have finally been able to present  material at my school’s curriculum meeting! For somebody who just started to learnt about Montessori and in a school where the standard has always been set, it was a major achievement for me! J

I have to admit that my class has been a major force in my life; personally and professionally. My students have been the greatest muse any teacher could ever hope for. And if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have the urge to constantly learn and grow, so I could be a better teacher for them. Another muse in my personal development is of course my PLN, especially here in iTDi. I have never thought that being active online could give me so much! Not only for my teaching but also for my self.

So my plan next year is to continue what I’ve been doing — but raising the  bar even higher! I’m already excited about the  iTDi workshop this coming February in Semerang, Indonesia, because I’ll get the chance to share and hopefully inspire teachers here to always crave for more personal development and notice the power that PLN could give you. I’m very optimistic for the coming year and to that I’d say : Welcome 2013! Aza Aza Vivacity! ^_^

What I learned in 2012 – Ann

Becoming A Better MeAnnaLoseva140x150

I always enter the weeks before the end of a year with an uncomfortable feeling. There is a lot of pressure at work with papers, credits and exams,  and there’s this fussy pre-New-year time, but those are not the prime reasons. The uneasiness comes when I, following my tradition,  I open up one of my notebooks and write down 20__ __  at the top of a blank page. Then I stare at it — and I contemplate.

I approached the end of year 2011 with a bitter feeling of things going wrong. Being overwhelmed with numerous online activities and new connections, I totally fell out of REAL life. I lost important bonds and unconsciously devalued what is of true worth. Realizing this fact and overcoming its consequences I consider my biggest success of year 2012. By reflection and action, I’ve learnt how to come to terms with these two parts of my life, assigned each of them their own place, established the difference, and I now always remember my priorities.

I am slowly learning to get over my unflattering qualities. I am learning to be less judgemental and critical. I am getting to grips with the fact that everyone has his/her own place and that’s the only place you can succeed in, by doing what is in it for you. I’m learning to be forgiving, too. I used to be very individualistic, but now I’m teaching myself (and my students with me) to cooperate and value the opinions of others. It is not the wise quotes in my Facebook feed that have given me the motivation to change, but the conversations, the kindness of people around me, the diversity of opinions, the good attitude and openness of my PLN. Thanks to them, I have learnt to be more mindful and less skeptical. I have learnt how to socialize and take pleasure in it (something I couldn’t boast of for several years).

As a teacher I have acquired new practical skills. This year I have used several web 2.0 tools for the first time, read insightful professional articles and blog posts, and tried out activities from webinars and conference sessions that I visited. Going to conferences has proven to be especially beneficial as I not only learnt a lot but, more importantly, gained confidence and got an energy boost that empowered my teaching for weeks after the conference itself. With this uplifting feeling I discovered the will power to take action and step out of my comfort zone – to be bold in my ambitions, to formulate my ambitions.

On a more practical level, I’ve learnt how to optimize my note taking and goal-setting with the use of devices and good old pen-and-paper. I am still learning to set priorities and keep promises though, but I’ve learnt not to give myself too hard a time for sometimes failing to do that.

From this year on I want to carry into my classroom what I learn myself in order to share with my students, be it a new word or a phrase, an interesting fact, or a fresh idea. It looks to me that I’ve learnt to teach with intuition: Not too afraid to make a mistake, not too reproachful for being imperfect. Being a teacher, I can allow myself to keep my own personality in the classroom now. It’s another success of this year – I have stopped even the slightest pretense. In my class and after the final bell goes off,  I am one and the same person.

I know this post is neither practical nor useful to readers as it is just as personal as a page of my diary could be, more like a revelation. Yet I know that iTDi is a safe place for me to share and exactly the right place where I would love to share. Everything I have mentioned above has had its effect on my teaching. Every positive change I’ve had in my understanding of myself has altered my way of teaching. Changing as a person, I change as a professional, and that means so much to me. It might seem too bold but that is probably the main message of this post. It is useful to aspire to be a better you.

What I learned in 2012 – Divya

Strong Voices Rocking OnDivya Brochier

If you’re reading this then you’re probably a teacher. And you’re probably the sort of teacher who is in the habit of questioning. You perhaps question your practice, your methods, your use of technology, your dependence on materials, or your attachment to avoiding materials.  Questioning is not a bad thing, by the way.

Questioning opens pages, or in our case, windows. And when we open these windows, we glide into the self-discovery of reflective practice. We become empowered in admitting that we don’t have all the answers and the act of accepting that often makes our professions come alive.

Our industry has some very strong voices and iTDi is but one platform that hosts some of these voices. They’re so strong in fact, that we now have the force of being ‘an industry’ which we weren’t really about 50 years ago. We were perhaps a ‘field’, and we still are a ‘field’, but we are an internationally established blogging, conferencing, publishing, educating industry… with strong voices. These voices theorize, they debate, they argue, they reveal, they research… and they resound with the eloquence of self-questioning and echo the philosophical values of education.

Over the summer I heard an educator whom I deeply respect describe our ELT industry as one of pendulum swings. I took some time to digest the impact of these words… and yes, I suppose there is a pendulum. It has perhaps swung methodologically from learning by translating to translating learning into real life. It has perhaps swung ideologically from the performing teacher to the autonomous learner. It has perhaps swung economically from investing in learning, to learning to invest of oneself — in our age of technological and information abundance. But what is so fabulous about our industry is that we all ride the pendulum. I believe that few of you who are reading this have not heard an idea or a method or a lesson plan or game at a conference, in a blog post or from a colleague and have not just gone into class the next day and had a go at it. That is why ELT teachers like you and me make up an extra special niche of teachers… because we love the stuff we make and live it with childlike uninhibitedness.

For me, one of the more textured moments on the ELT pendulum’s trajectory was when we all started worrying about motivation and affective processes. When we did this, we started worrying about the meta-perspective of why we do what we do in big way. This texture is for me so rugged and so determined because we yielded the floor to so many other fields: psychology, sociology, philosophy and business. We took so much newness into stride based on the entry-level qualifications of being interested and wanting to be educated. I have colleagues who have embraced Complexity Theory and Regression Analysis with matched enthusiasm. I know peers who read for doctorates alongside full-time careers, without funding. I know teachers who have instigated online debates on the use of technology as their job security is churned through turmoil of a magnitude that they didn’t imagine possible. And I have friends who have rocked my world and then rocked it again a few months later because they’re just so inspiring.

So, what have I learnt in 2012? That our not-so-rugged practitioner voices need to carry on being heard. That classroom stories and the teachers that tell them are ready to take centre stage in the research spotlight. That these stories, the essential accounts and recounts of the magic in our classrooms, will shape the textures of the future. I think we need to capture the magic in as many ways as possible because you and I, the practitioners, are perhaps the real pivots that suspend the pendulum and let it swing.

What have you learnt in 2012? What are you learning?