Saturday, April 9, 2011

End of week 2 report

I am finding it quite difficult to not be like the old Perez Hilton, who I read was going to stop being a cyber-bully. It seems so easy to be misconstrued or misrepresent myself, my real intention, particularly if members of my class are readers or heaven forbid the teacher or the faculty at ADAB(the local name for this part of the uni, not sure what it means). However, that likelihood is mitigated by the fact that some blog sites, this one included, are banned here. That + the fact that I get very few readers :O(

Anyhow, back to being Perez Hilton, it's been a really interesting time in class. Reflecting on what the teacher does and what I might do with the same people is super, and as a bonus I am sure my (posh, formal, RP)Arabic is coming on. However, I still have real beef with the course, and the teachers approach, a picky so-and-so I am, I know. I think one of the things I take umbrage with is the lack of classroom management.

She has good techniques, like mill drills but these are overused and the stages before and after them don't seem to make sense. The instructions when we do a mill are never sets them up beyond, “yalla, shabab – houna, ana, anti, anta, hua hia” meaning: “Come on everyone, here. I, you, he,she”. These mills are then cut short, and there is never enough time to (even if I wanted to, which I don't) go through all the verb conjugations. In order for this to be more to my taste I would perhaps like a goal or personalisation. I might like to be told who to work with, or how many people to work with, a time limit. We know each other quite well so it may be fairly easy to talk freely, and realistically, about each other. Furnishing us with question words and phrases like 'me too' would enable us to make more of these free practice opportunities. I often end up talking with a guy and practising “anti” (female you) which seems daft.. Encouraging (semi-)realistic, meaningful, language use would be another idea.

I am not the greatest of students but I think I work quite hard. I try to do my homework, I spend time thinking about and reflecting on classes, and try to manage my own motivation. However, when I am told by Z that I must learn it at home I am heartbroken. Why should I learn it at home, why don't you teach it to me properly!
That said I missed a few classes last week while attending the ISTEK conference in Istanbul. One of the more interesting things about this conference for English teachers, aside from leading an Intercultural Communicative Competence workshop, meeting ELT glitterati (and my Personal Learning Network) was that on the final day the thoughtful organisers included some beginner foreign language learning sessions (Spanish - Hebrew), which were I think sponsored by Berlitz (notorious drill 'em and kill 'em, factory-thinking-behaviourists). I was happy that this featured at their conference as it seems to validate this blog).

For many being a student of a foreign language has an indelible effect on how we (would) approach teaching ourselves. I don't teach in the same context as Mrs Pedel-Samways but if I did I wonder would I do things so differently? Thinking about the Turkish teachers I wonder how many of the participants in these language learning sessions thought back to their own classrooms and how they introduce new language items. Do they use a context or a text or a list? Do they elicit from their participants and work with what they know? How many language items do they introduce? (In my Arabic class the other day the introduction to a new unit consisted of the teacher drilling and translating 30+ items. This wasn't the first time this approach had featured). How do they scaffold the learning? Do they use progressively more difficult stages to increase the difficulty? Do they have text / visual cues that are gradually cut back? (requiring the students to operate with more and more autonomy) Do they drill in a military fashion? Do they allow for personalisation? And so on...(crikey, quite a list there).

Equally important about making teachers become students again is that we can again appreciate the difficulty faced by our students in our classes. This empathy and understanding informs student centred teaching. It is only by asking that we can find out what our students interests are, and likewise what their needs and wants are. Approaching groups of students in this way is tricky as people in the same group may have competing needs, however, doing this (finding out about our students needs and wants) means that we can meaningfully support all our students in pursuit of their goals. In our class the N.Korean girl needs Arabic to support her in diplomacy and in formal contexts. The Texan needs it for more rootsy and social purposes. I need to be able to survive here, not sound posh.

I have been in the position to pick up some useful snippets from my classmates of local Syrian-Arabic, that I can use around town. The focus of our course is 95% grammar, accuracy and speed focused. Language is being taught as content rather than as medium for communication. To exemplify it's the empty vessel analogy where the teacher fills the students empty head with their knowledge of grammar and so on. That's not me with the empty head. I already have a full head. I would like to be enabled to use the language communicatively rather than trained, like a performing seal, to recall certain fixed grammatical phrases on command. This isn't learning in the deep sense. I think I need to employ the language for a social purpose to 'learn' the language. I shouldn't complain as I am able to recall regular grammatical prefixes and suffixes fairly effectively and the Arabic tense system (as far as I can tell according to the beginners, pedagogical, grammar we are being taught) seems simple.

I am happy to receive suggestions about what aspect of my Arabic classes I should write about. What would interest you? More on cyber-bullying? OK, guess not. Il-e-leka...

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