The Learning Support Officer: 5 prompts to share with teachers

This week I returned to Critical Agendas and had a great time facilitating a couple of workshops. The second workshop explored the role of the LSO. This topic is very close to my heart as it is part of my PhD research, of which I have not spoken much about in a while. That’s another story but suffice to say that after much heartbreak and stress I’m getting back on track. I have my wonderful supervisors, my colleagues and mostly my friends and family to thank for that.

Nonetheless, facilitating a workshop about the role of LSOs always makes me happy as I see both teachers and LSOs are open to being challenged. If you know anything about me, you will certainly know I don’t pull any punches when it comes to learning and teaching. I’m passionate about it and I assume everyone else in the most rewarding of all professions is too.

What is my role?

A number of participants approached me after the workshop asking various questions which have prompted this post.

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

 

1. Support the classroom teacher

Schools are very busy places. There are meetings and administration, more meetings and more administration and somewhere in between, we get to do what we really love – teach and learn our students. Rarely do teachers and LSOs get to sit down together and plan lessons for classes, let alone for individual students who might need modified tasks. Hence, many times LSOs are deployed to classes where it is deemed they are most needed.  My advice to LSOs in situations when you arrive at a class and the teacher asks, “Who are you here for?” is very simple. “I’m here to assist you. What would you like me to do?”

2. Effective communication with teachers

There is no doubt that both teachers and LSOs would love more time to collaborate. How and when that happens varies greatly. However, I suggest considering the following when approaching teachers. Communication and collaboration are most effective before class and if they are on-going. I encourage LSOs to continue to make it clear that you are there to support them –the teacher. Arrive with concrete strategies that will assist particular students under your care to learn. Lastly, you need to be accessible.

3. Questions to consider

When LSOs and teachers have an opportunity to collaborate before classes, there are some questions the LSO might consider asking:

What will the students be learning?

What tasks will the students be doing and what will success look like?

How will the lesson/unit be structured and what should I be doing?

What should I watch, listen for and do in the classes?

Collaborating

4. Guide the teacher’s knowledge of the student and how they can best support them in their class.

The teacher brings with them content and pedagogical expertise. The LSO adds information about individual students based on their experience with them across a variety of different classes and situations. This is a wonderful combination which could be enhanced with appropriate questions to pose.

I highly recommend the KUD, that is, what do we want the students to KNOW, UNDERSTAND & DO?

How will we know when ‘Johnny’ understands?

Is it possible to …?

What if …?

What strategies have worked before?

5. The LSO’s role does not include the following:

    • Modifying curriculum
    • Behaviour management
    • Supervising classes
    • Doing the work for students
    • Teaching classes
    • Covering for your students

If you’re interested in exploring this further, please do not hesitate to make contact and organise a workshop for teachers and/or LSOs at your school.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experiences, please comment below.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Reflecting on Suzhou

It’s been only a few weeks since arriving back in Australia after a whirlwind 2 weeks teaching English Conversation classes to university students in Suzhou, China.

While we all hit the ground running catching up with missed classes, study, assessments, meetings, scheduled workshops, family, and life in general here in Australia, a day hasn’t passed that I have not thought about Suzhou. It was a challenging, yet wonderful experience. Not many can say, “Hey, I spent 2 weeks in China teaching English conversation to Masters students.” A-mazing.

This is the last of my Suzhou series and the longest, but it is only now that I feel I can share my learning.

Suzhou Seven

From the very beginning, we dubbed ourselves Suzhou Seven.

Suzhou Seven

Our team leader, Ros worked tirelessly with staff and students in Suzhou, making connections, delivering workshops and running sessions for PhD students who may one day visit and study in Australia. We got to work with 5 young, energetic undergraduate students who possess qualities that are akin to veteran teachers but have no teaching qualifications nor are they studying education.

The Amazing Five (L to R; Eliza, Louis, Jeannie, Gaby & Matt)

Every day we seven facilitated eight ‘Let’s Chat’, English conversational classes, hosting about 240 students from different faculties including Translation & Interpreting, Transportation, Information Technology, Geomechanics/Water Resources, International Business and Industrial Design. We delivered workplace sessions on presenting yourself, networking, and preparing speeches. We collected data for our research about people’s experiences and attended Chineses language sessions every morning. We held planning meetings every day to discuss our workshops and ensure we were meeting the needs of our students. Together, Suzhou Seven was and remains a team to be reckoned with.

Hanging out with our support staff in Suzhou

A cast of thousands

Chris Wen, the General Manager at Monash Suzhou very graciously hosted us with the support staff who worked behind the scenes to ensure our stay was fabulous. They organised our teaching schedules, booked the rooms, bought supplies, booked our cultural experiences, advised us about where to go and how to get there. Matt, our resident Monash staff member in Suzhou, looked after us, giving up his office & the key to the photocopier, showing us around, finding little coffee shops, and giving us invaluable advice on local customs. Winnie, one of our favourite PhD students, took time out of her studies to teach us the language and culture of China every morning. A number of others joined us for evening

Where’s Matt?

cultural experiences including dinners, boat rides, shopping and, of course, karaoke night! Our students were always ready to suggest local eating spots, many helped us order our food when they spied us trying our best to order food unsuccessfully! Some even bought us bubble tea and snacks to try. Peer to peer relationships soon grew and the students began to lead conversations, asking facilitators questions and engaging in ‘small talk’. It felt so good knowing that just being there, taking the time to listen boosted our students’ confidence to communicate in English and made them feel they could do it outside of the classes themselves.

Winnie & Suzhou Seven

Language barrier

I’ve travelled many times overseas, especially over the last dozen years, but this was my first visit to an Asian country. My personal challenge in this regard was the language. For the first time, I experienced a real dilemma in that I literally could not understand the language. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a reflection on the people but a personal realisation. I felt hopeless and even anxious when out and about. I have not felt like this before. Even in countries where I was not overly familiar with the language, I felt I could manage and I did and maybe that was because of my European background. As an educator with many years of experience, I pride myself on being able to understand and interpret what people are saying out loud and internally. I felt I was really in tune with this but now I realise that while my ‘sixth’ sense works in some places, it made little sense to me while I was in China. As an independent, strong middle-aged female I suddenly felt unsure of myself and began relying on my fellow travellers and on the students with whom we were developing strong relationships.

Teaching (and learning) with passion

Buzzing

As a teacher of many years, actually, many, many years I’ve always been open to learning new things but still pride myself on being able to engage my students no matter the content. After all, it’s what I do. I’ve had many experiences also with devising, writing and implementing many programs and curriculum outlines. It was my redevelopment and extension of the existing Let’s Chat units that we based our workshops on during our time in Suzhou. I spent many hours writing, re-writing and meeting with my colleagues to ensure we were on track to meet all the requirements from our host university but still, I felt tense and nervous as I shared in my first and second Suzhou posts.

While it was wonderful to meet our students on that first day, engaging them was a different matter. You see many had very busy study schedules and these classes were slotted into their day. It was our responsibility to make those classes so engaging and relevant that they would keep coming. What I learned over the time working with my team was that they loved doing Let’s Chat as much as I did. The other thing I learned was that passion for what and how you teach is contagious no matter where you are and we all caught that bug. The students kept coming and while those first few days were tough, our confidence was building, we reflected and planned each day to make each session more relevant and as we got to know our students more and more our classes were buzzing. Confidence was building not only in our students but in us as visiting teachers.

And now?

On returning to Australia, to Melbourne, to Monash and to English Connect, I bring with me a different confidence. In my first workshop this week I shared that I had just returned from teaching English in China and I cannot describe the pride I felt in simply articulating that achievement out loud with our international students who attend our workshops. Their smiles and nods of approval cemented in me a sudden realisation that I just want to do it again! I want to do it better. I want to experience more. I want to learn more. I want to keep making a difference.

We haven’t yet had a chance to meet as a team again and share our experience and our thoughts about our Suzhou adventure. Marta, the reason we went to China in the first place and the driver behind what we were able to do is away at the moment but I’m sure she can’t wait to hear. A special thank you should go out to our team back at Monash who held the fort while we were away. Lucas, who had to do both his and Ros’s job, Belinda, without whose help we would never have been able to get out visas and our money, to Negar and Lilian who love excel files and crunch the numbers for us, to the admin staff who re-formatted and copied all our files so we could use them effectively in our classes. And to anyone else who had a hand in getting us to Suzhou and back. I’m personally hoping that this is the first of many associations we have, not only with our colleagues in Suzhou but hopefully, in time, with other Monash Universities around the world. We’ve got this!

To find out what we do at English Connect please visit our website.

Thanks for reading 🙂

What do Suzhou and de Bono have in common?

 

Nothing.

But when we asked our students at SEU/Monash the other day to give us feedback about their experiences in the conversation classes to date, the two came together as our Suzhou students shared their experiences using the de Bono hats.

It is amazing how they have opened up and shared both positive and not so positive experiences with us. Their confidence has soared over the last 10 days and more and more they actively volunteer responses and seek out further conversations. The hats activity was a testament to this.

I realise the last few posts have been about student responses but hey, that’s what we came to Suzhou to hear and it is music to our ears. So here are some of the responses the students shared.

White hat

“We met three beautiful facilitators!” (Now there’s a fact right there!)

“We connected with people studying other degrees.” (Yes! The students were divided up in our classes so two different disciplines came together).

 

Yellow hat

“Facilitators encourage us, don’t laugh at us when we get it wrong.”

“I enjoy the classes as they are more active and participatory with lots of activities.”

 

 

“I feel challenged.”

Red hat

“I am happy to have the opportunity to speak English with native speakers.” Me: Guess what? My first

language is not English! (students gasp) 

“I am happy because facilitators are friendly and ‘cute’.”

“I feel happy as there is no homework or test!!”

“Relaxed, so comfy to speak.”

“So happy to be here.”

It was interesting to hear this comment: “Ashamed because we are being taught by undergrads.”  (All our Suzhou students are studying their Master’s degrees).

And this one: Translation students thought their English should be better than other students who are studying different degrees.

Black hat

“I enjoy the class but don’t like that it is during our lunchtime.” (Students here all eat lunch at noon)

“Facilitators speak too fast sometimes.”

“Too short, we need more classes!” (I hope someone really important is reading and perhaps can accommodate this request! We’d love to do it again)

Green hat

“Interesting getting to learn a different style of teaching.”

“Wish for more permanent staff to replace SEU staff!” (Umm not sure what this means exactly, but the green hat suggests that a good idea would be to have more permanent staff rather than current fly in, fly out arrangements. Maybe?)

A couple of students expressed their desire to now take up teaching given their positive experience! Now that’s a great idea!!

Blue hat

“This has helped me put English into a bigger context.”

And I’ve left the best till last…

“Even though we had only 10 hours [of English conversational classes], in 2 weeks our time will stay with me for the rest of my life.” (I’ll admit there may have been a tear in my eye when I heard this reported back from another facilitator).

Thanks for reading 🙂

Suzhou: Voicing your opinion in academic settings

Our students here at SEU/Monash have completed the first seven workshops, beginning with simple concepts such as appropriate greetings, addressing different people, conversation patterns, interjections, and body language and are now moving into more complex areas. Tuesday’s workshops, for example, were all about “Voicing your opinion” in the context of an academic English university classroom.

Suzhou Conversations

In a university environment, where classes are held in English, tutors expect their students to be active learners. One way this is evident is through discussion and voicing opinions about the learning. It is through such activities that tutors get a sense of how students are engaging with the material and how they can critically analyse and formulate opinions about the different concepts and ideas presented.

In our workshops, students were asked to voice their opinions on various scenarios associated with university learning. One such scenario included enforcement of a new rule where homework, assignments and theses would now have to be handwritten to ensure students were completing all their own work. This proclamation was met with surprise, disbelief and awkward shifting in their chairs. In their groups, the students had to formulate arguments for and against the concept and convince others that it was either a good idea or that it needed reviewing. I thought I’d share some of the arguments they wrote down.

Reasons for disagreeing

It’s a waste of time

Waste of paper

Difficult to check spelling mistakes.

Handwriting is not formal.

Unconvenient [sic] for teachers to review and check repeatation [sic].

People can copy the homework by hand also.

Pay more attention on the handwriting rather than content.

Inconvenient to submit your homework by email.

Teachers have difficulty recognizing some hand-writing.

Typewriter will be useless.

Change easily.

Reasons for agreeing

Handwritten show the devotion.

Improve handwriting skills.

Convenient to write some math formulas.

If we forget to save the document, we will lose it.

Improve understanding.

Can’t copy and paste.

Can record our thinking/ideas easily.

Be more sincere.

Good for eyes.

My favourite response was this: Handwriting would mean we have more time to think about it, our attention will be focused. If we write more, we will write more beautiful English.

For me, this is what learning is about. Thinking, feeling, seeing, doing, and most importantly loving it.

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

Out of the mouths of ‘students’: Conversations from the Suzhou classrooms

Yesterday I woke up to a group of people out in the courtyard singing happy birthday to Paolo. This is not anything unusual except that it was 5:30 in the morning! In my stupor, I couldn’t decide if they were still up from the night before welcoming the birthday in or if they just got up early to make the most of the special day. Either way it made me feel happy and writing this post today is special because my dad turns 89 today! Happy Birthday, Pa!

That aside, it got me thinking about the idea for this post.

What else have I heard over the last couple of days in our Suzhou English conversational classes that made me feel happy? Better still, what have my colleagues heard?

Allow me to take you on a little adventure where we discover some of the wonderful things our Suzhou students have shared, not only with us but even between themselves.

Suzhou speed dating

Scenario 1:

After speed dating style introductions exploring conversation patterns, we asked the students about their experience. One said that he thought the conversation was ‘excellent’ as he did not know the person he was speaking with and that now he felt they could become good friends!

This makes us happy as the students build their confidence in introducing themselves using the English language with other students.

Scenario 2:

A group of female students spy one of our facilitators taking off his Monash hoodie. One comments, “He’s just so attractive!” “Yeah I know,” says another, “even when he’s taking his jumper off!” I inquired as to how the facilitator had understood what they had said, only to be told the students had commented in English!!

This makes us happy as we have a rule that if we hear them speak other than English in class, they have to buy us bubble tea!

Scenario 3:

Pick up line to a facilitator on the first day of classes; “I have 2 tickets to the Avengers, would you like to come?”

Nice one!

Scenario 4:

Three students gossiping over a test instead of discussing the task at hand, suddenly realise that one of our facilitators has overheard them. Embarrassed, they stop abruptly and seem quite worried. Our facilitator simply replies, “Oh don’t worry, I’m just excited you’re speaking in English!!”

This makes us happy!

Scenario 5:

A young man and lady were overheard talking in class. The young man says to his partner, “and that’s why it’s really hard to talk to girls!”

Eh?

Scenario 6:

A student comes to English Corner demanding to see a particular facilitator. “Where’s _____ ?” She said she’d be here!”

They have their favourites it seems.

Scenario 7:

The sassy student who corrected the facilitator greeting the class with “Good Evening.”

“I believe it’s Good Afternoon.”

Now that’s confidence for you!

Scenario 8

During the interjection segment of the class, a facilitator is explaining the different emphasis on Awww (sad) and Awww (when you spy something cute). One of the students explains it so succinctly. “The first is when your boyfriend hasn’t replied to your text message and the second is when he has.”

Just beautiful!

Scenario 9

On our first day, we made it quite clear to the students that our conversation classes were not going to have tests or exams. And then we began distributing one of the tasks, a matching exercise, and a facilitator hears, “So much for no tests.”

Haha!

Last one

Scenario 10

One of the students in our workshops watches a scenario being played out by the facilitators around feedback and solving problems and says, “That’s so nice, can I work for you?”

Oh, and one more exchange not spoken but communicated on WeChat. This made us laugh!!

Bubble Tea

Thanks for reading 😊