(A)ALL around #mindblown

Academic conferences are not like education conferences. At least that’s what I thought. I even posted about that just the other day…

Ros and I presenting some of our Suzhou research at AALL

On reflection though, I think they might have some authentic overlaps. The first and foremost is a genuine commitment to student learning. The Association for Academic Language and Learning (AALL) Conference brings together a group of higher educationalists biennially to share research and understandings about international student cohorts. They come together to network and put faces to names seen only in journal articles and books. This year, in Fremantle, W.A., there were representatives from many universities and colleges who work with international students. The types of research I had the pleasure of hearing about over three full days are mind blowing to say the least. To have had the opportunity to present some of our research from our teaching experience in Suzhou, China earlier this year was a highlight.

Going through my copious notes recorded throughout the conference I have lifted out some of the things I heard that really resonated with me. I would love to hear your thoughts, please post below once you’ve had a chance to digest.

Interculturalism is a mindset. We need to be thinking about it all the time.” (Dr Janette Ryan)

“We all benefit from teaching international students.” (Athanassia Iosifidou)

“We become who we are by our interactions with others.” (Dr Maggie McAlinden)

Am I hallucinating my level of English?” (International doctoral student – ECU)

“Students don’t come with a deficit of language but a richness of language which we need to develop.” (Dr Jo McFarlane)

“We pay insufficient attention to their individualism. They all come from different countries but we bundle them in together as international students.” (Dr Pam Delly)

English is a language not a measure of intelligence.

“Champions of students” (Janette Ryan)

In her final address at the conference, Janette, described us as ‘Champions of students.’ For me this is not simply an uplifting comment but a call to action for all educators and parents. In fact it should be a moral obligation for everyone to be a champion to students – ALL students. Sure, teachers make a difference, we certainly do, but without students we are nothing. Be a champion to students – I dare you.

Thanks for reading 🙂

References

Bourdieu, P. and Passeron, J-C. (1994). Introduction: Language and the relationship to language in the teaching situation. In Bourdieu, P., Passeron, J-C. and de Saint Martin, M. (Eds) Academic Discourse (pp. 1-34). Cambridge: Polity Press.

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 🙂

7 boys, a mum & 28 pre-service teachers: A narrative of challenges

This post also addresses prompt number 6 in the #edublogsclub challenge – Challenging situations.

Once upon a time….

No, sorry…

This semester sees me working with 2nd-year pre-service teachers. The unit is the same as the one from 2016 and once again we get to go out to a school in Week 3 and ‘teach’ a couple of Year 7 students on campus. This is usually done during our tutorial time, however, this year proved to be a little challenging in that our tutorial time is 4-6 pm!! Um, schools don’t usually have students ready to go at that time – but alas – the time slot couldn’t be changed regardless of how important this ‘teach’ visit is to my students’ first assignment, (that’s another story!).

Anyhow, let’s not get side-tracked. I wanted to share once again the wonderful adventure we had that afternoon and how we managed to pull it off considering we went from 28 Year 7 boys willing to participate, all the way down to 6. With pizza and choc mud cake on the menu, the boys signed up to remain after school and participate in the activity. Until…

The bribe

They realised it was actually parent/teacher/student (P/T/S) interview evening and they finished school at 2 pm! The numbers dwindled down to 10 boys, and with only a couple of days before the activity, we went to Plan B – there is always a Plan B!

The hour we had with the students would need to be split into two. We have 10 boys participating in two sessions. This would be okay, as the teaching was only for 30 minutes, so my own pre-service teachers would be prepared and it would not impact on their lesson plan. Emails were sent to all and preparations made. I would pick up the food and make my way to the school, arriving in time to feed the students and set up the space. A half dozen of my students, who didn’t have a class before the tutorial would meet me to help with preparations. And then the phone rang…

It’s the day of the activity.

“Hi Jo. How are you going?”

It’s my contact from the school.

The conversation goes something like this….’Everything is okay. We are all set to go except we are now holding the activity in the library and not in the performing arts centre (where I told my students to meet me). No problem we’ll send the boys down to direct them. See you later in the afternoon.’

All good.

And then the phone rang…again…

“Hi Jo. How are you going?”

It’s my contact from the school.

“I’ve got some bad news.”

We are now down to 6 students.

Time for Plan C. Hang on. I don’t really have a Plan C. I have 11 groups (28 students in 2s and 3s) and 6 students. Each group except for 2 are expecting to be teaching 2 Year 7s for 30 mins. I get in my car to pick up the food and head on over to the school. Plan C, if I had one, won’t work, at least not without disppointing my students.

Later, at the school, I’m so happy to see my students who have arrived early as promised. We make our way to the library space, Plan C still isn’t coming.

“Hi Miss!” exclaim 2 little Year 7 boys awaiting our arrival.

I already feel better.

“Here boys, have some pizza. Now while we set up why not go find a friend to join us?”

“Ok,” they reply enthusiastically.

They soon return with another student willing to join in. That’s 7. Is Plan C on it’s way?

Slowly my other pre-service teachers begin to arrive while a few get caught in traffic and message to say they are running late. No problem. Plan C is slowly appearing. We have 3 groups already here and we’re 30 mins early – let’s start the first session and instead of 2 rotations we’ll do 3, plenty of time till 5 pm! H-E-L-L-O … Plan C!

And so the sessions begin.

In no time at all we have paper planes flying, gold coins appearing and science experiments taking shapes.

Planes, coins & science

My pre-service students keep arriving and another student arrives after finishing with P/T/S interviews in tow with mum and dad ready to join in the learning. “Please join us, mum and dad, you’re most welcome!” Mum is keen. So now we have 7 boys (yes I know that should be 8 but one has to leave to attend the interviews so really it’s still 7). The boys grab another piece of pizza and make their way to join another group ready to go again. In this session we’re doing kinetics, working probability and travelling to the land of ancient Egypt. There is also evidence of more science experiments to do with chocolate. I also spot one young man exploring through a paper telescope – I can’t wait to read about that one!

I spy…

Ancient emoji?

30 minutes later … A-N-D … TIME! Last cycle: the 7 boys and the mum rotate one last time. In this session I find more science experiments, this one has balloons and looks very interesting. In another corner, Japanese is being taught, while yet another group is deep into the medieval world and a third is working on area and perimeter – looks and feels nothing like when I went to school. Much laughter and engagement prevail and it looks like Plan C worked!

‘konnichiwa’

More pizza and mud cake, lots of thank yous and satisfaction prevails. We did it!

Time for reflection….

Reflecting on our teaching

Many thanks once again to De La Salle Malvern and especially their Year 7 coordinator who supported us all throughout this process, including entertaining the idea of having students stay after school to accommodate our tutorial time. Hopefully next year common sense will prevail and the tutorials will all be scheduled during the school day when students are actually in school!

Thanks for reading 🙂

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

In today’s classrooms on at least one wall, there exists a whiteboard – used to be a blackboard but those days are long gone. I’m wondering then if maybe it’s almost time to sign off on whiteboards. Yes, I know we have those interactive numbers in many schools but even so…I’m not convinced they are being used to capacity.

Since it’s supposed to be summer in Melbourne – I say ‘supposed to be’, cause I’m currently at the beach in a lovely new house on holiday, just a few minutes walk from the beach, and it’s freezing… aside from that… what if the beach was a whiteboard? What might this look like?

This post was initially prompted and began swirling in my head by a couple of photos sent to me in November when most kids were busy studying for upcoming exams. It was cemented in me last night when walking along the beach here and happening upon some wonderful sand drawings.

sand drawing

What prompts children (and adults) to write and draw in wet sand? Have you ever thought about it?

I bet you’ve done it.

Thomas was prompted to write in the sand while studying for his English exam. Yes, really. He scraped out quotes from his novel as a way to remember them. Funny. No one encouraged him to do it, in fact, he was on his own down at the beach and then…he picked up a stick.

He tells me he actually planned to walk down to the beach so he could write them in the sand.

Thomas’ sand quotes

Why?

“I didn’t have a whiteboard. I usually write them on a whiteboard, rub them out and write them again.” At the beach, he didn’t need to rub them out. It was expansive enough to just move on to another space and repeat.

Really?

Thomas purposefully adapted his preference for learning and used his immediate access to the sand in order to learn.

As he stands back to admire his writing, passers-by are curious.

“It’s okay,” says Thomas, “I’m just revising for my English exam.”

Clever.

Really?

Is that what it is?

Clever?

Thomas doesn’t think so – for him, he was just studying, thinking, adapting to his environment, taking advantage of what he had – a stick, a voglia, (desire) to explore learning, sand, prior knowledge and experience.

So what if the beach was a whiteboard?

How might you use it for learning?

Thanks for reading 🙂

Reading from the outside in

A new term usually signals a new text we have to ‘teach’. In many cases there’s a 90% chance that your students haven’t read the novel in advance and if they have, well, that’s a bonus.

Over the years I’ve tried lots of ways to try and get students involved with the class texts. I’ve sat in on meetings where teachers decide which novels their students should read in which year level and during which term. I’ve been in on discussions as to whether to allow the film version to be studied and what the sparknotes might have to offer.

I’ve had occasion to actually introduce novels in a few classes over the years with great success (usually as a CRT or while on a short term contract) even though I’m not a trained English teacher. This is what I have to offer…

Reading the novel from the outside in

There are many students who don’t like to read, especially not books that are prescribed by their teachers. However, until we change our ways and actually allow the students themselves to choose their own novels  – now there’s an idea – we need to find ways to engage them. We need to ‘hook’ them into learning.

Blue book

Blue book

For a student to connect with their novel we have to tease them into wanting to know more. Therefore I never begin with the Forward or the Introduction and nor do I begin at Chapter One. In fact, I don’t even do this in my own reading, which is probably why I was a little disappointed when the book I put on hold last week turned out looking like this (Blue book). I know I’m going to need to make some effort in reading it over the coming weeks (sighs). So what is it that would engage my students and I into reading a book? What’s the hook? For me it’s going to be the cover – front and back.

For this experiment, I’d like you to grab a novel or any book close by and follow the prompts while simultaneously developing a mind map by hand or using any brainstorming apps:

Here’s mine;

One version of the cover – ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time’

  1. Have a good look at both the front and back, and write down everything you see (use adjectives to really help describe what it is, e.g. 6 red cars and extend the mind map). This is even more interesting if your students have different editions.
  2. Ask questions of the students – What does the colour ‘red’ represent? Extend the mind map as students respond – red, love; anger…

    beginnings of mind map

    Beginnings of  a mind map

  3. What of the awards? Google and add info to mind map
  4. Keep going – accept all responses as students begin to engage with your questions. They may have some of their own. Ask.
  5. They may want to add colour or other images which they can draw or download.
  6. Now get them to read the blurb
  7. Who is the main character?
  8. What do you know about this character from reading the blurb? Explore further the idea about not understanding human beings. Do they know anyone like this in their own lives?
  9. What more have you learnt about the dog?
  10. Keep building the mind map…Are there any other characters mentioned? Who are they?
  11. What kind of novel is this? Mystery – who likes mysteries? Tell me about something mysterious…
  12. What mysteries might the main character unravel in this novel? Write a paragraph we can compare later…or draw a picture…or record your idea on your device…

Let’s find out what happens shall we?

And so only then do we turn to Chapter 1 – ‘It was 7 minutes after midnight.” #hooked

Try it; I’d love to hear how it goes.

The mind map can be updated, re-designed, discussed, and dissected as they go through the novel – extending and comparing their first thoughts and developing ideas for later analysis. Some students might like to follow along using the audio version as they read through the book. Did you know that there is a stage production of the novel and even an overview?

So, how did you go with your book? Do you think this could work in your classes? Are you willing to have a go? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading 🙂