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 šŸ˜Š

Nervous but excited: Our first day

We got this!

Yesterday was our first official day at South East University / Monash in Suzhou. I left our hotel full of self-doubt and angst. I have never felt so nervous, even though teaching is what I have done for the last 33 years. The welcoming party was wonderful. We met the staff at the university who put on a lovely morning teaĀ but our conversations soon came to an end as it was time for our first sessions.

Gulp – we’ve got this!

Here is Suzhou, we are privileged to be in spacious, well-equipped rooms, the natural light from the giant windows streaming in, everything up and operating AND the students arrive.

Oh what joy!

I’ve discovered that Let’s Chat comes naturally to us and once we start – well, there’s no stopping us. We have a great program and now we get to share it with our partners in Suzhou, China.

I’m with a great team of colleagues who are dedicated and determined to make this work. Our first day was a testament to that!

What if we took the ‘dis’ out of disability?

I often encourage participants in my workshops to forget about what students with disabilities can’t do and focus on what they can. We can use this to approach the learning, get them comfortable and then push a little so the students begin to use what they can do to strengthen what they can’t. What do you think?

Let’s have a look.

Take the term disability. I’ve spent the past eight months asking research participants to describe for me what they think this is – you can articulate what you think it is now…

For me, it’s a negative term – something that gets in the way.

By simply crossing out the ‘DIS’, it becomes a totally different word, ‘ABILITY’.

Why don’t we focus on that for a moment? ABILITY. What can we change, put in place, introduce, or challenge so that we focus on the student’s ability rather than get all twisted up about what they can’t do? How would your planning and delivery of teaching and learning look then? Allow me to introduce Julian. He is a boy in your class, non-funded, presenting with the following ‘disabilities’

Julian – a non-funded student

Let’s just say we changed our thinking and presented Julian’s ‘disabilities’ as ‘ABILITIES’.

What Julian can do

How would planning a differentiated lesson for this class be different if we focused on what they can do?

Take another word – dyslexia. By removing the ‘dys’ we are left with the word LEXIA which has origins from the Greek and Latin and refers to reading. (It’s also a raisin, but that just doesn’t suit me here). *clears throat* If we were to address reading, how could we encourage it to those who have dyslexia? I have a few ideas, you may have others and the more we can share the better it will be, as we know that not all strategies work every time, all the time nor forever and so having a full bag can be rather useful.

Here’s a few of mine:

  • Use sans-serif text where possible, that is – Verdana, Arial or CalibriĀ and left-align the text
  • Use visuals and have the child ‘read’ the picture, you might even record their voice and help them write the words alongside the visual later
  • Use audiobooks – nowĀ there are 2 important points I’d like to make here
    • The child should not just be listening to the audiobook, but should also follow the text
    • You don’t have to spend $$$ to buy them – record yourself reading it or have someone else do it for you – parents, imagine if your child was listening to you read it on tape when you weren’t there in person?

Next word – dysgraphia,Ā by dropping the ‘dys’ we are left with GRAPHIA, the process of writing. I have used graph paper successfully with a number of students to help formulate their letters within the spaces and I suspect it would also assist with numbers. We should never comment on how bad a child’s writing is (yes – no matter how bad) as this will only lead to them refusing to write altogether. The way one can improve their writing both aesthetically and content wise is to keep writing, don’t ruin that process, instead try a few different strategies to get encourage them. Use their body to form letters, take photos and have them trace around it – lots of different letters make words, sentences and so it goes. Help them manipulate further with plasticine, writing on the board, or on a wall (put paper up first!) with chalk on the path. I like to challenge them by having them use their ‘other’ hand – it’s fun!

The letter T
image: comicphonics.com

Getting the idea?

Let’s try one more – dyscalculia, difficulty understanding numeracy. If we remove the ‘dys’ we have CALCULIAĀ – obviously closely related to calculus – you get the idea. How can we assist with this? There are many ways we can address it but one of my favourites is more for parents than Maths teachers…Ā  it’s cooking!

via GIPHY

Imagine how many things we need to measure, count, estimate, time, weigh and plan? Trust me, the benefits out weigh the mess.

There are many others I haven’t shared but I’ll stop it here and take the opportunity to invite you to add to my list of ‘dys’ words made positive and even better – strategies to enhance them and my ‘dys’ words above. Please take the time to share an idea that might help an educator change the life of a child today.

Thanks for reading šŸ™‚

 

 

 

Mentoring pre-service teachers is a privilegeĀ and a duty

Last week I attended a professional learning day at ACU, one component of a course on mentoring pre-service teachers (PSTs) which includes both online and face-to-face activities. This post is a reflection on that learning.

View from Daniel Mannix building – ACU Fitzroy Campus

Mentoring Pre-service Teachers is a privilegeĀ and a duty

Similar to how teachers connect with their students by way of forming sound relationships, so a mentor needs to ā€˜learnā€™ their mentee in an effort to guide and inspire them to learn while also being open to learning themselves. Teaching and mentoring is learned through practice and by teaching, we also become the learner.

This learning partnership is encouraged through active participation in the mentoring of PSTs. While on professional placement, PSTs need and want to learn to be classroom ready. They are brimming with enthusiasm and eager to hone their skills. While in university we can provide the theory and discuss what itā€™s like in schools. There is no way we can replicate real life; that remains the domain of the school. As possible mentors to PSTs, we need to be mentee ready.

In schools, there is a need to move away from the supervisory model into a more productive and engaging mentoring program for PSTs. For this to succeed schools need to take an active role in providing professional learning for all staff so that quality mentors understand ā€œthe specific goals of mentoring in the context in which they are working and is familiar with the tasks to be undertaken by the menteeā€ (Ambrosetti, 2014, p. 32). Mentoring skills can be learned, so why not have schools and higher education institutions working in partnership to establish professional learning opportunities such as the one offered at ACU last week to enable mentoring skills to develop in school in preparation for PSTs?

I encourage educators to put aside concerns about time and extra workloads and instead, begin prioritising activities and tasks most close to our educative hearts. For me, at this point in time, they would be – inclusion, coaching and mentoring PSTs. These three priorities are linked and attention to them may just make a difference.

1: Inclusion

For those who read my blog, you would be aware that I am currently in the midst of a PhD seeking to learn more about special needs and inclusive practices, through collaborative partnerships between teachers and learning support officers (LSOs, AKA as teacher aides, paraprofessionals). Inclusion for me is belonging, not just a body in the classroom but feeling as if the person can and will succeed and is an integral member of the community in which they find themselves. Everyone has something to offer and would relish any opportunity to reveal it to us.

This idea is reflective of mentoring and coaching. Mentoring should be a positive learning experience for both mentor and mentee (Ehrich, Hansford & Ehrich, 2011). It empowers us to ā€œsee a possible future and believe it can be obtainedā€ (Shawn Hitchcock), much like the idea of inclusion.

Quote – Shawn Hitchcock

2: Coaching

There is a fine line between mentoring and coaching ā€“ while I agree that mentoring is reciprocal learning, it is still very much a hierarchical relationship. As John C. Crosby states, ā€œMentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.ā€ Mentee seeks mentor expertise, guidance, and feedback but similarly, there is room for a coaching relationship to also develop, not only between peers but also between mentor and PST. Coaching doesnā€™t provide answers but rather, a coaching conversation is one where the coachee is guided through questioning so they may come to the solution themselves. Parker (2012) discusses the roles of listening and questioning in his book The Negotiatorā€™s Toolkit, where he encourages us to listen attentively and question with intent. This is an integral process of a coaching conversation and hence is valuable in a mentor/mentee relationship. While the mentee seeks answers during the conversation or observation, the process should also become an opportunity to figure it out for themselves. Our role as mentors should be to create safe havens in which PSTs can take risks, fail and gather themselves to go again, an ā€œopportunity to create [and re-create] themselvesā€ (Spielberg).

Collaborating

3: Mentoring PSTs

As educators, I think we should view mentoring PSTs as a privilege. It becomes a chance to fine tune and develop our own skills. It just may be an opportunity to see things differently, to be challenged and reflect deeply on our own practice. More importantly, it places us in an extraordinary situation where we get to imbue passion and love for teaching and learning to a new generation of educators. We are privileged to meet those on the cusp of a new career and as such should remember the words of Dewey (1933) who identified three key attributes of reflective people: open mindedness, responsibility and wholeheartedness (Yost, Sentner & Forlenza-Bailey, 2000). As educators, coaches and mentors we must be open to new possibilities through listening and observing others. We ought to take responsibility in seeking the truth and apply it to problem solve and overcome our fears and uncertainties in order to make meaningful change. As reflective practitioners, we need to critically analyse and evaluate ourselves and others, as well as our educational institutions and communities in general. As mentors, we have the possibility to instil this in our PSTs and offer them every opportunity to become great educators. We must prepare them to continue the great work we have started, teaching and learning with future generations. This is our responsibility to PSTs and to our future children.

Thanks for reading šŸ™‚

References

Ambrosetti, A. (2014). Are You Ready to be a Mentor? Preparing Teachers for Mentoring Pre-service Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(6), pp.30-42.

Ehrich, L. C., Hansford, B. C.,Ā & Tennent, L. (2004). Formal Mentoring Programs in Education and other Professions: A Review of the Literature. Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), pp. 518-540.

Yost, D. S., Sentner, S. M., & Forlenza-Bailey, A. (2000).Ā An Examination of the Construct of Critical Reflection: Implications for Teacher Education Programming in the 21st Century. Journal of Teacher Education,Ā 51(1), pp. 39-49.

On teachers’ work: Open the door & inspire others

Prompt number 14 in the #edublogsclub: Write a post that includes a ā€œgiveaway,ā€ whether that is a lesson, a PDF, or something else.Ā 

Open the doors & inspire others

This has to be one of my favourite things to do; share ideas and strategies to improve learning. As educators, we are not very good at boasting. I found this to be one of the greatest challenges when I left full time teaching to take up consulting.

In my adventures so far there have been good and bad experiences. I have written a number of posts about them and reflect often on how we can make a difference. I work hard as I know many of my colleagues do. We do, however, need more sharing in schools. Out in the cyber world, there are a myriad of websites and links to wonderful ideas and strategies for use in the classroom or for the professional learning of teachers. These are great, but I think the greatest of impacts come from colleagues who teach at the same school or neighbouring schools who open their classroom doors and invite others in to see, hear, experience and learn from each other. It’s time.

So, in the spirit of sharing or as the prompt suggests – ‘giveaway’, here are a few posts I’ve written about teaching and learning that may provoke further ideas and dare I say it – inspire you to try something different. If they do please let me know via the comment box below!

Reading from the outside inĀ – A post about getting students hooked intoĀ reading

Playing the Picasso hookĀ – Using visual imagery to provoke learning

Ma & Pa Kettle and other mathematical dilemmasĀ – A post encouraging critical thinking in Maths

Teaching strategies that work for boysĀ  – no explanation required

I wish my teacher knew, and other great reflectionsĀ – a post about learning my students

Thanks for reading šŸ™‚