Sunday, March 22, 2015

γεια σας !

A few months ago, I suddenly decided I needed a break from my normally intensive focus on all things "teaching English".  I've still been teaching, but I've been using my blogging, course-taking, textbook-reading, blog-reading time for other things!

For one thing, I've been exploring an opportunity to peer coach other teachers of adult ESL learners.  The pace for that may pick up (or not) when the new fiscal year begins in July, depending on the budget for that program. In the meantime, I'm mostly learning the ropes.  A lot of the work will be online, but I believe that an unplugged approach can still be taken and that it's ideally suited to this task.  As (if) I get into it more, I'll surely comment here.

I have also taken on two private learners who come to my house for lessons twice a week.  We knew each other from another context and they asked if I offered private lessons.  I think they were surprised, though, to discover that my home office is actually set up as a mini-classroom!

This enterprise is a delight.  The two learners have taken up the reins and are driving each lesson in full unplugged mode!  We have conversation and pause often to beat the heck out of some language point, mostly at their discretion.  I find that I do little lesson preparation, though I do spend about an hour after each session writing notes and "post-planning". They repeatedly comment on how happy they are with what they're learning and how it's helping them outside the classroom.  It's truly quite rewarding for me too!

I usually serve a bit of coffee and one of the learners will sometimes bring a snack.  There's a bookcase with reference tomes to the right and a printer to the left. (These are rarely accessed, actually.) You can see from the whiteboard that in this session they wanted clarification on the present perfect tense.  The question also came up: what does XOXO mean?  I used Google images to look up a recent publicity campaign for Philadelphia tourism and we used those as the "text" for that part of our discussion. And I warned them not to write OXOX (hence the pictures of oxen on the monitor)!  The lamp and pictures and a nearby couch and chairs make the setting quite "social" but there is a good learning infrastructure in place to use as desired.

On a more personal level, I took up running.  For the last year or so, I've been doing exercise walking and it got to the point where I wanted to increase effort but not time.  So I now run for some of my sessions. Feels good to be in (somewhat better) shape!  I will be breaking from classroom teaching over the summer (private teaching will continue) and hope to do a lot of outdoor stuff with that extra time.

Finally, I've taken up learning a new language myself!  I've made friends with a former student and his wife and felt odd that I knew exactly one word of Greek (γεια σας = hello).  It seemed as if I should at least get somewhat familiar with this giant dimension of their lives.  I don't expect to become fluent or even get a lot of practice because we have no real need to use Greek (they're both highly proficient English speakers). But the personal connection does provide motivation and it's also an excellent opportunity to be sensitive to the rank beginner's experience (to strengthen compassion for my learners).  Until a few weeks ago, I didn't know a jot (a word of Greek origin!) about pronunciation, grammar, reading, writing, listening, vocabulary, culture ... anything!  It's an ego-tamer, that's for sure.  And since I have all sorts of opinions about what makes a good learner, it's a chance for me to a) test things out from the learning side of the equation and b) put up or shut up!  

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Corpus Adventure

 I couldn't be more pleased with my MOOC experience!  (It's a free online course about corpus linguistics.) Because I will be traveling in a few days, I'm pushing into the lessons for the third week, which formally begins tomorrow. Naturally, this doesn't leave much time for blogging ... but I'd like to summarize the experience now that I've had a good taste of it.

(OK, this is 'screen overkill', given that I'm taking the picture with yet another screen!)

The course is tidily organized around a horizontal timeline of eight modules, one per week.  Each module is arranged into a vertical todo list.  These are all of the activities available for the module.  Each activity consists of some input and discussion around that input.  Often, the input is a video which can be downloaded for offline viewing.  The transcript and slides are also available, which is handy for review and note-taking.

The discussion section is, effectively, the classroom.  Participants pose questions, comment, reply, etc.  The leader of the course (Professor McEnery) responds personally to many posts, and there are other knowledgable mentors and facilitators who encourage and offer support along the way.  All facilitators are careful to interact respectfully with people at whatever level they bring to the course (from curious beginner with no background to PhD candidate with a linguistics project in progress).  As has been true for other online courses I've taken, the discussion interface could be more flexible.  A lot of valuable information is revealed in the discussions, including useful links and suggestions for more reading.  I would like a better way to flag useful posts, for one thing.  (I can "like" them, but can't filter by that).  But all in all, the forum is still a useful and important part of the course.

This first half of a module consists of a warmup activity followed by a lecture which is divided into five brief segments (10 minutes or so).  This is nice because it allows discussion at each breakpoint.  You can also progress through the module in short, discrete chunks.  That's helpful if you're a busy person!  There is also a general discussion activity that, so far, asks us to reflect on our warmup activity in light of the new ideas that have been presented.  And, there's a quiz which serves as a good review of the main points.  (You can take the quiz as many times as you want.). There is also a reading which expands on the lecture.  And finally, there are optional videos and readings for any participants who want to go into even more depth.

The second half of each module has, so far, been a step-by-step tutorial in using AntConc -- a program for corpus analysis.  The tutorial is given by Laurence Anthony, the developer of the program, and he kindly responds to questions and assists with issues in the comments section (as do the other facilitators).  We are guided in playing around with the software, usually to explore some of the linguistics questions that came up in the lecture and associated activities.  I believe we will also be introduced to other tools in later lectures.

In this iteration of the course, they have also introduced a social networking hub where you can monitor posts and tweets from fellow participants". I've signed on but haven't used it much (yet).

I have been able to do much of the course on my tablet, which has made it a lot easier to keep up. But I still sit at the desk for the hands-on activities.

I won't be reporting much on the content of the course (sign up and take it next time -- it's free!) but it will inform many future posts, for sure.  In fact, I might have to go through my giant pile of drafts and rewrite or delete a few!