Who are you? Teacher Identity

This is a post that was meant as a sort of reply to Tyson’s brilliant one and equally brilliant ones by Matthew and Mark. You need to read those. Please. Now or later. 

So, who are you or what’s your professional identity

I’m the one with the chip on my shoulder about my background. Class-conscious but bleeding-hearted. The non-metropolitan. I was a freak at school and it made me feel self-conscious pretty much all the time and the only time I don’t feel like that is when I’m in the classroom.

I grew up the son of a coal miner in a Co. Durham town where ambition meant just living in a bigger house in the same town. My dad left mining after the miner’s strike and then tried a couple of other things before being an oil rigger. 

My dad is a man’s man and I am not. I don’t know when we both got to accept that but we didn’t always. Now we do. 

My mother would prefer me to live in England but accepts that Japan is home for me now. 

Other than this, I got over not being a famous experimental indie guitarist, poet, novelist or bon vivant. 

Wow. Sounds like Freud would have a field day.

Quite.

So, what’s your teaching philosophy?

Crikey. Students should learn. Sometimes people can’t be bothered to learn so try and coax them into it. Try not to be an arse about it. I sometimes fail at this last point, if I’m honest with myself.

They say that you teach how you were taught. In that case I think Mrs. Hobley had the biggest impact on me. Constantly demanding us to do our best, being overly strict about it sometimes but being unapologetic and explaining that she got results. I think I do this sometimes with “Your way is not working for you. Try my way because it has worked for me.”

You always sound so nice elsewhere on your blog. 

Hmmm. I’m not sure whether I like nice. It seems a bit airy fairy. Like I said, I try not to be an arse. 

What are the things that have made you? 

Probably not having support as a newly qualified primary teacher and then losing my job made me more tenacious to prove myself. Fatherhood led me to get higher paid work, then freelancing, then getting competitive led me to my DipTESOL which I think was beneficial because it made me question myself and the industry. 

Ooh! Hark! 

Really. How SLA theory barely gets a nod and a wink in classrooms here. How listening and pronunciation are hard to teach so loads of institutions don’t encourage teachers to actually teach them. How teachers are not provided with development opportunities but institutions are keen as hell to take advantage of a developing teacher. How nobody really gets paid for what they work.My MA I’m studying makes me even more idealistic. 


Are you this negative all the time? 

No. I love that I help people with their hobby and/or real communicative needs. That I help people do things that they didn’t think they could do. That I have letters in my drawer from students who say I made them realise that they could get better at English and that it wasn’t impossible. 

Are you taking the credit for that? 

No. I’m taking the credit for helping these people see what they are capable of by using my knowledge and experience to point them in directions they might never have explored otherwise. 

Oh, OK. 

Look, I know it’s not earth-shattering but it’s what I think.

At least you’re honest. Any advice for other teachers?

Read. Ask questions. Listen to people who seem credible and have evidence as well as opinions. 

New Post Elsewhere 

So, in spite of feeling sick as a bleeding parrot today, I have good news and good stuff for you to read. 

So, over at the ITDi blog, there is a new issue up on Error Correction 2.0, with posts by Chris Mares, John Pfordresher and me. Chris and John talk about meaningful things , making correction nice meaningful, setting  goals and such. I get on my high horse about the lack of focus on form regarding pronunciation, pragmatics and discourse awareness/analysis. 

Stuff I am Glad I Do as a Freelance Teacher

Those of you who read regularly know just how much of a horrendous curmudgeon I am, and this past couple of weeks I’ve been questioning my career choices, much like Rob Gordon in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, when he talks about shutting down his record shop to go and work in a Virgin Megastore. 
I have, however, come out the other side of this gnashing of teeth and realised that my relief that life is not all bad was helped by the following things:

Keeping a diary

Not a journal, although I do jot things or add them to a private Google document. No, I’m talking about keeping a detailed schedule and updating it weekly. If I knew I could gather the info as quickly online as I can with paper, I’d use an internet-based calendar but paper is just plain quicker. 

Finding how many classes I teach for myself is useful for paperwork for my son’s daycare. It’s also a lot quicker for scheduling new clients. 

Speaking Halfway OK Japanese

I had to phone the bank this week and if I hadn’t learned the Japanese I have, getting the information I needed woukd have meant waiting until my wife’s day off or hiring an interpreter or begging the bank to find someone who speaks English.

Spread the risk

I do not work for just one agency, or just one client. This means of one company goes belly up, or if a new client is bloody unreliable, I don’t lose out too much.

This was an issue when I was a mere part-time dabbler, living paycheck to paycheck. I know now that I would never again work for a fly-by-night company who photocopy all their materials. I also know that if I get paid late, somebody doesn’t care about me so what else don’t they care about? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love a permanent full-time job with a good salary, it’s just that those are rare as hen’s teeth in EFL and I actually do enjoy my job. It’s just the times people treat you as an idiot that get me cross. 

Gritty Politti: Grit, Growth Mindset and Neoliberal Language Teaching

Over the summer, while everyone else was enjoying themselves I was ruing the day I decided to look at grit (Duckworth, 2007) for my Master’s dissertation. I decided it’s unworkable so you get to read about it here.

What is Grit?

Grit is so difficult to define that it takes Duckworth (2016) the best part of a book to describe it adequately. Grit is the orientation of short-term goals toward one’s passions and long-term goals. It has also now mutated, taking on Dweck’s (1996) Growth Mindset, Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) Flow, Ericsson and Pool’s (2016) Deliberate Practice and become a behemoth. One is left with the impression that only Duckworth truly understands what she means by the  term ‘grit’. Grit has also been criticised for not being substantially different to conscientiousness (Kamenetz, 2016). Even Duckworth and Quinn (2009) acknowledge that:

Grit is similar to one Conscientiousness facet in particular, achievement striving, which is measured with items such as “I’m something of a ‘workaholic”’ and “I strive for excellence in everything I do” (Costa & McCrae, 1992a). We believe grit is distinct from achievement striving in grit’s emphasis on long-term goals and persistence in the face of setbacks. However, further research is needed to determine the relationships between grit and other facets of Big Five Conscientiousness.
(Duckworth and Quinn, 2009, p. 173.)

Grit does appear to be lauded, particularly in the USA, for being a commonsense approach to teaching and learning. I do not think this is a good thing. The Grit Score, a short, subjective, Likert-scaled questionnaire, is being used by teachers and learners to assess learners’ grit. One problem here is the weight of the scoring and the disparity between teachers’ and learners’ perceptions. When searching the literature I found nothing. The fact that grit is being used as a magic bullet for the school system’s ills is also worrisome when one might consider the least advantaged actually attending school being a gritty act in itself. Yet, it is these children with poverty-caused cognitive overload (Mani et al, 2013) who will be labelled ‘least gritty’. Duckworth has bemoaned this, much like Frankenstein died at his own monster’s hand.

What negative effects are present? Well, we have teachers buying in to a new orthodoxy dressed up as science, where learners score themselves on how they tend to stick with certain habits. If the teacher is scoring them, so much the worse due to the likelihood of other factors making their way into the scores, such as warmth toward the learners of even empathy towards them. This grit then is used to blame learners or anything but the system, including curricula and syllabi.  To me, grit is simply another tool for attacking the poor and the other. They might not be as gritty and it provides an excuse for not targetting financial resources in the classroom, such as teaching assistants, smaller class sizes or taking time to reflect on whole-school issues such as homework, which can effect some learners who may be primary carers. As Thomas (2013) states, “the dirty little secret behind ‘no excuses’  and ‘grit’ is that achievement is the result of slack, not grit.” However, if a lack of achievement can be put down to intrinsic factors within learners, then it provides grounds for ignoring them. 

In language teaching, progress is known not to be cumulatively acquired (Lightbown, 1985) yet when language is assumed to be a skill acquired like the learning of facts, it may appear that there is not enough work being done by learners. In adult EFL, language learning may not be the most important part of a learner’s life; even in ESOL, when learners may have to adjust to living in a new country, community and culture, integrative motivation (Gardner &  Lambert, 1972) may be lacking. To assume that everyone in a community shares the same values of utility is unwise; to assume language learners progress through stages at the same rate, with the same goals and motivational orientations is to ignore literature and evidence in the classroom. 

All of this grit and Growth Mindset then, seems to lend itself to a laissez-faire attitude in the classroom, where what is taught is what is learned, with learners not progressing at the same rate somehow deficient and lacking gumption to catch up. This characterises the grammar syllabus of textbook ELT. However, if one eschewed that, and taught learners English as opposed to teaching English as a subject, one need not abide by or pay lip service to such ideas. 

Grit, Growth Mindset and SLA

There is, so far, no research linking grit nor Growth Mindset and SLA. There is research linking motivation, particularly long-term motivation, to SLA. Dweck’s work thus far has looked at problem solving in puzzles yet it may prove to be useful in decreasing the effects of the frequently observed slump in intermediate-level language learners’ development (find and cite).

Dörnyei’s (2009) work on motivational selves has elements of learners orienting themselves toward long-term goals, expectations of others (such as schools, parents, bosses) and visualisation of what would be a possible worst-case scenario if they did not study. This is, in my opinion, compatible with grit but has the benefit of not being burdened with the unnecessary accoutrements of highly subjective data from questionnaires for groups; it is personal.

Duckworth (2016) also talks about building gritty communities yet what if one is alienated from the community of sees oneself as unintegrated in the target community? Seeing as grit is passion and perseverance for a goal, essentially personal, grit may not be the best paradigm to apply to the EFL/EAL/MFL classroom in a compulsory school setting.

Furthermore, developing grit may be an irrelevance. As Norton Peirce (1995) demonstrates in her work with ESL learners in Canada, learners are driven toward communication when needs arise, whether there may be negative affective factors in the immediate environment. This need can drive learning, with Martina, one of Norton Peirce’s learner-correspondents providing anecdotal evidence regarding problems in a part-time job:

In the evening I asked my daughter what I have to tell the customer. She said ‘May I help you’ and ‘pardon’ and ‘something else.’ When I tried first time to talk to two customers alone, they looked at me strangely, but I didn’t give up. I gave them everything they wanted and then I went looking for the girls and told them as usually only ‘cash’. They were surprised but they didn’t say anything.
(Norton Peirce, 1995, p.247)

Rather than nebulous ideas of how to teach or foster grit, self-regulative strategies (Oxford, 2013) could provide a jumping-off point for more effective self study or use of self-access facilities. Such strategies may foster greater motivation by providing learners with alternative ways of working than their current preferences.

One caveat here is that I think grit should be researched; I just don’t think there is a place for it to be brought into classes on a whim due to TED talks bringing a superficial informative lacquer to a few minutes of distraction.

If you disagree, by all means comment. I would love to know more, having spent ages with this.

References

Csikszentmihaly, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”, New York: HarperCollins ebooks.

Denby, D. (June 21st, 2016) The Limits of Grit. The New Yorker. Retrieved August 22nd, 2016 from: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-limits-of-grit

Dörnyei, Z. (2009). The L2 Motivational Self System. In Z. Dörnyei & E. Ushioda (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 9-42). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.

Duckworth, A. L. & Quinn, P. D. (2009). Development and validation of the Short Grit Scale (Grit-S). Journal of Personality Assessment, 91(2), 166-174.

Duckworth, A. L. (2016) Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House

Ericcson, A. & Pool, R. (2016) Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt.

Gardner,  R. C.  & Lambert, W. E. (1972) Attitudes and Motivation in Second Language Learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. 

Kamenetz, A. (May 25th, 2016) MacArthur ‘Genius’ Angela Duckworth Responds To A New Critique Of Grit. Retrieved August 22nd, 2016 from: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/05/25/479172868/angela-duckworth-responds-to-a-new-critique-of-grit

Lightbown, P. M. (1985) Great Expectations: Second language acquisition research and classroom teaching. Applied Linguistics, 6(2), 173-189.

Mani, A. et al (2013) Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function. Science, 341,(6149), pp. 976-980

Norton Peirce, B. (1995) Social Identity, Investment and Language Learning. TESOL Quarterly 29/1: 9-31. In Seidlhofer, B (ed.) (2003) pp. 236-255. Oxford, New York: OUP.

Oxford, R (2013) Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. Abingdon: Routledge.

Thomas, P. L. (November 10th, 2013) The Poverty Trap: Slack, Not Grit, Creates Achievement. Retrieved August 22nd, 2016 from: https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/the-poverty-trap-slack-not-grit-creates-achievment/

Further Reading

Sheppard, R. (2016) Grit, Resilience and Conation in Adult Esol

Sheppard, R. (2016) Grit, Resilience and Conation in Adult Esol Part II

Seats for my seats

Seating plans: not the sexiest of topics to blog about but here we are after a 12-week action research cycle. 

12 weeks, Marc? 

12 weeks. 

It’s not a big class but if you follow the Pareto principle that 85% of your problems come down to 15% of what’s on your plate then this class is my 15%.

The Learners

Gambit – a boy that can work well but cannot resist fussing about what others do. 

Iceman –  a boy that thinks he can’t do anything but I’d actually more able than he thinks. 

Nightcrawler – a boy who is very literate and able but cannot sit still. 

Angel – a boy who has sone kind of autistic spectrum disorder. Highly literate and communicative but also highly disruptive. 

Cyclops – a quiet boy of medium ability. 

Psylocke – a girl who is quite able but unwilling to try her best in case she falls short of her own benchmark based on others’ work. 

Ms. Marvel – a girl who performs well in all skills. Confident but occasionally rushes work too much. 

Some things that I found out quickly

The girls need to sit together else Psylocke won’t work. 

Psylocke and Gambit distract each other. 

Gambit and Angel irritate each other for fun but Angel will scream and occasionally lash out. 

Cyclops cannot work near Angel, nor can Iceman. Iceman also cannot work near Nightcrawler. 

None of the  children like sitting alone very much and anyway, they need to practice speaking English as well as reading and writing. 

So, what I did

I used Google Slides to plan my seating each lesson. Often I had one-week notice of absences. I logged any problems and/or changes. Sometimes I noticed huge problems that I had not anticipated, for example that Iceman will work near Gambit, a huge fusspot, but not near Nightcrawler who has a more relaxed temperament. It is not possible to seat Iceman near Cyclops due to Cyclops’ frequent absence. 

Strangely, Nightcrawler and Angel make a good seating combination with Cyclops. Iceman and Gambit tend to relax one another, too. While I dislike the idea of boys and girls not sitting together, I am resigned to the girls need to sit together for affective reasons but bring them to work with boys when possible, often Nightcrawler and Cyclops or Angel. 

Should this really have taken 12 weeks?

 

Well, it was more like nine and then three weeks to see if it was final. While ny final plan is not perfect it is good enough and the best possible solution for me and the children. 

#CorpusMOOC Week 2

The heat got turned up this week and we looked at keywords, looked deeper at collocation and colligation and then semantic preference and discourse prosody.

As somebody always about in the internet and reading blogs about teaching, I have kind of got sick of the definition of collocate as ‘the company words keep’. It doesn’t really mean very much, and it could even apply to colligate, too.

Collocate: words that statistically occur together.

Colligate: words that have a statistical affinity for grammatical classes.

Then we get onto semantic preference. This is really interesting. These are basically  collocate groups. For example, in a search of the BNC for ‘encounter’ as a noun there are a collocations with: this, first, last, final, after, second, before, every. I would say (and I could be wrong) that this forms a semantic group of chronological markers.

What this means for teachers is that if you plan to teach ‘encounter’ as a noun, you should probably consider teaching it in contexts with these markers, probably as part of a story. This could be part of a prior reflection on words likely to arise as part of a task in a syllabus or, if you’re teaching using literature, that you might want to bring in some other materials if these collocates don’t appear (although there are also collocates with ‘casual’, ‘sexual’ and ‘thrilling’ for all you risque teachers).

Getting on to discourse prosody, which is the meanings and discourse usually associated with words, this basically has sociolinguistic implications in that how a word is used within a corpus (especially one taken at a specific time/place) tells you about the cultural values associated with that word. Again, in the BNC, if one searches for ‘elderly’ that it appears they need care, particularly health care and that they are vulnerable, which is also backed up by collocations.

elderly

For teachers, this means you might look at this word (for recycling especially) when teaching lessons based on health, or talk about health and infirmity when talking about age (and whether these should be taken as a given, of course; always question discourse!)

I haven’t had much time to play with AntConc this week because I want to make a better corpus to mess about with. Still, interesting stuff.