Journal: End of the Week

Yesterday’s class stood out to me because I felt that I had confused my students, and I was worried that they were frustrated.  I know that they’re adults and that they can handle being frustrated… but I still didn’t like it.

I actually stand by the difficult work we did.  The activities helped me gauge their comprehension and made them think very hard about what they’d been learning the past couple of weeks.  I wish I’d done a better job of highlighting what they already knew before they began.  I also wish I’d followed it up with something more fun and manageable. 

My goal for today was review, but even more importantly, I wanted them to feel good about their English.  I know that could easily become BS-y or condescending or a total waste of time if the content was weak.  I owe them more respect and professionalism than to assume they want easy fluff and then pandering to said assumption.  So I thought of it as a day to be sure to set them up for success.

I think it worked out well.  First we had a contest to remember exercise vocabulary.  It was fun and different and not too difficult.  And it will be on the test.

Then they separated into small groups to make posters of the two verb tenses.  I was very happy with the process and the results.  Firstly, they had to speak English because the groups all included people with different first languages.  Secondly, they had to read and interperet the instructions that were projected on the screen.  Thirdly, they had to think hard about what they already knew about the verb tenses.  It was a matter of remembering, organizing, and applying.  At least one student per group knew it cold, and this allowed everyone to practice, contribute, ask questions, and/or make corrections.  Fourthly, we now have great review materials I can use next week.

Next, we rehearsed the play again, but today Group 1 rehearsed while Group 2 watched and vice versa.  We staged it so that nobody’s back was to the audience, and worked on adding a bit of drama: inflection, pointing, and in once case having a character bolt out of the room.  It was a good time, and I hope that it helped with comprehension for the one or two students who still needed it.  The culmination of all of their practicing this week was performing for the ESL class next door!  The audience seemed to get a kick out of it, and my students finished off smiling and seeming energized. 

For the last activity I let them choose between a dictation and watching anther Mr. Bean episode.  Dictation won, as it always does.  🙂  Different students read each sentence, and other students wrote their final answers on the board where we identified once again which were Simple Present and which were Present Continuous.

I think they worked really hard today, and I also think they both demonstrated and felt success.  It’s a nice way to finish the week!

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Journal: Snow Day Victories

Well, it turns out that a scant inch of snow is enough to delay my place of work from opening until noon.  Since I have a morning class, that means a snow day!

I was of course uneasy about the possibility of my students coming to class to find nobody there, so I called everybody.  I also told every single person and voicemail I spoke to that in the future I would not be calling. See the homework blog for more details.  I’ll have even more options for them in person tomorrow, but I’m not posting them because they highlight where exactly I work.

Victory #1:

I spent the morning registering for a class for my own professional development as an ESOL teacher.  Yay!  It starts Monday and will meet weekly all the way through mid-May.

Victory #2:

high five? by StephVee on Flickr
high five? by StephVee on Flickr

I also spent time getting my work email to run through Gmail instead.  Success!  My mistake from Monday was trying to accomplish what I wanted through the college email system instead of through Gmail.  Maybe tech support could have pointed me in that direction instead of just saying that my request was “impossible,” but I got there eventually.  🙂

I’m so excited about this change for these reasons:

  • General annoyance: Gmail’s interface is just better from log-in to reading to sending.
  • Gmail has a SPAM filter.  I see no evidence of one in my work email.
  • Personal boundaries maintained: I set up a new work Gmail separate from my personal account.
  • Inbox overflow issue solved: messages will only stay in my work email for a moment before flying to my new, huge work Gmail.
  • My replies will be faster: I’ve set up filters in my work Gmail that will forward important messages straight to my personal account.
  • More flexibility for me: I can now email my colleagues from my personal account but have it look like it’s from my work account.

In other words, I’m in charge now, not the email system. It’s a good feeling!

I’m not going to do a complete email victory dance until I’ve seen my set-up in action for a week or two, but I’m very happy with my progress!

Happy snow day to all!

PS – Yesterday: 20 students, engaging grid activity warm-up about the students’ exercise habits, beginning of the Getting In Shape unit, reading charts, talking about the calories that various activities burn.  Very fun!

On Getting Upset

Oh, Cookie! by esti- on Flickr
Oh, Cookie! by esti- on Flickr

When I do something badly, I get upset.

When people around me make decisions I disagree with that impact me, I get upset.

When I set a goal and then am moved in a different direction, I get upset.

Someone asked me why I let these things upset me.

The answer is change.  Because when I’m upset, I think harder, faster, and more creatively to make the situation change.  When I’m upset is when I say, “That’s it, I’m not letting [mistake] happen again and here’s how,” or “I know [this] is the right answer and I just have to make sure I’m heard,” or “Ok, [goal] just got harder but so help me I’ll get there anyway.”

Because if I don’t get a little pissed off sometimes, a one-time goof becomes a habit, what was once a mishap becomes normal, and the standards bar slides down unchecked.

A life of anger is not the answer, but neither is one of complacency.

Tech Confession and the Purpose of a Teaspoon

Confession: I manage my volunteer mailing list on a Word document.

Glue Henge by sappymoosetree on Flickr
Glue Henge by sappymoosetree on Flickr

It’s true.  Even though I enjoy Excel formulas and mail merges, have harsh words for presenters who don’t know the ins and outs of PowerPoint, have actually built more than one relational database, and love to find the optimal information tool for a given task.  I am that person, and I copy and paste my mailing list from a Word document.

It didn’t used to be this way.  In my old job at the main office, my Outlook contacts list was a well-organized-frequently-mail-merged thing of beauty.  But when I got to my new job at the learning center a little over a year ago, I only had Outlook Webmail.  Managing contacts solely with webmail is pretty much impossible.  Word was there, I used it, and it worked.  Months later, my nonprofit helped me install real, actual Outlook Anywhere on the learning center’s laptop (I’m unable to install anything on the main computer, which is library property).  And months after that, I have yet to rework my emailing system.

Three thoughts on this:

Spoon theory by scribbletaylor on Flickr
Spoon theory by scribbletaylor on Flickr

And now to the teaspoon:

This type of situation leads me to think broadly about the fact that people need more than initial training and ongoing Q and A to work effectively with digital technology; we need support in the form of quality tools. Even the people who “get” digital technology are severely hampered by slow, outdated, and/or limiting applications and hardware. When we have to figure out how to make our antiquated or locked-down equipment be good enough “in our spare time,” it either just doesn’t happen or it happens at the expense of the rest of our jobs.

I wish that the demands put on educators, especially in this age of obsession with computer-based and distance learning, could be accompanied by thoughts like, “Do they have the tools to accomplish this well?” or even better, “We should ask them what tools they need to facilitate these desired outcomes and then follow through.”

If all I have is a teaspoon and you’re surprised I’m not hammering nails with it, there’s a problem and it’s not with me.

MinneTESOL

MinneTESOL was last Friday and Saturday.  Overall I’m glad I went, but I wasn’t quite blown away.

To my mind, the conference’s highlight was when Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer spoke on Friday evening.  It was poetic and moving and beautiful.

The rest of the conference was a let-down except when I went to presentations by Hamline University faculty.  And no, Hamline did not pay me to say that.  The fact is that their presentations were exactly what they sounded like, were well-thought out and easily within their expertise, included hands-on practice of what we were learning, engaged and engaging presentation style, and successfully distributed useful materials that I’ll be able to use and/or alter at the learning center.

There was actually one other worthwhile presentation about a research project in neurolinguistics.  It was just a talk with a PowerPoint but the speaker’s energy and focus on actually communicating with the audience made it work wonderfully.  My colleague also pointed out that the scope was perfect for a short presentation.

The other presentations committed the following (what I consider to be) sins:

  • the keynote was plain lecture with a busy, dense PowerPoint for an hour straight.  Also, they didn’t know that PowerPoint has several pointer features and that they didn’t have to point to parts of their graphs with their shadows.
  • one woman actually just read her paper to us without pause while her busy PowerPoint went on behind her.  I’m sorry, but I didn’t get up at 6:45AM on a Saturday for your airport voice.  Thank goodness she only wasted 20 minutes of my life.
  • the following 20-minute session was at least an attempt to communicate with the audience, but he had not only made too few hand-outs but misplaced some of them and didn’t freely pass his card around for us to contact him later.
  • the special interest brainstorm session on Adult Education had potential, but I ended up in a small group that was taken over by a group of three women griping about terrible cooperation between ESL/ABE and the MN State Colleges and Universities.  I wish we could have moved past that phase of the discussion.
  • I went to another 20-minute presentation in which the speaker concluded that adopting technology in the classroom was easier than people think and they just need more time.  Clearly he hadn’t seen the keynote in which they thought they knew PowerPoint.

I feel the conference as a whole could have done a better job with:

  • making sure there were on-site photocopying resources
  • facilitating electronic communication of presentation hand-outs in lieu of paper hand-outs (i.e. a Conference Resources page on their website, or an email directory of the presenters)
  • laying down some standards of presentation style

Several people I talked to agreed with me but remarked that these are perennial issues with conferences.  Which begs the question… why?  These are very fixable problems!

Has this been a difficult Fall?

I’ve been getting the sense that a lot of people are running ragged these days.

Based on my extremely informal interviews (i.e. normal conversations), it’s not just me, and it’s definitely not just people in my organization. Maybe it’s a St. Paul, Minnesota thing. Or maybe it has to do with the job market, changes in unemployment benefits, or the health care debate.

same balloons, different day by massdistraction on Flickr
same balloons, different day by massdistraction on Flickr

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve about had it.  I want to fill my office with balloons this week, or have a joke share, or collect favorite moments of the day and post them in the office.  Why has it been so hard to see the million alternatives to just trudging along?

How are you doing this autumn?

What do you do to battle the doldrums when they settle over your little section of the world?

Creating Change (By Our Powers Combined)

Thanks to Ben at Island94.org for getting me to read Dan Pallotta at Harvard Business.

Memory Fragments by lovefibre on Flickr
Memory Fragments by lovefibre on Flickr

Pallotta argues here that since our problems (i.e. hunger) are massive and systemic, the only way for nonprofits to stand a chance of winning against them is to consolidate efforts into one unified effort to eradicate the problem within a stated time frame.  He advocates setting an audacious, specific goal and restructuring our sector around it so that it’s not about the little nonprofit’s mission, but about all of us reaching the goal.  Only this larger vision will shift us away from the “fragmentation and redundancy” we’re currently facing.

I see what he means.

However, I’m coming from a bias against his argument because I don’t like or trust large organizations.  I wrote about it here about a year ago.  To me, they turn humans into numbers and the momentum they build up for the sake of efficiency is actually slow to change with the times.  That being said, when a billion people are starving in a world with plenty of food, maybe it’s ok to focus on efficiency at the expense of personability and adaptability.

Ok, so let’s say Pallotta convinced me that bigger is better and that the process of consolidating wouldn’t completely derail our work for decades.  I still have a couple major questions about how this would play out, and I’m actually quite interested in the answers.

1) How would the consolidated nonprofit system relate to current systems?

Would we be creating a giant system for the sake of efficiency to clean up after the other system? That does not seem efficient to me.

Or will this second giant system fundamentally change the first one?  How will that not turn into a political mire?  And what if it does succeed?  How could something that big phase itself out or radically change itself to pursue a different goal?  Are there any precedents for that actually happening?

2) How is this different?

How would this plan produce an organization whose impact is different from the United Nations and the World Health Organization – benevolent organizations that provide some leadership to their fragmented membership?

What about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – organizations that arguably crippled many countries’ development when they tried to make large-scale change for the better?

And from a national standpoint, how would it differ from the USA’s failed War on Drugs?

I’m not convinced from this one article that Pallotta has hit upon The Answer, but it was a great read that’s provided a ton of food for thought.