Fear less is far from being fearless

What is this life if full of fear / We have no guts to live and … prosper. 😊

When was the last time fear kept you from doing something you maybe had dreamed all your life? Something reckless? Something daring? Something audacious? Something … which is even difficult to describe?

Why does that something, so far away from you and yet so part of your being, make you so fearful? What is there at stake? What is there to lose?

Doesn’t fear keep us from actually living? Yet, fear is vital for our survival. And here we are! Trapped! Both fearful and fearless, somewhere in between. Feigning courage and nurturing fear.

And at the end, there’s only one thing left to be said

‘Whatever!’

😊

A fearlessly fearful heart…

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Teacher autonomy: myth or reality?

Spoiler alert! Just some random thoughts, partially strongly subjective, on how some teachers of English like to shift responsibility on the so-called entity: the Ministry.

So here I am again baffled and puzzled, confused and bamboozled. I am so I-can’t-find-the-right-adjective that I don’t know what to start with.

Shall I start with the excitement I experienced when I had the opportunity to attend a training in Lvov organized by the British Council? At first, I got confused, but then I realized what a great reform they are trying to implement in the system of the English language education. They were trying not only to shatter the established, fossilized methodologies from the glorious past, which are not working in the 21st century context, but also to offer new methodologies which will respond to the 21st century learner’s needs. (Yet I have to admit that there’s still A LOT of work to be done!)

Shall I start with the teachers’ unwillingness to fight for their rights?

Shall I start with the training-sessions/workshops teachers attend regularly but seem to forget ?

Shall I start with the excuse I hear all the time ‘This is what the Ministry tells us to do’?

Shall I start with the learners’ total lack of motivation to study?

Shall I start with the assumption that our education system is broken and our learners are not adequately prepared to meet the new 21st century demands?

Shall I start with the Facebook shared videos about the Finnish education system? Oh, yes! It is so praised and admired! But if everybody likes it so much why can’t they start doing something?

Shall I start with the fact that a student’s book (manual, in our context) is a resource impossible to be SARS-ed? It turns our the Ministry does not allow it. But who says so? Nobody knows.

Shall I start with the fact that lesson plans, these necessary signposts guiding teachers throughout the lesson, are not to be actually used by the teacher? How come the Ministry tells us AGAIN to write confusing and unrealistic lesson plans?

Or shall I start with a bedtime story?

Once upon a time teachers were writing objectives meant to develop their learners’ skills. Then the competence craze began. ‘What shall we do now,’ teachers asked desperately one another. Then the Ministry said: ‘No worries. Remember you were writing the objectives ”By the end of the lesson the learners will be able to share ideas about how the internet has changed our lives”, now just use the gerund ”sharing ideas about how the internet has changed our lives.” And, here it is, the shift from an objective-based curriculum to a competence-based curriculum. You see it’s as easy as pie.’ And the teachers started turning verbs into gerunds, feeling empowered, yet confused. But who cares? All’s well that ends well.

THE END

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Learner autonomy: myth or reality?

We as language educators rely so much on learner autonomy. Yet, how realistic is it to expect students to take responsibility for their own learning when they don’t know how to do it? What shall we do if in the traditional classroom they were not encouraged to think critically?

So here we are amid a growing flow of unmotivated students whose higher order thinking skills (HOTs) have’t been developed at school at all. They are lost, and confused, because the outdated system of education does nothing but demotivate them. We cannot expect things that worked even 10 years ago to be fully functioning nowadays. We cannot expect our students to think critically if what they did at school was to obey the teacher.

So one of the main tasks to do now is to empower the students to take full responsibility for their learning. It’s quite challenging, to say the least. For example, they are so used to the teacher-centered classroom that they do not know what to do in a student-centered classroom. They would prefer to stay in the comfort zone of drilling exercises than actually critically approach a problem. They’re so used to learning by heart that it’s quite difficult for them to question the need of all that learning. What’s more, they are quite helpless when it comes to transfer that knowledge into practice. So what’s the use of learning by heart, when you’re unable to solve a problem using that knowledge.

I’d like to share my experience, which was quite discouraging. However, I was encouraged by the students not to think of it as a failure but as a step further towards success; the exact wording was: ‘You’re on your right way.’ 🙂

I covered some grammar issues. I chose the flipped strategy. It did not quite work as expected. Yet, we did our best. When I asked the students to look through some exercises so that we discuss what was causing problems, they did not do anything at all, as, in their opinion, no homework had been given to them. The point is that they devoted zero time to English at home. As long as the students are not assigned tasks they won’t do anything.

When I asked them to get ready to debate whether or not money can solve all problems (something which has been started in the classroom), they again came totally unprepared. When asked what steps they had taken to be ready for the debate, the answer I got was that they had thought. OK. Thinking is good. How exactly? What exactly did you do? The trouble was they could not explain what they had done at home. Nor could they use those ‘thoughts’ in the debate (that would be a very strong word for what we managed to have 🙂 ).

I don’t blame the students. They seem to be nice, intelligent people who happen to be lost. It’s true that they lack motivation. But again I would argue that this is due to various factors. And one of them is fear. They are afraid to express their point of view. They are afraid to make mistakes. They are afraid to question a teacher’s statements/choices/decisions. They are afraid to take responsibility for their own learning (it’s actually the easiest thing to do as there will be no one to blame later on).

I always encourage students to ask themselves:

  • Why does she ask us to do it?
  • What does she want us to achieve at the end?
  • How will I benefit from this?

I think that sometimes the choices I make are not quite clear to them. They seem to lack awareness of the importance of doing a more thought-provoking, open-ended activity instead of a close-ended, drilling one. Actually, when asked what, in their opinion, my role is, the answer I got was to teach, to instruct. They do not see me as the one scaffolding the learning process. And they totally don’t see me as one collaborating with them to achieve OUR goals. So I’m that ‘ogre’ whose primary purpose is to punish if the slightest attempt at disobedience is made. 🙂

I think this is the problem of a society where fear has been used to control the masses. Undeniably, fear is a good primary emotion. It contributed to the survival of the human species. Yet, the more the humans evolved, the more their brain developed. So why not use it to think 🙂 Why not broaden our views? Why not try to understand? Why not stand one’s grounds? Respectfully and providing solid arguments, of course.

It is true that will involve much more mental effort, but this is what we have the brain for. It is true we will have to leave our comfort zone, but only by doing so does learning happen. It is true we will have no one to blame but ourselves, but this is how we will become more competent. It is true we will have to stop taking everything for granted, but this is how we will be able to make informed choices. So there’s work to do, but it’s worth it.

I’m not giving up! Do you?

Suggestions are welcome. We’re here to grow and become HOTs.

One more thing, there’s no absolute truth. There are different perspectives we should carefully consider in order to draw some conclusions. Hence, all opinions are accepted.

new8

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Being aware vs being able

The difference between ‘what’ and ‘how’ should not be new to language educators. Yet, from time to time it turns to be quite challenging to draw the line. So I’ve decided to explain it on my personal example.

Recently I’ve delivered some speeches in an academic context. Definitely, knowledge of the topic is not enough. One should be able to deliver the speech appropriately. On the first day, my awareness was raised concerning my, let’s put it mildly, drawback. Now the skill is to be acquired 🙂

Undeniably, we need knowledge, some concrete facts, in order to be able to do something. This knowledge is the basis that helps develop our skills. Yet, it’s not enough. Knowing and doing are totally different things. I do know how to deliver a speech, but how well am I able to do it? – this is the question.

Thus, our primary goal as language educators is to help our learners make the necessary connections that will enable them to produce behavior. We should enable our learners to use the language appropriately and effectively. That is what we should strive for.

Now, I’ll insert some visual aids to help prove my point. Compare the pictures from Day 1 and Day 2, and see the difference. A quick hint, it has nothing to do with the dress. 🙂

I do realize though that this skill is still to be improved.

 

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How enlightened are you?

So there was a period called the Enlightenment which happened just after the Middle Ages. Its primary reason was to ‘enlighten’ the population, to help them start thinking, to  make them consider things beyond the dogmas induced by the church. In a way, we are the product of that Enlightenment, and everything that came afterwards (all the revolutions, including industrial and technological).

Education was a sure way of enlightening people. To my mind, this still is its primary goal. It’s not about putting something into a student’s head (that’d be manipulation), it’s about helping the student develop their own thinking. It’s not about saying what is true, it’s about helping them find what is true on their own (even if it might not be true for you, the educator). It’s not about giving the answers, it’s about helping them ask/formulate the right questions.

Education should be viewed as a model of interaction, where all the participants involved act to achieve specific goals. I particularly like the verb ‘interact’ as it renders the meaning of acting upon each other, in order to co-construct and negotiate the meaning.

Such a process is by no means unidirectional. The direction depends on the participants involvement, desire, and motivation to achieve their goals. That is why it is extremely important to set clear goals and objectives from the very beginning. What is more, each participant’s voice is to be heard and acknowledged. That would be the first negotiation in this interaction. It will also help the participants become more responsible and own their learning.

At the same time, such a process is open. Openness is actually what would help the participants evolve. It is open to changes, challenges, possibilities, revisions, and the list can go on.

It should also be viewed as an ongoing, never-ending process. Even if one participant shall leave, e.g. the more knowledgeable other, the others should be able to continue the interaction and scaffold their progress. Education is a sort of initiation in the way of creating valuable networks that would enhance the participants’ learning, and enable them to create their own networks in the future.

Such a complex, and yet such a vital process.

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And all that tech. High tech.

Things are changing. I’m afraid change can’t be stop, particularly nowadays when the distance between people can be reduced with a touch of a screen. Various technological innovations have become part of our life, and it’s quite difficult to imagine how life would be without them. We’ve become so used to them that we tend to use them every time we face a challenge. We choose the easiest way. We choose technology to solve it for us, or, maybe as some of us would like to put it, to let technology help us solve the problem. Either way, we gradually become more and more dependent on technological assistance.

It is quite challenging to say whether it is good or bad. I don’t think it is possible to take only one side in the debate. Just like in every walk of life the truth is somewhere in the middle. Undeniably, technology has brought so many benefits to our life, the way drugs did (i.e. medicines). But if we read the prescription, we also see the side effects the drug might have. The same can be said about technology. It’s the 21st century drug administered to us with no apparent prescription. Who is to worn us about its side effects then?

Actually, quite a number of people try to draw our attention to the side effects AI is bringing into our life. The most alarming warnings come from neuroscientists, people studying our brain (actually the way neurons interact in the brain). The prognosis they make looks far from optimistic if we continue to act with the same recklessness as we do now. Their prognosis can be displayed in the popular funny picture which can be easily found on the Internet.

Evolution_Funny-05-560x179

Yet, it’s funny to a certain extent. This regression might be not that far away. We, as human beings, should always strive to develop our brain, rack our brain. I was once curious to see what the origin of this idiom was, and I read that the rack was a medieval torture instrument. The verb was used to mean to cause pain and anguish. The irony is that nowadays, the process of thinking might be viewed as one extremely painful, a real torture. Why bother, if you can rely on AI? Why develop higher order thinking skills if you need just basic to live in the illusion of perfect bliss.Why think (i.e. do some mental activity, make some extra effort) if AI can think for you?

As a language educator, I was interested (and still am) how it is possible to integrate technology into the classroom. Yet, now I don’t show that much enthusiasm about it. There is evidence that technology-free classrooms might perform better in exams.  Another ample study found out that using computers at school might not result in students’ high performance. What is more, it appeared that students who used computers more had both lower reading and lower math scores.

Indeed, a teacher should be very careful when considering to integrate technology into the education process. It should not be a mere fashionable tool to use. The teacher should ask themselves: ‘Is it going to help me realize my goals? Is it the best way of doing it? What would be the drawbacks (i.e. side effects) of applying it in my teaching?’

The issue of technology integration in the education process should be thoroughly considered. Nowadays, Isaac Asimov’s warnings in his short story The Fun The Had do not seem so frightening. The danger is that humanity might lose its thinking capacity altogether. I’m not sure AI would need us 🙂

To cut a long story short, we should be responsible technology consumers, both inside and outside the classroom. It can be extremely useful if administered in small doses. Yet, excess might lead to fatal consequences. Actually, excess is always fatal.

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on expectations and not only

So lately I’ve come across some interesting word combinations, such as ‘reporter forgery’,  ‘journalistic fraud’, ‘fabricated story’, ‘twisting the truth in one’s favor’, ‘a journalistic idol of one’s generation’, ‘produce beautifully narrated fiction’, ‘fraud in reporting’, ‘reporter who faked stories’, ‘top journalist’, ‘faked news scandal’, etc. And I’ve got confused, to say the least.

‘Fake news’ has been around for quite a while, moreover, it became the word of the year in 2017. It’s been used so much that sometimes I get the feeling that fake news has entered the very essence of our existence and that we can’t do without a bit of fakeness in our daily news intake. It’s a kind of a drug that some of us have become addicted to and, just like in the case of any type of addiction, it’s quite difficult to overcome it. And the willpower won’t be of great help if you media illiterate.

There’s something else I’ve noticed regarding this fakeness phenomenon. The more sensationalistic the news is the likelier it is going to be perceived as true. Facts do not seem to be that appealing. People might even find them quite boring. And that’s how a logical explanation is preferred to some absurd conspiracy theory.

There’s something else as well. There is this ongoing tendency of opposing ‘us’ to ‘them’. This opposition would always portray ‘we’ in bright colours and ‘they’ in dark colours. So the moment something happens, something that ‘we’ would find quite shocking, the ones guilty of it would be ‘they’. And this ‘they’ will include everybody who has a quite different point of view from ‘ours’. And if one of ‘us’ is found guilty of something that won’t be true, that will be another lie ‘they’ would be spreading.

Now let’s get to another point. To what extent is journalism independent? To what extent do journalists unbiasedly report facts? To what extent are the readers manipulated into believing what is to be believed? To what extent are the readers ready to discriminate between what is true and what somebody wants them to believe to be true? How much truth is there in news nowadays?

For me, it’s quite difficult to answer these questions. I’m aware that serious research should be done in order to get some answers. But I’ve got the feeling that in many cases journalism has turned into sensationalism. But why? Maybe because they badly want to meet their readers’ expectations. And it doesn’t matter who you are: a leftist, a rightist, or a centrist, or even an anarchist. Let’s be honest, you’d not read ‘their’ newspaper, you’d read the one reflecting your beliefs. And here we are, mere numbers looking forward to getting impressed by the reasonably unbelievable facts.

Even being partially aware of this, it’s still quite shocking to suddenly realize there’s no one, but absolutely no one a reader could totally trust. Everything should be questioned! And everything should have the benifit of doubt! So before rushing into believing what your favourite news magazine claims to be true, take a deep breath and check, corroborate, compare and draw your own conclusions. It’s good to have analytical skills developed in order to avoid falling into the manipulation trap.

There’s something that quite disturbs me nowadays, even when it comes to those trustworthy news sites. Reporting has turned into something which is whatever you want but not reporting. It is something like half fiction, half reporting. But why is it necessary to make it so much fiction-like? Are the reporters again considering the readers’ expectations? Why is it necessary to add so much unnecessary detail to make the story more believable?

These questions came to my mind particularly when the Der Spiegel scandal erupted. The news magazine bravely admitted the wrongdoings of one of its ‘top journalists’ and definitely apologized. The one once called the ‘idol of his generation’ suddenly has turned into the ogre of his generation. One who was presented with prestigious awards suddenly became a fraud. How come?

To be honest, I had no idea who Claas Relotius is, and (maybe to may shame) I’m not following Der Spiegel. Even so, I had the idea that this news magazine is a trustworthy source somehow deeply embedded in my brain. Many would often cite it in their articles, and somehow it is common knowledge that serious journalism is done there. So the disclosure of a journalist’s forgery came as a shock to people who still believe that they can rely on what the press reports.

I really like the thorough analysis Der Spiegel made in the article DER SPIEGEL Reveals Internal Fraud, but there were some passages which made me again question what journalism is, or, to say it otherwise, what it has turned into. The fired journalist said that he did it because of fear to fail. To fail what? Expectations? Whose? The readers’? The newspapers’? His family’s? His own? To fail what if what you are expected to do is to report on something. Just report and nothing else. How or maybe when did reporting turn into a failure?

It was also interesting to read the following: ‘As an editor and section head, your first reaction when receiving stories like this is to be pleased, not suspicious. You are more interested in evaluating the story based on criteria such as craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images than on whether it’s actually true’. But why do ‘craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images’ have to prevail over truth? What’s the ultimate goal of a news magazine? To impress the reader with ‘craftsmanship, dramaturgy and harmonious linguistic images’ or to report something?

So this gets me back to the question how independent the press is nowadays? I don’t know the exact answer. But it depends above all on its readers. No readers – no work. And we have to be responsible readers, readers who look forward to learning what’s happening in the country/world, and not to getting their expectations met. So the problem is quite complex, and like always there’s no one side of the truth, and definitely there’s not only one being guilty for everything. Although it’s quite convenient to put the blame on someone else and ignore one’s own shortcomings. Let’s change, let’s become more responsible for the choices we make in every field of life.

And I’d like to insert here Rudyard Kipling’s poem We and They, which I indirectly referred to in this post. Prejudice is a blindfold resulting in the impossibility to see the truth.

Father and Mother, and Me,
Sister and Auntie say
All the people like us are We,
And every one else is They.
And They live over the sea,
While We live over the way,
But-would you believe it? – They look upon We
As only a sort of They!

We eat pork and beef
With cow-horn-handled knives.
They who gobble Their rice off a leaf,
Are horrified out of Their lives;
While they who live up a tree,
And feast on grubs and clay,
(Isn’t it scandalous? ) look upon We
As a simply disgusting They!

We shoot birds with a gun.
They stick lions with spears.
Their full-dress is un-.
We dress up to Our ears.
They like Their friends for tea.
We like Our friends to stay;
And, after all that, They look upon We
As an utterly ignorant They!

We eat kitcheny food.
We have doors that latch.
They drink milk or blood,
Under an open thatch.
We have Doctors to fee.
They have Wizards to pay.
And (impudent heathen!) They look upon We
As a quite impossible They!

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!

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