Posts Tagged ‘teaching of English’

AMERICAN EDUCATION: WHAT IS IN THE BUZZ?

August 5, 2017

2017-08-05Accountable talkAn American linguist Uriel Weinreich once observed that a word can function on different levels: its semantics (like electricity) can feed ‘an electric door-bell’, but it can also ‘power an elevator.’ The buzzwords presented in my yesterday’s blog ordinarily ‘ring the door-bell.’ Many of them are used ‘en passant’: they are good instruments for connecting sentences and emphasizing certain ideas but they are not the focus of discussion. However, other buzzwords can epitomize concepts which are central for shop talk. This time I’ll leave the sphere of business and move over to education which is rich in didactic innovations that are professionally jargonized. By way of example, here are two buzz phrases that ‘power’ an educational thought in today’s American schools.

  1. Flipped Classroom. The word “flip” in this phrase is based on the meaning “to change or reverse one’s position or attitude.” In the Traditional Classroom students are explained the new material at school and do more practical tasks at home (“homework”). With the new approach, they will first watch a video lecture or an on-line material at home  and do their “homework’ at school being guided and assisted by teachers (shall we call it “class-work” now?). The education process ceases to be teacher-centered and becomes learner-centered.  Advocates of the Flipped Classroom insist that in the flipped-classroom environment students get less frustration with homework, they can ask questions and get immediate targeted answers, the more advanced a student is, the deeper he explores the subject, and students who were absent due to various reasons catch up with their peers faster and easier with the flipped classroom model.

For teachers, a flipped classroom is more demanding than a traditional one. Preparing a good video-lecture is now a much greater responsibility, teachers must not only trust students to come ready for class, but they have to think of some general knowledge tests to determine if students worked at home. But the benefits are that now teachers can assist each student INDIVIDUALLY during the practical work. A video lecture, once prepared, can be reused many a time. Last but not least, the use of e-resources, which is unavoidable with student-centered education, takes a creative teacher away from mundane supervision and makes his work more interesting. Besides, the teacher is now part of students’ blended learning (on-line learning combined with face-to-face counseling).

  1. Accountable Talk. This is a guided classroom discussion based on a given topic. Students are supplied with sentence starters which lead them into “accountability” to learning community (they respectfully ask their peers question, agree or disagree with them), accountability to accurate knowledge (factual argumentation), and accountability to rigorous thinking (the students synthesize information, probe the evidence, challenge each other and build conclusions).

The aim of accountable talk is to help students move from social conversations to academic conversations, to build up the corresponding vocabulary and develop their academic discussion skills. The concept of Accountable Talk was introduced in 1995 by Lauren Resnick, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. I haven’t found any equivalent for “Accountable Talk” in Ukrainian or Russian, but judging from what it is, it may be translated as “керована (структурована, спрямована, аргументована, академічна) розмова.” The definition of ‘accountable’ as ‘clarifiable, capable to be explained’ leads to the Ukrainian variants “розяснювальна, пояснювальна, зясовувальна’. If we take into account such components of meaning as ‘to obey, to submit, to be subject to, to comply with’ which the word ‘accountable’ has, than the suggested translation  may be: ‘підпорядкована розмова (підпорядкована певним питанням – ЗА, ПРОТИ, ЧОМУ, НА ОСНОВІ ЧОГО, висновку А ОТЖЕ…). More about Accountable Talk can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oti-ztlOdL0 or at http://kb.edu.hku.hk/accountable_talk.html

Incidentally, the principles of Accountable Talk can be used by teachers of English as a Foreign Language. A similar approach was practiced in the 1970s by Tamara Siryk in Ukraine. Some faults were found with Siryk’s method and her conversational formulas, but at the initial stage they worked quite well: her students spoke English fluently after the first year of learning.

There are many other conceptual buzzwords in American education: higher-order thinking, student engagement, digital literacy (as opposed to computer literacy), Common Core, Bloom’s Taxonomy, etc. My advice is: google them and read about them. It’s interesting.

CLEANING THE BLACKBOARD: THE PAST, THE PRESENT, THE FUTURE…

October 7, 2015

2015-10-07kids-fighting-cartoonIn the course of a Skype discussion my English language informant mocked my using the classroom expression “to clean the blackboard” because, allegedly, blackboards were not cleaned in Britain any more. Being an eternal doubter with a sort of “show-me” mentality, I googled the phrase and, with a sigh of relief (“Still, I do NOT speak Chaucer’s English!”), discovered that blackboards (aka chalkboards, whiteboards, or, simply, boards) are vibrantly alive and keep being successfully cleaned even now. Those who don’t like to clean them, may clean them off/up , or wipe, erase and rub them. The written matter can also be removed. YouTube videos demonstrated the best technologies of cleaning (I liked Benny Hill’s energetic approach at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_ANwPJtyqM  and auto-cleaning when an automatic  eraser moves slowly from left to right making the board “clean and prepared” —  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xwCwbKrZQc  ).

However, I thought that there was something rational in what my English critic said. With the current societal, political and demographic trends, changes are sure to invade our everyday lives, and teachers of English cannot disregard them. The notorious “board” can be an example. Cleaning a smartboard is different from cleaning the blackboard, since the former action is not about removing what has been written but about cleaning the screen and involves such steps as shutting down your board and the connected computer, dusting the board with a damp cloth, getting ready with an erase solution, etc.

I wondered what traditional conversational topics, which students of English usually learn, would look like in about fifty years. By way of example, I took the topic ABOUT MYSELF (“My name is…, I get up at…, etc)

My name is Futuro. I get up at 11 o’clock in the morning. I do not know if I am a girl or a boy because I will be deciding about my true gender when I come of age. I have two parents. Theirs is a same-sex marriage, that’s why I do not know which of them is my Dad or my Mom. I address them as P1 (Parent One) and P2 (Parent  Two). Until recently they used to take me to school by car, except for one day in the year when we observed International Walk-to-School Day (hmph…). Then I had to walk to school. Now I am on a home schooling program because I am already through with the elementary courses of Bullying, Smoking, Drug-Abuse and Obscene-Language Usage. At the moment I’m reading a book “How to Scare and Snare Other People”. It’s a required item of my home school curriculum. Alongside I have to do the project “The Frequency and Meaning of Expressive Interjections in Modern Literature for Children.” So far I have found out that the words yuck (to express disgust), eek (unpleasant surprise), boo (to provoke fright) and hee-hee (a mischievous laugh) make up 49 per cent of all the words used in my book. I go to bed when I want to.

And that’s that.


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