Showing posts with label katy cox. Show all posts
Showing posts with label katy cox. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Classroom Issues: The Power of "NO"

Felipe is Young – nine years of age in Junior 2 – but not new to the school. With three semesters of experience, he’s already a Casa Thomas Jefferson veteran. He’s uncordially known to guards and hall monitors; given the number of his visits, he could accurately describe the arrangement of objects in the Coordinator’s office. She’s a beast. Probably has bad breath. His teacher ( like the others ) is a nit-wit. “OK, guys, let’s….” play some silly game where we all compete with each other like mad and get virtually nothing. But he’s not a groupie. He’s a (short) heroic rebel. His friend Pedro can’t take his eyes off him. Watches his every move, even at the lunch counter. Rewards (slavishly) by repercussive imitation. Is faint with fear (of association) and admiration. “So…let’s go, guys!” Fresh and false. But – like Superman stopping a train – Felipe takes the lightening in his hands. Crosses his arms on his chubby little chest. And says “NO!”

There’s an attempt at persuasion. Great; it augments the audience potential. Felipe has already been separated from Pedro, who is inwardly applauding; look at his almost envious eyes. The arms are tighter across Felipe’s body, the mouth a facial fist of defiance. “No!” The rest of the students are speculatively waiting….How will this momentary power-play pan out? With another visit to the Dragon’s Den? Or with miraculous (unlikely) capitulation?

This is when the Power of No hangs in the balance. The teacher can bargain, in a way beg, try to integrate, make promises – and with every strategy pulled out of the deck of tactical cards, the frontal approach can be met with an impenetrable shield. The ungiving power of “no”. The teacher can expediently remove the offender. But the message is that she has had to pull rank and use the power invested in her by the rules of the system. To rid herself of a nine-year-old child, she has to call for irresistible reinforcements: the Coordinator and her henchmen. Ha!   A battle may have been won, by some means, but possibly only to be fought again at another moment.

A diversion might be tried instead. How about “Oh…you don’t want to do that? No problem. You stay here – this is where you want to be, right? And we will all move over there and play this game in a slightly different way.”  The focus is re-directed -  away from the nay-sayer. For force to be used in a way that strengthens the group (not the teacher, not the offender), it has to be divided among the students. When the students are enjoyably engaged – with Felipe in a kind of time-out situation – the dynamic will change. With no “teacher vs student” issue at stake, Felipe will be disempowered passively, frustrating the attempt to turn up the tension. Don’t worry about Pedro. With no rebellion to support, he will probably opt for relative invisibility with a noncommittal  colleague.  

“No” is powerful when it causes divisiveness, a taking of sides, a hardening of the spirit. Turning a grumbling giant into a mewling midget requires finding a tactical instrument that will simultaneously puncture the rebel’s carapace of negativity and inject the fellow students with a purpose that pleasurably ignores conflict. 

“No” doesn’t need to fill up the room;  instead, it can become a very flat balloon.

Katy Cox

Monday, April 07, 2014

TESOL 2014 - How Wide is the World of Pronunciation?

With every year that passes, TESOL is acquiring a more egalitarian personality and is more dedicated to the recognition of the various purposes for English teaching, the broad spectrum of ownerships of the somewhat organically mutating language that we know as English, the ways in which this language unites many different collectives around the world. That’s a long sentence; in a way, it tries to convey the scope of the conference we attended and the direction it took. 

Among some of the teaching concerns being approached along refreshing new lines is pronunciation. With the acceptance of the nature of English as a multi-communicative connector, the influence of pronunciation is also shifting slightly in intent and interpretation. In previous conferences, I have attended several sessions dedicated to a focus on pronunciation as having a form of purifying influence on the production of English, creating exercises and games to attend to the oral exactness of the “th”, the shaping of vowel sounds, the oddly difficult combination of “orld” in “world”, etc. Attention to pronunciation more recently is not related to what, in the past, were common references like “standard American English”, “standard collegiate English”, etc. After all, what is “standard” in South Carolina is not necessarily standard in Oregon or Nevada, and the “college” in question might be in Sidney, Glasgow, London, New york, or somewhere in South Africa or India. 

Twenty speakers in different locations around the world might give surprisingly different renditions of the following sentence: “I hurt myself working on the hood of the car in the late half of the day.” What is definitely a priority concern is the intelligibility of the message, the immediacy of its power to communicate; this concept broadens the scope of how to regard pronunciation and its effective connection  – for better or for worse – to the result of an attempt at general communication.

One of the sessions I attended took me momentarily back to a bus tour that I took some years ago in Scotland.  I was sitting right behind the bus driver and happy to be receiver of many side comments he made during the trip; one of these remarks was offered to describe what a large number of laborers were doing on the road at almost dusk…the driver said they were walking/working on the road, and in my interpretation of the driver’s tone, neither activity was appropriate for that time of day. The problem was one involving accent; I couldn’t for the life of me determine (even upon further inquiry) whether those people were “walking” or “working”, because of the pronunciation of the vowel in the main verb….and no amount of repetition on the driver’s part shed any definitive light on the subject. I finally decided that those men just shouldn’t be on the road doing anything and would be better off at some nearby pub. End of subject. 

Fortunately, the subject of pronunciation has not ended, and this conference was an example of the variety of views that are developing with regard to the influence of pronunciation on communication and to how general is the acceptance that the “native English speaker” is not “the” norm, but - instead – just one of them.            

Katy Cox

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seating Arrangements?

Most species arrange themselves in juxtapositions which are indicative of purpose or customary convenience. A lone eagle grasps a rocky crag or high, bare branch: He takes a position which will offer the best vantage point from which to sight a salmon swimming upstream, a rabbit pausing in a clearing. A trio of lions hunting: Their proximity is guided by expediency, the strategy which will result in the separation of a slow calf, a lame elder, a single zebra in panic and tiring. Elephants circle for collective protection, penguins for warmth. 

What about people? When they are safe and comfortable, people are gregarious. They seek convivial exchange and the reassurance of belonging, similarity to each other. People congregate in various situations for specific purposes: In church, with each individual reflecting on a speaker’s words, people sit in pews. In a theater, attentive to a sequence of actions designed for their appreciation – not participation – people sit in rows. The arrangement is the same, expanded, at soccer and baseball games. Viewers are not in attendance to perform. But what about a business meeting? Each person present will be somehow judged according to their input, the timeliness of a suggestion, the interjection of pertinent wit. 

Many communal rituals, from primitive to pompous, take place in a circular conformation, with a common view of each face, each voice having equal value. A party? How do people situate themselves at a party where everybody’s having a good time? Do party-goers naturally convene in lines along the walls? Reiterating: people are naturally gregarious – i.e. social, companionable, tending to “flock” together. This characteristic relates to what is most inherent in humans – their dependence on communication. Language teachers study, among many things, strategies to propitiate communication – natural, spontaneous exchanges between humans of all ages. 

What are the most convenient conditions for these exchanges – the windswept rock, the dusty plain, dimly lit lines along the walls? Probably not. The vital potential of democratic communication lies in the equality of exposure, of being comfortably visible and audible. A neighborly livingroom, a table at a local eatery – these are situations propitious to communal communication; our classrooms, when they can, should emulate this companionable condition. So…. Are you planning class activities that maximize genuine communication? Think about it:  Shift your focus from “seating arrangements” to “speaking arrangements.”  

Katy Cox

Thursday, December 12, 2013

What do You Think? Questions in the EFL Classroom

“What do you think?” For most students, there is no question more enervating than this one. In reality, Fernando is thinking about Natalia’s rear end, Leticia is thinking about red shoes, and Amelia is wondering if her hair should really be so pink. The teacher is referring to the North Pole, to a week in the desert, to a flight to outer space. “What do you think?” Think what?!

Teacher In Classroom

Let’s get more specific. Look at the paragraph on page 94. “Most people start a diet on the first day of the week.” So, asks the teacher, on what day did Mary probably start her weight-loss program? Monday, teacher. Great! Is that enough thinking for the day? How many minutes are left in this class, anyway…..
Is it hot or cold in the Amazon? Hot, teacher. Is Florida north of the equator; yes or no? Yes, teacher. What do you think about the architecture in Brasilia? Think what?

Questions that are too broad or too narrow are really a dead-end with regard to inducing extensive thinking or communicating. “Thinking” is usually best fueled by substance, in the form of reasoning, figuring out, relating to experience. For example, among the classes which are a requirement for people wanting to obtain a driver’s license, there is one session devoted to small-group discussion of contentious traffic situations  described by the teacher on printed handouts. In this case, “what do you think” sparks a heated exchange between persons who have experience these or similar situations, who know others who also have, whose speculations and opinions are percolating with reciprocal mental energy in the buildup of accelerating reactions among the participants. This is thinking.

Yes/No questions, queries which ask for a fact or statistic, all have their place in classroom work, in the daily constructs of communication. But they do not usually result in the extent or complexity of thought – hopefully, expression – which the teacher has in mind when he envisions students in the process of interested reaction to stimulation of thought. Some questions inspire furtive, repeated attention to the movement of the minute hand on the clock on the wall. On the other hand, effective thought-provoking strategies can open up fields of mental/verbal exploration that will result in looks of surprise and slight frustration when the bell rings. Already, teacher?   

Katy Cox

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Teacher - Only Human

The teacher is only human, after all. The repeated emphasis on students’ needs indirectly encourages forgetting about those of the teacher. Male or female, the human ego feeds on reward and recognition, and your teacher ego perks right up when a student loves to respond, laughs at your jokes, asks you for help as though you were the last life-saver on the boat. 

SAD_Hortons_Kids 114 You use your instructional energy generously and it doesn’t really take much to – in return – make you feel like a good looking genius. Therein lies the cyclical danger. The teacher’s well-known duty is to pay equal attention to all students -  to prevent the guilty recognition that the girl in the left-hand corner never says a thing because she is not spoken to; to avoid having to admit that most of your lesson moved energetically along with lots of participation but – come to think of it – not from the left-hand side of the room. Why can’t you remember the face of what’s-his-name who always sits by the door (and who eases smoothly out of that exit as soon as the bell rings)? Even the trouble-makers are more appealing, testing your patience and your class management skills; victories with these in-your-face challenges can make you feel especially self-congratulatory….while the “escape artists” shroud themselves in a cloak of invisibility as they look for a dropped pen, a misplaced paper, a book in a backpack, and successfully evade the teacher’s attention (which is inevitably on the eager beavers with their hands in the air…).

The skilled fugitive knows how to keep his head down; the wave of willing responses will satisfy the also needy elicitor… Every teacher should have a fool-proof system of checking production frequency among all 12 or 16 or 20 students – who spoke, how often, how much – and making sure they know who you are and that you care. In ensuring uniformity and truly collaborative direction in your work in the classroom, your heart-strings are not as consistent a guide as your intellect and your eyes.   

Katy Cox