Thursday, December 6, 2012

My students don't interest me

Last week, Teacher X, when asked why he didn't complete an important practise test with his 11th grade class, told me that 'his students don't interest him'. I was rendered speechless, which doesn't happen often, and he sat there defiantly as if to say 'what are you going to do about it'. It got me to thinking, why is he teaching if his students don't interest him? It also got me thinking about why I can't fire him even though his students don't interest him and he displayed a distinct attitude problem to his direct boss. In the end I decided that this is what is wrong with the entire Chilean education system.

It's December so as administrators we are in the proces of assessing all our teachers and determining the make-up of our teams for next year. I though this would be an easy process - reward teachers who are doing well and are growing, and try and lose the teachers that 'aren't interested in their students'. Unfortunately this is not the way it works. I put together a list of teachers that I would like to change and then send it to the central office, where they determine if they can afford to lay the teacher off. That's right, they get made redundant with a full payout for however many years they have been there. That means my teacher who doesn't care about his students would get a US$5,000 BONUS if we had to make him redundant. He is doing a bad job, I have it documented throughout the year with all his failings, and yet I still can't get rid of him. He can't be fired, no matter how badly he is doing her job, and he knows it. 

Given that my school doesn't always have the funds for paper or ink for printing, I guess I am stuck with him for another year, whereby his payout will be even larger when I try to get rid of him next year. Just another way that the Chilean system is broken.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Onwards and Upwards...

I am in love with my new job. I feel like I am helping people who need it and appreciate it. 

I am starting a marketing campaign to spread the word about our programme and how people here in Santiago can be a part of it. I will be distributing this letter to all my foreign friends, so I thought I would share it here too (and hopefully an update of my progress with time too....!)

Dear friends...

As most of you will already know I assumed the position of English coordinator in 3 schools at the start of June. I want to tell you a little more about the project and how you might be able to help.

The schools are part of a network of 8 subvencionado schools under the ownership of Canadilla. This means they receive money from the government and a small amount in the way of fees. The schools are situated in low socio-economic areas (Puente Alto, San Joaquin and San Miguel) and the typical student does not receive a lot of support from home. Many of the students come from difficult circumstances and this is reflected in their behaviour in the classroom and general attitude towards education. The schools that I work in are all technical schools, which have education from basic to high school level with many of the students specializing in a technical area (mechanics, electronics, secretarial, gastronomy, tourism) in their secondary years. While these schools also have the traditional humanity / science secondary education too, it is very rare for the students to continue on to university.

The project is to improve the level of English and motivation of the students to learn English throughout not only the school but also the wider community. For this we need help. We are under-resourced and short on time. There are up to 45 students in a class, with tired teachers who have been fighting the same system and teaching the same thing for 30 years. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t impossible either. These kids are really interested in foreigners and every time I enter a class they are asking where I’m from and why I am there. I teach a workshop of 16 year olds. The first class they mostly just looked at me slightly amused at my antics and continued with their conversations in Spanish. Now they arrive early, attempt to speak English in class and I have to kick them out of the classroom at the end. They sing, they dance, they speak English and they know that my classroom is a safe place.

If you have ever wondered what the reality of the Chilean school system is like, or why they are marching in the streets, I invite you to come and see my schools. You can come anytime and accompany one of the English teachers or myself. If this sounds like too much commitment I ask for only one day. In October we are running an English day in each of the three schools, and we want to get a big contingent of foreigners there. Spread the word. There will be a karaoke competition, music presentations, typical food, information about scholarships and study options, but most importantly foreigners. People who can provide insight into other cultures around the world, people who can inspire. These kids don’t think they are important, and we want to show them that every kid is important, and that the way out of their present reality is education.

A little positively goes a long way and costs us only our time. Please get in touch if you are interested in helping out, and feel free to pass this message on to others that might be willing to gift us some of their time.

Kind regards,
Karen Tait
English Coordinator

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New beginnings and big challenges

I began looking for some new challenges around the end of last year. Finally I decided to take the plunge and I have changed job. I loved my position with Grant's English, and institute I would recommend to anyone looking for work in Santiago, but in terms of professional development there were not too many avenues left to me. So I have changed positions, and quite frankly I feel like I have changed worlds.

I am now working as an English Coordinator in 3 semi-private schools in some of the lowest socio-economic neighbourhoods in Santiago. There have very few resources, enormous classes (up to 45 kids) and very little support from home. All three are technical highschools which include education from kindergarten to year 12, but with the senior years having the option of focussing on a technical profession (gastonomy, automotor, electrical, secretary, early childhood education or tourism). 

I am in charge of organising the English programmes in these schools, including teacher observations, teaching and promoting workshops with students and parents, and organising English events such as 'English day' which will take place in October. The level of English is so low in these schools that in the annual national examination which takes place in year 11 in one of the schools none of the students passed. Admittedly the ministry set an exam which was out of the league of most of the schools involved (there goal is an A2 level upon completing school), but to not even have one student able to achieve an A2 was astounding to me. In saying that, I have one or two teachers who may not yet be of an A2 level.

The event that more or less summed up my week happened on Thursday. I was going to teach a workshop to an unknown number of 15-18 year olds with a completely unknown level (though I was warned they would probably be low). I walked into the classroom which was a mess and looked around for a board marker, no board marker or eraser. I asked the kids and they laughed at me. I asked the teachers and they laughed at me. I asked the academic directors and they more or less laughed at me. So I went to the director who didn't laugh, but told me he could probably have a marker for me by next week. Teachers are issued one refillable board marker for the year, that's it. One board marker, 45 students per class, 10 classes per teacher. So I guess they are issued one board marker and 450 students for the year. Welcome to the reality of education in Chile Karen.

The good news, is that barring the students going on strike for most of the year as happened last year, I can't really see the situation getting any worse. I don't think that there is much room to do any damage, the only way is up! Wish me luck.....

Friday, March 30, 2012

There has been a big absence here, I know. I need more time!
Here is a wonderful summary of some of the talks from the IATEFL conference:
And here is the link to videos of many of the presentations:
With all of this to read and watch how am I ever going to find time to update my blog!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Digital tools

Here is a link to a summary of great digital tools that you can use in the classroom wirtten by Sandy Millin as a summary of #eltchat. Check it out - lots of great ideas!
Sandy Millin #eltchat summary of web tools

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Learning from our Teachers

They say that a great teacher doesn’t teach you, they lead you to discover things yourself. I believe in this completely and have had luck to have had many great teachers in my life, not just in the classroom. They have each taught me something different, and the greatest lesson is not usually the one apparent on the page in front of me.

My first two teachers of influence were my primary school teachers. Mrs Dobbs and Mr Harding taught me to love learning, and to always be inquisitive about things. They taught me to find answers for myself and never be happy with mediocre. They demanded the best, and by setting standards high you can achieve high.

My Highland dancing teacher, Mrs Hawke, taught me that kindness is inspiring. Students want to please their teacher, and even more so when that teacher is someone that they admire and love. Likewise my second piano teacher taught me that praise, patience, and kindness motivate a love and passion for of an activity, whereas my first piano teacher taught me that negativity does not.

But one of the biggest influences in my life was my first swimming coach, Roly Crichton. He taught me to fight. At times I truly hated him. He used to set me impossible goals. We would do relays, but I didn’t have anyone else on my team and had to swim the whole thing myself, and the other team got a head start. He used to pit me against boys twice my size and tell me to beat them. He used to set me long sets on impossible times, used to tell me that even though that was the fastest I had ever swum it wasn’t fast enough. He used to make me race every event in a carnival just to toughen me up. He used to yell at me, and I used to yell back. It wasn’t polite, it was passion and frustration, and those things drove me to be better. And it worked. As long as I believed it was an impossible task I wanted to conquer it. Mostly because I knew that he believed I could do it, therefore it wasn’t impossible. And this has been a theme in my life ever since. Tell me something is impossible and I will try and find a way of doing it. He used to say that they might be bigger, stronger, more experienced, have trained for more years and hours in better conditions, but you are tougher. And when it comes down to it, there are two people, in the same pool of water, and the tougher person will win. And I didn’t think this was impossible, I believed it because he believed it. This strategy didn’t work with all the swimmers, but it did with me. Thanks to him I swam in competitions around the world, met amazing people, won medals in Europe and Australia, and discovered a love of other cultures and people that is still driving my movements now.

Somehow, today I am a teacher. I need to learn this lesson again, but in a different form. I need to find ways of inspiring this level of motivation in my students. This time around the pool of water is a bit bigger – I have every type of student imaginable, and all of them will be inspired through different forms. Somehow I have to tap into all these different forms and utilize these internal motivations to produce achievement and success. And this means learning all the lessons I learned before from a different perspective. Teaching really is about learning, and although some may say this is an impossible task, that just inspires me to find a way to overcome it. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Digital Tools Week 3, Task 3

Listening Math
3 + 12 

I see so many possibilities with these tools that it was difficult to limit myself to one idea. So I have decided to make something that I am sure I will actually use.

Digital resources
TIME 10 q's
Myna audio recorder

Class type
Small class of Upper Inter business students

Time frame
2 x 1.5hr classes


  • Revise the formation of direct and indirect questions
  • Revise the use of polite speech and how to sustain a conversation (fillers, encouraging words)
  • Practise listening skills using real American accents
  • Self correct errors during production phases
Start a conversation / brainstorming session about interviews - the process of interviews, particularly good interviewers or interviewees that students have seen, reasons why they are good or not. Cover typical questions for different situations.
Introduce the idea of TIME's 10 questions. Let students look at the list of celebrities and chose one that interests them. Ask them to write a list of 10 questions (together) that they would ask this particular person.
Listen to the audio, and ask students to collect the answers to their questions (if they are answered at all). May need to repeat the audio.
Ask students if they found all of their information. If not, set this as a webquest for homework.
Discuss the questions that the interviewer asked. Were they interesting and relevant? How did the interviewer sustain the conversation. Ask the students to transcribe the questions from the video.
Analyse the question formation and register, and discuss (this could take quite some time!!).
Ask students to think of celebrities (in their country or abroad) that they would like to interview.
They must design a set of 10 questions to ask this person (individually). Pair students up and ask them to role play the interview. Record this using Myna.
Listen back to the interviews with students making notes on mistakes and suggestions for improving the vocabulary. The teacher will also furiously be making notes at this stage!
Correct the interviews through a class feedback session. If there was a lot of correction the interviews could be repeated (maybe with different partners), recorded, and the audio's analysed and critiqued for homework.

Possible problems
  • The students aren't familiar with the celebrities on the website. Solution - keep going until you find one they are familiar with! It is unlikely as there are many American movies and sitcoms here in Chile.
  • The students aren't familiar with the celebrity that their partner choses. Solution - allow them to look on Wikipedia to find more information about the celebrity, or ask the partner to chose a more well known person.
  • The technology doesn't play ball. Solution - take own computer and have at least one clip downloaded and saved ready to use. My computer also has voice recording software which eliminates the need for external hardware or internet connection.
I would then do a post-plan or a reflection for the class to decide where we head next - either to another listening topic or perhaps to a grammar review depending on what mistakes arise in part two of this plan.

I have done classes similar to this in the past and generally it works well. The hardest part is getting the students to concentrate on just one video! Sometimes choosing only one video is like a life or death decision!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Digital Tools Class, Week 3

Listening tools
This is the week I have been waiting for! More than any other skill, technology is critical for me in finding authentic useful tools for listening in my business classroom. I use The EconomistBusinessweekNPRRadio AustraliaAustralian NetworkTED and The British Council. These sites have a range of different resources, both authentic and level specific and some of them have transcripts available too. There is a range of different accents here too.

But, I am always excited to discover new resources and there are a few goodies here!!

Firstly, Teaching with TED. This is a great support to the TED talks, with extra information about the speakers, thought provoking questions and supplementary videos. It does not supply lesson plans (which I think is a good thing because these talks need to be tailored to individual classes and tastes) but gives you all the tools necessary to make a very inspired class. There are also some helpful tips on teaching with TED and doing minimal preparation in a very enlightend blog post here Kalinago English - teaching with TED.

I also liked AM New York, a project with different NY accents. I continually struggle with the fact that most of my students do business with the US (one bank in particular works directly with NY) and I have a kiwi accent! I can see all sorts of potential here.

TIME's 10 questions - although there are a lot of actors and actresses on show here, there are also important business people and politicians which should interest my students. I like the idea of getting my students to first come up with questions and then see if these questions are asked and answered in the interview. The clips aren't too long either (6-8 minutes) which is always helpful.

Movie segments to assess grammar goals - I have used before. It is great site for keeping students interested though doesn't always have a strong enough business focus for me. There is some great social language in here though which is important in the business classroom too and I have used it for units on networking and socialising out of the office.

Publish your audio - this blog has three different sites that I haven't yet explored for recording and publishing audio. I already use Vocaroo but these tools look more sophisticated and I will definitely be taking a look.

The other sites also look interesting and can be found in my delicious bookmarks (see right of blog page), but I found them to have less of a business focus and have therefore not reviewed them here.

Now to think about the lesson plan... definitely a topic for another post!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Digital tools class, Week 2

Writing tools
A selection of what was provided (I didn't have time to look at everything!)

Creative writing tools 
Creative writing prompts - a site providing thought provoking questions to stimulate writing. Could equally be used for discussion. For me they could be expecially useful in the journalism classes, but less applicable with my business students although with some guidance they could be used to highlight the different registers used for different types of writing.

Zooburst - a site to create 3D pop-up books that can have information attached to them. I think this would be an excellent site for young learners but I am not sure if my business adults would be so enthusiastic about it. They would prefer to work with Prezi I think. 

Oh life - this site sends you an email each day asking you how your day was which you reply to with a story about your day. You will end up with a collection of stories similar to diary entries posing as a chronical of your day to day life. I see how this is a useful tool but don't think that my students are commited enough to use it! I think I could have more success with this (which actually reminds you to write each day) than with the likes of  Penzu  where students would have to remember to write. I am not sure if there is a function to make diaries collaborative, but students could email their stories to me every two weeks for checking and comments.

Storybird - Create stories using pictures and words. The pictures are big and look great on your screen, and there are lots of already made stories which could be used in class. Again I see lots of potential here for younger learners and teen learners, but I am not sure that my business people would be so impressed. Unfortunately creative writing isn't something that we usually focus on in our business courses, where if there is a focus on writing it is a focus on using the correct register for different types of texts. Nice site just for a play though!

Collaborative writing tools
GoogleDocs - I already use this extensively for work and sometimes in class. Love it. I hadn't though about doing writing using other forms, but one of the group participants has set up a collaborative writing exercise using powerpoint (so that you can add pictures). What a fantastic idea! With my classes we could write collaborative business reports... using an imaginary business that we explore all parts of (marketing, sales, accounting, risk etc) to creat one massive report that is a summary of our entire business course! - a really easy to use brainstorming site. I have used 'visio' from the MS Office collection before for flow charts and brainstorming and I find this tool infinitely easier. I am not sure if it is collaborative  - that would make it really powerful for revision of ideas studies in class. These images are easy to export and could then be used in a collaborative ppt such as suggested above.

MixedInk - I had a look at this site and it looks useful if you are managing multiple projects and classes. I haven't got my head completely around it yet, and for my needs Google Docs are probably sophisticated enough (I am not managing big classes of students or significant numbers of projects). 

Writeboard - this is a simpler tool than MixedInk. It also leaves a diary of who has comtributed what which is one of the weaknesses of using Google Docs in the classroom as a collaborative writing tool.

Entri - another simple collaborative writing tool that I like because it leaves a log of the different versions fdown the right hand side of the page. For straight collaborative writing this would be the tool I would choose.

Although writing is rarely a focus in my classroom, there are tools here that could be used for homework (I am thinking of students using smartphones on the metro) to improve register and foster more collaboration in and out of the classroom. Thanks ClassDigitools for all the ideas!

Friday, January 13, 2012

The power of asking

I just read a fantastic post by Anthony Gaughan On Why The (Unplugged) Revolution Will Not Be Televised from his blog Teacher Training Unplugged (I really hope that I referenced all that correctly - I am quite new to this blogging thing and am still figuring out the etiquette).

It addressed a problem that I myself have been struggling with using this 'approach'. And that is, that although I initially embraced it as the answer to all my problems and something that would surpass everything that I had learnt in my TEFL course, after the initial excitement faded I realised that it was quite hard to implement in the business English classroom. My students are often tired, they are busy and distracted, and don't always feel like engaging in discussion. It is so easy to fall back on the materials... But as Anthony so correctly says, teaching unplugged is not a method, rather an attitude. We have a toolbox of different methods and approaches we can reach into, but the underlying attitude influences all of them. 

For me, teaching unplugged has effected one area of my teaching in particular - illicitation. I ask. I am not a teacher who is there to tell, rather to ask. If something is not correct I highlight it and ask. I am constantly asking myself questions too. This process of asking has lead to more flexibility in my classrooms (which were never particularly rigid to be fair),and increased student motivation 100%. It can take some time to 'train' my new students that I am not going to tell them the answer, but on the whole they catch on fairly quickly (uncomfortable silences have become my friend!). 

In my role as AD it is the one thing that the majority of our demonstration classes fail on. This year I am going to give these teachers a chance, because maybe (as was my case) they simply don't know how to ask. They haven't been taught this, they were never asked in class. I believe it is a culture that shouldn't be difficult to implement in a school such as ours, if the teachers are really as focussed on their learners as they tell me they are.

I agree with Mr Gaughan. Dogme is an attitude. It is an attitude of asking, of reflecting, of flexibility. And it is an attitude of respecting my students as intelligent adults, which is the reality of my classroom.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Digital tools class, Week 1.

Week 1. Task 3.
To introduce myself I created a short presentation about myself using Prezi. I was impressed with the tool, a much more interesting and visually relveant way of making presentations. It is far from perfect (I have some serious time constraints right now) but I hope to do some more work on it when I have some time. Enjoy!
Karen's Prezi presentation

Week 1, Task 5.
 Prezi Flavors About Me Animoto Edmodo

  1. Think of how you could use one of these tools with your students.
  2. Add your ideas to your own digital portfolio. (consider language goals, digital tool to be used, time frame, steps)

I have had a really busy week with work so it has been a challenge to find time to explore these tools sufficiently, but I got really stuck into Prezi the other night when I was making my intro and I loved it. I teach busy business people so getting them to do anything outside of class can be challenge, so I will have to be very selective of anything that I attempt to bring into class in order to not waste time. However, I can see the relevance for this tool in the business world immediately. Given the number of presentations that I have helped students write describing company processes or company structure, I think this tool would have plenty of new fans in any of my classrooms.

In terms of actually using it in class, I teach from a more unplugged approach so it would probably be something that I would add to my 'box of tools' if you like. Stemming from conversation we often come up with mind maps of different uses of new vocabulary, for example you could see the lesson plan about weather below. This could easily be transformed into an interactive moving presentation using Prezi. 

It could also be used to keep a class list of 'verb, noun, adjective' that most of my students have in the back of their notebooks. I can imagine one of the word collections that came up today (compete, competition, competitive) being illustrated with either pictures or short film clips to help them remember the differences (perhaps the pictures popping up first followed by the words).

From an Academic Director point of view I could use this tool to more easily illustrate the procedures for starting classes, where it depends on the type of class you are teaching what paperwork is required. It could really 'pimp' my boring old flow chart!

My one concern with this tool is that it could be quite easy for students to waste a lot of time using it, and not conversing in English. I think I would try and set them the task of at least finding some electronic pictures to illustrate whatever point we were working on to bring to class before we launched into the tool. Ideally we wouldn't spend too much time on the construction of the presentation (they are all computer literate adults), but the chances of them completing it for homework are also slim. This could well be the downfall of this tool in my classroom.

As I said, I don't feel I have had sufficient time to explore the other tools, but I have them noted in my delicious stack for perusal when I have time!