The wheels keep on turning…

chapel windowWell, it’s been a busy few weeks – did we have any school holidays? I seem to have a few minutes spare, but that is probably because I have forgotten what it is I am supposed to be doing.  Never mind, I thought I would sit down and gather my thoughts and reflect on what we have done in the first two weeks of term.

Reports, reports, reports. But of course, you need to mark work before you can write the reports because there has to be an assessment grade for each subject on the report. That was my holiday. (Oh, woe is me! No, really I had plenty of time to relax and spend time with family too.) Then once the reports are written, for form teachers comes the mixed blessing of proof reading reports. I say mixed bag because I really enjoy reading how the students in my form class are getting on in their different subjects. I teach my form class for English but I also teach some of them for Spanish. It is always fascinating to see how they respond to other subjects and other teachers. I start to see a whole person and not just the part that learns in my lessons. On the other hand, there is the tedium of checking for spelling errors, missed or extra commas, spaces, capital letters….. adherence to the Report Style Manual is absolute! However, that is a job that I can now put behind me until late November when the second round of reports is due!

Just a thought, a seedling sown by this article in The Guardian, what if we were limited to a twitter style report – 140 characters to succinctly get our messages about student learning to parents?  This could be via social media on a more regular basis than the once a year workload nightmare of industrial age reports.  This ongoing conversation could be supported by face to face meetings by request rather than at a “one date fits all, five minute speed dating” Parents’ Evening?

I love starting a new term, my students refreshed and curious to learn, new topics, new language, fresh ideas and raring to go.  This term we are studying “Hugo” in English and, despite never having taught a film study before, I am really enjoying it.  The wealth of materials on the internet provided me with a treasure trove of ideas during the holidays.  My family did get a little bored with watching Hugo over and over again, and me pausing the film for key scenes and to analyse the lighting, camera shots, music – is it dietic or non-dietic sound?  What are the connotations of the costumes, the soundtrack, the scene? My students are loving it so it was time well-spent and I feel like I have an inkling of what I am talking about!

Spanish classes are ramping up too – the seniors are focused on NCEA portfolio building, realising finally that some sense of urgency is required, and starting to connect the language they have learned over the last two years and joining the dots.  They know more than they think they know but how do I encourage them to realise that and have more confidence to speak?  The fear of not gaining Excellence is a huge inhibitor in language learning, and definitely a problem in a high stakes assessment system. Any suggestions as to how to overcome that barrier would be heartily welcome?


Pulling things together post edcmooc

Young man looking at panoramic table showing the distance in kilometres to Vancouver, Canada

Well, it is now a couple of weeks since edcmooc finished and I feel sort of empty – there is a hole in my life!  Even though I have had plenty to fill the space it has left; during edcmooc we were also building up to saying farewell to our eldest as he starts on a new chapter of his life in Canada. We saw him off at the airport last weekend and he has now been away for a whole week.  Good old social media means that we know he arrived safely – he checked into the Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver on Foursquare, posted on Facebook about taking a tour in a pink double decker bus and we saw his tweets too. Oh, and he did manage to text me as well.  Hoping that this weekend he will skype us so I am sitting with Skype open just waiting for him to come online!

Life at work has also been frantic; I wear several hats one of which is Outdoor Education Coordinator and with two camps coming up in the next four weeks I have a huge mound of paperwork; RAMS and medical forms are coming out of my ears as well as trying to sort out staffing.

Alongside that paperwork I am also part of a team reviewing the EOTC documentation and practice in school.  We had four hours of meetings this week to try to break the back of that and put in place a plan of action for next term.

I also teach Spanish so I need to leave work for my classes when I am away so I have to make sure that we have covered enough in the lessons so that they can complete online activities whilst I am away.

Finally, I am part of a team leading the Professional Development in school this year.  Our focus is Blended Learning and so we  are each leading a 5 week module on a different aspect of Blended Learning which obviously requires a fair degree of preparation.

Oh, and on top of all that, I am preparing for a two week trip to Spain during the April holidays; I was awarded a scholarship for a fully funded Spanish language course at Salamanca University which is fantastic.  However, because it is fully funded by the Ministry of Ed and the Spanish Embassy, there are plenty of hoops to jump through!

So, about that hole that edcmooc left?! Well, actually, even though it has been filled with all these other things it is only partially filled.  Something has been sparked in me and I need more. I miss the interaction, the opportunity to read the articles, watch the videos and exercise my brain with something academic. I have signed up to Goodreads and joined the edcmooc groups and hope to find time to read the suggested book “News from Nowhere”  that I have downloaded and join in the twitter chat planned for 6th April.  I am also hoping to join in the twitter chat tomorrow morning. I missed last weeks chat and although I read through the tweets afterwards, it just wasn’t quite the same!

The problem is, when there isn’t the structure of the weekly course plan, the momentum of

the discussion forum, the traffic on Twitter, FB and Google +, and when there are lots of external pressures,  it is easy to drop off the chat.  I have looked to see what other Moocs are coming up and definitely plan to do another but I know that right now is not a good time.  I want to be able to give it my full attention.  I am also a little worried that edcmooc was such a good experience for me that other moocs won’t match it!

Last week I went to lecture at the University of Waikato by Mark Pagel called “The Evolution of Human Language”.  It was fascinating.  He is an entertaining speaker and as a good speaker should,  he raised more questions than he answered.

“Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It’s a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people’s minds. I’m talking about your language.”

In this Tedtalk from 2011 he suggests that “social learning is visual theft” but that it is social learning, that has helped us develop as a species.  At some point in the past we realised that we had a choice – we could either protect our ideas and not let other people steal them by copying what we had discovered or we could share. We decided to share and language is what resulted.  

Language evolved to solve the crisis of visual theft. Language is a piece of social technologyfor enhancing the benefits of cooperation — for reaching agreements, for striking deals and for coordinating our activities

I am hungry for more – maybe there will be a mooc out there somewhere on the development of language?  As a lingust I have always been fascinated with how languages develop, where they came from, how words transfer from one language to another, how they metamorphose, and how language tells us so much about the culture of a people.

Metaphorically #edcmooc

I have been reading “Metaphors of the Internet; salvation or destruction” and several thoughts came to mind. I am a linguist and I am constantly amazed at the evolution of language. Even in the few decades that I have been consciously aware of language development, vocabulary has changed. Words that my contemporaries and I used as school kids are no longer common parlance. As a teacher I have heard “wicked” “cool” “boom” “brill” used to express pleasure at something.

New words and phrases enter the language with each generation, with each technological change, with each new decade. The way we communicate reflects the world we live in and so, of course the metaphors we use will incorporate the vocabulary of the internet and computers.

Jessica Courtney explores some of the vocabulary that entered our lexicon during the Industrial Revolution. The word Mackintosh ( not the computer) came into being in the 1820s when Charles Macintosh developed a waterproof cloth and the first “Macs” as they are now known were made. Neither the process nor the word “pasteurisation” was known or used until Louis Louis Pasteur discovered a way of treating milk and wine to prevent it from causing sickness.

Latin and Greek had an influence when it came to inventing words during the Industrial Revolution; thus streptococcus, stethoscope, ambulance, diptheria all entered the English language. But European languages and culture also had an effect on English especially when it came to food and fashion; salami, toffee, pasta, peignoir and lingerie to name but a few.

A whole range of new words came with the goldrush in Australia, California and NZ; the phrases “to pan out”, “to stake a claim”, a “long tom”, even “denim”, “jeans” and “Levis” are purported to have come into the language around this time.

The French have been characteristically protective of their language and the Academie Francaise has staunchly resisted the natural, popular urge to assimilate English/American vocabulary into French. They still persist in pushing the long winded “courrier electronique” despite most of the poplulation using “le email”. The lingua franca no longer resides in Middle Europe and whereas, in the past European words found their way into English, now it is English which is bulldozing its way through languages of all nations.

Metaphors are coined according to experiences and the cultural context is significant. Other linguistic features also develop in the same way. Why is it, for example, that in English to express the unlikelihood of something happening we say “and pigs might fly”, yet the French say “quand les poules auront des dents” (when hens get teeth”)?

How we describe things depends on our experiences. How we interpret events is contingent on where we have lived, who we have come in contact with, the jobs we do, the tools we use. Our experiences influence the way we evaluate situations, they influence our thoughts, our beliefs and our philosophies and the way we act. An individual’s attraction or aversion to new technologies may well be a result of prior experience, although personality and disposition also has a large part to play.

The language that is used to sell new technologies is crucial. In the Corning ad and the Microsoft ad we can see that the language which is suggested by the images is just as important as the images themselves. Utopia, dreams coming true, perfect world, clean and green, healthy, successful, family; these are words evoked by the images and they aim to seduce.

A lot of the language around technology and the internet revolves around communication, sharing, collaboration,, networking, building communities. “Kent determines that current metaphors shaping the internet keeps us from using it in educational and political venues”. Why? I wonder…. Education was (and possibly still is in many places) the bastion of the rich and powerful, from the church, to the landowners, to the politicians. Not to be shared with the masses lest they get ideas above their station. Information was kept with those in power to keep them in power. The idea of sharing knowledge was an anathema, divide and rule, information on a need to know basis.

Then the printing press came along and changed everything. It has been said that the Internet is the next biggest thing to effect change after the printing press. Now anyone can read, learn, write, publish, share their ideas, disseminate information. In schools “copying” is frowned upon. It is still difficult to get teachers to accept that collaboration is not cheating, that it offers learners of all levels the opportunity to develop their skills and work within Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Most countries still have an examination system that advantages the “haves” and disadvantages the “have-nots”.

Somebody asked me the other day how I envisaged MOOCS affecting universities and schools in the future. How do we authenticate the work that a student produces in an online collaborative environment? As an educator, and it has taken me almost 28 years of teaching for me to have the confidence to express this view, I believe in lifelong learning, in learning just to learn and not to pass exams. I believe that my role is to enthuse a love of learning in my students, not just my own subject but all areas. Don’t get me wrong, lots if teachers also believe in lifelong learning. But learning has been hijacked by qualifications, by the need to standardise, quantify, assess, prove competency. I see MOOCS as being able to redress the balance a little especially now that employers cannot distinguish between Student X with grade As or Excellence in every subject and Student Y with the same grades. There has to be some way of finding the best candidate. Anybody can sign up to a Mooc, engage in it at whatever level is appropriate for them, explore ideas, expand their knowledge, learn, for the simple pleasure of learning. Too many students nowadays are “credit hunters” ; their primary motive for learning is to gain credits towards their exams; their parents too, push their children to work for their exams but don’t necessarily instil a desire to learn.

So.. Learn because you want to.

Learn because you can.

Learn because you are curious.

Learn for fun.


“Education!” said Eeyore bitterly, jumping on his six sticks. “What is Learning?” asked Eeyore as he kicked his twelve sticks in the air. “A thing Rabbit knows. Ha!”
A A Milne

Photo Fun…

….or should that be “foto fun” or even “photo phun”? As a linguist I hate it when I see the “ph” in words changed to “f” out of laziness or ignorance. However, the creative part of me quite likes it. I also know through studying languages that the English language is the way it is today because of the influence of a whole heap of invaders, settlers, movement, experiences and evolution. It is inevitable that many of our spelling conventions will change as they already have done over the years. The French have the “Academie Francaise” to police their language, and debates over such things as the use of the accent and the invasion of English words to express modern inventions are common wherever you go in France. But are they fighting a losing battle? Maybe the fluidity, the flexibility, the freedom of English has helped it become the lingua franca it is today?

Anyway, as usual I digress; the reason for this post was simply to comment on the photos I just posted to the edcmooc Flickr group. One of the course participants suggested that people might like to submit a photo that epitomised our ideas of a mooc. Mine is really just an image that reflects my feelings at the moment and I expect them to change – maybe we should also get people to submit a photo at the end of the course to see how our ideas have developed?

The first image, “A confusion of networks” reflects  the confusion I sort of feel at the moment – so many connections, so many threads …. I edited my own photo using ipiccy which is a free application that is really easy to use. I tried to find logos that were free to use but have a record of the websites I got them from. Always find that a tricky thing to manage! Photo originally taken in Pnomh Penh in 2011.

photo of telegraph pole with a confusion of wires and cables in a street in Cambodia. Overlaid with logos from well-known online network sites
“A confusion of networks”

The second image “Finding the Balance” is how I hope to feel when I have managed to get some balance with all the different connections that edcmooc seems to be! I used ipiccy again. This photo was originally taken in Dalat, Vietnam.

salesman on a bicycle in Dalat, Vietnam laden with dusters on sticks. Overlaid with logos of well-known online networking sites

Language Acquisition in babies

This is a fascinating Tedtalk from Patricia Kuhl about how babies acquire language.  It confirms the long held belief/research that the younger we are exposed to language the more readily we can learn, and that they can open up different pathways in the brain to absorb different sounds which we close off as we get older. She also suggests that the research reveals how important it is that we have real human interaction in order to learn language and not just video and audio input. Great news for language teachers, but something we have all believed for a long time.