Thursday, July 19, 2012

get your stories, right here

Now that I'm not slaving away forty plus hours a week just teaching, grading, doing teaching responsibilities, etc., I have time to tell good stories about my esl/efl career which i intend to put here as a way of covering up the far more serious things this blog holds. It has been about three weeks since I retired; I've been packing to move but having trouble getting out in this 100 plus heat; I still love language and writing, so I thought I'd start filling this blog up with the good stuff, quick before I lose my faculties.

The two best stories I have at the moment come from my retirement: first, when I asked a group of people, including the director, if I could borrow a dolly, she said, literally, "anything for you". This I took as the highest compliment, especially since my stuff had really filled the hallways in the last weeks. Second, when I went to hand in my keys, the woman in charge refused to take them, wouldn't allow me to do it, until I insisted. But insist I did, and I'm now completely out.

The low point in my career, I could encapsulate in a single moment that I remember clearly; it happened about six years ago. A high-level student with no listening was in my office trying to understand some writing point probably having to do with plagiarism. He kept nodding his head at what I was telling him but it became evident to me that he had no listening; he couldn't understand a word. Sometimes they do ok with you if you go slowly and keep repeating, but, in this case, something had flipped a switch in his ear and he was at zero. But he kept nodding.

Finally I told him that if he didn't understand, he should stop nodding. Again he nodded. This was my mistake. If he was at zero, he didn't understand my direction at all. But I got frustrated, and raised my voice at him. Finally I said, "Stop nodding!" But he didn't. He probably didn't know the word "nodding". Much as I tried to describe it to him, I couldn't make him understand what I wanted.

Much of ESL is the cross-cultural misunderstanding that comes from being completely unable to understand why someone would do something that they are doing. In the case of our present students it is inconceivable to us how they could repeatedly copy and use old models for things we think are fairly easy to create. The ideal situation would be to be able to talk long and well with each student, to know what worked for them in the past, how easily they could and would copy, for example, or to really know how much they know about ways to cheat. If it's really that easy to cheat, and that hard to learn how to read, is it any wonder they would do what they're doing? Not to start complaining about the way things are; it's no longer my problem. In fact, the best points of the career were really just in the day-to-day classroom (which is why I'm embarking on these stories); the ironic thing about my career is this: when I went off to teach other teachers how to teach, I didn't feel I was all that successful. I saw some great places: Kiaoshiung, Arequipa, Santiago and Santo Domingo. You could even count Kean County and various TESOL locales in there. I shared my expertise the best I could. Yet I felt, in the end, that my best success was just with students in front of me.

I'll end this little recap with a story about an interesting day. It was the first day of class, and a student, a Korean woman, wrote furiously as I introduced the class. In the end she had produced a picture, the picture I now use as my profile on Facebook (people tell me: don't ever change it). At the end of class, when I asked her what she'd done, she gave it to me. Years later, I uploaded it. She was a talented artist who went on to a career in graphic design. But the class she was in was actually one of my best; they liked each other a lot, and remained friends for years. Maybe ten years later, I found her on Facebook and befriended her. But I was glad to see that not only was she friends with other members of that very class, she was even visiting them, in Japan, on her way home. I've had lots of evidence, over the years, that this is common. They may not remember the class itself as "fun," but they remember each other and are still close.

And that's how I feel about my fellow teachers, now spread all over the world. I keep close ties with them, even over time; we've shared experience, and have a lot in common. The main reason I've always loved the TESOL conventions is this: these are my favorite people. They tell good stories. They see the world the way I do; they have similar values.

More stories coming. It's an interesting world; maybe I can show you my perspective.


This blog is actually a pretty sleepy place; if you don’t believe me check the stats by scrolling down, clicking on the little green button and reading who comes in, where they come from, and how long they stay. Yes, it’s true, I can know this about you also, and so can anyone, but that’s one of the hallmarks of the digital age. We know what kind of browser you have, where you went from here, etc. Get used to it! But that’s not my point. Its main purpose is for me to explain my ideas about teaching, about language, etc., and I’ve never really varied much from that. I learned how to commercialize blogs but I’ve never done that to this one. I learned how to maximize traffic, but I’ve never done that either. I learned how to change that little picture at the top that says, ‘ancient pink template from the earliest days of blogs’ but I’ve never changed this one.

One reason this blog gets the traffic it does is that there are very few blogs that actually sustain themselves over time and maintain a consistent kind of reputation, without commercializing, changing focus, taking on too much of a media stream, etc. Therefore more people have come to me recently for commercial purposes, hoping to make a deal or have a joint publicity exercise. And this is where it gets interesting. Recently I was approached by a prominent grammar software marketer with a proposition: I write a blog post about grammar software; I link to their software; I link to that post permanently in the template; I get a free Kindle. I salivated at the thought of a Kindle; those are cool. I noticed that they didn’t require me to say anything, good or bad, about the software itself. I think it’s kind of taken for granted at least that I wouldn’t slam them, but nothing in the deal said that I couldn’t be clever, say things tongue-in-cheek, or even give an endorsement so lukewarm that it was obvious I didn’t care for it. Now the thing is, they made me give a credit card number to try out the software (even on a free 30-day trial) and I balked at that, for some reason. So, bottom line, because I’d never used the stuff, I never successfully followed up on the deal.

I’ve spent a lot of time watching what happens when students use software, or use free online services, or even respond to the ubiquitous red and green lines when they write. I’ve taken paragraphs that they write and submitted them to free grammar checkers to see what happens. I’ve written volumes on why teachers should pay attention to what is happening here, how it is certain to influence students’ learning arcs, how technological influences such as the red line and green line play an integral role in determining what gets written and how we interpret it; and finally, how this process of technology altering the language production process is likely to change the language, not only the vast majority of what we ESL teachers read, but in fact the vast majority of what everyone reads. It doesn’t take much writing to be considered an “expert,” though I’d never call myself that, but I suspect I was asked for the sponsorship deal more because I was there, I was reliable, and my reputation wasn’t necessarily bad.

Incidentally, even in that short time, when I’d written something very much like this, but hadn’t yet put it on my blog, I started seeing that this company had made advertising buys everywhere online. On Google, there would be their name on the template. It’s not like I get around so much, though I go to sites that are related, directly and indirectly, to grammar and ESL. But I’m saying, everywhere. I don’t know how much online advertising is going for these days, but these folks are truly investing in it. And that made me wonder: is it really possible that there’s a good return on this kind of investment? How many people are really going to plunk down regular kind of money for grammar software? And, does online advertising really generate that kind of business? I’m telling you, as far as I can tell, these folks really believe in online advertising.

The truth is, I have a sneaking suspicion that they want to harvest all that writing for some other kind of reason, much like the bookstore owner who knows he can’t make a living selling books, but doesn’t worry about money anyway, and just needs a store to hang around day in and day out, giving him/her a legitimate cover or the appearance of an occupation. This may sound totally implausible, and so be it; I have no real evidence that they’ve ever done anything except try to make good grammar software, try to make it useful for writers everywhere, and market it aggressively online, but somehow the whole picture didn’t add up, and I just couldn’t accept it for face value. I still can’t.

In the end, I found it impossible to say nothing about what was happening out there. The fact is, the ESL market is probably an insignificant chunk of the business they want; my blog attracts few other people besides a few ESL teachers (and possibly my own students and former students); I’m sure I’m not the only “authority” they approached; they’re getting plenty of hits even without me; and, if they get the lion’s share of the grammar software market right now while the gettin’s good (so to speak), this might be a very shrewd and timely investment. But, in the end, I have to admit that I don’t have a clue. I am not ready to make an endorsement, for or against anything; I couldn’t even bring myself to use it. I don’t really need a Kindle, all that badly, in fact, you can get Kindle apps that turn your computer into a Kindle and give you everything a Kindle could give you. Now that I’m retiring, I may have time to actually use a Kindle or something like it. But I have nothing, nothing to say about my own process of using grammar software when I write. I don’t. I do, however, keep my eyes on the red and green lines, as everyone should, and I have more than passing concern about what happens to the English language as a result.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Leverett, T. (2012). Koutsoudas' first principle. Unpublished document.

Leverett, T. (2012). Symbols and the language learner. Unpublished document.

OK OK, with these last ones (these two and another, earlier this month), I'll have to admit: I'm cleaning out my files. They are no longer in order. If there was a book forthcoming, its order is under question.

I will say this, though: I will store this stuff at the "On Language" blog; that site in general stores my notes and thoughts on this topic; I'm not done yet, though at the moment I am moving to Lubbock, TX and have to take a break from organizing and serious writing.

The second, though it's marked 2012, was written on the old Word; I'm not sure when I wrote it. Let's just say, this blog is the most permanent place to store stuff like this, computers come & go, but the blog stays, with its sleepy organization by month. These, I guess, will remain as July 2012.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

e pluribus haiku 2012

now on kindle