My name is John Coomber. This blog charts my passage through the Provincial Instructor’s Diploma Program at Vancouver Community College in Vancouver BC. For a bit of info about me, click here.
For convenience, posts for 3260 will appear here on the front page, but in chronological order. So feel free to scroll down or take a look at the Recent Posts list.
Other assignments for this course and those I have completed for previous ones can be accessed by hovering your cursor over the appropriate tab on the header. Each document contains references, but a complete list can also be found under the ‘Resources’ tab.
November 26th. 2015
Brookfield offers an entertaining and accessible introduction to his book which, while perhaps a little loquacious, nevertheless contains nuggets of wisdom that we might summarize as follows:
- Teaching is unpredictable.
- Celebrate the ups.
- Celebrate successfully dealing with screw-ups.
- Don’t let the downs get you down – it may not be your fault, because you are not perfect.
- Nobody else is either – you are not alone.
- Whatever formal training you have had will not be adequate preparation for all the mess-ups you are likely to meet, nor will it be responsible for all your successes.
- YOU are your best trainer/tutor/mentor.
- Learning to be an effective teacher is an endless, iterative process
November 27th. 2015
This is me. Or rather this is me as I taught my last complete TESL class, which of course invites speculation about the different John Coombers who live (or lived) in parallel universes: university teacher in Khartoum, children’s teacher in Taipei, examiner trainer in the same city, ESL teacher in Vancouver and more. In fact, this was what I was wondering about as I responded to the prompts and wrestled to keep my attention focused on the last group of individuals I taught. Continue reading
November 29th. 2015
Brookfield (2015, p.15), deals in the second chapter with what he believes are the four fundamental beliefs that underlie skillful teaching:
- Skillful teaching is whatever helps students learn
- Skillful teachers adopt a critically reflective stance toward their practice
- The most important knowledge that skillful teachers need to do good work is a constant awareness of how students are experiencing their learning and perceiving teachers’ actions
- College students of any age should be treated as adults.
November 30th. 2015
Several years ago, Prof. Thomas Klassen authored an article in the Vancouver Sun, entitled: “Online university learning can’t replace in-person experience.”, the main thrust of which appears to be the mediocrity of online education. Along the way though, we are treated to a woolly analogy between education and the airline industry, an eerie, almost dystopian vision of the sparsely populated campus of the future, the joys of on-campus socializing and a discreet plug for campus food and beverage operations. Continue reading
December 8th. 2015
I have just finished reading what Brookfield has to say about the qualities of a good teacher, (2015, pp. 41-53), and I was immediately struck by the similarities between the points he made and what I have learned as an ESL teacher trainer. Brookfield’s vocabulary might appear rather more recondite than what appears in TESL texts, but essentially the message is the same. Take for example, the views from one mainstream TESL text, (Harmer, 2007). In his brief overview, Harmer places the maintenance of positive rapport at the top of the list, (op. cit., pp, 25-28):
“A significant feature in the intrinsic motivation of students will depend on their perception of what the teacher thinks of them, and how they are treated. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that what many people look for when they observe other people’s lessons, is evidence of good rapport between the teacher and the class.”
December 21st. 2015
I have been working my way through Stephen Brookfield’s book, and must say that it is probably the most accessible and enjoyable book of any I have read while studying on this program. I confess that I knew nothing about Dr. Brookfield before I started reading, but one thing that piqued my interest was his occasional reference to British slang and his professed fondness for cricket. On further investigation, I was rather chuffed to discover he is, in fact, a fellow Limey – a Scouser from Liverpool, no less. (I am not, but it’s close enough when you’re this far away). I have also found some excellent stuff on YouTube, but try this for a little Yuletide levity, SB and the 99ers:
All the best.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass
The 99ers, (2013). Godzilla’s a Punk. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7UHFsuYVqI
December 26th. 2015
In many contemporary classrooms teachers are seen to perform a variety of roles which depend upon a multitude of situations. In this respect, the ELT classroom is no different. Harmer, for example offers a number of scenarios that require different roles (2007, p.25). If the teacher is explaining a grammar point, s/he may well be viewed as a controlling figure. At other times while learners are working on a task in groups, s/he may be circling the class as an observer / monitor. Perhaps one or two learners are struggling and can be taken aside for extra help, hence the teacher becomes a tutor, and if learners have questions about language, the teacher becomes a resource. Lastly, the teacher is responsible for providing formal feedback, and thus wears the assessor’s hat. But above all, contemporary ELT practice sees the teacher as a facilitator, (Littlewood 1981, p.2; Harmer 2007a, p.108), an overarching concept which seems to subsume all other roles, and which has become a pillar of communicative ideology. Continue reading
December 27th. 2015
“Like democracy, inclusiveness is an ideal worth pursuing but one that will never be fully realized. But, like trying to work democratically, the effort to teach for diversity contains its own justification.” (Brookfield 2015, p. 109).
The issue of diversity in classrooms is certainly a politically charged one, and it is becoming more so year by year, as Brookfield’s account of community colleges in the USA illustrates. Political and demographic changes have resulted in a huge influx of immigrants often with limited language skills, along with members of communities that were not traditionally seen in tertiary institutions, says Brookfield (op. cit., pp. 97-98).
Furthermore, it is clearly an issue that is gaining traction, judging by the copious research citations that Brookfield provides. In fact, something similar seems to be happening in a number of other countries as well, for example a wider Canadian socio-political context is provided by Joshee et. al., (2010), while diversity in Britain comes under the scrutiny of Wood, Landry and Bloomfield, (2006). Furthermore, these challenges are not the preserve of rich western either, as Dryden-Peterson (2011) shows us.
In the ELT world I inhabit, I have had limited, but enlightening experiences with diversity. Continue reading
December 29th. 2015
I got relentlessly dinged by thoughts while reading Brookfield’s ideas on why students resist learning, (2015, pp.213-225). Here is one sentence that jumped out at me while scanning the first page: “ The ground zero of resistance to learning is the fear of change. And learning, by definition, involves change.” (op. cit., p.213).
I immediately had a rush of counter-intuitive impressions: “on-line teaching”, “flipped classrooms”, “role changes”, “faculty opposition”. Nothing about students, you notice! That did not come as too much of a surprise to me since I have recently written a piece rebutting criticisms of on-line learning, (Coomber, 2015), and the topic has cropped up elsewhere, (Coomber, 2014 and Coomber, 2015a). Continue reading
December 30th 2015
I have just finished a commentary on Ch.16 of Stephen Brookfield’s book (Brookfield, 2015) which deals with the reasons behind students’ resistance to learning. I came away convinced that much of the resistance we meet in classrooms has its roots in fear. As I saw it, the corollary of this conclusion is that if the fundamental obligation of a teacher is to help people learn, then reducing fear becomes a key component of their job, (Coomber, 2015).
But barely 24 hours after formulating this perspective, I have cause to re-think my stance. Continue reading
January 1st. 2016
“What constitutes a lecture is enormously variable. In fact its only unifying characteristic is that it involves sustained periods of teacher talk.” (Brookfield, 2015, p. 70).
The above quote immediately brought to mind a favourite refrain in contemporary ELT: “STT good, TTT bad.” I think this fixation with the idea of maximizing student talking time, whilst reducing teacher talking time to a minimum sometimes blinds ESL teachers to the fact that, as Brookfield states, lecturing is not necessarily bad, nor are interactive tasks necessarily always good, (op. cit., p. 69). Continue reading
January 6th. 2015
“Infographics are a visual representation of information and is (sic) quite popular these days due to the fact that everything that is visual is almost automatically well received by the public. This has made data visualization a thing that “must be done” by every designer, and that is almost always a bad thing.” (Sandu, n.d.)
I recently finished my digital project for which I designed an infographic to outline the Critical Incident Questionnaire feedback instrument, (Brookfield 2015, pp. 34-39). I was pleasantly surprised to see how relatively easy it was. I used Venngage, and drew upon my limited experience of creating PowerPoint presentations: you do not have slides, but a static canvas. You can upload images you need, just like PowerPoint, or there are lots of ready-made images you can use. To get stuff from the palette to the canvas is the usual story: left-click and drag. There is an off-canvas work area where you can park stuff so it does not get in the way, but a slightly annoying feature is that you can’t drag from the palette to the work area directly. First you have to park the image on the canvas, then move it off, (at least that was my experience). Image layering seems similar to PowerPoint, so no problems there. The free version of Venngage limits you to five infographics which you can’t download. Continue reading
January 7th. 2015
This is a personal experience that directly involved myself and one other member of staff at a school some years ago. The story involves a student with a natural verve for teaching, but negligible discipline for coursework which she barely passed. Her downfall though, was her apparent pathological inability to arrive on time, or even to arrive at all. Verbal appeals from me were met with contrite simpers or inane excuses. However, having read Brookfield’s comments on keeping a paper trail (p.261-262), I can congratulate myself on the prescience I showed by sending her two warnings by email. Alas, it made no difference and she burned through the 10% of marks allocated to punctuality and attendance in record time. Come the end of her course, she failed by just a couple of points. What an extraordinary transformation we saw, but her tears and penitent supplications fell upon deaf ears, (well mine, at least). Continue reading
January 9th. 2016
Frankly, I am getting a bit tired of this blogging lark. Time to take a break with this offering from Lawrence Krauss. “What I always think should be the basis of education is not answers, but questions.” Well said, Prof. Krauss.
Krauss, L. (2015). Lawrence Krauss: We Need to Teach Kids Creative Thinking. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=URvKPoEPxxM
January 10th 2016
When people buy a product, whether a good or a service, there is a clear assumption that if the product proves to be faulty or does not meet the buyer’s expectations, then the buyer is entitled to some kind of recompense. Indeed, this is recognized as a right in many countries, and backed by legislation. Should this not be the same for education, especially when the individual is carrying the full cost? To me, there seems no doubt that if money changes hands, then it becomes a consumer issue as much as an educational one. The fact that I have experience running a private language school is probably responsible for my holding this view. Continue reading
January 14th. 2016
For those of you who can’t get enough of Dr. Stephen Brookfield, you might like to check him out on Twitter, here. Links to recent activities of the Doc, as well as commentary.
[BTW: ‘A sad old geezer’ – his words, not mine].
January 14th. 2016
Let me start with something that appears totally unrelated to the topic. I am a success story – by one measure, at least. Over the last 20 years I have lost about 25 kg – and kept it off. I put this down to a little conversation I had with yours truly long ago, trying to persuade myself to ‘go on a diet’. Totally the wrong way to go about it. It was not until I realized that I would have to do this for the rest of my life that I finally jettisoned that evil word, ‘diet’ from my lexicon, and conceived the possibility of success. I was not looking at a diet, I was looking at a change in life style. That, I think, is a key ingredient to successful learning. It is for life – forever and ever Amen, and it will change you. Furthermore, if that seems an overwhelming scenario, one needs to remember that the years will pass by anyway; they will be gone before you know it, so better make the best of them.
Anyway, what exactly is ‘lifelong learning’? Here are two offerings:
- Lifelong Learning, “ . . . is the ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated, pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.” (Wikipedia, n.d.).
- LLL comprises all phases of learning, from pre-school to post-retirement, and covers the whole spectrum of formal, non-formal and informal learning. It means that learning is a process occurs (sic) at all times in all places. It should be a process of continuous learning that (sic) directed towards not only providing the individual needs, also that of the relevant community. (Laal, 2011).
So, it is a pursuit that brings benefits to the individual personally and professionally, and the community in which s/he is living and practicing. Continue reading
January 15th 2016
“Ask most people about office politics and they’ll say they’d prefer to avoid it, but most also know that developing political competence is not a choice, it’s a necessity.” Reardon (2015).
Office politics is something I have actively shunned for most of my working life, primarily because I have never felt the need to get involved with it. Generally, I have just got on with my work, people (i.e. management) have left me alone, and I gladly leave them alone. My loyalty remains primarily with the people who pay my salary, and they are the people I teach every day. Continue reading
January 18th. 2016
Recently, I related my experience trying to evaluate a course that was part of a test preparation program in Taiwan, (Coomber 2015). I mentioned that:
a) It threw up an interesting issue that I found more engaging than what I was actually investigating.
b) The whole thing fell apart when the course under study was cancelled.
This post addresses point a).
My motivation for the study was to address a simple question. Do people who embark on the preparation course actually finish it with better skills than what they started with? To this end, I started collecting background data about the topic of what is technically referred to as gains studies, (Coomber 1998, p.10 ). Continue reading
January 24th 2016
A number of times in my career I have been sideswiped by management decisions which were, in my opinion, ill-planned and the result of a quite amateurish approach to developing and delivering new courses. The two incidents I want to recount share these features; they are, in effect, examples of knee-jerk, data-less attempts at new product development. Let me first clarify a few terms I shall be using: Continue reading
January 27th 2016
I have long been interested in all aspects of motivation. As far as education is concerned, I do not think you can go wrong with the wisdom of Ed Deci, (and it is only 37 seconds).
Deci, E. (2012). Promoting Motivation, Health and Excellence: Ed Deci at TEDxFlourCity. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hdLPEC2aRs
The Fresno Bee (2007)
February 1st 2016
Returning to the broad theme of fear, (see above posts), here is a quick link to an article on Linkedin that suggests dealing with failure is a skill we all need to develop – adults and children alike. Helicopter parents take note, (Coomber, 2015).
Coomber, J. (2015). Helicopter Parents. [Weblog Comment]. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p6chXQ-20
Coomber, J. (2015). Commentary on Brookfield, Ch.16: the Fear Factor. [Weblog Comment]. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p49kyQ-d3
Coomber, J. (2015). Fear Factor II: More on the Resistance to Learning. [Weblog Comment]. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p49kyQ-da
Selingo, J. (2016). How to Teach Our Children to Fail. [Linkedin Comment]. Retrieved from: http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-teach-our-children-fail-jeff-selingo
February 4th 2016
Brookfield’s parting shot is a list of rules to keep you sane throughout your teaching career. As in so many of the other chapters, there is much to be commended in his advice, and yet . . . I have doubts regarding how convincingly some of them can be realized in practice. Of course, this real world includes a myriad of teaching / learning environments that lay outside Brookfield’s own field of endeavour: the college teacher in the USA. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to expect his advice to fit, glove-like, each teacher’s particular situation. So, abandoning generalities for a while, I would like to consider a few of Brookfield’s maxims as they relate to some of my own experiences and learning. Continue reading
February 5th. 2016
(Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images)
I feel a bit like Miles Davis at the moment, but not because I plan on blowing my own horn. No, I am reminded of a supposed response Davis made to an audience member who had asked him the name of the tune he was about to play. Apparently, Davis answered: “Let me play with it first, and I’ll tell you what it is later.” 1 And that’s rather how I feel about this post – I have not decided on the title yet, and I do not know exactly where it is going.
Never mind . . . let’s take it from the top . . .
So far my journey through this program has included the following courses:
- PIDP 3100
- PIDP 3210
- PIDP 3250
- PIDP 3260
Each has been valuable in its own way, but there is one all-embracing impression that I have formed. It came to me during the first few weeks of PIDP 3100 and has constantly been reinforced throughout succeeding courses. Let me explain. Continue reading