Thursday, November 19, 2015

Space Between

Today, I began discussing sonnets with my writing class and developed this example as a guide...

Space Between

The space between by all accounts betrays,
divides the ones who wonder why they went.
Confused, misused, mislead, confined all day,
unsure how salty language had been sent.

The view from up above came from the sky,
engulfed the place, our space, we made our home.
Upon our faces said the warmth, "goodbye",
behind the solar shade she chose to roam.

Like dawn the crisp cold curse crawled in the sheets,
as numbness crept along its fearless fight.
The heat escaped the lifeless frame sans beats;
the calm and docile thoughts in mind that might...

The cause became the life forever bound;
the speed of light pronounced, and it was sound.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Teaching is a calling or a degree

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Teaching is a calling

Dr. Tom S.C. Farrell asks, Teaching is a Calling: Or is it?  This article was brought to my attention by a Griffin tweet, as part of an #rpsig Twitter discourse.

Farrell concludes that the maxim, teaching is a calling, is too often taken for granted by institutions who try to exploit teacher selfless dedication to their students' learning.  He also states that teacher assumptions can be imposed by others, presumably institutions. Although I can appreciate his efforts for looking out for the interests of educators, I wonder if it's really warranted.

My take

I am always leery of the use of maxims when forming an argument because it's too easy to generalize.  In order to agree with the point of view, one has to accept the maxim.  In this case, many educators may feel compelled to agree with this maxim because most have experienced times when the opposite is true: feeling overworked, underpaid, etc. - teaching which is not a calling but just a job. In other words, it is easy to take a dichotomous look at the teaching profession as either being only a calling or just a job...nothing in between.

If teaching is a calling (or vocation), then there is some force that attracts one to a profession whereby the act of doing the job becomes more important than a salary, the work conditions, the hours, etc.  Calling it a force (Robinson calls it one's element), seems a bit abstract, so let's just say that a person is interested in the job itself to the degree that the positive aspects outweigh the negatives.  Contrast this point of view to a more dichotomous viewpoint that labels teaching as a calling as being all or nothing.

If teaching is a calling is just a subjective (internal) viewpoint of one's job in assessing the positives over the negatives, then it also cannot be an assumption from some outside source (e.g., an institution or school) imposed on someone else (e.g., a teacher).  Of course outside sources can influence how one perceives the positives and negatives of a particular job, but the assumption, given, or maxim that teaching is a calling cannot be passed on to the individual.


Let's assume that ELT Language School is taking advantage of ELT Teacher A because Teacher A simply loves her job so much that other aspects of the job don't matter: making money, long hours, etc.

In this example, what matters is who is doing the assuming?  If Teacher B, her colleague, is doing the assuming, but Teacher A is happy with the job (the positives outweigh the negatives), then what does it matter? As far as Teacher A is concerned, teaching is still a calling.  If Teacher A realizes that ELT Language School is taking advantage of her, then it's likely that the negatives outweigh the positives and Teacher A as a result is not happy with the job.  Teacher A is working for some other reason and not for the joy of it, and teaching then no longer is a calling.  Teacher A is not in her element, as it were.

If Teacher A is not happy with her job, is it's the school's fault?  Certainly there are situations where this might be the case, but I think what is more likely is that Teacher A just has not found her calling.  There are possible reasons for this: she does not recognize her calling, she doesn't know how to find her calling, she doesn't know how to prepare (or train) for her calling, etc. Robinson might help here.


A calling cannot be designed by those who exploit another's selflessness.  Someone who is acting selflessly is not looking for anything in return, which teachers undoubtedly often do when they feel that teaching is a calling.  But teachers who view teaching as a calling also do so in terms of degree, pragmatically accepting the fact that certain positives outweigh certain negatives at any given time - this process is unique to the individual and cannot be assumed by others.  If there comes a time when teachers realize that negatives outweigh the positives, then it is up to them to make the decisions necessary to improve the situation; otherwise, it is there choice to live with current conditions (which in this case teaching no longer becomes a calling). The question here then is less about the profession as a calling and more about whether or not teachers are being taken advantage of.  But I think most educators know when they are being taken advantage of...perhaps what might be more interesting is to explore what options they have to actually do something about it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Transforming EFL Teacher Trainers' Pedagogical Content Knowledge Openly Online (#globaled15)

I will be presenting the following talk on Nov. 18, 2015 at the Global Education Conference (#globaled15)...

Your Name and Title: Benjamin L. Stewart, PhD, English-as-a-foreign language (EFL) educator and researcher

Link to the session:' 

School or Organization Name: Universidad Autónoma de Aguascalientes

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: Aguascalientes, Mexico

Language in Which You Will Present: English (and Spanish if necessary)

Target Audience(s): Anyone interested in teaching English to speakers of other languages and those interested in connecting with others with the same interest, and those learning English as an additional language.

Short Session Description (one line): Making the TESOL educative experience transparent through writing

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):  During this session I will share two different writing classes, which were designed for English-as-a-foreign language (EFL) trainers, and will explain how transparency and technology together afford a more educative experience when setting out to improve both skill and pedagogical development.  I will explain situational and instructional considerations when teaching openly online, and will provide opportunities for attendees (both educators and learners alike) to connect with others who have similar interests.

When: Check local times.

Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session:  Composition | Academic Writing

My presentation...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Personalization and Personal Learning Networks

For me, I can only do that from my own experience with people I've known and things that I've lived and experienced. That's what good pop music is all about, pop music that does reach out to people. It's very personalized and very real, honest and sincere. Jon Secada

The word personalization has steadily been trending upward over the years, where its usage has been most prominent in the United States (Google Trends). I came across Dobyns´ take on the word this week which sparked further reflection into why personalization - within the field of educationseems to pop up quite a bit in the blog, Getting Smart. I tend to agree with Dobyns on the end goal, but think that the term personalization just clouds the issue.

I agree with Dobyns that the school experience should reflect the following elements: 1) Students who are empowered to be self-directed in their interests/passions through, 2) the process of inquiry/PBL, while 3) using assessment data to design experiences that 4) intentionally seek to address critical areas of improvement that either impede student learning or are essential for future success (para. 11). I just don´t think that personalization is the answer.

Statements that muddy the waters...

  • Personalization is not a pedagogy (a theory and method for teaching and learning)
Ok, so what is it then?  There is no clear explanation as to what personalization is...only why it is important and vaguely how it occurs (i.e., in problem-based learning).
  • While personalization happens for students through classroom-level interactions, our experience is that it takes coordinated school-wide attention to have enduring changes in practices that meaningfully impact student outcomes.
Personalization is only about classroom-level interactions?  This just sounds like differentiated instruction.  There is nothing about personalization and assessment within a common curriculum.  If there were, it would help define what was meant by personalization.
  • For our work we see [meeting the needs of the students] as “getting personal” in ways that are consistent with our beliefs about education and our espoused pedagogy.
There´s a dangerous assumption going on here: one´s beliefs (i.e., theory in use) and one´s espoused pedagogy (i.e., espoused theory) are both the same.  Oftentimes this is not the reality, and when this occurs, it can have a detremental effect on the educative experience.  Also, personalization should not be confused with understanding the needs of the students.  This is like saying that we should tailor instruction based on individual learning styles.
  •  A rigorous, high quality project and problem approach to teaching and learning creates a set of environmental conditions where good teachers can do tremendous personalization work. This approach allows students to enter the learning at their level and make sense in a very personal way.
This still does not explain much about what is personalization.  So, it´s an approach but not a theory or method for teaching and learning?  Is it possible to personalize the experience without implementing a problem-based learning assignment?  Is it possible to conduct a project-based learning assignment and not personalize it?  
  • Marrying PBL and personalization can multiply the teacher’s presence, giving students access to the learning tools adults use in the “outside” world to answer our own questions and needs, and produces better data around learning student and teacher reflection and decision making.
"...Multiply the teacher´s presence..."and personalization?  Again, this sounds like personalization is something done to students (which it is not).  If we "give students access to learning tools", this is the same as personalization? How do teachers (schools) reconcile students answering their own questions and needs in a way that matches the curriculum?  How do big data and learning analytics fit into this concept of personalization?


Personalization is not something done to/for the student.  It does not take a school-wide mandate in order to implement it - it can be done at the classroom level.  And it is not called personalization

Teachers cannot personalize the learning experience for the student. Learning is personalized without the teacher doing anything at all.  It´s like saying that learning should be social...learning can´t help but be social.  Even if every aspect of instruction and assessment were magically the same, each individual learner would experience a unique learning experience (i.e., their learning would be personalized).  Each unique learning experience is inherently personalized and social because our interpretation of the world is based on lived experiences.  But it´s easy to think in absolute terms, so let´s introduce a more nuanced perspective.

Teachers can differentiate instruction, which is not the same as Dobyns´use of the term personalization.  Teachers can offer fair amounts of formative and dynamic assessment, making feedback more timely and accessible for each student.  This is still different from personalization. Teachers can differentiate product, process, and content and provide formative feedback to students, which still does not speak to the different roles they play based on student needs: didactic instructor, facilitator, and coach (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005).  The roles teachers play at any given moment is something done to the student, while personalization (like social learning) can´t help but exist, and thus is an internal/social process.

I think the point in using the term personalization is to explain the importance of helping learners become more interdependent.  So, instead of saying personalization, how about a personal learning network (PLN).  A PLN is a conglomerate of ideas, materials (or technologies), and social relationships that serve some purpose.  To understand any one idea is to understand its relationship with the related materials and human relationships that network around that one idea.  Thus, teachers can assist learners to understand and cultivate their own PLN for specific purposes.  These purposes might include class objectives and/or personal objectives that extend beyond the curriculum.  The student personalizes the learning experience in terms of how a PLN serves a particular purpose; the educator is there to facilitate this process.  But, the teacher does not personalize the PLN for the student.  A PLN inherently exists and is unique, but it may or may not be useful for the individual.  The educator´s job is to help the learner make decisions so that the PLN becomes more valuable to the learner over time.  

To Jon Secada, music is personalized based on lived experiences.  To a learner, the classroom experience is personalized since one´s interpretation, understandings, and skill sets are rooted in prior experiences.  Based on these experiences, a teacher´s job is to help transform learners from being dependent, to independent, to interdependent by making them aware of how respective PLNs can take student understandings and skill sets to new levels for specific purposes.  Teachers help students to understand how to personalize their own learning through their awareness of a PLN.


Friday, October 23, 2015

Understanding what learning king!

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I read with confusion, Robinson's Content is no longer king.  Here are five things that are at ELTjam, and felt compelled to counter.  Without having read the post, I realized from the title alone that a well-intentioned metaphor had been butchered - to my knowledge, there is no evidence of any country having had more than one official king.  Also, saying, content is no longer king, gives the impression that this is relatively novel idea, which it is not.  It is not exactly clear who the target audience is, but will assume that it is either learners in formal education (i.e., schools) or those interested in more informal educational contexts (learning outside of schools). Terms like businesses and customer are used in the piece, but learning seems to be the real focus.

Robinson concedes in the introduction that content is at best a "minor royal" (para. 5), and that the following have taken its place: 1) user experience, 2) access, 3) choice, 4) cost, and 5) data. I'll try to unpack each in turn, but struggle with the notion that these (or any) concepts should come before content and if all actually come before content in equal fashion.  Let's explore...

User Experience (UX)

Glossing over such a complex idea as UX is futile.  Robinson says, UX can be learned and applied with ease.  What does this mean?  The user experience can be learned and can be applied with ease?  Let's change to the active voice to see if this makes any more sense: Learners learn the user experience?  Teachers learn the user experience?  Teachers apply the user experience with ease?  As an educator it has never crossed my mind that I could apply a user experience to the user.  By definition, it's the experience of the user, which seems to mean that the user experience is inherently unique, regardless what the educator does.

Access & Choice

I do not really see any argument for access and choice (over content).  Robinson states that the value in Netflix (as a "content access business") is " the easy access to so many films, with no caps on usage and a recommendation system to help you navigate the impossible amount of choice".  How do these two points (access and choice) reach king status over content?


Cost is king over content?  What's the argument Robinson is trying to make?  Charging or not charging for classes is really what matters in how, where, when, etc. individuals learn?  And this is more important that content?


I would compare this definition of big data with that of Robinson's: "sets of data larger, more varied and more complex than we could ever have imagined capturing" (para. 18). How can big data be king over content, when content is at least part of the learning process?  This is like saying assessment (from big data) is more important than learning.  If there is no learning, then there is nothing to measure.  Surely most would agree that content has something to do with learning, and that assessment either occurs concurrently or sequentially to the learning process (but not absent of...).  Of course big data could be used to diagnose or for placement purposes, but this is limited in scope when compared to a more broader use that comes in the form of both formative and summative-types of assessment. The purpose of big data is to assess learning.


Nothing is "king" over content.  Learning is complex.  Learning involves ideas, materials, and social interactions, and none of these three - ideas, materials, and social relationships - are inherently superior over the others.  Learning is the aggregate of ideas, materials, and social relationships that grow and decline over time and are worth understanding at any given point of time.  Just using the word content limits the scope of an idea as it tends to ignore perspective, interpretation, and understandings of each individual (e.g., learner, educator, coach, etc.).  Learning is an ideational, material, and social network that intentionally and incidentally transforms over time.  If businesses want to make money in education, understanding what learning king!