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Thursday, July 26, 2012
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
English has become a lingua franca and in the globalized world we live in. In many countries it has also become a symbol of status and prestige. Besides that, there is a belief that starting learningn thenlanguage earlier is better. As a result of these facts, governments in many countries have implemented policies that oblige schools to make the teaching of English mandatory at younger and younger ages. In addition, parents also feel the need to give their offsprings a lead in the competition for better jobs, and as a consequence, are placing their children in language institutes at earlier ages.
This demand for an earlier exposure to English places an extra resposibility on school admisnistrators and on teachers' shoulders: they need to come up with best practices for teaching taking into account all the peculiar chacteristics of young learners. Such practices .involve, among other things, designing a curriculum that is appropriate to their age, training teachers in methodology that caters to young learners emotional and psychological development, and building an atmosphere that makes students life long learners. In this respect, Dr Shin's workshop was really helpful once she conducted a series of activities that were practical, enjoyable, purposeful, and meaningful. Besides that, she also gave us hints on adapting these activities to our context.
To those not familiar with the field of teaching, the task of teaching young learners might an easy one. However, as participants pointed out, there are many challenges to be addressed. Among those problems are: the number of hours dedicated to instruction, the lack of support from parents for exposure to target language outside the classroom, and limited linguistic competence of teachers. Some of these problems require a dramatic change in policies at the government level and there is not much we teachers can do about them. However, all of us believe in the power we have as multipliers. Change that is lasting has to be a bottom up process. So, while governments do not change policies, we can try to reach our peers. And that was exactly what we started doing in the afternoon session: try to come with ideas that promote professional development in our local teaching communities.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
On July 23rd, continuing the UMBC E-Teacher Scholarship Program, we formally started our workshops. I say formally because all of us in the program realized that in the last three days we have been part of a big informal workshop. In the lines below I will try to integrate my perceptions of this whole experience and how the situations we have been through and the interactions we had illustrate concepts related to Intercultural communication.
First, one of the things that Dr. Schwartz showed on his entertaining lecture was that when it comes to communication, we are not any different from our students, and as such we have a drive to communicate and make the uniqueness of our identities perceived. So, as we strolled down streets, went shopping, ate together at The Grits and in restaurants, we were having conversations and expressing our cultural identities through communication. Communication is not restricted to words only, it includes our gestures, the way we dress, and even our silences and pauses. Although we all might claim we teach English, what we really teach is communication.
Once we realize how important communication is, we have to start reflecting on the role that culture plays in communication to be aware of two very important aspects of culture: macro and micro culture. In our interactions with the scholars in the program, the coordinators, and program assistants, while we were striving to memorize names and countries the most salient aspect of their and our identities was the macro culture. Every time we introduced ourselves to the cafeteria staff we tried to snow our macro culture badge. Our macro culture IDs work as an ice breaker and makes communication flow. Macro culture is helpful for small talks and to help us to place people on a map (as we did when we were introducing ourselves and pinning the world map with colored post it notes).
While our macro culture is an important badge or hat to identify us and put a pin in the world map, our micro culture is the one that differentiates and defines us in a unique way. In these three days we have been here we were all lucky to have more meaningful interactions with som e of our peers and express a bit of our uniqueness. In these occasions we talked about our ethnic groups, our marital status, our preferences concerning food and dressing. These were moments that we treasured because they gave us a chance to stop being just a pin on the world map. Our micro culture is what helps us to form more meaningful relationships and break the mold of stereotypes that are many times attributed to our macro culture identities.
Although it seems fascinating to think, talk, and write about this dance of cultural identities, we should take into account that conflicts arise. When different cultures meet, at first everything seems to be a bed of roses. This is true especially if it is long awaited encounter, as is our case. This cultural honeymoon also lasts longer when you already know a lot about the target culture or are otherwise under the spell of the fascination of discovery. However, as time goes by and you start experiencing frustrations due to unmet expectations, difficulties to achieve very basic goals, and other difficulties. As a result of such frustrations a relationship with a person or country (a culture) goes stale - culture shock. Symptoms of culture shock can be subtle such as criticism of aspects of host culture such as food or way of dressing. Other times culture shock can cause depression and a total refusal of further interaction with the target culture. Hopefully all of us are just in this minor state of culture shock (the fun crab feast) and under the spell of discovery. So, let's hope it continues like that, but if we happen to be victims of such cultural experience we know there are friends we can count on.
Finally, we have also learned from Dr. Schwartz culture shocks are not a privilege of those traveling abroad. Culture shocks happen within the walls of our schools and classerooms and we have to be aware of them. However, awareness only is not enough. As educators, we should design activities that do not only allow students to express their macro and micro cultures, but that also makes them aware of differences and conflict and teach them strategies to deal with them.
I was very sick and I didn't have anything to do, so I called my daughter and asked her if she and my granddaughter could go to my house. She said that she couldn’t, but my granddaughter could and she’d bring some candy to me.
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The girl picked up her bicycle and went to my house. She went through the park, because it was faster. She couldn’t talk to strangers, but one wolf stopped her and asked where she was going, as she was very sweet, polite and didn’t lie, she said and showed him, how he would arrive at my house. He ran fast and arrived at my house, pretending to be my granddaughter.
However I’m very smart and I was suspicious, in fact I looked at my surveillance camera and saw who he was. So I called the police and they arrested him. My granddaughter arrived and I told her the story, she was sorry about her innocence. Then, we ate a lot and the wolf couldn’t carry out his evil plan.
(Written by Natália -Juvenile 74)
Monday, July 23, 2012
The Art Festival
After so much walk, we felt tired and hungry. So, the next stop was the Mezze Restaurant. For this early dinner we sat in parties of five, six, or seven. On my table we talked about so many things. Some of the topics were: food (of course), our students and schools, vacations, what we watch on television, our native languages and their peculiarities and similarities. Needless to say the food was delicious, and being such an unskilled cook, I could not name all the dishes that we were served. The conversation was fantastic, and to be honest, with such wonderful conversation and conversationalists, I could probably go hungry for another two hours. My roommate Chauki and Hisham, who were fasting, would probably agree with that. This reminds of a scene of one of my favorite movies AI (a project of Stanley Kubrick directed by Steven Spielberg). In this scene the mother is taking the now unwanted boy robot to disposal ground on the woods. The boy robot, unaware of his "adoptive mother's" intentions strikes a conversation. The mother is extremely sad and really does not want to abandon him because she has grown to love the robot boy. It goes more or less like this.
" What will we have for dinner today? " asks the boy robot.
" You never eat." the mother says. He is robot and he can't eat. If he does, he is seriously damaged.
" But I like to sit at the table." Replies the boy robot.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
After breakfast at The Grits, we got the bus to go shopping. First stop was Best Buy (my favorite store ever). Guess why! We spent some there checking tablets, PCs and other gadgets. We had about four and a half hours to walk around. Some of my classmates agreed that shopping malls are very much the same all over the world. This similarity breeds congeniality and makes us feel at home. As a result, we become more relaxed and interaction becomes smoother, an ideal situation to get to know one another.
The climax of the day was The Crab Feast Dinner at Dr. Joan Shin's place. We first took a ride through very nice neighborhoods with lush green gardens and beautiful houses. After we went through a beautiful little town (sorry, I forgot the name and google maps was not that helpful). Then we finally arrived at Dr. Joan Shin's home and we were kindly received by her, Teresa, Adriana, and the program assistants. Before getting to the much awaited crabs, we could try some delicious finger foods. Some of us almost forgot that there was something else to eat later.
Finally we were invited to the basement. Surprisingly we were told we did not need any plates. At the basement there were two large tables covered with brown paper. On the tables there were also wooden hammers (one for each one of the guests). Having realized what for and how they were going be used, I thought to myself "This is going to be messy."
At the head of each table stood two white cardboard boxes and inside them, we guessed, famous crabs. The boxes were open and just like paparazzi most scholars with cameras on hand took lots of photos.
Flashes gone on and off, Dr. Shin did the honors of guiding us through the process cracking the crabs open and extracting the meat. It so noisy and so fun. I have to confess I was not the most skillful person in opening the crab, but I really enjoyed the experience as everyone else did. Some scholars suddenly became experts in the task and were very soon bragging about establishing a new recording of being the who ate the biggest number of crabs. It was definitely a messy, and fun experience to all of us. It makes us think about how different cultures can be. The ritual of breaking the carbs looked at the same time primitive and extremely sophisticated. Definitely a life changing cultural lesson.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
E- Teacher Scholarship Journal
I am just trying to use Blogsy on my iPad and posted an entire version of two previous posts by copying and pasting straight from pages.
When I arrived in my room I found a beautiful wine notebook on my desk. I opened it and it suggested that I wrote a journal about my days here at UMBC. I asked myself "Where is my pen?" Then I thought, why using pen and paper if I have a bag full of gadgets (iPad, iPhone, netbook, camera). I had already taken two photos. So I just opened my iPad on pages and started writing. As I wrote, I jus copied and pasted the photos.
Let's see what happens. I already love the idea.
UMBC - Day 01
Today is the 20th of July. After about ten hours of flight I finally arrived at the UMBC Campus. I really caught myself biting my nails all the way till I got here. I was a bit impatient with the taxi driver. Although I had a map and everything, I was still a bit afraid to get lost and not make it. First I went to the wrong entrance of the building. One of the staff showed me where I had to go. While walking to the next entrance, I realized that on the rush to find the right place I had left my taxi receipt behind. When I turning around to fetch the forgotten paper, I saw the lady that had given me directions walking behind me with the receipt on her hand. Then again, I entered the wrong building. Finally, with help of a second person, I made it to the right place. It was a relief when Rebecca welcomed me, gave me key and took me to my room. I was really happy to find this beautiful bag filled with treats. Now I am headed for lunch. Just cannot wait to meet the other scholars later tonight.
Lunch was fine. There was a big variety of things to choose from and this made me feel home. I usually eat in a restaurant that has a wide choice of vegetables. So, I stuck with vegetables, some pasta, and bread. For dessert, I just couldn't help eating some cookies.
While BBQ time did not come, I took the usual after lunch nap. I slept for about an hour and then took a walk around the campus. I was dying to get some coffee. So I went to the bookstore building The Commons. However, as I checked the possible coffee place it seemed to be a bit after hours. So, I decided to check the bookstore.
Barbecue time was fun. We finally met Teresa Valais who has been chaperoning us in this voyage. Joan and Adriana also joined us. We had a great evening and while we savored the food we talked a bit about our experiences and the present state of education in our countries. Scholars arrived little by little, and as they arrived they joined the conversation. I know I should try to name everyone, but I am terrible with names. The food in the pictured is wrapped because we were always waiting for someone else o arrive. Chaouki, who is going to be my roommate, had not arrived till I wrote this post. I really tried to wait as much as I could, but tiredness got the best of me and I had to come to my room. However, before going to bed, I decided to write this post.