Fluffy Post 1 – The Absolute Unadulterated Joy of Questioning What You Do

I don’t write blog posts very often, so regular readers will be aware don’t exist, but I’ve decided to write one this morning as I’m feeling inspired. Is it the coffee? Is it the fifth movement of Mahler’s Resurrection still bouncing and floating around the hollow space between my ears? Could it be new neural pathways created as my taste buds sent mind-altering currents to hitherto unknown parts of my brain after Tim Hughes’ astounding leftover-chicken-and-stuff-in-the-kitchen curry last night? Who knows, for what does it matter to the workings of a world that just mapped Pluto?

It matters not, but I just wanted to share some joy. Heaven forfend! Some joy in a world of torment and disaster. But there are little lights, fireflies in the dark of night, uneven pinpricks of euphoria that come at me from time to time. And I’ve had a few of these recently. It’s not been the greatest time. There have been challenges: a relationship going through a ‘difficult phase’, a motorbike accident, a decision to leave my job and move to another country (again!), CELTA number 4,762 and ultimate acceptance that I will probably never play for the Scotland national football team in a World Cup final. But all these first world problems have got one thing in common: they all make me question what I do and who I am.

Now, as this is an ELT blog, let me make at least some reference to the field. All I’ve said above can be summarised in the more academically appropriate words of Thomas Farrell:

“Over their careers teachers construct and reconstruct (usually tacitly) a conceptual sense of who they are (their self-image) and this is manifested through what they do (their professional role identity)” (link here)

What got me thinking about this was a question from a recent CELTA candidate. I was asked about the need for teaching reading subskills (skimming, scanning, detailed comprehension, etc.). I replied the jury was out and that learners may simply transfer existing comprehension skills from L1 to L2, though there seemed no harm to me on working on scanning with lower levels whose L1 has a different script to that of English (my current context is Thailand – yeah, just try scanning Thai as a beginner). But after the session, I got thinking and started to ask questions about what I do.

I thought about reading lessons I’ve taught, what I’ve done with texts in class, and how I feel as a learner of another language. I revisited Russ Mayne’s excellent post (would you expect anything else from Russ?) on Skimming and Scanning (link here), gave Christine Nuttall a ring on my special red telephone and settled down with Swan and Walter. I thought about what subskills are, whether they exist, whether it’s more effective to think about processing than subskills; I reflected on what the difference between subskills and reading strategies is, the need to “pre-teach” and what cats do in the night (though I accept that’s not totally related). I ruminated over the point of reading for gist (see this webinar for more on that), whether scanning involves comprehension and what on earth is meant by “reading for detail”; I considered whether texts should be linguistic objects, what it is that makes people group reading and listening together, rather than reading and writing, and the need to focus on discourse to improve reading. I thought a lot. I constructed and reconstructed my professional ideas and identity.

And what were my conclusions? What paradigm-changing answer did I reach? Absolutely nothing. Not a conclusion in sight. A bit of anti-climax? I think not, because the definitive answers were not the point and are ones I can never reach without moving into primary research – something that is not for me right this very second – no, the point was the process, the thinking, the critical reflection and the absolute unadulterated joy of questioning what you do.

What on earth did I write this for?  Good question – need to think about that.

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6 thoughts on “Fluffy Post 1 – The Absolute Unadulterated Joy of Questioning What You Do

  1. Afifa Awan

    hello Chris …it’s really nice to read a blog after many days. I feel, we all at some point, in our teaching careers do question ourselves regarding our techniques that we use to teach one thing or another..overall i like reading your blog and also shared it on my LinkedIn account,hope to read more blogs soon,regards.

  2. Thanks for writing this. I wish I had a red telephone. So yes. I think it is really important to question what we convey (or what is coming across) to trainees on (especially) short courses like CELTA. Trainees don’t have the luxury of time to absorb and reflect in depth whereas by the time we reach CELTA 4,762 we’ve had plenty of that. I’m not quite sure if this is what you are saying, but I do have a feeling that as trainers of pre-service teachers, we have to acknowledge that we are participating actively in the perpetuation of a particular system or set of beliefs, and that there are going to be times when you feel the rub, so to speak, against your own critical evaluation of said system/beliefs…I’m not comfortable with what we do in pre-service training regarding receptive skills, but I recognise that trainees on short courses need a framework to help them be able to use spoken and written texts effectively in the classroom, and the one we suggest to them reflects the coursebook material they will be using, examinations etc etc. However, while more reflective or experienced teachers quickly move beyond PPP in grammar teaching, we (as a whole industry) don’t seem to be moving far beyond CGDS (that’s my official and just-made-up contribution to the ever-expanding field of ELT acronyms – it stands for “context-gist-detail-something else”). However if you consider the changes we have seen in attention to phonology (at a segmental and suprsasegmental level) from pre-service training, through to teaching/researching/professional development, right through to publishing of ELT course books, and the links that have been springing up recently in particular between understanding listening and understanding phonological features…I know it’s not perfect but I can definitely see the shift. Things change. Thinking is good. Let’s keep questioning and long live self-doubt! 🙂 (PS thanks for the link to the teachers roles/identities article – I’ve just printed it as I need to think about it some more!)

    1. Chris Ożóg

      Hi Sophia,

      Thank you very much for the comment. You saw right through my fluff there and into something more important – roles, beliefs and systems (I actually included a paragraph in my draft of the above that was about my role as CELTA trainer, but took it out as I don’t like to give potential nutcase candidates ammunition). I often have moments where my beliefs clash with with either the CELTA syllabus or what I have to do on a given course and this can grate. I tell myself, when this happens, that CELTA is the how and Delta the why, so when I train on Deltas I’m much happier as we can explore the why and get critical. But I agree with you that pre-service teachers need a set of manageable frameworks (the how) and so it’s a bind that we cannot escape.

      That said, I sometimes do wonder whether these frameworks and so forth that pre-service trainees work with and are provided with actually go critically unevaluated by trainers. If that is the case, I feel that means that I am involved in perpetuating the ELT equivalent of popular wisdom and that is why I reflect so much on what I tell trainees. Take subskills, for example – who says they are to be taught? Who says they exist? I don’t think many people would have an answer to that other than it says it in Harmer. But maybe that’s enough and I should simply chill out.

      Thanks again for the comment – I’m going to share it as I really enjoyed it.

      Chris

  3. Heaven forfend!

    I think you should rewrite your own personal narrative as the head cleaning lady/teacher trainer at the ‘Infinite Jest EFL’ school in Panama City. The post is either yours or Dona Carmen’s.

    Panama 2020!

    1. Chris Ożóg

      It saddens me that Doña Carmen would get that role ahead of me if it ever came down to a straight choice between us after interview.

      T minus 4.5 years to Panama 2020.

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