“Nine at 35” is a short collection of poems that were written to mark my 35th birthday some time ago. That was a time when my children were still young, not yet in primary school. It was also a time I was trying to return to my creative writing pursuit.
I used to write poems late into the night in my late teens and had a couple of poems published in poetry anthologies in my early twenties. When adulthood and responsibilities caught up with me, the writing seemed to slip away.
At 35, I had formed my family, settled into a teaching career, and now had ambitious plans for a creative comeback with 35 poems. I landed with 9. After that, there were snatches of verses for birthdays and milestones, but little else.
Now I’m in a different season of life. I’m into my 40s and have started journalling during my commute to work, holiday respites, and any other in between pauses. I’m rediscovering my creative voice and doing a stocktake of my earlier writing. This poetry eBook is a result of reviewing my forgotten poems and experimenting with layouts.
With a renewed passion for creative writing, I’m embarking on a personal project to create folios of work – a ‘folio series’ of poems and essays – forgotten, refreshed and new creations.
Apart from making your waiting (or waking) time less monotonous, 4pics1word is also a great vocabulary game.
People around me are hooked on this game – the office lady on the train, someone in the checkout line, my colleague, my boss. The addictive word game available on both iPhone and Android appears simple but forces you to think out of the box (or the four boxes for that matter) to figure out the answer. Apart from making your waiting (or waking) time less monotonous, 4pics1word, I have discovered, is also a great vocabulary game.
The basic form of the puzzle is identifying a common word that each of the four pictures (or part thereof) depict. It could be a noun, adjective or adverb, plain words most of the time, but trickier to guess as you move up the levels. The word association exercise teases your mind, making you wonder whether you’ve lost all common sense, but is also a vocabulary builder in disguise, whether you admit it or not.
For English language learners, this game teaches collocation, synonyms, antonyms, word parts, and lots of brainstorming on the go. Here are some suggestions of how to use the game in a teaching context.
#1 Just play it
Learners can be introduced to the app and they can figure out the mechanism of the puzzles on their own. More likely, however, they will grab friends (and very soon, innocent bystanders) to ask them to help them solve the puzzle. The nature of the game cultivates a competitive (or self-improvement) spirit and the desire to outwit a bunch of pictures will soon have players unconsciously devouring dozens of word associations and patterns.
#2 Break the ice
Teachers can use the game as a warm-up activity and use the puzzle as a teaching point. Some puzzles may have word associations that are too obscure or challenging for learners so explaining the reasoning behind the answer will not only help your students learn, but will also help them to be able to play the game more successfully on their own.
#3 Plan the lesson around it
Teachers can use the game as part of the lesson itself, getting students to explain how they arrived at the puzzles, asking them to keep a journal on new words and their explanations, and perhaps even getting them to compile a list of their favorite puzzles or the hardest ones to crack. Better yet, students could create their own 4pics1word puzzles for both classmates and teacher to solve.
#4 Make it an incentive
If students are already very keen to play the game, teachers could use it as an incentive and reward individuals or groups who solve the most number of puzzles and/or are able to explain their answers. So instead of just receiving virtual old coins, students can be rewarded with something more tangible.
4pics1word is a great example of turning a popular app into a teaching tool where students take to naturally and enthusiastically. While students can easily learn on their own (consciously or subconsciously) through playing the game, bringing their attention to word meanings and clarifying their doubts will help extend and improve their vocabulary.
If you have used the game in class, or if you’re an English learner and have benefitted from the game, please share your experience in the comments.
In the meantime, if you find yourself turning into an addict – skipping meals, losing sleep and ignoring crying children – do what I did – delete the app.
Teacher leadership is not reserved for the chosen few but a responsibility of all teachers. While school culture dampens the spirit of teacher leadership (Barth, 2001, p. 444), empowering teachers as leaders benefit students, teachers, administrators and the school (p. 445).
Who is the successful teacher leader?
The successful teacher leader is one who is committed to a set of beliefs about teaching and making a difference in the school (Barth, 2001; Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2006). She leads by example and thus begins to influence those around her. She perseveres despite obstacles (Barth, 2009, p. 447), claiming victories however small, and does not give up pursuing unrealized goals.
The unsuccessful teacher leader, on the other hand, is not focused in fulfilling goals and is overwhelmed by the daunting workload and critical colleagues. Ultimately, the teacher leader is unsuccessful because she finds greater comfort in remaining in her own classroom than stepping out of her comfort zone (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2006).
Am I a teacher leader?
The initial years of my teaching career were characterized by the traits of the unsuccessful teacher. I was discouraged by colleagues who believed that leadership was reserved for senior staff and administrators. Their skepticism led me to think that I was better off focusing on teaching rather than leading, and that trying to make changes was a waste of time. For example, I suggested compiling video-recordings of student presentations but was quickly censured for creating more and unnecessary work for everyone. Now as I complete my Master of Arts in Teaching, I am convinced that my teaching career is a unique opportunity to be a change agent.
When I put myself in the position of a teacher leader, I am committed to producing excellent work, collaborating with colleagues, and helping our students succeed. While obstacles are real, I am reminded by Barth (2001) to enjoy “half a loaf”, that is, finding success in “incremental change[s] in the desirable direction” (p. 447). One of my weaknesses, however, is that my enthusiasm and energy can easily wear off, especially in the face of difficult colleagues or seemingly futile pursuits. Nonetheless, I must remember that Rome was not built in a day and that being a teacher leader is a journey in itself, and a rewarding one at that.
Rome was not built in a day and that being a teacher leader is a journey in itself, and a rewarding one at that.
Problem of practice
One powerful way of developing teacher leaders is through action research where teachers identify areas of concern and begin to take steps to resolve issues to benefit the school community. At my school, the business communication subjects are taken by students with varying English proficiency standards. While all students have received education in English as a first language, there are minority English language learners (ELLs) whose home language is not English and face challenges with using academic language. My action research project focused on this problem of practice and explored student identity and empowerment.
As an emerging teacher leader, I plan on sharing the findings and recommendations of my action research project at department meetings. In addition, the school’s staff development department organizes events where I will have the opportunity to share my research with a wider school audience. Through these sharing sessions, I will need to develop interpersonal skills such as gentle persuasiveness, especially when dealing with experienced yet resistance teachers. As Danielson (2007) notes, “[l]eading change within one’s own department or team may require considerable interpersonal skill and tact [and] the success of such an effort … depends on the teacher leader’s having established credibility and trust with his or her colleagues” (p. 17).
I anticipate most of the audience to be politely lukewarm toward the information I share as the teachers at my school are generally cautious in making changes, especially when there are no immediate and visible benefits. Unfortunately, the issue of student identity and empowerment is one that is complex; it requires effort and time in exploring identity and empowerment issues with students.
Here’s the plan
To counter skepticism among the crowd, persistence is key. First, I endeavor to take up every opportunity within the school, formally and informally, to share the importance of issues of identity and empowerment and how my own action research project benefits students. This entails identifying appropriate platforms to speak, as well as being aware of the barriers each audience brings to the sharing session. For example, if the audience is unfamiliar with terminology, then I will make the effort to modify my presentation in order to be clear, and more importantly, convincing. A teacher leader is committed first to her beliefs and second to harnessing people’s potential to take necessary action.
A teacher leader is committed first to her beliefs and second to harnessing people’s potential to take necessary action.
In addition, I must also show that my work is recognized by other educators, especially those with authority in the education field. Possible actions include publishing the findings of my study in an education or TESOL related journal and presenting my study at a local or regional conference. The process of publishing or presenting requires a keen understanding of the requirements of each, such as intended audience, paper length and writing style. Apart from the detailed requirements, I must also be aware of the approval process be prepared for rejection. As a novice researcher, the best result I expect is to having to resubmit my paper with changes.
Even if I am rejected, however, I view it as a learning experience. I anticipate mixed reactions to my leadership project. Teachers in my school are likely to have varying levels of commitment to address the needs of minority ELLs in our school, even if my study is accepted by a journal or conference. Whatever the outcomes, I aim to be open to feedback and use the experience to inform my next step in leadership. Success in teacher leadership depends on reaching out, modeling for others, and helping colleagues develop skills and understanding (Ackerman & Mackenzie, 2006, p. 68).
Success in teacher leadership depends on reaching out, modeling for others, and helping colleagues develop skills and understanding.
Never give up, never give up, never give up
Thus my desire is to work with the few who are willing and be focused on student success, without losing sight of the bigger picture of greater student empowerment through the actions and leadership of each and every teacher. Even if I end up being alone in my cause, may I continue taking risks “to provide a constant, visible model of persistence, hope, and enthusiasm” (Barth, 2001, p. 447).
Ackerman, R. & Mackenzie, S.V. (2006). Uncovering teacher leadership. Educational Leadership, May, 2006, 66-70.
I could go on and on about how teenagers nowadays don’t know basic courtesy: how they let out expletives within earshot in a crowded lift, how they talk when the teacher is talking as if she didn’t exist; basically how they walk the road like they own it. But I really shouldn’t because one, there’s no end to that list, and two, I will start to moralize about who’s to blame.
So let me talk about what I can do as a teacher, standing in front of a class of youngsters who can’t get enough of their phones, talk when you’re talking, and seem to do something else even when you’ve set them a different task?
Enough with your phone already!
What do I do when they can’t keep still for 10 minutes without reaching for their iPhone? I tried ignoring it as long as I thought they were more or less paying attention to the lesson but the more I let it happen, the more I was convinced that their mind was on some mindless gossip on twitter. So I made it clear at the beginning of the lesson: put away your phones or I will put them away for you. I’ve confiscated a couple before by placing them at the teacher’s desk but returned it to the student after the lesson. I think they weren’t too cheesed off since I didn’t spot any black faces. I had been generally tolerant of their behavior before and maybe they were just used to me already.
However, I wouldn’t necessarily try it in a large class, like a lecture hall of 80 plus students. First, I would have to spend more time confiscating phones than teaching. Second, I they will hate my guts. Third, one and two make a really bad class.
I think the best defense against a tech distracted crowd is to win them over with your superior tech display, e.g. great eye-catching photos during presentation, a couple of well-timed videos, and having interactive activities like getting individuals and groups to come to the front to do something. And don’t forget the M&Ms to encourage participation!
Chatting like there’s no tomorrow
Most of my students tend to talk a lot more when I’m not the one asking them to do the talking. For example, when they’ve just come in to the classroom and they’re settling down, when they’ve finished an activity and the others are still working on theirs, or when I disappear from the classroom to get something.
I have nothing against students talking in class – except when I’m talking and that usually means I’m trying to say something I think it’s important to them.
Usually they do it because they are engrossed in an ongoing discussion, and can’t snap out of it until they get both physical and verbal cues, i.e. the teacher standing in front of them and saying, “Are we ready for class?”
What if they don’t get the cues? What if they get it one moment and forget the next? Well, I keep on reminding them until my cues are reduced to a glance, a stare or a glare. I don’t aim for total silence and I don’t want them to end up fearful of not keeping quiet. But I think through consistent reinforcement of the expected behavior in class, they will get the message.
One of these kids is doing his own thing
Texting on the phone and being a chatterbox are actually less disturbing behaviors than not following specific instructions in the larger scheme of things. I’ve had students who seem to insist on doing something contrary to what I’ve set the class to do. Thankfully this doesn’t occur often but when it does, it could mean the student is suffering from a behavioral disorder like Asperger’s Syndrome. It could also mean that the student cannot bring himself to complete the task because he finds no meaning in it.
While I have not experienced the former, I have come across students who exhibit the second type of behavior. Usually, they find the work un-challenging or they already know the topic. So far from being rude, they just can’t bring themselves to do something which doesn’t help them learn anything new. What I do to help this student is to give him a more challenging task or point out aspects of the activity that he can still benefit from. To date, I’ve not had a resistant student.
Not rude, well, not all the time
So in my encounters with less desirable classroom behavior, I conclude that the students don’t mean to be rude or challenging; they are just behaving in a way that’s most natural to them. I think it’s our job as teachers to remind them what’s appropriate and what’s not in class – and be consistent in setting our boundaries and ground rules. The last thing we want to do is to ignore them and let them continue with behavior that will not help them learn any better, or anything at all!
P/S I teach in an Asian context where students are largely respectful of authority figures.