Are There Hidden Motives behind Feedback Forms?

A few days ago I taught the last lesson of the course for adults (end of Summer semester). Each student was handed a feedback form to fill out.

How far will management go just to please? (I took the photo!)

Despite being a teacher for many years, this is my first experience with a real, clear cut, “for profit” framework. The message that it is a business is being hammered home in many ways. The main one is, of course, the size of the language class for the weakest students in the school -37 students.

But its the other ways in which the message “the customer is always right” is being sent that makes me wonder what the purpose of these forms really is. I have already been asked to teach the course again, so that can’t be the reason I was asked to meet with “the big honcho” (not the English coordinator) to discuss them.

A telling example has to do with use of the site Quizlet, which I believe to be a very useful tool. I put up two lists of relevant vocabulary for my students to practice. I made a simple screencast showing them how to use it. In addition I posted a page in mother tongue explaining how to use it. Despite all that, it seems one or two students had trouble with it and asked for help from the support service (students can’t write me directly, emails go through the office first). I was immediatly told not to use Quizlet.

So what happens if a student complains that there wasn’t enough groupwork or too much groupwork? What about the number of quizzes I gave in class? I gave quite a few, short, easy ones as I believe that success breeds motivation (which leads to more success) but there were a couple of students who did not hand in the tasks and did not take all the quizzes. How will “the customer is always right theory” work here?

I’d be very interested to hear how such things work in other places.


Its Saturday! Choosing a Book by its Cover

I chose a book this week by its cover. I thought I didn’t really do that (except for books that their covers STRONGLY hint that  you might  find them hidden under a mattress. I don’t take those). But then I began thinking about it. Maybe I DO do that and what’s so wrong with that?

I don’t really like reading blurbs on the back cover of books as they tend to give too much of the plot away. I try to stop reading the blurb after a sentence or two but I don’t always succeed. I’ve put many a book back on the library shelf because I’ve felt that I know to much and can guess the rest. Its better to examine the front cover and the first page of the book, or even open the book to a page chosen randomly and to read a paragraph.

This week the title “The Book Borrower” caught my eye (by Alice Mattison). You can imagine why! Then I saw a review on the cover that compared the author to Margaret Atwood, whose books I really enjoy. That was enough for me!

So, now you know what next week Saturday’s book will be about! I’ve only read about 10 pages and still don’t have an opinion. More next week!


Impolite Relief: It Wasn’t Mine!

All summer vacation I had an unpleasant, nagging thought which I tried with all my might to ignore:

“I hope they don’t take my classroom away”.

Discovering the week before school begins that I no longer had a designated English room was not an unfounded fear. The previous school year had ended with an ugly change of administration and with the information that the school would be growing. In fact, we were told that caravans may have to be brought in as temporary solution.

In addition, that exact scenario did happen once, three principals ago ( I’ve seen quite a few principals come and go…). I came to school like I did this morning, to start unpacking the closets and setting up the classroom for the first day of the new school year. It was a different room back then, much smaller and in the main building. I found my two closets in a side niche of a corridor and my own overhead projector (it was donated to me, personally, not to the school!) added to the school’s stock of OVP’s. Luckily mine had a very distinctive label with the name ELMO on it so it was quite clear which one it was.


I was told, after I asked (!!!!) that the school had grown and they needed the room.

It was because of Elmo, the overhead projector, that I was given another room. When I met with the principal I told her that all this equipment I had personally gotten from donors would have to be returned to them along with the explanation that they could no longer be used for teaching English to deaf and hard of hearing students, as the school had other priorities. To be honest, I’m amazed I was able to say that to the principal as she was very intimidating and I’m not known for being eloquent when I’m upset.

Classroom door (inside)

I’m still in the room I got back then. Its in the yard, its sort of a makeshift room that was added on and it has some problems. But I think I’m lucky it is so. Because it wasn’t my room in the yard that was rennovated this summer and transformed into a regular classroom, it was a different one. I don’t know the details yet regarding where the other teacher will be teaching and what she was or wasn’t told in advance. I’ll see her at the general staff meeting on Thursday and find out.

I’m not phoning her because I feel so relieved that I’m afraid I will sound very impolite and not supportive…


Saturday’s Book: “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely

This book was recommended to me by my friend Vicky Loras and after enjoying “Freakonomics” last summer I was quite interested in reading it. I was no longer under the illusion that such books were only for people good at math and science.

I would like to point out that this is a book I now own (a gift I exchanged) and not a library book. I know I have mentioned often how I’m all for library books but this is the kind of book it is good to own. It isn’t meant to be read all at once, the author says it explicitly in the introduction (or was it the first chatper?).So I’ve been reading it, bit by bit, for the last month or so. I need time to take in what I’ve read before starting a new topic.

Each chapter is thought provoking and about issues related to every day life. It is very readable and the author does try to infuse humor into it. While all the topics are interesting (so far at least, have not finished it yet), some topics are REALLY interesting! This weekend I read about proctastinating and being addicted to email

Besides reading, we went on a great trip up north this weekend. Here are some random photos from our trip which I found interesting:

Epstein Family Photos
Epstein Family Photos
Epstein Family Photos
Epstein Family Photos


Saturday’s Book: “State of Wonder” By Ann Patchett

No, I haven’t forgotten my own rule of not reading two books by an author that I like in a row. I’ve often regretted it when I ignored the rule in the past.

So, this isn’t quite in a row, I read two other books in between (since I was listening to an audiobook by Margaret Atwood, I’m not counting that one). But the fact that I had seen this new (2011!) book by Ann Patchett just waiting for me on the library shelf coupled with the fact that my vacation is almost over was too much to resist.

I DID have a crsis though, somewhere around chapter three.

The general storyline about a doctor going off into the depths of the Amazon Jungle in search of a doctor who sounds as if she had lost her grip on reality seems like a nod to Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.  Since I haven’t fnished the book yet I’m not completely sure how much of “a nod” it is but that didn’t bother me.  Conrad is extremely difficult to read and reading Patchett flows so easily!

What upset me was “the formula”. Think: succesful good loking female doctor, who doesn’t really have a life besides work, with a dark secret in her past (which is connected to the doctor in the jungle) who then goes on a journey. So I was really concerned. I wondered if after all my excitement this would be a book I wouldn’t want to finish.

But I underestimated Ann Patchett. I CAN NOT predict what is going to happen next and this is not tear jerker. It isn’t Bel Canto which I found more magical, but there is no way I’m going to miss a single page of this book.

I’ve already read two thirds of the book. Whatever the ending I don’t think I’ll be disappointed. Even a recognized formula is different in the hands of a master.

B.T.W-What is the idea behind printing books with rough, uneven ends of pages? This is one of them. I don’t see the point of that…

Note from Monday afternoon: Finished the book. Totally did NOT predict the ending. Glad I read it!


How Often Should Teachers Use “THE CHAIR”? A Comment

I just read the latest blog post, entitled : Increasing Student Talking Time , which is part of the  fascinating series “The Celta Trainer’s Diary ” by Chia Suan Chong.

Epstein Family Photos

Taking into account that I hadn’t had a clue to what a Celta or a Delta was until I entered blogoshpere, a year and a half ago, I find such posts (by Chia and others)  fascinating, as large portions are certainly relevant and true of teaching in any EFL classroom.

I may sound awfully nitpicky, but tonight the part about how a teacher should sit down a great deal reminded me that nonetheless, these posts are about a very specific course in a different place.

Its all about the number of students in the class.

In my class of 37 adult students I actually could be phsysically seen by all students as the room we are in now has a stage. I do not feel very comfortable as yet on the stage as I’m not an actress and this isn’t a performance. The stage is certainly a barrier of the sort Chia mentions. In the previous classroom the students in the back would not have seen me if I had sat down. The rooms are very large.

Standing up allows me to easily move to the part of the classroom where one student may be talking. In this manner I show attentiveness and draw the other students’ attention to the speaker.

In such a  large class, group work is the way to let students talk more. I simply must be on my feet so that I can move from group to group.

Epstein Family Photos

Pacing can also be very beneficial at times. While I’m aware that Chia’s post was focusing on getting students to TALK more and I’m digressing, pacing a bit actually helps students pay attention. They know I can see that they are texting or trying to do next week’s assignment in class right now and they give up trying and focus.

Finally, I feel that keeping such a large class together, learning and progressing, requires a lot of energy on my part. That energy translates into a lot of standing.

I only sit on the chair when I’m using the projector and can point to things shown on the screen using the mouse attached to the computer on my desk.

It must be stated that the course I’m teaching focuses on reading comprehension and not speaking and as such isn’t related to the post I’m commenting on. But that IS the beauty of having one own’s blog – I can write about the links formed in my own head!

Saturday’s Book: The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared

I read this book in less than a week. Perfect book for a vacation. Could be dangerous to read when you have a lot of work to be done – it is quite hard to stop reading!

If you had been able to see me while reading you would have mainly seen a huge grin plastered over my face. Wild book, amusing and sometimes downright laugh aloud  funny. The cover quotes are so apt, such as:  “A Swedish black novel that reads like a road trip with Forrest Gump at the wheel”. TRUE!

The only thing that is a pity is that it is a bit too long. The author, Jonas Jonasson writes beautifully with a clever storyline.I think it would have been better with a few of the twists of the plot (particularly in the last part) left out. It just can’t remain as funny and surprising (which the book IS!) with so many twists of the plot.

This book seems to beg for a movie version. Can I pre-order tickets?

The Silence of the Walls

As you may remember, I’m teaching a summer course at a private language school. As someone who has invested a great deal of thought and energy into the creation of the English Room which is our learning center, I’m very aware of physical space.

The room at the language school is quite new, with a fresh coat of white paint. No peeling walls or old chairs with metal legs that I’m busy collecting tennis balls for (think of walkers for infirm people). At the high-school I’m currently in the process of getting each metal leg  inside a ball to stop scraping noises (many thanks to Netalie Wolfson for this brilliant idea!).

The computer is wonderful and the room has a projector. When you turn on the projector the screen slides down automatically. The whiteboard is huge so there is some room left to write on the side even when the screen is down. The computer in my own classroom is good too (no projector) but the school intentionally left us with an old screen when it upgraded the computer. The kids then think the computer is old and complain. This how the school holds on to the feverent hope that the computer won’t be stolen.

The air conditioner at the language school is AWESOME! Not only does it work really well, but the best thing about is that nobody knows how to turn it off. The 20-something year old girls in my course are just like my teenage girl students. They come skimpily clad, complain of being cold but scoff at my suggestion of bringing some sort of wrap. In school, arguments ensue and I can’t always stop some of the students from turning off the air conditioner on their own and then on again. I expend a lot of energy when I teach and I’m simply delighted with the temperature.

However, those nicely painted wall of the language school are bare. Empty. Just white. Those walls aren’t doing a single useful thing (English wise, that is. I really am grateful that they are holding up the ceiling!).

In my school classroom, the upper half of one entire wall is covered with a carpet. That’s perfect for hanging large flashcards which can be used for practicing or just to look at for reference. Easy to replace and reorginize. During the summer course, every time we encounter a phrasal verb, I have to stop myself from saying – well, just look over there, do you remember now?

Those walls hold no notice board for those who repeatedly forget things announced. This is particulary good as a self defense strategy for those who try to claim I never even made the announcements in the first place. I just silently point to the notice board and that’s that.

There is nowhere to hang diplomas. I have a sneaky feeling that adults would like that too but I haven’t tested that theory out.

The back of the door in the language school is empty as well. One can’t hang things for color and well, for fun. Nobody (not even the teachers’ aids) knew what an otter was but they still enjoy looking at the adorable picture on the door, as shown here:

I enjoy teaching this summer course and I certainly enjoy the modern perks. But I have to keep holding my hand down to refrain from pointing to the walls where there is nothing useful!