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Using Technology in the Most Remote Places

by miismelanie

It occurred to me during the tech session Thursday that I actually did use technology in Tonga. Although high-tech gadgets were not an option, using even the most basic devices opened up a whole new world to my students. To begin, let me put the location into context.

This was the island we lived on.

It was one mile long and one mile wide. No running water but we did have electricity for a couple of hours each night.

There was only one way on and off the island, and that was by boat. A transport boat came once a week (or less) and was the only way to travel the 6-7 hours to the main island to the hospital and a grocery store.

The transport boat did not dock at our island so we would have to take small fishing boats to meet the transport boat in the middle of the ocean.

In our small fishing boats, we would pull up to the open door on the side of the transport boat.

We would have to jump from the small fishing boat, into the transport boat.

This boat was also the only way to transport supplies and animals between the islands.

Sea turtle being sent to address on its belly.

Live pigs being transported in a sack.

This is also how we got the barrels of fuel needed in order to run our island’s electricity. The boat workers would push the barrels into the ocean. The men from our island would then tie ropes around the barrels and pull the fuel behind their fishing boat, back to our island.

Since getting off the island was so difficult, very few of my students had ever left the tiny island. Technology brought the world to them.

As part of the Tongan curriculum, the sixth-grade students were studying American government. (Not relevant at all, but mandatory.) They were talking about Obama, and how he was just elected the new president. Someone sent me a DVD of President Obama being sworn in. We waited one night until the electricity came on, and I showed the DVD to the sixth graders and their teacher. They were mesmerized. Not so much by the President, or the ceremony, but by all of the people. Only 300 people lived on their island. There were thousands and thousands in the crowd on the DVD. They couldn’t get over all the people, and all the different colors of people.

Sixth graders also had to learn to write letters. They began writing back and forth with students at my old elementary school in North Dakota. To give the American students an idea of the island my students lived on, we gave them an “island tour”. After my students had learned the vocabulary for the foods they ate on the island, and the places on the island, my students got into groups and made signs with the vocab words. We then went around the island and took photos of the students holding their sign next to the food or place. I eventually was able to take the boat to the main island and uploaded the photos onto Picasa for the American students to see.


We also used technology to raise money for the school. Tongan schools are primarily funded by countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Japan through grant money. I wanted my students to experience earning money.  We began hosting a “movie night” every other Friday at the school. When the electricity came on, we would set up a TV and we would play a DVD. The village would pay one dollar per person to come and watch the movie. This taught my students how to earn and manage money. As a class, they would then decide how to spend the money.The movies also exposed the students to English.

Students working “movie night.” Each week, they also designed posters to hang around the village advertising the movie.

My husband Eric used technology in a very unique way. During the final eight months of our Peace Corps service we lived on Tonga’s main island. Eric was assigned to train photographers and reporters at Tonga’s only non-government run television station and newspaper. A major cell phone company, Digicel, contracted the news station to produce a pilot show of “Digicel Stars”, the South Pacific’s version of “American Idol.” It became Eric’s job to produce the show and oversee the crew. They had many challenges. Sometimes they didn’t have electricity and equipment was always breaking. The show aired on Tongan television every Friday night. One Friday, Eric had the show edited and ready to go, but something had happened and he could not get the show off the computer and onto a DVD for it to air on television that night. There was only one man in the whole country who knew how to fix this problem, but he wasn’t available until the following week. The whole country had to wait.

Here is a snippet of a promotional video Eric had to produce for Digicel. It sums up the season. Through this project, the news staff was practicing and bettering their English…and the whole country was exposed to its first Tongan show in the English language.

On how to convey power in the classroom (peer observation)

by Vilosopher

The focus of my observation was a teacher as an authoritative figure. I was asked to keep track of what techniques are being used  in order to establish power relationship in a class. It was particularly interesting to focus on this non-verbal aspect of teaching, since I didn’t know the language of instruction and could dedicated my absolute attention to voice, gestures and movements.

It’s not  a secret that to show who is a boss here, one doesn’t need to scream and jump around. Still I’d like to share these subtle little things that you might already know and I observed. These “things” present a teacher as an authoritative figure (please, notice that I’m not discussing here the question, IF a teacher actually has to be an authoritative figure):

• Own the space. A teacher walks around. He is not staying only at his “assigned” table. He makes big gesters with the hands not being afraid to use a lot of space.

Be slow and quite. A teacher speaks quietly. The subconscious message here is: “I am confident and I don’t have to scream. I now that what I’m saying is important and that is why you want to hear it”. A teacher speaks slowly. The main reason for it is, of course, to ensure students’ comprehension. But speaking slowly also creates an interesting feeling that time is under  his control. We use to say in Russia that reputable people never hurry.  

• Joke. Joking always means taking a risk. I think humor is a strong demonstration of power. It’s not only about being confident that your jokes will be appreciated by others. It’s aslo about being able to laugh at things, which means that you put yourself at a slightly higher position.

Enter personal space. A teacher looks at a student’s notebook over her shoulder or touches students’ things on a table.

Ask questions. The one who asks questions always leads the conversation. Even when students ask questions, a teacher returns them back to them or their classmates.

Please, add if you feel like it.

On “The Tact of Teaching” by van Manen

by Vilosopher

Honestly, when I was reading van Manen’s “Tact of reading”, I was a bit sceptical. So, as teachers, we have to be patient, open, kind, attentive, gentle, wise, objective, understanding, forgiving, protecting, strengthening, enhancing, sponsoring and what’s not. We have to speak carefully, but be silent, when necessary. We have to mediate things through our eyes, watch our gestures and creat positive atmosphere wherever we go. We, basically, have to be little Jesuses walking around in white toga with the Buddha-smile on our faces. I immediately  started kicking and wrinkle my nose. I have a certain type of personality. I’m human. I scream, I laugh, I like and I dislike particular students… I mean, I always thought of myself as a content teacher, not as a teacher-teacher. I know something, that others don’t, and this is my value. Simply speaking, in terms of the Russian language, for example, I’m superior, than my students. My goal is to share this knowledge with others. And I work hard on developing the qualities that responsible for the smooth delivery of the material – so, I can bring my students to the same level, where I am as a speaker of my language. But as people, we are all on the same level: They cry and I cry, they have right to be tired and I do. But, according to van Manen, I actually don’t have these rights. I’m this angelic figure who is barely touching the ground with her transparent, winged feet…

Not like I’ve never thought about it, but I was proud being human, sometimes brutally honest, sometimes nervous and frustrated in front of my students, sometimes excited and happy… I would never hold back. I was always very imperfect and believed that is why my students can relate to me.

But guess what? WRONG! Just as we have to work on teaching the content we teach (languages), we also have to work on this TACT thing. Two days ago I received my evaluation forms from my students who already graduated. The majority of comments was pretty sweet, but there were those few comments that got me thinking a lot! And you know how we also focus on the negative, rather than positive (I do). So, I basically almost immediately forgot about the positive comments and completely submerged myself into these negative comments. So, a few students were actually very frustrated with me as being very inconsistent with the mood presentation: one day I’m happy, another day I’m quite. Then, there were the comments about how I judge people based on their education level. Then, a comment on my reaction, when somebody didn’t know a famous Russian artist: “She told us all we need to get some education”. Meanwhile, I honestly didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but I did. I suddenly realized that no, I’m not the same human being as they are… They actually do expect me to be perfect! And whatever I do in class is under this magnifying glass that makes all my words and deeds exaggerated and even ugly sometimes (even if somewhere else these words and deeds would look totally normal or unnoticed). And in this sense – yes, we have to be angelic. Teaching is one of these professions that not only requires from you to be a better professional, but a better person – like from inside.

Observing Arabic SILP

by Alicia Brill

Last Friday, I had the opportunity to observe an intermediate level Arabic SILP class.  This particular instructor seemed to epitomize Graves’ book on The Energy to Teach.  Arriving to class on a gloomy Friday morning, the teacher hummed with energy – as evidenced by his smile, light in his eyes, expressive eyebrows, and so on.  While the students were called on to participate in class, the teacher had clearly built up enough of a rapport with the students that they were willing to speak and didn’t seem overtly put out by being called on.  There was a jovial atmosphere in the classroom; students were willing to try out the language, even if they didn’t always pronounce the vocabulary correctly or inflect for the proper tense.  The teacher did praise and encourage the students for their efforts, and seemed to try and put the students at ease through the use of humor, expressive facial features, body language, and more.  I felt immediately at ease in his classroom; I even tried to use my very minimal Arabic to share what my favorite fruit is (strawberry – الفراولة).  For me, learning a language is all about putting students at ease with a bit of a push for good measure.  To stretch the song a bit – I was thinking of “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down” – well maybe sugar could be you’re the affective atmosphere you cultivate in your classroom while the medicine is the push needed to make students break outside of their comfort zones a wee bit?  Anyhow, all I know is that I would follow this particular teacher halfway around the world – to Jordan – to take his Arabic class myself during the regular school year; he was that good!

Last thought, this is the video the instructor used with the class to work on fruit names in Arabic.  It’s a catchy song – was humming it all weekend – like it or not.  The teacher actually tried to have his students sing the song, but to no avail.  This might have been because the students didn’t know the actual lyrics – rather than due to not wanting to sing and/or participate.  Finally, if you do watch the video, notice that the apple was being WASHED in the video (presumably before the kids eat it) which could draw out a really good conversation about germs and bacteria, the importance of washing food, health and hygiene, etc.  Language learning is possible through even the smallest of details. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XP3i0ZAhhAo

Childhood Reading – what inspired you?

by Alicia Brill

I am curious to know – what was your favorite childhood book [or series of books] and why?  This can be in any language; I am just interested to know!  Was it a required reading for school or something you read on your own?

While it’s hard to select just a few – I would say that the Nancy Drew series and Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech had the greatest impact on me.  Walk Two Moons was a required reading in the 6th grade about a girl named Salamanca Tree Hiddle and while I don’t remember much of the plot line, the book had a quite memorable saying that has stuck with me ever since – “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.”  I think that this captures the essence of our field as language educators, who are trying to bridge cross cultural barriers, helping people to suspend judgment about the unknown and approach others who are seemingly ‘not like you’ with compassion and an attempt at understanding [this reminded me a lot of Jennie and I’s Speaker-Understander session, with her talking about her high school international students].  The Nancy Drew books were just for fun, but I guess Nancy Drew was like a girl’s version of MacGyver – Nancy could accomplish anything she set out to achieve – and why not?  I can see how the books I read as a child really shaped me as a person, and wonder if others have similar stories to share?

Teaching Style

by kaseylc0508

Real life? Relevance?

We need to extend stuff done in class to what learners (will) do outside of class.

Do we leave out learners that don’t agree with a teacher’s style? Accommodating, etc.

In some  situations (large size classes), you can’t teach to everyone: it’s impossible. I.e., there’s 10 percent that will learn no matter, 10 percent that’s won’t regardless, and 80 percent that depend on the style. You gotta do what you gotta do. (Also, sidenote: sometimes learners are just mean, don’t take it personal. See: adolescents, graduate student course evaluations.)  However, in small classes the teacher is more obligated to address individual learning styles. With larger groups (or more diverse learning styles), choice and collaboration can be used to help address the differences in learners.

Don’t get us wrong: We don’t leave out learners that don’t agree with our style, as in the techniques and activities we plan to do or  use in class; however, that doesn’t mean that teachers have to alter their personalities to match their students. You can take the lion out of the Jungle… Your positive affect as a teacher is both linked to your acknowledgment of students’ work and learning and behavior, not them as people, and vice versa.

Differences  can be used to your advantage, i.e., have John type so he doesn’t interrupt everyone. (See the case study on Hajer, IEP student.)

Accessibility vs. respect, overindulgence of praise…how does  one make themselves accessible (in the metaphorical sense) while maintaining respect.

It’s tricky, it depends on the learners (adults can be testy). Reasons and transparency give you respect. Also, it’s easier to start out authoritarian and get nicer than go the other way. Thoughts on praise: You have to respect, somewhat, the cultural norms (people need attaboys), but it needs to be genuine and tailored to product/process of learning. Be specific, yo. If you add in peer support (the “what did you like about it” of Peter Shaw’s classes wrap  up circles) the teacher doesn’t need to be the offerer of praise: peers do it.

Kasey, Jennie, Luke, Alicia, and John

View of the stations

by John Jordan

I wrote this in class, on paper, as my students worked. I actually went up stairs during class to get my computer to type this, and saw Peter talking to an EPGS teacher, and I told him what I was doing. Here’s what I wrote.

Right now I’m sitting in my classroom while the students “workshop” their papers. (That’s kind of a misnomer: “work on” might be better, but there like some kind of optional structure laid out.) I went all out and set-up five stations where students self-direct themselves to improve specific aspects of their paper. At the beginning of class, we went to all the stations and I explained them, and they basically have the rest of class to work. We’re going to recap on what they did and what they focused on at the end of class. [Note: We did not do this, chiefly because they all worked the whole hour, and it seemed stupid to stop that to talk about it, but also because my brother and his wife had a baby boy today, and I showed them a picture on my cell phone.] I am just watching now, although occasionally people ask me questions or have me look at stuff they’ve written.

There’s a Grammar station, where students work on prepositions usage, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, and word choice; a structure station, where students can look at how they’ve structured their paper and their paragraphs (and two models with labeled parts); a style and content station, where students read their papers to a partner who gives feedback on clarity, word-choice, grammar, whatever; a transitions station (what we’ve focused on this week), where students can improve or find transitions to use in their essays; and a typing/computer-formatting station, where students can type and review how to format a typed essay.

People seem to be hard at work, but very few are actually at individual stations—or it’s possible that they are, but it’s not like they’re huddled around the stations. (Except the style one where you read the paper aloud, but it’s also in its own room.) Mostly, it appears students are just writing/editing, which what I told them to do. Some use the tools I’ve laid out—an iPad with verb and adjective + preposition lists, some model essays, and a packet that explains transitions. But that appears to be rare. About a third of the class has turned the style section into a in-depth peer-editing station, and are working on fixing the things I have identified in their papers with peers.

To be honest, though, it’s pretty awesome. They’re all working, and they’re working hard and for real, and when they come to me or when they work with other students, they’re asking the right questions and they’re looking at what they need to do to really improve their papers. They care.

I once watched a TED talk about how constant interruptions at work destroy the ability of the mind to think and for work to get done. I just don’t how students work at home, but for once they are getting extended time in class to just work, with some aids and people to talk to. It somewhat feels like a waste to give class time to what’s mostly individual work, but at the same time, when I plan guided activities (that never last more than, say, 30 minutes max), you never get this kind of concentrated effort.

First time in Rabat and the “Mission”

by tarek50

This post is a continuation of the first time in Rabat and… post, and to clarify few points mentioned by Peter’s and Alicia’s comments.

DLI used to send students to immerse in Cairo, Egypt and Amman, Jordan, but the situation changed after the recent revolutions and nu-rest in the region. They put the program on hold. Then at the beginning of this year the decided to restart the OCONUS immersion again, in a safer and more secure country, and Morocco was the ideal country regarding safety. Regarding the MSA Vs Dialect, DLI selected and contracted with 2 academic sites in Rabat, where they implement MSA and instructors master MSA (see the following paragraph).

The academic site in Rabat

I contacted the Arabic Institute and scheduled appointments for meetings and classes observation. The institute contracted with DLI to host our students academically and culturally. Students are receiving approximately 5 hours of MSA teaching every day in the morning, and in the afternoon they have several cultural activities. In the week-ends the students have trips to different sites in Morocco, such as Casablanca, Fez, and the Sahara.

The institute also arranges housing for DLI students; each student is hosted by local family, where the student actually lives the entire period of time. The institute has a selection of Moroccan families. Each of these families must have at least one member, who can master Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Our students learn MSA at the DLI, thus it is essential that students communicate with their host family using MSA and not any dialect or any other language, such as English or French.    

The mission

The mission was exploring new host sites for DLI Arabic basic course students attending MSA immersion in Rabat Morocco, visiting the sites, observing classes, and to discuss program improvements. When I arrived to the institute, I met with the director and the program director. I observed the first four hours of DLI students’ classes. Then met with the instructors, director, program director, and discussed the curriculum offered by the institute. I made some suggestions to update the curriculum based on our students’ needs and levels. For example, made recommendation regarding the teaching methodology, use of authentic materials, and break times, increase the number of listening activities per week, and eliminate Moroccan local dialect hours from the curriculum. In addition, I stressed on the fact that only MSA will be used in and out of class. I also met with the housing coordinator and shared with him some of the concerns that students had, such as one of the host families did not have any member who can speak MSA. I requested to change the host family and the student was placed with another family.

The outcome

Since the entire OCONUS Immersion program is funded by the government, I had to justify how DLI students may benefit from such immersion trip. I must answer one question to the DLI command office. The question is: How does the Defense Language Institute-Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) benefit from this trip? My answer was as follows: 

a. Culturally, by immersing in an Arabic country and having the students living with host families.

b. Linguistically, by implementing the MSA program and having qualified local MSA instructors teaching our students.

c. Students will gain the cultural and linguistic experiences of everyday life in an Arabic country. 

I also made some recommendations regarding the institute. I mentioned that it is a suitable place for our OCONUS program. It is located in a safe and secure area of Rabat. The building design is accommodating; there are front and back yards. It has a fully operated kitchen that serves warm authentic lunch for students. Teaching teams are young enthusiastic local teachers, who master MSA in addition to English and French.

To type or not to type – consideration of learning styles

by Alicia Brill

Our discussion of the appropriacy of technology use both in and outside of the classroom got me thinking about how crucial it is to consider learning styles alongside the use of technology.  While we talked about those individuals who might be considered “techno-illiterates”, I can’t remember if we really touched on learning styles?  In thinking back to our Principles and Practices course, we were asked to complete a Perceptual Learning Styles Questionnaire which identified whether we were visual, oral, mechanical, or kinaesthetic learners based on the answers we had provided.  For me the results were unsurprising, I was “digital mechanical” – basically, I like/need to write things down in order to remember them.  This includes taking a lot of notes, writing in the margins of almost everything I read, writing down vocabulary items and grammar points (when learning a FL), etc.  Getting back to the appropriacy of technology use as it relates to learning styles, and considering that I am a more digital mechanically-inclined learner, I have been thinking about what my own response would be if my FL teachers started having me type up my homework responses in lieu of actually writing out my homework assignments.  Would typing my homework be the most beneficial for my learning style and potentially my classmates’ learning styles?  If as a teacher you are introducing something new or innovative like this – i.e., typing one’s homework assignments – but your students do not speak out against this technological innovation, how can you even ensure the appropriacy of these technological changes?  Therefore, in my mind, appropriacy of technology cannot be considered without an openly encouraged space for student feedback and suggestions, and incorporating student feedback (where appropriate).

The value of Kumar in Morocco

by Alicia Brill

In Morocco this past May, I was reminded very much of Kumar’s chapter on this Minimizing Perceptual Mismatch.  Don’t worry, I was not experiencing Morocco through the ‘lens’ of Kumar, but rather, this seemed the most relevant chapter to my situation as a student in the program, as well as what I have experienced (observed, heard, or otherwise) during my studies here at MIIS.  Without referring back to the Kumar chapter, my sense of minimizing perceptual mismatch is that the teacher is ‘in tune’ with what the students’ want/need, and adjust their lesson plans accordingly (much like how Luke described what the ‘tact’ of teaching is).  However, in my mind, being in tune or aware of your students’ needs does not go far enough if your students do not feel comfortable and/or their thoughts and opinions are not actively encouraged, valued, and sought after.  For me personally, the three professors that were in charge of our service learning project in Morocco were great at motivational public speaking, talking about their non-profit organizations, their goals, agendas, or mission, but little was done to actively seek out our opinions as to what we wanted to accomplish while we were there and how we could be productive and valued members of this service learning opportunity in Morocco.  Reflecting back on my experience in Morocco, I have tried to put myself in the role of the professor and not merely the student to see how things could have gone differently.  Therefore, rather than than taking only a critical stance on my experience (without providing suggestions for improvement), I hoped this post would let me consider the issues that could in turn inform my own teaching practices.


First, I realize how important it is to allow a space for open ended questions at the end of a discussion (what I began to call a “monologue” because it really wasn’t dialogue or collaborative).  Something as simple as asking “Do you have any questions?” really goes a long way in actively encouraging participation and to provide a space where others’ opinions have a chance to be heard and are openly encouraged.  Second, as difficult as it might be to graciously accept other individuals’ suggestions for improvement, it is important to recognize the value in not just your own thoughts and ideas and to keep your ego in check in these situations.  I have several thoughts in mind with the whole ‘ego’ concept.  Essentially, it is both difficult to accept criticism and it is difficult to recognize the value of other peoples’ ideas if you are hell-bent on having all the ideas come from you alone.  Third, since I have been a student much longer than I have been a teacher, there are so many times where I feel that a teacher does not know what is going on in the mind of her students.  Therefore, how do you create a space and cultivate a pedagogy that allows for student input in a manner that is face-saving for those individuals who are providing their teachers with feedback as well as for the teacher?  I am not fully certain my own response to this third point, probably a perpetual question we will all face, other than knowing that providing a ‘safe space’ and constant platform for continual feedback seems like it would go a long way towards Minimizing Perceptual Mismatch, as described by Kumar.