Category Archives: Training

Balancing Act: Accents in Arizona’s Schools

Andrei Codrescu’s editorial on NPR commenting on Arizona’s decision that teachers with “heavily accented English” be identified and made to improve left me torn. I want to agree with him. But my agreement with his premise that people like Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger contribute much, despite their accented English, is tempered by my memories of my frustration and struggles as an undergraduate chemistry student; I was attending lab classes at a major university in the 1970s taught by Asian grad students whose English was incomprehensible. No matter how closely I listened, I had no idea what these grad students were saying; the frustration literally brought me to tears. How could I pass a required course when I didn’t know what my teachers were saying? (I had to get help from a student using the same text at another university.)

According to The Washington Post, “Arizona’s education department has sent people into schools to audit teachers on comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing. Teachers who fail may try to improve, but if they don’t, school districts can fire or reassign them.”

The conditions and timing of the remediation are not fully explained in the Post or a recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject. What both articles say is that teachers who are not fluent in English will be given opportunities and training in order to improve, but the length of time for training or quality of training provided was not explained in the articles by what I consider to be substantial, respected news sources. Why not? Didn’t anyone ask the question? And read carefully: “comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar, and good writing.” That list goes way beyond accent to the fundamentals of the language.

I was disappointed by Codrescu, a scholar and commentator whose work I have admired:

That was in 1966, and now in Arizona in 2010, the police can target both my trench coat and my accent. The Arizona Department of Education has told schools that teachers with “heavy” or “ungrammatical” accents are no longer allowed to teach English to kids just learning to speak the language.

Oh boy! Did I land back behind the Iron Curtain half a century ago? My last 40 years of teaching would have never happened if the Arizona law had been the law of the land in 1966. Forty years of accented instruction gone by the wayside! Gone also the 40 years when American education, lower and higher, finally recognized the diversity of America.

Fluency and accent are not synonyms, which leaves me as a reader uneasy about the politicizing of the issue by school officials and reporters and Codrescu. While pronunciation is important, the series of words that form grammatical units within sentence structure are even more important. The example of “tink” for “think” or “biolet” for “violet” are not examples of pronunciation that obscures meaning in a grammatically correct sentence: I “tink” that flower is a “biolet” is comprehensible versus “flower tink biolet” which is not  comprehensible. How weak was Codrescu’s English at the beginning of his 40 years? If it was so incomprehensible his students wouldn’t have understood him, it is selfish of him to think that he should have been their teacher. Whose education is it anyway?

Like most issues in life, there is a balance, a reasonable point at which to draw the lines. The power does go to the ones drawing the lines, however, which in this case, is the state of Arizona. Since the teacher issue unfortunately surfaced during the immigration discussion surrounding the new Arizona law that gives police powers to challenge people on the streets about their citizenship, timing may be everything in terms of emotion that brings confusion with a heavy dose of logical fallacy.

Recently, a teacher I know who is Puerto Rican was told she needed to take more Spanish credits to be highly qualified to teach Spanish at an American public high school: No Child Left Behind standards. She is complying and understands the standards. Spanish teachers need to know Spanish. Does that seem unreasonable? I don’t think that expecting teachers who take a job teaching in English to speak the language rises to the level of intimidation that asking anyone for citizenship papers does.


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Filed under Just thinking, Training, Uncategorized

Where are you on the Talent “Food Pyramid?”

In “Class Struggle: Helping Kids Who Hate High School,” Washington Post staff writer Jay Matthews recounts his debate with California educator Chris Peters about a total overhaul of education that would allow students, after their sophomore year, to – after thoroughly mastering important basic skills – choose one of four tracks. One of the tracks is college, another is community college with vocational education, another is more intensive high school tutoring, the fourth is dropping out.  The debate between the two centered initially on the value of vocational education.

The article is well worth reading, but the debate is may be moot if you check out the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Download the “Standard Power Point” offered on the left side of the page, then go to slide 8 of 34: Profile of Successful US Firms of the Future. It seems to indicate that unless people plan to enter the fields of research, development, design, marketing and sales, or global supply chain management – so-called “creative work” – prospects are low.  Consider those implications while considering Matthews conclusions:

The steady erosion of the social safety net provided by the workplace in the form of reliable, long-term employment, paid sick-leave and vacation, health and retirement benefits necessitates that young people be much better informed about and prepared for the job marketplace.

Don’t we have some obligation to prepare kids for the lives they will actually lead rather than the ones we wish they would lead?

With regard to college, we educators have become exactly like the kind of overbearing parents who insist that all our children play competitive sports just because they did and who can’t imagine a richly fulfilling life without them.

People who have great skills through vocational programs need to be able to find meaningful work near their homes right here in the United States, not only for their well being, but for our national well being. Opportunities need to be here. That is why energy policy and education policy and our collective futures are tightly linked, in my view.

Micro economies need to be developed within the United States, just as they are being used in developing countries so that people with talent for making things as well as designing things have outlets for their natural talents.  What holds us back from local self-sufficiency is that we are all so interdependent on expensive forms of energy. In order to have small economies with local manufacturing, we need locally sustainable and containable sources of energy. The talented, skilled workers coming out of Peters and Matthews plans would have places to ply their trades.

Hopefully, that is what those research folks at the top of the talent pyramid are looking into.

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Filed under Around the world while you were sleeping..., Environment, Just thinking, Technology, Training

Bloggers Have Social, But Did They ASK Seinfeld?

Bloggers have joined the ranks of other professionals and arranged an event just so they can hang out. True to a sort of blogger ethic, the event makes no pretense of being a convention dedicated to professional development: it is for socializing, period.

I like that about bloggers. After all, this medium has been accused of being the wild west of journalism, so its practitioners should not have to feign some stuffy reason for a convention.

I downloaded their brochure to see what all the exciting events would be; since it is in NYC, the brochure’s author jazzed it up a bit with images of Seinfeld and the Sex and the City cast. Hmm, can you do that? Can those images be used to advertise an event without those folks’ permission? What if Jerry and Sarah Jessica did not give permission to a group that “hails from 8 countries and 20 US states.” Would the Blogger-Social be giving other bloggers a bad name by bad practice?

I hope not. Because the beef “regular” journalists have with bloggers is that quite a few are free and loose with journalistic standards. Would using images for an ad without permission be in that category?

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Filed under Tools of the Trade, Training

Baroness’s “nonsense” is someone else’s common sense

A British baroness has called research results “nonsense” that say people have individual learning styles to which teachers should key pedagogy (and I would also say, by logical extension, trainers and instructional designers, as well). Research is supposed to turn up reliable results, and I for one, would hope that research on learning styles based on how the brain works would hold up. Apparently, the learning styles question is far from settled.

Or is it? When I read the baroness’s beef (as reported) with learning styles, it is not really whether or not there are learning styles that she is really upset about. According to a Telegraph article, Baroness Susan Greenfield believes, “Humans have evolved to build a picture of the world through our senses working in unison, exploiting the immense interconnectivity that exists in the brain. It is when the senses are activated together – the sound of a voice is synchronisation with the movement of a person’s lips – that brain cells fire more strongly than when stimuli are received apart. ” That fact brain cells work better together than separately even I can understand, but that fact does not seem to rule out that most of us are better at using some senses than others. That, to me, is common sense.

The practical question is this: what do we do with the concept of different learning styles when we prepare instruction? Some places in the UK, the article reports, let students run around in their own little world, dancing if that is their style, or perhaps spreading materials on the floor if that is thing. If this is the case, the Baroness also is upset with classroom management practices.

I subscribe to the “flexible repertoire” school, which I explain this way. We each have ways we prefer to learn, our learning style strengths, so to speak. We should use what we learn through out strengths to build our weak learning skills.

Maybe I can explain it using the example of putting something together I bought at the store. So, I bought a gadget packed with directions in 4 languages. Please note, I would call myself a visual learner: show me and I get it. Tell me and I am confused. That is why before I leave the store I ask the sales person to show me how it goes together. When I get home, I read the directions with a vision in my head of how it should work. It all comes back to me. I happily use my gadget.

In a classroom or training context, I would apply the methodology by exposing all learners to visuals, audio and text; not only showing audio learners audio presentations; only showing visual learners, visual presentations, and so on.

“We do students a serious disservice by implying they have only one learning style, rather than a flexible repertoire from which to choose, depending on the context,” says Frank Coffield, a professor at London University’s institute of education, as reported in the Telegraph. I believe Frank is right because that is what we will face in the marketplace for our skills, the “context” he speaks of.

While we should not label learners, as instructors, we should go the extra mile to package our information, our learning objects, in a number of different ways so that students may fully develop their repertoire of learning skills so they can put them to work in whatever content they find themselves later in life.

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Filed under Tools of the Trade, Training

US Chamber does not mince words about schools

In its Report Card for each state, the US Chamber writes, “The conclusion of this report card is unambiguous; the states need to do a far better job of monitoring and delivering quality schooling.”
I immediately looked up New Hampshire, where I live, and I found some of its grades ambiguous, at least in terms of what the state can draw from the report card. I am proud to say New Hampshire got high marks on academics – an A – but only a B for post secondary readiness and a D for the rigor of our standards.
If NH students are not ready for life after school because of weak standards, why do our academics measure so high?Could the answer be in the study’s methodology? Is the measure of academics not a measure of the relevant academics that it takes to succeed?
Does the study measure academics by outmoded methods or does it measure the teaching of irrelevant, out-of-date material? Look up your state to see if you are left with clear direction or more questions. I for one am going to look deeper into how the report card was developed.

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Filed under Just thinking, Looking forward, Training

Hats off to airline employees

I spent Sunday in airports in Rome and Philadelphia and I am happy to say that my little grey and red Wenger suitcase popped through out onto the baggage conveyer in Boston.

Sunday, US Air was doing some kind of computer changeover, and it did not seem to be going smoothly. But I have to say, the people behind the counters stayed patient with more stories from more frustrated passengers than I have ever seen. I would have been tempted to say, “Hey, I only work here!” So to any execs of US Air who might read this: the lady in Philly who had been on since 3 a.m. trying to figure out the computer to get us on flight 1200- give her one of those free tickets and hotel accommodations you were offering to any passengers who would get on the next flight.

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Filed under Just thinking, Technology, Training

Professional development presented by students

Today I was in a meeting about electronic portfolios. As we worked on charts and standards and rubrics, conversation drifted to how many technology tricks we learn from students.

While I recommend getting a grounding in ways to instill academic excellence in our technology projects, never be afraid to learn from the students. Besides the great things they can show you, you will be modeling the very attitude you hope they have toward reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. “Tip of the Day” is what I call it; extra credit, anyone?

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Filed under Just thinking, Technology, Training