Thursday, June 04, 2020

Finished: The Guns of Avalon (The Chronicles of Amber #2) by Roger Zelazny ... review coming eventually.  I'm a bit behind in my book reviews at the moment, but hopefully I can get around to this one before too long.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Learning One-to-One by Ingrid Wisniewska

(Book Review)

Started: April 6, 2020
Finished: May 5, 2020

Published as part of the Cambridge Handbook for Language Teachers series (series editor Scott Thornbury) in 2010.

Why I Read This Book
5 years ago, this book was on the discard pile in my school's library.  I picked it up to save it from the trash.  I was thinking at the time it might be useful for the tutoring I was giving to my Vietnamese girlfriend (now wife), but our regular studying session petered out, and this book sat on my shelf unread.
But then, with the school shut downs in Vietnam - earlier this year, I ended up picking up a private student online.  (A friend of my wife, who I tutored online via zoom.)
It had been years since I had had a regular private student (going all the way back to my days in Japan), and back in those days, my approach was very haphazard.  I would either just try a free conversation, and hope it was productive.  Or I would grab a page from a textbook, and hope it was interesting.
But now that I'm older and more invested in myself as a professional teacher, time to try to take a more systematic approach to teaching private students.  So I decided to read this book.

The Review
A very slim book--only 200 pages.
It's divided equally into 2 parts (exactly close to exactly 100 pages for part 1, and 100 pages for part 2).
Part 1 is the theory and principles for teaching one-to-one lessons.  Part 2 is a compilation of suggested activities that you can do with a one-to-one student.

Part 1 contains a lot of basic common sense advice about how to structure lessons with a one-to-one student.  Like a lot of common sense advice, it's obvious in retrospect.  For example, always have a plan for the lesson, ask the student for feedback regularly, agree on the ground rules ahead of time, etc.  While I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself, "This isn't new information.  This is just obvious."  But then I realized that I hadn't actually been doing a lot of this common sense stuff, and that it was good to be reminded of it.  It seemed obvious after I had read it, but it wasn't stuff I was doing regularly.

Perhaps my most important take-away from this book is that the teacher needs to plan a syllabus for a one-to-one student in much the same way that you would have a syllabus for a class.  Again, this seems obvious in retrospect, but I have to admit I've never actually done the work of designing a syllabus for my one-to-one students.
I think this is partly because I've never had to design a syllabus before at all.  (Excluding Delta Module 3, but that doesn't count because it was just an academic exercise.)  I've always worked at schools where the syllabus was pre-designed.  I suspect this is true for most teachers.

Chapter 3 of this book covers the basics of syllabus design "Needs Analysis, course design and lesson planning".  It's good practice advice as far as it goes, but it's only 30 pages--possibly not sufficient for a teacher to feel confident in designing their own curriculum.  I recommend this book be supplemented by a book on course design.  I recommend Designing Language Courses: A Guide for Teachers by Kathleen Graves.  (In fact I feel that the real value I got from Ingrid Wisniewska's book was simply reminding me to use what I had learned from Kathleen Graves book in a one-to-one context).

I was initially worried that much of this book wouldn't apply to me because I was teaching one-to-one via zoom, but actually this book has anticipated that a lot of one-to-one teaching these days is over computer, and it talks a lot about how to apply the principles to distance learning.
I was also worried parts of the book that talked about technology would be dated (this book was published in 2010), but it seems to have held up pretty well.  It talks about a lot of things that are still current in 2020 like using google docs to edit a document together with your student.

What has not aged very well, however, is all the talk of learning styles.
To be fair, this is mostly a result of how quickly the group-think in the field has changed, and not the fault of the author Ingrid Wisniewska.  In 2010, everyone in ELT (English Language Teaching) accepted learning styles.  In 2020, most people in ELT view it as an outdated pseudo-science.  (See HERE and HERE for more background on the backlash against learning styles.)
Still, even given the fact that this stuff was more accepted back in 2010 than it is now, Ingrid Wisniewska seems to have gone a bit off the deep end on some of this.  For example, on page 24:
"Another way to observe learning styles is through insights offered by Neuro-Linguistic Programming. One example is to interpret your student's learning style by observing their eye movements.  Looking upwards and to the right, for example, is said to indicate use of visual imagination; upwards and to the left is said to indicate imaginative recall." 
[Sidenote: It's amazing how much the field has changed in just 10 years, isn't it?  10 years ago this kind of talk was perfectly acceptable.  And this book was published by Cambridge University Press and edited by Scott Thornbury, so this is right in the mainstream of the field.  Now most people don't even want to hear the words "learning styles".]
Anyway, for better or for worse, references to learning styles and Neuro-Linguistic Programming pop up all throughout the book.  To be fair, not all of it is completely crazy.  For example, on page 22:
"Every learner brings with them a history of successful (and unsuccessful) learning.  They will be used to certain methods of learning and teaching and therefore deal with them well, but will find other methods difficult or unfamiliar."
...and that much is fair enough, I thought.

Chapter 2 breaks down the various roles that the teacher will have in a one-to-one lesson.  Conversation Partner, Observer and Listener, Feedback Provider, Mentor and Guide, and Learner.  The book then describes what is expected of the teacher for each role.  It's mostly useful advice, but I was slightly nervous about the advice for "Mentor and Guide" section, which contain sentences like: 
"As a mentor, you can also help your student develop independent learning skills by encouraging them to find says to study outside of class" (p.32)
I often worry that independent study for second language learning is a separate field of expertise.  Many English Language Teachers are monolingual speakers who have some training in classroom management techniques, but are not experts in second language acquisition.  It could be dangerous to push them into the role of language study expert, even though in reality many students expect it, and many teachers readily assume this role.
But that caveat aside, I thought that the section on teaching roles was well done and useful information.
Chapter 4 was on selecting and adapting material, and it gave some good ideas about how simple everyday textbook exercises on grammar can be easily adapted and made more interactive with a few simple adjustments.  I found this part very useful.

And then onto part 2, which is just a long compilation of suggested activities.
Part 2 is divided into 5 chapters, which corresponds to the 5 teacher roles that were identified in chapter 2 of part 1: Conversation Partner, Observer and Listener, Feedback Provider, Mentor and Guide, and Learner.  So, for example, one chapter on all the activities that can be used for conversation partner, one chapter on all the activities for Observer and listener, etc.

Part 2 is no doubt what many readers of this book came for in the first place--some practical ideas and activities that they can use as a life-raft to get through the lesson.
It is, however, not very interesting to read through from beginning to end, as I did.
To be fair, it's not meant to be read through from beginning to end.  It's meant to be skimmed through, or used as a resource.  (This isa - constant - problem I have when I'm trying to read for professional development.  I always try to read a book from cover-to-cover before I review it on this blog.  But many of the books on ELT are meant to be used as resources, not reading material.  And that's definitely the case here with Part 2 of this book.)
The other problem is that unfortunately it's very difficult to come up with a large list of activities that are successful in any context (as Ingrid Wisniewska acknowledges), so of the 60 or so activities listed, only a handful will be actually applicable to any given situation.
I was constantly reading through the activities and thinking, "No, that one's too advanced for my student.  No, that one won't work with distance learning.  No, that one won't work in my student's culture.  Ah, here's one that may be good."
The individual reasons for accepting or rejecting activities will be different from teacher to teacher, but I'm guessing most teachers will end up having a similar ratio to me.  Of these 60 or so activities, only about a quarter will be actually usable with their student.  It almost makes me wonder if the space could have been better used to talk more about general theory. 
Also, as interesting as some of these ideas are, a lot of them seem to be a bit random.  (e.g.--here's an interesting activity on writing a business letter.)  A teacher who was over-reliant on the activities in Part 2 would have a very random and scattered curriculum--which would seem to undercut the advice in part 1 about how the syllabus needs to be organized and responsive to the individual needs of the student.
All that being said, I did get some useful activities out of Part 2, and I did use a couple of them with my student successfully.  So it would be an exaggeration to say I got nothing out of it.

Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:

Link of the Day
What Is Anarchism? Avram Noam Chomsky on Capitalism, Socialism, Free Markets (2013)

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Insightful quote by Anderson Cooper "They're all for peaceful protest, except never the actual peaceful protest that's happening"

So what do we actually want?

A friend of  mine recently posted on Facebook:
Since no revolutionary council or workers' soviet has issued any demands, I'm assuming that the police and anarchists will just keep punching people and smashing things until the punching and smashing stops.
To be fair to the protesters, this is not a problem unique to our current situation.  Very rarely in history (only 1 or 2 times?) have revolutionary organizations actually been in enough control of the protests to issue a list of demands.  Certainly no one was in control of the Watts Riot, for example.

And yet, his point is still well taken.  These protests are now an expression of outrage without a sense of direction.

The good news is, there at least seems to be broad societal consensus that:
*  Police killing black people is a legitimate problem
* It's an institutional problem, and not just a few bad apples
* The problem isn't going to be solved by just asking police to be nicer.  We need some sort of structural change.
4 years ago, all of these points were in dispute.  So the fact that we at least have consensus on all of these points is progress of a sort.

Now the question is: what do we want?
In my previous post, I suggested just getting rid of the police entirely.  And while this is the long term goal, this may not be politically realistic within our lifetimes.  So in the meantime, what new laws could alleviate the current situation?
This is a legitimate question.  I legitimately don't know.
So I threw the question out to my Facebook friends, and was impressed by the intelligence of some of the responses.  I'll quote some of the best responses down below:

Are you asking specifically for institutional racism in the law enforcement institution specifically or in our institutions generally?
I guess I'm asking for any proposed legislation that would make this situation better--general or institutionally specific. 
For institutions generally, likely not. The way in which structural racism operates in each of our institutions is sort of unique to the institution. The way it works in churches is different than schools is different than law enforcement is different in workplace, etc..
For law enforcement, specifically, I’m not sure you can legislate it (at least not federally), but the list of things is pretty long — training, education, policy/strategies (community policing vs Gates model), union overhaul, cultural overhaul, performance metric overhaul, etc.
The one thing you could legislate is to overhaul qualified immunity. That concept has been pushed to its limit. If LEOs actually had the spectre of liability for their conduct, that would push down a lot of change into training, policy, culture, metrics, etc.
My point re qualified immunity: 
I heard Tim Wise speak on this a few years ago and I was compelled by the steps/recommendations he had for legislative changes. He has some books and a podcast where he explores these issues. Also Michelle Alexander’s work on the New Jim Crow digs into deep underlying systemic issues.

Also Rev William J. Barber, II and his Poor People’s Campaign is major in this work 

I learnt a lot from these books 

Have you ever heard of-- or even better tried-- one of Harvard's IATs? If not I'll put the link below, click through 'I wish to proceed' and select 'Race IAT'.
I bring this up because I think it's important, in thinking about this issue, to be very clear about the difference between intentionally malicious acts of racism and implicit bias.
In the States, we tend to think of people as being 'racist' or 'not-racist', all or nothing. And while there are, of course, people out there who are maliciously racist and know they're racist, they're obviously not the majority and not as much the cause of the problems in the US as we'd tend to think.
Tests like Harvard's Race IAT get more to the root of the matter, which is that we ALL to varying degrees, harbor implicit biases that color the way we see the world.
Interestingly, these biases have been shown to follow more cultural than 'racial' lines. What I mean by this is that Americans, in general, black or white, tend to share many of the same inclinations toward race, even in cases where these inclinations would seem self-loathing. This isn't so surprising when you think about it as we, as Americans, have all been raised on a diet of the same media, we've been educated in similar ways and we share many of the same values.
So in regard to how, specifically, can we legislate, well that's a problem. We can make laws to strongly disincentivize violent racists from doing racist things, But nine times out of ten, this is not what is resulting in black deaths. It's the sorts of implicit biases-- knee-jerk reactions/perceptions-- that average people who don't live very examined lives, just chalk up to having been 'the truth' of some given situation.
So seeing a black guy running down the street or a group of them congregating as vaguely criminal while seeing white people doing the same sorts of things as harmless is a byproduct of our culture. These initial reactions don't make one a terrible person, especially in instances where people have been taught to recognize their own bias-- people can't after all help where they come from or how they were raised-- but if you happen to be in a role where you have to make quick, life or death decisions then these initial reactions could result in people losing their lives. And the trouble is that you can't legislate any of that away.
If the US actually cared to change-- and I strongly doubt this to be the case, that place is awful-- rather than trying to make quick fix laws we'd need to adopt a more holistic approach. This might include establishing a task force to address the issue of systemic/institutional bias; implementing mandatory Implicit association testing and awareness programs for any job where a person makes critical decisions that affect the lives of others and making continued employment contingent on performance and participation in these programs; and removing lethal force as an option for civilian forces. As a culture we'd ultimately need to move away from the 'all or nothing' conception of racism and come to understand our actions as being motivated by biases that we are not even always aware of and that stem from attitudes and assumptions that are endemic to our culture.
To the degree that we could encourage folks to live more examined lives-- to question their own actions and motivations in their dealings with others-- we could incrementally change that culture, creating a better, safer and more inclusive society. And as a result fewer people would be murdered in the streets. But, as I said, I don't think any of this will actually happen in the States. At least not in my lifetime. Consideration for the feelings and perspective of others is almost antithetical to the American way of looking at the world. The US is the land of 'ME!'. 

I thought of your question when I saw this. Looks like this is what the NAACP is demanding

I just watched the full video for the first time. (Up until now, I've only relied on the clips that were in news shows). The full video is disturbing, but it's worth watching because it makes two things very clear:
1) This wasn't an accident. They knew exactly what they were doing.
2) The bystanders on the street pleaded and pleaded with the police not to kill this man, but the police kept doing it anyways.

In my little video manifesto on anarchism that I made last year, I tried to make the following point: if left to their own devices, people naturally want to help each other.  If you saw a bleeding body on the street, your natural impulse would be to try to save their life.  But it's governments that force people into wars and violence.  Anarchists didn't make the death camps in Auschwitz. Anarchists didn't nuke Hiroshima.  Anarchists didn't ship draftees around the world to kill people they didn't know.  Anarchists didn't bomb Vietnam into smithereens.  Governments do this.
Was that point a little bit too simplistic? Maybe.  I don't know.
But watch the video.  Notice how the natural human reaction of everyone standing on the sidewalk is to want to try to help the man.  But the police, as agents of government and authority, automatically just kill the man, without appearing to give any thought as to why they're killing him.  They just know that they have the power to do what they want, and so they're not concerned about the consequences.
And it's not even entirely a race thing. No doubt the fact that George Floyd is black made him vulnerable, but the lines of racial division are not entirely clear cut. Notice how one of the officers who killed him was Asian American, and one of the bystanders pleading for his life was white.
Rather, the clear division is between those who have institutional government power, and those who do not.
Nor is this a case of "a few bad apples".  Unless you believe that there are only a handful of bad apples in the Minneapolis police force, and it's just a coincidence that in this case all 4 bad apples all happened to be at the same spot at the same time.

There's also a telling line in the video, when one of the bystanders says, "We need to call the police on the police."  It's meant to be ironic, but it illustrates their complete lack of options to resolve the situation.  When the police are killing someone in front of you, what can you actually do?  There's no other authority you can appeal to in order to resolve the situation.  They've been given authority over you, and if they decide to slowly kill someone in front of you, all you can do is beg them not to do it.  And if that doesn't work, then all you can do is watch.

It's worth remembering at this point that for most of human history, we didn't have a police force.  Communities were able to regulate themselves.  Most people have a common desire to help each other.  Watch the reaction of the bystanders.  They're illustrating our common desire to assist someone in trouble.  But what function do the police serve?  To bravely stand on the street corner and stop people from checking George Floyd's pulse? When you give human beings institutional authority over each other,  and when you give humans unlimited power to do what they want, then you're going to offset this natural human impulse for mutual aid, and the result of what kind of society you will end up with is so clear in this video.

If this video isn't the best argument for why people should be allowed to regulate themselves without the police, then I don't know what is.

George Floyd Died After Police Knelt on His Neck During Arrest | NowThis

Addendum June 3, 2020: Further thoughts
We've been so propagandized by everything in our media and culture to believe that we need police.  We've been made to believe that the only thing separating us from savagery is that the police are there to prevent us from all of a sudden turning on each other and tearing each other apart.  This is such an ingrained belief that it's difficult to get people to think otherwise.
It's so easy to forget that police are a very recent addition to civilization.  Certainly the idea of an organized modern police force only goes back to the 19th century.  And communities were able to regulate themselves just fine without the police.

What benefit do we get from the police?  Watch the video, and ask yourself what benefit the police brought to this situation?

And yet, we are against systems, and not men.  When a police officer says, "I saw the video, and I was just as horrified as you were," I think the correct response is to say...
"Yes sir, I'm sure you were.  You are one of the good ones.  But if you weren't so good, then there would be nothing to prevent you from strangling me to death right here in front of everyone, correct?"  I mean, sure, there would be legal ramifications later. (Maybe). But during the moment, what restraints are put on the police officer?  The bystanders couldn't stop the police officer, or they'd be charged with assault or interfering with the arrest.  And again, I'm not talking hypotheticals here.  Watch the video.

Monday, June 01, 2020

The Outsider by Albert Camus: Book Review (Scripted)

Video version of an old post (as I explained about HERE)
For the original post, see:
So this has been making the rounds on Twitter:

...not to brag, but yours truly (history geek that I am) was pointing this out way back in 2006.
To quote myself:
King’s philosophy of non-violence was always based on the violent reaction of the police. This is a detail that has frequently been overlooked, but a close reading of civil rights movement in the 1960s reveals that even the non-violent demonstrations were deliberately designed to provoke violent reactions of the police, which was then captured by the media and broadcast to the nation. King himself was frequently criticized by moderate clergy who, rightly, realized that his philosophy of non-violent confrontation was in fact based on violence. This was why King’s demonstrations were a tactical success in the South, but was a failure in Chicago when Mayor Daley went out of his way to be accommodating to King.
But then I go on to make the following point:
The strength of King’s movement was that it was disciplined. The evening news showed the demonstrators as only the recipients of police violence, and produced overwhelming sympathy for the civil rights cause.
In Seattle, and subsequent anti-globalization protests, this formula has been turned on its head. The Police inflict violence on demonstrators, the media captures this but then blames the violence on the demonstrators themselves, and where ever possible footage shows footage of anarchists violently resisting police. Even if one is aware, as the resulting news reports made clear, that the violence was overwhelmingly from the police, the sympathy for the demonstrators is not as strong if a fraction of them can be shown to have participated in the violence themselves.
 ...or in other words:
Yes, it is true that Dr. King's protests were criticized by conservatives in the 1960s for relying on violence.  King's protests were deliberately designed to provoke the police to violence, and then that police violence was used to get national sympathy for the civil rights cause. But despite this objection, King's strategy worked.
But this strategy could only work when the movement was disciplined enough that the protesters themselves didn't get violent or respond to provocations.  If the media can show the protesters being violent, even if it's a small percentage of them, than that will become the narrative, regardless of whatever violence the police commit.