Back at Uni….

The amazing rollercoaster ride finished temporarily last night and I now have 5 weeks of NOTHING to look forward to! What do I mean? Well….. I am back at university and have just completed the first semester of my Master of Education – Languages. Literally, just finished! I handed in my final two assignments last night however it wasn’t till this morning that I finally felt the relief.

Have you ever been tempted to go back to uni? If you have, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to look into it. For me, I wish I’d done this years ago. Not only has it been too long since I completed my Batchelor of Education (30+ years), but everything I have studied so far has been significantly more practical and enjoyable; I am itching to put it to the test.

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Looking north west from the third floor library window. Love the various magpies that keep me company!

In semester one, I completed 4 compulsory units;
– Motivation, cognition and metacognition,
– Approaches to research,
– Developing Literacies through intercultural language teaching
and
– Exploring languages pedagogy.
Which one do you think looks the most interesting and practical for teachers? Surprisingly for me, it was the one that I least expected to connect with. It was without a doubt, the first one. This was for many reasons; all of which are fascinating from a teacher/learner perspective, especially when you consider that initially I was ‘amotivated’. Even though the weekly workshop was only 60 minutes long, the pedagogy of the class was spot on and reflected the course content. We covered an interesting selection of topics including self efficacy, Deci & Ryan’s model of self determination, memory and the theories suggesting how  information is processed so as to be transferred to long term memory. Did you know that working memory has a very short 15- 30 second limit for retaining thoughts/information unless it is attached to meaning or constantly attended to eg repeating it over and over (sound familiar?)  Another fascinating fact relevant for us CBLT (comprehension based language teaching) teachers is that short term memory functions best if new information is limited. 7 is the maximum quantity of information that can be processed at any one time in our working memory (Miller), yet when this information is in the form of words, 3 – 4 items is the ideal number. Please keep this in mind when tempted to use unfamiliar vocabulary in a lesson!

While I have loved many, many aspects of my postgraduate study, there have been two aspects that have been very frustrating. The first is the strong anti CLT (Communicative Language Teaching) sentiment and the other is the heavy intercultural language learning emphasis. Both have been confronting because there appears to be little room for negotiation, although I am hoping to push back a little more from now on.

When I first heard Bill VanPatten talk about the anti CLT rhetoric, I really didn’t understand just how strong it is. At the chalkboard, we are largely protected from it in Australia, however at the tertiary level, it is loud and strong. All set readings about CLT were written by ignorant authors whose understanding of CLT is based solely on opinion gained from seemingly flicking through a ‘CLT’ textbook. I’ve discovered that the majority of my class colleagues come from countries whose curriculum is delivered compulsorily through designated ‘CLT’ texts, however I fail to understand how a constant diet of negativity supports them in any way. I hear them say over and over, that their curriculum content and delivery is set by the government, yet they are still expected to design lesson plans and unit plans based on other approaches. How is that good pedagogy?

My other beef has been with intercultural language teaching. While it has been fascinating to have the opportunity to study the beliefs underpinning this and I totally agree that is imperative for our students to develop skills necessary to be culturally competent citizens in our global world, I disagree that it should be to the extent where communicative competence is prejudiced. At the bare minimum, they should be valued equally in a language classroom. Furthermore, I suggest that if we agree that language and culture are tightly intertwined, then CBLT is undoubtedly the best approach to actually achieve this.

An unexpected bonus from my study has without a doubt been my fellow students. One of my units that I fortuitously selected, was also chosen by a TCI colleague (shout out to the inspirational Heather)! This was amazing because it meant we could discuss readings through our CBLT and junior primary lens.  We also collaborated on a TCI/intercultural language lesson presentation for which Heather took a day off school so that we could present together. As this was Heathers’ penultimate unit for her masters, I am so thrilled we had the opportunity to overlap. Her final unit will be conducting and writing up a research paper and as I am in no way ready for this, I will support and cheer her on from the sidelines. A large percentage of my fellow students are largely international students. In two of my classes, I was the only native English speaker and the nationalities represented were vast. Students come from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Lao, Vietnam, China, Bhutan, Timor Leste, Saudi Arabia and of course, Indonesia! It is brilliant studying with Indonesian students – all are incredibly warm and friendly, so tolerant of my passion for Indonesia(n) and also happy to answer questions about current usage, culture and education. How lucky am I? It was sad though, saying goodbye to Sol who finished his course and has since returned home to Nusa Tenggara Timor and fingers crossed we cross paths again one day.

The most exciting thing that happened last semester was finally holding in my hands a copy of Bill VanPatten’s book ‘While We’re On The Topic‘. While a hard copy of the book itself is not too expensive, postage to Australia is. I know I could get a e-version, but this is a book that really needs to be in paper form. A copy of his book is apparently not available yet from any other Australian university so this copy was borrowed from Iowa University!! Heather has since requested that Flinders University invest in a copy – can’t wait!! IMG_8932

 

I have enrolled in three units for next semester. The first two are compulsory subjects (as were all I studied in first semester) and the third one is my first optional unit. I had planned to enrol in the introduction to second language acquisition but unfortunately it is only offered in first semester. I look forward to enrolling in it next year!
My semester two units are:
– Visualising language learning,
– New technologies and e-pedagogy in foreign language education,
– The psychology of learning and instruction.

I am thoroughly enjoying being a uni student again and am so looking forward to next semester. I absolutely love the writing and readings (when not bagging CLT) although do feel guilty that my blog is more neglected than I expected. Maybe this semester with one less subject and a greater familiarity of the system I will be able to share ideas that are relevant to TCI.

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Looking south from the third floor library window on the final evening of semester one while completing my final two assignments!

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