Archive for August, 2009

Writing “Jerry Maguire”-like (Part II)

I’m flummoxed as to how we are to tackle this problem with Kazakh students not liking to write.  They come to our “western-style” university ill equipped to write in Russian from their years of studying in high school and then are expected to know how to write well in English.  Of the 70 or so who completed the Multiple Intelligence questionnaire correctly and answered the 60 questions, only 5 were strong in Linguistics and only one of them is majoring in journalism.  Consequently, we don’t have many people pursuing journalism.  Of course, there were people who had combined strengths and intelligences but I am only looking at those students who came out strongest in one of the six categories.  This was the breakdown by class from my four undergraduate classes:

Listening and Notetaking I Group #1

Interpersonal – 4

Linguistic – 2

Music – 1

Spatial – 1

Bodily Kinesthetic – 1

Logic/Math – 0

Listening and Notetaking I Group #10

Logic/Math – 7

Interpersonal – 3

Spatial – 2

Music – 1

Bodily/Kinesthetic – 1

Linguistic – 1

Reading and Writing Group #3

Bodily/Kinesthetic – 4

Interpersonal – 3

Logic/Math – 2

Music – 1

Spatial – 1

Linguistic – 0

Reading and Writing Group #10

Logic/Math – 5

Music – 4

Linguistic – 2

Bodily/Kinesthetic – 2

Interpersonal – 1

Spatial – 1

 So, the highest intelligence represented strongly in my four undergraduate classrooms is Logic and Math skills for 14 students and Interpersonal intelligence running a close second at 11. When I gave this same inventory to my Ukrainian students at the Linguistics University in Kyiv several years ago, many were the highest in Interpersonal intelligence. [means their friends are most important to help them]  I think from my results above, it is the nature of the kind of students we attract to our university in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  I may give this inventory again at the end of semester and add the Intrapersonal set of questions to see if we have more mature students who know who they are and where they are going.  For now, I see from the above data that we have students who DO know how to think but do not know how to articulate it in writing.

That is our jobs as writing teachers, to encourage them to be passionate about what they write, Jerry Maguire style.  However, I think there are too many of my fellow Kazakh teachers who also were never encouraged to write or speak the truth from their years in Pedagogical school during the Soviet Union period.  No, instead they would rather penalize their students for thinking outside the box and prefer they play the game of plagiarizing from other writers.  Unfortunately, their students are never given an opportunity to express themselves in their given strengths or to pursue their own writing topics of interest. 

Such is the nature of the beast while teaching in a former communist country where it was strongly teacher-centered and geared for the teacher to know how to assess, grade, and score the tests against the students.  It still exists at our university today and maybe I should write a Mission Statement like Jerry Maguire did revealing the sham and dishonesty that abounds at our university.  Actually, that is what this blog has been all about.

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Writing “Jerry Maguire”-like – with PASSION!

I want my Kazakh students to write with passion, Jerry Maguire-like.  I had forgotten the one key part at the beginning of the movie played by Tom Cruise, which came out in 1996. Jerry’s passionate writing of his Mission Statement had gotten him into trouble.  I watched it again last night after viewing it the first time about 12 years ago having only remembered Cuba Gooding’s priceless line “Show Me the Money!!!”  Cuba deserved getting “Best Supporting Actor” in the Academy Awards.  But Tom Cruise also nailed it with his performance and thus he got “Best Actor” award.  Renee Zellweger, playing a single mom didn’t do so bad either but Ray, her little boy in the movie, stole the show. 

To refresh my readers’ memory, Cruise plays a former law student who turned into a sports agent for professional athletes in football, hockey, and basketball.  Eventually he had enough of the high pressure of playing the game of dog-eat-dog competition and threw in the towel by speaking the truth in his writing.  What was supposed to be a one page statement turned into a 25 page diatribe.

The passion Maguire wrote with one night into the wee hours was remarkable and Renee Zellweger picked up on it, but she was the only one.  Maguire had disseminated his Mission Statement the next morning to about 100 of his co-workers which left him jobless and without his superficial, ornery fiancé. By the end of the movie, after he develops a relationship with his one and only client, Cuba Gooding and gets married to Renee to be with her boy, does it all come together again.  The beauty of the movie is that Maguire follows his heart by putting his job and love life on the line.  He spoke the truth, but not without some bumps and bruises along the way.

 One of my favorite quotes is by Arnold Bennett: “There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.”

Last week I talked to four out of five of my classes about this above quote.  That is how important being passionate about truth is to me. Now my Kazakh students know how important passion is and I want them to write Jerry Maguire-like.   The first two weeks I have given most all of them Kolb’s Learning Styles questionnaire, a temperament sorter and a Multiple Intelligence inventory.  I have given these same things for the last 20 years to hundreds and hundreds of my ESL/EFL students. I like to learn about who each individual is in my classroom.  I’m kind of like Jerry Maguire in giving special attention to each of my clients beyond just knowing them as numbers or feeders into the tuition coffers. In the meantime, while getting to know my 100 PLUS Kazakh students,  I’m still waiting for the last of them to show up for class before we begin full tilt with satisfying the requirements of the syllabus. 

I already found out that 64% of my Kazakh students are choleric, see earlier post.  What I’m also discovering is when administering the Multiple Intelligence inventory there is a wide variety of student profile results showing up in six of the intelligences: linguistic, logic/math, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, music and interpersonal.  (I didn’t include the last one of intrapersonal because it didn’t fit on two pages.  I’m sure there are those students who know who they are and where they are going.  I have to find that third page of the questionnaire in my piles of paper.) 

What I DID find out is that when giving a self-report in the Linguistic section is that not many of our Kazakh students take pride in what they write.  They either checked or did not check the blank before the sentence: “I am proud of what I write.  Sometimes I get special recognition for my writing.”  What was perplexing was that only about 25% of my two writing classes checked that to be true for them.  In my two listening classes the percentages were higher, 50% and 60%.  That means, we as writing teachers, have students sitting in our classroom who either are not proud of what they write because they don’t know how or they have not been recognized for their talents.  However, not many scored high in linguistic where you would have the budding, potential future writers of the country.  (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog)

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Sagynysh’s Grandparents’ Hollywood Love Affair

I have many very good stories from my Masters students class which keeps expanding.  (Sagynysh is in the second row, second in on left with a white shirt).  Last count I have about 23 Masters students if all showed up. The following is a informative essay written by Sagynysh who is a masters student in the Public Administration MPA program.   I think she does a nice job and this is in English, not her first or second language!!!

“It is said that grandparents love their grandchildren more than their own children. I have seen and believed it when my parents became grandparents to my two nice little nieces. They really love these sometimes naughty girls. They read books, walk in the park, give advice and good examples, teach them what is good and what is bad, spoil them and indulge in everything, and even let them do some things which me and my elder sister had never been allowed to do. 

Frankly speaking it is really hard for me to choose and write about one of my grandparents because I grew up with my mother and father. We rarely visited them as they lived in other cities so far away from us. 

Unfortunately, my grandparents from my father’s side died when I was a child. I just remember the silhouette and features of my grandmother. My grandfather also kept in my memory only his gait, manners, my surname and the way of calling me “Sakonai”… Their names were Uitolgan and Kalbay. Sometimes I try to discover in my memory some of their individual personalities, but I cannot. I was little enough when they left us. Everything I know about them is from my father, elder sister and cousins’ stories.     

Fortunately, my other grandparents from my mother’s side are alive. Now they are approximately at 85 years old. Their names are Zhuma and Zhanyl. The most I like is the fact they have their own love story. My grandmother at the age of 17 was engaged to one rich man of 30 years. She did not feel any feelings of love next to him as she was dating with my grandfather and liked him instead. So, my grandfather stole her before that wedding. The story is really related to the stories from Hollywood movies. Also, that astonished me greatly is the point that my grandmother gave birth 10 times! And among them 3 pairs of twins! That’s why they have a lot of grandchildren and even a number of great – grandchildren. 

In spite of it, my grandparents are always glad when I visit them. They ask me a lot of questions in order to be informed about me and it seems like they want to make up for lost time. They became happy hearing about my achievements, progress and successful results. And they never forget about my birthday.         

Even though one of them left me so early, one of them lives so far away from me, and I grew up without their caresses, I am sure they like me very much. Nobody and nothing is to be blamed for that. I know they love me. I feel it.  

When I see how happy my darling nieces are to have grandparents like my mother and father, I cannot help but believe that my future children will be happy too. I hope they will live in the atmosphere of grandparents’ love, caress and kind words.”

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Photo of my Masters class with Kiwi Lawyer as Guest Speaker

What a great honor to have as guest speaker to my Masters class, a barrister from New Zealand, Tim Russell.  He talked for about an hour to my eager students, half of whom are majoring in law, doing a kind of Q&A with them. I was proud of my students for asking Tim some GREAT questions. 


Tim Russell studied for his law degree in Cambridge, England and followed his father’s dream to be a lawyer.  His father had been a successful banker after having not been able to pursue his own schooling because of fighting in WWII.  Tim found that the study of law was quite detail oriented.  He practiced for 7 years.  Even if you are not in law but doing business in any country, you need to know something about law in contracts and what agreements between two parties really say

When asked about the most interesting business deal, Tim said when he worked for an organization where there were fruit and vegetables being produced in New Zealand and he was lobbying for it not to be so government controlled that the extra produce could be sold to other private markets.  He was dealing with the “nashi” industry or a Japanese kind of round pear.  He worked in Ackland (similar to Almaty) and the capital of New Zealand is Wellington (like Astana)

He was interested in changing the public policy that didn’t suit the current situation anymore, things had changed from 30 years earlier where he was lobbying the government to change the law about this particular fruit so it could be sold privately.


There is a difference between the role of judiciary in New Zealand, the judges are independent of the political structure, justice for everybody.  Tim claimed that having an independent judiciary is fundamental.  If anyone has a chance to study in a western law program, he recommended, take the opportunity

Tim admitted that he obtained a “Sportsman’s degree” from Cambridge as his real passion was rugby and rowing. His real academic background, prior to law school, had been in history, he was interested in the broad sweep of the past which meant memorizing facts and dates but he preferred the Big Picture of the subject of history


“Devil is in the detail” – in law you must have an aptitude for detail and be aware of the exceptions to the rule, the variations.  As a student you must concentrate and focus on the details.  One piece of advice for law students, “when you take a case to court, never leave yourself short of time.”

Tim had a high school friend who was a barrister or a senior court lawyer “Queen’s council”  He said that there are six streams during the school years and this friend of his was in the second to bottom stream.  However, he worked very hard (came from a dairy farm) and he became a successful lawyer because he prepared for every case as if he was a desparate graduate student needing to pass an exam.

His significant work paid off, he defended the doctors and dentists in medical negligence cases.  This took enormous commitment on his part to work hard and he didn’t win every case.  It was his hard work and focus on detail that led to his success.


Why did you come to Kazakhstan?

Tim was interested in the 1989 Berlin Wall coming down and wanted to work in some post-communist country.  By 2006, there was someone he knew that directed him to Kyiv, then that organization sent him to Moscow which finally led him to Kazakhstan with a job opening.  He believed that Central Asia was the “last frontier.” This was a “global geopolitical reality” for him and his family to finally come to Kazakhstan in 2007.

He told the masters students to be patient with the democratization of Kazakhstan because it is said that England has the oldest democracy but it goes back to 1216 with the signing of the Magna Carta when barons gave over their power for the common people to have more of a say in their government.

What about “playing the devil’s advocate?”  It is a metaphor and shows that there are at least two sides to an argument.  If one has a robust discussion, one will take the opposing view to test the quality and rigor of the others’ thinking.  There are two sides to a story in most cases.

What about the Nuremburg trials?  Senior German officers, such as the #2 guy Geren (sp) was hung for his war crimes.  Churchill understood what the Allies attitude should be toward defeated Germany after WWII.  Churchill knew that it was not the German people but the Nazis who had carried out the atrocities.  He knew that there were serious mistakes made after WWI when savage penalties were meted out to the defeated Germans which eventually created the Depression and other symptoms that eventually brought on WWII.  The Allies understood that a quick restoration of the German nation was needed, they knew they had to move on and yet justice had to be done for those responsible with the war crimes.

An example of this is in South Africa after apartheid where the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up.  This was after 40 million blacks had been treated as 2nd class citizens under a white minority for many years.  Mandela knew that seeking revenge would not help build the nation but rather he spent the next 10 years helping to identify the people who were the perpetrators and give them a chance to say “sorry” so that the healing of the nation could go on.  Mandela helped set up the process so the nation would not be ripped apart with further misery and bloodshed.

“Justice should always be blind” though we live in an imperfect and flawed world.

Is justice the same as law?

There is British Common Law where precedence in an earlier case helps decide a current case in court, former judgments help to guide a judge on how to rule.

There is Roman Law which are set by statute, driven by law.

Tim commented “Let law evolve naturally.”

What about corruption?  New Zealand, Denmark and another country are considered the least corrupt of all countries in the world.  No bribe is given or taken to a public official or police officer.  Both would be put in prison if found out.  Of course here in KZ there are cultural and historical reasons for it due to the Soviet Union, etc.  How to resolve the problem of corruption?  Have intolerance for it by saying, “We won’t play the game.”  Have courage to swim against the tide.  Rosa Parks as a young 16 year old black girl refused to sit in the back of the bus.  This was the spark that Martin Luther King needed.  This helped to accelerate the change that happened for blacks.

As future KZ government employees say, “We want it to be different.” But do it non-violently.  Evolutionary vs. revolutionary

Mahatma Ghandi was a role model of passive resistance.  He said, “This is wrong” and stood against it.

What about the word “Kiwi” is that an offensive word?  No, Tim said New Zealanders wear it with pride.  Back in the 1950s they were producing a fruit known as Chinese gooseberries and it was exported to CA.  The Americans asked what it was called and since back then with Mao Tse Tung, it wasn’t popular to be called Chinese, so the thought of the bird kiwi and the producers called it kiwi fruit.  If they had patented the name, they could have made much money, but it became a generic name.  So, now it started with the bird native to only New Zealand, to the people being called that to a name of a fruit. Kiwi!!!

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Aisulu’s Humorous Grandma Believed in “Simplicity”

My Grandma was born in 1920 in Aulie ata – former Taraz in Zhambyl oblast. Her father was born in Kazan and was a tailor. He was a very interesting person – curious and smart. Being a little boy he dreamed of a career as a soldier and wanted to enter Kazan’s cadet corpus, but his mother wouldn’t let him go there because she believed that that there he would be made to change his religion. So he failed in his dreams and became a pupil of a tailor. In early 1900’s he took his family and moved to Kazakhstan in search of better life. At last he settled in Aulie ata, where my Grandma was born.

Grandma was brought up in a very big and united family there were 5 brothers and 3 sisters and she was the eldest of sisters. That is why she had spent all of her childhood looking after younger brothers and sisters. She attended only two classes of primary school and then her parents decided that it was enough for her. At that time in Kazakhstan there was used an Arabic alphabet and till her death she had been writing everything in Arabic and it was rather funny to open her phone book and see all the names written Arabic alphabet. And another curious thing about her was that if you ever met her you would never say that she is unable to read and write in Russian! So clever, wise and well-mannered she was. You’ll laugh but she was really surprised when I had told her that the Earth was like ball. All her life she thought that the Earth was as flat as a table! But I think that was not her fault it was the fault of her time.

She was born and raised in a very hard and tough time. Collapse of tsarism, civil war, years of victimization, famine, collectivization and so on and so on… Her eldest brother was arrested in 1930’s and then killed in a prison. He was only 28 years old, a talented poet but he left three little kids and a pregnant wife. Those were cruel times… She only told me once about the famine of 1930’s. It was caused by collectivization and thousands of people died during the famine. People were dying on the streets, even the richest ones were starving to death.

She married my Grandpa at the age of 20. He had just graduated from a Saint-Petersburg state university. A young well-educated Kazakh man, he was 27 and needed a wife. A “public enemy’s son” he changed his surname and left his home city – Aktobe. He moved to Aulie ata where he got acquainted with Grandma’s father and became his good friend. So that when my Grandpa told him that he is looking for a wife Grandma’s dad offered him to pay his attention to his daughters. So that is how the love story was! Grandma didn’t know my Grandpa well but married him because her father wanted so. Her father was sure that this young man would never hurt her and would take care of her. And he had been right they lived a long life together, gave birth to four children.

The most important thing my Grandma taught me was – the simplicity. Be simple everywhere with anyone, the more you respect everyone the more everybody respects you. If you are simple it will be easier for you to rise and then fall. All of our life we are kind of climbing up and down the mountains and it is easier to make your journey with the help of people who are ready to help because they respect you. Talk to people in a simple manner, and never think that you are better then the others. People are just not the same, no one is better no one is worse.

Money was nothing for her. She had never measured people with money. And she had never respected someone just because of his treasures and money. She believed that the true treasure in this life is a good friend.

She loved her family very much and when I told her that I’m going to go to study abroad, the first thing she said was: “But you won’t be able to come when I die…”. Good sense of humor, isn’t it?

I decided to name my first daughter – Asiya… After my Grandma!

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My Highly Choleric Kazakh Students

Sixty-four percent of my Kazakh university students are choleric according to a Temperament test that I gave them the first week of classes.  The sampling of 80 of my students gave a self report when they ticked off about 18 adjectives for each of the four different temperaments: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy and sanguine.  The breakdown with all of my classes combined obviously shows that I am working with future leaders of Kazakhstan.

64% – choleric
21% – sanguine
10% – melancholy
5% – phlegmatic

I’m puzzled by these percentages and when I asked my first class (75% are choleric) about the attributes of a choleric personality they readily agreed and were satisfied with the results. I’m wondering if this percentage is true of our university or if it shows the kind of students I attract to register for my classes??? The following are the adjectives they see as their own:  optimistic, goal-oriented, self-confident, self-sufficient, activist, domineering, aggressive, leadership ability, stick-to-itiveness, strong-willed, hot-tempered, insensitive, unsympathetic, determined, decisive, sarcastic, practical and outgoing.

You can see what kind of students I have, they are standing on the shoulders of their brave and hardworking ancestors.  Take another look at Kazakhstan’s leaders in the photos I blogged about yesterday.  I regret that I forgot to take a photo of my masters class last night.  I will do so tomorrow night, their learning style and temperament profiles are no different than the undergraduate students I have.

I’m wondering what the typical Kazakh university student in Almaty might look like in terms of their learning style and temperament.

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Photos of my FOUR undergraduate classes





























Tomorrow I hope to show my fifth class of my masters students, if all show up there are at least 18 of them. Cross teaching with upper level students PLUS four undergraduate classes keeps me very busy.  TOO busy. I am supposed to have 20 in each class so altogether I am trying to learn the names of almost 100 Kazakh and Kazakhstani students.  Photos help.

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