Archive for March, 2010

Globalized Moments: Three Locations in Boston with Friends

First Globalized Moment:  I went to visit my friend Elizabeth from Phoenix and her parents living in Framingham just west of Boston 30 minutes by car.  Elizabeth grew up in this seven bedroom house and they had a kind of a family reunion with her adorable 6 year old twin niece and nephew, who came up from Philadelphia to visit.  They are very six-ish but very well behaved thanks to their well disciplined mother Sarah who is a pediatrician trained at Harvard.  Elizabeth and I ran into each other at the TESOL conference.

Second Globalized Moment: I saw Jamie and Dasha Peipon who I know from Ukraine this past Sunday. Dasha and I walked around the Harvard campus before we went to her place for tea and cookies to talk to her mother-in-law, my friend Marianna who lives in Kyiv, Ukraine.  We talked on Skype.  Dasha and Jamie live in Cambridge area while he is going to music school at Berkelee (sp?), he is very good on the marimba (check out his YouTube performances)

Third Globalized Moment:  I finally met Frank Thoms who is very much alive living north of Boston.  We met via this blog because almost two years ago I had typed up his astute observations from nearly 20 years ago about Soviet education in my blog.  He “googled” himself and found Kazakhnomad.  Frank is the author of the manuscript “Encounters with Soviet People” that I had used with my Peace Corps volunteers back in Almaty, Kazakhstan in summer of 1993.  Frank and I had a good time catching up before he heads back to Mexico and I return to Astana, Kazakhstan.  His wife Kathleen is an amzing artist with her own studio.

Boston has been an incredible experience.  I am glad that I have my passport back from New York with a one year multiple entry visa.  I am “good to go” as we like to say.  I have done my confusing turns on the streets of Boston, I hope to walk the Freedom Trail on a less rainy day as it is today as I write this.  Lufthansa will carry me away to my next adventures back in Kazakhstan.

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Photos of Boston places (Part II)

Boston is an interesting city, some say the city streets were created by cows so that would explain why the city streets don’t make much sense.  However, cows would not have ruled that a path goes only one way. Cows would have dictated two-way streets.  The streets in Boston are quite confusing and I tried to drive on them as little as possible.  Walking around was difficult enough with a map.  For now, enjoy the Duck boat that is used throughout the city for tours.  Unfortunately the museum and the boat for the original tea party in the harbor is under re-construction.

What’s nice about doing a blog is that I feel compelled to document every day what I plan to do or have already done.  In this case, I am de-compressing after the TESOL conference in Boston and just putting photos up before I head back to Kazakhstan on Tuesday, the Lord willing. At the time of this writing, I’m still waiting for my passport to return from the American consulate in New York with another multiple entry, one year visa.

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Photos of Boston Places

Walked to Boston Commons after one busy convention day, I took photos of buildings that have been around for 350-400 years.  For a Midwesterner like me, that seems like a LONG time ago!!!

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Boston Photos of People at TESOL

Enjoyed seeing my friends in Boston but a few others I didn’t see.  I’ll have to find out later what sessions they attended and why we missed each other.  The Convention Center is HUGE, the TESOL crowd was immense.  Here are photos of Elizabeth and me with our “cool” sunglasses from the TOEFL Spring Break party.  Also, a former Peace Corps volunteer from Talas, Kyrgyzstan and my friend Thom from our graduate days at the University of Minnesota.

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Boston Weather, Hospitality and a Talk on Reading

Who ever said that Boston people aren’t helpful or polite to strangers?  Yesterday it was sleeting and coming at such a slant that I was prepared to be warm with layering my clothes and about to use a bag to shield myself in the mile and half walk.  The bellman at the hotel suggested I use an umbrella, so once that was checked out to me, I was good to go.  I wish I had taken a photo of this HUGE, black umbrella, it certainly protected me.  I felt especially warmed by this man’s help in complex, downtown Boston. Just doing his job at the Radisson, I guess.  Later the weather cleared up and after all day at TESOL, I walked over to Boston Commons to do some shopping at Macy’s.  I was turned around several times but again Boston people were more than helpful to get me to my destination.  Photos will follow.

Yesterday I wanted to take in Tufts University own linguist, Maryanne Wolf.  When you have a conference in Boston, you don’t have to fly in the main speakers, they are right in the near vicinity with all the universities Boston is known for.  I was told a figure yesterday that there are 200,000 students in Boston, 25,000 of whom are international students.  Not surprising that this is a mecca for the brightest and the best from around the world.

Ms. Wolf seemed a very smart woman, she talked so fast I had a difficult time keeping up with her in my notetaking.  I’ll just give the most salient points that she made, that which I understood from her linguist’s jargon.  When I arrived she had on her powerpoint something about Proust.  However, this quote from Pascal I did get down: “There’s nothing new under the sun, but there is rearrangment.”  She said that kids nowadays are immersed in the digital media 7 hours a day.  When she was summing up her talk she got back to how this may not be such a good thing.

Ms. Wolf said there is no such thing as an ideal reading brain. We were not created or meant to read but to speak and listen.  She used an audience participant in front of the 1,000s who came to hear her talk and asked her to visualize the word she spoke.  The Chinese woman was a bit confused by this question and with the cameras were right on her she hesitated to answer, so someone from the audience shouted out what they thought was the correct answer.  The point is that with polysemy, there are more than one meanings to certain words. The word or object Ms. Wolf asked for was “pea” or it could have been the letter “P.”  Her point is that there are many times that we have a familiarity with words but they may have  a different context such as the word “bat.”  Could be the flying rodent, the club to hit a ball or the verb to hit the ball.  She mentioned that one little 5 year old boy added, “to bat one’s eyes.”  So you have multiple meanings to one word.  If you know the context, you can read quicker.  There are different parts of our brains that are functioning differently depending on whether we see the letter P or the object pea, as a little green vegetable.

She related about another instance where a Chinese man knew how to read and speak in Chinese fluently.  Also, he was fluent in English but when he got a tumor on his brain, he was no longer able to speak in Chinese because it affected the function of his linguistic abilities in that area of the brain and so he could only speak in English which was in another area of his brain.  Ms. Wolf said that the brain can rearrange itself in multiple ways in order to read.

She also used another example of asking a 5 year old what’s the first sound of “cat.”  Talking from a linguist’s point of view she really was after the phoneme but a 5 year old will typically say “meow” as the answer to her question when she is really looking for the “k” sound.  It takes the child 2,000 days to gain the same insights in the development of reading.  She said that it is terrible that in Boston there are parents hiring tutors for their 3 year olds so they can be “outliers” and they are being pushed too fast, too hard.

She said that Tom Selleck in the movie “Three Men and a Baby” defends why he is reading to the baby, “because the baby loves the sound of my voice.”  That’s it, we should read to the children so they can put it together with the letters they see on the page and the objects that they are visualizing with the story.  They learn that in English we read from left to right but in Chinese it would be up and down and right to left.  The concepts are built in the children who are read to and it matters to them if you skip a page.

When considering “Language Expression” a child in the home of a professional parent will have heard 50 million words whereas a child who grows up in poverty on welfare will hear only 15 million words by the time they reach school.  A working class home will have heard about 32 million words spoken.  Therefore, there is Word Poverty.

Ms. Wolf asked the audience to pronounce three words:  “Periventricular; Nodular; Heterotopia.”   Bottomline, the more you know about a word and its separate parts, the faster you will read it.  She said that the timeline of an expert reader means that you will have a Proustian moment with the words you read.  You will need time to think about what you are reading first with each pause between words.  “We need to read fast enough so we can have time to think our own thoughts.

Wolf talked about students who were labeled dyslexic were really kids that had different brains and 30-35% of today’s entrepreneurs had childhood dyslexia.  We haven’t learned how to teach reading to the child right.  Now with the digital age the young students who are learning words are in this mode of “suspended distraction.”  They have no time to think through the meaning of words, everything is given to them where they don’t have to think on their own.  They are surfers of knowledge now and it is not efficient.

Socrates feared that print would give the illusion of truth and create no ambition in the young beyond the superfluity of knowledge.  Ms. Wolf quoted someone else as saying: “How horrible it would be that the very intellect that created the Internet would be destroyed by it.”  She ended on a more positive note that it is good for the brain to know and understand two languages.  Goethe said that in order to understand your own language, you must learn and understand another.  She advocated bi-lingualism.

I spent the rest of my day in the Technology Pavilion learning more about TOEFL with TOEIC, Criterion, Lexile and many other good sites.  What fun to end it with Elizabeth at the TOEFL Spring break party they sponsored.  We got zany sunglasses and ate pizza and chips.  After that I went shopping and walked around Boston Commons.  More photos to come.

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TESOL sessions attended and Kazakhstan’s education

Starting early at my first 7:30 a.m. session, which feels like mid-day to me in my jet-lagged state, I learned more about a new tool called Lexile.  The session was titled “Using TOEFL Reading Scores to Differentiate Instruction.” I’ll learn more about this at the Technology Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall sponsored by ETS and the TOEFL Assessment “U.”  Knowing more about this will help with improving our Kazakh students reading scores.

Next session from 8:30-9:30 were three “luminary speakers” in the Grand Ballroom discussing “TESOL: Past, Present and Future.” Funny, especially Andy Curtis, but the other two Kathi Bailey and David Nunan were mildly entertaining.  They could have left off their political commentary going back to the 1960s when TESOL first started.  They depicted in their powerpoint, my Cold War heroes, President Ronald Reagan as a two-bit actor and Margaret Thatcher as a shop-keeper’s daughter.  They mimicked a lot from Obama, so clearly the presenters thoughts were that all smart people voted for Obama and the other side were idiots. Not too luminary in their thinking on that score.

From 10:00 to 10:45 I went to the Westin hotel next to the HUGE convention center to see my friend from the University of Minnesota who has made a name for herself working in the ITA (intl. teaching assistants) program I started out teaching once I got my Masters degree in 1990.  The title was intriguing “What ITAs should know about U.S. Nonverbal Classroom communication.” Colleen wasn’t there so I hope to catch up with her today.  I went to the Publishers Hall and bought some things like textbooks and other gift items.

The best session I attended with 50 people in the room was titled “Where’s the Money!!” Achieving Program Financial Stability” by Dr. Jim Pettersson. He explained in 45 minutes how their Language Center went from being state-appropriated funded to being self-funded. He explained the reasons for the change and the advantages and disadvantages.  He had a very thorough handout that discussed his business plan, the marketing used, enrollment and tuition compared to the competition.  Very informative.

Then at 12:30 I attended the poster sessions and wanted to find out more about how one person from New Orleans used movies in the ESL classroom.  That interest also coincides with my going to the ETS booth and getting another YouTube video done of me where I talk about using video clips in the classroom to encourage students to write.  Especially those clips that have surprise endings, the students WANT to express themselves.  Other good sessions were represented in one big room with handouts galore.

At 1:00 to 1:45 I attended a Discussion group session that was very appropriate for my situation in my new job in Astana, Kazakhstan “How ESL Teachers Become ESL Managers.”  I especially liked when one of the three talked about the hardest part of her job as a manager was to dismiss people because of budget cuts but then also the advantage of her position was that she enjoyed bringing four fellow teachers that she was mentoring to the TESOL conference.  All three told it like it is, very refreshing to hear and see their openness about their positions as administrators.  A lot of time commitment to answering e-mails and yet juggling their roles with their family responsibilities.

From 2:00-3:00 I attended a workshop titled “Educational Cultures in Conflict” and there were about 35 people in attendance. We discussed “culture bumps” and did a “Forced Choice Ladder activity”  I especially liked a quote that was on the handout written by Steven Simpson in 2008.

“The first misinterpretation Western teachers’ face is with the country and/or school; are you being asked to bring your pedagogical expertise or simply your linguistic expertise? “  Simpson goes on to write about three stages of acculturation:

1)   Baggage Brought – prior experience and expectations of the Westerner

2)   Hand Dealt – awakening stage in which EFL teachers start to understand the reality and constraints of the local context

3)   Fertile Soil – emerging, personal and professional issues in which the Western teacher begins to negotiate decisions in a more culturally sensitive and professionally productive way.”

Yes, this needs to be sorted out once our new university receives the western teachers to Astana.  I believe there are more layers of complexity than what Simpson describes but this was just a teaser.  My blog the last several years attests to what I have been struggling with as far as conflicts in educational cultures, West meets Kazakh/Soviet.

From 3:00 to 3:45 there was “The Role of the Administrator in a Learning Organization” – the abstract explains what our current situation is in Astana “Managing educational institutions is about articulating countless variables amidst constant change…What do institutions need to succeed? What can administrators do to ensure it?”  More on that topic later…

By 4:00 p.m. I was fairly tired and ready for a long winter’s nap even though it had been sunny most of the day in Boston.  I was fortunate to run into a graduate school friend of mine from U of Minnesota who had asked me to take an anthropology class with him.  Thom Upton went on to get his Ph.D. and because of that lousy class we took together, (misery loves company), I was able to finish my M.A. within two years.  But I’ll also be forever indebted to Thom for telling me about the TEFL trainer job opening in Kazakhstan back in April 1993 when one month later I found myself in Almaty, training Peace Corps volunteers and I met my husband at that time in Kazakhstan.  Ah, such romance with my dear Dr. Ken Gray!

Also in that same era of May 1993 I met Elizabeth Macdonald in Washington D.C. before we pushed off for Central Asia and she has been in and out of my life ever since. She was the skilled TEFL trainer in Bishkek Kyrgyzstan and then we lived blocks from each other in the Washington D.C. area after I got married to Ken.  I ran into her after meeting with Thom at the conference and we had coffee together catching up.  Meeting Thom and Elizabeth capped off an already good day. I look forward to what is in store for me today with learning more about TOEFL all day at the Technology Pavilion.

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Fourth Movie and Howard Gardner’s “Five Minds”

I’m up early with my jetlag here in Boston. I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog that I watched a fourth movie starring Matt Damon in “The Informant.” Must have been a sleeper movie for me since I didn’t even remember to add it to the list of movies I watched on my Lufthansa flight coming to Boston.  The theme of this satirical comedy based on a real life story has something to do with ethics and respect, something that Howard Gardner talked about last night.

Backing up a bit, I am really enjoying this TESOL conference in Boston thus far. I have a mile and half walk from my hotel to the big conference center and met some nice people in the research session I attended all day yesterday. I also won a book in a raffle, added bonus! Unfortunately, I haven’t hooked up with my friends I want to see yet who have come to Boston from parts scattered throughout the U.S.  I have to make a concerted effort to do so.  One must use great strategy to find people in the mass of 8,000 gathered ESL/EFL teachers.  Last night I saw the biggest crowd ever for the first plenary session with Harvard’s own Howard Gardner.  He is a TESOL favorite because he wrote a book years ago that many educators have read about “multiple intelligences.”  Funny, erudite and self-deprecating.

The following is what Howard Gardner said about “Five Minds for the Future” he is famous for coming up with multiple intelligences (logic/math, music, spatial, emotional, interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily/kinesthetic, naturalist).

Here’s Gardner’s latest titled “The Five Minds”

1)   Disciplined mind – working steadily to improve oneself, becoming an expert, learn major ways of thinking (historic, artistic, scientific, mathematic)

2)   Synthesizer mind – Early philosophers such as Aristotle, Aquinas or Augustine.  One has to decide what to pay attention to.  Need to have criteria, how does all the information make sense to me.  We need to develop a course called “Synthesis 101” for teachers and students, so much information in our digital age that is largely undigested and unevaluated, we must teach students to synthesize.

3)   Creative mind – Einstein and Virginia Wolff, these two synthesized what is known in the box itself, but they went beyond that.  They thought of good questions and new questions.  Mastering one or more disciplines using the 10 year rule

Begin being a master at something when you are young.  Ultimate judgment of the field.  Take on new things and be willing to fail, but one must have a robust and iconoclastic temperament thinking “I regard every defeat as an opportunity.” One can say, “It didn’t work out, now what?”  Back in our formative days, failure was tolerated.  One Chinese student asked Gardner “give me the 23 steps in order on how to be creative.”  Creativity is messy and not orderly!

Gardner wrote “To Open Minds” in mid-1980s.  IN China discipline is very good but not creative.  Whereas now in the U.S. we have a desire to be creative but don’t have the discipline or mastery of the discipline.

Depth = Discipline

Breadth = Synthesize

Stretch = Creativity

The next two minds are how we deal with fellow human beings

4)   Respectful minds – diversity is a fact of life, at home and abroad that goes beyond mere tolerance.  We need to understand others’ perspectives.  The motivation is emotional and interpersonal intelligence.  There is an inappropriateness of “corporate, top-down model” for schools and even corporations

5)   Ethical minds – Higher level of abstraction than respectful mind

Conceptualizing oneself as a (good) worker

Conceptualizing oneself as a (good) citizen

Acting appropriately in both roles

How things play out in the community (like school)

The Three “E”s of a Good worker

1)   excellent, expert

2)   Ethical, socially responsible, moral

3)   Engaging, meaningful, intrinsically motivated

Instead of DNA he showed a triple helix model with the three “E”s Excellence, Ethics and Engagement

“We respect those persons who behave ethically.”

Last response we have is shame (wish I had written more on this because it relates to Kazakhstan but Gardner was running out of time)

Howard Gardner had much more to say and went through his slides so quickly that I was doing like many in the audience around me, I was taking photos of his slides for later review.  Here’s an example.  I now wish I had taken a photo of Gardner on the stage and showing the size of the audience behind me.

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Watched Three and a Half Movies Enroute to Boston

What else is there to do when one is cooped up for a very long time, in a VERY full plane but to watch the latest that Lufthansa has to offer?  I watched three 2009 releases and only one I would recommend for our young audiences in Astana.  That would be the British film titled “An Education” about a young 16 year old girl named Jenny who studies hard to enter Oxford, her dad pushes her to those ends until she meets David.  David is a slick, older man, almost twice Jenny’s age and he shows her a different, exciting side to life from her playing cello, memorizing boring Latin and speaking French.  Jenny’s parents are as taken in by David as she is, until… You will have to watch what kind of “an education” Jenny receives on your own, I won’t spoil it for you.

The second movie that is rather slow moving but it fits the part of a recent widower played by DeNiro is titled “Everybody’s Fine.” He has four children who don’t show up for a reunion at his home so he sets out to surprise them in New York, Chicago, Denver and Las Vegas.  (BTW, against doctor’s orders because the dad has a heart condition.)  This movie pulls at the heart strings because he too pushes his kids to succeed like Jenny’s father in “An Education” but somehow his drive backfires on him.  His adult children turn out to not communicate with him truthfully and there are some painful truths we find out by the end of the movie.

The third and bottom of the barrel of a movie is “Pope Joan” or also known as “Die Papstin” which is about a woman who supposedly became pope in the 8-9th century A.D.  It shows the primitiveness of the Middle Ages but also the political correctness of our current age of feminism.  This movie is a pile of horse manure which is right along the same genre of “The Red Tent.”  I won’t even tag that book that I was required to read in graduate school five years ago because it was so awful to read.  “Pope Joan” is impure, adulterated fiction, created in fantasy land to be sacrilegious against the Catholic faith.  I’m sure it must have created quite a stir at the Vatican. But then again, it is a picture so unworthy to be watched that giving it attention is just what the filmmakers wanted, kind of like the “Da Vinci Code.”  Two thumbs down on “Pope Joan.”

Oh, I did watch but did not hear a fourth and very funny movie off of someone’s screen in front of me, “All About Steve” starring Sandra Bullock.  I had seen it before and thought it good for laughs to guess what was being said, her acting is silly and superb.  Now I want to buy the movie “Blind Side” where Bullock won an Academy award for Best Actress, so I can see that movie on my own time.

So, here I am in historic Boston and must discover the town while going to the international TESOL conference.  Many sessions to attend, people to meet and generally taking in the latest in political events in the capital of our great country.  I’m glad I live in Kazakhstan so I don’t have to deal with all the backlash of this latest legislation they pushed through.  I grieve for my country’s Constitution that our great forefathers diligently created to have a balance of powers so that no despot would rule the masses.  It’s only a matter of time…

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Photos from Kostanay, KZ (Part III)

Last of a series of photos showing off Kostanay. I love looking at the billboards in Kazakhstan, trying to figure out the main text that is usually in Kazakh and Russian.  Some of the current messages are cheering the Kazakhs on about Nauryz, the biggest celebration that has become a five day holiday this year.  Not much coaxing is needed to get Kazakh people to gather with families and play games, eat lots of food and generally enjoy the spring like weather. Festivities started last Friday but is extending with most all things closed until Wednesday.

As I write this in Astana, however, it is snowing again as if winter is here to stay!!!  More photos from Kostanay follow. I can’t get over the brick Soviet apartment buildings painted green. Also, one billboard advertises about Fast Picnic and Business Lunch (restaurants offer a discount during the day on weekdays because the usual prices are outrageously high):

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Photos from Kostanay, Kazakhstan (Part II)

The best part of traveling to other regions of the great country of Kazakhstan is meeting the Kazakh people.  Irina and I had a chance to be in front of many students and especially fun was meeting Adila, Medina and Aida.  Cute girls who want to come to our new university next fall.  Of course we want all the other students who asked good questions too.  Thankful for good Kazakh administrators who know how to run a tight ship when it comes to some of these secondary schools.  

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