Archive for November, 2010

Blog Tired and Dog Tired

Today was an eventful day for my students and for me. Earlier I had listened to an American teacher talk to the whole student body about ethics. Very good examples and food for thought.  A kind of challenge to think about what the Kazakh students are learning now, impacts what kind of engineer or doctor they will be in the future.  If they cheat on tests now, what will they be like once they are “professionals?”  Reminded me of the movie we watched several weeks ago “Emperor’s Club.”

I got my adult learning students started on Web Survey Master which has a LOT of GREAT features. Namely that you can ask your respondents more than 10 questions and then when you gather and analyze your data, you can have the choices of pie charts, column or bar graphs or doughnuts.  The best is that all this data can automatically go into a powerpoint. However, you have to manually extract the comments from each question but still, that is quite amazing. Of course this is all on a 30 day trial period.

When I was prepping my 10 students yesterday for our 2 1/2 hours in the computer lab today, poor things, these overworked and underpaid teachers were getting hungry. All this talk of doughnuts, bars and pie (Botakoz reminded me that she likes pumpkin pie) and column charts. Yes, these desperate teachers (not “desperate housewives”) had heard enough talk about food.  So, fortunately I had some extra pumpkin cookies that I had intended to give them once they settled down to writing out their questions for this new survey.  Who says bribes don’t happen from teacher to students?  Works for me.

Were my 10 students ever squirrelly yesterday, I couldn’t shut them up.  But today was the direct opposite, they had work to do and they knew it. But entering the university, they had trouble getting past security because I hadn’t done the proper paperwork.  How could I? The guards needed their names in Russian and I only know their names but NOT in Cyrillic. Today, the students had many assignments waiting for them on Moodle and once past security, they got down to business with creating a second survey.  One was on love, another music, but most stayed with their same research topic.  Some impressed me with embedding YouTube clips or photo images into their questionnaire.  What they won’t experiment with, it is really humbling.  I should be as adventurous as they are.  I guess I am staying one blog step ahead of them, one day at a time.

So, I almost didn’t write this blog tonight because I am sooooo dog tired.  But then I had to write what a commenter mentioned to me about where a lot of blog traffic is here in Kazakhstan.  Check out Your Vision in Kazakhstan. Which reminds me, I sent a survey to my expat friends in Almaty and Astana to find out their impressions about Kazakhstan.  I’ll share that info with you maybe tomorrow when I have more energy.

Tomorrow we will enjoy hearing from a guest lecturer representing the U.S. embassy. I certainly hope the guards let him in along with my six teachers. Never a dull moment with moodles, monkeys and a dog video (check this out, again hat tip to Botakoz). My students make me smile.

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Persuasive Reasons for Kazakhs to Blog (Part III)

I have more that I would like to share about blogging and encouraging my Kazakh students to do the same as me, blog, blog, blog.  But you will see below why it might be a problem for some to get started. One student on her own blog said that it was fear, check out Wizard of KZ to see what she wrote several weeks ago.  Also it can be discouraging if there is not someone who knows, right beside the newbie blogger. It can be down right self-defeating.  However,  just today I had some of my seasoned Kazakh teachers tell me that their older students took no time at all to figure things out.  The teachers were admitting that they were actually learning from their own students.  I say that all the time as a student-centered teacher, but you have to know this is a big step for very teacher -centered teachers to even verbalize the fact that they are learning from their students. I see more cross over in methodologies coming soon from some of these teachers.  How refreshing!

Student G – “After reading the article I had a scary and exciting thought what if we implied blogging in the lesson there might happen an interesting and amazing way of self-learning, thus developing students autonomy!!! I like the article very much. the experiment they made is very similar to our PDP program. We also learn to blog and share information with each other. Mostly we work individually and with the help of our teacher.

It is very difficult to be objective to this article. If there was a chance to read it earlier I wouldn’t believe in results! I also wouldn’t believe that blogging can improve and develop cognitive skills, motivation (intrinsic or extrinsic), interaction and so on. and now, I am familiar with all of it. and the results are really amazing!!!!  I do like blogging as a tool of self-education and self-assurance.”

Both Student G and H are newly minted teachers from the Pedagogical University but still they are both teachers at heart.

Student H – “The interrelation between blogging and writing skills, between blogging and autonomy is surprising. Blogging is a very effective way of improving one’s communication through writing skills. A lot of writing promotes learner autonomy, makes the way of expressing your ideas, thoughts and feelings easy. Student autonomy is a combination of such activities as colloboration, negotiation, interaction, interrelation and self-development.

On my part, creating my own blog encouraged me to feel the whole responsibility of mine as a writer. “People write not because they want to say something, but they have something to say”. That is the main reason that leads every writer to keep on putting his ideas from heart onto the page. That is why whatever you write you should do it with responsibility. You should be aware that your writing will meet a public audience. And the wide audience is the motive that will keep you on the right path.

The article “Augmenting Learner Autonomy through Blogging” shows the investigation – blogging vs. its effect and proves its invaluable impact on the language and cognitive skill development, independent decision making  and self-improvement process.

Actually, when I was creating my blog I faced some difficulties with blog options. I even failed to make my memorable entry perfect. Because of the lack of blog strategy I published one image several times. As a matter of fact, I was wondering where my picture was, while it had been publishing on my blog again and again. But now I know you shoud wait a bit before having your post published.

Blogging is great, once acquianted with it, it is useful to make friends forever.”

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Persuasive Reasons for Kazakhs to Blog (Part II)

Here is a continuation from yesterday’s blog about blogging.  My PDP students had read several articles on reflection and one on blogging.  I am taking their comments from the forum section of Moodle so you can see their thoughts on this topic of blogging.  Helpful to see the different Kazakh perspectives.

Student D – Having read the article offered by our teacher “Augmenting Learner Autonomy through Blogging” and basing on my own experience I can make the following conclusion:

First, blogging is really very educational. When you know that not only your teacher will read what you have written but also your friends and even total strangers, you understand how important and responsible your work is. you choose the theme carefully, check your spelling, vocabulary and grammar lest be ashamed of the mistakes you have made. In this way you improve your language.

Second, blogging develop your cognitive skills (i.e. purpose setting and generating ideas). Once you created a blog, you are to set your purpose: “What are you going to write about?”. Then you must think about your ideas and not spread about all the ideas that come to your mind.

Third, you improve your writing skills as you write for the whole world to see. As a result, you learn how to write a good article and use an appropriate style and appropriate words.

The fourth and one of the most important benefits is increase of motivation. When a student write and know that some people are going to read it and sonebody will approve of his/her ideas and he really wants to share his ideas he becomes motivated and involved. Especially when some of the readers leave a comment and you get feedback you really enjoy doing it.

But there are some (as we see from the article) problems that student have to face when creating and using blogs. First is lack of computers and not everybody has one at home. Second is limited access to internet. I myself face this problem because Ihave no computer at home and at school I have much work to do except blogging. But I hope that by and by the problems will be overcome and everything is going to be excellent.

To sum up what I have written I can say that even though we lack computers and not always have access to internet, all the same we should use the opportunities that blogging can offer us.

Student E – I really liked this article as it describes the major reasons of using the blogs. Blogging is getting more and more important in our modern world. And I am glad that I also have started blogging and can express my ideas and thoughts through it and of course as it was mentioned in the article I will be able to improve my writing skills. It is also interesting for me that in the article it was written that blogs were used as someone’s personal diary online and then it became as one of the meaning of writing. Nowadays blogging is of the most important part of autonomy learning. Talking about autonomy learning, it is assumed as a centre stage of language learning in recent times. It also helps learners to become more independent by making decisions, critical reflection and independent actions, and I totally agree with as now I decide myself what to write in there about. And of course I know that blogging is a big challenge for some reasons especially in the beginning when you are not confident enough of what to write about and how to write. Students in fact are learning to work on their own and some of them are sharing with their experiences, as some students don’t really have computer proficiency and they fail to work on their own, while other have some experience in working with computers, then they can help their peers to get along. As for me I also was a little nervous when I opened my blog and the teacher said “now, you can write” and it was a shock for me as I asked her what I should write about…

Some of our students as I noticed felt confident enough as they started writing so good as it seemed for me that they have been blogging for ages. I know that it always takes time to develop yourself in whatever you start learning. That is why I hope that every time I write in my blog i wil get better.

Student F – Having read this article I had a brilliant idea, why not augment my students autonomy through blogging. If our students create their own blogs in order to discuss or share some actual problems and news, it will enhance the student’s reading and writing skills faster than we do now, of course, if we follow the structure figured out in this article.

There are a lot of people who are autonomy learners, for example, Nazarbayev Intellectual School students augment their learning via reflections on learning English or whatever subject they learn. It seems the same we do through bloggings.

From my point of view, it will help the teachers to make their lessons easier and more interesting through bloggings. On the other hand, students will be encouraged to read and write more. And the blogs created by them own will give them autonomy. So, feeling this autonomy, making one step ahead the students will be close to the teachers. The students will be aware to read more, consequently developing their writing skills. Today, especially when the students are keen on lot of computer games, which can be useful and usefulness. So, why not attract their attention on reading through bloggings, whatever the teachers write or their thoughts on anything.

Today it was a great day to experiment this idea with my different aged students and I analysed that teenage students were more interested than 10-12 year old students. It is clear that teenagers have a lot of themes to discuss with me, relating to the subject, life or family. We teachers do not know what is happening inside of our students family, especially their living conditions. On the contrary, the same questions touch our students too. And when I showed them my own blog they had a big desire to read whatever I wrote. Why not? First they had a time to read it was about our discussion on Human trafficking. They read it, then asked questions on the topic seen on the blog. It was really interesting, they said they would keep reading it at home. When I asked them if they have had an internet access at home, I was glad because everyone had it.

Secondly, today our teachers have big problems on concluding their lessons There are some questions should be asked in order to solve this problem:

– How to conclude the lesson? or Are there any ways to conclude it?

I think lack of time causes such problems. And why not use bloggings for reflections at the end of the lesson, without spending time for that.

Further, the teachers should follow this new technique and it is time to refresh the teaching methods. Moreover, after such bloggings among the teachers and students, the teachers will know what part of the lesson was interesting or vice versa. Or what should we work on to make our lessons interesting and cognitive.


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Persuasive Reasons for Kazakh Students to Start Blogging

The following comments are from Moodle in the Forum section where my PDP students, who are seasoned teachers, write about what they read in an article about blogging.  See what you think about these three reflections:

Student A – We know all about Internet, blogs, software programs and computers. But, how to use them in the lesson.

In my opinion, the blogs give us a chance to communicate between us and motivate us to write more. When we publish on a blog, students or teachers from other schools can respond by using the comment links. And by reading comments we can know our weaknesses and our progress. In addition, teachers can write some tasks on a blog and students may respond to them. Using blogs are very comfortable and available both for teachers or students

Student B – Well, look, I`ve read two articles on reflections in teaching. one is concerned with sharing opinion in free talks between teacher and students, the other is about teaching through blogging. one can`t deny the new until one tries himself. frankly, i`m not sure it`ll work with secondary school students and in language learning exactly. blogging will be nice for adults, researchers of the definite problem, to discuss the issue of research, share views and etc.

May be, i`m a “wet blanket”, but I do not take blogging serious

My Response to Student B

Why not blogging for students? It wouldn’t work for students who have a low level of English proficiency but for those who are preparing for IELTS or for TOEFL it is an informal way of venting, expressing themselves, of getting things out there for an audience and to find their voice. That is all needed when you are doing FORMAL academic writing to find your own voice and if you can’t do it in an informal setting such as blogging, then how can you go the next level up to academic writing if you don’t know who you are? If there is any kind of integrity to be found in academic writing it needs to be from a person who has a passion about what they think and write. Why go through the motions of writing a paper if you don’t involve yourself in the paper. Then it is just being mechanical and not caring what you write and not caring about what the audience is reading of your thoughts. WHAT A WASTE of time!!!

So, please consider carefully how blogging can be of great benefit. Did you really read the article on blogging? Were you really not convinced that it could benefit and augment learner autonomy?

Student C

I can say that I ABSOLUTELY like the idea of this article. It is important to teach our students to express their feelings, ideas and thoughts; also turn extrinsic motivations into intrinsic ones. I suppose that developing writing skills is the most difficult. But through improving them we can develop our speech as well. Making Blogs can give more opportunities to express own ideas and give comments and get to know others’ thoughts. During writing a student think about finding synonyms, paraphrasing and correcting spelling mistakes. It is great to increase knowledge in the English language. In Blogging a teacher can realize different forms of learning: individual, pair, or group work. It just requires having computers and access to Internet. This article describes students’ work on making blogs step by step (there are 8 steps). Blogging also makes students work individually.

We CAN and MUST use it because of its fruitful results.

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Blogging about WebSurvey Master…am I a Slave to Blogging?

I have met some very nice people because of this blog about Kazakhstan. I’ve written almost every day and especially after three years of being consistent in Kazakhstan, I have an audience more than just my Mom.  As my dear husband knows only too well, sometimes I feel as compulsive as the blogger in the movie “Julie and Julia.”  I’m not obsessing over a person like Julia Childs. I guess I’m trying to digest what this country of Kazakhstan is all about. Maybe I AM a slave to blogging…

In a very round about way I read some Kazakh person’s blog who was writing from London and wondering why Kazakh people don’t blog.  After I wrote to him telling him I appreciated his thoughts on this very subject because I’ve been wondering about this same problem for several years. In response, he gave me a link from a blogger from India who had, in turn, responded to HIS blog thinking aloud about why Kazakhs don’t like to write. You see how this social networking through blogs can pick up steam?  As a writing teacher, it is sometimes difficult to get anyone to write, not just Kazakhs or Ukrainians. But perhaps with Kazakhs there are even more tantalizing reasons to ferret out this information so that they WOULD blog more about their amazing country and culture.

Is it that Kazakhs want to remain mysterious to the rest of the world?  I am convinced there are many talented Kazakhs who have the ability to write but they just don’t feel compelled to do so.  This person I just recently got in contact with said that Kazakhs are too lazy.  Now, he can get away with writing that because he is Kazakh.  I, as an American, would not be able to write that so easily without offending Kazakhs.  Okay, so it is OUT there in the blogosphere and I didn’t say it. I suppose I should put the link on my blog right this very minute so you know that I’m writing truthfully.  However, I would have to get his permission first, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

I would like to do another questionnaire like I did with Survey Monkey and thankfully a new commenter yesterday brought to my attention about another swell on-line survey that I could use with my students.  Yes!!! I’m open to anything NEW and I’m seeing that this latest website that I showed to my students is a fun one for them.  First, I’ll have to try out this link which may even be better than SurveyMonkey.  We’ll see.  But this was just another person I will possibly meet soon, I believe he lives in Astana.  Without blogging and being OUT THERE, how would I know these people even exist with common interests to my own?

Next, I want to survey our student body about movies. What kind do they like (comedy, drama, history, horror, etc.), what values do they see in American movies and other questions. I hope to get to the core of what we do every Sunday afternoon by showing good and wholesome movies with English subtitles to these university students. We want to open this service up to the general public of Astana so that other university students can profit from our handouts and discussion in English afterwards.

Finally, my husband will hopefully meet a commenter to my blog while he is visiting Almaty this weekend.  I think this person started commenting on my blog entries about a year ago.  He shares some of the same economic interests as my husband does so that might be helpful to finally meet the person behind the pseudonym. I’ve met over the phone or in person some of my other commenters and that is always fun.

For now, my students who are blogging are excited about getting outside commenters besides just me, their teacher.  The adventure is finding out what you write and think matters to someone else.  That is why I want to survey more about blogging to get to the bottom of this problem of why Kazakh students don’t feel a need to write to the general globalized public about who they are and where they have come from. A great land of Kazakhstan which I can hardly understand, not knowing the language beyond four words, would be better served to explain it by actual Kazakhs blogging MORE!!!

I’ll keep you posted about what my students have written about the problems they see exist with blogging from Kazakhstan. It’s not like there is a law against it, or IS there an unwritten code that I, as the unsuspecting American, don’t know about??? Stay tuned!

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Academic Classes during Soviet times up to Today’s

I only know about the titles of these classes because of the apps and transcripts I have looked at.  (see earlier blogs to see what I’ve been up to.) As I’ve done this for the past five or six years, there’s getting to be fewer and fewer older applicants who studied during the late 1980s and early 1990s but here is a sampling of what showed up in some applications:

History of the Communist Party of the USSR

Theory and History of Religion and Atheism

Traditions and Culture of English Speaking Countries

I would have loved to have seen what the Kazakh students had learned in 1989-1990 with “Economic Theory.” What I’m gathering from all the apps I have looked over is that there was a LOT of theory going on but little application.  In economics where everything was under a “planned economy” what was there even remotely close to theories from “market economy?”  I only know this from my husband who is an economist minted from University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Anyway, things changed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and by the mid-1990s students were taking classes like “Life History of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi.”  I can’t get much info about his life or poetry from a simple google search because it all ends up going to Wikipedia.  What I do gather is that Yasawi lived around the Middle Ages and was a mystic Sufi poet and helped form the Turkish expressions. There’s a mausoleum in his honor in Turkestan, one of the oldest cities in Kazakhstan.  I need to read up more about this mystic but it shows what has changed since communist times.

These days, looking at the three different syllabi that I am using with my Professional Development students, we are doing surveys online with What fun to see my earnest students in the computer lab today working so hard uploading their 10 questions and then sending to their classmates and work colleagues.  The results formed in pie charts or column graphs will be interesting for their final project. I am excited to see what patterns will show up that will correlate with the journal articles they are finding. Today I also had my students work on the Thesis Statement Builder to create a 500 word discursive essay.  Finally, they had to do a forum sort of discussion with their classmates in Moodle.  If they had any time left they were to upload their thoughts and reflections on their blog.  I think they didn’t have much time, the two and half hours flew and so the due dates are next Monday. Whew!

We’ve come a long way from what was in the standard state sanctioned curriculum from Moscow, Russia to what we are trying to accomplish in Astana, Kazakhstan in the Information Age that is also all about social networking.  Facebook everyone? I wonder what university students will be doing 20 years from now?  They will probably look back at what we are studying as antiquated and out of touch with reality.  Fine, in the meantime, we are having fun learning what we can to try to stay updated with the rest of the IT world.

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Could write in LOTS of directions

Today is the day after Korban Ait (not sure of spelling since I’ve seen about ten different variants of it). We will celebrate this grand holiday tomorrow in unison as employees at the university cafeteria.  As a friend of mine wrote on Facebook, “Korban Ait is not a good holiday for sheep.”  The same could be said for our upcoming American holiday next Thursday, “Thanksgiving is not a good holiday for a turkey.” I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other Americans and French people late in the evening next Thursday.  Nice but not the same as being with family and I know there were Kazakh students at the university that missed being with their family. They live far away and could not afford the long train ride home.  In any case, next week I hope to do some singing to ward off all the extra calories of good home cooking from both these events of sheep and turkey.

Yesterday was a legal day off for ALL of us at the university. Therefore, it was my husband and my chance to go out on a date after we did some work at home.  I baked pumpkin cookies and finished up on reading apps so it was time to celebrate with a nice meal at the fish restaurant at Khan Shatyr, the tipped tent.  We walked to work up an appetite against the cold west wind.  Then after our meal we decided whimsically to take the splish splash roller coaster ride. Things didn’t look good when they could only provide us with WET towels to sit on.  In the middle of our ride I knew something wasn’t quite right when Ken and I couldn’t get up the steep hill and then our water car finally jerked forward and up.  What goes up, MUST come down.  Down we splashed into the water that sprayed all over us. This particular ride cost 400 tenge each.  I ask you, would you knowingly pay about $3 to get your clothes wet?  That’s what this thrill ride is about.

So, once through that, the drama wasn’t over, we had five cars ahead of us that were stuck. There were worried attendants that thought we were the suing type because our car was starting to fill with water.  We were like sitting and very lame ducks. Ken quickly jumped out and that brought the car up a bit.  I followed his lead on the narrow track to get back to where we had started.  The attendants were helpful by carrying our backpacks and wet towels. They were very apologetic.  So much so that they had us go for FREE in front of the line for the other electric car ride that goes around 5-6 stories above ground.  By this time I knew I didn’t want to look down and I wanted to make sure that Ken didn’t rock the boat.  I could just see us catapult to the crowds below. I had had enough adventure already with the top of the water ride.  We made it back okay to the start and then walked home after buying some groceries at the supermarket below.

With the wind on our backs, we were able to get our clothes dried out and came home to a hot tea and watched “Hoosiers.” That was our date night on an unconventional Tuesday night. I had to prepare for my lessons on Wednesday which is the OTHER direction I could go in writing today’s blog.  On Monday I had prepared my class to do “SurveyMonkey” and to come up with 10 questions related to their research project that they could query their classmates and other colleagues from work about online.  I showed a survey I had made up as an example, one they had answered. We created another survey in class after looking over three students 10 questions. This way they could see how they would input all their questions tomorrow at the computer lab.

Another direction is that we got into a discussion about morals. I asked what is taught in school to girls and boys about abstinence or purity in sexual relationships. Surely I know from reading the book “Two Kyrgyz Women” and talking with the author that these issues about sex are taboo, a very private matter.  One teacher said that she was yelled at by her mother every time she had questions about sexual relationships.  Another student knew that she could NEVER talk to her mother about this topic.  I just wondered what is done in the school system or if there is anything in the Muslim faith that exhorts a woman to remain pure before marriage.  If it is not talked about or discussed, how do kids know what is inappropriate in the lyrics they hear from rockers or rappers from the West?  Much of the garbage called “music” is really a hatred of women and debasing them as sex objects. Oh, what a critical problem this is when Western “mores” meet eastern private sensibilities.

Today we also got on the subject of teachers salaries. I found out that Kazakh teachers, even though they are paid a low salary, at least they are always paid.  Well, that is not true of some teachers as near to Astana as Akmola.  Since September they have not been paid and this little village is where the prison camp ALZHIR was back in the Stalin years for women who had the misfortune of being married to “Enemies of the People.”  If this is true about a city close to Astana, what of the other villages and towns throughout Kazakhstan, are teachers being paid or not? I remember this happened in Ukraine that the teachers were a dedicated lot, they were like mothers who would not give up on their own children no matter how difficult living was.  Teachers in Kazakhstan are just as dedicated to their profession, they have to be because they are not paid much. The show must go on, they will teach despite not being paid.  No such thing as teachers’ unions here in Kazakhstan.

So, that reminds me of an American I know who has worked terribly long hours this semester and has not been paid. This person has been spitefully used like a slave to the Kazakh students. The students are the delight, it is the administrators who are the culprits!  Who is reaping the benefits of this arrangement with misusing an expat? Perhaps the rector of the university, perhaps someone else in administration but apparently oral and written contracts between two parties mean nothing.  So goes what I wrote about in yesterday’s blog concerning transparency and trust.

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