Posts tagged American

Impressions of American Guest Speaker Who Knows Kazakh (Part II)

A continuation of impressions from my Professional Development students which are written from their heart, here are three more:

Student #4 – Yesterday, we had a wonderful talk with Chad Harris, whom we waited for so long. It was a wonderful experience, he is a very interesting person. He has a lot to say and good advice. I was in the role of the observer. My friend told about him a lot and it seemed to me that I know him. He raised up-to-date topical questions about Kazakh language and teaching methods. He made me think about patriotic feelings and I realized that they started from the language you speak. Chad told the truth about people’s acceptance and their attitude towards each other. Especially Kazakh people. I do believe that we must speak our mother tongue, but people should be more encouraging and tolerant, otherwise we will not be able to learn it because of shame.

Student #5 – I was impressed by Chad and his Kazakh. There are 4 pieces of advice that I got from him:
1) If you go abroad choose home-stay – it is the best way to learn a language. By the way I heard the same advice from Jon Larsen
2) make students create a real-life situation and speak English with someone at home while, for example, drinking tea, as a home work assignment.
3) Give each student a glass where you can put a bean for each well-done work. Then at the end of the week we can count them and award the students with the most beans.
The last advice he gave is concerned with learning Kazakh language:
4) Speak Kazakh with one another! Don’t be ashamed and don’t laugh at somebody who makes mistakes.

Student #6 -On Tuesday at last we had a meeting with Chad Harris. He met all my expectations and I liked him a lot. He talked to all of us and each one in person. I liked that he had a warming and encouraging word for everyone. I think he gave us a good support when said that we all were on right way.

Also he told us his experience with learning Kazakh, the conditions he had and how people around unconsciously helped him. But what drew my attention slowly turned from learning Kazakh to his family. He was giving some extracts from how they work with their kids. They read stories, motivate them by giving bean for good work then in the end counting them. And I loved much story telling side. I just had a vision that Chad is sitting with his sons around him and tells “Imagine that there is…” telling stories about Jesus and his sons listening. I like that they motivate with upcoming gifts according to beans’ number. I thought, how interesting, do our Kazakh families also motivate kids in such a way?

I myself remember that sometimes when mom was not busy she read me stories from my books and I loved it much, or that when I learned how to write letters, we Mom’s brother, Mom’s sister, my sister and me had competitions “Who will draw the letters best?”. But they were not so regular as I wished them to be.

As I am getting into teaching more than before I started to think how right I will work with my own kids, will I be good mother and teacher? I want my kids to know English, speak Kazakh and be fluent in Russian from early stages and they will practice doing that long before school. Then when Chad told us how they work with their kids, I thought the same I would do with my kids, it seems very good methodology!
As for what he told us about Kazakh, indeed we need to comfort people who wants to speak Kazakh but unfortunately do not know. All of a sudden I understood that learning Kazakh is the same process as learning English. The most beneficial condition for people to learn speak English is creating English speaking surrounding and encouraging! Loads of encouraging. This is what we lack with Kazakh, it is getting a form of stereotype to blame and mock people if they do not know Kazakh, but how will they speak Kazakh if they don’t have and reason to learn it?! They do not know, but want – we mock and blame. They do now know and don’t want – we say: “Shame on you, you are living in Kazakhstan.” They do not know and doesn’t know why they have to learn it – we don’t give any motivation or even try to convince them. I think it takes time to change it for better, but still will others know our mistake as well as we did after this talk?

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Impressions of American Guest Speaker who Knows Kazakh

The following are three impressions from ten of my Professional Development students who listened to Chad’s talk the other day, I think they are insightful:

Student #1 – It is clear that Chad is a good teacher. He is modern, positive and open to students’ opinions. It was a pleasure for me to talk to him, he has charisma. When we introduced ourselves, Chad tried to remember our names by heart. After each introduction he pronounced our names, so he could remember us. While getting introduced he had a little chat with us, and during the conversation he called us by our names. That was his way to find a common language with people. Nothing sounds better for a person than his name. Imagine how you get happy when someone knows your name. Your answer will be: “Oh, you remembered me”.
Chad is sociable and you needn’t to try to say something to make him speak. On the contrary, he shared his life experiences with us and tried to get all of us free and comfortable. He didn’t ask to stop him in case we do not understand him. It shows he was sure he will find a way to our flow of ideas. The fact that he has a family of teachers surprised me, it is ok to have a family of engineers, businessmen, lawyers or something like those. I remember how my teacher used to tell me not to choose a profession of a teacher. She was tired of teaching, and it is clear she won’t let her child to be a teacher. Chad’s family is a devoted teacher family and the fact that he didn’t succeed in his business can be explained as “a call of blood”. [not sure what that means?]
Earlier I met Chad’s little children and didn’t even think that they might be studying in Kazakh schools. I think the teachers must be happy to have students like Chad’s children. I don’t know whether you experienced it or not, but it is a great pleasure to speak to little Americans. I do really like it. They are so sweet.
However, the most important thing I liked about Chad is his knowledge of Kazakh. His Kazakh is very good, I am saying not as a Kazakh,who is happy to see American speaking my native language, but as a person, who does really appreciate his knowledge. I watched the way he spoke Kazakh, and I admit that his Kazakh is perfect.
In an hour conversation, we felt so easy and relaxed that we didn’t notice the time passed. However, it is the usual thing that happens to us when we have a quest speaker invited.)))

Student #2 – I confess that I was really waiting for Chad’s talk since our teacher mentioned about that. As a classmate had said, we’ve heard a lot about him from a student of Foundation Program who is from Semey. She really admires him. And now me also. Especially I like how he speaks Kazakh – like a real Kazakh man. We, Kazakh people, need to learn much from him. Because really, as one of my classmates said, if a Kazakh man speaks incorrect Kazakh we start to make fun of him or just forbid him to talk in this language. Maybe we do it because we don’t want this man to make fun of the language making so many errors. But I do agree with Chad, we MUSTN’T behave in that way, otherwise no one would learn Kazakh.This is very complicated issue and we, all the Kazakh people, should join in order to save our mother tongue and stop speaking Russian to each other.
Also it is obvious that Chad is a very smart, experienced teacher. In one hour I learned from him so many useful things. If I talk in general, we had time just for introducing ourselves, but he shared the techniques and methods with us only making comments on our research topics. If only we had more time… But nowadays people tend to be so busy, I know it from my own experience. I even don’t have for myself on weekends! Anyway, the techniques Chad mentioned, like making the students create language situation themselves or arranging one day or night of English, using pair works, also using bean or such kinds of ways of positive motivation… I think all these could be very useful and effective in teaching not only a foreign language but also Kazak.

Student #3 – It was the best talk I’ve ever had with guest speakers, because Chad knew Kazakh language and our traditions too, which gave us an opportunity to learn and share our teaching methods. I was proud of his Kazakh, his speech was like a Kazakh man’s. He gave us good advice in Kazakh, how to encourage people to speak Kazakh. And all my classmates followed his advice, it means his advice works. After the class, all my classmates started to speak Kazakh, even those who had never spoken it. I think if we English teachers know Kazakh as well as Russian, we will show our lessons to Kazak teachers teaching students in Kazakh and using the same great methods and approaches. I think, people slowly understand the importance of Kazakh language. Even, in president’s election the candidates have to pass Kazakh language first. It is one of the main task for the candidates. Some of them passed it successfully, some of them failed shamefully.

(to be continued)

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Quick Survey on Kazakhstan’s Teaching Methodologies

I have only polled about 20 young Kazakh men and women about their own educational system in Kazakhstan that they were taught under. As a result, I have gotten some very interesting and surprising comments.  In most of the cases, these Kazakh young people were also exposed to western style education and have cogent comments to make after answering my 24 item T/F survey.  In no particular order I will type out what they wrote but be sure to read the very last comment, that person NAILS it!:

On the side of teacher-centered pedagogy

17 year old Kazakh male from Transport university:

“I think in our country, teachers need more support.”

Teachers who are strong, authoritarian figures will have success, because students will respect them, listen to them.”

23 year old Kazakh male from Kaz GU whose discipline was accounting and audit:

“I think first of all we should work with teachers, because it’s very difficult to be a teacher and not everyone can do that.”

17 year old Kazakh girl wrote: “I agree with giving more opportunities to the students, teachers should be stronger and more serious.”

18 year old girl who was an AFEK student studying in finance:

“I think we strongly need authoritarian teachers because such people teach us to work hard, to be disciplined and finally to get our goals.”

She added on another point: “I think students have possibility to choose the methods of their learning and future occupation.”

27 year old male with a masters in Public Administration and International relations:

“In Kazakhstan we need professional teachers who will be very dedicated and committed to what they do.  To achieve that we need:

-adequate pay for their work ($1,000 USD at minimum per month);

-popularize the teacher status (perhaps, include them into the group of ‘public servants’)

-increase the competition when hiring teachers (admission criteria, etc.)

-attract young professionals

-increase the number of international teachers at schools

No particular distinction of type of pedagogy

23 year old Kazakh woman who had studied politics at James Madison University and had a B.S. in PPA wrote the following: “I strongly agree that courses on KZ’s cultural history should be taught while learning western civilization’s history.”

On the side of learner-centered pedagogy

24 year old Kazakh woman who had studied at the National Medical university and her discipline was obstetrics and gynecology wrote:

“It will be great if atmosphere at universities and schools (during the learning process) will be more related to atmosphere in a real life, job conditions.”

20 year old KARGH female graduate in English literature believes:

“I think Kazakh education system should be more democratic. Because following the Soviet Union system, all the subjects are strictly obligatory.  But I think after 9th grade, pupils should choose those studies which they really want to learn.  And they should make more independent study.  I mean an individual research.”

25 year old Kazakh woman who received her B.A. in Public Administration from Michigan state university wrote:

“Being a product of the American educational system, I vote for a comprehensive, independent, self-education system. Critical thinking is a main point.  Teachers should allow students to see and address a problem from different angles and students should express their ideas and thoughts independently.  Taking initiatives should be appreciated.  Teachers should nurture students to think “outside the box” but close to the reality of our economic, political and social system.”

27 year old woman who has a western MA and studied management and marketing:

“I strongly agree on establishing freedom of all the levels of educational system in Kazakhstan.  We need to shift from authoritative way of teaching to more democratic one to encourage each student’s individual development, personal skill development.  Teachers nowadays need to be stimulators for students’ self-realization, nurture their self-expression rather than obedience.  That’s why it’s most desirable to incorporate more Western style of teaching in the pedagogical studies in the educational institutions of Kazakhstan.”

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Ryan’s First Impressions of Kazakhstan (Part III)

Read the two days prior to understand who Ryan is and what he is doing in Kazakshtan. As a 23 year old graduate student, he is a gem in what he writes about his first impressions:

“So…today yeah…I woke up early because I had no idea how long it would take me to get to work so I wanted to have time. As I’m having breakfast and Lena and I are talking she tells me that Seryozha is going to drive me to work because she doesn’t want me negotiating the two buses that it will take to get to work. I try to tell her that I want to and I need to learn (because for me being able to come and go as I want is the apex of independence….it’s a better high than catnip) but she was having none of it and I didn’t want to argue in Russian especially so early in the morning so I let it slide and took the ride.

I got to work and filled up my water bottle just in time for the kids to start arriving. I spent time hanging out with them and talking to them. I don’t help with exercises much I’m the distraction keeping them from focusing on the stretching. It’s so hard to watch them hurt and know they can’t tell us what hurts and there’s nothing you can say to make it better in any language. Only stopping will help and in the end that doesn’t help. I’ve been there though…I know…I watch them and my whole body cringes with aching empathy. Now I’m older and I see the PT and OT side of spectrum…ya know. They have a job to do and Cindy and Elizabeth (PT and OT British and Dutch respectively) are brilliant.

Most of the time though they’re happy kids who want to play. Their smiles will make you melt. Talking to them is hard because my Russian is limited and theirs is hard to understand at times but we make it work. I spend most of my time working with them. Another of them has moments where all that will quiet him down is me holding him. He also uses me to help him stand.

The locals, American and international doctors that work there are just amazing. They love the kids and the kids love them. I love to talk to them. They’re so sweet. We talk in English mostly so everyone understands… with this crowd it truly is a common language. Although like today…a couple people were talking in Kazakh and it turns out they were asking me to do something and then they were wondering why I was just standing there until they remembered no one translated. There are two doctors… one American and one Russian…and they’re amazing. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to them about CP and they’ve been very enlightening convos.

After the kids left Cindy and I took a bus to her Kazakh teachers house to talk to her about me helping with some English conversation classes. It’s going to be great fun. This is where I found out that in the whole of KZ the pop is only 16 million. The 9th largest nation on earth has only 16 million people. The Soviet Union had a lot to do with that. Kazakhstan lost many people to famine in the 1930s and war in the 1940s but I was still shocked.

After we set the class dates, I went with Elizabeth back to work to another org that shares the building and does English lessons. I helped with one of their English convo clubs. It was cool to talk to and help the people I worked with. Their English was really good and more proper than mine I’d wager. The whole time I hadn’t eaten anything but I’d been craving Samsa (a meat pocket like a piroshky) I’d heard all about it and I wanted one …well, I still don’t have it but tomorrow for lunch yeah…the good thing about the craving is I haven’t really had much of an appetite since I got here so maybe that’s changing.

I left the convo club and went and bought a glass bottle Coke for the equivalent of 40 cents and hopped on the bus which is a quarter per bus. I took it to Tzum (pronounced Soom, across from Megacenter) and went on a quest for postcards to send out. Cindy told me that’d be about the only place they’d have them and that they were rubbish. I asked a lady where to find them and once we got straight what I wanted she had a girl take me to them. I found some really awesome ones for about $3. I was so happy.

Then I walked to what i thought was the bus stop and I was really confused when the bus stopped beyond me. The money taker explained the obvious that where I was wasn’t a bus stop. I apologized and settled in for the ride home. Oh, interesting thing. On one of the other buses the lady taking the money gave me my fare back. It’s interesting because even though you don’t see them much, Kazakhs are really respectful, helpful (they’ll give up their seat which is hard for me because it’s in my nature to stand if someone other than me needs the seat…that silly independent streak) and admiring of the disabled. Most of them take my money but two haven’t so far. Anyway the whole trip went off without a hitch and I did it all on my own. I was so happy!

There are so many things I could tell you but there’s a glimpse. I hope you enjoyed it. I do have to say it’s so interesting hearing Russian around me outside of the classroom. I have to use it at home at all times and on the streets to communicate. It’s great. It’s like a key to a lock. So much is open to me even though I don’t speak Kazakh.”

(to be continued)

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Freedom, Religion, Independence in Kazakhstan

What do I know as a westerner living in Kazakhstan about freedom, religion and independence that most all Americans hold so dear? Especially in Kazakhstan where these key concepts are on everyone’s minds as we look south to Kyrgyzstan. The crucial referendum vote the Kyrgyz people will make this Sunday throughout that fragile Central Asian nation will have some outcome, good or bad.  My heart quakes for what other shoe will drop as the political events continue to churn since April 7th in Bishkek and Talas and more recently last week in Osh, southern Kyrgyzstan.

I just got my invitation by the American embassy from the warden to show up on July 4th for our own little celebration on Sunday.  Not sure how many Americans are left in Astana, Kazakhstan during this hot season.  There has been a mass exodus of most of the teachers I know to places cooler or with family elsewhere.

As Americans, independence and freedom are seemingly set in our DNA, but I think it is true of the Kazakhs and Kazakhstanis as well.  A century ago they freely roamed the steppes as nomads and saw the wide open spaces as a good thing.  Their livestock needed the room to move for grazing, from what I have read there were strict and set boundaries that the Central Asian nomads knew and understood.  How religious were they, in other words, how Muslim were they?  I don’t think as devout as others from Saudi Arabia or the Middle East.  The Muslim veneer is there but for the Kazakh they have something deeper and internal in them, I don’t know what yet.  I hope to find out more…

As a Christian it is good for my eyes to see the freedom of religion in Astana where registered churches exist side by side.  There is a Jewish synagogue down the street from a big Catholic church.  Russian Orthodox and Baptist churches are in the mix as well.  Of course not as many as you would see in a typical American city but worshippers are encouraged to attend.  The photo of a church above was taken by me inside Independence hall.  I believe the current president of this great nation wants to promote freedom of religion in Kazakhstan.

Since I have been watching the events south of us in Kyrgyzstan, (and blogs seem to be the best source of information) one blog popped up that I think is on YouTube titled “This is Astana.”  Of course it is a promo piece for Astana and placed strategically at a time when things were really bad in Osh, but they proudly showed the different religions that freely worship in the capital city.  Note the statues for independence at Independence Hall in Astana.  As first time visitors, all should go visit this place to find out more about Kazakhstan.  Of course, you WILL come in the summer time because the winter time is too cold.  No freedom or independence when the cold blasts of adversity (wind howling down the steppes) come to assault you.  In order to survive the steppes, the Kazakhs of old had to have some kind of religion to prevail.  I want to learn more about how they survived, this Kazakh culture is a fascinating one.

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Cogent Thoughts on Education from a Kazakh-Korean Friend

The following thoughts are from a Kazakh-Korean friend of mine who already has a law degree.  Aliya is currently studying in the U.S. at the School of Education at Vanderbilt College in Tennessee.  I’m eager to get more of her cogent thoughts on how she would compare her experience of post-Soviet system of learning to that of the American style.  We had a delightful chat over Skype the other day, when it was about 2:00 a.m. for her while it was 2:00 in the afternoon for me.  She shared with me what she was learning about cultural diversity concerning autonomy and the collective group think.  I queried her more between Kazakh and American cultural differences.  She is a wealth of information, a valuable resource in the up and coming generation who will change Kazakhstan for the better. She is one of the best of the best, and she counts me as her friend.

“I still remember the time when I was in secondary school in Aktobe city, all my thirty classmates including myself had exactly the same subjects to study.  Everyone struggled.  Some couldn’t understand literature, some—math.  I personally had difficulty to study chemistry as my strengths were in history, languages, grammar, literature, painting and music.  Even in my young age, I didn’t like the fact that everyone was taught in the same way by the same methods in spite of our talents and interests.  Ever since I was a schoolgirl, I cherished a strong desire to change existing school system.  I knew education should help a person to develop his potential and talents, but not to make him feel as “another regular pupil” with identical personality and strengths.

I enjoy being part of transformation process and relationships with different persons.  The backward teaching methodology and prevailing Soviet pedagogical ideology have stopped Kazakh education from the modern international development.  I, as a cell of new developing State structure, can make a difference. Young generation defines the future of economical, cultural, scientific and political growth of Kazakhstan.  In my personal experience, despite the fact that some of the issues I face in my educational career can be resolved by consulting relevant information through literature, I found that more serious flaws inherent in Kazakh current educational system that can’t be worked out easily.

A saying: “Some people dream of accomplishments while others stay awake and do them.” I truly believe that we need to stand for doing accomplishments to make changes in our society.

There are a lot of facts that cause poor quality of education such as: lack of sufficient finances form the government (it doesn’t allow universities to have necessary equipment and materials.  For example, USA funds 5-6% of its GDP to education, when Kazakhstan funds only 2-3% of GDP), lack of experienced professors staff (many of them still hold to old Soviet methods), lack of information materials, literature, Internet development, electronic databases, lack of students’ responsibility towards their society and future.  Kazakh education is waiting for progressive modification.  The first and most important change comes from mentality of human beings. In order to make significant changes, we need to change ourselves.

The current situation and business world reality dictates to the graduated students: “When you start working, forget what you studied! Let’s start over!”  It is affected by the strong gap between academic university knowledge and practical skills required by public and business institutions.  Out-of-date Soviet educational methods are practiced even after 17 years of independence of Kazakhstan.

I am also concerned about wide habit of “cheating” among Kazakh students at the exams and tests.  Their mentality doesn’t allow them to see the importance of gaining knowledge.  Students use this practice in 80% cases without realizing they are cheating on themselves and their future.  I truly believe – education defines who we are and who we become.

Russian proverb:  “One person is not a warrior in the battle field.” But I believe every single person matters.  I think step by step progressive people of Kazakhstan can change the nation to the better, including education.  My deep-longing dream is to change the world to the better.  Education is one of the tools to fulfill it.”

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Gauche Tea Party and Debunking Myths about me

What fun to have six teachers over to my flat for a little tea party drinking tea and hot cider out of gauche looking tea cups.  I had to laugh, I now realize that punctuality is a universal value held high among all professional teachers around the world.  My teacher friends showed up precisely at 3:00 p.m. and left my place after we talked, ate and played a game right at 7:00 p.m.  The following are some of the sloppy lies that have been told against me at my place of former employment.  Some are so preposterous, they make me laugh!

Myth #1 – Supposedly I’m wanted by the KNB (new variety of KGB) from the city of Karaganda because of something I wrote in a little conference paper last summer. (more on that later)

Myth#2 – Some people suspect I am a CIA agent.  However, an American when hearing that falsehood offered it couldn’t be true because I would need to be polite to everyone.  Apparently it has gotten around that I have been rude to some of my fellow teachers.  On only two occasions have I gone toe to toe with some who claim that what and how I teach is incorrect, that I am wrong in my thinking.  Compared to my Kazakh and Kazakhstani teaching colleagues, I’m just different as an American teacher but I’m no CIA agent.

Myth #3 – A common alibi to get rid of a foreign faculty member at our university is to claim they are unhappy in Kazakhstan, that they can’t cope with the cultural differences.  Sorry, but I had to diffuse that myth by saying these same sad faced people don’t see me with my friends outside of our institution of higher learning. I have many friends and enjoy happy times away from the pressures of work.  But my happiest times are spent in the classroom with my students.  They give me supreme joy even when I am being beaten down by those over me who should not be antagonizing me but rather supporting me.  That is why I’m thankful for my association with AIWC (Almaty International Women’s Club) and also my friends who have become my surrogate family at church.  Many other foreigners who work outside of education in the business world of Almaty and who are from many different nations have suffered some of the same lies and experienced the “needed but not wanted” phenomenon as I have.

Myth#4 – Another lie used against me akin to the prior one is that I’m supposedly not sensitive to the culture I’m a guest in. Apparently I don’t understand the Kazakh and Kazakhstani culture and insist to have my own American way.  There are several problems with that myth, 1) I am teaching in a “western” institution that uses an American system of education, supposedly.  2) I’ve lived and taught in four different cultures (Philippines, China, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine) with the total of 15 years outside of the U.S.  Therefore, I actually know the surface veneer of this former Sovietized culture because of my seven years of living in Ukraine.  Teaching in Kyiv was a good training ground to teach in Almaty, Kazakhstan because the Soviet mentality is every bit in place there as here.  Obviously I know too much which goes back to Myth #2 and why some think I’m a CIA agent. (smile)

8) To be continued in tomorrow’s blog 8)

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More Work Party Photos and Soviet Pedagogy

My first exposure to Soviet pedagogy was in a somewhat unlikely place when I taught English for two years in Harbin, China from 1986-1988.  As teachers and foreign experts, we all lived in a foreign guest compound far removed from the Chinese masses with about five or six other Soviet experts. Add to the mix a few Japanese guys learning how to be chefs, a woman from Ireland, a British man and some other Americans and we had a mini-United Nations. We all had more in common than not, living in the strange but mysterious land of China.

I forget a few of the Soviet peoples’ names but I DO remember there was Nick from Latvia, Isa from Azerbaijan, Larissa from Minsk, Belarus, a quiet guy (because he didn’t know much English) from Georgia, another physicist who didn’t believe in dreams, maybe one or two others.  Every day for noon lunch, my American teammates and I would sit together in the big dining room as foreign experts and talk about different things related to China, teaching and life outside of China.  That was the first time I realized there was an undercurrent of nationalism going on with each country represented from the U.S.S.R. Each Russian speaker was very proud of his own nation before the U.S.S.R. took over only sharing in Russian and the same educational background. Of course they were all Soviet citizens and even though we were still in the middle of the Cold War, we all got along.  Joking and eating together, going to banquets, dances and fashion shows when our university dictated when and where we were supposed to go.  I have fond memories of our foreign guest quarters with the mix of cultures.

Two events alerted me to the difference in teaching methodology of the Soviets compared to what I was trained in as an American teacher.  First, some friends of mine in the compound wanted to learn ballroom dancing from Nick, the physicist from Latvia. Nick was an excellent dancer and swept us all off our feet.  However, it was reported back to me that he was an absolute tyrant and drill master when the girls took lessons from him.  Sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they would say, “What’s with Nick?”  I put that together with Larissa, the Russian teacher who also got very uppity about the peculiarities of her language.  Not sure if Belarussian was her first language, if that even exists. I’m guessing it does but that never came up.  They were Soviet citizens, their lingua franca was Russian.  In any case, Larrisa would take on this same persona of joyless, drill master when we asked her about some Russian phrases.

This made me realize almost twenty-five years ago that our western system of teaching was vastly different from that of the Soviets.  Teaching in China I was reacquainted with what I already knew from working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines about teacher-centered vs. student-centered. That’s a huge given that the Chinese approach to teaching is teacher-centered but I witnessed the Soviet system was the same, teacher-centered driven. 

What have I learned these past two years since teaching in Kazakhstan about the Soviet pedagogy? The following is what I picked up off of Johnson’s Russia List, a highly subscribed blog.  The following are paraphrased observations made by a Ukrainian, Vladimir Sirotin from the Johnson’s Russia List JRL 2009 – 219. from November 30, 2009.

The founding father of Soviet pedagogy in the Stalin and post-Stalin era was Anton Makarenko (1888-1939) a Ukrainian.  He had tried to eradicate a problem that had started in Ukraine a decade before with forced collectivization that separated families.  Many Ukrainian children lost their parents due to their refusal to comply with the dictates coming from Moscow. As a result, the parents often were either killed or sent off to Siberia.  Thus, children ran in packs like wild dogs without adult supervision and were known for crimes of theft and other misdemeanors in order to survive. Once caught, there was heavy handed discipline in orphanages and schools were a result to tame these wild urchins found in Russia, Ukraine and elsewhere. 

Before Makarenko’s seven volumes on how to discipline, there existed Domostroi, (means “Domestic Order) an old Russian book, dating back over 500 years, which served as a handbook on how to run a patriarchal household.  It emphasized strict hierarchy and laying down punishments for disobedience, including corporal punishment. 

(To be continued tomorrow)

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Energy, Renewal, Refreshment = Vacation

My Kazakh students are why I LOVE teaching here in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  A real teacher worth their salt would understand that first sentence. However, there are some of my students who are very, very lazy and yet expect to get a good grade.  I’m flabbergasted.  I gave a questionnaire today to my two listening classes, some of whom I am very proud of.  Others who should not be in this particular academic class at all!!!  The problem is, they don’t know they are of such low skill level. 

Another problem is that these immature, undisciplined students make fun of the diligent, good students who are in the same class.  Some of these yahoos have missed so many classes, for no good reason, or for very lame excuses.  They didn’t think to come to talk to me during office hours or ask their classmates what they missed.  NOW, they come snivelling into my office hoping for a break, a chance to do their final project by powerpoint.  Sorry, if they have already proven to me by their tardiness, absenteeism and deliquency, they will not have the privilege to present for my foreigner friends whom I’ve invited to come and listen and help evaluate their projects. 

I guess these poor students wrongly thought that this student-centered, American teacher was too easy going and lax to pay attention to attendance.  Wrong, I have to be both in this setting!  I have to be who I am as a student-centered teacher in a very rugged, teacher-oriented environment.  I need a vacation!!!

My academic writing classes are performing much better. I was very, very proud of their presentations yesterday and wished there had been foreigners to witness what they had learned from their final papers. 

I took these photos about a month ago, it is a significant monument close to Miras School off of El-Farabi.  I wish I knew more about it, I’ve been told different stories but I’d like to have the definitive answer to it.  For now, I need a vacation where I can regroup, energize, renew and refresh myself.  Going into the mountains seems as good as any plan so far.

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Teaching Our Hearts Out! (Part III)

Which approach (student-centered or teacher-centered) works best with digital natives and why?

D. – Digital natives need up-to-date approaches.  Modern technologies make the learning process easier and more effective, so teachers should have obligatory to use them.

R. – Majority of foreign teachers work best with digital natives.  Learner-Centered paradigm about professor role is much preferred by students because the professor is not only giver of primary information but also coaching and facilitating.  It makes education process much more interesting and involves the student in it.

A. – Today the impact of new technology is great.  People cannot live without using it in their lives.  Even education uses information technology.  Mobile phones, internet, e-mail and so on.  Everything in our lives I think it makes our living easy in this world.

A.S. I think I prefer Learning-centered paradigm because students are actively involved in the lesson.  They will improve their skill by their work they will not have ready materials they will do some research.  Also, learning by portfolios and papers can exactly show your performance, your progress.

Y. – As we already know, nowadays, it is impossible to live without any digital device (such as mobile phone/computer) so I think it is important to interact with digital natives via Internet.

X.– Our generation has many differences from the previous one.  Firstly, we prefer new system of education, we prefer to do everything with the help of electronic devices.

A. – Student centered is working better for us as digital natives, we work with computers and we learn from our mistakes.

N. – With digital natives, American approach works best, because they can easily find information using the computer.

D. – I suggest to Kazakh teachers to keep up step by step with time. Because NOW our world, technology, medicine, everything is not standing in one place, it’s changing everyday and month.  To teachers and students I also suggest to refresh their knowledge.

J.– students get numerous information from the mass-media these days.  So, rather than emphasizing one right answer, it is important to respect and listen to everyone’s different thoughts.

I. – Digital Natives are more independent and in good touch with technology.

A. – With student centered approach there appears interaction between students and professor.  Their students interest rises consequently professors get what he wanted, the interested to his subject.

If changes should be made at our university with teaching methodology, what should they be? If not, what is good about our university?

D. B.- Provide our Kazakh teachers access to modern trends in teaching, organize professional discussions, maybe some one chares his experience or ideas.

D. – I’m taking this writing class a second time and I love my second practice because the teacher is in touch with the students.  My first teacher even did not work with students on how to do a bibliography and reduced our scores for not right work.  I think more experienced teachers have to give some kind of “lecture” to these other teachers as a refresher course.  Maybe the first teacher was not new but she needs some work with teaching methodology.

K. – The professors create an atmosphere in which the student feels himself very organized, focused in learning, in good discipline and developing his individual skills.  It is a good and friendly atmosphere at our university where professors and students are learning together!

V. – As far as I am concerned, learner-centered paradigm is better.  But it is definitely not for lazy students.  But the teacher-centered paradigm is too old to work with digital natives.  I like the reminders via e-mail about assignments, it helps a lot and is the personal approach.  It should definitely be improved at our university.

Y. – In my opinion, we should write more papers like essays, short journals, to upgrade our writing skills first.  In my view, it is a good way to divide writing in three courses (Academic Writing I, II and III).

A. – Foreign teachers are more creative, they are trying to make classes interesting.  But, our Kazakh teachers try to give us all their experience.

X. – maybe change the way we write self-studies in order to kill plagiarism.  Do self-studies in class instead.  Another problem, is our textbook, it isn’t interesting, its boring.

A. – Our Kazakh students may become rude if lessons become too learner centered. They will not follow and listen to the teacher because she gave freedom.



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