Posts tagged IELTS

“Bad Writer is a Bad English Teacher”…oh really?!

The attached photo is a wonderfully warm, Kazakh teacher who got hurt by her own educational system while teaching at a westernized university in Almaty. I knew her to be a good, motherly type mentor to her university students.  She is neither a bad writer or bad teacher but her superiors dismissed her without any explanation.  I’ll withhold her name but let it be known that I witnessed several painful injustices (my own included) within this so-called institute of higher learning while teaching three and a half years in Kazakhstan.

I want to highlight the writings from two Kazakh women in this blog. One I know only from reading a website titled “Vox Populi” and the other is a former student of mine.  I think the two go together because they are suffering the same angst of living in a country of Kazakhstan that is going through phenomenal growth spurts.  There’s baggage from what used to exist from the Soviet Union, yet hopeful anticipation in what could be their future in Kazakshtan.  The first one is named Madina and a summary of what she said in Russian in an interview to Vox Populi after I used Google translation.

“A typical dream for us 30 year olds in Kazakhstan is to go where we feel our rights are not violated, where there is law and order and where the government works for its citizens.  I am part of an astonishing generation, we were born in the Soviet era where we grew up during the breakup of a single state (USSR) but have taken off running during the construction of a new nation (Kazakhstan). Therefore, many of our own parents will never understand that we have a sense of choice.

When I was 27 years old, I began to choke on what surrounded me, the country, the people, our laws.  My friends and I found the easiest way out, we just ran away and left for a half a year to the United States.  America seemed at that moment a bulwark of democracy.  I left Kazakhstan with the underlying idea of staying in the U.S.  This is so typical of us to dream to go somewhere else…but experience showed us all the same problems in the U.S.  Eden, NO!  I went back to Kazakhstan but I came back more relaxed.  I learned to accept the imperfections of the world.

Even with blatant injustice in Kazakhstan, my contribution is to keep working on this project to uncover everything that happens in our country to show a different life, to expose social problems and talk about difficult situations.  Unfortunately, I am not a revolutionary in spirit, to ride with a sword.  Also, I do not like publicity, but I admire people who are active citizens righting wrongs.  If we had a “Swamp,” I would have walked out.  No, instead I have gotten up on a stage, not to be encouraged but to be listened to and supported.  Civic engagement in Kazakhstan doesn’t happen because the majority believes that stability is better than change.”

Here’s the second one from Aigerim, a former student of mine who nails it about where the problem of slavery works into the mindset of the Kazakh citizen. She was a teacher who got in trouble with her superiors for pointing out some errors in her contract.  They are to teach critical thinking to their classes but at the same time they are to obey and not object to injustices.  She is NOT a bad person, teacher or writer…read on:

“Bad writer is a bad English teacher. I want to be a good teacher, or at least not another person reciting same old song or grammar rule. I stand firm on the point that any skills or knowledge taught should be relevant.

When I conducted IELTS classes at my former work place, which is an elite focused and fully funded from President`s fund, I committed to turn this extra-curricular free of charge classes into a writing experiment. We watched and reflected on films, then wrote on blogs. Some of students created and posted their own poetry. Indeed, learners came up to a stage where they reflected on their lives. They wrote great essays about teenage suicides and problems of education in our country.

While my students were making their best in critical thinking, my own free speaking brought me into trouble with a department manager as I enquired too many questions on controversial points in a contract. Well, I don`t regret appealing against bosses, I am quite happy with my new job. When my writers learned about my resignation due to my being a wrong format, one student replied with a phrase that still warms my heart, “If you’re A4 format and they’re A5 (smaller), that doesn’t mean you’re a bad teacher, you’re just different.”

Young people can think critically until they are framed into stupid rules. Nowadays it is common to think that you have to say what your teacher wants to hear and you get a point, do what your boss wants and keep your place of employment. The problem of slavery exists not only on construction sites and massage parlors, but in thoughts and enslaved wills of ordinary people.

My colleagues were obedient and got another year of their teaching contract. However, I wonder whether these teachers are able to teach young people to think critically and act globally.”

I love my former student’s writing about being different and indeed she is NOT a bad teacher or a bad writer.  On days like this, I feel the same where it is difficult to write and English is my native language.  Some days I feel defeated in trying to explain from my “A4 framework” that I don’t fit in with the A5 environment whether it is in the U.S. OR in Kazakhstan.

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Kazakh Teachers’ Views about Education in Kazakhstan

I am using the astute writings from my former Kazakh students who are teachers in Kazakhstan’s educational system. They, of anyone, should know what is needed for changes to happen (and quickly). During our Professional Development classes, I had them respond on Moodle to a slideshow I had gotten from a friend of mine who worked at Chevron. Her position was that of facilitating change in different countries by “change management.” She was quite persuasive that things could not continue in “this is the way we have always done it.”  She had been a guest speaker to my MBA classes when I taught in Almaty.  I still had her ppt presentation which is what my ten teachers watched and responded to in the context of thinking about changing management in education. Here are their views:

Student #1 – When I saw the ppt about Change Management, for the first time I thought about the possible “business plan” for the future. I have never thought that the management system in companies like Chevron are so alike the ones we have at schools and there could be any resemblance between schools and companies.

Change Agents? Wow, that sounds very intriguing. Like spies. I think what I’ve learned for these 20 weeks can be very useful not only for me and my colleagues, but also for the school where I will work in future. I know that at first it will be hard to “force” our ideas onto the management and the older teachers with many years of experience; and they won’t listen to us and take our words so easily. We have to show in practice what we have learned and gain respect, and then take some actions in the way changes.

I remember what one of PDP classmates said to me about what her advisor said to her once: “I know that you have better scores in IELTS than the others teachers do, and you are currently having courses about new teaching technologies and can work with computer tools; but this doesn’t mean that you can teach better than they do. They have a HUGE bag of teaching experience and worked methods. That’s why it is better to learn from them how to successfully get the main goals of teaching and teach THEM what you’ve learned at Nazarbayev University at PDP classes”. These were the words of her advisor.

Nevertheless, I think that if a person has something in mind and desire to make it happen, he will do it anyway. But this may need some time and great efforts. I wish good luck to all my group-mates in the “battle” for changes!

Student #2 – During all these months I learned many things that I had never heard before. I used to think that teaching was mostly boring. Actually, it was boring for me when I studied at the institute and had practice at schools.

What I like about the course is I was taught by a professional Western teacher. The first advantage is we had a foreign atmosphere in our lessons. And the second one is we learned about the disadvantages of our Kazakh schools. If we had a professional Kazakh teacher, I doubt if we could deal with that.

Now, it is our turn to show what we were taught, to make change in classroom atmosphere. WE know so many things and can apply any of them at school. We can use surveys (Survey Monkey), for writing, guest invitations for speaking and many other things. The most important is that we should stay in the way even after completion, because there would be no one to help us. And we should learn for ourselves and self-develop. I don’t want years later to meet my group mates, who didn’t use what we learned in PDP with her students. On my part, I will try to do my best to teach what I know to my environment. The majority of the teachers at NIS have been in a foreign country and also know about the modern ways of teaching. Sharing the experiences, we will be able to build a new society at school.”

(to be continued)

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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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Trust, Tolerance, Traditions and Transparency

Such nice alliterations, impressive words that will be bandied about by very important people from 55 different countries in a couple of weeks in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I’d like to write about the last one concerning “Transparency” based on conversations I have had with Kazakhs in the last several days.  For instance, after showing a movie this weekend Ken and I sat around and talked about a LOT of things not related to the movie with our Kazakh friends. We had just shown “You’ve Got Mail” at American Corner. Simple storyline of guy gets the girl but only after a confusing, non-transparent romance over Internet for the balance of the movie.

For some reason we got on the subject about corruption. I brought up how Ken, my economist husband, had been given a bribe in Ukraine from a Nigerian woman who wanted to pass his MBA course.  She had slipped two one hundred dollar bills in a book that she gave back to him. When he went to the rector to complain about it, the rector didn’t believe him. Also, this woman named Caroline, denied doing it.  Unfortunately, she was out her $200 bribe money and she also did not pass the course. She was abysmally slow and perhaps in Ukraine on false pretenses on a student visa. Ken gave the two bills to a deserving American couple who work with orphans.

I told this story to my Kazakh audience with the same aghast feelings that we both felt back five years ago when this happened.  The Kazakhs knowingly smiled at me and admitted, “happens all the time here in Kazakhstan…nothing surprising about that.”  Wow, Ken and I come from a world at the grass roots level, where nothing like bribing and corruption happens. Garden variety Americans like us don’t have to worry about paying someone off or being cheated out of something due to nepotism.  I know there is a Transparency Index and Kazakhstan is not illuminated as high on that chart, nor are any of the former Soviet Union countries, for that matter.

As a result of this topic that was brought up on corruption, I found out about two women who had applied for the Bolashak program and had taken the requisite IELTS exam.  (This is the British form of the TOEFL exam that checks their English level of reading, speaking, listening and writing skills).  The one woman who explained what had happened to her back in 2003 claimed that she never did find out her IELTS scores. Two years later she found out that she had indeed passed and she was supposed to have been awarded the Bolashak scholarship.  Her parents hadn’t pursued it and when the police came by to investigate the charges, they didn’t sign the paper for her to seek retribution.  This had happened to another person, exact same time.  Out of seven people, this had happened to two of them?  Not good!

Apparently now, to rectify this problem of weak candidates buying off the grades of other people’s passing scores for the IELTS exam, they assure the test takers that their scores will be sent to them within two weeks, directly to their home address.  So, whoever was in charge of the tests over five years ago preyed upon those who didn’t pursue what the test results were. Apparently they gave those good, passing scores to someone else who was able to pay for this prestigious award.  Believe me, I have seen a few of those returning Bolashak “scholars” who went to the U.K. and were awarded a masters degree after only one year of study who clearly still have trouble with their English grammar and writing.  How they were able to cobble together a paper for their final project is baffling to me. There needs to be more transparency in the Bolashak program and perhaps they are working on that. The existing environment in Kazakhstan is so strong that works against people who have integrity and want to reward those of merit.  Corruption abounds in the education sector yet we hold out hope that the new university in Astana will be different, transparent and corruption free.

Another example of bribes came up in class yesterday with one of the teachers who hails from the south of Kazakhstan where nepotism and corruption apparently is much more rampant than in the northern part of Kazakhstan.  She somehow landed a job in the north and when she got her first paycheck that was a significant increase, she and her husband fretted for weeks about how much money they were supposed to pay to whomever for this gift of a better salary.  She was so used to “oiling the skids” in order to get things done where she came from, she was incredulous that she didn’t have to slip money to anyone.  When she told her boss about her fears three or four months later, the boss just laughed as we all did in the classroom.  She admitted that that is the way things are accomplished in Kazakhstan, you pay your way to get the better grade or better position or better title.

So, it goes with traditions, if this is the Kazakh way, how are they going to convince outside investors from the West that they are transparent in all their actions? What are we as westerners to trust in the way of contracts that are written in English words that are not clearly understood by those people whose first language is either Kazakh or Russian.  Are we as westerners supposed to tolerate what we deem as dishonest? Kazakhs who have worked hard should be given their due, but instead they are elbowed out of their rightful positions because they don’t have enough money to pay off those in power.  How are these incidents that work against Kazakh people going to be discussed at the upcoming meeting?  I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear all that will be said or NOT said about trust, tolerance, traditions and transparency.

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Photos of New Astana and Kazakhstan’s students

This morning I went back to the old part of Astana to talk to a class of 11th graders.  I had fun doing Carolyn Graham Jazz Chants with them.  They were very good at keeping to the beat and speaking out the words in unison while repeating after me.  The students took turns from each side of the room and they seemed to have fun with doing “Banker’s Wife’s Blues” and “This is Mine” and a few others.

I asked these young students to give to their Kazakh teacher written essays telling me about their grandparents.  I had given them a chance to tell me orally anything about what they knew about their grandma or grandpa after I told them about my Norwegian great grandpa who had settled in North Dakota.  Silence.  My friend who is only about 4-5 years older than her students was a bit miffed that they were so quiet for me.  I told my young friend, “No problem, just get them to write about their grandparents.”  She responded, “They dont’ like to write either.”  I said, that if they were planning on passing the IELTS test, that they would need to write.  Period…Full stop!!!

We shall see if I get any essays next week.  I then went to the Open Clinic after that short 45 minutes with the class of about 25 students.  That was an agonizing wait to find out what is wrong with my left arm.  I saw many children with their mothers.  I took photos after reading magazines and trying not to be too bored.  After an hour and half wait, we finally got to into Door #4 after about 3-4 people had been ahead of us.  So interesting to see corridor protocol at work in Kazakhstan’s medical facilities.  People pop their head in and interrupt the doctors at work as if they can multi-task.  No nurses or receptionists are there to protect the doctor/patient relationship. We had to pay on the spot for this consultation of 2,000 tenge which is over $10.  However, I think we value our time much more in the U.S. and hate to wait that long.  Unfortunately, I need to go back early tomorrow a.m. to do a blood test at this same Open Clinic.  I hope drawing my blood doesn’t take as long.  I only have a dull ache in my left arm, why am I going through all this trauma of waiting and waiting?

Okay, as promised I’ll show more photos of Astana, the new part.  After today, I am ready for the new generation of Kazakhstan to take over the medical services industry.  

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Opening of New University in Astana, Kazakhstan

Today was a most auspicious occasion for many people at the newly built university campus with the official opening of the huge building complex in Astana.  Very high security was around because the president of the country was in attendance doing the honors, after all this university is named after him.  The photos can tell all (my words get in the way) about what the Kazakh students will experience once the main doors are actually opened to them in September.  I am very excited for those Kazakh students who have been accepted thus far. They have passed through some very rigid but necessary testing (IELTS and TOEFL exams) to make sure their level of English is prepared enough for taking in all the lectures and classes in English.  Many qualified English teachers in different subject areas from U.K. and U.S. will be overseeing the students’ instruction.  The future of Kazakhstan depends on these enthusiastic, young people to learn very quickly in order to compete with the rest of the world in business, technology and industry.  Many American “partners” from western universities were in attendance and others who could not attend gave speeches through closed circuit t.v. in big, airy rooms.  These are exciting times for all of us in Astana and throughout Kazakhstan where many of our highly qualified students are coming from!!!

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Three Different Kazakh students short writings

These Kazakh students’ writings (averaging about 160 words) were written in 30 minutes by my young, impressionable students.  What they wrote caught my eye because they had a clear message.  Whether you agree or not with these students and what they wrote doesn’t matter.  For my purposes, I just asked them to write what their grandparents thought of the past.  A few answered the question directly, others just gave OTHER interesting information. I’m going to have to work on their specifically answering the question as they prepare for the IELTS test…

Essay #1 I have a great story…Great story about my grandfather.  He died 3-4 years ago. But his name will never be forgotten because of his way, sacred way…My grandfather’s name is Nurmakhan.  He lived in southern Kazakhstan, near the city of Shymkent, in Abais ayl.  So in this ayl (very little city) there is a place where there’s a lot of stones.  When he was just a little boy, his mother (my grand grandmother) placed him near these huge stones.  And I think that the ability which he had, he climbed up at this young age.  Today this place name is “Gaiyp eren Kyryk shilten” [not sure what this means in English] and many people as tourists come to this place.  If you have a problem with your health, or if you want anything else you can go to this place.  As a result, many people thanks our God.  It’s really sacred place with healthy water, with interesting and amazing stones.  Just I can’t describe this place, just go and see for yourself!!!

#2 I don’t agree with my grandparents

I know my grandparents thought very well about the Soviet Union because they’ve never seen Kazakhstan without Soviet Union.  They thought that Kazakhstan couldn’t live, couldn’t exist without the Soviet Union.  My grandparents said to their sons that Moscow is the capital city of their Motherland.  I don’t agree with my grandparents.  I think my Kazakhstan is a country which can decide own problems about country.  Nowadays I’m shocked how my grandparents said that Kazakhstan lived only with Soviet Union and Russia. It is not really so.  Of course, Kazakhstan and Russia are partners, economically and politically.  But Kazakhstan isn’t a republic which depends on another country.

My grandfather was a tractorist and my grandmother was a teacher.  My grandfather participated in the II Patriotic War.  Maybe it influenced my grandparents.  I know that for my grandparents, their motherland is Soviet Union.  Maybe for my parents too.  But for me, my motherland is my Kazakhstan, my KZ.  I love my motherland!

Essay #3 Kazakhstan’s economics is not so good

There are many problems but first of all, I think we should fight against corruption.  Why do I want it?  Because corruption disturbs the development of our country.  For example, the level of education might be better but unfortunately many of our students often hope for their dad’s money, therefore our country doesn’t have enough clever workers.  And second, what I have noticed is that many buildings are built not good enough.  Due to half of that money which should have been spent on good houses or on different buildings, some people take.   We have many, many problems like this in our country.  Now, I don’t know how I can solve this problem but I can just offer to study hard and not make the same mistakes as other parents.  To sum up, I think corruption is our great problem, so it will be my first aim to solve it.

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Photos of Manhole Cover and Carpets

What can I write today? I’ve been at the office all day and it turned out to be a fun with a birthday party at the end of it for a 22 year old secretary named Irina.  During the day I gave an English proficiency test among my 30 plus Kazakh work colleagues to four groups.  I also promoted the next movie we will watch with English subtitles on Friday as a whole group, Steve Martin’s “Pink Panther.”  We had about 13 people watch “Julie and Julia” last Friday night but this time it will be during the standard work break for lunch from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.  I gave each person a handout with some of the vocabulary words from the movie to look up in Russian so when they hear it in English and see the English words in the subtitles, it will be like an “immersion” experience for almost two hours. Some of these people do not know ANY English, they will be in my “basic elementary” grouping for twice weekly instruction.

Some Kazakh people from work (many different departments such as finance, accounting, H.R. logistics, construction, etc.) claimed they didn’t want to hang around for the movie until after work lets out at 7:00, getting them home by 9:00 or so.  Okay, so we adjust, Friday lunch break may be our movie time.

I also discovered among my work colleagues, there are some extremely competitive people concerning their English proficiency skills.  Wow, what passion to get the grammar just right, to know the difference between an adjective and noun such as scarce and scarcity.  Or one word that had MANY of the people flummoxed was the word “conducive.”  Also, we went round about the synonyms “takes place” and “occur” as in an event or meeting.  There seems to be a difference according to the British but as Americans we wouldn’t know the nuances of that and other words in the IELTS quick placement test.

Since I don’t have much energy to write beyond just that, here are some photos from here in Astana or from Almaty.  Manhole covers gives us all pause in Kazakhstan and a weird preoccupation that we wouldn’t give a second thought to in the U.S.  I’ve had two American friends fall in to manholes and hurt themselves badly because they weren’t paying attention to where they were walking.  Most people from the former Soviet Union, however, know NEVER to step on manhole covers. These covers are remarkable here in Kazakhstan because you often see men working near them with long wires or some covers are missing entirely, but not necessarily true in this new city of Astana, Kazakhstan.

I also wanted to show Kazakh carpets, one I bought back in 1993 in Almaty, the other is my friend Julia’s carpet that she recently bought in Almaty at a very good deal. I would like to buy a carpet here in Astana once I get paid. Again, Americans are different about their carpets.  We walk on them with our street shoes on without a second thought, whereas here in Central Asia you show respect by NOT walking on these pieces of art.  You must wear indoor slippers and NOT your shoes that you used outside.  Manhole cover and carpets, I guess I had something to write about afterall.

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