Reflection

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Claim your own growth

Photo: Grow by David Joyce on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I learn a lot in conversation with others. I learn so much blogging. There are some insightful people who take their time to read me and respond to what I say. This post was initiated in one such exchange with my friend Scott Johnson. Reminiscing on my learning a few months ago when attending the Edtech Team Brazil GAFE Summit, I poured out what resonated with me regarding the use of portfolios and how they fascinate me. Scott chimed in with the following words:

Clarissa, I’m interested in the portfolio idea as a form of claiming our efforts as authentically won plus as a tool of being a conscious learner. Sometimes we need to remind others that we are serious about our growth.

There’s so much packed in those two sentences.

Life is not easy, and professional development is most definitely an effortful endeavor. It requires commitment, a vision, and a purpose. We learn so much on the way but so many of us end up not keeping track of our development by engaging in some kind of self-reflection. To me that’s the true purpose of a portfolio. It’s a way to track your progress, to take stock of what you’ve learned. But it is only when we engage in reflection, when we actually examine the curves and the paths we chose to take along the way that we are able to attain a more concrete sense of achievement, of development. It is your reflecting on your own development that makes you aware of your own learning. And I guess that openly engaging in that reflection and declaring yourself to the world impacts your self-image and your self-worth more deeply than we might perceive if we go about our lives in auto pilot, just reacting to whatever experiences happen to us along the way. Being aware of your own achievements makes you care about achieving anything to begin with.

It is all about reminding yourself and the world that you are serious about your own growth. That you care. And that you purposefully work for it.

This blog is my portfolio. Here I have shared so many reflections on what has happened to me along my way of professional and in so many levels my personal development. This is my way of claiming my little bit of space in the world. As my friend Scott put it:

Clarissa, in art class we did portfolios to demonstrate that we had some claim to a place in the world. Not just dreamy and lost in ourselves but tangible actors with presence. This was very hard for some I think they had never been asked for THEIR thoughts and as students we were used to only being asked for what others thought.

Tangible actors with presence. Engaging in self-reflection and declaring our learning and our worth to the world is powerful. Forming our own opinions about ourselves is powerful. Asking ourselves the questions that enable us to dig deeper and find our hidden talents, our voices.

How do we come to feel worthy to put ourselves out there? To show what we can do? Some are confident and just blast ahead but that leaves a lot of students behind. And even confident people can hesitate when they feel less than competent. How to remove the barrier of not being “good-enough-yet” might be possible with a portfolio where a student can see their path and understand it as growth from effort?

I believe that we come to feel worthy to put ourselves out there by leaning on people who care, who believe that we all have something unique to contribute to the world. I believe that we all need to go through the “not-good-enough-yet” feeling and conquer it – not be paralyzed by it. Going through that process is an important part of your growth. We need a support system, a group of people who are willing to start the reflection process. We need other people to read us and talk to us about our reflections. That’s how we grow.

How can we start a culture of self-reflection on one’s own professional development? I guess we need to value our own answers to questions like What have you achieved so far? What are your goals? What is your vision? If we want to create a portfolio culture among our students, we first need to inspire and support teachers along the way. We need to create a sandbox for teachers to feel as learners and engage in building their own portfolios. Teachers need to experience first-hand the empowerment that comes from claiming their own growth.

Thank you, @scottx5 , for taking the time to talk to me here.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and from whoever feels they have something to say on all this! That’s how we grow.

Little did I know

I named this post after my blog on purpose. I’d like to do a little retrospective of 2014, the year I began this blog. It will also be a year to remember for many, many other reasons, some of which I’m hoping to share with you on this post. So, here we go.

Little did I know that I would come to find blogging as an inspiring means of expression. I began blogging in January 2014, something which I had been meaning to do for quite a while, but which had always felt like it was not meant for me. What ever would I have to say that other people would even be interested in reading? So it turns out that, hey, some people do. And that’s great. So many inspiring conversations have taken place in this little domain of my own, my digital home.

Little did I know that I would have grown a professional (and personal!) learning network on Twitter. Even though I had joined Twitter in 2009, it was only in 2014 that something clicked and it just felt like the right time to dive in the Twitterverse. And boy am I glad I did. Twitter has enabled me to connect to so many bright, interesting people from all around the globe. I have learned so much from these connections, each of them a whole universe of learning just waiting to happen.

Little did I know that I would find my tribe online. And so I did when I joined Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning – a.k.a. #rhizo14 – midway. I was the crazy Brazilian who seemed to crash some cool folks’ party, but ended up being an exotic addition to the community/curriculum. It was in #rhizo14 that I made my first Egyptian friend, who would later invite me to join her and other fellow educators to be a part of EdContexts, another cool community of scholars looking to voice Educators from the global south. Also in #rhizo14, I made an Anglo-French friend, a poet, a fellow EFL teacher as myself, who invited me to join the #Clavier Community. Seedlings that are still shooting forth, full of promise and possibility.

Little did I know that I would find so much inspiration in Connected Courses. I would dive in every now and then, and I would always resurface with something new. I learned about Edupunk, for one. I listened to some very bright minds talk about the future of Education. I spent weeks on end reflecting about my why. That was about the time when the seeds of all my messy learning began yielding fruit in my f2f life. A couple of new ideas to foster some sense of community among teachers and among my own group of admins.

My 2014 best books: Drive by Daniel H. Pink and Now You See It by Cathy N. Davidson

My 2014 most inspirirational blog posts: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression by Maha Bali and The Art of Slowing Down Learning by Tania Sheko

My 2014 must-watch videos: the Edupunk Battle Royale (all five parts) by Educoz with Jim Groom and Gardner Campbell and Why we need a “Why”? by Mike Wesch in Connected Courses

My 2014 must-watch TED talks: The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and #OurVoice by George Couros

My 2014 women that rock (bright & beautiful!): Bonnie Stewart, Carla Arena, Maha Bali and Tanya Lau

My 2014 men that rock: Simon Ensor, Keith Hamon, Shyam Sharma and Terry Elliot

 To all the people who made this year memorable, thank you.

 shared.

 

 

Reflections on Context

I teach English as a foreign language to Brazilian upper-middle/middle class teenagers aged 14 to 17. All of them are at that stage of their educational trajectories where they are being primed for academic life in university. A vast majority of them go to renowned private high schools whose core goal rests in getting their students into the best universities and colleges in the country. That means that these kids are being prepared for competition, especially those who are aiming at prestigious careers, such as Medicine or Law, to name a few.

Pedagogically speaking, these kids’regular schools are pretty conservative. Students are grouped in large numbers (30 to 40 students) and classses are delivered lecture-style, with the teacher being the expert in charge of passing on the knowledge necessary for these kids to make it to the next big thing in their lives – college and the prospect of a promising professional life, which will provide the means for ensuring a comfortable life, much like the one they already have with their parents. Another contextual aspect particular to our city (Brasília, the capital city of Brazil) is that a career in public service is also among many of these kids professional future prospects. Being able to pass a public examination for a prestigious career in Congress, for example, means high salaries and life-long professional stability. On top of that, many of these kids parents are civil servants themselves, naturally being role models for their kids.

It’s a culture of competition the one in which our teenage students are born and raised. High-stakes tests are the gateways to a prosperous future, and the gatekeepers are the schools and teachers who make getting as many of their youth as possible inside a good university their highest priority. Schools actually use college entrance exam rankings for the purpose of advertisement. They are highly competitive and lucrative enterprises. It makes perfect sense that these schools prepare their students to do well on tests. After all, we live in an assessment-driven culture. Students’ performances are measured and primed for passing tests, and passing tests equals successful professional future. It is common for these high schoolers to spend their Saturdays taking tests at school and spending their whole week, mornings and afternoons, in school, both attending their regular classes and engaging in academic activities, such as writing workshops, where they practice writing academic essays in a product-oriented approach.

These are only some aspects of the cultural fabric of which we, EFL teachers, are also a part. It is our goal to teach these kids English, the language that will open even more doors to a prosperous future. Any job or career worth pursuing nowadays requires individuals who have very high levels of proficiency in English. These kids’ regular schools fail at teaching the language itself, since their goal is to prepare them to pass a test about the language, something which they can do without being able to speak or write fluently in English. That’s where we come in. Our goal is to teach these kids the language itself, and not only about the language. Our classes are taught in English, and we adopt a no-Portuguese policy in the classroom. We adopt communicative methodologies, aiming at developing students’proficiency in English in all four skills, understanding (reading and listening) and producing (writing and speaking) the language fluently and accurately. A majority of our students start their English studies with us as little kids, staying with us until teenagehood, when they will have reached upper-intermediate to advanced levels of English proficiency. By the time they reach these high levels of English proficiency, most of them will have been studying with us for about 6 to 7 years.

The schooling experience of most of the teenagers that I have in my upper-intermediate and advanced level English classes is a very traditional, teacher-centered, high-stakes-test driven experience on a daily basis, as I have briefly described above. It’s a grinding routine in which they wake up very early, have classes the entire morning, have lunch (many times at school) and come over to our institute for their twice-a-week English lessons. Their classroom experience with us is different from their experience in their regular schools in some aspects. Our classes are smaller, with about 18 students in each group. The classrooms themselves are smaller and we adopt a U-shaped seating arrangement of desks. As I’ve mentioned before, we adopt communicative methodologies. Our teachers are trained to facilitate classes that are student-centered and dynamic, fostering plenty of genuine communication. We adopt course books that are the core of these classes, though teachers are encouraged to make the necessary adaptations to course books in order to address their students needs. Group work and pair work dynamics are widely adopted and are an important element in the communicative dynamics implemented in our classes.

Still, my teenage students are tired, and understandably so, given their high school routines. And even though their schooling experience with us bears many differences from their regular schooling, written tests, essays and grades are also important components of our courses. They need to do homework, write paragraphs and essays, and take tests on grammar and vocabulary, as well as reading and listening comprehension. I have often felt that my classes might be coming across as more of the same for my teenagers, despite all my efforts to engage them in energizing discussions and collaborative dynamics with their peers. I mean, these kids have been our students for nearly a decade. It’s as if they have already been intensely exposed to our repertoire of communicative dynamics and activities, no matter how much we personalize and adapt and revamp what goes on in the classroom.

I’m thinking of ways to rethink their engagement. I’m thinking, and looking around, and getting acquainted with other pedagogic practices. Lately something has caught my attention – project based learning. I have been really curious about it and on a quest for learning more about what it is, and how to implement it. I want to write more about it soon, but for now, I will let these reflections on my context sit in my mind a while longer.