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Category Archives: ESL

Sunday Floating Life photo 33 AND Friday poem 18

Is that confusing enough for you?

Peter Skrzynecki’s “Immigrants at Central Station, 1951” was the subject of my tuition session yesterday. The coachee is doing the ESL course in English. On my way I took some pictures of Central from the perspective of the speaker in the poem – as I read it anyway. (We read the poem carefully so he could see why I had chosen my angles.) Of course it isn’t 1951 any more, but I do vividly remember migrant camps, and Central Station in the 1950s. What follows the poem is a sketch commentary around that HSC topic de jour — “Belonging”.

CIMG3512

Immigrants at Central Station, 1951

It was sad to hear
The train’s whistle this morning
At the railway station.
All night it had rained.
The air was crowded
With a dampness that slowly
Sank into our thoughts –
But we ate it all:
The silence, the cold, the benevolence
Of empty streets.

Time waited anxiously with us
Behind upturned collars
And space hemmed us
Against each other
Like cattle bought for slaughter.

Families stood
With blankets and packed cases –
Keeping children by their sides,
Watching pigeons
That watched them.

But it was sad to hear
The train’s whistle so suddenly –
To the right of our shoulders
Like a word of command.
The signal at the platform’s end
Turned red and dropped
Like a guillotine –
Cutting us off from the space of eyesight

While time ran ahead
Along glistening tracks of steel.

Peter Skrzynecki’s “Immigrants at Central Station” describes a family who with other families has just arrived in Sydney from a migrant camp in western NSW. The poem is about the poet’s own family. As well as describing the scene, the poet tells us a lot about their feeling of not belonging in this new place and their fears about the future.

Their journey to Sydney had been through a night of rain, cutting them off from the landscape they were passing through, making them feel uncomfortable, and echoing their feelings

The air was crowded

With a dampness that slowly

Sank into our thoughts –

The families each huddle together not just for warmth but also because the only sense of belonging they have left is to the family and their few possessions represented by their luggage. In this city whose cold “benevolence” has controlled their lives for years now they feel anxious and lonely. They do not know anyone in those “empty streets”. They don’t even really know where they are going next, or what it will be like when they get there. They feel like “cattle bought for slaughter” or people about to face the guillotine. They have had very little choice in life up to now. But there is nothing they can do except to accept what they are given.

But we ate it all:

The silence, the cold, the benevolence

Of empty streets.

The whistle of the departing train which had left them at Central is a “sad” sound – the poet uses the word twice. The tracks back to where they came from are also tracks into their future. Like the steel of a guillotine blade the tracks are “glistening tracks of steel”. It could be though that the last image offers a little hope, as “glistening” does suggest light.

CIMG3514a

— Photos – Neil Whitfield 1 November 2009

 

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The nitty gritty of English

I have one coachee in Year 12 doing Advanced English for the HSC who presents with a considerable problem. It isn’t lack of intelligence or insight, but rather a level of English that makes it hard for him to demonstrate what he knows effectively. He arrived in Australia from Hong Kong in May 2007. While he had some English language instruction in Hong Kong, he is very much a Cantonese native speaker.

Here is a small example.

In the movie Australian, Baz Luhrmann is dealing with the same sort of idea that an outsider Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidmen), is trying to fit in to a country that is completely new to her. The way she belongs to the new continent is by understanding the aboriginal’s thought and accept the way they live and try to fit in to them. With the introduction of the rough cow’s drover (Hugh Jackman) as an assistance of Sarah Ashley, the drover help her to save her remote cow station. In this case, Sarah not only fit in to the aboriginal society because of her acceptance and understanding, but also affect by the drover, she as an English noble is not really standing on their side, one of the reason is the drover doesn’t want to join the English noble group but there is another important reason base on identity that is when a person belongs to a group they will understanding their thought and support them, which is in this case, the aboriginal kid is being accepted by her as her children in the white man society. Her we can see the connection between the experience of Peter Skrzynecki in “Migrant Hostel” and in Australian, both of them experience a lack of belonging to a place because of the lack of understanding to the place. However, in Australia, Sarah Ashley has successfully understand and accept the Aboriginal culture then finally she is truly belong to the continent which is different to all the white people who live in the continent, they just physically belong to that place but not spiritually belong to this place. The sense of belonging is shown in the final scene of the movie, that Sarah Ashley release and let the Aboriginal kid goes back to his grandpa his root this is a acceptance to a culture, which is a way to belong to a new culture.

Here is the work in progress; I have left a section untouched* because I need to discuss it further with the student. Anything in square brackets is to be deleted.

In the movie Australia Baz Luhrmann is dealing with the same sort of idea: that an outsider, Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman), is trying to fit into a country that is completely new to her. The way she belongs to the new continent is by understanding [the] Aboriginal[’s] thought and accept the way they live and try to fit in with them. [With the introduction of] The rough cattle drover (Hugh Jackman) assists Sarah Ashley, [the drover] helping her to save her remote cattle station. *In this case, Sarah not only fits in to the Aboriginal society because of her acceptance and understanding, but also is affected by the drover. she as an English noble is not really standing on their side, one of the reason is the drover doesn’t want to join the English noble group but there is another important reason base on identity that is when a person belongs to a group they will understanding their thought and support them, which is in this case, the aboriginal kid is being accepted by her as her children in the white man society.*

“Cow” is feminine, “bull” is masculine; “cattle” is the generic or collective noun.

Here we can see the connection between the experience of Peter Skrzynecki in “Migrant Hostel” and Sarah Ashley in Australia. Both of them experience a lack of belonging to a place because of a lack of understanding of the place. However, in Australia, Sarah Ashley has successfully understood and accepted the Aboriginal culture so that finally she is truly able to belong to the continent, which is different from most of the white people who live in the continent, who just physically belong to this place but do not spiritually belong to this place. The sense of belonging is shown in the final scene of the movie when Sarah Ashley [release and] lets the Aboriginal boy go back to his grandfather and his roots. This is an acceptance of a culture, which is a way to belong to a new culture.

In the previous paragraph I have replaced a few examples of colloquial language with more neutral or formal language.

He is, by the way, improving quite rapidly, but still has a long way to go and not much time to get there.

 

Recession solving teacher shortage?

Ironic, isn’t it?

See When going gets tough, get teaching in today’s Australian.

IF Australia slides into recession, Connie and Peter Watson will be among the last to feel it.

As teachers in the public school system for decades, the couple not only love their profession, they know it provides a safe haven from what Kevin Rudd described this week as the financial "cyclone" about to hit our shores.

And they are not alone.

As the world descends into financial crisis, increasing numbers of school-leavers and early victims of the job crunch in other industries are cramming into education courses to seek a new, safer career.

This is no more apparent than in the former boom state of Western Australia, where anecdotal evidence suggests a significant rise in the number of applicants to teaching courses since the global slump in demand for resources brought the mining super-cycle to an abrupt halt.

"As a teacher, you not only ride out bad times, you don’t even notice them," Ms Watson told The Weekend Australian.

"You trade off a higher wage in the short term but you have solid employment and a predictable income."

The teacher of 40 years, who is now principal of Fitzroy North Primary School in Melbourne’s inner north, said she had recently hired several mature-aged graduate teachers who had come from the private sector.

"They have decided they would really like to teach and the security of teaching appeals to them after the ups and downs of the private sector," she said. "I am sure one of the strong appeals is the security of the job and the fact that people will always be needed." …

How to lift quality education outcomes? Test less…

I have mentioned this before, because it runs counter to conservative opinion – in which I include the various Labor governments in Australia! It also runs counter to most bureaucratic thinking in the Western world, wedded as that is to models derived from the corporate world and obsessed with measuring everything, even things which probably can’t be validly measured.

I mention it again because my English/ESL blog has recently had several visits from Reflections on TESOL,  a blog run by a Muslim English teacher at a university in the UK. That in itself is culturally interesting.

A recent post there is To test or not to test or teach?

…I recently came across an article about education in Finland as well as a podcast on the BBC. It was fascinating stuff!

In Finland, for most of a student’s life, there are no exams, and everyone passes. There are no failures. Finland’s philosophy on education is education for education’s sake it seems. Everyone must have the opportunity to be educated.

Teaching is the most popular profession. Hard to believe! Respect? For teachers? Is this the paradise we are all looking for? What’s more, for every teaching vacancy there are ten applicants.

In a UN survey, Finland came top.

Why are we not reading up on Finish educational techniques? They’re obviously doing something right.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2009 in Australia, education, English studies, ESL, exams and assessment

 

Breaking the silence on my English/ESL blog!

I just posted on English/ESL:

I am coming out of mothballs to draw your attention to something very significant from the USA. To quote an email which has just arrived:

Dear Educator:

As a valued edweek.org user, you are invited in for a sneak preview of Quality Counts 2009: Portrait of a Population. The official release date for this highly valued annual report is tomorrow, so you will be among the first to view it.  View it now:  www.edweek.org/go/qc09

In addition to giving you access to this annual report, the rest of edweek.org has been opened so that you will have access to everything premium subscribers can access from Jan. 7 through Jan. 19.

Quality Counts 2009 provides you with the nationwide report card on the continual push for K-12 school improvement you have come to rely on. In addition, the special focus of this year’s report is how English-language learners are putting schools to the test. Specifically, you’ll learn how:

· Immigration transforms communities challenged by changing demographic patterns, straining the capacity of school districts.

· English-learners pose a policy puzzle for states and school districts as they push to boost student achievement overall.

· The rights of ELLs and the case law and statutes to provide them quality education continue to evolve.

· And much more!

Do explore.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2009 in education, ESL, site news, USA

 

Top 100 Language Blogs – Lexiophiles

I can’t say I was displeased when I received an email pointing to Top 100 Language Blogs – Lexiophiles because English/ESL has been listed there — at #75. I strongly recommend your browsing the list as some very interesting blogs may be found there.

Now that we have our very own Top 100 Blog List there are bound to be questions and opinions streaming in from all corners of the Internet. This article is a preemptive post to answer what we feel are the two biggest questions. Why we made the list, and how we made the list.

Why did we feel we needed to make a blog list?
The short answer is that we couldn’t find one. We were looking at different language blogs and talking about which our favorites were and why. To make our discussion more colorful we wanted to compare our favorites with a toplist. When we couldn’t find one, at least one that covered our category we decided to make one!

How did we make the list?
We sifted through some 300 blogs relating to language and learning. Each blog was looked over and ranked with a number of points. No system is perfect, but we based our ranking on objective values, which were assigned according to the blog’s content and features.

We identified three main categories: content, consistency and interactivity. We know that no ranking is 100% accurate and always somewhat subjective. Still, we feel that these three categories give a good overall view of how good a blog really is.

Content: No need to explain that the reader appreciates good content. This category took into account what type of content the blog featured. We looked for authored and original content, depth of postings, incorporation of multimedia (such as videos, pictures etc.) and reviews of online tools and websites.

Consistency: A blog is about sharing information in a fast and uncomplicated way. The articles are not like research papers you work months on. People want to read something new every time they visit a blog. Therefore, we looked at if the blog was active, and if so, how active. Frequent postings gave a higher score as well as the regularity of postings.

Interactivity: In our opinion a good blog is not a one-way street but involves the readers as well. The most observable feature is comments, but it doesn’t stop there: Can the user contact the blogger via a contact page, Facebook or similar? Can the user follow the blogger via Twitter or RSS-Feed or share the blog with others via a bookmark button? There are many neat functions that make a blog more interactive.

Thanks, people!

 
 

The literacy we need but many don’t want…

I wrote a careful essay on the nature of literacy in 1998; you may read an updated version here. At one level literacy involves just learning to read and write, using whatever teaching methods work — and that is always a combination of methods. (The whole-language VERSUS phonics myth is just that, a myth; it is rather whole-language AND phonics.) Conservative critics always focus on one end of this, and berate schools if 100% of students have not mastered basic literacy by, say, the end of primary school — a great aim, but an unrealistic one.

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Posted by on November 23, 2007 in challenge, English studies, ESL, literacy, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching

 

Interlude: the exam paradox

I have no problem in general with criterion-referenced marking; indeed I welcome it as being more transparent than the mysterious processes that we used to employ. (If you want argument about this visit my other sites.) But nothing is perfect, and criterion-referenced marking — indeed almost any kind of quantifying — falls down in the area we conventionally think of as “creative writing” — as if any writing is actually “uncreative” but I guess we roughly know what we mean by the term.

I have just had a good example of this. One of the students I have been tutoring is in Year 12 where they now must do “creative writing” — good and long overdue — but the “skill” (ugh!) is “examined” in Question 2 of Paper 1 where the glib are invited to construct a confection in forty minutes which must reflect, somehow, the “concept of The Journey” and which is then marked by criterion reference. OK, some criteria are not too problematic. Those of course are the ones that in reality may be least important.

My student has been speaking English for just six years, having been born in China. His English is well in advance of what research tells us to expect. In his “creative writing” question he took his own life as a journey and wrote a remarkably honest, beautifully expressed (some minor second language issues aside and some major punctuation issues aside) reflection on that journey. For example:

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Posted by on September 25, 2007 in creativity, ESL, exams and assessment, writing