The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lots of weather

I took this picture this morning as I was having my breakfast. The trees outside the window were blowing in the wind and the sun was making fantastic patterns on the wall.

Half an hour later, it tipped down with rain and was so dark I had to have the light on at my desk. All morning it's been alternating between bright sun and dramatic downpours.

What a strange summer it's been.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Organized chaos

My desk isn't usually spotlessly tidy, but it's generally fairly organized. Well, actually I have two desks - the one I work at has my screen and keyboard and stuff on it, but not a lot else - a few pens, a notebook and a space for my tea mug. Then I have a second desk, at right-angles to the first, which gets covered in papers and books. As a rule, these gradually build up until I can't find something, then I have a clear-up.

Since I've been teaching though, my usual sense of order has rather gone out of the window. I rush in and out with various stacks of papers - handouts, marking, etc. which started off on the usual 'overflow desk', but have now crept across the floor:

I keep resolving to tidy up, but it seems that in those moments when I'm not actually teaching, preparing or marking, I'm trying to catch up on the other bits of 'normal' work that I'm trying to keep ticking over. Thus the mess just keeps expanding and I'm now reaching the point where I have to climb over the piles of papers to get to my chair.

Although I'm really enjoying the buzz of teaching and the chance to get away from my desk for large chunks of the day, I am quite looking forward to the end of the course, a big clear-up and the resumption of normal service!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hard lessons

I’m now halfway through my summer teaching and I’m definitely finding the stuff outside the classroom is raising more issues in the staffroom than the teaching itself. The ongoing theme of our Wednesday staff meetings, apart from the usual moans about jamming photocopiers, has been the extent to which we should be responsible for students’ welfare outside the classroom.

In the first week, a distracted Chinese student was hit by a car crossing the road. Fortunately, she suffered no more than a wrenched shoulder and a few cuts and bruises, but was taken to hospital and kept in overnight. Quite a traumatic experience for a young woman who’d only been in the country for a few days. Then, one of my own students was burgled after going out and leaving the window of her ground-floor room open. Another upsetting and disillusioning experience.

We all agreed that both students needed practical help and reassurance from their teachers and other staff. More contentious was what we could do to avoid or deal with such incidents in the future. One teacher suggested that the course induction should include more advice about road safety and personal security. Another commented that maybe teachers should receive some training in counselling students. This provoked reactions about mollycoddling, treating students as adults, independence and our role as teachers.

It’s a tricky one, because although our students are adults, they’re mostly only in their early twenties and for many, it’s their first time away from home, let alone in a foreign country. Part of me thinks that they’ve chosen to study abroad and that they have to be prepared to be independent and if necessary, learn hard lessons from their mistakes. I can think of a whole host of “bad” things that happened to me in my late teens and twenties that caused a lot of stress and heartache at the time, but taught me lessons for the future. Or is that a bit of a ‘grumpy old woman’ thing to say?!

This week another spanner was thrown in the works when I got a message passed through one of my class on Monday that another of my students had been taken ill during a trip to London over the weekend and had been taken to hospital. My reaction, especially after everything that’d gone before, was to raise the alarm and set the process of finding and checking on her in progress. After lots of asking around, we managed to track her down, not in hospital at all, but fit and well and just staying over with friends in London. The expression “crying wolf” springs to mind …

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Talking the talk

Hmm, it seems that my suspicions about my latest batch of Chinese students were right. They may be good at talking the talk, but are a bit more shaking when it comes to walking the walk. I just got back their first essay attempts - lots of description, no comment or evaluation! Oh well, small steps ...

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

The changing face of China

This week has seen the start of my annual teaching stint; teaching EAP (English for Academic Purposes) to international students hoping to start on postgraduate courses at Bristol University in the autumn. The majority of the students generally come from Asia and my class this year is no exception, with mostly Chinese students, a couple of Japanese and one lone Spaniard.

The approach and attitude, particularly of the Chinese students, has changed quite remarkably over the five years I've been teaching the course, and seems to reflect the huge changes that have taken place in China as a whole. Just a few years ago, students fresh off the plane from China would obediently soak up the facts, "learn" them by heart, and spit them out. Everything was black-and-white and every question had a correct answer. The concept of critical thinking was completely alien to them. Getting them to question ideas, to engage with the whys, wherefores and maybes was really an uphill battle.

Over the past couple of years things have begun to change. More "westernised" students have started to crop up. They're better dressed, have all the latest gadgets and know as much about Western popular culture as any British student of their age. At first there were just one or two in each class, but the numbers have definitely grown.

In my first academic research writing class this week, I started off with small group discussions about what their expectations were of the course and what skills they thought they'd need to write successful academic essays. The results were quite startling, without exception, every group came up with ideas about critical thinking, evaluating sources and drawing their own conclusions from evidence.

Now I'm just waiting to see whether they can put their ideas into practice. Will their first attempts at research writing reflect their apparent awareness of what's expected of them? Or have they just learnt all the right things to say from their friends from last year's classes? I'll let you know next week ...

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Sun & rain

I've just been browsing for blog ideas and by a rather roundabout route (as is often the way when you surf), I came across the most beautiful photo blog. It's in some Scandanavian language, so I can't read any of the accompanying text, but it inspired me to post a couple of photos from the past few days.

The torrential rain I was blogging about last week.

I always hate having to throw flowers away. This week I've had the most spectacular big bunch of sunflowers on the dining table (in an attempt to counteract the grim weather!), but by today, most of the heads were drooping and the stems were positively mouldy, so they had to go. I did just salvage two big yellow heads to put in a smaller vase on the window sill.