thar she blows

Another semester’s worth of instruction – DONE.

The girls have taken their Cambridge PET exam and are now waiting and hoping to take their CIT (IT exam). Well, “waiting and hoping” in the form of wandering around the college, having coffee and playing tinny music. Why would the college still require students to attend despite having finished their exams? Well, because the powers that be simply require a certain number of hours of attendance. Even if the exam were in the middle of the semester, the girls MUST rack up 1009 hours of instruction. Why? I guess so the government’s investment pays off. Or someone’s investment.

Who knows.

What I do know is that they are totally uninspired at this point. They’ve just taken a math exam and they’re done. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. There is not much left in them. Hell, there isn’t much left in us teachers either.

Yet, we persist.

My team is trying to brainstorm something for the girls to do for these next two weeks. It’s actually 3 weeks, but who’s counting? Anyway, we’re hoping to do a talent show. Supposedly, next year, music and dancing will no longer be “haram” within the college. The idea is to have a talent show and craftswoman bazaar. The morning would be full of workshops conducted by our crafty students, where they will explain the history and technique of their craft. The afternoon would be a talent show featuring singing, dancing, spoken word, comedy, magic….whatever. Those without craft or talent will aid in the production efforts. Also, there will be a Cannes Film Fest where each of the 9 Level 3 classes will produce and show a short film to be judged. Anyway, it ought to be fun and interesting. Overshadowing this is the fact that after the CIT, whenever it is is, if it is, it’s very possible that attendance will drop off significantly.

Enough about work. What about life? (Granted, Life = Work Sunday through Thursday.)

Not a lot going on there either. I’m still going to HHH. Still staying in Khobar (or Bahrain) every weekend. I probably need to stay home one weekend; my apartment gets so dusty and untidy when I don’t give myself time to clean. I’m seeing if I can get some expat women together to open a private gym. If 5 or 6 of us pooled our money to rent an apartment and only furnish it with gym equipment… BAM! We’d even be able to earn a bit on the side by letting other ladies use it. I dunno. I don’t think there is enough confidence and commitment on their parts. I will likely buy my own heavy duty equipment and put it in the spare bedroom I have. The “gym” at the Accommodation is totally dysfunctional except for the light weight bar and bench. And my usual Khobar Compound Haunt’s staff is on the warpath of kicking me out of their facilities for SOME reason. I highly doubt they check the credentials of every person who uses their facilities. Why I get singled out as an obvious visitor…I don’t want to know. Thankfully, my host is willing to “fight” for me.

I’ve also been diligently planning my four day vacation in January. Oh yes. They are graciously giving us a 4 day weekend when we work in this prison for 9 months straight. The other 3 days we would have to take UNpaid. Eye. Roll. Anyway, I’m just gonna hang out in Bahrain. I’m trying to decide between the Ritz-Carlton (close to the city/action/mall but ~$900 with only one night with a sea view) or Sofitel Resort and Spa (not close to anything at all but ~$700 for two nights of a sea view). I will likely choose the Sofitel and stay there on the “off-nights” (not Thu or Fri nights) so it’s both cheap and leisurely. There is also something going on in the back of my brain that is saying “What if someone else wants to hang out with you at your posh hotel?”

I think I really need to ignore that voice. :p

Too Little, Too Late

Today is the start of a special three day series of workshops for both our Foundation (English) and Diploma girls. Foundation is going to listen to some guest speakers discuss their career choices, get sample diploma classes and talk to corporate representatives of various companies. At the end of all this is the girls’ Final Decisions, where they decide which diploma program they will complete should they pass the English exam (PET). There is also an afternoon for family fun in the form of a bazaar, where the girls display their business acumen through pop-up shops, performances, and activities.

Oh, how I wish this awareness had been done MONTHS ago!

These girls need something to grasp onto, to give them hope and help them conceptualize what their future could hold if they put forth just a little bit more effort. As I mentioned before, I am supposed to be facilitating “employability skills” – things such as time management, team work, organization, public speaking skills, etc. But they fail to see why these things matter, or they fail to even recognize them as skills at all, or things that could be important later. There is a complete disconnect. We haven’t properly expounded upon the importance of these skills. It’s the college’s fault, but also the parents’ and high schools’ and society’s responsibility to prepare these girls for the future their King desires them to have.

Anyway, I hope this has the positive benefit it is intended to have.

On another note, my homeroom class, M, is the poster child (children?) for what happens when family and society doesn’t do what is necessary for future success. The year started out rough and continued to be rough until my team collectively laid the hammer down. These girls are not only low-level English learners, but knowingly and intentionally disrespectful. Ignorance, you can sympathize with, but disrespect has no place in a(n Islamic) learning environment. They lied, stole away, talked back, and lied some more. Due to our efforts, and the realization that they can only win so many battles, they have calmed down. At least with me. I get a little less disrespect and I don’t react as much as I used to when they do. Instead, I force them, through questions and patience, to evaluate what their destructive actions are doing. Is it worth it? Who can hold out longer? Who has the bigger guns? Also, we have implemented more preemptive measures, mainly keeping them as busy as possible and with a measurable outcome. “If you can finish this exercise to my satisfaction by 9:15, you can have a longer break.” Classroom management” feels like 80% of my job and I hate it. I know that it’s all related — educating and management — but working with these girls… My attention is off-balance.

Oh well. Only a few more weeks. Hopefully the next batch will be more ready to face the challenges.

Another week

Another delay in publishing!

But at least I’m blogging again.

I guess I could tell y’all about life in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

From 7am to 3:30pm, Sunday to Thursday, I work at a female tech college in a sprawling town. This is the beginning of my third year in KSA and it feels much like my first two. The girls here are slightly less ghetto-fab and a bit sweeter, but the groups I’m teaching are just as unmotivated and low-achieving as at my previous college. These girls, whose ages range from 18 to a whopping 26, some married with babies, have spent 3 semesters learning English at the college and this is their last chance to pass the English exam so that they can enter the diploma programs. I’m an optimist when I say MAYBE 10 to 15 percent could possibly pass.

I teach 6 hours a day four days a week and have one admin day where I run my and my colleagues’ errands if there are any. That’s what today is, and that’s why Tuesday will likely be my blogging day. I have been assigned to facilitate “employability” and project based learning. It is a needed course since most of these girls will not be getting a degree or diploma any time soon. They can at least find a job to hold them down until the next opportunity. But they have a hard time understanding the benefits of what I teach, and their upbringing and work ethic doesn’t support the curriculum, so it is not as fun and fulfilling as it could be.

After work, like I said last week, I tend to vegetate in front of the TV. I’m currently watching “Van Helsing”, “Madam Secretary”, “Designated Survivor”, “Lucifer”, “Star Trek Discovery” and “Legion”. I have two English movie/show channels that rotate The Most Random Movies Ever, and then I watch CNN, BBC and AJ… The company bus takes us on shopping trips, but I only really go to one supermarket called LuLu. It’s got almost everything, including some imports. I essentially eat the same things every day because I pack my lunch and I don’t like my kitchen so there is little actual cooking going on. If I’m lucky, I will make it to the gym downstairs to lift the max 50 lb bar. Or even more rarely, maybe I might meet a National Guard dude to go on a random shopping trip. There is zero to do or see in this city that doesn’t require a nuclear family.

That’s why there’s Bahrain.

Last weekend, Friday, I went to Bahrain to run in a marathon relay at the racing circuit. I formed a team with my HHH group. I ran the last leg of the race and beat my projected time by 5 mins. Then we had some drinks, went back to the hotel to freshen up, and had more drinks and dinner before heading out to dance or party however we saw fit. I can also go to church in Bahrain more easily than I can in KSA, so that often happens when I can make it. The next morning, Saturday, we had breakfast, with bacon, and then headed back to KSA. That’s my typical weekend…or at least every other weekend. Sometimes I stay in Khobar where you’ll find me catching up with old friends, hiking the dunes and taking a dip in the jacuzzi. Either way, I don’t sleep in my own bed on weekends.

That’s my life! Stay tuned for next week’s update.

EDIT: A thought went through my mind yesterday. I know many people who have been living in Saudi Arabia for many years. I’m talking about more than 5, and many who plan on staying as long as they can. I can understand how most can see themselves doing so: they have families or dependents and/or they have very comfortable living situations. Neither of these apply to me, so I struggle with imagining I could or would stick around longer than 2 years. But MBS is changing this nation. Surely you’ve already heard about women being allowed to drive in 2018. We will begin paying a VAT. They have given “citizenship” to a robot. One friend of a friend believes abayas will disappear within 2 or 3 years. I actually found myself musing that if these things were true….maybe…just maybe…I could do it.

I’ll explain why in another post.

How to tell I’m back abroad….


I am back abroad. I’m in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia at yet another female technical college.

So I am still so very much interested and hopeful to publish SOMETHING regarding ESL. But here’s what happens:

I start at 6am have a long day at work and I come home at 4pm. That’s 10 hours of me not doing anything for me, of putting out fires, of drama that has nothing to do with anything and then…suddenly I’m home. That’s 4 or 5 days a week, depending. So when I get home, I do some serious escapism and vegetating. I’m lucky if I make it to down to our dinky little gym to lift our dinky little weights. I’m busy eating all the food I didn’t get to eat during the day and catching up on shows I didn’t even know I’d like. So that’s my weekday. When the weekend comes…. Let’s just say I haven’t slept in my bed for many weekends. I haven’t slept in my bed on a Thursday or Friday since I first arrived! I’m having a good time…but to what end?

It’s bad.

So of course no research or reading or writing is getting done. I’m too busy escaping reality and feeling sorry for myself for having to outsource myself to take care of adult responsibilities in the States.

Ironically, one of the ways I could potentially not feel so bleh is to do something professional and adult-like, such as researching and writing. So I’m resolving to make it so.

A colleague of mine wants to do a more creative ESL endeavor than a study, which is good. I feel like I could put together a guide on my current city for new teachers… There is much that could be done. I just need to stop procrastinating and wasting my time and talents.

Part 2: Review of “A Cognitive Strategies Approach…” by Olson & Land (2007)

Like in the previous article, Fitzgerald (1995) “states that there is ‘virtually no evidence that ESL learners need notably divergent forms of instruction to guide or develop their cognitive reading process’ (p. 184)”. So another words, good teaching for one is good teaching for the other.

Re: The Pathway Project: Land begins this section explaining that this Project taught teachers how to use the cognitive strategies approach to “reinforce the reading/writing connection”. “The vision underlying the project was that if ELLs are treated from the early grades as if they are college-bound, if they receive exemplary curriculum and explicit strategies instruction, and if there are consistent, coherent, and progressively rigorous expectations among the teachers from grades 6 through 12, students will attain the necessary literacy skills to succeed in college, and their college-acceptance rates will be substantially improved.”

Re: Curricular Approaches: Oh, yes, this is where things get real. I love the illustration teachers used to get students to understand the three types of knowledge or thinking tools. As I’m reading what and how a teacher might begin a reading, I realize that this is definitely what I already do, or at least did, in that DRE course. It had been a while since I taught reading at the college, but these “decoding every single word, using prior knowledge, predicting, revising, clarifying, exploring, etc., are all strategies I taught in the DRE course. In looking at Figure 3, I really appreciate these sentence starters! These guide students through a variety of CSs. They only have 3 starters per CS, but I think that is plenty. It is not so much about language, but application. As long as the starter gets the student started, you’re covered! The next step is introducing metacognitive reflections, which are so critical to getting at the heart of CS. “As Paris et al. (1983) note, ‘Thinking about one’s thinking is the core of strategic behavior’ (p. 295).” An example of this involved the teacher thinking out loud as she did something and the students writing down what she said.

The next part, “Scaffolding Strategy Instruction”, sounds more complicated than it actually is (as most things are), and seems to simply be the novice, encountering difficult texts, learning new skills with the help of an expert. The example activity here is brilliant, though. Because students had trouble finding the symbolism and interpreting the meaning of objects, the teacher brought items from home that represent very specific aspects of her, and then asked the Ss to speculate what aspects she thought these things represented about her. She had the kids do the same. After this activity succeeded, they went back to a text, but even then, she continued to scaffold by moving from very concrete texts to abstract texts.

Re: Color-coding in Analytical Essays: I’m an auditory-visual learner, so I love using color-coding to teach. I actually did this recently for a class I asked my supervisor to observe. My lesson was on the coherence within a paragraph. I color-coded various themes or ideas in the paragraph, to first demonstrate how many there were, and to hopefully show how disorganized and unfocused it was. Then I rearranged those ideas in the paragraph so that they were more, well, coherent. Then I did it again, omitting some things, and made it even more thematically manageable. Anyway, let’s see how these teachers used color-coding… Okay, so they color-coded “three different types of assertions that make up an analytical essay” in the hopes of encouraging students to see that Commentary with Supporting Details is more effective than Summary. Students annotated a strong and weak paper so that this difference was clear. “They could visually see how the writer skillfully builds to an insightful and powerful conclusion.” This is a great idea, and one I may implement in this current composition course. Actually, I will attempt to do this during their group writing essays. Perhaps I’ll teach this technique, and then after groups write their essays, have other groups color-code the various parts of the essay.

Re: Results: The results are impressive. Quantitatively… The “Pathway students averaged over 32% greater success in gain scores on writing assessments over seven years. In the best year, Pathway students had an 86% greater success rate than control group students….the control group students’ average post-test score was 5.51, as compared with the treatment students’ average post-test score of 6.7…Regarding the variables of GPA, absences, SAT-9 Reading and Total Language scores, and fluency (word gain), in 2000-2001, the most recent year for which we have a complete data set, Pathway students out-performed control group students on all variables. The difference favoring Pathway was statistically significant…” Qualitatively… Students “recognized and appreciated that they were being exposed to a rigorous curriculum by trained teachers and were being held to high expectations…recognized their growing command of the specific strategies they were introduced to” and this growth “buil[t] their confidence, spark[ing] their ambition to succeed”. Overall, it was the students’ own growth mindset, their beliefs that they could do it, that enabled them to actually grow and do it.

As for the teachers, although many were skeptical at first, after they began to see the improvements, they fully backed the program, and now see the value in a CS approach to teaching. As a teacher, and a semi-decent human being, I would probably also feel like I’ve been short-changing the control group. Just think… Those untested students COULD HAVE had their confidence increased, competence increased, scores increased, prospects increased! I wonder if I could willfully withhold preventative or curative medicine from vulnerable kids like that. Of course, I understand the scientific method and how it had to be done this way to know, without a doubt, that the CS approach is as good as we need it to be.

To conclude this review, I would suggest that good teachers — teachers who are invested, curious, observant, visionary, reflective — probably already use effective CS approaches, whether or not they call it CS or remember or recognize it from their studies to become teachers. I echo Olson and Land in their appreciation of “the teachers-teaching-teachers model” that fosters teachers’ growth and success. Even though I am an adjunct, I think CPCC could invest more in this type of inter-departmental PD. This will likely never happen, but I hope my department at CPCC does more inter-departmental PD and sharing of responsibilities (burdens). With funding, of course. 😀

what’s the difference…

…between having the post options panel on the left or the right? Silly, WordPress!

It’s been 3 weeks and 2 days since mom’s passing. She was ill for a year and 4 months. In many ways, our relationship was nothing like it used to be — obscured by the pangs of strokes, seizures and cancerous fogs — but she was here. Now there’s a make-shift shrine of cards and potted plants in the house. The sun-room is still overflowing with her personal items — dresses, skirts, pants, tops, hats, belts, shoes — most lightly worn, some barely worn, a few never worn. I really want it all gone. Besides, she’d have a fit not being able to enjoy the sun-room when the weather is turning.

I’m working on finishing up Olson and Land. It’s really interesting learning about how they executed the cognitive strategies (CS) approach to reading and writing through middle and high school in this cadre of students. I have a feeling that this will be a huge part of what my partner and I write about. Maybe we can document students’ impressions of the cognitive strategy in their learning. Bridging the affective and cognitive is always available in terms of research. No two students are alike. And they may provide valuable feedback on the affective implications of the CS.

I just noticed that WordPress shows the word count. My students like to ask how many words their essays should be. “Teacher, 200?!” HAHA! This post is, as of now, two-hundred and forty-five. This length would likely be a poor example of an academic five-paragraph essay.