March 27, 2005

Peregrinations: 10 Things meme

This is cool. A possible way to start students writing or speaking. Here it will soon be April, the traditional start of the academic year in Japan.
Peregrinations: 10 Things meme:
I saw this on SaneScientist and he saw it on The Kaptain Kobold BlogThe idea is that I tell you ten things that I've done and that I don't think any of the people who read this blog will have done. If I'm wrong, you leave me a comment to correct me and I have to delete the item in question and add another one to replace it. It's taken me absolutely ages to think of these ten things and they become increasingly pathetic as the list goes on. Unfortunately, some of them come across as boastful because one tends not to mention the events in one's life that were excrutiatingly cringe-inducing (but I have anyway). Nevertheless, I think it might be a good way to get some of my students blogging interactively. Here we go:

Looking for signs of life

I added Ming the Mechanic to my blogroll the minute I first encountered his blog. Recently he posted, asking where's the news? which finished, I'm just looking for Signs of Life: For a while I figured I would change my business card to read something like this:
Flemming Funch
Looking for signs of life

My partner in crime and I have been casting around for a) a mission statement, or "what are we all about really as teachers?", and
b) a modus operandi, or "how do we put in practice what we're about?"

For a) we decided (after discovering MI) that diversity (and encouraging diversity) was one of the key things we were about, and that made sense,too, given that we are EFL teachers in a foreign land. As we interpret it, that means that, as well as teaching the English language (indeed an aspect of teaching the language) we need to be exposing our students to the ideas and ways of thinking which form part and parcel of our language, perhaps particularly focussing on those which are different from those bound up with the Japanese language at this point in time.
Exposing students to differences is one aim; another (or sub-) aim is to encourage acceptance of these differences, to help them see the value in diversity and to appreciate it.
We wander somewhat in our understanding of this, or rather in how to actually put it into practice. Sometimes we favour being different and wacky just for its own sake, for its shock value, although I tend to wish for an overarching purpose.

This is all by way of being an intro to this inspiring little quote:

I'm interested in the stuff that's different and alive with energy. The people who start a green hair culture when everybody else thinks one has to have black hair. The people who think up something entirely different that actually works. The people who feel a different beat and who actually dance to it. I'm interested in patterns that hadn't been noticed before. And the meeting of different patterns. Life is diverse.
There's something free about life, so I'm looking for freedom. People who manage to tap into something fundamental, but yet express it in ways that aren't restrained by old patterns of thinking or unnecessary norms for behavior. Changing the rules. Exploring your range of motion.
And then I'm interested in how it all fits together. Ecosystems are diverse and synergetic. Diversity is life. Monoculture is death. But it is not that simple. It is not enough to just make things different. It is not enough to just break the rules. The magic is in the synergy. How different things work together, and support each other, in sometimes surprising ways. Finding patterns that make diversity work. Self-regenerating systems that thrive on diversified experimentation. Autopoiesis. Self-creation. Life.

March 26, 2005

Summarizing (and using Audacity to edit sound files for listening)

Summarizing: Today in class I did a difficult listening exercise. I found a 2:26 clip from the audio book of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and played that in class. In order to stop my self from scanning on a tape or jumping around looking in the middle of a track on a CD I used audacity to cut the clip to the correct length. In class I played the clip three times and had the students in groups of three or four prepare a short summary of what they heard. The key was to not get bogged down in details but to give a rough explanation of what happened in the clip. At first the students were all stressed because they couldn't hear every word. But after each listening I reminded them to take notes and focus on the main idea. After the third listening i gave them a further 6-7 minutes to prepare a 2-3 sentence summary. In the end students did really well and seemed satisfied with their achievement.

March 25, 2005

Unlearning, wtf?

I've often used the word "unlearning", rather unthinkingly, as I now realize, thanks to this post by Mr Smartcoolguy himself.Infedelic Ideas: Unlearning, wtf?: There was a meme in the blog community about unlearning: unlearning the past in order to replace it with something new as the lifetime of what you know gets shorter and shorter all the time.

Hugh Gapingvoid mentions that he had to unlearn his career in advertising to come up with something as genious as
Hughtrain. Indeed, it's more than genious, go read it.

I think unlearning is a word from the old world where we used to think learning as acquisition of knowledge. I guess unlearning as a word is reversing that practice and putting something else back in. Yet I argue, you just can't unlearn, as the way how you have constructed new knowledge in the past has already shaped your point of view.

I followed the link to Hugh Gapingvoid, and found more grist to my mill:
The only chance our country (your country, depends where you live), your economy and most of all, your family has to get ahead is this: make up new rules.

People who make up new rules continue to be in very short supply.

Does anybody really think being a cog is still viable? I don't know anybody who does.

Also, here he [Seth Godin] writes about his (justifiably) favorite new phrase: "Yak Shaving". It's worth a read.

Yeah, Yak Shaving. Sums it up!

March 24, 2005

Lessons from Vimy Ridge

Robert Paterson “on organizations and culture” reminds us that Easter is the anniversary of a World War One event known as the taking of Vimy Ridge, in northern France by the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in 1917. He points to an article he wrote on 2001 in which he looks in detail at the lessons to be learned from this event, in particular the planning and organization that went into making it possible.

In case you were wondering what this has to do with learning and autonomy, here’s a quote: “[CEF Commander Arthur] Currie recognized that we each need to be treated as an adult with an area of personal space where we have autonomy or authority to act and choose. Research shows us that people with very limited autonomy become ill and ultimately incapable of making decisions.


The more we apply the rules of the 1970’s the more we risk looking like many generals and armies of the Great War. “Trained during the late 19th century, the British generals were confronted by the weapons technology of the 20th. Rather than evaluate the premise on which the war was being fought, they applied the old concepts or merely improved tactics” (George Cassar – Beyond Courage).


The Canadian Corps was unique in the Great War – because it developed and applied the new rule book. It ended the stalemate and showed how the new technology could be applied. Our forefathers learned how to breakout and to breakthrough. They learned how to learn in the crucible of war. If we are humble enough, we can go back and learn from them.


Paterson identifies a number of lessons to be learned from the Canadian Corps, obviously aimed at corporations and similar organizations, but some lessons highly relevant to educational institutions too.

March 03, 2005

A Need for Autonomous People: autonomy and blogging

Over at Under the Influence of Epoche, Aaron Campbell muses on the link between pedagogy, autonomy, blogging and democracy, thanks to a post by Robert Patterson which has reverberated around the section of blogging community concerned with society and pedagogy: Going Homeapcampbell :
Whether old or new, it certainly makes a lot of sense to me. For I see societies of people alienated and manipulated by institutions of government, big business, advertising, and healthcare, while institutions of education merely provide more fodder for the status quo machine: brainwashed, powerless, and mentally enslaved "citizens" who equate happiness with material possession and consume, vote, and act in accordance with such conditioning. This becomes even more problematic when actual war results just to keep those big institutions running and the power structure stable. How else can we explain how Bush was re-elected by popular vote and that Iran is soon to be the next victim of a violent military and cultural invasion? Is this what the concept of 'democracy' was meant to embody? Of course not....
Here, Aaron makes a link between blogging and autonomy:
The possibility that personal webpublishing might encourage a move toward autonomy is real. Just as Fromm argued that the social structure determines which aspects of the social character are dominant, perhaps likewise the semantic social network as learning environment might play a role helping learners become more autonomous in the way described above. If institutions of learning founded their pedagogy and practice on learning methods that allowed the learner to develop this kind of autonomy en route to cooperative knowledge creation and the development of useful skills, we could indeed achieve at least a partial degree of sanity and peace in this world.
And Paterson does the same, here. Great minds obviously think alike.