151. When the student is ready…

When the student

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Took me some years to realize the meaning of this zen wisdom.

All learning has to have some purpose and until the student figures out (or attempts to figure out), the realization (teacher) does not appear.

We’ve been trying to force learning. We’ve been trying to tell learning. We’ve been trying to provide learning. And kept wondering. What went wrong!

Well, trying to teach before the learner is open to learning – that’s what went wrong.

I am not trying to shy away from my responsibility as a teacher but when students (adults) don’t come prepared, and worse, come just for the sake of coming into the class, I hit the motivation wall.

John Hattie says, “The number one factor that influences a student’s learning is the student himself/herself.” I also believe that to be true. The teacher comes second. The student comes first. But it’s been the other way around for so long in our education system.

Is there any way we can open up learners to be open for learning?

Or, am I asking the wrong question?

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150. Hiding the Gold Coins

Hiding the Gold Coins: A Reflection on Writing Workshop by Hem Raj Kafle
(The workshop happened on Aug, 2014 at King’s College, Kathmandu)

Hem Raj Kafle

He is tall. Very tall compared to my height. He looks into the world through a pair of slightly shaded glasses. Those glasses probably let him filter all the negativity around him and help him see a vision – a vision of a teacher, a writer, and a mentor. He speaks gently and seldom smiles. He stands in the middle of the class, and with his words paints an exciting picture of characters, themes and conflicts; and walks us through the colorful fields full of metaphors, similes and hyperboles.

He is one of those rare teachers who writes a lot. His blog is a testimony of his prolific writing habit. Even his facebook statuses, usually very short poems, reflect his creativity. And I wonder. May be creativity is a verb, not a noun. One has to constantly work at it. It’s just my perception. His creativity could be as natural as breathing.

I had met him back in 2012. He taught me Fiction in my M.Ed. ELT first semester and since then I have had a renewed interest in reading, interpreting, and analyzing literature. I started becoming passionate but critical of the texts I came across. In addition to that, he inspired me to write down my own fiction works.

Naturally, I was pretty excited about the workshop. I had always wanted to be in his classes one more time and the workshop was it. Even though the focus of the workshop was “Academic Writing”, I knew he would have his own twist on it, with a few pinch of strange concepts sprinkled around here and there.

So he started the workshop by asserting that writing is not an isolated activity, but it is an activity integrated with reading, listening and speaking. “The key word is perform. Writing is a performance, it is an action of hands as well as an action of minds,” he added. And most importantly, he continued, “Performance doesn’t mean a writer’s activity alone… it is about a reader’s action also”. This made so much sense that it immediately struck a chord with me. A writer has to let readers perform too. Otherwise, what’s the point in writing at the first place? An effective writer thus leaves enough clues here and there in the text for the readers to come up with their own knowledge.

Writing is a performance because the writer has to make sure that his/her ‘authorial presence’ and credibility are visible in every word and every sentence of the text. Moreover, a writer has to make sure there are both implicit and explicit moments of communication with the reader. He/she has to constantly facilitate the reader towards understanding and creating new perceptions. Similarly, a writer has to represent his/her community and contribute towards adding new knowledge and scholarship. Therefore, writing is not merely scribbling texts on a sheet of paper, it is a performance that involves both the writer and the reader.

Next, he talked about some of the common attributes every writer exhibit in some ways. For instance, the ‘writer’s block’ which he also labeled as the ‘blinking cursor syndrome’ for those who keep staring at the computer screen searching for words to start with. Similarly, every writer has the irresistible urge to tell the background or the whole story. Next, most of the writers can’t decide on the choice of diction – whether to use big or small stock of words, or on the choice of sentence – short sentences or longer sentences.

Coming to the main focus of the workshop, he talked about the process of creating an argument in academic writing and substantiating one’s stance. He gave an instance of Stephen Toulmin’s elements of a proper argument: claim, ground, warrant, backing, rebuttal, qualifier and final claim. A good paragraph is a combination of all or some of the above elements. The concept of ‘rebuttal’ was quite interesting. Apparently, acknowledging opposing views and giving them a small space in one’s argument adds more strength to one’s argument.

At the end, he gave us eleven tips on how to improve one’s writing. I am reflecting on these points from my perspective.

  1. Write aloud.
    It helps shape the quality of writing.
  2. Speak – record – transcribe – Edit
    This is very useful when one is facing the imminent ‘writer’s block’.
  3. Toulmin uncle really works!
  4. Three is enough.
    Three examples, three explanations, three stories.
  5. Keep the big below you.
    This is quite interesting. Start a paragraph with your own sentence and end it with your own. Keep the citations and ‘big’ personalities underneath your first statement. Don’t ever start your paragraph with a citation because this just weakens your stance.
  6. Kill the subordinates.
    If your main info goes to the subordinate clause, rewrite the sentence. Bring your info to the front.
  7. Passive is lousy.
    I also hate sentences in passive voice. I always try to write everything in active voice.
  8. Let the verb stand high.
    Let the verb ‘speak’, rather than ‘be’.
  9. Do not repeat a word if there’s a replacement.
  10. Hear me between the lines
    Make your presence felt. Don’t let the reader forget about the writer.
  11. Dump me if I let you go!
    Challenge: I will not bore my reader. I will not break my reader’s heart, effort, money, etc.

After attending this workshop, I now feel the urge to go back to all my writings and scrutinize them strand by strand – to find my ‘authorial presence’ in them. I had never thought about this aspect of writing – that the author has to be present in the text. Similarly, I am going to try speak-record-transcribe method whenever I feel stuck in the rot. I will also make sure none of my paragraphs start with a citation but with my own sentence. In addition, I will use these techniques in presentations and in writing scripts for speaking as well.

Writing has always been an elusive grape for me. I feel like I am always getting ‘there’ but never near enough. I always go back to my texts, interact with them and revise them. That singer from Rolling Stones is probably right. I can’t get no satisfaction out of my writing. But just like Hem sir once said during his class, “A text is always in the making”. May be it’s not about getting ‘there’ and being satisfied after all. Writing is a process… a continuum… a journey. And our job as a writer is just to enjoy the ride.

(Written on November, 2014)

149. 10 Things You Can Do to Make Your Workshop Experience Productive

ppt

[Published on The Kathmandu Post, April 3 2017]

“You are just passively sitting in a group and not contributing anything at all.” I whispered to a participant during a recent workshop we had conducted. She hesitated a bit and gave me an awkward smile. During the break, she came up to me and said, “Actually, I didn’t know much about this workshop. My friend dragged me here with her. So I was a little lost during the activities.”

Initially, I had assumed that she was just trying to give me an excuse. But clearly, she didn’t know why she was there. Her confession made me think deeper on why participants act the way they act during workshops. And how, not only the trainer but also the participants should take responsibility for the effectiveness of the session.

As a teacher and teacher-trainer, I believe that a workshop is productive only when participants are ready to explore and co-create knowledge by getting physically, mentally, and emotionally involved in various activities. The trainer’s role is to deliver the content and facilitate the learning but in an effective workshop, participants must also take active roles to learn by doing and reflecting on their learning. As much as the participants want the trainer to be prepared, the trainer also dreams of having participants who are ready to participate and learn.

So, next time when you think about participating in a workshop, keep these ten things in your mind so that you can make your workshop experience worthwhile:

  1. Understand your real reasons for joining the workshop and check if they align with the workshop objectives (besides the price, timing, and location). You may have wanted to, for instance, improve your fiction writing skills, but the workshop might be about technical writing. Sometimes, you may simply be curious and want to learn new stuffs. No harm in that but you may not apply the learnings when there’s a mismatch of the goals.
  1. Understand the modality of the workshop. Ask for the format, duration, and delivery style. Most of the time, workshops turn out to be long lecture sessions that put the participants into coma. You may have different expectations. And when your expectations don’t match with the workshop, your motivation (and consequently, overall learning) might slump down to zero.
  1. If you have signed up for a workshop, try to get in touch with other participants. This is easy these days because most of the workshops are promoted through Facebook where you can see who else have clicked ‘Going’. Also, try to get in touch with the facilitator and ask your queries and confusions.

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148. Reinventing Teaching from A to Z: A

Earlier, I had written an article titled “An open letter to passionate teachers” on how to overcome the wall of hopelessness. Since then I have received a lot of emails and messages on social media by teachers (and aspiring ones) expressing their belief, interest, and frustrations about the teaching profession.

Hopefully, through this article series, I am able to answer some questions, clear out some fog, and dismiss a few negativity. And, hopefully, I am also able to (re)ignite passion and inculcate pride among us about the profession we love so much.

(This concept is heavily inspired by Scott Thornbury’s An A-Z of ELT. Also, I have tried facebook-sourcing to gather more ideas.)

untitled-001

A: Anticipation

Students need to know what they are going to study (objectives) but don’t give them all at once. Tell them there’s a surprise or tell them to make a guess. Start with a quiz and give the answer at the end of the class. Or, start with a movie clip and lead them into the class’s main objective. Make them curious. Open up a gap, make them fill it – help them fill it.

And, a couple more from my facebook comment.

Autonomous: Just don’t go on rambling through the session. Teachers tend to wrap the context even without caring about students’ learning. Course vyaunu cha, time thorai cha: Students make noise because the teacher is not teaching interesting stuff. (Kanchan Bahadur Bhattarai)

Absorbing: Needs to be able to hold attention and also have open mind to absorb what students express. (Abhilasha Rayamajhi)

147. Making Presentations Matter

(Published on The Kathmandu Post national daily, July 25, 2016)

Making Presentations Matter

Let me assume that you have seen a lot of presentations, and that you have also delivered many of them. For a few minutes, imagine that you were an observer in these two situations.

Situation 1:

You are watching a student do a presentation of an assignment. He stands in front of the classroom, frozen with nervousness. He mumbles and stammers, takes many awkward pauses, and mostly reads from the slides. Occasionally, he looks at you and at the rest of the audience as if to scream that he wants to avoid the ordeal. You find no connection, and you feel you have wasted your time.

Situation 2:

You are in a seminar hall. A highly acclaimed professor is giving a presentation on her recent research findings. She talks about the title of her research (which is like 70 words long full of archaic words), objectives, questions, methodology, findings, interpretations, and so on. You wish to be somewhere else because she is lecturing you back to Research Methods class. Her presentation slogs like a monologue on a slow train towards boredom.

You probably have been in both situations. And you must have been eager to leave the room. On occasions, when you couldn’t, you must have felt the dullness of the presentations chocking your enthusiasm. Why do most of the presentations suck? In agony, you must have muttered.

Some of the regular responses would be: the presenter is not prepared, the slides are outrageous and stuffed, the content is boring, the presenter doesn’t have proper eye contact, the presenter speaks too fast or too slow, the presenter exceeds the time. These are all valid reasons.

But let me argue that most presentations suck not because of the presenter’s skills, nor his or her knowledge of the content, or the lack of eye contact, or bad body language. Most presentations suck because of the intent.

If you have wanted only to impress your audience, clients, customers, or teachers with your presentation skills, you know deep down inside that you have only half-succeeded. Because your intention primarily was just to make an impression. Not to create an impact, nor to make a difference. You wanted applauds. You wanted grades.

Your intent – the core reason – will either make or break your presentation.

So before you set out for a presentation, ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Do you intend just to deliver a stunning presentation or do you also intend to create an impact?
  2. Do you just want to showcase a bunch of shiny slides or do you also want to inspire action?
  3. Do you just care about your message or do you also care about the audience?

When you ask these questions, you will eventually see a clear picture. You will understand that you must put impact over impression. You will know that your job as a presenter is to be useful, be relentless, and be humble. That’s your core. And, you will find ways to structure your message, to design your slides, and to deliver your content – so that you just don’t talk, you also change minds, touch hearts, and transform lives.

Let your presentation skills amplify your intent – to disrupt patterns, break conventions, and inspire actions.

Now, please put yourself as a presenter in both situations I talked about earlier. You have sharpened your axes. You know your content. And you know your intent. You are determined to be useful, relentless, and humble. You care about your audience – their needs, their happiness, and their expectations.

Then, your presentation will matter. You will matter.

146. Why we don’t change

change-resist

When people resist change, it is usually not because that they don’t know about the problem. I know that eating momos is not going to help me lose weight, but still I’m eating them. My mom knows that oily vegetable dishes are not healthy, but still she likes drowning potatoes in oil. Same with the smokers. They know cigarettes are unhealthy and can cause cancer. But still, many keep smoking.

Same goes for some teachers who resist change. They understand that they need to change. Teaching is not what is used to be 20 years ago. They know that their method is obsolete, their practice is ridiculously traditional and their knowledge is outdated. But still, many embrace the status quo.

Telling people – you need to change – is not going to work.

When educational institutions want their teachers to change, they send the teachers for training and try to give them new knowledge, skill, and attitude. Trainers think that if the teachers just understood about the new techniques, they would implement those techniques in the classroom. Or if the teachers just understood the importance of professional development, they would just start changing.

Still, nothing happens. Teachers fall back to their usual habit even after attending trainings and workshops.

This could be the problem. In their book Switch, Dan and Chip Heath say: knowledge rarely leads to change.

Students make noise in the class. They know that making noise is not right. They are wasting everyone’s time. But they still do it.

Street protesters know that burning rubber tire is harmful to health and detrimental to the environmental. But they still do it.

Employees waste time gossiping and pulling each other’s legs. They know it’s not productive. But they still do it.

The FM radio in our kitchen is always switched on. While listening to the morning news, the Nepal Traffic Police update, almost every day, says that over a hundred people were charged for “maa.paa.say” which means they were driving vehicles while being drunk. The ‘maa.paa.say’ rule has already been imposed for over two years but still people drink and drive (and get arrested and pay heavy fines).

They know the rule but they still make a mockery of it. Because, knowledge rarely leads to change.

Thus the big question: can we change? How? Let me leave these questions for you to figure them out.

(Inspired by Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch: How to change things when change is hard)

145. What writing is for

why write

A lot of students ask me what writing is for. Unless they want to be a story writer, or a novelist, or a journalist – which most of them don’t want to be – they question the purpose of writing.

If they are going to open up a coffee shop or an agro business, writing skills will be the last thing they will have to worry about.

And they are right in many ways. Because, they perceive writing as similar to writing essays in exams, or news reports in papers, or speech for programs. They will not be writing academic essays while trying to set up a coffee shop.

But writing is beyond that. And writing doesn’t have to mean – big.

For example: writing a reflection at the end of the day, writing a list of things to do, writing down a phone number, writing an email to your friend, writing a message to your teacher, writing a plan, and so on.

One of my mentors said, “Writing is thinking on paper”. We are thinking all the time and writing helps us store those thoughts because we are not good at memory, especially in this age of information flood.

Writing helps us think better. Writing helps us remember better. Writing helps us make decisions better.

Writing can also help us become better readers. I started reading intently only after I thought I would continue writing.

Bottomline: writing helps us become better in life.

That’s what writing is for.