All posts by nathanghall

Listening

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In 2006, my wife and I packed up our things and moved to Lithuania. One of the first things we did was to purchase a small apartment near the city centre. It was an old German building with only six apartments built around the time when the area was known as East Prussia. The apartment also had a cellar with storage for each apartment and the pipes and services for the whole building. The main door didn’t have a buzzer and need someone with a key to open it. Beside this door was a sign with the phone numbers of those who had keys in case someone needed to get into the cellar such as service personnel.

One day, I was at home getting ready for class when I got a phone call. I hated getting calls since inevitably I wouldn’t understand them and would feel really stupid afterwards. Here is what I heard during that call (in English since it wouldn’t make sense to you otherwise): Continue reading Listening

Correcting

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Note: This is the second in a series of articles focused on foundational skills needed in being an English language instructor.

I think I was about six when my mom decided we needed a piano. None of us played the piano, but somehow she convinced all of us that we needed one and she ‘voluntold’ my brother and me that we would be joining her in taking lessons.

A few weeks later, a brand new upright Baldwin arrived at our house and the three of us headed off to piano lessons from a friend of the family. I can’t say I was the best student, but I think I was better than my brother who promptly quit after about a month of lessons. My mom wasn’t that bad since she had a musical background, but things got too busy for her and she ended up quitting after a few months. That left me as the lone pianist in the family. Since everyone else was quitting, I thought I would give it a try. Sadly, someone had to justify the piano purchase, so I was told in no uncertain terms I was going to continue taking lessons.

Surprisingly, I eventually started to enjoy it and I ended up sticking with piano lessons into college and then again as an adult. I never was very good, but I was good enough. To add to my musical repertoire, I also took up the trumpet and eventually the French horn.

I don’t think I’ve played any of those instruments in the past decade, but what I learned from that time has stuck with me. I can see a lot of parallels between learning to play an instrument and learning another language, especially when it comes to error correction and feedback. Continue reading Correcting

Following

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Photo by Mikey. Under CC by 2.0 licence.

Back in the summer of 2015, I started working for LISTN, an organization that supported LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) instructors in British Columbia. It was a short-term contract that involved finding ways of helping these teachers by finding and creating resources and providing face-to-face and online consultation and training. It was at this time that I had the idea of creating a Twitter chat for LINC instructors as a way of connecting teachers from all over Canada, especially those who work in areas with limited access to resources and training. I wanted it to be an online ‘staff room’ where teachers could come and meet another and share ideas and challenges in a safe, supportive environment.

I started putting the idea of #LINCchat together, but I knew I would need some help in getting this off the ground. It didn’t take me very long to come up with someone I knew who would be perfect for the task, Svetlana Lupasco. I met Svetlana in person in October 2013 at a conference, but we already had crossed paths on Twitter. She was teaching in a LINC program and was not afraid of a challenge, so I sent her a message, hoping she would join me on this journey. It didn’t take long to hear back with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Continue reading Following

Questioning

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Note: For a while now, I’ve wanted to do a series of posts for TESL certificate students and recent graduates. This is the first of what I hope to be a series of articles focused on some foundational skills needed in being an English language instructor.

When I was nine, we got our first computer at home. My brother ordered a Sinclair ZX-80 from the UK and it was a beautiful thing. This thin, white masterpiece of British engineering had 1KB of RAM and no internal storage. Instead, it used cassette tapes for loading and saving programs, which could take up to an hour to load.

I loved it. I was determined to write my own programs and make my millions as a computer programmer. I read through the manual on Sinclair BASIC and played around with simple programs before setting off on my ambitious plan of writing a computer game I could sell. After thinking about it for while (probably 10 minutes), I settled on the name Tank Wars. I wasn’t sure of the details at that point, but I knew it would involve tanks moving around the screen and shooting at one another. Yeah. A winner for sure.

Fast-forward a few years later and Tank Wars still hadn’t gotten off of the ground. I had made some progress, but due to a number of issues, I just couldn’t make it work. Eventually I gave up. Thankfully, it wasn’t a complete loss. I learned a good deal about programming and realized it wasn’t the path for me. I also learned a whole lot about careful planning. Continue reading Questioning

Caring

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I was in the car today driving home after dropping my parents off and I had the radio on, listening to a talk radio show on CBC Radio. The show was a special follow-up to some of the investigative stories they had covered recently. One of the stories was about a 70-year-old man here in Canada whose wife was taken to the hospital and then on to palliative care before she passed away in October 2013. Shortly after that, he received a $5000 bill in the mail for the ambulance services since it wasn’t covered under insurance. For him, this was far too much. He couldn’t even pay the $30 per month minimum required by the province.

At this point, I was already thinking about how poorly we treat our elderly and how tragic it is that someone at this age can’t even afford to pay $30 per month. Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of the story. Continue reading Caring

Doubting

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Image courtesy of Roo Reynolds

Hi. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. I’ve missed you. I hope you are all doing well. Me? I’ve been busy with new jobs, none of which are in the classroom. I’ve also joined the board of my local association for English language teachers and I’m co-chairing the next annual conference. But even in all of that busyness, I haven’t forgotten about you. Alas, you’ve probably moved on though.

Not being in the classroom for the past six months has been, well, interesting. I miss it. A lot. So if I miss it that much, how come I’m not teaching? Well, it has a lot to do with seniority and available positions. Needless to say, I’m itching to get back in there. Sort of.

To be honest, I’m going through one of THOSE times. You know, self-doubt and all. I hear from teachers in person and online and I begin to doubt my abilities. Those little whispers in my brain attempting to convince me that I’m not good enough, not smart enough for the job.

This may sound like a pity party. But it isn’t. Stick with me here. Continue reading Doubting

Climbing

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Image courtesy of Presley Perswain

When I joined BC TEAL back in 2012, I had just completed my MA TESOL and I was looking to connect with my local English language teachers association. What I didn’t know was that I was gaining a family. That sounds really trite and maybe a bit idealistic, but the longer I have been a part of this association, the more that has become true.

In a short period of time, I made a number of friends with my teaching colleagues and I grew as a teaching professional through my interactions with each one of them. That was all nice and good, but I was not in it to join a club. What I wanted was to see lives changed if that could even be possible through something like this. Continue reading Climbing

Training

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Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps

I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since I completed my initial TESL certificate program. A lot has happened in that time, but I remember it so clearly. At that time, I was going to school in south-central Manitoba (that’s in Canada for those who don’t know) and I was taking the last of my TESL courses including a practicum training course. I was young and carefree, so I don’t think I was paying much attention to the information that was given me in class. All I cared about was getting this thing done!

It turned out that I was going to be teaching at Red River Community College in Winnipeg, about a one hour drive from the college I was attending. A girl from Cambridge, England was also doing her practicum there, so we decided to carpool. The first day came along and we drove into town, sharing how nervous and excited we both were to get this started. For the days leading up to this, we had been talking about our classes and the time was finally arriving. We drove up to the school and jumped out since we only had about 15 minutes before class was to start. I ran to my classroom and introduced myself to my practicum instructor who was not pleased that I was arriving so close to the start of class. I sat in the back and waited. The teacher introduced me and then called me up to the front. I was to teach a 30 minute portion of the class and I figured I had more than enough material to cover it. I started off and started to notice that the students seemed to be finishing the activities much faster than I had anticipated. In fact, I ran through all of my planned material in about 5 minutes leaving me wondering what to do next. Thankfully, my instructor jumped in and took over.

So what was the problem? Continue reading Training

Shuffling

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Image courtesy of Steve

A number of years ago, I decided to convert an audio book on CD into MP3 files so I could listen to them on my iPod as I walked back and forth from work. This was a great idea, except that somewhere in the process, the files got shuffled around and the only way I could figure out what order to put them in was to listen to the start and end of each file. Through that labourious process, I got the idea that this might be helpful in the language classroom. I did a little test on my own to see how it might work in a lesson and then I located a file that lent itself to being played out of order. I wrote up some questions and ran it in class. To be honest, it didn’t work that well. I had chosen something that was too difficult for the group I was working with and from there, the lesson went downhill. Since then, I’ve tried it a few times in class using different listening material and with each attempt, things seemed to get better and better as I adapted and changed things for the next time.

Fast forward to last Friday and my latest attempt at a shuffle listening. For some reason I can’t comprehend, I decided to do it on a day when I was being observed as part of my work at the college. Usually I would play it safe, but instead I created a whole new lesson based on a listening I hadn’t used before. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have done that. Thankfully, it worked, or at least it seems to have; I’ll have to wait to hear the comments from my colleague who observed me. Continue reading Shuffling

Selling

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Image courtesy of Josch13

In the fable The Vain Jackdaw, Aesop tells the story of a jackdaw who is determined to make himself look better by attaching the feathers of other birds to his body. Initially this works as Jupiter chooses the jackdaw to be the “sovereign over the birds” due to “the beauty of his plummage”. The other birds, seeing through the jackdaw’s colourful facade, remove the false feathers, exposing him for who he truly is.

Social media is full of jackdaws, strutting around trying desperately to gain the attention of others. While this may seem a bit harsh, in reality it happens far too much for my liking. Continue reading Selling