Effortless English Archives

Automatic English For The People

Monday, November 27, 2006

Free Newsletter For English Students

Register for The Effortless English Email Newsletter

Enter your email address to get the Effortless English Newsletter, with free learning guides.

You can also learn English with my website, The Effortless English Club We are now accepting members. Joining the Effortless English Club is a great way to improve your English. Try one month for only $1.99.

Finally, you can improve your English by listening to the Effortless English Podcast. This is best for advanced learners.

Join The Effortless English Club

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- Try One Month For Only $1.99

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Just Leave

by AJ

I recently reviewed some of my old archives-- especially the ones from Thammasat University. Reading through those was quite instructive. Its quite clear that I felt stifled there; and that big, rigid, authority-driven bureaucracies are not for me. Yet, at the time, I didn't realize how bad it was.

The problem, I think, was that the people I worked with were all really nice. The staff was super nice, the other teachers were super nice, and the students were super nice. I genuinely liked them and this caused me to constantly minimize the deeper structural problems with the job.

Its amazing the lies we can tell to ourselves when we aren't yet ready to face the truth. The truth is that I despise hierarchical, authority & control education structures. The truth is, I hate bureaucracies and the mentality that keeps them functioning. The truth is, teaching is more than just "a job" for me.

Looking back, its quite obvious that I had no business working at Thammasat-- however nice the individuals were. Comparing my situation now to what I was going through then-- its like comparing apples and oranges. I'm so much happier now. My job isn't perfect now; but I'm free to do the kinds of things I love to do, believe in doing, and am good at. I'm a much better teacher as a result-- and therefore my students benefit a lot more.

The lesson this taught me is to try to be more brutally honest about where I am and what I'm doing. When your income and comfort are on the line, its easy to make excuses and lie to yourself. But this never serves you in the end. Sticking with a teaching position that isnt right for you is a really bad idea-- for it leads to either burnout, crisis, or failure (or all three).

Which is why, when I hear teachers complaining frequently about their school, or the education system they are "stuck" in.. I always have just one suggestion: LEAVE.

As fast as possible.

Get Text and vocabulary (Learning Guides) For Each Podcast.

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- For Only $7.99/Month

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Work With Those You Can Help

by AJ

In the past, education was mostly based on a Master-Apprentice model. The relationship was close, intimate, personal, and longterm. The masters job was to pass on his/her knowledge and train the learner to be the best at their chosen skill.

I've been reminded of this old educational model by a Korean TV Drama I've been watching called "Jewel In The Palace" (English Name). The show is about a woman who enters the Royal Palace as a cook's apprentice. Much of the show revolves around her learning experiences as she is guided by her master.

Of course, martial arts movies are filled with these kinds of relationships-- and although these are pop culture myths- I think they are good ones with powerful lessons.

One of the key lessons is that learning occurs best in the context of a very close and personal relationship. The modern factory model of education is, in fact, highly antagonistic to the natural way we learn. We pack the students in like lemmings and actively strive to "treat them all the same". In fact, treating all students the same is a professed goal of many traditional teachers and schools.

Another lesson of the Master-Apprentice system is that learning is best promoted by a longterm relationship that grows and evolves over time. The master and apprentice spend years together. In traditional education, the teacher and students get 9 months or less together. In a semester system, its only 4 months. How can a teacher get to know a student well over such a short time-- especially since she/he is supposed to teach 30, 50, or over 100 students in that short time.

The Master-Apprentice system is naturally a "work-study" program. The apprentice learns on the job while helping the master. In such a context, the student is not only studying-- they are applying what they are learning on a daily basis. This is an integrated model of education which combines theory and practice. By contrast, most traditional education is heavily weighted towards memorization, theory, and abstraction-- with little to know practice. Traditional students learn about a subject-- they don't really learn it in depth.

Finally, the apprentice model is based on selectivity and choice. Apprentices are not (at least in modern times) forced to study. They are not compelled by armed agents of the government. Likewise, the "master" is not coerced into accepting a particular apprentice. Often, in both myth and reality, the teacher will not accept a student until s/he is convinced of their dedication. An apprentice who is not dedicated can be dropped. A master who is not skillful will find their students deserting them. In modern education, students are forced to attend and teachers are forced to teach the students they are given. The result-- large numbers of disinterested students forced to endure large numbers of incompetent or burned out teachers.

In my own teaching, therefore, I am steadily drifting towards an apprentice model. I don't care to incorporate the authority and control aspects of that old model-- but I do prefer the elements of choice, selectivity, and longterm personal relationships. Increasingly, I find myself screening my private students very carefully. If I sense that a potential client is extrinsically motivated- I will refer them to someone else.

I'm also incorporating this approach to Effortless English, my student website. I'm trying to design it to attract independent, conscientious, and highly motivated students (and to discourage those who are not).

This is not only for selfish reasons. I have a certain approach and a certain attitude. It works very well with some learners, but not for all. Those others will be better served by finding a teacher who more closely fits their needs and mindset.

Get Text and vocabulary (Learning Guides) For Each Podcast.

Relaxed English Learning-- Anytime, Anywhere-- For Only $7.99/Month

Saturday, November 04, 2006


by AJ

Led Zeppelin often described their playing style as "tight but loose".

I think that's an excellent description for a teaching style too. Too many programs and teachers, in my opinion, focus on being "tight". They obsess over detailed syllabi, lesson plans, etc. They insist on crunching through the required textbook. They diligently follow their plan, or try to follow it, regardless of circumstances in the class.

As Eisenhower said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything". In other words, it is important to plan. The process of planning makes you consider your goals, the needs of the learners, the limitations of the class, your available resources, your method, etc. The planning process is thus invaluable.

But the plan itself is nothing. After writing a syllabus, perhaps the best thing to do is throw it away. You've already done the important part-- if you keep the syllabus, it will be become a prison.

A class should be like a skilled improvisation, in which the students and teacher play off each other and challenge each other. Both students and teacher must always be ready to go into unexpected directions as opportunities present themselves.

I experienced this phenomenon Friday, during my MA class. The class has been struggling from the beginning- mostly because its focus is unclear. It was originally created as an "Oral Presentation" class. But at the last minute, the administration decided to tack on a "TOEFL Prep" element... making it an unwieldy "English Presentation, plus TOEFL" class.

I floundered around trying to mesh these two subjects. As a result, I abandoned the successful methods I'd used in the past when teaching a presentation course. Instead, I had them find "TOEFL-like" articles (science, psychology,... ) and present them to the class. The presentations were, not surprisingly, boring, stiff, and painful.

Last week, my students finally rescued the course. They told me they wanted to follow my usual plan, and not use notes for presentations any more. They also said they wanted to focus on topics that were relevant and interesting to them, such as personal experiences, job interviewing, and the like. Finally, they said they wanted me to teach them a presentation method that would be useful in real life, not just for the TOEFL exam.

Being a fan of tight-looseness, I chucked out the syllabus and took their advice.

The results were astounding. Astounding! This week, they gave the presentations of their lives. I was stunned at the dramatic improvement. Every single student improved, and many made huge improvements.

It was one of those days that makes me love teaching English. Given my recent burnout, it was a much needed day for me.

It was a day that reinforced not only the effectiveness of being flexible-- but the absolute imperative of listening to and following your students.


Get Text and vocabulary (Learning Guides) For Each Podcast.

100 English articles a year, with text and vocabulary, for $9.99/month.