TESMC: The end of the beginning.

Jiǔ (九) is nine in Chinese. It sounds like jiǔ (久) which means long-lasting. Nine is considered a lucky number. So, with the ninth class of Mr Ben’s TESMC course, our journey into the English as a Second Language (ESL) course will hopefully last forever. Failing that, until retirement to the R.Y.P. (Retirement Years Programme) at the nearby care home that is under construction (by the Tungwah Group). With our nine bows we took aim at the challenge of teaching a foreign language in a foreign land.

In some ways the ninth module was like a Best of… TV show. It was a compilation of all that was before it, applied to our very own school situation and discussed in part, to remind us and drill home the finer details. The module title of Programming and whole-school models of support for ESL students summed up the content. That is what chapter titles do after all. It gave an increased awareness of the importance of collaboration throughout the school, with respect to ESL students’ and their delicate needs. It gave us a chance to reflect and evaluate the course before clarifying the next steps (after the course).  It reassessed person programmes and combined them with understanding gained throughout the TESMC course.

“Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.” – The Reverend Fred McFeely Rogers, Children’s television presenter, actor, puppeteer.

As we zipped through an overview of the course, Mr Ben outlined how far we had come on the TESMC journey. Whilst much wasn’t too new, much of it was refreshing and cohesive – something to take away and re-digest before using actively. It was the beginning of the end, of the start of something. The sun was on the rise with the sky brightening.

“The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as every child should be given the wish to learn.” The Right Honourable The Lord Avebury John Lubbock, author and X-Club founder.

Possession is nine tenths of the law, apparently. After nine great classes, we’re in control of more than we entered the classroom with. The teachers were the students. We went the whole nine yards to get where we were – and didn’t need the nine circles of Hell. With the conclusion of our class, I should have been on cloud 9. Instead, my head drifted to the question, “So, what now?”

Notes from the final class:

Programming and whole school models of support for ESL students.

What is our the school’s ESL policy? Can we describe our student group? How much time has been allocated to our students? What are the roles of our ESL students, classroom and specialists within our school? What are the anticipated learning outcome throughout an appropriate state of the ESL continuum? What themes, topics and topic objectives are covered by our International Baccalaureate programme? Is there a specific language goal and objective list? Are any grammatical structures focused upon? Will there be a final series of Money Heist (La casa de papel) in 2021/02? What’s our methodological approach? Have we got an appropriate assessment and reporting plan in place? Together with guidelines for programme evaluation and resources available, we looked deeper into how our school functions for the benefit of the ESL students within it.

The conditions of the International Baccalaureate methods satisfy the below key points:

1. The long-term programme

2. Units of work

3. Daily diary or work program

4. Assessment program.

The course finale gave me chance to think about my own planning and collaboration. I must look at the below more closely:

include / delete / modify / elaborate upon

I’d written ‘involving and working in partnership with families and the community’ and underlined it with two lines. My reasoning being that like the whole course, we must consider ways to set up a successful whole-school framework that is achievable over a manageable time-frame and is completely sustainable. As an early years teacher, I must adhere to four principles: every child is unique; positive relationships are essential; the classroom must have an enabling environment; we’re all here for learning and development. To that end, I wish to thank Mr Ben for enabling us throughout the TESMC class. There’s plenty to take away. Be that practical suggestions and language clubs, or birdwatching groups, or revision centres or cultural exploration… the world of teaching is diverse and open to sharing through collaboration.

So, what now?

Essential TESMC reading titles:

  • “ESL Students:  some factors influencing their school experiences and learning outcomes.”
  • “ESL Students:  changing and re-shaping identities (identities under construction).”
  • “What ESL students may bring to the learning context.”
  • “From speaking to writing in the content classroom”
  • “Using small group work”
  • “Talk about literacy in the content areas”
  • “Supporting ESL students with written and visual texts across the curriculum”
  • “Multiliteracies in literate futures”
  • “Reading for meaning across the text”
  • “Perspectives on vocabulary”
  • “Nominalisation:  meaning making in the written realm”
  • “How accessible are the texts we use?”
  • “Making assessment supportive”
  • “Reviewing ESL provision within a culturally inclusive curriculum”
  • “Models of ESL program organisation”

Back In The Saddle

Good evening from China,

“You’ve got to get up every morning with determination if you’re going to go to bed with satisfaction.” – George Lorimer, author and journalist.

It could be afternoon, morning or night where you are, but I’m greeting with my own time-influenced greeting. Why not? I mean, “G’day” is for the Australians, “How do” is rather Lancastrian and “Nihao” is local but not that local. Let’s stay simple. I’m sat watching Irish actor Ciarán Hinds in movie titled The Man in the Hat. It’s a Sunday night movie. Very gentle. A British independent movie, downloaded in China. Musical composer Stephen Warbeck (Billy Elliot, Mrs. Brown & Shakespeare In Love) has moved from scores to directing. It’s a flowing road trip comedy full of charm and great cinematography. It features five bald men in a Citroën Dyane car. Rather Good Films Ltd. have a modest name and now they have a movie befitting their studio title. This is a great movie to escape the news and doom or gloom of these most testing months.

“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see further.” – Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian.

This week has seen two visitors join the apartment. First, following Western Wednesday (on a Tuesday), I walked from Mr Ben’s digs outside, with Mr Oliver. Many kittens and cats were by the overflowing rubbish bins. On walking around the bins, in the gloomy post-Chinese New Year smoky air, I spied a white rabbit. Follow the white rabbit? I did. I picked it up. It was chewing plastic. It being around midnight, and following Once Upon A Time In The West, I was shattered. Oliver scooted off. I passed the garden security guard bearing a white bunny. I tried to explain, in my crap Chinese, where I’d found the long-eared lagomorph but didn’t get anywhere. So armed with the calm albino rabbit, I tootled back to my apartment, giving a mixture of dry food and a small bed to the new guest. After almost tripping up over him, I nicknamed him Speed Bump.

“The individual who says it is not possible should move out of the way of those doing it.” – Tricia Cunningham, author.

The previous night has seen me message almost everyone I knew within the gardens of residence that I reside, and the neighbouring phase one complex. Some clues were gained but nothing concrete. Nobody claimed the bunny. So, later that day, hearing that possibly two rabbits were regular lawn guests, I went back. There I found the second rabbit. On asking some kids on the lawn if they knew where the rabbits lived, i got nowhere. I did find a cage and the second rabbit chewing plastic with gusto. So, Second Coming joined Speed Bump. That was last week. It’s Monday now. Many small brownish black balls have been scattered throughout the apartment and promptly cleaned up. I’m starting to see why Elmer J. Fudd had such a problem with Bugs Bunny (originally a hare!). Whilst I don’t class myself as an adversary to my guests, I could do without them jumping on me whilst I’m reading on the sofa, especially whilst watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre late at night.

“When someone tells me ‘no,’ it doesn’t mean I can’t do it, it simply means I can’t do it with them.” —Karen E. Quinones Miller

The Friday of last week and the Saturday saw our academic team join the varied and diverse departments of Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) return to work. With an International Baccalaureate® (IB) task we made a video showcasing Songshan Lake, created some ideas for the next Unit of Inquiry (American English is acceptable). All in all it was two days after a 13 day break that was quite enjoyable. We finished Saturday with a barbecue (completed by Breakfast Champion’s black pudding) and looked out across our school grounds, over the running track and football field. I looked at the farm at the farthest reaches of our school perimeter. Perhaps the compost machine rabbits will join our school farm soon. Maybe an owner will come forward. We’ll see.

“I would rather die of passion than of boredom.” – Emile Zola, French novelist, journalist

Until next time, good evening/night/morning/afternoon/day… Have a nice day (if you must)

#VisitDongguan2021

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night/day,

Wherever you are, make sure it is a good one.

6th February 2021. Day 1 distance cycled: 94km. Tongsha Reservoir and Ecological Park (同沙生态公园) was the route chosen. Lodged beside the 107 National Highway, beginning at the Dongcheng District, the reservoir and ecological park stretches towards Foling Reservoir, linked by a stretch of road at the unknown named temple (under construction at grid reference 22.971147108234454, 113.82079775499022). The area is great for cycling, picnics, and walking. It has a mix of managed and wild forestry. There’s the odd farm selling fruits such as passion fruits, bananas and other such desideratum fruits. There’s often a good melody of bird calls and some wildlife can be found throughout, although patience is needed. The best way to enjoy the park, in my humble opinion, is on two wheels. There are some side cycle routes and the loop road throughout the area is safe enough to cycle on (with care). There’s a shop somewhere on the west flank and one towards the southern entrance (with cycle hire) which allows for snacks and refreshments. I often cycle to this parkland area just to buy my honey. I’ve yet to try flying kites or picking my own fruits. This park is the place for such joys.

On my return cycle, I swung by Songshan Lake and rolled through a new park (Central Park – ZhongXin GongYuan is next to 梦幻百花洲), discovering an abandoned theme park ruins and a good place to park my bottom whilst swigging a cup of hot cappuccino. Looking back at the day spent in a wetland and ecological park only built in 2006, I thought how quickly nature had taken hold of the area. For a teenage park, it has much more potential to blossom. The huge 40 square-kilometre region has small mountains, water bodies, flowery meadows and plenty of leafage. After that ride, I ate Hunan food with my friend Melody and then had dinner in Nancheng. It was a very pleasant day indeed.

7th February 2021. Day 2 distance cycled: 85km. Alongside my Spanish colleague Jaime, we set off for the most south-western point of Dongguan. We’re not allowed to leave Dongguan during the Chinese New Year festival. It’s part of the pandemic control. It makes sense. Why risk it? So, we headed to a place that overlooks Shenzhen’s most north-western tip. The new ecological park at JiaoYi Bay is so new that on arrival we found that most of the wild areas were under construction. The Marina Bay New District is being. Some land reclamation, some sea landscaping and plenty of soil was being moved. Still it was easy to work out what the end product would be. A Dongguan government propaganda piece has a alerted me to the area, and it wasn’t a bad wander. However the ride through Chang’an town and much of Dalingshan on the way there was an anticlimax. The ride back following the Dongbao river wasn’t bad even if sometimes the cycle path just vanished or had a construction site over it.

8th February 2021. Day 3 distance cycled: 70km. I went out for a coffee. I had no intention to do more than 20km. Songshan Lake has many inlets and side roads. Some areas are under intense building work, whilst others have immense environmental projects here and there. And then there’s Europe. Huawei’s European town is tacky and classy. It’s cheap and it’s extravagant. It’s simple and it’s complex. I’m unsure how I feel about this stack of contradictions. Although it does have a pretty cool railway system, I worry the scale is so large and so imposing that in a country struggling between Western and Eastern cultural identity that this piece of luxury is one step too far. Ox Horn Campus has 12 town styles inside it. And it seems to be growing, year on year, like a sinister James Bond nemesis set.

9th February 2021. Day 4 distance cycled: 0km. Today was our Murray’s F.C. x DGFC 30-man football tournament on Dongcheng rooftop. Between us all we had 5 teams, two fields (both 5 and 6 a-side) and a good evening of football, followed by beers and food at One For The Road and then Hollywood Baby Too. After many games throughout three hours, I was shattered and sore. The holiday needed me to have more energy…

Until next time.

7 years and a day…

新年快乐 / Happy Lunar New Year

It’s been seven years and a day since I arrived in China. There should be a lengthy piece of writing about that, but looking back is already documented. So, let’s look forward together to joy, happiness, City being top of the league and all that wonderful uncertainty that we get to kick in the dick. Don’t let the bastards wear you down. 2021 is the year of the (metal white?) Ox and we’re off and running.

To those lunatics who follow the lunar New Year, I wish you a happy new year. To those who follow the sun, you commit lunacy by not obeying the order of the moon. Each to their own. Blue moon will be played over the noise of the fireworks outside or maybe Saving Private Ryan is more appropriate.

To the future. So, what now?

Ta’ra / 再见

TESMC: Bell, Bishop…*

*…Walsh, Gündoğan, Sheron, Creaney, Wright-Phillips, Benarbia, Fowler, Barton, Geovanni, Pizarro, Nasri… and all those other wonderful Manchester City numbers 8s.

These are the voyages of the starship TESMC. Its nine-module mission: to explore strange new words. To seek out almost new teaching methods and relatively new vocabulary. The bold crew of the giant starship explores the excitement of strange uncharted dictogloss things, and exotic uninhabited refined writing. Imagine it – thousands of noun groups at our fingertips… To boldly go where few teachers have gone before!

“Navigation was always a difficult art,
   Though with only one ship and one bell:
And he feared he must really decline, for his part,
   Undertaking another as well.” – The Hunting Of The Snark, a poem by Lewis Carroll

During TESMC classes we have focused on language in learning across the curriculum. Here’s a recap (to build on the 7th instalment), at the Using English for Academic Purposes website, of nominal groups, structures and examples with exercises. There’s two links here and there for dictogloss activities. Look at this website called The Up-Goer Five Text Editor. It expects you to type a complex idea only using words from a list of 1000 common use words. That’s that, done!

[Now, an important announcement] Lemma: a word family, e.g. running, run, ran; blue, bluer, bluest, blueish, blues, etc. [Announcement ends]

Another vocabulary test website was pointed my way. Cheers ears! You know who you are. VocabularySize.com is a tool to create customized and test vocabulary tests for students. It was created by the University of Wellington, in New Zealand. Their School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies worked with School of Engineering and Computer Science. Language acquisition takes time, patience and exposure. Those students in an international school such as Tungwah Wenzel International School, surrounded by numerous international teachers, are most likely to increase their vocabulary than students in Inner Mongolia without a foreign teacher or access to YouTube. To them English will be as Scottish as a suntan.

Judgement value calls shouldn’t be drawn from memory. Responsive attitudes towards data collection over time carries more merit and significance. By showing a daily goal, we set a part of a bigger picture. The bigger picture should come from steps and aims. Those goals need organising. Rubrics are familiar territory that often get overlooked. I know, from my experience, that I have often favoured an in-head calculation over pencil, pen or paper. That’s not fair. Formative and summative assessments need clarity, not just for the teacher or the parent. The student should have the goalposts set early on. They must know what the task entails and how to achieve maximum marks.

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.” – Robert E. Stake, Professor Emeritus of Education, University of Illinois

Having a summative assessment that resembles activities earlier on is key too. If you use formative pieces that have multiple choice questions and then for the finale you switch to an all-singing, all-dancing 2000-word essay, then that’s totally not playing cricket with your students. English as a Second Language (ESL) students need modelled methods that allow them to switch between multiple forms. To do it without preparation is unfair. Failure or success depends on students and their experience. To think outside of the box without the necessary scaffolding is not easy. One activity that I found useful was to assign half the class the activity of being the teacher. The other half had to follow the instructions given by the teacher. Afterwards peer review of the followers revealed that some students gave clear instructions. Others did not. Some students improvised where instruction was lacking. Many students competed to give the better and clearer instructions. Positive peer pressure gives chance for evaluation and reflection. Using a checklist or rubric over the top of that student’s activity gives a more meaningful insight to the activity and assessment. The teacher can play the role of referee or judge. The peers become the jury. Hopefully no executioner needs assigning. That being said we’ve all had that one student who never does homework… [It’s gallows humour, relax]

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”  – Alfred Mercier

Student age gives us an idea of where to set our expectations. Within an age group, each student’s experience and exposure to English needs to be factored in. Then there’s nationality, multilingualism, academic performance in their native language(s), and so on… or what they ate for breakfast. Classrooms are living breathing jelly-like places that seldom remain constant. One gargantuan factor to take into consideration is that of student behaviour. Special needs and cares need to be taken into account. Not every student has the level of focus that we desire. To give confidence, informal formative assessments and their analysis will benefit the teacher and student. In the long run, reforming practices to unlock their true productive potential using a variety of interactive assessments will become a most valuable teaching tool.

“I never teach my pupils. I can only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

Formative assessments can guide a teacher to how a student is or is not progressing. It can allow the teacher to amend their methods or tailor an individual student’s needs much more fluidly. John Polias, of Lexis Education, describes it as:

  • assessment of learning;
  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning.

I read that in the style of Pep Guardiola as an intense football manager. He, like many great football managers, uses coaching of football in the game, after game analysis and during the game. The game is the test. The game is also a time to test new formations and tactics. The game is something to reflect on and to understand new learnings. This can also be said within our classroom. This should also be applied to our students. Assessment as learning is a real chance give appropriate and frequent feedback – in order to modify learning activities. It’s proactive and not reactive. Assessment of learning, the summative part, is reactive. It’s done, it’s dusted. Game over, almost. Assessment for learning also allows us scope to work away from the traditional unit test and external testing of old. Here in assessment for learning and assessment as learning we allow magic to happen. Students can express themselves. There’s self-assessment, self-monitoring and peer-assessment time. Students can create or make their own checklists or rubrics. With that, they can be employed for the purpose of learning. They allow students incentive, a drive, a spur on to get to a much more useful end. Therefore, Making Assessment Supportive focuses on how we can devote adequate time to making a type of assessment that makes sense for our students – and being able to use it at varied points of instruction. At points along the teaching cycle allows us to make assessment more fruitful. Lorna Earl’s Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximise Student Learning further strengthens this material showing a host of judgements about placement, promotion, credentials, etc to fit with other students. It shows information for teacher instructional decisions to meet external standards and expectations. It shows self-monitoring, self-correction and adjustment to reach personal and external goals.

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Kahlil Gibran

So, with all that, I ask you, teacher or not, what does the assessment pyramid look like? Identify how your school, current or old, had their pyramid. Where would you place the below? Top, middle or bottom?

  • assessment of learning;
  • assessment for learning;
  • assessment as learning.

Let’s each analyse samples of assessment tasks being used in our schools. Are they devised to be assessment of, for, or as learning? How can we incorporate a more overlapped approaches to assessments within teaching? What’s the understanding from students within our classes about the kinds of assessments that we do?

“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.” – B.B. King, musician

Until next time… goodbye for now.

TESMC: Pitt & Freeman vs. Spacey

Good (insert time here) / Hello / How do,

“Ben told the class that nouns are sexy.  I couldn’t agree more.” – Mr Lee, 2020/21 cohort, TESMC, TWIS

Noun groups are everywhere. ESL (English as a Second Language) learners may find ordering tough, whereas a professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, may find that their description of the fictional Scottish public and private boarding school of magic for students aged eleven to eighteen child’s play. The British magical community’s Ministry of Magic may not be an ideal place to start an exploration of noun groups, that most specific to English topic, but we can begin here with a dabble into the magical realm of TESMC class with Mr Ben. It’s our seventh class, hence the title.

“Many a man has a treasure in his hoard that he knows not the worth of. (Sellic Spell)” – Beowulf, J.R.R. Tolkien

Perspectives on Vocabulary by John Polias, Nominalisation, meaning making in the written realm by Brian Dare, and How accessible are the texts we use by John Polias made for riveting reading. They kept me up into the wee hours and on my toes. Why? They made me question my teaching and my selection of textbooks. Hugely. I’ve always been a fan of a DK Board game called Very Silly Sentences. This game helps to expand the vocabulary and manipulates verbs, adjectives and nouns. The idea of manipulating the nominal group needs base knowledge. That is to know the density of meaning slapped together inside a written text by giving numbers to nominalization per clause. Heavy stuff. Really heavy packed stuff. As a teacher we want to see the evolution of a student’s writing. It must go from: ‘It is a cat.’ We’re aiming to add weight to the sentence. Students, like adults, should be spouting Shakespearian cat descriptive pieces.

“foul night-waking cat” – The Rape of Lucrece, Sir William Shakespeare

If we sit our student’s first grade work alongside the same student’s work as they enter their early teenage years, you will see progress. The same can be done if we take week two work, week ten and week 17 work. Analysis is easy because it is reactive. Our job is much more proactive though. We’re targeting an end product. The factory assembly line of our classes must be targeted to show our desired outcomes of language learning. The crux of the matter is vocabulary extension: It’s a pretty cat. John Polias makes some strong cases for playing detective and taking visuals aside for as good old interrogation.

Fellow hair-challenged Brian Dare points out the pros and cons of refined writing. The high end of the mode continuum gets a fair treatment. He points out that suddenly students are less likely to be thinking on their toes. Students should be encouraged to both rewrite spoken text and speak in different ways about written text. It has to be bidirectional and the transpositions should become the tools of meaning-making in language. Going back and forwards, inverting, flipping it a bit, and relocating words here and there will provide the necessitous scaffolding. Do you remember the joys of messing with words and creating something clean and trim? The mode continuum gives our students something to blend and bend as a way to develop knowledge about language.

Explain these terms to a student without using the terms: common noun, proper noun, abstract noun, concrete noun, countable noun, uncountable noun, compound noun, collective noun, singular noun and plural noun. Respective examples could include window, Manchester, love, house, bike and bikes, rice, textbook, crowd, monkey, and babies. Easy enough, right? Now explain the function and use of a noun group. A noun group is a group of words relating to, or building on, a noun. There may be a pointer (a, an, this, that, these, those, my, your, his, her, its, our, dad’s, Mr Ben’s), one or more adverbs and adjectives. Before and after the main noun. The pre-modifier and the post-modifier offer ample opportunity for exploration. Referring back and forwards, within a sentence is a highly useful skill and tool for an up-and-coming writer. Adding weight and detail to the noun expands the information about the noun itself. It offers a clearer mental image. With these skills, our students can tell us much more about a cat. It’s a pretty fluffy cat with a wonderful temperament. The students are now armed with magic wands to cast spells on their noun structures. Effective writers need detail. Expanding the nominal group should be a weapon of choice.

Note: Nominal means as planned, or as named, or as written (in the mission plan). It does not mean normal.

Synonyms and antonyms are keys and tools to create colourful and abstract language. They’re also ideal for adding dimension to concrete dialogue and reports. One of my earliest English class memories was at Clayton Brook Primary School in Manchester. I, under ten years of age, and my peers were tasked with finding as many synonym words for the words good and bad. Many students talked about it. Some sought books. The tall loner in the corner dived like goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and grabbed something useful. The dictionary fell into my lap. I was hooked. My personal vocabulary grew from word hunts, games, and reading. Mr Jones, class 5AJ, at Chapel Street Primary School, where I later attended, had me constantly finding words, or even searching for made up words, which made me look up similar words. These strange games certainly gave me reasons to live amongst the pages of discovery.

Here on vocabulary played a part. Even to this day, I enjoy expressions, terminologies, and styles of writing because the words within are shouting at me like conversations and whisperings that I must hear. According to TestYourVocab.com, most adult native test-takers range from 20,000-35,000. The average 8-year-old native speaker already knows about 10,000 words. Foreign test-takers tend to hit 2,500-9,000 words – and even by living overseas that only tends to hit 10,000 words. As I slotted my answers into tick-boxes and scored an estimated 32,700 words for my vocabulary size, I realized how few of the 300,000 entries into the Oxford English Dictionary that I probably know. In reality knowing one word from the 20,000 printed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t all that bad (and in truth, just 35,000 are useful). Are the website’s findings accurate? Well, entering your data is based on honesty and over two million surveys doesn’t accurately reflect a global population of umpteen billion people. Also, who uses the internet?! Their website’s methodology, the nitty-gritty argues that their accuracy is around ±10%, so in my instance, I could be closer to 35,970 or 29,430 words. Either way, it’s a curious little tool of play. I’m not showing off. Not at all. It gives me a good reflection on how many words I have yet to experience or learn. The bad news, however, is that their findings say middle age is where vocabulary retention tends to end. The best reading I found on their website related to reading habits. They found that reading habits directly increases vocabulary growth. It may sound like, as my Dad would put it, “stating the bleeding obvious” but it goes a long way to reinforcing the habit of reading at an early age. This website is part of an independent American-Brazilian research project. The decade-old findings of China show that the average vocabulary size here for English as a Second Language users was 6,636 words. Now, considering the education boom in China, that could be higher now. The website is an indication but not a science. It made me think about how many base words we need to learn a language. But, then how often do we use the words and do we lose the words? Who do we talk with that make us use new words? Are some words specific to some scenarios? Oh, the endless questions! Where on Earth is Anglesey?

“One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilising or it will die.”- Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh, writer (28 October 1903 – 10 April 1966)

Textbooks need selection. Most of us read reviews and even more of us get handed a reading list and stack of books tall enough to paralyse a student’s passion for reading. Trying not to overwhelm a young kids with a stack of books is a good start. As John Polias points out we need to support the students. If I throw the Welsh town of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch at you and say read it. With that name of the Welsh village just over the Menai Bridge, you can unlock the language of Welsh, possibly. Possibly not. That’s where teachers must support every textbook handed to a student. A book without support may scare away passion for reading.

“Our song escapes, on little silver discs; Our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits” – Reflektor – Arcade Fire

Too long, didn’t read? Well, that’s half the problem. If reading isn’t for you, how can reading be for someone else? And if reading isn’t a habit, how can writing be a skill? I haven’t read any of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Am I a sinner? Maybe. It just never grasped my attention. So, now, I believe that I must read it. I won’t read it alone though. I’ll make it my personal mission to read it with each and every student of my grade four class. Maybe they have read it in Chinese. Maybe in English. But, how did they enjoy it? I’m sure we can enjoy the magical journey as one. If you don’t have one of the Harry Potter books to hand and you want to dig on into the wider world of English, check out the below sites:

The Economist (Johnson blog: named after Samuel Johnson, who made dictionaries. This blog is all about the use and misuse of language, with its ripple effects)

FreeRice.com teaches and tests vocabulary whilst donating 5 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Programme.

Language Log. Simply put, Mark Liberman, at the University of Pennsylvania, is a linguist with love of words. His Language Log website is a ticker-tape of blogs, posts and news all relating to language. Expect popular culture, controversy and history.

Dictogloss: a language learning technique. Used to teach grammatical structures. The teacher prepares text examples that need to be studied. The teacher reads it. The students just listen. No pens allowed. Next the students lift up their pens. Notes must be taken. By forming small groups, students can work together to reconstruct the text example using their knowledge, notes and teamwork. Afterwards reflection comes as students compare their various versions. With respect to my Grade 4 class, they tried this task twice and each time, they sailed the rough seas. Grade 4 are very capable sailors when the going gets tough. For extra experience, add a Powerpoint presentation whereby the words (and phrases) that you feel need noting pop up as you read it. It can reinforce student ability. After students become familiar with the dictogloss methods, take away the option of teamwork. First try paired working and then ask the students to work solo. This can also promote confidence.

“Fate goes ever as fate must.” – Beowulf, Seamus Heaney

As students move through schooling they will encounter different registers with full expectation to engage them accordingly. The use of nominal groups to enhance and even make complex text can be explained and shown to be more than useful. The dictogloss is there to be used as a tool, but not for exactitude. How many things change through new interpretation and retelling? Language and writing, like speaking can all be about exploration. As teachers we are captains of ships and we must wake our hypnopompic students with a sparge of word play. Our fuliginous fluffy funambulist of a feline with a wonderful temperament must exercise its vibrissae to avoid any pother as it balances on the tenebrous tightrope of life. With that, I end my braggadocio writing.

“Fate will unwind as it must!” – Beowulf, Burton Raffel

Goodbye, for now.

TESMC 六: Hexa-Sense

How do!

Writers use language resources as a key to organize texts, very much as I am doing now, albeit very amateurish in style, so that you, like the students as readers have a sense of what shall follow. When reading, a reader must orientate to a subject. For most who have experience reading in their native tongue, experience plays an advantage in determining the subject. For English as a Second Language (ESL) students, that experience may be lacking. For many of us, we may be able to pre-read and digest a news article, magazine piece or a book blurb just from experience. Our pre-formed ideas and exposure to templates could settle our mind on a track to read with ease. The imagination and interpretation of a seasoned-mind will draw out bold titles, enhance key points, find text captions, and articulate the who, when, what, why and how etc.

Achieving a proper semantic level via syntax isn’t a bad starting point. How many of us can clearly and quickly distinguish a cohesive conjunction from a rhetorical conjunction? How do we view phrases rather than look at individual words? Do we see the Lego castle or the loose blocks? Do those phrases serve as roles in conjunctions? Students face multiple texts, in differing formats, in varied lengths across countless textbooks, journals, magazines, booklets, instruction books, and so on. Students must use a range of complex resources and processes to make sense of the materials.

foreground/ˈfɔːɡraʊnd/ verbgerund or present participle: foregrounding

  1. make (something) the most prominent or important feature.

Knowing that a strap-line sits over or under a title, elaborating briefly on a subject is useful. The headline or title will grab the attention of a reader. There may be a byline with a writer and their expertise. So, before, even reading a sentence or paragraph, the reader could be parachuted into the story beyond, just by a few simple well-positioned words. From the introduction, a piece of writing will be elaborated on. There will be interpretation within the text and then quotes. Just to make things interesting, some publications make their ordering flexible, bullet-pointed, short and sharp, whereas others pad the hell out of the article. Rather like the teaching cycle, a reader must learn that things can be flexible. This learning cycle is subject to change, like all else in life. Orders change.

Some aspects can be skipped if students demonstrate they can satisfy the earlier stage of the cycle. It is advisable to set a clear context, to create a model, deconstruct it all, make a joint construction and then set independent construction.

Teachers must be sensitive when we go through books or texts. We read for meaning across the text. We read for context. The use of five different skills to comprehend the meaning will be decisive in thorough interpretation of text.

  • Pronouns refer back (and sometimes forwards) to content within the text.
  • Vocabulary is part of grammatical English. Grammar teaching requires cohesive conjunctions. Words like when, while, although, in other words, in the case of this, and so on are often new to students. Creating a list or glossary to assist will be useful.
  • Rhetorical conjunctions
  • Foregrounding at the whole text level.

By unravelling these pieces, peace in reading should follow. The purpose, schematic structures and language choice are all connected. Foregrounding is essential when it comes to almost all forms of texts. If a student is expected to look at and understand an article, then giving them the bigger picture and idea about reading the whole article is a must. Students from ESL backgrounds may be unfamiliar with conjunction forms and how linking words are used to tie together unknown vocabularies into their related sentences. Conjunctions should be provided to students, whether by heading, indexing or other means. Examples must be given for each and every one whether provided steadily or as a block. Familiarity takes time, and with gentle nurturing a student can be supported in focusing on reading text to know exactly which keywords of an introduction paragraph to look for. How do those words lead into the following paragraph and so on…

Cohesive conjunctions:

Conjunctions and connectives are cohesive devices that work to improve the flow of the writing.

Conjunctions operate within sentences and connectives relate to meaning between sentences.

Different types of conjunctions are used to express different types of relationships between ideas.

Ta’ra!

Yunnan, finally.

Happy New Year. 新年快乐。

I awoke on January the 2nd in Shangri La. The final day of trekking around YuBeng (雨崩) village involved a 500m ascent followed by a 1100m descent to XiDang village. YuBeng translates directly as rain and collapse or avalanche. As Piotr, Oliver and I were ascending we heard a mighty crack in the air and watched an avalanche high on the wide expanse of the Hengduan mountain range. A shelf somewhere near Kawagabo peak slid away. Rather noisy.

On arrival at XiDang, our driver Mr ZhaShiDingZhu (扎史定主), a warm-hearted Tibetan, picked us up. He would take us to Shangri La. Our driver stopped at three historic monuments, two dramatic views and to enjoy a chicken hotpot. It was a good journey indeed. The long road of return was pleasant and a fitting end to a wonderful few days in the mountains. Arriving late to pleasant digs gave us all a chance to rest our weary heads.

A day of gentle cycling and pottering around followed. With hire bicycles from the Boudhi Boutique Shangri La, Oliver and I cycled around old buildings, shops and I stripped down to my underwear as the rear of my trousers underwent a cheeky repair. The shopkeeper wasn’t too perturbed but his wife certainly showed embarrassment.

In Shangri La, Oliver and I bid farewell at breakfast to Piotr. He was off exploring more snow-capped wonders. As he wandered off, Oliver and I meandered and ambled up and down the Shangri La old town. Between gift buying and sightseeing, we ate great Nepali food at the Bohdi Boutique Inn. A most wonderful find. Shangri La beers did their best to quench our thirst and that’s where the trip closed. One simple flight back the next day and we were back to Guangdong. Yunnan was far away but close to my heart.

So, what now?

Firing into 2021

新年快乐。Happy New Year.

Lodge two of three in Upper YuBeng

Sat eating our selection of dishes, people were drifting by the window in small groups. Sometimes one or two. Sometimes ten strong. Our dishes featured Tibetan pork, eggplant, potato in some shape and form, lovely eggs, and various vegetables cooked to perfection. Our New Year’s Eve selection was delectable. Piotr, Oliver and I supped Shangri La Beer local lager and nattered away carelessly. By 10pm, Oliver was flagging by the hot stove and Piotr was busy on a phone call. I suggested Oliver can sleep as nothing seemed to be happening. Soon after we all decided to go and get some fresh air. And beer. Mainly the beer.

With our carrot dangling before us, we set off like donkeys on a mission. We briefly called into a neighbouring hotel/KTV bar before watching a party there. It was rather boisterous and loud but not our cup of tea. The warm stove was welcoming but the floor beneath it rocked precariously. Off we set to the Yak Butter Inn, and the many cats within. Here the boss welcomed us but a group of footbath users were less than warming. The cats wandered around, greeting us with gentle mewing and meow sounds. A beer sank ever too easily and we strolled back to our lodge. Still people passed by heading to the upper part of Upper YuBeng.

After another beer at our lodge;curiosity swung it’s hands at us. We followed the now more frequent groups heading to the upper limits and temple area of Upper YuBeng. Off we trotted. Here, by Upper YuBeng’s main stupa, a group of a few hundred people were doing their best to resemble Chinese druids. A swelling and pulsating circular throng of people moved around to no particular beat. Some instructions by people in the middle rang out. A central fire, with warmth attracted Piotr and Oliver. I stood around the edge trying to make sense of it all. As 2020’s final minutes arrived, a ripple of excitement charged through the gathering.

Western breakfast, almost. Sadly, no HP Sauce.

A girl from Beijing grabbed my hand and explained the proceedings. Sparklers, countdowns and fireworks with some local dancing. And that’s almost what happened. Some of it was wonderful, other bits disorganised and cumbersome. Either way it was a welcome surprise and a great experience to share the welcoming of 2021 with trekkers, some local Tibetan people in modern takes on traditional headwear and attire. I never thought I’d see Apple-brabded Yunnan clothing. This is China, after all. Everything is possible. The next morning involved Tibetan pork, eggs and Tibetan bread for breakfast. Well if you’re heading off, head off on a full tummy…

Happy New Year for 2021.

Idyllic Wild

新年快乐!Happy New Year!

The road from Feilaisi (飞来寺) is long and winding, with concrete under foot or wheel. Towering on the opposite side of the valley is Kawagarbo (6740m) and Yunnan province’s highest point. The roads bend and wind up and down to a checkpoint. At this point, one must surrender 27.5RMB. This gains you access to the Yubeng village scenic area (雨崩村). Starting an ascent at Xidang Spring (西当温泉), my colleagues Javier and Carmen headed up alongside me. We were to follow a trail marked by green bins. The spring of the village was rather an anti-climax.

Javier surveys the spring.

Those green litter bins and new saplings littered the pathway upwards. The path would zigzag across numerous dirt tracks and one under construction concrete road. For the entire ascent, I stopped only once for hot milk and some water in a tiny rickety-old-shack. The pleasure cost me a staggering 130RMB. The man had seen me coming. Each half litre bottle of water was 10RMB and the milk was 110RMB. The man charged 200RMB for noodles to a group calling by. In the future, always enquire about prices before accepting goods. I did wonder how at least 500 noodle pots stacked up at the wooden lodge’s side hadn’t improved the roughness of the building.

The route up had a positive gain of over 1100 metres. At its highest point, my lower legs enjoyed some much needed respite. At which point, a Snickers chocolate bar, not my favoured choice, tasted marvelous. I’d passed through some great panoramic viewing points before reaching Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村). Nazongla Yakou (那宗拉垭口) wasn’t too dramatic, but the views on entering Yubeng certainly brought a beaming smile to my face. A good 6 hours from Xidang to YuBeng was needed. On arriving, I checked into the Yak Butter Inn.

The Yak Butter Inn has a flowery name. It should be renamed to something feline like a cattery. The lodge has numerous large moggies strutting around. Young long-haired fuzz balls can be seen curled up in various baskets and cushions. A lone dog limps around, evidently resigned to being shy of any further pack members. The pleasant warmth of a wood stove heats one corner of the room, as the sun licks through windows at another. A busy kitchen emits fragrances of common Chinese cuisine and piping hot teas. A young cat thwacks my leg with its paws seeking attention.

Yak Butter Inn cattery

I elect to stay at the Yak Butter Inn for one night. A night in a shared dormitory reminds me that I no longer want that kind of experience. Farting, belching, snoring and a roundabout of lights-on, lights-off motions are one thing. Hearing Douyin/TikTok at every hour is another. With my colleague Oliver and his entourage arriving the following evening, I changed lodges. Two nights later, we changed lodges again. No rooms at the second inn, due to New Year bookings. The kind Tibetan owner had served us great Pu’er teas (普洱茶) and good hearty hiking food.

Before Oliver arrived, Carmen, Javier and I wandered upwards to the Sacred Waterfall (神瀑). A gain of 600 metres altitude. It being winter, the waterfall was mostly frozen and receding. The valley walk up from Yubeng Lower Village (雨崩下村) was gentle with a solid pathway built to guide tourists slowly in one direction and back again. CCTV and Chinese good luck shapes marked the route making it impossible to go off the beaten track. Walking poles needed a soft base and were generally of little use. The five hour round trip was pleasant enough with sweeping chains of prayer flags coating the latter stage of the route. Overflowing green rubbish bins and hundreds of scattered Red Bull drinks cans added shame to such a holy route. Chipmunks, adventurous and cute, sought treats amongst furry green moss-coated ancient trees. The cool fresh air a certain reward for stretching your legs out.

Sacred waterfall valley

Prior to walking up the valley, our trio had a few jumps and twists around the flowing streams that sit just above Lower YuBeng. The great boulders and pebbles are home to a logging camp which causes the water channels to splinter like roots from a tree. The transition into the old woodland beyond is chilling and in the shadow of the mountain. Like many places, frozen snow regulates the ambient temperature, giving a dark murky cool feel. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Master Yoda lived here. An icy world in opposition to the sun dried bank over the gentle flow of the stream. Perfect for Jedis in hiding.

A six to seven hour walk from Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村) via Xiaonong Base Camp (笑农大本营) gets you to the cold dry icy landscape of the Ice Lake (冰湖) at 3900m, nestled beneath Kawagarbo. The great overhanging peak condensed with snow from seasons of snowfall and heavy wind looms overhead. The wind reminds you of nature’s power, driving in, swirling and biting sharply. Remnants of receding glacier shelves and loose looking snow shelves linger menacingly. They will fall one day. The Ice Lake lived up to its name. Some of the ascent (around 800m gain) that day necessitated crampons. My tough boots bore the brunt of careful footwork and one walking pole, as I climbed the challenging route. No crampons for some. The donkey tracks and frozen soil pathways before it zig-zagged up and down various forestry climates battering my boots into disrepair on the return journey. Rhododendrons, pines, cypress trees and other green species reflected various browns, reds and greys. It was a real rainbow of a route.

Great place to lay down and look up

Mother Nature has been busy here. The valleys around YuBeng are dramatic. They’re microclimates with epic visual proportions. Each has a mysterious feel to which evidently religion has become attached. They’re places of stories and tales, entwined to folklore and legend. As a devout daydreamer, they’re a place to let the mind go and wonder as you wander. Every twisted tree, shadowy rock or distant sound could start a new story. Farming, the traditional Tibetan ways, mixes with a blend of the modern and the local wooden builds make way for tourism-aimed metal and concrete lodges. Glamping has arrived, but the Tibetan pilgrimage routes remain. New stories will yet be told.

Abandoned cabin

Beyond the idyllic setting of managed walking routes, it’s possible to trek along an ancient Buddhist pathways. That pathway leads to a glacier, snuggled beneath Kawagarbo. Remembering that climbing the mountain is banned and ill advised, it’s possible to follow an ancient trail through woodland, across a grass plain into a kind of Alpine tundra. The evident altitude cools much of the area and ice watetfalls, streams and ponds are frequently found higher up. The thickness of mosses, lichens and bearded trees drape on wilder routes. The mountain hinterland maintains a natural ecological state, and away from the beaten track, it’s the best place to witness it. Leave only footprints. Certainly don’t attempt the long walk to Myanmar. But enjoy the diversity of fungi and lichens.

The Northwest of Yunnan has quickly become my favourite place in China. YuBeng is itself a piece of heaven on Earth. Perhaps the nearby city of Shangri La should hand over its adopted name to the village of YuBeng. This growing tourist hotspot will see many pilgrimages, changes and challenges in the coming years. Will it sustain its beauty? Only time and UNESCO status will tell. I was told around twenty households made up YuBeng in the last decade. Now, there’s a Guangdong restaurant, Hong Kong style guesthouses, plenty of Sichuan options and even a family from Shandong (Eastern China). It will be tough to retain the Tibetan charm and character. Like much of the world, this corner of Dêqên is becoming quite samey-samey. The same old KTV can be heard by a shattered water prayer wheel. Up the way, steamed Cantonese food can be ate, with an ancient Stupa baked under a solar powered streetlight. Mani stones hide behind new hotel signage. The old ways are slipping from sight.

I’ve experienced a little altitude sickness, for most of the region is over 3200m. Discomfort in sleeping for the first few days, some muscle exhaustion, breathlessness at times and minor headaches resolved mostly yesterday. Enough so to enjoy a light Shangri La Beers lager or two, with delicious fresh yak meat, at the insistence of our lodge owner.

Hung out to dry

This morning when I walked into dining area of the lodge, I thought the weather-beaten looking Tibetan men had all had an argument. The dozen men, that seem to be ever present within the lodge (under renovation and expansion), were sat one per table at various parts of the room. On getting my door key, I spied that they were all head down and deep into Mandarin Chinese writing and reading textbooks. I left them to study in peace, passed the hanging yak meat, locked my door and joined Oliver, Piotr and Benedict for breakfast at another lodge.

Piotr works for shell. Oliver had met him and others on the way up from Xidang. Sociable Oliver teaches to travel and travels well, making friends as he goes. Knowledgeable as he is, he can be a little loud, as is the Australian way for many. He’s a sound lad with a keen eye to see more, do more and learn more. It’s a pleasure to have him as a colleague at Tungwah Wenzel International School. He met Piotr and you’d think they were best friends. It’s pleasing to see. The two entered the ice cave, skidded on the ice lake and galloped up the glacier together. Some people are more astronaut than astronomer. I’m happy flirting between active and observer. The mountains are familiar and here I feel relaxed. Wandering around watching jays feeding in the undergrowth satisfies me just as much as ascending ridge lines. We did enjoy a little camp fire and tea though.

Somewhere like this

Sat reading Roald Dahl’s Someone Like You, on a moss covered rock, shaded from the bright sun, as it dropped below the mountains overhead will no doubt remain my favourite place to read for many years. The gentle stream underneath that feeds into either of the three great rivers makes me feel dreamy and sleepy. The Jinsha (later Yangtze), Lancang (later Mekong), and Nujiang (soon to be known as Salween) rivers come from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. People from roughly 22 ethnic groups (Naxi, Lisu, Tibetan, Bai, Yi, Pumi, Nu, Dulong etc) live in and around the starting areas of these great rivers. One drop of rain water into this relatively narrow area of basins could end up in the Andaman sea by Myanmar, or flow by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, or slip through Tiger Leaping Gorge towards Jiangsu and Shanghai. I look up from my book, watching a clump of ice break up and drift downstream. What a pleasant little journey.

Until next time…