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Talkwritelive – check it out!

My colleague, Kelli Graham, has a cool new Talk Time blog.  She’s managing several Talk Times and also ESL Labs where you can do a “write time” as well as a “talk time”.  Kelli is a fountain of good ideas and careful, wise practice.

Don’t miss out – check it out at http://talkwritelive.wordpress.com

Carnivore Women

My friend from Japan taught me some new words:

Carnivore Woman – an assertive woman.  The term is often applied to single career women over 30.
Herbivore Man – a quiet, introverted, sometimes geeky intellectual man
Nomenication – communication through drinking parties, often applied to obligatory post-work parties with fellow employees and supervisors

This last word is a combination of the Japanese word for “drink” and the English word “communication”.  Cool, eh?  The Japanese movie “Ikiru” is an amazing story about the meaning of life, and shows Japanese society in the 1950s.  One scene of a funeral shows nomenication in action –  as the drinking progresses, the party line drops away and honest feelings are expressed.

As to carnivore women, from my friend’s perspective, it’s hard for them to find spouses in Japan.  They don’t fit the traditional role of women and wives in Japan.  Although the younger generation is moving outward from the traditional roles, the betweeners, the carnivore women, can’t find their niche in the same way as the 20-somethings nor give-up their essential core selves to fit into a traditional mold in order to have a life partner.  Perhaps they will find a man who respects and enjoys them as they are, but it’s even rarer to find a Japanese man who will accept a career woman as wife.

In your Talk Time – explore the matter of men and women in roles that change with time.  Where do your students fit the cultural norms and where do they find themselves out of step?  What do they hope or plan to do about it?

Get Out Of Your Chair

Yesterday we got to talking about the difference between U.S. cultures of the east and the west.  My co-facilitator was from the east coast, and originally from Europe.  One Korean student talked about loving the east coast – how people are more friendly and it’s easier to get to know people.  Westerners seem more introverted.  We also commented that easterners are more formal and classy; westerners are more informal and casual.  I glanced at my co-facilitator and observed her gold jewelry, bright blouse and designer jeans.  I was wearing my usual uniform of black pants and a light-weight fleece.  I suddenly jumped up and made my co-facilitator stand up next to me and said, “See, here’s east and west!”   The students cracked-up and agreed that they could see the difference.  (It was stark.)  :)  After that, the students were a little more boisterous and jolly.  Get out of your chair!

What makes for a good Talk Time?

Song is a Korean E-learning specialist who is passionate about bringing quality education to all Korean students, regardless of family financial resources, through E-learning.  She has this to say about what makes for a good Talk Time.

“1. Sweet staff and volunteers who try to understand us.
 2. Open-minded friends who came from various countries and have various cultures and characters.
 3. Very helpful life skills in American life that we can learn.
 4. Interesting topics – everyone can empathize and share with each other.
5. Many opportunities to practice our English.
6. An impressive mood that is the coexistence of Equality and Diversity in the Talk Time space.
7. What we can feel – some kind of peace of the world through Talk Time together!”

Thanks, Song!

Topic: Who am I?

Who Am I

Click on the link to find the Talk Time topic sheet.

Workforce Focus

My boss showed me the tag line on an email from a major name in ESL education in Washington state:   Better skills.   Better jobs.  Building a better Washington.

The focus on ESL for job skills has been around for awhile, but it’s definitely gathering momentum in the funding world for non-profit literacy development agencies under the title Adult Education for Work, a subset of Adult Education.

Since Talk Time is my thing, I’ve been pondering the question, “How does a workplace focus fit in with something as free-floating and student-centered as Talk Time?”

One of my colleagues suggested that almost any conversation is useful in the workplace.  Work relationships are bolstered through break-time banter – hashing over current events, sports or “whatcha doin’ this weekend?”  Immigrants with growing English skills need to get in on the conversations.

A more targeted approach is to inquire about work and workplace issues as a conversation topic.  “What does the boss need to know about your work?  What do you wish the boss would tell you?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues in meeting business objectives?  What are successes and challenges in your job?  What would you like to communicate to coworkers or management but can’t because of language limitations?”

Such discussions will help develop critical thinking skills as applied to the workplace – definitely a necessary skill for success both personally and corporately.

Also, personal stories from the workplace provide possibilities for role plays of critical communications to the boss or coworkers where Talk Time participants must summon the words, phrases and sentences to successfully communicate and take a step toward solving work problems.

You can play the “what if . .?” game with a workplace setting – for example, “What if your boss left the company?   Would you apply for his or her job?  Why or why not?”  This kind of activity may focus attention on basic or technical skills that can be acquired to provide readiness for a job promotion opportunity that may arise unexpectedly.

Everyone can apply the “what if” scenario to their own existing or hoped-for employment.   And apply the “what if” to very basic elements of work life:  “What if your car breaks down on the way to work?  What do you say on the phone to your boss?”   “What if you can’t get your task done by the deadline?  How do you communicate that to coworkers or your boss?” 

In a hotel setting, my students talked about the issues in answering a phone call from the boss asking, “Can you work today?  When can you come in?”  The students talked about their various situations – 5 minutes or 50 minutes from work, and the uncertainty of bus schedules.  We role played the phone call for lots of different situations generated by the students.  It was still a student-centered experience focused on fluency but very work-focused with specific applicable results that could applied in the next work week.

Even those not in the labor force can contribute by playing “what if the breadwinner in your family lost his or her job?  What would or could happen next?  How would you advise him or her?” 

It can only be gain when non-working family members recognize the importance of encouraging the working family members and applying their own critical thinking skills for the good of the whole family.

Topic audience

In my early Talk Time days, I wrote very simple materials – a few sentences or paragraph about something that happened to me or someone I knew, followed by a handful of questions tied to a common word or theme.  There were no instructions to either facilitator or participants. 

Since 2008, I’ve been writing topics with lots of bells and whistles.  There’s a warmup question or two, a story, some pair time, more questions, suggested role plays, a web link.  There are instructions at certain points like: “Discuss in pairs or groups of three.”

But are these instructions to the facilitator or the participants?  I think I’m appealing to the participants here, in hopes that they will rise up and demand the opportunity to discuss the questions in pairs, if the facilitator neglects to arrange them so for at least part of the session.  I sometimes feel as though I’m dueling with unknown faciliators who seek to thwart my purpose in putting together these topic sheets.  If I put the words “pair work” in a really large font, will the facilitators be more apt to try it?

But, my thin little slip of a topic sheet really can’t force anyone to do anything.  Facilitators have to be sensitive and inventive, able to assess what’s going on with the participants and feel free to skip over questions, ignore suggestions and toss the thing in the waste basket if it isn’t serving the participants well.

So, who am I writing for?  The participants.  If they aren’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.




The miracle of pair work

          The Talk Time facilitators I know are fascinating, well-read, well-traveled and highly educated characters.  They’re brimming with personality and drama. They can take an obscure word and act it out, make it sing or walk it like a dog.  They’re full of thrilling and hilarious stories.

        All of this makes it extremely hard to stay quiet, so the equally fascinating characters who are the students can tell their thrilling and hilarious stories.

          Pair work is miraculous in how it relieves the burden of keeping quiet and tips the balance in favor of student talking.

            The students talk to each other independently of the facilitator.  The students could choose from a handful of questions, or form their own questions and then talk directly to each other.  At that point, the facilitator can back completely away and not even let the students catch his eye.  If they catch his eye, they may start addressing their comments primarily to the facilitator!

           Even with only two students, they can talk to each other without facilitator participation, praise or guidance.  With four or more students, pairs can switch partners and talk to many students. 

          It’s much easier than trying not to talk.  The facilitator just  sits back, listens in unobtrusively, gives gentle reminders to take turns if needed and relaxes.

TalkTime is easy??

A new volunteer joined me at Talk Time.  We had never met before, only talked on the phone.   Beforehand, I tried to describe what kind of ESL teaching she would be doing,

“You’ll be facilitating student conversation, listening and asking questions.”
“Oh! It sounds like a Talk Time.”
“It IS a Talk Time.”
“Oh, that’s easy.”

I was a shade skeptical.  I’ve known wonderful people who have foundered on Talk Time because their brilliant personalities kept popping out and stunning the students into submissive spectatorhood.  It’s not easy to veil a brilliant personality.   Pulling the veil back a bit from time to time can inspire and relax students, but if facilitators don’t stay low profile and major on listening, the students won’t get to be the stars. 

So, my new volunteer came and every one introduced themselves.  A picture of a leprechaun was on the table.  One of the students asked me,
“What is that?”
“Hmm.  Does anyone here know?”
“I know,” said D.
“Do you want to tell the others?”
“No.”  (She smiled.)

The new volunteer whispered to me, “That’s great.  You didn’t answer the question.  You asked if the students could do it.”

After observing the students divide into pairs and groups and converse amicably for some time, the new volunteer said,

“Do you care if they don’t follow the topic sheet?  They started with it but now they’re talking about something else.” 
“Nope.  Don’t care.  As long as everyone is engaged, it’s all good.”

A little later, she said,

“This is great.  I love it!  The students do the talking.  It’s like what I do at work, where I listen to my clients’ stories!”

Talk Time is not easy IMHO.  But my new volunteer is off to a great start – she’s observant, asks questions, relates what she sees to her own experience and loves listening to the students.