October 8: Self-assessment of My Professional Performance in English

Drawing on Moate’s (2011) teacher talk typology and Pilkinton-Pihko’s (2013) criteria for evaluating oral professional communication in English, I will now evaluate my own professional performance in English. It is going to be interesting to see how rich and diverse I am in my roles of Doctoral Student and Lecturer in English. In a dialogue with student feedback and my personal reflections, I will compare how well I did four years ago, as a new teacher, with where I am today. I will start with Pilktinton-Pihko’s criteria and continue with Moate’s typology. Both of these are presented in bullet form.

Criteria for evaluating oral professional communication in English

  • Accessible NNS fluency. When it comes to Accessible NNS fluency, I have developed a great deal during my four years of teaching. As a new teacher, I had a tendency to speak very quickly without pausing, which made it difficult for L2 students to understand and follow along, especially if these students’ English skills were weak. After realizing my beginner mistake and I guess, becoming more confident in my professional role, I have slowed down considerably. I also try to pause, when appropriate and emphasize key vocabulary. Based on student feedback from spring 2018, a large number of my students were very pleased with my “excellent” English skills. Several also stated that I spoke clearly and in a language that they could understand. This was particularly interesting because I never asked the students to evaluate my linguistic skills. Instead, the question in the feedback form was “What are the teacher’s strengths?”. Although I have improved in this area, I still believe there is room for improvement.
  • Perceived Intelligibility. I am not a native speaker but speak with a neutrality that comes across as clear and intelligible. Even though I have spent long periods in the USA, I have a slight British influence when it comes to pronunciation. One of my colleagues from the English Studies once joked that I can always present myself as a transatlantic speaker of English.
  • Accommodation skills. As a new teacher, I found it difficult to vary my language and switch between formal and informal registers of English. Today, I am more confident in my accommodation skills although there is certainly room for improvement.
  • Plurilingualcultural strategies. I believe that I am able to maintain a flow or NNS fluency and am culturally aware. I can accommodate for local “Finnish” concepts in English and always try to be aware of local and pluricultural politeness when the context is international. With this said, I can certainly still improve in this area, as well.
  • Lexicogrammatical appropriateness. I always use a clear language with prepositions and articles. I regularize verbs and use the nominal plurals. If I come across as unintelligible, I usually rephrase and try to find a more exact language (depending on context more formal or informal or just explain something in a different way).
  • Coherence and cohesion/Lecture coherence. When it comes to coherence and cohesion, I aim to use arguments that are well reasoned. I often ask questions to aid communication and to check that the students have understood. Here, nonverbal communication is important, too, for instance, gestures and eye contact also aid dialogue and two-way communication between teacher and students together with students-students. Coherence and cohesion are sections that could be developed. Particularly, well-reasoned arguments are an art form that I will continue to improve. When it comes to lecture coherence, I often use PowerPoints to keep a lecture structured and aid coherence.
  • Content accessibility. This is something I continually work on in my own research: How to explain difficult ideas and concepts in an easy way. Although I can present content that is cognitively challenging in an accessible way with natural pauses, etc., it can be challenging especially if I teach a new course (which is what I do this fall). However, one becomes better with practice. Therefore, practice and preparation are important although sometimes, it may be difficult to find preparation and practice time.
  • Speaker credibility. You have to gain in-depth knowledge and understand a subject before you can offer it to your students. As quite a recent teacher, I always strive to gain more knowledge about what I teach. My grammar is overall good, and I believe, I handle most questions well. If I cannot answer a question or if my answer is lacking during class, I try to look it up and incorporate the answer later. Although I am quite confident, I can always improve my speaker credibility.
  • Listener engagement. I aim to engage my students but sometimes it is difficult to interpret how engaged they actually are. I try to speak with passion and enthusiasm as well as, creating interest in the subject matter.
  • Field-specific terminology. I am able to use correct field-specific terminology but there is always room for more terminology, especially if a course is new. I can understand cross-disciplinary vocabulary, but there are, of course, limitations. For example, since I am not specialized in, for instance, engineering, my professional terminology in this field is limited.

Teacher talk typology

  • Organizational talk. I use organizational talk especially during the first course meeting and during the first minutes of a class to lay out the structure. It is also important when giving out assignments and tasks, I believe.
  • Social talk. I use social talk quite a bit to create a safe environment and lower the threshold between teacher and student.
  • Critical talk. I often ask questions for student engagement, and now I also learned that this is important for critical thinking and the deconstruction of concepts.
  • Expert talk. In-between the critical and social talk, I aim to insert the expert talk.
  • Exploratory talk. The idea with critical talk is perhaps to engage in exploratory talk. By asking follow-up questions and inserting my own understanding, I also hope to engage students in exploratory talk. This can be difficult, depending on the course format or if a group is new, which means sometimes one is successful and other times not, but one can always try to do better next time.
  • Meta talk. I use metatalk, for example, when explaining what we will do today: first, we will…, second, we will… and for assignments.
  • Pedagogic talk. My interpretation is switching from formal or academic English to informal English. This is something that I found difficult as a new teacher. Even if I have improved today, I can still improve on pedagogic talk.

 

September 24: Cultural Deconstruction, Interculturality, Othering and Togetherness

 

Today we made a shift from intercultural to intercultural to avoid othering. Othering is the way of imposing group identities on others, who become different and exotic.  Borrowing from Sara Ahmed’s (2014) theory on affect, othering creates inferiority, distances and gaps between people and groups, through negative emotions, such as disgust and hate.

If we understand culture as something having to do with groups and examine the ways different groups create group memberships, through shared practices of living, creating meaning and symbols, we can further divide groups into “real groups” and “imagined groups.”    Real groups work on micro and meso levels. In contrast to imagined groups, real group members are countable and consist of people we see and interact with, for example, family, friends, community, classmates and workplace.  Imagined groups work on an exo level. This means that they are massive and many times uncountable, exemplified in gender, hobby, nation, generation, profession, religion, global and ethnicity.

If we further view culture as a fluid matrix that we (re)shape, perform and negotiate individually together with within, between and across groups, these groups are in a similar way open and flexible.  By this, while culture may appear closed and fixed, it is changeable, and the power of change is within every one of us, and the key to change is interculturality.

Interculturality means “intercultural moments,“ created by interaction between people with different backgrounds. An interculturally competent person tolerates ambiguity and surprise. When we shift into intercultural, we show interest in the people we communicate with. We build shared understanding of differences in interaction, which creates togetherness. In order to create togetherness in intercultural contexts, e.g., the classroom, we can use the interculturality toolkit: 1) identification and othering, 2) different language competencies, 3) inequalities and 4) building and inclusive and just shared culture.

Next, I will move from interculturality to transculturality. The article “English as an academic lingua franca and intercultural awareness: student mobility in the transcultural university” (2016) by Will Baker discussed the transcultural university. According to Baker (2016: 441), the transcultural university stands for “moving through and across different university settings which are no longer confined by national boundaries.” The prefix trans stands for across, through, changing thoroughly and beyond (OED). Thus, transcultural moves across all cultures and may combine elements from these. Baker (2016: 447) argues that the traditional model of preparing students for going abroad, focusing on one target language and culture, is outdated. This is because the present landscape of higher education around the world is multilingual and multicultural. English and English culture exist along many languages and cultures, and students use the English language mainly as a lingua franca (Baker 2016: 449). Baker (2016: 441) has adopted the term transcultural to explain the cultural and linguistic diversity and fluidity of today’s higher education, in which English is the shared language of instruction in the classroom and in communication between students inside and outside the university setting, in different groups, in which the majority of participants are non-native speakers of English.

In order to cope with the complexity, hybridity and fluidity of higher education today in student mobility contexts, Baker (2016: 443, 449) recommends that students need linguistic and intercultural awareness.

September 3, 2018: Introduction, Digital Technology and Teaching

Department meeting, September 3, 2018

Since I forgot to introduce myself in the first blog, I will grab the opportunity and do it now. I am a Doctoral Student in English at the Department of Language and Communication Studies, University of Jyväskylä, placed in Vaasa. I am doing research on girl agency in  contemporary versions of the folktale “Little Red Riding Hood,” in written and visual modalities. If you are interested in knowing more about my research, please see my academic website Besides my doctoral studies, I have been teaching English part-time for three years. This fall, I will most likely teach a course in Popular Culture Texts.

In today’s session, Pedagogical Head Juha Jalkanen asked us to reflect on the subjects of teaching, academic content and digital technology. What are these and where do they intersect in our professional lives? As teachers, how do we approach digital technology (DT)?  What role does DT play in our teaching? How can we engage students, challenge them and support them in digital environments? We also discussed the benefits and drawbacks of contact teaching versus noncontact teaching. Is DT problems a symptom of white entitlement? The discussion we had worked as a platform without providing  clear answers to the questions because they will naturally vary from one person, context and course together with faculty and university to another. Nevertheless, it is important for teachers to engage critically with these type of questions in order to develop as teachers in the era of DT and Artificial Intelligence.

Meeting August 27, 2018: Banal Nationalism and Successful Interpersonal Communication

During the first course meeting, we were asked to reflect on what successful interpersonal communication is in the classroom together with how we see our and the students’ roles in this process. I will structure my first blog post around these questions. For the first question, my team concluded that the personal in the interpersonal makes interpersonal communication successful. That is, the ability to see the person behind stereotypical assumptions we all tend to have about different cultures. The lecture material and the discussion together with Ingrid Piller’s article “Intercultural Communication: An Overview” (2012) challenged us to see beyond stereotypical characterizations related to nationality, ethnicity, gender and class, etc.

These are often expressed through, for example, banal nationalism. Banal nationalism means the way a nation  and its members flag the national territory and group belonging in everyday contexts, for example, the use of flags, name-dropping and other symbols. For me, the level of banal nationalism is quite week in Finland compared to other countries, such as the USA that has a high level of banal nationalism. It will be interesting to see if my hypothesis holds true after I have completed the first course assignment, in which I will record my encounters with banal nationalism during one day,

Furthermore, Lecturer Malgorzata Lahti highlighted that while cultural stereotypes fill a purpose and can be good starting points in new student meetings, they also create otherness in the form of boundaries and differences, as well as disempower the students.

Next, I want to reflect on how I approach cultural stereotypes. As a teacher, I strive for openness, to meet my students as individuals and to adapt my teaching according to what I pick up in the classroom. In this way, I believe that I avoid most assumptions. However, after learning about how easy it is to slip into stereotypical cultural assumptions, from now on, I will be more self-critical and sensitive to these.

Second, when it comes to the the instructor’s role, two-way communication and openness are important elements in the classroom. It is also important in international classroom settings to set a common goal in order to create “sameness” and togetherness and to give very clear instructions regarding the course format and rules together with the instructor’s expectations on the students. By this, the instructor assimilates international students into the local academic working climate, which is natural to local students. Moreover, the instructor can also accommodate for students with limited English proficiency by repeating the most important information in different registers of English, such as academic and colloquial.

Third, during the first session, we did not discuss the students’ role very much. However, as instructors, we do hope that they will participate in the two-way communication and follow the guidelines. Finally, if there are misunderstandings or problems, we hope that we have created an environment that feels “safe” enough to bring them up.