our teaching activity and that on intersectionality

Having skipped a number of meetings due to my extensive travelling this autumn, I feel the more so responsible staying on top of things/issues/points that have been covered in TACE. I’ll try to account for these in my following post. This one will be a reflection about last Monday’s meeting.

To start with, preparing for our own teaching activity was a great experience. The initial decision about the topic was rather quick. But it was followed with an intensive process of negotiating many points, not limited to term (though you cannot image how much time it took us to select the final ones that you saw on the slides).

More difficult was to build our own joint conceptual understanding of ethical assessment in a culturally diverse classroom (another term that we negotiated) and to demonstrate this complexity in a (hopefully) clear way to the colleagues in TACE. We also planned the activity as a decidedly unethical task (hopefully it was understandable to others, too =) in order to enable discussion of ethics of assessment and reflection of assessment practices from TACE colleagues.

Thank you everybody for your beautiful poems and the lively discussion!

Highly recommended read for those interested (in Finnish): Atjonen, P. (2007). Hyvä, paha arviointi [ Good, bad assessment]. Helsinki: Tammi.

Happy to hear any further feedback on the lecture and the practical activity, too.

I also enjoyed thoroughly the lecture on intersectionality, which was about a different complexity, and how various factors, all intertwined, create individual experiences, with all their privileges and vulnerabilities, building then a strong argument for considering them together.

I found the activity very fitting for illustrating what intersectionality is and its importance as a conceptual understanding of social justice, fairness, and, closer to our specific context, culturally diverse classroom.

Being a practical person, the first thing I thought about was how to adapt it for my context, and I found it rather easy to (perhaps, depending on who the learners are and how vulnerable they feel about some of their experiences, with modifications as to whether others could see people taking steps forward or back).

Reflection on my EMI teaching

Outline some examples of the teaching practices or methods you commonly use in your EMI teaching

When introducing concepts that could be difficult to understand, I sometimes start with the concepts in all of their complexity, definitions of which oftentimes  contain complex and specialised language, but then deconstruct these building on learners’ experiences, and using easier language, pictures, or videos but also the just introduced terminology as part of the definition to help students construct their understanding of the concept. I then build on these concepts to introduce further concepts.

An example from my lecture that Kirsi observed was the cool whip (https://youtu.be/7ZmqJQ-nc_s) to describe assessment of the process of learning, in which teaching, learning and assessment are parts of the same process, building on the newly introduced concepts of reciprocity and transcendence. Once I have checked that the students’ understanding has developed, I then build on this which introducing a further concept, in this case, a dialectical relationship of teaching, learning, and assessment in the process discussed above.

What I also try to do is to ask learners to share and reflect on their own experiences.  This is above all, to engage learners in thinking together rather than ‘imposing’ my own understanding onto them in a unidirectional manner. For example, before challenging the common meaning of the word assessment in the assessment of learning culture, I ask learners to think what comes to their mind when they think about the word ‘assessment’ and then ask if this is the only assessment that they have experienced.

I also use metaphors to develop learners’ critical thinking. One example from the same teaching contact session that Kirsi observed is using the picture attached to first discuss assessment of learning culture but then, towards the end of the session, as hopefully, learners’ understanding of assessment has developed, ask them to think about the same picture again (this time, the intention being that they mention ways of helping different learners to complete the task, finding these ways being the goal of assessment).


Overall, I try to leave the thinking part to learners

What demands do you think they put on the student and on you from a languages perspective?

I think the demand here is not just the language–thinking just from the perspective of the language is not particularly useful, in my opinion. Rather it is the integration of language and content that creates the complexity. So using language to mediate content and using language to mediate content is what helps.

I think, being conscious about it is what helps me to mediate the language (and content).

After all, the idea is that learners at the end of the day socialise into the academic community, so they should also possess academic language, not just the content knowledge.

How could you improve your EMI teaching practices or methods in order to cater for these demands?

I still am stereotypical sometimes towards learners. For example, I expect somebody coming from the US to have massive experience with standardised tests but less so with assessment for learning, even though they could have spent years in other countries, including Finland. What helps me, again, is being conscious about my stereotypes. Starting with learning about learners experiences is what helps me overcome this. Perhaps, I should do it more often.

I am not saying here that stereotypes are bad–they are a good starting point.

Come to think of it,  a lot of the above is about my teaching philosophy, so I guess, there are bound to be overlaps when I start putting it together.

Reflection on September 24 (done on October 2 while jetlagging, so probably some nonsense =)

This was the second session on interculturality by Malgorzata, specifically on interculturality. Now the task was to reconstruct rather than deconstruct interculturality, the latter we did in the first session.

To remind (myself above all), in the first session, we questioned the traditional understanding of culture as something that one belongs to, for example when talking about such traditional understandings as nation, as this leads to compartmentalising, stereotyping, and profiling individuals, when in reality this may as well have little-to-nothing to do with who they are and emphasising differences whereas concentrating on similarities is just as useful, if not much more so.

So, while during the first session, we deconstructed the concept of interculturality, in the second session we reconstructed in into interculturality. The concept is useful as it moves away from the the emphasis on culture to that on interaction. It also seems to move the emphasis, foremost in research, but also generally in thinking about the concept, from larger groups, such as nation, profession, gender, or generation, which Piller calls imagined communities (but which, I argued have the most power politically), to the smaller groups, such as friends, family and workplace. This movement allows for critically considering instances of othering and inequalities, deconstructing interculturality emphasising inclusivity and equity.

One point which I made in the meeting and would like to repeat, is that, even though I’ve noticed a trend for presenting stereotyping in critical and often negative light in recent research on intercultural communication, it should not really be to the extent that it should be banned or disregarded altogether. To me, these are useful starting points in co-constructing meaning. In fact, telling sb, ‘you should not stereotype’ means giving this somebody an impossible task, as we all stereotype–this is how we make the first impression. Rather the task should be not sticking to those stereotypes, but being aware of one’s stereotypes and being ready to deconstruct these in interaction. Pedagogically, as Malgorzata noted, this means, letting your students make cultures relevant and seeing how we can build on the culture(s) that emerge in the classroom, which I, actually, attempted to do in the following day when I gave a lecture on assessment in a course for international students that Kirsi observed.

Another term which I found really useful was transculturality used by Baker. I suggest it is even a better term than interculturality with the emphasis on inter-, as it implies that cultures (whatever they are) are transcended in interaction. So it is not about being between cultures (inter-) but transcending them, reconstructing them in and for every interaction.

We were also asked to look for instances of banal nationalism, or banationalism, a new coinage that emerged during the last week’s session and which I think is brilliant. To be fair, I’ve completely forgotten about this part, but we nevertheless had a good discussion of the instances of banationalism, and how it is used by businesses, in shops, for example, where the word ‘kotimainen’ is used as a brand in itself.


Dmitri’s post no. 1

Hello, World all you wonderful people in TACE 2018!

Never did any blogging whatsoever, but one should start somewhere, I guess. My name is Dmitri Leontjev, and I am a Postdoc at the Department of Language and Communication Studies, doing research in language assessment (for learning rather than good old testing of learning outcomes) and teaching in assessment, methodology, language (education) policy & the like graduate courses. That’s what brought me here to this course.

I guess, a reflection on the use/role of technology is what should come next, judging by the rest of the posts. I had to leave earlier Monday, and have not got to Juha’s lecture yet, so apologise if what follows is too much of a digression. My view of technology in education is that it is not (just) a tool but neither it is something using which is a goal of education, if you know what I mean. I’d never use technology (whatever one means by it) for the sake of using it. My take on it is pretty much congruent with that of Peppi Taalas (of the Lg. Centre of JYU; see here: http://users.jyu.fi/~peppi/) in that technology should add value to the way one teaches and/or learns.

Technology does change the way we do things (teach, learn, communicate, read, write, think—you name it), naturally; in other words, it mediates what we do and how we do it (any Vygotsky’s fans over there?). Thanks, Matti (if I may), for your reflection on it. Agree with it completely. But while acknowledging what it brings into and takes away from our teaching, I try not to forget that using it is not a goal in itself. I can teach my students how to make effective presentations using Google slides or write blog posts (well, no, I can’t =), but I’d rather our goals are reflecting (as in this one), starting conversations (as hopefully with this one), and taking actions, with technology being there to mediate the way these goals are reached.

Hmm, that was long… in short, I see technology as affordance in the way van Lier wrote about it: as offering opportunities for interacting with the environment, which can be (are?) used differently by different individuals due to their different experiences, beliefs, understandings, skills, etc.

As to my quick reflection on the course, I join the others’ opinion, that discussions, including informal ones over a coffee offer wonderful opportunities for developing our thinking and acting as teachers and learners.