How to learn English: Reflective journal

Can keeping a reflective journal help you learn? Yes, but you need focus: good guidelines with a catalogue of questions. Is feedback neccessary? Not really, but it can be motivating – especially feedback from your peers.

At a recent conference on Personal Learning Environments, Marc Graber of the University of Zürich studied the progress that school children made who kept a journal like this. He had four groups: The online jourmal (a blog) with and without guidelines, and a pen and paper journal with and without guidelines. Those writing a blog made about the same progress as those who kept a pen and paper journal. The essential difference was not the medium; it was the method: Those who did not have a structured agenda didn’t make more progress than the control group – students who didn’t keep a journal at all. Writing is not a “Selbstläufer” – that means, it doesn’t do the trick on its own!

I’m convinced – though I don’t have proof – that this can also be applied to the way we adults learn. I’m sure that you can improve your English by writing on your own, but you will do better with an agenda. I’ve noticed that myself: Since I’ve found mentors, I’ve started learning much faster. I also think that we adults profit more from writing online, but (as they say): the proof is in the pudding (das muss ich erst noch testen!)

So you learners of English: I’d like to be your mentor and help you build your agenda. Come join my blog group, and start reflecting on how you use English!

Here are my amateur screenshots of Graber’s presentation:


Question: What’s your New Frontier?

Today is the 40th anniversary of Armstrong and Aldrin walking on the moon and I’m up there too today, somehow. Kennedy called space the New Frontier, and that was certainly what it felt like 40 years ago. I’m leaving out the Cold War context here to focus on social change for the moment. The Apollo missions showed us that the moon was a cold, dusty place and how beautiful and inviting Earth looked from outer space. I used to watch Star Trek, and the inside of Starship Enterprise looked cozier and cozier as the crew continued “To boldly go where no man has gone before” – a grammar structure, by the way, that drove grammarians nuts. This was the era of progressivism. No matter what your political leanings were, you believed that the world would become a better place if only people would buy into your mission. And you know, just look at the trailers to the two main Star Trek series and you’ll see what the many real frontiers in that era were.

The first trailer of 1966 is all about Captain Kirk and his two reports, but shows nothing of the men. All you see is empty space and a modern spaceship. When the series restarted everything was different. In the second trailer for the Next Generation series of 1987 with Captain Picard space is magical and beautiful, the man’s voiceover is emotional, and it’s clearly all about the people on board the ship, the men and the women, the ethnic mix, the mix of natives of the known world and assimilated aliens. The issues depicted over the years included war and peace, personal loyalty, getting over authoritarianism and dealing with leadership, class warfare and economics, racism and religion, sexism and human rights and feminism, and the role of technology, which was changing. Have a look:



The progressive age may be looking a little dated, but the whole concept of a trek and a mission is still very much alive.  So back to the occasion itself: Those people setting out on the Apollo mission to land a man on the moon didn’t know how they were going to do it, and they frankly didn’t have the big picture. But they did it. This is something that I find very heartening. I really think we are an ingenious race and will always figure out how to make things work. But we do need frontiers to aim for, and the means to do it, and sometimes a visionary to push us.

Do you have a personal frontier? What are you going for?

Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne!

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Question: If you were a member of a tribe, what would your name be?

My podcast today is short and sweet because I have a fat cheek after a dentist doctored me up on Friday. So I lisp (read: “lithp”). Anyway, if I were a member of a tribe, I’d be a squaw from the tribe of the Great Gap-toothed Indians and my name would be Old Can’t Not Talk. Not hard to figure that one out.

How about you? Write me your tribal name. Ask your friends to contribute theirs. And please don’t kill me for being politically incorrect.

Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne!

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Question: Which skill would you like to develop?

There comes a time when you realize that you’ve been working hard in one direction or area and have become quite good at what you do. Generally it happens in the middle of what my husband Helmut calls “die Schuftphase” (when you’re slaving away at full throttle). So you’re being very productive in your current position. That’s a critical time, because when you start marking time – or not moving forward – you really need to ask yourself what comes next.

Have you thought about developing any special skill, something that you haven’t had time for before? It might be work related; you might want to skill up. But equally likely it will be more general and have to do with opening up new vistas. I’m thinking about a few different areas I’d like to develop. I’ll tell you about them in this week’s podcast. How about you? Write or tell me whether you are thinking about professional development or perhaps about getting more involved with a hobby of yours. Or could it be that you’ve already started?

to slave away – schuften, malochen, sich abrackern
at full throttle – mit Vollgas
to mark time – auf der Stelle treten
to skill up – zusätzliche Fertigkeiten erwerben
to open up new vistas – neue Perspektiven auftun

Was ist das Blogprojekt? Mehr dazu unter Englischlernen mit Anne!

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Question: Where and what is “home”?

“There’s no place like home.” That was Dorothy’s homesick mantra in the Wizard of Oz, and saying it got her back to Kansas. For her, “home” was where she was from, and where she wanted to be. But I find it quite difficult to say just where home is. Is it where we are now, or where we are from, or something else entirely? Two of the best ways into small talk are “So, where are you from?” and “Where do you live?” But even little innocent questions like that can open up a whole can of worms. These days you might find yourself living in a virtual home someplace between BlueTooth, Minnesota and WiFi, Israel.

Let me tell you about where I am at home in this week’s podcast. I can tell you: It doesn’t have much to do with my street address. And what about you? I’d love to hear from you.

Life’s a voyage that’s homeward bound. – Herman Melville
Where thou art, that is home. – Emily Dickinson (thou art = you are)
A man’s homeland is wherever he prospers. – Aristophanes

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Blog carneval: No blog is an island

Well, you know, I never really meant to become a blogger. It was all a bit of an accident. You see, I used to keep up individual course (b)logs to post homework and materials. Then one day I decided to get help (wouldn’t be anywhere without help) to build Beautiful Islands, my Moodle site, with separate project spaces for each of my company courses. The Island Weekly was the front page and was to contain weekly updates on what was happening on the Beautiful Islands. Well, most of my students had no use for Moodle, but the blog had some readers, so I eventually dropped the former and started expanding the latter from a weekly to a daily. Though I don’t make money from it and know I’m one of (and not one in) a million, blogging is as important to me as the teaching and writing I charge for.

The best part has been the discipline of thinking about things in greater depth. I write and podcast for people I actually know. It’s improved my writing style. But it’s also intrinsically rewarding: I came to teaching through the back door, an academic who loved discourse and had to start over in a new discipline. In my first ten years as a teacher I focused on learning the craft of helping others express themselves and became a good “midwife”. Now, writing has brought discourse back in through the front door. Of course a freelance teacher my age also needs to skill up. I’m fully aware that older does not mean better. So blogging keeps me on my toes and ready for the future.

The worst part of blogging is that writing has replaced making music as my meditative way into and out of the day, and I’m no longer making any progress on the keyboard. I really miss that.

I’m not in this for selfexpression, promoting learning is still what makes me tick. So I’d like to get a group of connected EFL bloggers up and running. I’ve taught academic writing and think – no, I know! – blogs would be the perfect vehicle for an open writing group based on assignments. This would all be free without competing with courses. People need to achieve a different level of English fluency than their parents did. I’m dying to try out my peer review system in such a group, but it’s a very slow process getting people up.

What traffic I get to this blog is generated though Twitter, posts on other people’s blogs, links on networking sites and word-of-mouth. People outside teaching with my interests find me through Google, and I’ve just begun using SEO. All of those are very effective ways of making sure a blog is connected. Because no blog, and no blogger, is an island.

You’re a blogging teacher? Join the blog carneval organised by Karenne Sylvester by going to >the blog carneval site. For details see Karenne’s blog and reminder. Submit your article by 15 July.

Pigs and chickens revisted

My blog group is not getting off the ground. That’s got me back to thinking about projects. As we learned when reading about Scrum last summer, there are various degrees of involvement in any project. There’s that nice story:

A pig and a chicken are walking down a road. The chicken looks at the pig and says, “Hey, why don’t we open a restaurant?” The pig looks back at the chicken and says, “Good idea, what do you want to call it?” The chicken thinks about it and says, “Why don’t we call it ‘Ham and Eggs’?” “I don’t think so,” says the pig, “I’d be committed, but you’d only be involved.”

I’m a pig here, that’s for sure. Oink, oink. And projects really only work properly if there’s a group of committed pigs going for it together. But, hey, I’m easy. While I’m waiting for the pigs to come round, how about some Ham and Eggs? Come on, chickens, roll over an egg or two.