Topical Dilbert cartoon, winters of discontent, and the purpose of this blog

Dilbert Comic Strip Archive – – The Official Dilbert Website by Scott Adams – Dilbert, Dogbert and Coworkers!
After listening to Bud’s podcast for Jan 4th, and read David Warlick’s post on Discontent and the various bloggers who have posted about quitting their jobs, I got this Dilbert cartoon for Jan 6th!

When I started blogging, I was spending most of my time noting the various fascinating conversations I noticed here and there, some on blogs, others on regular websites, or in online newspapers and magazines. Slowly I began to write my own conversations, and discovered with delight how other people far away seemed to be having the same thoughts and feelings, despite the geographical distance and the quite different circumstances. As Robert Paterson puts it in Going Home: We are amazed to find others far away who can hear us and who have the same tone. [Going Home – the Cluetrain manifesto for the blog era, as soulsoup calls it]

There are some who believe nothing is by coincidence. In which case, perhaps these blog postings are not just coincidentally related: that so many blog about life, about passion and the need to find meaning.

When I first started this blog, it was ostensibly as a journal to log my thoughts and ideas about helping my students develop autonomous language learning. However, I soon discovered that what I was really trying to discover were two things: what is real learning, and what is truly going on in my classrooms?

I was hired to teach English. Simple and straight forward, right? Trouble is, I find students reluctant to participate in the activities: they won’t do homework, they won’t prepare, they won’t speak out in class, they constantly undermine the activities. A common favourite in EFL books is “Find someone who”: list a number of attributes, skills, places, events, etc., and first have students create questions from these prompts (e.g. “Have you been to China? Can you speak Korean? Do you have a pet?”) then they ask classmates with the purpose of finding someone who answers yes. When they’ve found someone, they write their name next to the question. It’s a way of helping students get to know each other, as well as giving them practice in question forms.
Guess what happens? This has happened in every class I’ve tried it in, and I’ve tried it well over 50 times, in what can only be termed perfectly unreasonable optimism: first, students ask their neighbour every question. After that they ask the person on their other side. I use the word “ask” loosely: what they do is poke their neighbour, grunt, and show him/her the paper. The neighbour wakes up, glances at the paper, points to one of the prompts (perhaps at random). The questioner grunts again, and the neighbour mumbles his/her name, which the questioner then writes on the paper, usually in Chinese characters. The questioners may (or may not) lumber to their feet to “ask” other people in the class. In other words, the whole activity can be “done” without speaking any English at all.

So here I am, ostensibly hired to teach English, but it is apparent that few (if any) of my charges want to learn English; that few are willing to actually put the work in that is required to make any sort of real progress; that most are more concerned with passing the course, obtaining the necessary credits, and graduating from the institution, and are slightly curious to find out if this can be done without actually doing any work.

So what is going on? So began my investigation.

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