5 Myths about being an independent language or literacy professional (and secrets of the trade you need to know)

June 18, 2014

Sometimes when I talk with contract language teachers, sessionals, adjuncts, freelance writers, editors and others who dedicate themselves to the language and literacy profession, I’ve learned that there are some myths about the profession that we need to debunk. Here are a few of them:

Myth #1 – The work is about the language

You absolutely need to understand the mechanics of language and the foundations of effective learning to succeed as an independent language professional, the real work is about the people you work with. Helping others to learn, grow and develop as human beings is at the heart of what we do. If you think the job is about being “the spelling police” or a “grammar guru”, you’ve missed the point.

Myth #2 – Being a professional means someone else does the admin work

Language teachers love being in the classroom, but that’s only part of the job. Submitting grades, writing reports and tending to administrative duties comes with the territory. In today’s world, being a professional means paying as much attention to the quality of your administrative work as you do to your teaching. Program and institutional staff are not your personal secretaries. They are professionals in their own right and deserve to be treated as such.

Myth #3 – Being an independent professional means you have no boss

Sometimes people say to me, “You are so lucky!  You have no boss!” Nothing could be further from the truth. You get a minimum of one new boss with every contract you take one. Sometimes you have more than one person you report to. If you’re very lucky, those people will like each other and see eye to eye. If they don’t, you are the one who will get pulled in different directions. Learning to figure out, understand and navigate the reporting requirements of each job is likely to require an immense amount of energy. You invest time and effort at the beginning of every new job. But make no mistake, you will always report to someone, even if it’s not always clear who it is. The trick is to clarify who you report to and understand that your job implicitly involves making that person’s life easier in whatever way you reasonably can.

Myth #4 – The last day of the contract is the end of the job

In many contract situations, there is follow up work to be done after the contract end date. This work is often administrative. Some examples include written reports, expense claims and grade submission. Even though your contract may have officially ended on a particular date, the obligations and expectations of the job may extend past that. Be amenable to reasonable wrap-up duties and ensure you comply with deadlines set by your employer or client. This is important to preserve your positive relationships as you are wrapping up your work. Remember that the end date of a contract may signify the end of a particular job, but your relationships and reputation can outlive any contract.

Myth #5 – It is important to leave with a letter of reference

This is a partial myth. Getting letters of reference can be important, but they can also be formulaic and written according to a template. What’s more important than getting with a generic letter of reference on the last day of the job, is leaving the job with a reputation for excellence and sincere relationships that can last a lifetime. Recommendations that matter are likely to happen over the phone or during informal personal conversations that are more honest and open than a templated letter ever could be. The reality is that we’ll never know about most of the conversations that happen between our prospective employers and our previous employers who are more than likely connected in some collegial way we were never even aware of. Real recommendations don’t come from generic letter we tuck into our portfolios. They come from informal conversations that “never happened”.

There are more myths about the profession that need busting, but these are a few of the most common ones that I see over and over again, especially from folks who are new to the world of working independently either as contractors, freelancers or consultants. The most important thing to remember is that we are only as good as our last contract, our last course or our last project. Our love of language or dedication to literacy is what we do. The reputations we build along the way is how we do it. We need to pay as much attention to the how as we do to the what.

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Language Teaching and Technology – EDER 669.73 Summer 2014

June 17, 2014

I am so excited to be teaching “Language Learning and Technology” this summer in the Master’s of Education program in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. The course combines theory and practice, looking at a variety of topics around technology and language pedagogy.

One of the elements I am most excited about is that some of the course content will be decided up on and driven by the students themselves. They get to choose what articles they read, as well as facilitate and shape the online dialogue we engage in. I’ve organized some broad general topics that we’ll follow, but the students will have the opportunity to co-create the course with me throughout the summer semester. We’ll customize much of what we do to their interests and let them drive their own learning process.

Here is a copy of the course outline:

View this document on Scribd

This course combines two of my favorite topics: language learning and technology. I’m so excited to engage with the students during this learning journey.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


10 Tips for Succeeding in Virtual Teams

March 27, 2014

Almost all of the online courses I teach involve group work of some kind. Some groups thrive in their virtual teams and others fail miserably. After observing what works and what does not, here are ten tips to those who are new to online collaborative projects:

  1. Give one another the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Be kind to each other. Point out one another’s strengths.
  3. Refrain from commenting on each other’s weaknesses.
  4. When in doubt, assume good intentions. Tone is very difficult to “hear” in online communications. If you find yourself miffed or offended, take a step back. Are you sure that you are not making an assumption about the other person’s intention? Then ask yourself, “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” Forgiveness is important in virtual teams.
  5. Focus on supporting each other through the process.  No one gets left behind and if there’s an assigned leader, that person doesn’t forge too far ahead. Instead, keep the group together and moving forward.It’s a journey and your job is to make it up the mountain together.
  6. Be flexible with one another. Scheduling can be especially challenging in an online context. Change up the meeting times to accommodate people from different time zones. Don’t expect the same person to always get up at 2:00 a.m. for a meeting.
  7. Ask what you can do to help or what others need most from you. Don’t assume that your virtual team mates know your strengths.
  8. Avoid writing frustrations down and sharing them. If you need to work out issues, find a way to talk about it (e.g. Skype or phone).
  9. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about working together.
  10. Everyone is responsible for making back-ups of the work along the way. If one person’s system crashes, they get a virus or their laptop is stolen, the other members of the team all have copies of the back-ups. Using online storage such as Dropbox or Google drive is a great idea, but it’s not the only idea. Back everything up.

Working in virtual teams can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. With a bit of patience, common sense and a good sense of humour, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve in a virtual team.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


50 Adverbs to avoid in academic writing

July 2, 2013

Most academic writing is strengthened by eliminating adverbs. To emphasize a point, provide more evidence to support it. Avoid unnecessary words and in particular, adverbs. Instead, choose more precise verbs.

An adverb modifies or describes:

  • A verb (e.g. He runs quickly.)
  • An adjective (e.g. His writing is extraordinarily descriptive.)
  • Another adverb (e.g. He runs extraordinarily quickly.)

Often, but not always, adverbs in English end in –ly. Here are 50 adverbs that I have seen in academic papers that you can eliminate and your writing will be better for it:

  1. Adroitly
  2. Amazingly
  3. Awesomely
  4. Badly
  5. Basically
  6. Carefully
  7. Clearly
  8. Completely
  9. Convincingly
  10. Deftly
  11. Desperately
  12. Dexterously
  13. Effortlessly
  14. Extremely
  15. Faithfully
  16. Fundamentally
  17. Generally
  18. Goodly
  19. Honestly
  20. Inherently
  21. Instantly
  22. Interestingly
  23. Narrowly
  24. Naturally
  25. Nearly
  26. Necessarily
  27. Obviously
  28. Precisely
  29. Previously
  30. Preposterously
  31. Quite
  32. Really
  33. Relentlessly
  34. Simply
  35. Spectacularly
  36. Successfully
  37. Suddenly
  38. Surely
  39. Truthfully
  40. Ubiquitously
  41. Unequivocally
  42. Ungodly
  43. Unnecessarily
  44. Unquestionably
  45. Utterly
  46. Unwittingly
  47. Usually
  48. Very
  49. Widely
  50. Zealously

Often, when writers make a conscious choice to eliminate adverbs and instead find stronger and more precise verbs, the result is writing that is clearer and more powerful.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


An open letter to graduate students seeking “information” and help

June 3, 2013

If you haven’t read Carl Zimmer’s “Open letter to science students and science teachers” on the National Geographic blog, drop everything and go read it right now. It is as fascinating as it is infuriating.

In it, Zimmer describes a phenomenon in which he receives multiple requests a week from science students asking him to do their homework for them.

As I read Zimmer’s post, I thought to myself, “I get the exact same kinds of e-mails!” Only mine are related to my field of study, principally education and language learning. The requests often come from people who have read an article or a book I have written.

Unlike Zimmer, the people who write to me are not junior high school or high school students, but rather they are Master’s or Ph.D. students essentially asking me to do their research for them.

It is one thing to write to a scholar to request a copy of an article that he or she has written, or to ask where you can get your hands on such an article. It is quite another to write to someone and say, “This is my research topic. Could you tell me what theoretical framework I should use and maybe write a few lines of my first chapter to get me started?”

I answered the first few dozen e-mails that I received asking for “information”. Then I thought to myself, “What the heck am I doing?” Learning to do research is part of being a graduate student. A big part.

From then on I developed a standard reply that goes something like this:

Dear ___________:

Thank you for your e-mail requesting information on __________________. Your research topic sounds interesting and engaging. I would be happy to help you delve further into your research topic and guide you as you learn more about the finer points of your topic. To get the process rolling, what you need to do is have your research supervisor contact me in writing with a formal invitation to become a member of your thesis committee as an external advisor. That way, I will be able to engage more fully with you, your supervisor and the other scholars who have committed to help you throughout your journey as a graduate student. This is an exciting time for you and I look forward to receiving the formal invitation from your university.

I never hear from them again.

What is happening with our education system (at all levels) where students entitled to ask others to do their work for them?

Zimmer hits the nail on the head… The practice is being touted by other adults (e.g. teachers and parents) as being a “communicative” activity.

Learning how to research and do homework is just as important as learning what the information is– if not more so.

I learned to research for myself. It’s hard work to learn those skills. And it’s something you can only learn by doing. It’s kind of like driving a car… If you only ever learn how to ask others to do it for you, you’ll never really learn the basics, the finer points and the tricks along the way.

It’s your bus. Learn to drive it.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Participatory evaluation: 12 useful online resources

May 29, 2013

My students this semester have been interested in participatory evaluation. This sub-set of evaluation isn’t a major topic in our course this semester, but because so many of them are interested, I have pulled together a bit of a reading list for them on the topic so those who are interested can explore it further.

Here’s a list of 12 online articles, e-books and other resources on participatory evaluation:

Bragin, M. (2005). The community participatory evaluation tool for psychosocial programs: A guide to implementation. Intervention Journal, 3(1), 3-24. Retrieved from http://www.interventionjournal.com/downloads/31pdf/03_24%20bragin%20.pdf

Campilan, D. (2000). Participatory evaluation of participatory research. Paper presented at the Forum on Evaluation of International Cooperation Projects: Centering on Development of Human Resources in the Field of Agriculture. Retrieved from http://ir.nul.nagoya-u.ac.jp/jspui/bitstream/2237/8890/1/39-56.pdf

Canadian International Development Agency. (2001). How to perform evaluations: Participatory evaluations. Performance Review Branch Guides, (3). Retrieved from http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/INET/IMAGES.NSF/vLUImages/Performancereview4/$file/participatory_Evl.pdf

Checkoway, B., & Richards-Schuster, K.  Facilitator’s guide for participatory evaluation with young people. Available from http://ssw.umich.edu/public/currentprojects/youthAndCommunity/pubs/guidebook.pdf

Checkoway, B., & Richards-Schuster, K. (n.d.). Participatory evaluation with young people. Available from http://ssw.umich.edu/public/currentprojects/youthAndCommunity/pubs/youthbook.pdf

Cousins, J. B., & Earl, L. M. (1995). Participatory evaluation: Enhancing evaluation use and organizational learning capacity. The Evaluation Exchange: A Periodical on Emerging Strategies in Evaluation, 1(3-4). Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/participatory-evaluation/participatory-evaluation-enhancing-evaluation-use-and-organizational-learning-capacity

Guijt, I., & Gaventa, J. (1998). Participatory monitoring and evaluation: Learning from change. IDS Policy Briefing, (12). Retrieved from http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/PB12.pdf

Lefevre, P., Kolsteren, P., De Wael, M.-P., Byekwaso, F., & Beghin, I. (2000). Comprehensive participatory planning and evaluation. Available from http://www.ifad.org/pub/bsf/cppe/cppe.pdf

Pant, M.  (n.d.) Participatory evaluation (PE). Available from http://www.unesco.org/education/aladin/paldin/pdf/course01/unit_09.pdf

Pastor, J., & Roberts, R., A. (1995). Participatory evaluation research as a catalyst for reform: An example from an urban middle school. The Evaluation Exchange: A Periodical on Emerging Strategies in Evaluation, 1(3-4). Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/participatory-evaluation/participatory-evaluation-research-as-catalyst-for-reform-an-example-from-an-urban-middle-school

Upshur, C. C., Barretto-Cortez, E., & Gaston Institute, M. (1995). What is participatory evaluation (PE)? What are its roots? The Evaluation Exchange: A Periodical on Emerging Strategies in Evaluation, 1(3-4). Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/participatory-evaluation/what-is-participatory-evaluation-pe-what-are-its-roots

Zukoski, A., & Luluquisen, M. (2002). Participatory evaluation: What is it? Why do it? What are the challenges. Community -Based Public Health Policy and Practice, (5). Retrieved from http://depts.washington.edu/ccph/pdf_files/Evaluation.pdf

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Program and Practice Evaluation

May 24, 2013

I am excited to be teaching a new course this spring semester. It’s a research course for the Master’s of Education program at the University of Calgary.

Course description

The purpose of this course is to provide an understanding of evaluation – as a discipline, as a profession, as a process and a product in a wide range of educational and social contexts. The primary focus of the course is holistic, large-scale program evaluation rather than the assessment of individuals (for example, the measurement of student achievement or personnel review).

This course focuses on developing an understanding of the logic of evaluative thinking, the nature of evaluation as a profession and discipline, the knowledge and skills needed to be expert consumers of program evaluation and novice evaluators in contexts relevant to individual career contexts.

Topics include:

  • the logic of evaluation
  • central concepts in evaluation
  • approaches to evaluation
  • standards in evaluation
  • the social and political nature of evaluation.

Learner outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the logic of evaluation and explain its role in improving practice in teaching and learning
  • Understand, analyze, synthesize and apply the central concepts in evaluation
  • Be aware of and apply appropriate standards in evaluation, including ethical practices for evaluators
  • Understand, discuss, and critique the social and political nature of evaluation
  • Be familiar be with and critically analyze major approaches to evaluation and their designs, then synthesize into an appropriate evaluation plan that fits the needs of the particular evaluation task.

Here’s a copy of the course outline:

View this document on Scribd

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If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

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