The teachers we love (They’re not always the ones who know the most!)

June 29, 2011

I don’t do editorial posts very often, but I’ve been pondering questions of educational reform and effective learning for a long time now. I ask myself, where did the idea ever come from that teachers needed to know everything?

In a traditional classroom the teacher stands at the front of the room and imparts his or her knowledge to the students. The students take it in, write it down and memorize it. We then give them a test designed so that they must regurgitate what they have learned. Errors are marked with a red X. The teacher must then show them the “gaps” in their learning.

This is a deficit-based model of student evaluation. The tests highlight students deficiencies. Only if they get very good marks on a test do we celebrate their success. There’s this idea that if only we could stuff our students’ heads with the right information, then they’ll be successful students. Which means they’d be successful in life, of course. The higher they go in the educational system and the more tests they can pass, they smarter they are and the more successful they’ll be.

I’m a product of this system. I went through the ranks, earned a high school diploma, then a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s, then a PhD. Technically, I – and all my other PhD colleagues – are living proof that the system works.

The problem is that it propagates the idea of the teacher being the centre of all knowledge. We know today that model of education isn’t working with 21st century students. We know that collaborative approaches to education are more effective.

We know that teachers being “a guide on the side” rather than “a sage on the stage” engages students more.

There is tension between an outdated, highly revered system that puts the teacher at the front of the classroom, which effectively becomes an intellectual pedestal. It also puts incredible pressure on them to know everything. What could possibly be more intimidating? And more impossible?

Teachers are not ambulatory encyclopedias.

They do not – will not – and can not know everything.

A teacher who makes a mistake is not a bad teacher. He or she is simply human.

Of course teachers need to hone their craft, build their knowledge and engage in personal and professional development so they learn both the depth and breadth of what they are teaching. There’s no question about that. But in today’s world where information is at our fingertips, where there are more articles, Tweets, blog posts, videos, webinars, scholarly journals and conferences on any given topic than any human could possibly absorb in one lifetime, we need to get one thing straight:

We can never know everything on a topic.

Being interested, engaged and dedicating years of deep study to a topic does not mean we’ll ever know everything on that topic.

It’s also our job to guide students and, if we’re doing our job right, to unleash their curiosity and their inner drive to discover, to challenge them and provide sufficiently safe environments for them to explore and challenge themselves further and to discover the best that they can be.

As I look back on my own years as as student, the “best” teachers… the ones who inspired, motivated and struck that oh-so-elusive balance between kicking their students in the butt and giving them healthy doses of sincere encouragement, those are the teachers I remember the most.

As this school year draws to a close, who are the teachers you remember?


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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) Please visit my speaking page, too.


Techno-Tools for the Second Language Teacher

June 27, 2011

Valeria Palladino, a language teacher in Edmonton, Canada, has a great wiki on technology tools for second languages:

She has also done a useful and easy to follow 29-page guide called “Techno-Tools for the Second Language Teacher“. It contains ideas on how to implement technology into second language classes. This guide is particularly useful for teachers who want to integrate tech into their second language classrooms, but are not sure where to start. Palladino explains the basics in language that is easy to understand and easy to follow.


Related posts:

Cool Apps for Language Learning

MALL (Mobile-Assisted Language Learning)


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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) Please visit my speaking page, too.

Multilingual superheroes

June 24, 2011

I’m not really into superhero movies. I mean, they’re OK, but I’d rather watch a drama or something that really makes me think deeply about life. But every now and again, when your other half says, “It’s Friday night. Let’s go to a movie!” You just say yes. He loves superhero movies about as much as I love languages. He knows all the stories, all the heroes, all the villains, when the movies came out, who did the sound tracks, how the special effects were done. Really, it’s stunning how much useless information he can carry around in that brain.

But then again, he thinks that all the stuff I carry around in my brain about grammar, sentence structure, etymology and verbs is pretty useless.

Though part of me would like to scoff and say “WhatEVAH!” I also know which one of us has better conversations at dinner parties where the guests aren’t all linguists or language teachers.

But tonight, we both won. I had no idea there was such a thing as a multilingual superhero movie. Let alone a multilingual comic book superhero movie. Until tonight.

French, Spanish, German, Russian and English. X-men is a veritable smorgasbord of modern languages.

Good guys. Bad guys. Drama. Love. Action… and multilingualism. Now that’s a good Friday night.


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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) Please visit my speaking page, too.

Principles of Adult Learning In a Nutshell

June 24, 2011

If you’re interested in adult education and adult learning, you’ll want to check out Stephen Leib’s web page. He takes in-depth, complex principles of adult learning and distills them down into a plain language brief that prints off in about 3 pages.

He talks about adult learners as being autonomous, self-directed, goal-oriented and practical. He outlines why learning for adults needs to be relevant to their needs and useful in their everyday or professional lives. He points out how adult learners bring a richness of life experience with them to the classroom or learning environment.

These principles apply to high level professionals taking executive education programs or those taking adult basic literacy and education (ABLE) programs.

If you’re a learning professional who works with adults, this resource is a must read.

Global Issues in Language Teaching and Learning

June 23, 2011

University of Calgary A few colleagues and I at the University of Calgary are collaborating to team teach a block week course this fall:

LANG 599 / 699: Global Issues in Language Teaching and Learning
Block Week Fall 2011: September 6-10, 2011

Course description:

In today’s multilingual society, each of us is both a language learner and a language teacher. In this interdisciplinary course we will discuss current research and its practical implications as they relate to language teaching and learning. Students will engage with real-world data and will have the opportunity to publish course papers.

Instructors: Dr. Mary O’Brien, Dr. Sarah Eaton, Roswita Dressler and Katherine Mueller.

Course location: This course is taught live (face-to-face) at the University of Calgary.

Prerequisites: Senior or graduate student standing.

To register: Contact Mary O’Brien (

English in the Workplace (EWP): Free How To Guide for Employers

June 22, 2011

I just found a tremendous free resource that I just had to share with you. Common Ground: A How-To Guide for Employers is designed for employers to help them set up and deliver their own English in the Workplace (EWP) programs.

Written by Douglas Parsons and Paul Holmes and published by the Centre for Excellence in Intercultural Education (Norquest College) in 2010, this guide details a step-by-step process. It goes over everything from conducting a needs assessment, choosing learning settings,  finding a facilitator, setting goals, developing independent learners and evaluating the program.

There even sections on how to customize an English program for a specific workplace.

Click here to download this 72-page guide is available from the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD). As with all the resources on NALD, this guide is free and you simply download it directly from their site.


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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) Please visit my speaking page, too.

Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes

June 20, 2011

During the course I taught in Effective Learning at the university, the students had to do group presentations. One group, chose to present on time management. As part of their presentation, they drew a diagram on the board that I recognized immediately. At the end of their presentation, I asked where the diagram came from. The students looked at me blankly.

“Where did you get that diagram?” I repeated.

One of the students answered, “One of my profs talked about it in class and drew it on the board.”

“Did the prof tell you where it came from?” I probed.

“I can’t remember.”

“Well, I can tell you where it came from. It’s from Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”

As it turned out, none of the students had read the book. But for anyone who is familiar with Covey’s work, the diagram is easily recognizable. Covey talks about diving tasks by their importance and their urgency and then using those criteria to determine which tasks need to be done and in which order.

In case you’re curious, this is the diagram they drew on time management:

We had talked previously in class about plagiarism, but it never occurred to them that informal sources of information could be plagiarized. We had a discussion about always, always, always citing sources, even if they are informal sources, such as class notes. There are various schools of thought on whether students should cite class notes. This is a perfect example of why they should. In this case, the student couldn’t remember if the prof cited the original diagram. If she’d cited her class notes, she would at least have been showing the intent to give credit where it is due.

Here’s a quick, 3-page resource handout that I made for my students on how to cite class notes properly. It contains a brief explanation of how to cite class notes, and some examples, too.

Feel free to share it with your own students:

View this document on Scribd


Related posts:

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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) Please visit my speaking page, too.

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