Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 26, 2013

As it is usual for me, I could hardly sleep thinking about my presentation on barriers to critical thinking. I got up early and looked through the slides one more time and inserted the answers to the warm up questions to save time.

I wore my long Tajik dress and got a lot of stares and looks of confusion from many of the participants who couldn’t understand why an African-looking woman was wearing an Uzbek/Tajik dress. Breakfast was the usual rice porridge I detest, but small plates of salad had been placed on the table along with slices of bread, salami and cheese.

I made a sandwich with those three items and had to request coffee from one of the servers as none had been offered so far. Rich didn’t even know coffee was on the menu for us. He related how he had stayed at the Aurora Sanatorium twenty years ago while traveling with his son in the region.

We moved on to the cinema hall where the plenary was to take place and listened to speeches from Gulnara from Lingua, Jennifer and the ambassador. They yielded the floor to Ann McAllen who gave the plenary speech about critical thinking and the mixed ability classroom which resonated with me as she outlined many of the same strategies I use in my classroom.

I went to listen to the presentation on sideline coaching which Chris had demonstrated at the mid-year conference in Almaty hoping to hear how the teachers in Khorog had reacted to it. He’d brought his counterpart with him and Nigina testified as to the usefulness of the technique and how much it had benefited her in her professional development.

The next presentation was intended to demonstrate the use of critical thinking in the teaching of vocabulary, but the presenter’s flashdrive didn’t open up and the PowerPoint presentation was not available. She read from her notes, but that was pretty lifeless and boring. It was also her first time presenting and she appeared very nervous.

It was then my turn and unfortunately they had placed me in a large room that had been divided into two by a series of flimsy screens. I could clearly hear the presenter in the other room and I’m sure he could hear me, too. I had 33 attendees, a good number I’d say, and the warm up went very well with some groups getting as high as six out of ten of the barriers to critical thinking.

Natalia, from the embassy, came in a few minutes after I’d started and sat at the back. The time just flew and forty minutes later I was handing out my business card telling the teachers that the presentation would be available to them via email. Willoughby took a couple of photos and congratulated me at the end stating that the material had been very instructive.

We had enough time to catch part of Asia’s presentation on teaching debate in the classroom and we really enjoy her bantering with the teachers and her acting skills. It was then time for lunch, which Willoughby turned down and went to her room to rest, while I appropriated an entire platter of salad for my own.

Asia had told she had said she was vegetarian and the food for vegetarians was usually of higher quality and fresher than otherwise. I played that card and got a bowl of soup with some noodles and not even salt in it. The main dish could not even be described, but David thought it might have been bread dipped in egg and then fried. I took a bite and spit it back into a napkin as it was simply vile.

After lunch, I went to see Sarah’s presentation on alternative ways of assessing students. She has a background in public school teaching and does an amazing job of demonstrating exactly what to do in specific situations. Willoughby went to listen to David’s presentation on critical thinking activities, which I had already seen.

The last presentation I attended was led by an Uzbek teacher who spoke English so fluently he could have almost passed for an American. He teaches EAP and spoke about the uses of authentic texts. We spoke at the end and I learned his university is accredited by the Westminster University in the UK and that’s why they offered EAP classes. We exchanged business cards and promised to stay in touch.

I changed clothes so Willoughby and I could take a walk along the lake even though the skies had turned black and rain threatened to start falling anytime. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was wearing my beige shawl for protection. I thought I heard thunder in the distance and then the rain started. We had to turn back to the hotel without even seen the lake.

It was dinner time by then and Willoughby refused to entertain the notion of having another awful meal in the dining room and asked me to accompany her to one of the restaurants located near the lobby. I wasn’t so keen on the idea for I knew it would be rather expensive, but caved in and headed in that direction.

No one spoke English, so we were having a tough time making sense of the menu when a group of attendees, all women, walked in and greeted us. They had pre-ordered their meals and were ready to eat. They all commented on how unpalatable the food had been for conference attendees. With their help, we managed to order steak for Willoughby and salmon for me with French fries and some kind of vegetable on the side.

It took over an hour for these two dishes to arrive as apparently the restaurant was also supplying meals to the bar next door and couldn’t cope with so many diners at once. The salmon was all right, the French fries lukewarm only and no vegetables at all. When we inquired about it, they told us to wait six minutes and then brought a medley of tomatoes, onions and turnips that was quite delicious.

As we were making our way to the elevator, we ran into Gulnara from Lingua and another woman and Gulnara asked if we were coming along to the mingle activity. I said I needed to drop some stuff at my room, but instead of going there, I took my other Tajik outfit to the ironing room on the second floor to get it ready for the next day.

I went to bed full as a tick and happy to have spent the money on a good meal.

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