Sunday, 31 July 2011

Announcing “Teachers in Turkey” - A Guest Blog Series

“Sen Türk oldun artık.”

(You have become a Turk then).

This is a phrase I commonly hear these days when I meet people and tell them that I’ve been here for over 11 years, my wife is Turkish and we have a son. In many ways, it’s true. Although certain aspects of living here still startle me from time to time (I’ll never get used to the traffic for starters!), I’m sure there are many aspects of living in the UK that would be difficult to get accustomed to if I ever went back.

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Image by Tolga “Musato”

This country has given me a lot over the years - a beautiful wife, an adorable son and a career as an English teacher, something I initially saw as a way to get a couple of years of ‘life experience’.

Turkey, like many countries these days, places a huge emphasis on learning English. A good command of the language can open doors to higher education and better career prospects. Unfortunately, that often means exams, exams and more exams and an education system driven by tests and grades.

As a result, teaching here can be a challenge. While schools, private colleges, evening courses and universities talk the talk of student-centred learning, collaboration, web 2.0 and a communicative approach, the very same institutions in practice often have much more ‘traditional’ expectations about learning and the expected roles of the teacher and the students.

Despite the restrictions I’ve often found myself working with during my time in Turkey, I am very optimistic about the future of language teaching and education in general here. Why? Because I have had the pleasure to work with and meet some of the most incredible teachers in this country who strive every day to do the best they can for their students while trying to make a difference in the schools they work in.

Well, I’m delighted to announce that I have persuaded a number of these wonderful teachers to contribute to a series I will be hosting on this blog over the coming weeks called “Teachers in Turkey”. There will be a wide variety of contributors from local teachers to native-speaker ones, kindergarten teachers to university ones, trainee teachers to teacher trainers and even a language coach! You will recognise some of the names from Twitter and the international EFL conference circuit I’m sure. Others will be new to you but they all have something to say and I hope you’ll find it useful.

First post comes on Monday!

Are you a Teacher in Turkey? Have I not approached you about joining in with this series yet? Then please, show your interest via the comments section and I’ll be in touch.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

No Code - A Preview of my #RSCON3 Presentation

Time flies when you’re taking it easy! I’ve been awoken from my summer of ‘unplugging’ in a non-educational sense to take part in the 3rd edition of the Reform Symposium online conference, which takes place from 29th-31st July.

Last year’s event was the first online conference I had ever attended and it was a truly inspiring event and I’m very happy to have the opportunity to present and promote the event this year.

Here’s a video preview I made for my session, which takes place at 5.30pm UTC (check out the global schedule for the time in your part of the world) on the last day of the conference, July 31st:

And here’s the official information:

In a few days, nearly 8000 educators from over 40 different countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON3. This free award-nominated e-conference is going to take place on July 29-31st, 2011. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide. With over 12 Keynotes, 80 presenters, and 3 keynote panel discussions you are bound to be inspired!

We would like to thank the incredible organizers- Shelly Terrell, Kelly Tenkely, Chris Rogers, Lisa Dabbs, Melissa Tran, Clive Elsmore, Mark Barnes, Ian Chia, Cecilia Lemos, Jerry Blumengarten, and Kyle Pace- and Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 and The Future of Education online communities for making this incredible conference possible.

We hope you can join us for this incredible professional development experience!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Heavy metal, hard rock & ELT

Ask any decent musician what his/her influences are and you’ll get quite a wide variety of answers: different bands and performers past and present, different musical genres, mentors, managers etc., etc. In a similar way, this post has myriad influences starting with one of my recent favourites from Tyson Seburn’s blog about movies that have affected his approach to ELT and including the recent debate sparked by Gavin Dudeney’s questioning of the seemingly changing direction of Dogme ELT, which in turn evoked responses from Graham Stanley and Luke Meddings.

Anyway, onto the post. Last week, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Istanbul with my wife, the main purpose of our visit being a concert given by two legendary names in heavy metal - Whitesnake and Judas Priest. While enjoying the music and taking in the show, I couldn’t help but start to see parallels with the world of ELT and particularly The Dogme Debate (signs of a further influence from one of Cecilia’s early works “Are you a teacher all the time?”)

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Heavy Metal and ELT: the similarities are there if you look hard enough! Image by maistora

Watching Whitesnake in the late afternoon sunshine, I recalled what they were like in their 1980s peak: big hair, layered synths and tight trousers abound! However, this over-the-top look soon came to be seen as, well, over the top and by the time I started to develop a serious interest in music in the early 90s, there was a kickback. Bands like Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam appeared and gone were the perms, leopard-skin spandex and extravagant live shows. Instead, the performers on stage looked no different from the fans in their faded jeans and old t-shirts and the concerts were less about the show and more about the music.

It’s also worth noting that one of the most popular music shows on TV at the time was MTV Unplugged, for which artists would go ‘back to basics’ and strip their songs back to the bare bones of acoustic instruments (no need to spell out the parallel there I think!)

However, as time went on, views started to change. As the bands who shunned the extravagance of the previous decade started to grow in popularity, they also got accused of ‘selling-out’ due to their regular appearances on MTV and stadium-filling world tours (granted, Pearl Jam stopped making videos and tried to boycott Ticketmaster but you get the idea…) Some of the bands also started to diversify, incorporating different elements into the music and having to deal with questions like ‘but is this grunge?’ or ‘is this still part of the Seattle Sound?’ as a result. Sounds to me a lot like the questions being asked of Dogme and its relation to technology, published materials and so forth these days!

I think such questions stem from two different aspects of human nature: first, is the perceived need to classify and label things and judge them in comparison to what has gone before. This inevitably leads to unanswerable questions like ‘is this really punk?’, ‘what is Dogme?’ and ‘weren’t we doing this back in the 70s?’. Second, there always seems to be a ‘kickback’ against something as it grows in popularity. It may be cool when it’s underground and known only to a few of discerning taste but once everyone is doing it or at least knows about it, we worry it has become too ‘mainstream’, lost touch with its roots or alienated its followers.

Having said all that, I did enjoy Whitesnake performing a very understated show with nothing but their logo as a backdrop and their classic songs to entertain. I also enjoyed Judas Priest and their lasers, fireballs and outlandish costumes. I should also point out that I do not view heavy metal as the equivalent of the ELT coursebook! It was more the general 80s fascination with hair, make-up and extravagance that I was thinking of. Smile

In fact, there are also parallels between heavy metal and unplugged ELT (I guess there are parallels to be drawn between just about anything depending on how you think about it)! Both are misunderstood by outsiders (here, I equate “that’s just loud noise” with “that’s just a conversation lesson”); both, despite initial misconceptions, require a lot of skill (comparing the guitar playing skills of the heavy metal greats with the ability of the dogme teacher to respond to emergent language) and, in the words of Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford: “the great thing about heavy metal/dogme ELT is that you can do what the fuck you want” (OK, I added the dogme ELT bit Smile with tongue out)

To conclude, there was one other event from the concert that reminded me of a major issue in ELT and education today. Earlier in the day, a Turkish heavy metal group Mezarkabul (known locally as Pentagram) took to the stage. Just as the lead singer had spoken of what a privilege it was to be on the same bill as two heavy metal giants, there was a noticeable drop in the volume of the music. The singer then informed us that an exam was taking place somewhere nearby and they had been asked to stop the gig until it was finished. By the time they got the all clear, their time slot had finished and they were unable to return to the stage, having performed just 4 songs. All of which goes to show, exams ruin everything!

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Very Latest in Ed Tech - The Teacher Silencer and Other Wacky 4th Grade Inventions!

During the second semester at school, our reader was an adaptation of the Wallace and Gromit animation The Wrong Trousers. It was a fun read and one that teachers and kids alike could enjoy. My students especially liked Wallace’s crazy inventions such as the Getting Up in the Morning Machine (watch this video clip to see how it works) so there was only one thing to do as an end of book project: invent your own crazy machine!

To add an extra element of fun and challenge, I set up a poster competition with the best inventions from each class (as chosen by the students themselves) being put on display with certificates and prizes for the winners. The level of creativity shown by some of the kids was amazing (I’ve been working with young learners for long enough now that this shouldn’t surprise me anymore but nevertheless it still does!) and some of them really excelled with being given the freedom to let their imaginations run wild.

Here are some of the best ideas (sorry the pictures are not the clearest but I had to take mobile phone photos instead of scanning them. My personal favourite was the ‘Teacher Silencer’ (the girl who made it gave a very good accompanying presentation and assured me it was not designed to work on English teachers!) which was one of the winners alongside a contact lens that takes photos, an ear puller for unruly toddlers and a magic pen which helps you get top marks on tests and homework! Which one would have won your vote?

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