Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Teachers in Turkey, No. 6 - “On Teaching & Professional Development” by Didem Yeşil

When I started this series, I promised to introduce you to a wide cross-section of English language educators working here in Turkey. After hearing from five people with a lifetime of experience between them, it’s time to hear from a ‘newer’ voice, provided to us by Didem Yeşil, who is just about to embark upon her second year as an English teacher.

In this post, Didem tells us about why she became a teacher and how her first year in the classroom changed her perspective when answering that question:

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Who knows where the road will take us? Image by Martin Gommel

I first met David at ISTEK 2011 when we had a little chat right after his workshop. Soon after ISTEK, which was the biggest reason why I started to use Twitter actively, he was one of the first teachers who welcomed me on Twitter. Once again thanks to David, I got the opportunity to write my first guest post (actually my first blog post ever) on this great blog. So I owe David a big thank you for his support.

On Teaching and Professional Development

"Why did you become an English teacher?"

That was a very frequent question I was asked especially in job interviews right after I graduated from the university last year. The question was typically followed by an answer that I thought perfectly explained why I decided to become an English teacher. "I chose to be an English teacher because I love teaching and children, so I believe it is a perfect combination".

I thought "What other reasons would you need to be a teacher?" Well, to be honest, after one year of teaching experience, I can say the answer sounds like a total cliché now!

Soon after I really started teaching, I realized what would really keep me going in teaching was LEARNING in the first place, not teaching itself. However, the rest of it- my love of children- still holds true, thankfully :)

The next thing I came to realize is how eagerness to learn and professional development are closely linked to each other, and how the opposite could easily cause teacher burnout. It did not take me long either to see that "professional development" is such a buzzword nowadays and almost everyone has some piece of advice for teachers regarding professional development.

Now the real question is...

What does PD really mean to a beginning teacher like me? How do I relate to this commonly used concept as a teacher having a LOT to learn along the way?

The biggest learning opportunity for me is the kids themselves. They are truly amazing, inspiringly creative and more willing to learn than we might sometimes think. They just need to be given the access to learning and they always remind me of the fact that we have to give them more chance to take charge of their own learning. Like most other people of my generation, I came from an education system in Turkey where teacher-centeredness felt safer for most teachers since they did not like to risk their dominance in the classroom by letting students be in command of their own learning. So, I am aware that it definitely affects the way I teach from time to time (or most of the time), but I am LEARNING! I guess the key is to consciously evaluate all teaching and learning experiences and reflect on them.

Another thing that keeps me inspired is I have the chance to connect to other like-minded educators around the world mainly through Twitter. I am also lucky to be an "English" teacher because of the global nature of English having the power to connect people in a more global way. This way I learn incredibly a lot from others and it feels great to be in touch with all those great people!

For me, sharing is what makes PD and learning more meaningful. Share what you believe is valuable, go and observe other teachers, have someone observe you, ask questions, reflect, go to trainings, learn about technology and how to use it in your class, attend webinars and conferences whether it be online or face-to-face and share... Seek higher education opportunities, get together with open-minded and inspiring teachers and contribute to your team in the work place adding a positive value to it. Try to have at least one thing that you do best and feel happy about.

Learn and share because what you know will have a bigger effect around you and it is the only way to make a difference.

While all these happen, there will definitely be some people who may not be as willing to change as you are because they may not want to leave their comfort zones where they tend to stick to the practices they got used to. I do understand though, because change is much more powerful and compelling when it comes from within, not from outside, but I believe when you express it in the right time with the right attitude, others will eventually come to realize the power of "the better" having a greater potential to help your students learn.

Now going back to my earlier justification of why I became a teacher, all I can say now is that I guess I am a teacher because I feel learning is the integral part of my teaching. When you learn, you will share (ideally), when you share you will grow together, when you grow and make a difference, your students will benefit from this.

Maybe after some more time in teaching, my answer to the question "Why did you become an English teacher?" will be replaced by something different. Don't you also believe in this dynamic nature of teaching?

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I'm Didem Yeşil. I studied English Language Teaching at Bogazici University in Istanbul and I have been working with young learners at a private school in Istanbul for a year now. I am interested in teaching young learners and using technology to make their learning experience more motivating and effective.

I am @didolores on Twitter.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Teachers in Turkey, No. 5 - “It WAS the worst of times, it IS the best of times…” by David Mearns

The latest contribution to Teachers in Turkey comes from David Mearns, who, like our previous two guests Adam and Işıl, teaches prep classes in Istanbul, although his are high school prep classes rather than university ones. David was in attendance at my workshop at the ISTEK Conference last April and, while we both agree that traditional error-focused written feedback is not always the most effective way to help students, our alternative approaches are quite different. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend his session on video feedback so I’m very happy that he has written a post about it for us!

David’s post discusses how he managed to implement an extensive drive to include more technology in his classes and how the arrival of netbooks, IWBs and video feedback has impacted both his own work and that of his students. He has also kindly provided some videos of his students talking about their experiences with the new technology as well as an example of his feedback. Plenty of food for thought here and we look forward to your comments!

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When considering where we are now at a crossroad for change in ELT, I am reminded of the opening line of a classic piece of English literature, A Tale of Two Cities, written by Charles Dickens,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope...
Dickens wrote this more than a hundred years ago with an aim to inform through narrative commentary about the terrible state of affairs with social deconstruct, authoritarian regimes, huge gaps between rich and poor and a general sense of little hope for the European peoples at that time. However, if we look at his narrative there seems little change in the general world scheme of things since that time, and it is with that I would like to parallel his observations into our world of ELT.

I believe that we have had the worst times, and the best times are upon us when we, as ESL educators and ELT practitioners have the opportunity to make serious and fundamental changes in our teaching practices to make a difference to the students we face every day and give them hope. I write of course about how better teaching practices and the embracing of ICT can help us all to move out of the Darkness and into the Light.
My allusion to Dickens nearly ends there, although always on my mind, so that I can give forth a reason to believe that we as progressive educators can move with the (best of) times and develop as tech-savvy teachers in order to engage our students in quality lessons that include the wonders of ICT and web 2.0 applications.

But before I can tell of my eureka moment, and how I changed my approach to teaching, I would first like to give some background to my own situation. I moved to Turkey in the Spring of 1996 with my CELTA firmly in hand hoping to change the way ‘foreign’ students adopted and learned English. I had the course books, the grammar books, the realia prepared in CELTA projects and, of course, the buzz-methodology at the time: Communicative Approach with the focus on the PPP paradigm of methodology as my main tools for the job. I felt good. I believed in myself that “I could not fail”(!) Well, in fairness, that self-confidence and over exuberance did bode me well for the first few years. But increasingly I could see that the method was flawed in many respects and that students more often than not baulked at its very core, since they had grown up in a school system that did not cater to such “whimsical” notions of pedagogy. Students became disengaged and disenchanted with my style, and more alarmingly for myself I became less and less of a teacher as I simply could not fully engage my students, thus becoming disengaged myself. I recall the five stages of grief to further illuminate my point: DENIAL, ANGER, NEGOTIATION, DEPRESSION and ACCEPTANCE. I was going to work stuck in variations of the first four states of mind and practice. The fourth stage ultimately taking over and making me a very unhappy teacher. It was not until the summer of 2007 that I finally came to the decision to change; it was either make the change or give up teaching for good. I enrolled in the Aston MSc TESOL Distance Learning programme, and it was then, throughout my R & D, that I saw the extraordinary opportunities for us as teachers to embrace the use of technology and start to make changes in our teaching practices.

By sheer definition of a distance e-Learning programme I was involved in working alone (for the most part since the Aston programme was set up in such a way that people enter at various times of the year and course, therefore, the collaboration for different modules at different times meant it was difficult to find study-pals), which, yes meant that I did feel very isolated and vulnerable (boohoo), but it also meant I had to dig deep and find the resolve to make it work (I know now that Aston has set up an Istanbul office to reduce this trauma). But it was who had chosen to make a change; I had decided I needed to be a better teacher, and I had realised that if it was going to work, I had to do it. This sense of ‘I’, autonomy and self-motivation can not be underestimated in the human framework. It is something for me that I have experienced and which has taught me that in order for students to do the best work they can, they have to want it themselves. Without it we are raging against an indestructible machine; thus it is imperative that we as teachers transfer the learning to them; instil in them the need for autonomy and ownership of their own progress and learning curve.

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David at his Masters graduation - there is light at the end of the MA tunnel!
 
One of the most disheartening times was during the distance-learning written feedback that I received for research papers. Not having that one-to-one time with my advisor definitely tested my emotional construct and drive to continue. It was the best of times for me with what I was reading, researching and learning, but it was also the worst of times when I would receive lower grades that what I thought I had deserved for all the work I had put in (I recall waking at 5.30am on Xmas Day, 2009, to work on a draft paper due for the January deadline). In hindsight and on reflection, I know that what I went through both emotionally and pedagogically during those times has made me a stronger person, and, even more importantly, aware of what our students go through. However, it was with the type of feedback that I was receiving that led me to consider the idea of better feedback to students. Although what the advisors were writing was essentially true, I felt that the way it was presented, written and relayed to me had me feeling very negative (anger; denial) about my own ability. There was no denying these lecturers knew what they were talking about, but I couldn’t help but feel further isolated and vulnerable. In search of some sort of comfort, I noticed around the time that two UK academics, Billy Brick and Russell Stannard had been experimenting with Video Feedback using desktop recording software for giving feedback. I contacted them both and thanks to them I was hooked on technology as a means to engage students and reach out to students who were having a tough time getting to grips with their work. Video Feedback within the Writing process subsequently became the focus for my dissertation. I was now totally hooked on how much good technology could bring to the distance-learning paradigm.


An example of video feedback on written work provided by David

The school where I am now currently employed has a strong and clear vision for the future. The IT department is intent on getting to grips with technology for the classroom. So much so that it was decided to set up a pilot-program for the floundering Hazırlık (preparatory) program. I say floundering because of the lack of a properly structured curriculum that allowed students to develop and grow for the year that they were involved doing twenty hours of English a week. After much deliberation, we came up with one student - one netbook, and IWB for both sts working on netbooksclassrooms, surround sound and projectors. This was supported by an online ESL software package that would allow me to use both e-learning and classic styles of teaching, in and out of the classroom. The time was extremely exciting and full of nervous energy. I went into the classroom in those first few days of semester one, 2010, with a passion I hadn’t felt for years. Could we make the Hazırlık students more engaged? Could we get them to further develop their English skills and learning curve? Would the investment and effort be rewarded with success and a fruitful learning environment? Well, the answer: Yes, and No! (at least at the beginning)

The initial feelings of dismay from the students still sticks clearly in my mind. They simply could not believe that they had been given a netbook that they were allowed to use in class at all times. They were in shock that a teacher and school would simply hand over the hardware, software and transfer of educational ITC-knowledge to them; students who had gone through a system where they had been criticized for failure, criticized for not learning and criticized for not wanting to participate. Other students passing the room with everyone involved busily on their netbooks was heard to say, “Yaa, Hazirliklar, şu eğitim, internet café gibi!” (Urgh! This prep program is more like an internet café). I instructed them on what was allowed and what was not, i.e. proceed with the work on your netbook and focus on the tasks in hand. First Mistahazırlık sts in library with netbbooks and netbooks doing researchke! I had naively assumed that since we were giving them this opportunity to work with technology, and full internet access that they would simply follow suit. THEY didn’t! I was increasingly finding that Facebook and other social interests were infiltrating their workspace. Even students who would normally be engaged anything up to 100% of the time in classwork would be directing their attention to the ‘fun’ part of the internet and not doing the ‘fun’ classwork I had assigned. After one month of this disappointment I called for a meeting with the administrators warning them of my observations and insisting we had to put in more structured policies and directives for the students. Note, dear colleagues, this is a major warning to those of you out there considering a switch to technology. Make sure you have all your bases covered. It is imperative that the students know what, why and how they are expected to use the technology. Of course, I warned them from day one what was expected, but teenagers as they are, rarely listen at the outset. So, please take my experience as a lesson, have the students gradually introduced to the concept, let them get their heads round it, and then further integrate the technology. For this year I aim to only give one period a day over to the netbooks for the first month until they see it is a benefit for their learning, not as an excuse to surf the net for their very different means, thus disengaging from the lessons: the very thing I was fighting against.

That was the downside. Now for the upside, and what an upside it is. Having watched and observed Hazırlık classes for fifteen years I have seen lack of interest, disengagement of all students, lethargy, boredom and of course serious discipline issues as a result. I can honestly say that apart from minimal discipline issues (and these would have happened no matter what, with the personalities concerned) all of the above were completely eradicated by the use of technology in the classroom. Not only were the netbooks an overwhelming success in getting students engaged for the whole year, but also with the daily use of the IWBs. Even if people reading this cannot get netbooks to the students, please fight to have IWBsIWB collaboration in your classrooms. This is something that has so transformed the atmosphere and interactivity of my classes that observers have been amazed. I was probably observed twenty times this year as news filtered through that what ICT and IWB, netbooks and technology were doing to this student-demographic. Traditionally, Hazırlık has been viewed as a place that only the most robust of teachers can deal with. However, it is a place where those experienced teachers amongst us will do anything to avoid. I know, I was one of them. Even as an HoD, I remember allowing teachers to do whatever they had to do in order to survive. Now, it is different. Teachers now want to be a part of it. Teachers from primary through to high school are coming to observe the dynamic environment; administrators are walking away with smiles on their faces knowing that they have made the right choice to invest in the tec. Of course, I know that it takes a teacher with enthusiasm to drive such a program, and it also takes a teacher who knows a bit about the technology. But that should not put anyone off. It is there for us all to adopt and adapt to so that each year group can have the same experience as my Hazırlıkkers (sic). However, I must stress that it is no good for schools to simply buy in the equipment and hope for the best; believing that teachers will simply make the leap. It is imperative that substantial professional development workshops are put in place before the technology can even be remotely considered.


Feedback on the feedback from two of David’s students

It is with this final point that I come to the importance of getting it right, before you can get it right. I learned a lot from my experience last year of simply putting the equipment in place and software to boot, in the hope it would work. It didn’t! It took a readdressing of the issues after the initial month to set it right on track. This year, I will be implementing classic styles only with a leaning towards the technology (primarily in respect of netbooks) at the outset. On the other hand, I sts on netbooks in classwill be using the IWBs from day one. I will be using the ESL-software daily, but only for one hour until the students are used to the concept. I will be introducing Moodle, Edmodo and a wiki (to be called Wikilık), Triptico, Visual Thesaurus, and Video Feedback via Camtasia plus a plethora of wonderful ICT tools acquired via Twitter (btw, the greatest ELT platform that I have yet to find and use). I believe that with the experience of one year doing this at the classroom level, and still a novice for sure, I will continue to make changes in respect of further engaging my students and making them see how technology can make their learning experience a truly ‘fun’ one. Alluding one final time to Mr Dickens, I do strongly believe it is a time of hope for us all, and if we simply decide to make a personal change as teachers we can make a difference and accept that if we are to succeed it is entirely up to us to take us out of the dark and into the light.

Warmly
David Mearns MSc TESOL


More feedback on the use of technology from one of David’s students
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David Mearns is originally from the north of Scotland and has spent the last 15 years in Turkey as an English teacher. He is married to a great woman from Izmir who has supported him through it all as he tries to convince people of the need for continuous change and personal growth.

David doesn’t have his own blog at present but he is considering it (and I think you’ll agree he definitely should get started!)

In the meantime, you can follow him on Twitter: @davidmearns

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Teachers in Turkey, No. 4 - “One Thing I Did in Class” by Adam Simpson

Guest number 4 in the Teachers in Turkey series is Adam Simpson, also known as @yearinthelifeof on Twitter. Adam is known as a guy who likes to do things differently so his contribution breaks away from the written format used so far and comes in the form of a video post, which is a format always welcome on this blog!

Please watch and listen as Adam talks us through one of those moments when a spur of the moment idea turns into an engaging and effective lesson:




 
Adam Simpson
 Adam is the blogger behind the eclectic mess of ideas that is Year in the Life of an English Teacher . Now increasingly oxymoronically in its third year, his blog aims to share aspects of his day to day life with the unsuspecting and largely undeserving ELT community. He has lived and worked in Istanbul since the turn of the century.
Follow him on Twitter: @yearinthelifeof

Sunday, 14 August 2011

The Weird & Wonderful World of Webinars

Those of you who attended the recent Reform Symposium will no doubt be familiar with the words and phrases below. You may have even uttered some of the yourself. Even if you missed out on this extraordinary event (and if you did, shame on you - go and check out the archived recordings now!), you will have seen these words appear in your Twitter stream, in blog posts or somewhere else on the web:

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These are all things I experienced as well….

…(except for the ‘watching in pyjamas bit - I always hear this one shouted out at the time of virtual conferences but I wonder if anyone actually does… I’ve only ever heard of one person appearing at a conference in pyjamas and that was at a face-to-face conference… And it was an American in Paris… But then again, I heard about another American based in Paris who ran through a major international conference in a panda suit!  … Anyway, I digress…)

All of them true and deserved words for what was a fantastic event. However, while the attendees raved about the event, I noticed a different set of words and phrases being used to describe some people’s RSCON experience:

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These were the words of some of the presenters, particularly those presenters who were giving a webinar for the first time. They cited the lack of a visible audience as the main reason as well as the manner in which interactivity was limited, both of which vastly reduced the sense of connecting with the audience (see these great reflections from Brad Patterson and Cecilia Lemos for example).

My feelings were somewhat different though. Granted, this was not my first online presentation - in addition to 3 virtual conferences in the last 9 months, I’ve also used Elluminate a few times during my MA studies - and, if anything, I felt more relaxed than when I do face-to-face presentations or workshops. I started to wonder why this was the case and after mulling it over, I came up with the following:

  • There’s no place like home

Any fan of sports will know that teams generally get better results when playing in their home stadium, just as athletes seem to go that extra yard when events like the Olympics are held in their own country. I think likewise for virtual conferences the fact that I can present from my own study in my own home (can’t get much more familiar than that!) helps a lot. If a case of the butterflies kicks in before the session, I can go and get myself a coffee, chat with my wife, play with my son or chill in front of the TV for a little while. At a conventional conference, on the other hand, it’s much harder to find a quiet place to relax for a while or some activity to take your mind off things. Oh, and the coffee is generally terrible!

  • The audience

Not having your audience right there physically with you can seem strange. Add to that the fact that anyone wishing to ask a question has to be given ‘microphone privileges’ and then usually fumbles through a ‘Can you hear me?’ or two and it can make for a disjointed, disconnected experience. However, this situation does offer some advantages. In any talk or workshop, there are always some people who look bored and disengaged (perhaps they have been ‘forced’ to attend on their precious day off, or they have been worn out by a long day of session after session, or that’s just their general demeanour) - this is especially a problem in workshops when you actually want them to get up and do something! Virtual conferences, meanwhile, generally seem to get a more willing audience of people who have heard through the PLN-vine and decided to join in in their pyjamas off their own back. Furthermore, if there’s anyone in your webinar who really doesn’t want to be there, they can just drop out without you even noticing (imagine how it would be if someone just got up an walked out of your workshop!). Or, if someone just wants to sit and listen without taking the mic or even clicking on a smiley or two, that’s fine as well.

And one more thing about the audience before moving on - in my three public webinars, I’ve had more familiar faces in attendance via my PLN than I have in any regular workshop I’ve ever given. Being amongst people you know and interact with on a regular basis always helps.

  • Interactions

Although you can never recreate the flow of interaction in a face-to-face setting during a webinar (at least not with current technology), there is still plenty that can be done to make sure the session isn’t all just one way presenting. First and foremost among these is the chat box. It is difficult as a presenter to keep up with the chat at times but it also provides something a face-to-face event cannot: flowing interaction among the audience. If you were in the middle of making a point in a conventional setting and everybody was chatting to each other or passing notes, I’m sure you’d get distracted by the noise and the movement (not to mention the sheer cheek!) However, in a webinar that chat can flow between the entire audience while the presenter is in full flow which makes for a rich experience.

As for the other tools, I’ve found that working in polls, questions with replies invited via chat or smileys and web tours at different stages in the session is invaluable. Just saying ‘click on the smiley face if you can hear me’ and ‘write in the chat where you are attending from’ isn’t enough. Bringing in a few different questions and activities throughout the talk is a good way to keep the interaction going.

  • “Accepting the void”

To conclude, I’ll steal a few words from Brad Patterson’s title. The simple fact is that presenting online is very much different from presenting a session at your local (or international) ELT conference. A big part of successfully negotiating the ‘void’ is to acknowledge it and accept it. Just like after a lesson or a face-to-face workshop, it’s always worth reflecting on what went well and what didn’t and using that to make improvements for next time. That way, as presenters, we can feel just the same way as our attendees (and maybe even say ‘I presented in my pyjamas!’….. or not….)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Teachers in Turkey, No. 3 - “#Why-am-I-doing-this??” by Işıl Boy

This time, my Teacher in Turkey is Işıl Boy, who teaches university prep students in Istanbul. She is also on the same distance MA programme as I am with the University of Manchester. When she started a year ago, we first interacted through the MA ‘common room’ introductions thread and it was only later that we realised we had been connected via Twitter for some time already!

In this post, Işıl reflects on her decision to study for an MA as well as how she coped with the initial workload and juggling distance study with a full-time job. A must read for any current or prospective MA students!

 

clip_image002First, I want to thank my dear course mate Dave for offering me to write a guest post on his insightful blog.

We are both doing our master's at the University of Manchester, Educational Technology and TESOL. It is a really great but demanding course. Last May, while I was working on my painful assignment, I saw Dave's hashtag: #whyamIdoingthis on twitter, which was explaining that he was also busy with his assignment, and had the same question in his mind. I must confess that it was relieving to see that you are not the only one suffering from assignments and questioning yourself! :-)

It takes three years to finish the course, which is not "free", and I am not fully sure if it is to be accredited by Y.O.K (Higher Education Council of Turkey) since it is a distance course. Currently, I am working for a state university, and the salary is not all that good. Honestly, I have no intention to apply for a foundation university or change my job, of course I cannot know what the future brings, but this is exactly the case now. Hence, I asked myself #whyamIdoingthis? If it were only for the love of educational technology, I also love playing tennis, riding horses and going out with my friends, which are all less painful...

Then, WHY?

On the day, I took the university entrance exam, I remember dragging my family to a study abroad fair and collecting information on master's degrees in the UK. An educational consultant told me she would always remember me since she hadn't seen someone asking for a master's course who is not even a university student. Then, I learned that I needed teaching experience to apply for the Masters in TESOL, and when I started working at Yildiz Technical University, it was too late since I had to leave my job to get a master's degree in the UK. I waited for five years after my graduation as I didn't want to get a master's degree just for its titleclip_image004 but to learn something new and become a better teacher. Soon, I found about the MA course I am studying now, and it is the perfect choice for me, for I am a huge edtech addict. In a nutshell, the answer is, if life is a puzzle (which puzzles us a lot) a huge piece would be missing without it, and I wouldn't feel fulfilled like I am very much feeling now.

A Confession to Make

Most people claim that students feel very confused and lonely during the distance master's programmes. On the contrary, we were always in contact with our instructors and course mates, and got clear explanation, feedback and support all the time.

As for my confession, for the first two weeks I couldn't join the discussions, and managed to read only few articles. Then when I had a look at "library reading lists" there were "far too many" articles and books to read, which caused a real pain in my stomach! A week later, I read the thread about SFRE (Situation-Problem-Response-Evaluation) patterns which helped me to realise whclip_image006at almost all the students had already noticed! I looked for SFRE patterns everywhere and soon after I saw "the clickable TT headlines", which give explanation about the units, and the name of the articles to read, I had somehow missed! Thankfully, it wasn't too late, and I was able to keep up with reading.

There is also one thing I appreciate; in some master's courses only "theories" are taught, but through this course we have learnt about "theorising". It has been challenging to work full time and do a master's course at the same time. However, it has also been very helpful to learn lots of invaluable things and have the chance to put them "in action".

An advice for students: If you are on iPad, you can download "pdf-notes" app which allows taking notes and highlighting. Freely downloadable from here

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Isil Boy is an EFL Instructor at Yildiz Technical University in Istanbul, Turkey. Having taken her BA in TEFL from Istanbul University, she started her Master’s Degree in Educational Technology and TESOL at the University Of Manchester. Having developed a heartfelt love for educational technology, she came to realize that in a highly tech-driven society, education and technology should go hand in hand. ICT in Education, Blended Learning and Second Life in Education are among her interests. She is also ‘English for Teachers’ (EFT) Course Contributor, ‘International Teacher Development Institute’ (iTDi) Associate.

Her Blog: www.isilboy.com

Her Ning Network: www.yildizprepschool.ning.com

Her Twitter ID: @isilboy

Monday, 8 August 2011

A blog I can call my own…

The more observant of you may have noticed there have been a few changes around my blog recently.

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Nothing to be afraid of… Image by busy.pochi

First of all, I’ve switched from using a BlogSpot.com address to my own url: (www.davedodgson.com). There were two reasons for this: first and foremost, I wanted to ‘move’ my blog to protect against any future knee-jerk decisions from the Turkish judicial system to ban BlogSpot here; secondly, I feel like this makes the blog more of my ‘own’ space on the web, something I can keep building and developing as I do the same in my career.

I’ve also added a few extra pages to the blog and linked them to the tab at the top of the page. Some of the pages highlight collections of posts on a similar theme such as ‘Teaching Young Learners’ and ‘My MA Studies’. I’ve also added a page featuring posts from my guest bloggers. Others are static pages to explain more about me and this blog to newcomers as well as to direct readers to my guest posts elsewhere and a summary of the various presentations and workshops I’ve done recently.

All of these pages are open to comment and I’d also appreciate your comments here to let me know what you think. Oh, and if you include my blog in your RSS feeds or auto-tweet it through Twitterfeed or some other service, I’d like to say two things: 1) Thanks! and 2) Please make sure you have updated the service with the new url to make sure it gets through.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

#RSCON3: Feeding back and moving forward

It’s been a week now since the Reform Symposium came to an end. Well, a week since it came to an end in a ‘live’ sense as all of the sessions are now archived and available to be viewed on the conference website. I’m sure I’ll be stretching out my enjoyment of this conference for a few days yet!

That for me is a great advantage of the online conference - the ability to view whenever you want, even if it’s after the event. On top of that, there is also the chance to share these great sessions with colleagues who were unaware of the conference when it took place or were too busy to attend.

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This year’s event was a great one to attend and participate in. Last year’s Reform Symposium was my first online conference and I remember thinking how cool it was and how I would love to be involved in future versions. A year is a long time in professional development and this time I was not only able to present a session but I also moderated a few, which was a new experience for me. However, I was happy to help in any way I could.

In general, I came away from the conference with renewed energy to get back into the classroom when the new academic year starts here next month and lots of new ideas to try out. As I said in my contribution to Chiew Pang’s iasku special RSOCN review, this conference served as a good reminder that even though I work in language teaching, I am in fact an educator. Language teaching, and specifically ELT, often views itself as a separate discipline and the voices from the general education sector often go unheard or ignored. I enjoyed listening in on some talks from people who work in general education and I hope they got something out of the sessions given by ELTers as well.

As for my session on feedback and error correction, I think it went well. The topic seemed to be of interest to the participants and I tried a few different ways to make it interactive with a poll at the start and taking questions and comments on a sample piece of writing early on. I also tried a live demo of typewith.me to show how it could be used for an error correction activity which, while lacking the direct interaction of group work in class, was better than just talking about it.

In case you missed the session, here’s a link to the recording and here are the slides I used during the session:


If you watched my session, either live or from the archive, I’d love to hear your comments on how your experience on ‘the other side of the screen’ was. Feedback on my feedback session - please do so in the comments section.

The only negative thoughts I had about the whole weekend was that nagging feeling I often get when interacting with teachers online that we are in a way preaching to the converted. I generally find that teachers who are active online are already in the process of finding ways to improve and expand their experience. The ones who need to hear the words of the presenters the most and live the experience of an event like RSCON are the ones who were not there, either because they didn’t know or couldn’t be bothered.

The only thing to do is to let them know. I will be emailing several colleagues over the next couple of weeks with links to sessions I recommend they see before we go back to school. Hopefully, they will watch them and see what I saw, learn what I learned and be ready to move forward when September rolls around.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Teachers in Turkey, Part 2 - “The X Intersect of Language Teaching” by Aaron G. Myers

The second post of the ‘teachers in Turkey’ series doesn’t come from a teacher as such but a language coach, Aaron G. Myers, who lives and works in Istanbul. I first interacted with Aaron through Twitter when he tried to access my blog but couldn’t due to BlogSpot being banned in Turkey at the time. Thankfully, the ban didn’t last long!

I asked Aaron to contribute to the series because I was interested to find out more about his work as a ‘coach’ and what that entailed. He replied with the following post in which he shares ideas for getting students to learn and think more independently. It’s a very interesting read with plenty of food for thought - please share your comments at the end!

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X marks the spot - Image by pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of gold

My experience in Turkey has been that of a language learner and as a language coach. As a learner, I have been able to pursue Turkish as an independent, self-directed learner and found it to be a rewarding and empowering experience. My Turkish is not yet where I want it to be, but I have the tools and the knowhow to get there. As a language coach, I have had the privilege of working with both Turkish nationals and expats to help them become independent language learners themselves. It is from these two perspectives that I write today.

I remember reading a parenting book a few years back that gave the illustration that as parents, we begin the journey of parenthood with complete control of and responsibility for our children. In the first year of our child’s life, they are dependent on us for everything. If we were to score the relationship of our control to our child’s independence, we would be at a 10 and they would be at 0. The goal of parenting then is to help our child grow and to one day be independent, i.e. employable, marriageable and responsible adults. And so we take steps over the course of their childhood to hand over more and more responsibility so that they might learn to be independent. We begin to move toward the X intersect. The X intersect is that place in childhood - somewhere between fourteen and eighteen - where our child moves from being mostly dependent to being mostly independent. It is also the place where we move from being “parent as boss” to being “parent as guide.” As parents we create safe ways for our kids to practice being independent so that they are prepared for the real world.

But what does parenting have to do with education? How does this have any relevance on the EFL classroom? My experience over the last few years has caused me to think that in teaching English, we ought to be working to bring our students to the X intersect - that place where they move from being mostly dependent learners to being mostly independent learners. Teachers in turn will need to move from being mostly “teacher as boss” to being mostly “teacher as guide.” In this way we can empower our students to become life long, independent language learners.

Before I explain what this might look like in a real classroom, it should be said that the age of students will in many ways dictate the level of independence to which we can bring them. Elementary age students will not be ready to be independent learners. College age students will. Somewhere in between those two is the place of the X intersect.

Level of language is also a factor to be considered. Krashen reminds us that “beginners are much better off in well-taught language classes. Good language classes will give the beginner the comprehensible input that the outside world will supply only very reluctantly.”[1] They need the teacher to be the boss, their main source of input and we cannot expect beginning English language learners to become independent language learners. They don’t yet have the necessary skills. But, as Krashen continues, “The goal of language classes is not to bring students to the highest levels of competence. The goal is to bring students to the intermediate level.[2] Once students are at an intermediate level they will have the necessary language skills to access the opportunities available to learn the language.

Finally, it is important to understand is that this is a journey taken one step at a time. Just as we wouldn’t shove our eighteen year olds out the door having never given them the opportunity to learn responsibility and independent living, we shouldn’t think that we can make our students into independent learners over night. It will take time and patience. In Turkey, it has been my observation that the idea of independent learning is about as foreign as I am. Everything in the system conspires against this kind of thinking. Private language schools flourish because of this. Teachers are given a high level of respect. It is this respect, this place of prestige within Turkish society that makes teachers the most likely candidates to be able to effect any lasting change.

There are a few components that when implemented will lead to the X intersect. The first of course is that teachers need to continue to teach content, to give student’s comprehensible input and opportunities to learn the language. Students must be brought to the intermediate level. Slowly however, students need to be taught about comprehensible input and language acquisition and then given the tools, resources and knowledge to learn language on their own. Demonstrations of independent learning strategies, of how to access the Internet and tap into other resources will be important. Modelling and assisting will be invaluable parts of a typical lesson plan. In the end, success will be measured not by what happens inside the classroom, but rather by what happens outside the classroom and into the future as students take ownership of their learning and continue to progress long after they have left the teacher’s side.

Another component that fosters ownership and independent learning is the connection of learning to the here and now heart issues of the students. As language teachers we have a great advantage over the other disciplines. Biology teachers are restricted to the topic of biology. Math teachers follow the linear route from addition to multiplication. History teachers are stuck in history. Whether or not the students are particularly interested in biology or math or history doesn’t really matter. This is not to say that these subjects are somehow unimportant. My son isn’t particularly fond of math, but I am not particularly concerned with what he is fond of in this matter. He has to learn math. It is an important life skill.

As language teachers however, the world is our oyster - or rather our students’. There is no topic that excludes opportunities for language learning. Students with a teacher as guide can find podcasts, YouTube videos, movies, TV shows, games and much more in English. The 71,908 articles in the Simple English Wikipedia could be a great place to begin. Connecting our students’ English language development to their passions will go a long way in providing the motivation they need to become independent language learners. Speaking about life in general, Erwin McManus said, “We need to both aspire and accomplish. Without a vision for your life, without a sense of purpose, you will begin to die a slow death.” If we cannot help our students find vision and a sense of purpose for learning English, their quest to learn the language will almost certainly die a slow death.

As I have lived in Turkey, I have made it a habit to ask parents how their children are doing in English class. Unless they have the money for private schools, the response is usually the same. They feel their kids are learning very little. They wish there was something they could do. They feel trapped, knowing that English would open doors for their children but not knowing how to help them. The third component then is to also empower parents in the process. Give them hope that there is much they can do at home to help their kids. Make a handbook for parents. Give a one hour workshop. Make a list of online resources available. Make a website dedicated to presenting these resources with summaries of how to use them in their native language. These are a few small steps to help parents understand that it is not just the teacher’s job to teach their kids English.

If these three components - teaching how to learn language, connecting learning to real life and empowering parents - can be implemented, we will be well on our way to creating a classroom where the teacher moves slowly into the role of a language guide as students become independent self directed learners. If we can do this well, if we can move our students toward and through the X intersect, our legacy won’t be one of students who have learned some English. Our legacy will be one of students transformed and empowered to be life long, successful learners of English.


[1] Krashen, Steven. 2003. Explorations in Language Acquisition and Use. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. (page 7)

[2] ibid

imageWritten by Aaron Myers. Aaron believes everyone can learn another language. You just need a little help. That’s why he writes The Everyday Language Learner and why he has developed the free Ten Week Journey. He wants to get you started on the road to language learning and then give you the tools to keep going. Get started. Don't stop.

You can also follow Aaron on Twitter: @aarongmyers

Monday, 1 August 2011

Teachers in Turkey, Part 1 - “Teaching as a Career” by Eva Büyüksimkeşyan

Welcome to the first post of what I hope will be an extensive guest series: “Teachers in Turkey”. Our first guest is Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, a name I’m sure will be familiar from Twitter and ELT conferences across Europe. I had the pleasure to meet Eva in person at ISTEK last April and I’m honoured such a great educator agreed to be a part of this series.

Eva’s post touches on something that I’m sure many of you will have experienced at some point in your teaching career: the perception that teaching is a ‘part-time’ job, the best feature of which is long summer holidays. Please read on and share your comments - both Eva and I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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Teaching - the ideal career for a woman? A bit of an old-fashioned ,idea I think!

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Writing is not very easy in summer anymore as Istanbul is getting hotter and hotter each year and more humid. I brainstormed some ideas but wasn’t very sure what to write. It was difficult to concentrate on anything.

Until today....

I was at pool with kids and chatting with the ladies there and of course I told them ‘I’m a teacher’

Guess how the conversation continued....

An elderly lady told that teaching is the best job for a woman.

Any ideas why she said that?

She added ‘You have three months holiday and arrive home early and do the other stuff’

Do I?

Why does she think like that? She is not alone. That’s the common thought about teaching. It is kind of a part time job. It looks and sounds like that.

We know it is not.

But you know there are others who make them think teaching is a part time job.

I didn’t argue with them. Didn’t say anything but just mumbled ‘yeah I love teaching’

Maybe I should have argued...

Yes, I love teaching but not just because of long summer holidays, sudden snow breaks or because it enables me to be home with my kids when they return from school.

Teaching is the best job for me because it keeps me young, cheerful and energetic. It helps me share what I have. It helps me guide some young people. It makes me see how they achieve their goals and it enables me to learn something new every day. It ... I have loads of reasons why I love teaching, why it is a great job.

When do you think people will stop thinking about teaching as a kind of part time job for a woman which will enable her to bring her kids up and be a good wife?

Teaching is a career. A very serious profession but it hurts when a parent says ‘my daughter doesn’t like studying Mrs Buyuksimkesyan, I only want her to graduate from high school and who knows maybe she can become a teacher. That’s the best job for a girl, isn’t it?

No, it isn’t.

Please, please.... if you won’t work hard, try to make a difference or touch somebody’s life, don’t become a teacher. It requires enthusiasm, hard work and dedication.

Only if people see teachers who are working hard and trying to keep themselves updated, will others stop thinking like that.

Only if students realise how tough the teacher’s job is, will parents see the hard work.

But if we, the teachers, boast about the long summer holidays and I-don’t-care-what’s-going-around-the-world-I’m-just-waiting-for-my-retirement or I-am-looking-for –a –job-as-a-teacher-coz-I-decided-to-have-a-kid attitude changes then teaching will be perceived as a real job with career opportunities, travel chances, development options just like other jobs which are more considered as a profession.

Or maybe when the working conditions, payment, etc. becomes better ...

EvaI'm Eva Büyüksimkeşyan, an EFL teacher and a blogger, working at the same school I had graduated from.(It was my dream and it came true) I'm trying to integrate technology in my teaching. I have started several collaborative projects with teachers from other countries.If you like you can also join the fun at http://celebr8uandmedigitally.wikispaces.com/ next year. I blog at evasimkesyan.edublogs.org and I'm evab2001 on twitter.