Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Steps towards my Thesis - Critical Reflection Through Blogging

Much like my fellow Englishman in Turkey Adam Simpson, I have plenty I want to blog about at the moment but hardly any time. I’ve had some interesting moments in class and online with my students in the last few weeks but as I’m teaching a full schedule across two grades I’ve never taught before, working on student websites, setting up a distance learning programme with another branch of my school and pursuing my MA studies, there’s little time to write about it all.

This post is different, however, as it allows me to combine part of my study programme with my blog. At the moment, I’m doing a course entitled ‘Developing Researcher Competence’ (DRC), which aims (amongst other things) to get us to produce a pilot study ahead of doing the final thesis. After much umm-ing and ah-ing, I have decided to look into the use of blogs for teacher development. The course notes suggest opening up my chosen area to ‘other-interrogation’ so I thought who better to consult about blogging than the blogging community I’m a part of?

Image by Flavio Ferreira

At the moment, the broad topic I want to look at is:
Using a blog as an open reflective journal for teacher self-development
I’ve blogged about this before but the whole idea of using a blog as a space to reflect intrigues me. Blogs offer great value not only in the process of writing each post and the internal reflections that leads to (I have rethought and refined my thinking in the course of typing up this post) but also in the interaction that goes on between the writer and the readers. Personally, on several occasions, I have found the comments I receive have really helped shape or alter my thinking about the topic of the post as has the experience of reading other people’s posts on similar topics.

I would like to investigate how moments of ‘critical reflection’ come about (naturally, my focus is therefore on those blogs which describe and discuss lessons or moments of lessons and/or general thoughts about classroom practice) and I have the following questions in mind:
  • What inspires you to write posts?
  • What prompts those moments of reflection?
  • How important is the role of the audience for you?
  • Does the presence of an audience and the fact that anyone can find and read your blog affect what you write?
  • Do the comments made help you reflect on your practice on a deeper level?
 My 'hunches' at this time are that most teachers get inspiration for their post either from moments in the classroom or other blog posts. The idea of sharing experiences and engaging in discussion is what drives people to use a blog to reflect in this way and the audience can both contribute to those moments of reflection and motivate further ones. However, I also believe that some bloggers may focus more on what their readers are likely to respond to or hold back from discussing some issues in a 'public' space...

Obviously there are a lot of questions there and I need to narrow my focus a little. Any thoughts or comment you have at this stage on my ideas so far (or anything I may have missed!) would be much appreciated.

As for the research itself, I am thinking of starting with a survey about the kinds of posts people write and what prompts them (this can easily be done online after all) before later requesting permission to analyse the posts and interaction taking place on a few specific blogs (and anyone who would be interested in participating in that research in the future, please let me know!)

I will also be doing a conference presentation next month on the broader theme of self-development through online means so your comments will be helpful for that as well. Smile

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Home-Grown Language Plants - David Warr’s Blog Challenge

George Harrison Quote
“I’m not really a career person. I’m a gardener, basically.” - George Harrison

For a long time now, one of my favourite blogs has been David Warr’s Language Garden, both for its though-provoking content and the creative ‘language plants’ which introduce/conclude each post with a visual re-working of a quote. It was with great excitement then that yesterday I saw David’s blog challenge to create a summary of a lesson we had done using his new Language Plant Maker. Having had a fun morning experimenting and creating, I’m ready to share my beginner’s gardening skills.

David’s challenge calls on us to reflect on a recent lesson in the style of an activity from Teaching Unplugged entitled “That was the lesson that was” (pp. 63 if you have the book). By chance, one of my lessons yesterday was based on another Teaching Unplugged idea “Good things, bad things” (pp. 52) so here are some language plants representing the language that emerged or was uncovered:

cola ayran

Rather than a single object, I started the lesson with two: a cola can and a carton of ayran (a Turkish yoghurt drink) and asked the students to write down a couple of sentences about them. This naturally led to comparative forms being used and you can see a representation of what they produced above. Beyond the basic ‘Cola is better than ayran’, I asked the class for their reasons, which led us to comparing noun forms with has + more/less…, something their coursebooks had never touched upon.

The discussion than moved into fast food in general and whether it was better to have it as a treat once in a while or avoid it all together. The following language emerged during the discussion:

fast food

All useful language (a lesson full of useful language, one might say ;)) which helped a group of ten year-olds get into a proper discussion. We also followed the Teaching Unplugged idea of moving to different ends of the classroom depending on our point of view, letting the ones who were undecided stay in the middle. Using the language from the images above, each group tried to persuade the undecided ones to join them - all in all, a great lesson!

And a great challenge to help me reflect on it! I will be using these plants in class tomorrow to review what we talked about. Thanks David - the challenge and the Plant Maker are both really appreciated.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Truth About (5 Things About) Me

It’s been a fun week of speculating, questioning and challenging people in my PLN as part of the ‘This is My Truth, Tell Me Yours’ blog challenge. Thanks to everyone who made their own video, voice recording or Voki - I feel like it has been a good way to get to know people better, even those who I (thought I) knew a lot about already. And if you haven’t joined in yet, you are still more than welcome to. ‘The more the merrier’ as they say.

Image by Thomas Hawk

Anyway, time to reveal the truth about me:

1. Despite a complete lack of musical talent, I have performed concerts with two different bands.

TRUE!! I first picked up a guitar at 16 but never really progressed beyond strumming a few chords. Nevertheless, I joined a group with a few friends who were talented enough to make up for my lack of talent. As we didn’t know anyone who had a bass guitar, I drop-tuned my guitar and strummed a few low notes and power chords. After arriving in Ankara, I took up the guitar again and this time even laid down a track or two with the help of a musically-minded friend with sound editing software. Our masterpiece was called ‘Achilles Went…’ and if I ever find the CD (it’s what I was looking for when I found those worksheets the other day), I will upload it for your listening pleasure.

Anyway, back to the concerts. I never performed live with my first group here in Turkey but I would perform with another group a few years later called ‘The Aluminium Company’, only this time I was on keyboards. Again, I got by with a few basic chords and riffs. Alas, since I quit that group, my musical career has been on hold…

2. Before becoming a teacher, my only other full-time job was at a Shell petrol station in the UK.

TRUE!! No series of exotic jobs as I backpacked around the globe for me! I graduated from university in the summer of 1999 and upon returning to the town where my parents lived, I got a temporary job at the local Shell station. That soon turned into a full-time job and 7 months there enabled me to save up enough to do my Trinity TESOL course in Barcelona in January of 2000. The rest, as they say, is history.
Of course, I had other jobs while at high school and uni but they were only weekend or part-time affairs such as the classic paper round, working in the kitchens at a Little Chef, waiting tables in a hotel and serving pints to the thirsty hordes of the Toon Army at St. James’ Park.

3. I am an avid stamp collector.

LIE!! Most of you saw right though me on this one (I really should work on my skills of deception). I was given a stamp album once when I was a child but it was never even opened I think!

4. I have never had a full-time teaching job anywhere other than Ankara, Turkey.

TRUE!! This was a pretty easy one to confirm from my blog posts I suppose… A long time ago, I used to fib and tell students I had taught in Barcelona instead of just doing my training there, but that was just to avoid being labelled as a ‘novice teacher’ before I’d even had a chance to teach them anything! (Around the same time, I was also adding a few years to my age for similar reasons - not long until I start doing the opposite Winking smile)

5. I will be competing in the Istanbul Marathon next month.

LIE!! This didn’t seem to convince many of you either… Perhaps saying next month was pushing it a bit far! This is an ambition of mine though and I intend to run in this event soon, if not next year then the year after that…. or the year after that one Smile with tongue out

So, in the end, most of you saw right through me, as evidenced by the fact that the first guess was spot on. Keep looking out for more people joining the challenge and see if you can sus them out as easily as you did with me!

The Truth Revealed by Other Entrants in the Blog Challenge:

Monday, 3 October 2011

Cleaning out my closet - Were those really the ‘good old days’?

While having a clear out or sorting through old boxes at home, have you ever come across a really embarrassing photo of yourself? You know the one I mean -a younger version of you with a particularly bad haircut (possibly a frizzy perm or a centre-parting), glasses so large they might have come from a fancy dress shop and a sweater with at least 8 different colours on it arranged in some hideous ‘pattern’… Well, I think I just had the teaching equivalent!

Today, while trying to clear some space in my study room, I came across a box full of old hand-outs buried at the back of a cupboard. These were all lovingly hand-crafted during my first teaching job here in Turkey at a dershane (language school for adults) - yes that’s right: hand-crafted as in written out by hand. Not a word processor in sight!

The first few I looked at were nothing special (just cuttings from various textbooks rearranged onto one photocopy page) but then I found some of my own creations - cringe worthy to say the least! Pages and pages of gap-fills, grammar questions of dubious accuracy and crappy illustrations!

I can only assume that I kept them thinking that my new job with young learners may only prove temporary and I may be back teaching adults before long. Or perhaps I thought they might be handy for one-to-one tuition… Who knows? Anyway, with on-demand computer access and a whole decade of teaching knowledge and experience to inform my efforts now, the only place they belong is in the recycling bin.

Nevertheless, I’ve decided to let a few live on through the pages of this blog. ‘Why?’ do I hear you ask? Three reasons really:

  1. In light of Jason Renshaw’s recent excellent tutorials on how to make good quality materials, may these serve as an example of how NOT to make materials!
  2. To show how far I’ve come since those novice days.
  3. To demonstrate to all those Stage 2 dogme thinkers, that just because you used to teach in a school with no proper coursebooks and had to create your own teaching materials, it does NOT mean that you were ‘teaching dogme all along’.
  4. OK, so make that 4 reasons - I thought it would be good for a laugh.

Here goes! (You may need to click on the images to see them clearly… then again, you may not want to!)

Introducing Your New Teacher

New Teacher

Me! With hair!

Funny that I should find this one after my recent ‘Truth or Lie?’ blog challenge. The premise was simple - the students ask me questions to fill the gaps before deciding what information is true and what was not. The truth is, I didn’t really need a hand-out for this!

What’s Going to Happen?

going to

What’s going to happen? Your students are going to be very bored, that’s what’s going to happen! They are also going to finish this hand-out you wasted 20 pieces of paper on in about 2 minutes when you could have easily displayed the same ‘art’ skills on the board in a similar amount of time.

Multiple Meanings of Modals


This worksheet takes a tricky area for learners… and makes it harder! I seem to remember a couple of advanced classes really getting into the finer details on this one though (despite the stick figure illustrations!)

More Relative Clauses

Relative Clauses

‘Course 13’ at my old school was notorious for it’s heavy grammar content. I believe this hand-out was intended to alleviate the burden! Note my ‘made by Dave’ copyright claim in the top right-hand corner. ;)


stative and dynamic

A great worksheet to show how obsessed teachers and students alike were with grammar at my old school. Believe it or not, this was well-received in class!

“The Good Old Days”

Good old days

Saving the best till last, I challenge anyone, native speaker or not to complete this one without one or two serious ‘wtf?’ pauses. This was designed for an advanced class but, unsurprisingly, even pushed them too far. These days, I might do something similar but most likely I would just tell the story, invite comments on it and then have the try to reconstruct the gapped text. Still (at the risk of giving the answers away), I like the sentiment that “they were told/taught to teach with ‘just/only a pen’, as they used to do.”

So, what is the secret to making great materials? Answer:

“You must find a way that works for you.”

Smile with tongue out

Do you have any cringe-inducing materials lying around? Please do share!