Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year’s Wishlist

So 2012 comes to an end with most of the world preparing for a big blow out tonight (I say most of the world as us poor teachers in Turkey have a full day at work today followed by one day off to get over the late night and inevitable hangover) and then it’s time to say hello to:

Image cheekily nicked from this post on Tony Gurr’s allthingslearning blog

I’m not much of one for resolutions or generic hopes and dreams for a fresh start. However, there are some simple, really simple things that could make my life as a teacher of EFL so much better and easier… Most likely, these things will continue to bug for much of the new year but I thought I’d get them out there in the hope that some positive changes come about. Anyway, here’s my 2013 teaching wishlist:

  • A reliable PTT (Turkish Postal Service) - not immediately relevant to teaching but I am still waiting for my Masters certificate, transcripts and other paperwork that was apparently sent nearly 5 weeks ago.
  • A reliable 21st century standard internet connection in class that doesn’t require me to pre-load a 2 minute YouTube clip 15 minutes before we will need it just so it can be played uninterrupted.
  • On the subject of computers, while the retro look may appeal to some, actual retro computer equipment that strains to display basic files on the class blog or even run Windows XP smoothly is not so appealing. Upgrades please!
  • Less of the summative testing and more of the formative stuff, especially as that is what we ‘officially’ do anyway.
  • Less paper - the piles and piles of worksheets, homework tasks and grammar explanations for primary school kids that I see concern me both pedagogically and ecologically.
  • Some room in the syllabus for a bit of improvisation, creativity and LEARNING - we are simply too overloaded with stuff to do/cover/prep for at present.
  • For professional development to be seen by all concerned as a useful opportunity for, well, development rather than a chore to be endured or a set of motions to be gone through.
  • Early and appropriate action for students having difficulties in class - I don’t mean punishments or singling out, just recognition of problems and a pro-active response with plenty of help and support for students and teachers alike.
  • And finally, having 31st December 2013 as a holiday would be nice!

So simple but I can’t help but wonder…. too much to ask?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The end is nigh…

I’ve never really been one for ‘seasonal’ or ‘topical’ lesson plans, mainly for the reason that I don’t see the point of introducing a bunch of new vocabulary items (like ‘sleigh’, ‘hot cross buns’, ‘bonfire’, ‘cheese-rolling’ or ‘pumpkin lantern’) just so the students can complete a word search or talk about a holiday or special event that they really don’t know that much about anyway.

However, this year I decided to make an exception due to all the completely unnecessary ‘hype’ about December 21st, 2012 and the supposed end of the world allegedly forecast by the Mayans. Early last week, I overheard a few of my students discussing whether or not the end of the world was coming and what would/could/might happen so I thought it would make a nice topic for class and a welcome break from trudging through our colourless coursebook.

The end of the world (as we know it)? - Image by mikelehen

But rather than compile a list of apocalyptic vocab and enter it into an online crossword puzzle maker, I decided to listen to my inner-dogme voice by simply bringing the topic up with my 5th graders and seeing what would happen. This was done on Friday the 14th so I asked them if they knew what was going to happen in exactly one weeks’ time. “The world is finished!” shouted out one boy and it was immediately obvious from the reaction of the class that this was something they wanted to talk about.

I asked them what they had heard about December 21st and whether or not they believed it. They had heard (or made up) all sorts things ranging from a massive meteor storm to the Earth being devastated by huge earthquakes and tsunamis to the Sun exploding. Most of them, however, did not believe it surprising me with their rational and logical explanations such as the lack of any evidence of potential disasters to be found either on Earth or in space.

So far, so good but where could the lesson go from here? As it happens, we had been studying the topic of ‘extreme weather’ previously and had read a (rather dull) text about how to protect yourself during a storm so I suggested they might want to make a list of advice for how to survive the end of the world. One bright little girl then pointed out that in order to do that, we would need to know exactly what to protect ourselves from. And so, the next phase of the lesson began: in groups, make a list of predictions about how the world will end on December 21st and then come up with advice on how best to be prepared for it.

The students the proceeded to become more engaged in an activity than I have seen them at any other point so far this academic year. They started coming up with a whole series of catastrophic events (“first, the electricity will go off, then night will turn to day and everywhere will freeze”) followed with corresponding tips on what to do (“make sure your iPad is fully charged before the electricity goes off” was one of the best ones)! A couple of groups started coming up with ‘survival kits’ or began to design shelters or modern versions of Noah’s Ark to save humanity. This was close to my ideal view of teaching - all I had to do was walk around, feeding in bits of language and making suggestions where needed while the content and ideas all flowed from them.

We then set about presenting our ideas. Some groups went for posters, others for oral presentations and other for videos. Of course, we ran out of lesson time but without the word ‘homework’ ever being mentioned, the kids were already making plans for how to finish their projects off at home.

At best, we had a really good lesson and, even if the worst happens, at least we’ll be prepared!

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Making Connections - Webinar Review

This is just a quick post to review the classroom management webinar I did for Teaching English yesterday. First of all, I would like to thank all of those who attended and gave their input during the session with some useful ideas and thought-provoking questions.

If you missed the session (or were there but would like another look), here are the slides I used (together with the links to blog posts and websites that I mentioned during the session.

A recording of the session is now also available via the Teaching English website. Please click here to view it. If you have any questions, please ask them via the blog and I’ll be happy to continue the discussion.

Over the next week or so, I’ll also be blogging in more detail about some of the key points from the session as well as having a closer look at Class Dojo. Please stay tuned for those posts and share your ideas.

Cross-posted on the Teaching English website:

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Making Connections - Classroom Management with Young Learners (Webinar Preview)

Tomorrow (Wednesday, 12th December) at 12 noon UK time, I will be doing a webinar for the British Council's Teaching English website on classroom management with young learners as a follow-up to my recent Facebook chat on the same topic. In this post, I’ll be giving a quick overview with other posts expanding on some of the points covered in the session to come later this week.

Classroom management if one of those very broad areas of education that is both difficult to define and impossible to find easy answers for. I think a lot of teachers equate good classroom management with tight control, as shown by a Google image search of the topic bringing up a number of images like this:


However, my approach has changed over the years to focus more on getting the students to feel comfortable, relaxed and involved in the lessons. I find these factors help create a positive environment for learning and make ‘controlling’ the class (by which I mean keeping them on task and enthusiastic) easier.

From the very first lesson, I try to get students involved by having them discuss and agree on class rules as well as suggesting some rules for me to follow. This helps them feel valued and part of the decision making process.

I then work on establishing rapport with my young learners. I try to learn about them and their interests, and not just as a project or generic ‘getting to know you activity’ but as a way to make connections with them. I use the information I find out about them to personalise lessons and find ways to engage them.

I also ask my students to come up with material and ideas for activities, both in the classroom and on our class blogs. Again, this helps them feel valued and involved and ensures the lessons are more engaging for them.

The most recent addition to my approach has been ‘gamification’. By introducing concepts such as ‘class achievements’ and ‘level ups’, an element of fun has been added to our lessons which encourages the students to follow the rules and rewards them for doing so.

Photo: Perhaps one of the most important aspects of teaching young learners is classroom management. With a working system in place and a good class atmosphere, children can develop their language skills with confidence and enjoy their learning. <br /> This session will look at ideas for establishing ground rules and a rapport with young learners from the very first lesson.<br /> To enter the webinar, click on the Location link<br /> you also have some ideas to share about classroom management and young learners, please join us tomorrow at 12 o’clock UK lunchtime. To join the session, just click on this link and follow the instructions. If you can’t join us ‘live’, there will be a recording of the session available, details of which I will share here when available.

A bit of pre-webinar reading Winking smile
Establishing the ground rules - written by Jo Budden on the Teaching English website.
Democracy in Action…. in Primary School English - a post describing how I negotiated rules with last year’s classes.
Building positive relationships with young learners - a post I wrote for Prestwick House about establishing rapport.
Tips for teaching young learners - written for Shelly Terrell’s blog.
Let it snow - an example of how I got students to generate content for a whole series of lessons with a simple drawing activity.
Getting Students to Write? Easy with a Video-Penzu-Monday - a great example from David Mearns of getting students to choose material for a lesson.
Taking classroom management to the next level - a post about the ‘gamified’ rewards system I have been using this year.
Unlocked achievements - a post by Graham Stanley from the Digital Play blog.

Cross-posted on the Teaching English website:

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Refreshing the Blog (with new blog roll!)

The more visual attentive of you may have noticed a new virtual lick of paint at my blog as I go for a more subtle, toned-down look. In short, I have noticed recently that a lot of my favourite ELT blogs have a nice clear look to them with simple easy-on-the-eye themes and a general lack of clutter.

So, I decided to bandwagon hop and go for a ‘back to basics’ theme of my own. I have also cut out a number of the ‘side widgets’ that were previously filling up the sidebar. Gone are the badges for award events long past that I didn’t win anyway as are the “I’m a member of some Ning Network I haven’t looked at since I joined it'” boxes. The links to Twitter and YouTube stay as they are a relevant part of my ‘online persona’ and so does the link to ‘The Round’ as I feel that is an ELT initiative worth drawing attention to.

Also gone (much to the delight/shock/horror of Phil Wade no doubt) is my Twitterfeed and its subsequent ‘auto-tweet’ links to other blogs - I figure I’ll go back to manual mode and those lovingly hand-crafted personal tweets from now on. Finally, I took the decision to refresh my blog roll cutting it down to ten of the choicest  ELT cuts out there. This was partly in line with the new simplified look and partly a rip-off of Chris Wilson’s recent rationale behind introducing a blog roll to his own fine blog. Like Chris, I have gone blogs that have recently been constantly pulling me back, offering up useful insights, and prompting trains of pedagogical thought to leave the reflective ELT station.

To go over each blog, I pinched another idea off another fine ELTer, this time Mike Griffin, who recently celebrated his ‘twitterversary’ by doing a Pecha Kucha about key members of his PLN. So here is a short video highlighting each blog and why I like it in twenty seconds (more or less) each (I believe there is a name for a mini Pecha Kucha of just ten slides but it escapes me…)

You probably know most of these already but I hope you find a new one or two to boost your CPD with!

(Needless to say, if you blog is not featured here or previously was on my blog roll but now isn’t, it does not mean I don’t rate it. I’ve just changed my blog roll to reflect changes in my PLN and blog reading habits. The blog roll may well change again soon. If and when it does, I’ll be highlighting the new additions here as well)

Thursday, 6 December 2012

All quiet on the blogging front

Number of days my blog has been neglected - Image by chrisinplymouth

Writing a blog is a lot like doing exercise - when you get into a regular routine, it’s easy to keep going but miss a session or two and it’s even easier to slip out of the habit.

And so it is that a near half century of days has passed since I last hit the ‘publish’ button here in my little corner of the blogosphere. In that time, I have had plenty of ideas for blog posts and encountered many a situation that I thought I could share here but for one reason or another, I never put fingers to keyboard and let it all type itself out.

I’ve noticed that many of the blogs I have regularly read over the last couple of years seem to be the same. Look at my blog roll and you’ll see on many of them the most recent updates read ‘3 weeks ago’, ‘1 month ago’ or even ‘6 months ago’ (with the most apt being Scott Thornbury’s ‘S is for Silence’).

So has the blogging bubble burst? Did all this online PLN stuff turn out to be just some fad after all? Certainly not (as the likes of Tyson Seburn would attest)! The ELT blogosphere is alive and well but, like all networked things, it has moved, expanded and changed. I can’t speak for those others but my reasons for an extended break from blogging have been as follows:

  • The home front

Their is, of course, more to life than work. After three years of study for my MA, I have been filling the time freed up by not having any study to do by spending time with my family, who have put up with me being busy for too long. My son has just started first grade and he is soon to have a little brother. Anyone with kids will no pregnancy can be an exciting but also stressful period and it’s been plenty of both for us so far. Helping my son with his homework, trips to the doctor and easing the burden on my wife have been priorities for my free time of late leaving little time to blog (and also meaning I had to pull out of the recent YTU ELT Symposium in Istanbul - a real shame as it seemed like a great event!)

  • The intense bombardment of work

It’s a good thing I finished my MA last summer as finding time to study would have been a real struggle this year with all my extra ‘responsibilities’. I am now in charge of the 4th and 5th grade ‘skills and conversation’ programme and being forced to write tests, prepare materials, produce standardised lesson plans and do other things that make my dogme-wannabe soul feel all dirty and used. I am also teaching online with other branches of my school in Turkey once again. Class blogs are also a major part of my teaching programme (both regular and online classes with me also overseeing the blogs my colleagues run) meaning a lot of my time for writing posts and answering comments is spent on my students. In-house teacher development projects, seminars, workshops and admin duties also fill my working day to the brim, a stark contrast to previous years when I would have two or three free lessons a day in which to relax, study or blog.

  • Retreat and reflection

I guess there was also a subconscious desire to take a step back after the hard work and stress of the MA course (which reminds me, I have some overall reflections on that chunk of my life to come in a blog post soon). I not only blogged for my own professional development over recent times, I also researched blogging (another reminder - I will highlight some of my findings about blogging and reflection soon here too). I wrote blog posts, I read them, I exchanged comments, I analysed blogs, I categorised posts, I evaluated comments, I lived and breathed reflective blogging for most of the last year and then wrote over 15,000 words about it. A break was needed! But I also think that’s an important part of reflection - time. We need time to step back, look at the big picture and take it all in. Reflection doesn’t always have to be shared. Some introspection and self-assessment is needed from time to time

Ok then, but as one of my former MA tutors Julian Edge would say, so what? What did this break mean to me? How has it impacted on me as a reflective practitioner and an ELT blogger? Well, although I didn’t actually write here for a while, the ‘that would make a great blog post’ part of me certainly did not disappear. My experiences and observations in class (mainly struggles this year it would seem) still set that blog bell ringing in my head. I think I also needed to miss blogging a bit so I could come back to it with renewed purpose.

And where does this blog go now? I thought about starting over or at least renaming the blog now my studies are done and dropping the ‘learner’ part (I don’t go in for that ‘lifelong learner’ rubbish!) but it seems I will be learning something new soon (more on that in future posts). I also thought about setting myself a target to blog x number of times a week/month to get back in the groove… but then I remembered something very important. A teacher’s blog does not need an aim or a theme, and nor does it need ‘feeding’ with a specific number of posts or comments. It just needs a teacher willing to connect and share something invaluable - real experiences.