Our Educational Message

Hi, and welcome to our blog. This space is designed to share ideas and methodologies that we use to teach Turkish teenagers. In particular, there is a strong focus on ICT-ELT, which means if you like visual and technological support for your style of teaching, this blog is for you. My colleague, Brentson Ramsey, has been working alongside me for three years. He is also a big proponent of the ICT-ELT Paradigm, which means he will also be posting from his own teaching perspective on the blog.

2010 was the beginning of this new journey, and although there is no definitive ICT-ELT road map available for everyone to follow, it is exciting to explore the technological means to make teaching more fun and affective for students. Our main message is for teachers to ADOPT & ADAPT the paradigm shift for their own needs, and remember that

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Engaging students in EDMODO

Engaging students must surely be the most talked about subject in ELT these days.  Everywhere I go and there are teachers around, I hear complaints of how students won't get involved, that they couldn't care less and that standards are dropping.  This, does seem to be the case and it is all very sad.  However, one little flicker of hope has been lit in my class, and it involves this marvellous platform, the internet, and in my opinion, the best LMS/PLN site currently on the web 2.0.  May I introduce you to EDMODO .  I have been using this every day this year and I am now starting to see the effect on the students and their engagement with the course.  It is not 100% of the students, but out of 22 I can safely claim that 18 use it daily and interact, with the other 4 opening the site for important information.  I have made three videos below that explain what it looks like, how it works and for the me the best video is where I show the students interacting and engaging in the course materials and sharing ideas and helping one another ALL IN ENGLISH.  There isn't a Turkish word in sight and this must surely be a first! for a Hazırlık class.  So, no more waffling, here are the videos, and I hope they can encourage you to try it out

warmly, affectionately and edmodo.comly


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Six Weeks is NOT a Long Time for Sts to Learn...BUT it IS time enough for us

This week's post concerns the skill of close reading and the students' ability to think more for their own understanding. In fact, it boils down to an Understanding-to-Understand concept that is something we as adults probably take for granted, since we now most probably do understand most things that affect us both positively and negatively (well at least if you have been around for almost a half-century!). It reminds of UP and how the old man takes for granted his own knowledge, until he is shown there are other ways to look at the world.
I believe that today saw my colleague and I have a moment of clarity that took the inability of our students to fully grasp concepts for reading that seem like second-nature to us as teachers and adults.
The StudentsWe teach students who have managed, over the period of eight years or, in most cases, less to reach good levels of pass grades in subjects other than English. Hence the reason that they have to complete one full year of English education covering the language itself, maths and science. It means they are in the fortunate position of expanding their lexical and grammatical base to high proficiency levels before they enter high school, where all the education is taught in English. It thereby goes that we have a really diverse demographic, which causes a strong dynamic, thus making the job very interesting, and, dare I say it, exciting!?!
One of the areas that we need and like to focus on is that of close-reading skills. It is imperative that our students reach a reasonably proficient level of reading in L2 if they are to have any hope of success in high school. So, after the initial three weeks of general English lessons (60 periods) we start on the focusing of skills in reading. For this we use L2 readers. Now, before I start my exposition, I don't want to open up the debate of reader v original novel at this time. Just for those out there who may think we may not have authenticity in our skills program in terms of literature, they can be rest assured that in the second semester we move into authentic L1 teenager novels, so that the students are, indeed, ready for the rigors of high school English-Lit. The reason for this, we firmly believe, is the accessibility of the texts at this age and level, which should allow the students to at least feel they are having the opportunity to read prose in English. We have chosen stories especially written for L2, and not abridged readers; so there is still some semblance of authenticity, in actual fact.
The Reader The book we started with is "David and the Great Detective".
A simply written narrative of 53 small pages in length, interspersed with pictures in comic-book style exposition. It tells the story of a down-trodden and bullied boy who lives his life in a dream world as the great detective in the title, in order to escape his troubled life at school. He is a loner and is often teased and bullied as a result. These themes are excellent for young teenagers to address and respond to with the simple level of their language skills. The protagonist is called upon to show his brave and empathetic side in order to save his soon-to-be former antagonist from a gang of bicycle thieves. Just to add some spice and colour to the piece, David's female class peers also come to the rescue and help David to save the day. The resultant climax is for David to realise that he is a hero and that his peers respect him for his bravery, resilience and detective skills used to overcome the bad guys.
The Methodology The idea for reading was to scaffold the text by splitting the 53 pages into three reading sections. These sections would be read in silence by the students for the initial comprehension. This was then followed by an activity where the students were put into groups of four and they had to prepare questions that the other two groups would attempt to answer. However, we never accepted any surface level or simple comprehension questions. Instead, they were encouraged to think outside the box, and to try and consider primarily "WHY" questions. This would hopefully mean more quality Q/A sessions post reading discussion-activity. Lo and Behold we got results. Each of the three sessions appeared to be highly successful, and we thought how great it would be to consolidate the title in its conclusion today by having the students complete the following activities:
The students were to work in groups to Brainstorm for the 12 most important events in the story. REMEMBER they had already done this over the past two weeks in class with yes/no, right/wrong responses as groups and individuals. Both my colleague and thought we were set for a quality lesson. HOWEVER, THAT DID NOT HAPPEN!!!
First of all, the students seemed to have forgotten what a brainstorm session was. After I cleared that up they got going. Next I saw that they were writing long sentences and asking if the grammar was right?!. I explained again that simple notes were fine for now. I wanted them to be thinking of the events and cross-themes in the story. After fifteen minutes I asked them to tell the class what their individual and group findings were. I was expecting really good returns for this activity. I mean we had previously done Blooms-styled questions; used UbD teaching expectations and objectives; given them plenty of scaffolding and encouragement to take risks with their questions and answers; we had allowed them silent reading time in class; we had prepared worksheets that required them to think as well as show their comprehension of the content, themes and events.
THAT DID NOT HAPPEN!! In fact I was left with my jaw dropping on the floor as to what they were thinking in terms of important points; ie rising action events leading to a climax (as seen in the plot triangle- the follow-up activity that we never got round to) After this moment of madness, but not yet clarity, I asked for them to consider the climax for the story. They thought for a few minutes, and then I asked for their suggested answers...
not one of the eleven students could come up with, or anywhere close to the climax.
is of David's realization that he was a hero, people accepted him and that he was indeed a normal person: ACCEPTANCE & BRAVERY being the themes
It was extraordinary how they all seemed so confused, lost and incapable of rational thought. I met with my colleague for lunch and we came to the following conclusion.
Conclusion and Follow up Action This was only the second example of the Plot Pyramid and Timeline concept that they have been a part of; In their previous schools, they have very rarely been asked anything other than surface level comprehension questions before for English lessons; They have probably never really been brought to task about their inability to explain what it is they actually know (or don't know) from any text- even if they had even read English readers at all; and more frightening is the realization, or possibility, on our part, that they have never been expected to do anything other than write down the teacher's answers to any questions, and then do cramming two hours before the exam.
We have decided to do the activity again, and continue in the same train of thought. We realise that they are having so much English learning going on that something has had to give; namely, in this case, the ability to consider deeper, critical thought. We must be aware as teachers that we have only been together for only six weeks. They have been stuck in other ways and bad habits for over eight years! Our job is to try and break those bad habits. Habits like only waiting for others to take the risk, and then accept that they couldn't do it and give up. In practical terms we will also add an additional while-they-read log of whats happening in the timeline of the story. With this in place, just as with many SSR type expectation activities, our students should hopefully make them become more reflective and aware of what is actually going on in the story, and why.
Jerry Springer Moment
I feel it was a great learning-how-to-teach-it-better-the-next-time-moment, as did my colleague. Although I have over a decade more teaching experience, and nearly 20 years in age difference on him, I felt today that we were on a totally even keel for learning-thru-teaching in the trenches. What could we have done differently? we both asked each other. Well, we might have done more scaffoldng and had lower expectations. But as my young mate said to me at lunch, "it is something that will come with experience, right, David?" I can only say that with more than fifteen years in doing ELT, it just goes to show that we are all on a huge learning curve, and we should never forget that or become complacent about our practices. Finally, I want to share how much have enjoyed this day primarily for the reason that I do not know everything about teaching ESL, not even remotely. It is a wonderful feeling, through reflection, discussion and pro-active sharing with a colleague that I can continue to learn more each day about this challenging, yet worthwhile, profession and hopefully transfer better lessons to the students who are able, without even thinking about it, to make a difference to us as their teachers.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Getting Students to Write? easy with a Video-Penzu-Monday

The idea of getting students to write journals is nothing new in TESOL. AGREED! But what we have in our teaching toolbag is an innovative, quirky and enjoyable addition that I suggest every teacher, at least, tries out: No longer do we need to humph around 22 (or more) class journals to give some feedback for students' work and responses to various subjects, states of mind, activities or anything else that may be thought of as worthy of writing down. So, how do I do it, and what is it?
The suggestion is for teachers to offer their students the opportunity to respond via their smart phones, laptops, netbooks or ipads. Below is an example of how penzu returned me 22 responses from students who have numerous other homework activities, but this whole experience was controlled by the students themselves and the wonderful help of penzu.com First of all, I assigned a student with the help of triptico.com
which is a desktop application that randomly chooses students for assignments, class groups and times them against the clock! Anywho, the student was asked to find a video of her choosing and to bring it in on Monday for her peers to watch and respond to. She was very excited that she had been given this responsibility, and as a result brought in two! However, I asked her to make the choice and she decided on the following video: We watched the video twice to get the idea of themes that could be extrapolated by the students. I then set up the IWB to record their ideas. Below is what the class produced from the 1.39 video
You can see that from a group of not-quite-14-yet students the ideas are reasonably sophisticated. This is what excites me about video in the classroom. It springboards so many varied and wonderful ideas through brainstorms of this sort that it is hard for me to see any better way for classic skills to be tapped into and utilized. The task was then for the students to go home and write up their responses via penzu.com. However, the beauty of how the original idea has been tweaked is the ace up my sleeve. I asked the students to send their responses to Zeynep, the girl who found the video, who would then collate their efforts into one email and forward them to my class email address (hisarhazirlik@gmail.com). She was then given the option of whether to write or not since she would be doing all the secreterial work. This idea of "give and take" is of the utmost importance with teenagers. She jumped at the chance not to write this time, but I KNOW she will be willing to write so much the next time round when it is her friends' chance to choose the video. So all 22 did the activity (11 to Zeynep's class, 11 to a student from the sister class) and sent them to her. She then did her secreterial job, and we looked at some of the responses on the Tuesday morning to see how people felt about the themes. Below is a selection of some entries
You can look ugly but that doesn't mean you are a ugly person in yourself. Trusting yourself and the people around yourself is the main way to accept the place you are in. If you just decided to go that way, you have to go without judging it because it isn't someone elses choice it's our own choice.
In the ad the couples that overcome their prejudice wins two Carlsberg beer and everybody congratulates them and the other thing that we can think in this ad is "be brave , you can do it" but , i think that the main idea is the "don't judge people from their appearances”.
We don't judge people by apparences.We should be respect for different people.We should trust ourself.We shouldn't be unsocial and shy.If we are biased to act we can make mistakes easily.
To judge people from their out look is a really bad thing because first you have to meet them and learn their personality. Maybe there is a very big guy and everyone is scared of him, dont be like that go and meet him if his personality is good than you can be friends or in an other way there can be a guy that is very good looking but in his inside he can be a really bad person. You can judge people from their out look but it would be your opiniont and I know a word about this dont judge a book from the title.
Some people judge others according to their appearance but some people's insides and outsides can be different. We musn't be biased.We must keep in our mind that everyone's equal. We musn't judge people according to their appearances.
So, although you can detect minor syntax and grammar issues within each entry, the quality of thoughts based on part or all of the brainstorm are clearly there. But, for me, the most important part of this activity is that students are so willing to respond tthrough writing for their English class.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Here is a magnificent cartoon interpretation of Ken Robinson's speech on education.  I am also doing this type of animation with my students today in an elective.  I am very excited with the potential results

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Just a Little More Intrinsic Motivation Focus

Hello, and thanks to everyone who visited the blog and this post I put up last week.  It is obvious that many of you out there feel passionate about this very often overlooked subject.  I went back to see Esma and lo and behold the brilliant girl was back again.  I did feel though that I had had something to spur her on by showing her this blog and her name up in lights all over the internet.  When I explained what I had written she smiled coyly and told me, "David, don't worry, the old Esma is back."  I laughed out loud and we got on with a very enjoyable and successful lesson.  I suppose I can walk away from this experience with the knowledge that yes, motivation is intrinsically lodged in our inner-self, but with a little coaxing and cajoling, it is possible to be influenced by extrinsically driven forces, namely, the teacher.
I have added some more information that I found I had used with my team when I was HoD back in 2007.  I had forgotten that I'd written up the document based on the excellent, 6 Principles of Language Learning & Teaching (5th edition)-H.Douglas Brown, a publication that I would later refer to a great deal during my MSc TESOL R & D.  So, a happy man goes on his way, and here you are with a mixture of Brown and a few ideas of my own for the classroom:

Most research in linguistics and ESL over the past thirty years and now again in these recent times has found that students will respond and perform much better if their motivation is more intrinsic than extrinsic.  Here are some pointers for teachers to remind themselves of this fact:
·         Think about the interplay in the classroom between intrinsic and extrinsic motives
·         Think about what you can bring to the classroom to stamp your own identity within the prescribed syllabus
·         Allowing students to honestly express themselves through journal work in self-reflection (uncorrected!)
When thinking up activities:
·      Does the activity appeal to the genuine interests of your students? Is it relevant to their lives?
·      Do you present the activity in a positive, enthusiastic manner?
·      Are students clearly aware of the purpose of the activity?
·      Do students have some choice in (a) choosing some aspect of the activity and/or (b) determining how they go about fulfilling the goals of the activity?
·      Does the activity encourage students to discover for themselves certain principles or rules (rather than simply being told)?
·      Does it encourage students in some way to develop or use effective strategies of learning and communication?
·      Does it contribute – at least to some extent- to students ultimate autonomy and independence (from you)?
·      Does it foster cooperative negotiation with other students in the class?  Is it a truly interactive activity?
·      Does the activity present a “reasonable challenge”?
·      Do students receive sufficient feedback on their performance (from each other or from you)?
Ten Golden Rules:
1.    Set a personal example with your own behaviour
2.    Create a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere in the classroom
3.    Present the tasks properly
4.    Develop a good relationship with the learners
5.    Increase the learners’ linguistic self-confidence
6.    Make the language classes more interesting
7.    Promote learner autonomy
8.    Personalize the learning process
9.    Increase the learners’ goal orientedness
10. Familiarize learners with the target language culture

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The Power of Intrinsic Motivation...

  Last night I was (un) fortunate to witness a ten year old Turkish ESL student show another side to her willingness to work during our 90 minutes English lesson.  I write, "(un) fortunately" because I am not sure which outcome is primary for me: the fact that she didn't want to do anything in the lesson (unfortunate) or the fact that I was  the lucky recipient of an experiential moment in my teaching career(fortunate).

When I first met the young student she was really interested in doing extra English lessons.  Her enthusiasm for the 90 minutes affixed to a session of English language and skills tuition was infectious.  I would look forward to going to lessons three times a week at the end of long and tiring days at my day job in a bustling and ridiculously busy high school.  I would think, ah well, it's Esma tonight for 90 minutes, I know it will be really enjoyable as she wants to learn; she will be attentive and interested in all aspects of what I present to her.

The reason for Esma's enthusiasm and willingness to engage fully was that she had attainable goals.  She had purpose for doing the lessons as if she didn't, it would seriously jeopardize her opportunity to join another, and better primary school located in the city.  This new school, that she was so desperate and keen to join, was a stones throw from her house.  It is well known for being strongly focused on English, and half of the students who remain there into high school graduate and move abroad for further education.  And, her brother went there.  However, she had to pass the stringent entrance exam that many before her have tried and failed.  She had gone for an initial assessment and was told that if she worked intensely for three months with a private teacher, she could sit the exam and hopefully she could get accepted.  Her motives and need for improvement had been made explicit.  the explicit nature of the directive from the new school had tapped into her own intrinsic values of what she had to do.  Enter, me!  

My job was easy.  I would prepare materials based on the work expected of grade four students at the school.  her mum had bought the books from the school so that her daughter would stand a chance.  I mean easy in the sense that this girl wanted English lessons.  She wanted to be part of the process that she was being 'forced' to be in.  But who or what was forcing her?  I believe, so strongly, after last night, in her intrinsic motivation and identified purpose.

So, what happened last night that has made me write a blog as a result.  After the initial greetings, we got down to the lesson with the sole purpose of doing revision of some grammar    (she needs tıo know and identify past-present-future well for grade 5) with the help of a busy restaurant picture, the reading of a text about a young Sudanese boy who had been imprisoned, chased by soldiers and nearly eaten by a crocodile (done through a children's story reader), the writing up of a KWL chart on the story and finally a short cartoon of a Madagascar Penguin story which would lead to a journal entry done on penzu.com.

It was very clear after only a five or ten minutes of a visual grammar activity that she had lost interest, and she started to become restless, and disinterested. I sensed it and thought it best not to labour the point and try something else within my plan.  I got her to write a few sentences about her six most favourite activities and moments in her holiday.  She asked cutely if it was ok, if she did only three.  I agreed, but thought to myself, woah!, something weird was going on here.  She then asked if she could draw that experience after only a few words of English in poorly constructed syntax. I grudgingly agreed since at   that   age drawing is a good way to keep them stimulated; however, I couldn't help but think that English was fast losing its interest to little Esma, my favourite young student of 2011. I asked her to read aloud, since again, that is what is expected in her new school.  In any case I wanted to hear her pronunciation and ask questions of the text at the end of each paragraph.  lo and behold, by the end of page one, she was slurring and not making any effort to concentrate or focus.  I took over and did my best to add voices and emotion, tone and mood of the chase and tragic story of the Sudanese boy.  It was confirmed that she couldn't care less about Mark (?) being attacked by a hungry crocodile, let alone doing English in any shape or form, as she proceeded to yawn very dramatically and loudly.  What to do?  Madagascar penguins for the last part of our session.  She did pay attention to that, and she did respond to questions and she did appear engaged.   Now the pros and cons of video are not for this post, but it is a particular interest of mine.  But, I'll leave it there for now as I am more interested in commenting on what was about to come next.

With the "lesson" completed, her mother came into the room and asked how she had been.  I relayed the above as nicely as I could muster the energy for and when asked by her mother what she had been like that, she replied nonchalantly, " Napimm, anne? Ben sinif'ı geçtim zaten. Benim için, Ingilizce dersi zorunlu değil, zaten." Which roughly translated means, "What can I do, mum?  I passed the entrance to grade 5.  For me, English lessons aren't necessary."  Her mother and I looked at each other in disbelief.  How could this be the same enthusiastic girl who lived English for three months?  How could she not think that it was still important, considering the new English teacher had told here that she must continue working after the entrance exam?

So, this leads me back to the beginning of this post and the issue of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational factors in us all.  Esma clearly felt that she has done enough to get in to the school and that she doesn't need any more extra lessons.  Even though she does know, as she got frustrated when I pointed out to her (again) that there is no auxiliary verb (I didn't use meta language of course) "was" in the past tense sentence, "The otter was liked the squirrel." (final video we watched in the lesson).  She has of course convinced herself that she has no reason or purpose to do English before the school starts.  Her intrinsic flow and motivation to study have dried up for English.

My whole point for sharing this story is to remind us all, and myself, now a fully-fledged member of the "Oh, how wrong I was to think that it was me that motivated the student to stay focused" teacher-student paradigm, that we must always be aware that although we think the students are engaged and interested, many or maybe even most are not.  Here was the evidence that makes me conclude with the notion that it is always the student who drives their own learning.  Of course, I wasn't the first teacher to realize this. I recall writing a section of my thesis on this very subject.  Reid (1993) states that we can only play the role of judge, facilitator and evaluator, and I would add empathize(r) as well into the mix.  I am sure Reid wasn't the first either!  But, what I can comment on was the sheer dismay at seeing the extraordinary power it has over a person.  This hard working student had done a 180 degree negative about-turn.  It is seriously something to remember when we look at our class filled with students who are disengaged and disinterested, petulant and problematic.  

One shoe does not fit all and we need to investigate each student who appears to have dropped out of the lesson.  When we jump the gun and retort to colleagues that the students should be more interested, that they have to learn English, and that they will fail in their future if they don't study, WE need to ask ourselves what  the objectives  are outlined in my lesson, course and syllabus?  What measures have WE introduced that will ensure more rather than less people being interested in what they are doing in our classes.  Have WE made it clear to the students that there is an expected learning outcome for THEM and that THEY can reach it if they are prepared to focus and judge for themselves that it will benefit THEM to engage and participate?

Summing all that up and leaving you and me with a thought, it was not UNfortunate for me to have experienced the attitude of my once-great student (melodramatic ending intended); quite the contrary, I feel that she has made me sit up and rethink what I need to do to convince students that what I put in front of them does have intrinsic value.  That it will lead to something good by the end.  So, I please ask you, those of you  who read this with empathy, to wish me luck as I return to Esma tomorrow night with a different approach to my lesson planned, along with the fuller understanding that once I state the objectives and outcomes to her, and of course, as long as she wants to do the lesson, it will work out fine.  If not, I suppose I will be back on here telling you all about it...