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

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Making Personalized Surveys with Google Forms

This is the fourth post in a series on Google Docs. Hopefully by now you have checked out its brilliant sharing function and real time accessibility with documents and presentations between two or more people. There has honestly never been a better time for collaboration between colleagues or teachers and students. Well, other than being in the same room, of course.

This post on Google Docs is going to focus on making surveys for your colleagues or students. There are number of survey-creating websites out there today, some really good ones too, like Survey Monkey. However, if you are using Google Drive already for creating documents and presentations, why would you go anywhere else? All of your files would be in the same place. Plus, with the Google Drive app available on all smartphones and tablets, you can truly access your files and surveys from anywhere in seconds. If you were to use another survey website, you would have to use the web browser on your phone or tablet, which takes much longer and uses up your battery life.

So, the next question is how is making surveys for my students or colleagues beneficial for me? To begin with, I will ask you another question: do you ever wonder what your students are really thinking? I want to emphasize that last part, really thinking. To be honest, it is probably somewhere between, 'How many minutes are left in this lesson?', to, 'I wonder what's for lunch today?'. All joking aside, students do have moments of true brilliance from time to time, but the problem is that many students might be afraid to tell you what they really think because of your status or age difference. For example, we have been with our students this year for 20 lessons a week for nearly four full months, and a few of them are still shy about speaking and sharing their opinions with us in class. This is where Google Forms can come in extremely handy. It is gives every student a chance to have their say. Moreover, because the surveys made on Google Forms are submitted anonymously, students feel even freer to give honest feedback. To give you an example, check out the video below where many students and their teacher talk about this very subject.

In the end, it is all about personalization, which is one of those buzz words that has been going around the education sector for the past few years. Basically, the idea is that we try to make what we teach more about the students and hope to get them to take their education beyond the classroom. We shouldn't just expect them to memorize information that has no meaning in their lives. They can certainly do it, but then they will forget that same information after a few days. We need to take the subject matter and transform it into something they have to think about and transfer into their own lives. A simple example might be: a teacher might ask his / her students , 'In which year was Shakespeare born?  Certainly no disrespect to the Bard intended, but is that really necessary for students to know? However, if were to ask them, 'Why are the topics that Shakespeare wrote about nearly 500 years ago still relevant today?', this will get your students to think deeper about the topic and reflect on their own lives to see examples of characteristics of human nature that Shakespeare wrote about.  

Personalization is without doubt a hot topic that could be discussed for hours, but the point here is that we want to get our students to express their opinions more often, and Google Forms can help you accomplish that. With some of the surveys that I will show you below, you can not only get to know your students better, but also they will feel like they have a say in your classroom.  Furthermore, you can save and share all your survey results with your colleagues and administrators, which will definitely impress them!

How to Do it

Step 1:Sign into Google Drive by using your Gmail address and password.  If you don't have one, you can sign up for free in only a couple of minutes.  With your free registration, Google Drive also gives you 5 GB of cloud storage space where you can save all your other files!

Step 2: After signing in, click the red 'Create' button on the left side of the page and then click on 'Form'.  This will take you to the basic set up page to make your surveys.

Step 3: At the top of the page, give your survey a title and a short description.

Step 4:Type your question into the given space, and then choose the question type.  You can choose from a short text, paragraph text, multiple choice, checkboxes, choose from a list, and scale or gridMy suggestion here is that you refrain from using either texts options because it is more difficult to extract the data from themIf you choose the other options, you can receive a summary of the data in seconds on a lovely pie chart.

Step 5:  Once you have finished typing in all of your questions, click on the 'Theme' button at the top left-hand side of the page.  This allows you to choose from 97 different eye-catching backgrounds which will give your surveys a bit more personality.

Step 6: Share the survey with whomever you like by clicking on the 'Email this form' button and entering in your contact's information.  If you are creating a survey for your students, I highly recommend copying the URL of your form and then posting it on your PLN, such as Edmodo or Moodle.  That way all of your students can access the survey from the same place, and it will save you time for entering in all of your student's email addresses.

Step 7: Once the data comes in, your form will now appear as a spreadsheet. You are instantly able to see all of the information from your students or colleagues.  

Step 8: Finally, click on the 'Form' button at the top of the speadsheet and unclick the 'Accepting responses' button.  After that, click on the 'Show Summary' and you will be immediately shown a set of pie charts based on the data!

There are literally thousands of different ways that you could use these surveys to get excellent and productive feedback for your program or activities in and out of the classroom.  My colleague and I use them to get feedback on ICT tools that we use in our program, such as Edmodo, Penzu and Google Docs.  Additionally, we have created surveys to get basic information on our students such as email addresses and birthdays.  We also used them to gather student's opinions on books and other short stories that we have read in class, and these are just but a few of them.  The sky is the limit, and we hope that you start to use Google Forms in your program today!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

UNCOVERING your OWN LESSONS, by short-cuts?

Many teachers complain about not having time to do anything else other than teaching, preparing lessons, making materials and marking papers.  Although I totally concur that this is the case for the most part, I believe that my colleague and I have found a couple of ways that can speed up the process and make cutting corners a positive way to approach your teaching.  The addition of ICT in our ELT/ESL syllabus has indeed helped us to reduce our workload on many levels; however, it hasn't always been that way.  In order for us to be in this place where we find ourselves with time to spare is because we have been putting the work up to now.  It is not an easy process, but after 18 months of really hard slog, we believe we can now sit back and reap the benefits of the time commitment (well for some of the time at least) to our syllabus and lesson planning.  That does not mean the work is finished, but what it does mean is that we can step back from the coal face and decide on the most appropriate courses of action for everything we want to do with our students and curriculum.  The TWO main reasons for this wonderful feeling are UbD (see my previous post) and COMMONCURRICULUM.

This recently set-up website is a breath of fresh air for busy teachers.  Its sole purpose for the moment is to give teachers an on-line platform for them to record and organize their lesson plans and syllabus for days, weeks and months of the year.  It is such a quirky and cool interface that it is impossible not to fall in love with it immediately.  Here is a video that introduces is.  I will follow it with examples from our own yearly plan that we have found so refreshing to write up and complete in a relatively short time to what it normally takes to do.We have both sat down and written up our syllabus since day one this year. This means that when we come back in August, 2013, we will be ready to start the year without worrying too much about what we have to do. Of course we will have some tweaking to do, but the fundamental framework is now in place. 

Here is a snippet of our WEEK ONE.

You can see that the organizational model is nothing new with DAILY LESSONS outlined with places for writing up your plan.  However, what makes this ICT on-line version so exciting is that you can upload files, documents, links to this blog (hahaha), links to anywhere including Dropbox and any cloud, pictures and video for any teacher in the year group to access.  This would be particularly helpful for cover lessons.

 Here is a snippet of our WEEK TEN.

This snippet from the middle of our semester highlights how accessible our program is for us and anyone, for instance our coordinator and HoD, to over look and approve.  You can also see that we have uploaded our weekly idioms which stand out for the week.  If you find that you didn't use a particular lesson outline one day, it is easy to slide it over to the following day so that it can be picked up and taught.

 Here is a snippet of our WEEK SIXTEEN.

Although I have blown the trumpet of this awesome looking platform for curriculum design and planning, we are still in the early stages of how it best helps us.  For three weeks we have felt a real sense of organized lessons as a result of getting them all uploaded.  However, as with everything, the proof of any pudding is in the eating.  This we plan to do over the next semester and see how really affective and effective it turns out.  In addition we plan to link it to our standards that are on our Atlas Rubicon in the school system.  Once this has been further integrated, we will have a further measure as to how brilliant it is.  But for now, we are very pleased.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Make Your PowerPoint Stand Out with 500px

If you are like my colleague and I, you probably use PowerPoint on the nearly daily basis in and out of school. We use it to introduce and explain major grammar points, talk about the major themes in a novel, or to give professional development workshops outside of school. Because of this, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to give our presentations that 'Wow' factor. In a previous post on this blog, my colleague, David, introduced several strategies on how to not only make a high-quality PowerPoint, but also how to present like a trained professional. This post is a short extension of that, so I highly recommend checking out David's post before continuing on. Just click here.

So, now that you have the essential presentation skills in mind, I am going to show you another tip to help make your slides stand out.  More specifically, I will explain how you can add visually eye-popping pictures that will certainly get your audience's attention. Typically, most people, myself included, get the majority of pictures for their presentations from Google Images. Without doubt, with some searching, you can find some striking pictures. The problem, however, is that many of them can be quite small, so when you enlarge them in a PowerPoint, they can look rather blurry. Even worse, I have seen some colleagues include images in their presentations that have a copyright logo on the top of them.

Thus, without further ado, let me introduce you to 500px.  This is a free app from the Apple Store as well as the Google Play Store.  In a nutshell, 500px is an app that has a large collection of extremely high resolution images. For example, when you download an image from Google Images, it normally has a resolution of 100 to 200 kbs, sometimes even less. With 500px, however, images are very likely to be more than 2 mbs. That means that these images are at least 20-30 times sharper and crisper than a typical image on Google Images. The reason for this is because these images have been taken by professional photographers or others with brilliant cameras. Granted, pictures from 500px will take up more space in your hard drive and will make your PowerPoint presentations much larger in terms of space, but the results are so worth it. Both my colleague and I have been asked after giving professional development sessions where we got the images that we used. The audience had simply never seen such high quality images being used in PowerPoint.

500px, being an app, is extremely easy to navigate. When you open it, it shows the most popular 500 pics of the day, hence the name of the app. Simply scroll the page to the right to keep checking out the most recent pictures.  Plus, hundreds are being uploaded everyday. There is also a search function if you are looking for a specific kind of picture. Fair enough, you will not find nearly the amount of images that you can on Google. Nonetheless, the effect you will have on your students or colleagues is worth it.

Just to give you an idea, here are some pictures from 500px that I have used recently in a PowerPoint presentation.

Sunday, 16 December 2012


Session THREE is the PD session which involved explaining the serious educational brilliance of our PLN, EDMODO.  Since both my colleague and I have written previously on Edmodo, I will simply put a link below for you to click and see what we have written, before. Can I just add that by using Edmodo we put the onus on students and parents to take more interest in their learning both in and out of class.  It has many advantages over traditional systems.
My PD session attendees were very taken with the site and its services.  They were particularly excited about the host of quiz styles available at literally the push of three buttons. Also, when I showed them the grading book for recording their students' progress, this also created a lot of interest.  It was a really positive 90 mins. on Edmodo PD.

Thursday, 13 December 2012



This session had the most enthusiastic returns over the two days. I know why. It is because with UbD (Understanding By Design) you can seriously start to become a genuine stake-holder in your teaching process, and that includes the syllabus.  By using UbD you can become a complete teacher in terms of creativity, organization, structure and follow through of the product you are trying to deliver.In addition, you really get to the bottom of what it is you want your students to learn & understand.
The UbD model, developed by Wiggins and McTyge has become really popular in many countries over the past few years. I strongly believe It is because of the totally inclusive-teacher-in-the-process model that it promotes.  From the very first step into the process teachers are so aware that is their input that what matters when it comes to uncovering the syllabus for better coverage for all students.  Teachers are expected to develop a syllabus and framework that aims to properly cover all aspects of the expected outcomes from initial Transfer of Learning in section one to Activities intended for students in section three.
This is the followed by Student Understandings and Essential Questions.  These two sections are for me the nuts and bolts of successful knowledge transfer and understandings for your students. Before I made the switch to this model, I would often wonder how much students knew after or even during a unit.  Now that the framework has become an integral part of my syllabus planning, that I cannot believe I didn't use it before. It is plain common sense. To cut the long explanation, which I leave to the original text, the Student Understandings is a brilliant transparent section where we record explicit expectations of what we believe students will get clear in their heads by the end of the unit. 

The Essential Questions section is for you to add springboard questions to get students to critically think and self-reflect on the content therein.  There is a serious need for personalization of the topic here after some general scaffolding has been done with surface to middle order type questions. The crux of the matter is to make sure students realize how important critical thinking and personalization are for their own learning phase.

The next stage is for What students will know, and What students will be skilled in. This has very important connotations with what we do as teachers, and what students have at their disposal thanks to UbD.  Any unit we present to students has to have a purpose with genuine learning outcomes.  Not only that, but students have to go through a process that involves knowledge acquisition and skills-based instruction that will allow them to leave any one unit, and feel that they have genuinely learned something they can feel confident about to discuss with their peers or other teachers.

Next is the assessment and how each part of the unit is looked at as progress, whether formative or summative.  This needs teachers to focus on how they will assess the work they have assigned and students have produced.  It is necessary to correlate what has gone on in and out of the classroom to give a genuine assessment of the students.  This is why it is important to make explicit the measures in place from quizzes, daily aural assessment and various activities, which are recorded here.

Finally, the activities both in and out of classroom, are stated here for everyone to see.  What is important to realize as you read this is how back to front it all seems. Many teachers are really confused by this part of the model of UbD at first.  But if they step back, they can see that varied activities, although hugely important, should not be the primary concern when constructing a unit.  In fact, if we as teachers consider the UNCOVERING of the Syllabus as opposed to just COVERING it, we could have so much more personal gratification first; but more importantly students will be coming back and asking for more.  We need to really work on what the PURPOSE is of the unit, and then how we can achieve the aims, objectives and learning outcomes as a continuous process within the unit.

This paraphrase and summary of the brilliant UbD model, does not do it real service and I recommend you order the book immediately from Amazon.  But, as a short blog post, I feel that you can get a flavor of UbD for your syllabus.  If you want to learn more, first buy the book, check out the internet for other sites and gather as much information as you can.  If the reaction of my Cypriot teaching colleagues during this session is anything to go by, it really is something to take more interest in outwith this blog post.  You can also contact me direct by email and ask for more information on how it works in my context and as a student-centered model for better understanding syllabus.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012



I asked myself the title's question in Ercan Airport,  Northern Cyprus, while waiting for my flight home to Istanbul. The answer, and subsequent blogpost, is categorically, NO!

The reason I come to that conclusion is quite simple: dedicated and motivated teachers, who not only inspired me to keep energetic and positive, but showed me some improvements to my syllabus design unit simply by participating and sharing their collaborative knowledge. For this post I would like to share the main subject areas I covered as a reminder to anyone who thinks professional development training is easy, but to also add that if you have a good audience and participatory group of teachers it really is fabulously enjoyable.  

This is one of my favorite sessions in any PD and I have posted about it before. therefore I won't dwell on it too long, other than say, no matter who I present my ideology and methodology for student awareness to in this context, I get amazing participation and feedback.  Allow me to elaborate, yet still paraphrase. If you want the full version I recommend you click on this link FIVE STAGES of LEARNING.

The basic premise is related to the five stages of grief, and it is 100% a metaphorical reference, as I feel no near death or post death feelings related to learning of any kind. On the contrary, my excitement about professional development(learning for teachers) and learning in schools that we partake in, is without exception the most exciting and rewarding profession on the planet. So without anymore testimony and waffle, I give you:

Many young students of English in Turkey tend to be rather disdainful of the learning of the lingua franca, many many more do not. However, it is quite common for students to go through anti-English phases through out their young lives.  This stage recognizes this fact and it is very real. An example of denial in Turkish student phraseology (translated) would be:

"I am Turkish, why do I need to learn English?"
In fact, even the most nationalistic can not ignore the influence of English around the world, and if students in this day and age want to expand, go or even study overseas should realize that, in fact, English is helpful not a hindrance.

Young people are angry, we all know that. And believe you me, Turkish students can get vey angry when they have to learn English. Even when working in English-medium institutions I have witnessed and experienced many angry young students who fail to grasp that we are trying to help them.  A typical angry retort could be:
"I hate English! It is such a stupid language. I won't do it."

This stage is where things start to change in the students' behavior. They are still lying to themselves, but it is no longer an aggression or confrontational issue. Therefore, they try to make amends for their previous stages by offering the chance to themselves that will do something, albeit half-heartedly, but it is never enough. So, they fail in their endeavors again. A typical response at this stage could be:
"If I do this quiz tonight, at least I have done some studying for the exam, right?"

Now the reality kicks in, but before recovery they have to feel this pain. Of course it can manifest in people in so many ways, but what I have seen is genuine depression. The students feel isolated, left behind and in need of major help. It is this time we need to be ready as teachers to step in and really give advice, support and empathy. A typical feeling could be:
"Yaaa, I am such a loser. I have not even tried. I am disappointed with myself."

So when students of a  FIVE STAGES VARIETY reach here, and to where their peers have been on average for about four months, they do feel isolated. But, because they have the strength within, they can deal with it better. Of course, it is important that we as their teachers respect the stages and make efforts to support and help the now.  They need encouragement, without pandering, and they need to be recognized as making a genuine effort to improve on their learning curve. A quality response could be:
"I know I have been foolish, but now I plan to be honest with myself and move forward. When I get assignments, homework or just time to revise, I will use the time effectively and make a difference to my self."

THESE are the FIVE STAGES of learning. In fact, I had planned to do the other four sessions in this post too, but I believe it will be too long. Thus, I will leave you with this and keep you waiting for session two PD in CYPRUS: UbD for Newcomers.