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, 23 February 2013


Opening yourself up as a teacher who encourages their students to be creative is a truly daunting task for far too many teachers. One sentient reason for this is down to the loss of control teachers ultimately experience once the process begins. However, if you approach the activity for which you only facilitate your students' own creative talents, within a carefully considered framework that encompasses deadlines, objectives, purpose and personalized understandings, then creative learning outcomes can take place.  Your own biggest learning outcome will be that you have genuinely contributed to the growth of your students, and you will undoubtedly feel great!

As the title, INNOVATION ZONE, suggests my colleague and I thought we could try to tap into the creative void by moving the students out of the classroom in order to break their habitual norms and initiate change in the way they approach  a creative, thought-provoking  group challenge. Therefore, we chose the library seminar room, at our school, which is a newly refurbished, fresh and different space for the students to feel inspired.

The plan we made for this second week project, and one that will continue throughout the semester in different forms of creative exploration, was designed to show how exciting it is to jump-start our own creativity as teachers and students, so we can set our minds free from the day-to-day onslaught of turgid regiment and boring listen-to-me-and-write-this-down educational norms that most students have come to expect (not necessarily accept!).  Therefore, our plan hopes to have an environment where our students will feel inspired to be more autonomously creative, as opposed to relying solely on us the spring-board to their own learning and investigative inquiry.

After getting the presentation started I felt the students were getting excited. This is quite normal when you move your young teen group into a new environment for the lesson. It all depends, of course, if the same enthusiasm can last the test of ninety minutes. I was optimistic since when I asked them what being creative felt like, and why creativity is what makes us who we are, they responded favorably to the question. Both my colleague and I were very encouraged by what we were seeing and hearing. I wanted to extend the hook, and my next tactic was to ask them how people commit suicide. It is a weird topic for sure, but there is a good reason for it.  They had just watched a highly emotive animated short video on bullying, as part of their class novel, Boy in the Girl's Bathroom.  They were making a cognitive connect to the topic; thus there was no shocks when they were asked.  They replied with typical responses of hanging, drowning, jumping in front of a train, shooting etc. This went on for a few minutes. Then I showed them a couple of images of The Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley.  This fabulous collection of creativity does not make light of suicide, but shows a dark and satirical look at how the artist's mind works.  It had a wonderful affect on the students own creativity.  They started rattling off morbid, yet creative, methods ranging from mafia contracts to deep freezes, saunas and poison. It was working!

The next step was to get the students to consider PERCEPTION, and their own considerations of how they approach any new information from both their teachers and their peers.  For this I used two different images from illusionists.  The first is a classic image that was first seen almost one hundred years ago, and the other a relatively new image from a street 3D artist.  The first one on the left caused a great stir.  More than half could only see one of the ladies present.  This was met with disbelief and consternation.  Then happiness and joy as the image became obvious.  The creativity paradigm was taking hold.  Then disaster struck.  The second image, since it has been continuously emailed since it was first drawn a few years back meant they had all seen it.  This meant the students had little or no interest in the picture.  It was an (negatively) astounding moment for both my colleague and I.  We were really taken aback, as one girl dismissively comment, "Yeah, so what? It's only a girl in a swimming pool on the street."  Another just turned away and reached for her phone to check messages(!!).  I was forced to step in and remind them of the incredible talent and creativity the artist has in order to produce such a painting. I tried another 3D picture from the same artist, but no difference from the girls at least.  Some boys did react, perhaps because it shows a laptop embedded in the pavement, but the creativity was waning, or at least the appreciation of others was.  I moved back to theory to prove my claims.

So, moving on from the examples, I wanted to realign my ppp.  The reason for it is to show the students what they have to think about, so it is only a glitch.  After all, as I show them the beauty of creativity, it is still my colleague and I being the creative ones.  So, I had to move on.  It is necessary for everyone when they are attempting to be creative that they let it flow.  That they don't hamper their creativity with evaluations of whether it is good or not; whether it will work or not.

The students need to take stock of their own assumptions, prejudices, intolerance and perceptions of any new ideas that do not match their own.  This is very difficult for anyone, but very tough for teenagers amongst themselves.  This will definitely be a difficult pill for them to swallow, and I compounded their arduous task ahead by reminding them that once the creative sessions start in earnest, they would not be allowed to react negatively to anyone's idea in their groups. Negativity and Intolerance, mixed with prejudice and empathy only lead to stifled, frustrated and outcomes with very little quality.

My final slide of the session was a message for them to walk away with and to ponder for the whole week.  In fact, the slide itself contravenes my own style of slide-preparation, since it is covered in writing.  However, you can see that I have played a very clever trick by which the main message has been highlighted, the rest of the paragraph's words have been reduced in density by 30%, thus making the message more attractive to the viewer.  That means it is a worthy inclusion, and one I focused on with the students since it was a moment of my own creativity.  

So, as the session closed and the students walked off to lunch, my colleague and I looked at each other in dismay.  It had not gone as well as we had hoped, but then we realised these students have been used to sitting and listening for eight years without being expected to seriously create.  The indifference we felt towards the end could be for many factors, but we will march on next week with the second session.  We aim to succeed with this project on creativity work, and even with its teething issues on the first day, we believe it will work.  WE need to break their brainwashed habit of accepting what is given to them, and promote the importance of THEIR responsibility, autonomy and ultimately awesome teenage creativity they will embrace once they experience that feel-good factor creativity always brings.

Next Friday session will begin with me showing the students an example of creativity done across the world thanks in source to the magnificent Johnny Cash.  The students are unlikely to know him, but that is not the focus.  Take a sneak preview of my opening hook.  Thanks Johnny [:-p-}

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Student Video Mondays

Strange as it may sound, I enjoy going to school on Monday mornings. I know what you are probably thinking. No one in their right mind is excited about leaving their weekend behind. Don't worry, I also have problems waking up on Mondays. However, what I truly enjoy, after several massive cups of coffee, is to see our group of young high school students walk through the door. You never know what you are going to get. A select few are happy and awake, but the majority are half-dead zombies who couldn't even bother to brush their hair. That face they make when you say Good Morning brightly and energetically resembles Freddy Kreuger from Friday the 13th. My colleague and I then proceed to have a great laugh between us, and this how our week gets started.

The point I am making is teaching at 8:00 on Monday mornings is one of the toughest jobs in the world. You're lucky if the student remembers his or her materials, much less what you are trying to teach. To get around this, and to get them awake enough to speak a few words of English, we introduced a small project called Student Video Mondays.

Teenagers love Youtube, and they enjoy sharing newly discovered videos with us, especially clips from football matches over the weekend. So, we took that basic premise and made it into a weekly project. In short, the students must find a video on Youtube that is, first appropriate for school, and second, has a theme or message that we can discuss afterwards. The videos must be less than 5 minutes, and they must prepare comprehension and discussion questions on a website called Blendspace, which will be further explained below. One student presents their video each week as well as their rationale for choosing that particular video.

Project Requirements

1. Make a calendar for yourself and your students. This calendar should show the dates that the students will present their videos in class. You can use Triptico to help you place the students in order on a fair basis. Once ready, you can display that calendar in the classroom as well as on your PLN. That way there can be no excuses about the students forgetting when they are going to present.

2. As mentioned above, the students should find a short video under 5 minutes in length that has a theme or message that can be discussed and debated in class. These videos can be of any format, be it animation, an advert, a clip from a movie or television show, or an amateur shot video. Last year, for example, our students brought videos about video games and violence, computer hacking, texting and driving, just to name a few. Plus, Blendspace makes it simple by allowing you to search for Youtube videos directly from their site. Once you find the video that you want, just drag it over into one of the boxes, as pictured below.

3. Once the video is chosen, the students must then prepare a tutorial on Blendspace. It is an incredibly simple website to use. When you register for free and sign in, you click the large blue button with a + on it, and away you go.  On the left side of the page is your canvas, which is broken down into boxes.  You can select from 4 to 6 boxes, and there are so several layouts to choose from.  On the right side of the pages are several helpful tabs that make searching for videos and images even easier for the user.  There is a tab for Youtube, Google Images, Fickr, Dropbox and Google Drive.  Once your desired video or picture is found, simply click and drag it over onto your canvas!

Once the students are set up with Blendspace and are ready to produce their own video tutorial, we inform them that they are required to have 6 boxes on their canvases.  The six boxes must be created as follows:

Box 1: The student must include an introductory image that gives the audience a brief glimpse into the upcoming theme in the video.

Box 2: The student should include a short introduction to the video.

Box 3: There is where we ask our students to have their video.

Box 4The student must prepare at least three comprehension questions about the video. These questions are surface type questions which should help the class follow along with whats happening in the video.

Box 5: Then the students must prepare at least five essential questions, which should focus on the theme of the video. These questions should turn the message of the video into the students lives, also known as personalization, the buzz word going around education today. These types of questions should lead to a deep understanding of the topic, thus they typically begin with why, or even what would you do. For instance, in a video about a physically-disabled salsa dancer, you could ask questions as pictured below:

Box 6: Finally, we ask students to provide us with a short paragraph about the reasons why they chose their particular video, and what it meant to them. This gets the students to further think about what message they are trying to send to their audience with their video tutorial.

For a more detailed description of the Student Video Monday project, please watch this video, which is a video tutorial created by one of our students.

At School

When presentation day arrives, we first have the student give a short introduction to his or her video. We then watch the video all together as class. Next, we go through the student's comprehension questions, particularly looking at his or her grammar and structure. Then we read and discuss the essential questions by making a HI-Cloud (Hazırlık Idea Cloud) on the IWB. All students are expected to take notes as it will assist them in their homework assignment. Finally, after the discussion has concluded, we, as well as the other students, give productive feedback on the presenter's choice of video, quality of questions asked, and grammar used therein.

After School

As a homework, the students, excluding the presenter, go to Edmodo, our class PLN, and write a decent-sized paragraph about the video, making sure to answer the presenter's essential questions. The presenter is expected to read his or her classmates' responses, but you can also look at them as a whole class the following day.

Favorite Project

At the end of the last academic year, we had several students tell us how this was one of their favorite projects of the whole program. They enjoyed being able to share a video with their classmates', in addition to reading what they wrote about his or her video choice. It also places a lot of focus on making grammatically-correct questions, a skill that shouldn't be overlooked, as well as essential questions that can evoke a class discussion by personalizing the video and themes therein.

Saturday, 9 February 2013


Being an old dawg at the ELT game has meant I have seen many new fads, come and go, pertaining to be the next great thing for learning English. I have always been taken in by most, at first, but then quickly realized that it was only a matter of time before I returned to tried and tested methods. So, how refreshing for me to have found something that holds onto a classic approach to listening and watching, yet  allows everyone to participate without the need for getting bogged down in complex technology. I give you SUBTITLING for YOUR Videos that is only a few clicks away, and with absolutely no stress or worries to boot!

First of all, you will need to download an open source program called, ANY VIDEO CONVERTER. The version available now is 5.03, and it has all become so easy, yet very powerful. It used to be really basic, but now it does everything that the paid-for-apps do. This is surely what makes the internet so alluring; where everyone can benefit for free(?) With this awesome app  now installed on your desktop, you will need to decide on which video you would like to find subtitles for. I have decided to use a clip from Louis CK's comedy show, which is about an adolescent bully with whom Louis is confronted. The unit I am teaching is on Louis Sachir's teenage novel, A Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, which deals with many issues, one of which being, bullying.

The Second technology-step is to search for subtitles on the internet. There are many sites that produce subtitles in every language. You just need to Google the film's title plus subtitles. You then go to the site that offers the easiest way to download (note: some of them try to get you to download their own player, but try to avoid them as it usually means a lot of trashy ads and waiting time!) So, you have found the site, and you have downloaded the SRT file (subtitle extension). Of course, you can find all the other languages should you need to.  Be careful to check the quality of the subtitles, as very often they are shoddily done.

Next, you open the video inside Any Video Converter and decide on the output format you wish. If you use an ipad you will need to choose MP4, but if you are using a lap top, then any will do of course. Please watch this video feedforward of how to do this step

Now, you want to add the subtitles. You go to where subtitles is offered and click. Then browse your computer for the subtitles you downloaded and saved. You are ready to convert the video. Check that the output video size is in its original state, which is the first option available. Now click, CONVERT, and wait for your video to burn the subtitles onto your video.

I don't want the whole video for my lesson, so I prefer to trim the video to the size I need. In this case there is a four minute segment that I want to keep. The latest version of AVC has a trimming feature also, so it is easy, yet again. Your video is loaded, and all you have to do is click on the scissors icon. You are asked to give the starting and finishing point for your edit. Once you have done that it is a case of simply pressing the start button. After a few minutes, your subtitled clip is ready to use with your students. Check out this video forward of how to trim a video in Any Video Converter.

The information above has meant a great deal to me as an ELT Educator. Gone are the days of searching, wasting time and feeling very frustrated by not having the tools to help us in our job for listening practice. I can make my own individualized lessons that are not made by publishers, which although often pretty good, it is always better to produce the materials you need in your own and students' contexts. I hope you can follow me in this endeavor to produce more quality listening and watching materials for our students. Here is the finalized video converted, subtitles added and trimmed. Enjoy this new opportunity

Monday, 4 February 2013

End of Semester Reflective Writing

The final week of any semester is typically a difficult time for teachers.  We are pushed for time to get all of our exams graded in time to put the scores on report cards, in addition to running around school signing forms and duty rosters that have been neglected for months. On top of that, our classrooms are full of students who really don't want to be there. Now that their grades are done for the semester, they are no longer motivated to give their best effort. They sit there simply daydreaming of the upcoming holiday.  Moreover, some students even leave for holiday early. 

Therefore, the question that remains is, what can we do in class that is still effective and engaging? Since the students aren't in the right frame of mind, or even at school for that matter, it is not really a great idea to start teaching a new topic.  That knowledge would quickly be forgotten over the holiday period. You could do some more creative and fun projects to put up on the walls of the classrooms, but again, many students won't be there, so it's not really fair for them. You could perhaps reward the students by playing games or watching films, but that is not really enjoyable nor productive for us in terms of teaching. It is quite the conundrum.

When my colleague and I were building our curriculum two years ago, we also found ourselves in this predicament.  Still having the same amount of lessons during the last week of the semester, we wanted to come up with activities that are meaningful, yet engaging. We decided on several ICT- driven projects  where the students had to reflect on what they have learned so far this year, as well as their own academic progress and performance over the past four months. This post will explain one of these activities, which was a reflective piece of writing, and more importantly, what we learned from our students about our program and teaching methodologies from doing it.

Reflective Penzu Writing

The first activity that we asked our students to do during this final week of the semester was to write a journal response on Penzu Classroom, a brilliant journal writing website that we have mentioned regularly on this blog. The journal response was on how the students felt, overall, about our program after one semester. The basic instructions were that they could write about a number of topics including the academic skills that they have learned, their favorite ICT tools, our teaching styles, in addition to their own feelings and progress in English. We asked for 300 words to be written over a class period and finished at home that night.  Simply put, we couldn't believe the returns we got. Several students wrote more than 500 words, and more importantly, the content of the responses was truly honest and heartfelt.  It was one of those few moments during a school year when a teacher gets genuine praise from students, which made us extremely happy. Furthermore, the students are aware of what they need to do to improve in the second semester, and they gave us real insight to several components of our curriculum that they feel are greatly beneficial to them. We would like to share some of the responses with you, so that you can get a brief look at just how successful this activity was for us.
This first part of a student response came from Emin who wrote about how much he enjoys using technology in and out of the classroom, and how much it has helped him improve his English.  I couldn't believe how he even added our slogan, 'It is a tool, not a solution', into his journal response!  We constantly remind our students that using ICT in ELT is not going to make you learn English any better or faster, but that it is a tool that makes learning much more interesting and engaging.

The second response comes from an extremely hard-working student called Gülsümnaz.  She focused much of her writing on the 'Can Do' statements and interviews that we do with the students at the end of each month. In brief, we have the students assess their own academic progress in English by reading 'Can Do' statements based on the Common European Framework (CEFr) and giving themselves a grade from 0 to 5.  Afterwards, we set aside 5-10 minutes to speak with each student individually about their progress and whether or not we agree with their assessment of themselves. We then provide them with reasons for changing their scores, if indeed they have been changed, and reasonable goals for them to focus on for the upcoming month.  Her response showed us that many of our students find this system extremely beneficial for their learning.
Another student, Mısra, wrote commented on how much she benefits from our formative grading system, whereby we give our students many graded short quizzes and projects over a six-week period instead of having only one written exam.  This gives students more opportunities to show what they have learned, in addition to taking away some of the stress commonly associated with exams.

Finally, as a way to finish this post on a comical note, our student, Ceylan, wrote about how much she enjoys learning and using English idioms in her speaking and writing.  We introduce our students to 4 new idioms each week, and after school they must come up with their own sentences using each new idioms for homework.  As you can see above, she loves that her father, who speaks English very well, doesn't even know some of them, and she has the chance to teach him.